Business

Can Zappos survive Amazon?

Seth is right.

Amazon purchased Zappos for all the right reasons. But, as the saying goes, the path to hell is paved with good intentions.

The key issue here is one of culture.  As I experienced first-hand during the Zappos Insights Live Event last week, Zappos has an incredible culture.  A culture built on creating happiness for employees, vendors and, of course, customers.

Amazon on the other hand, not so much.   They offer low prices and great selection, but that’s it.

Luckily for them, Amazon usually does such a good job with their web site and order fulfillment that it’s seldom necessary for them to actually engage with their customers.  In fact, they do the opposite of Zappos, and go out of their way to avoid direct contact with their customers. If you do get through to their customer service you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who can actually help you (or in my experience, speak English).  This is the exact opposite of Zappos, whose 400+ Twittering employees love engaging with customers.  In fact, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh personally engages with customers all the time.  Jeff Bezos on the other hand… 

The real question is when the dust settles who will influence whom regarding customer service?  Will Amazon learn from the Zappos model and offer top-level customer service to its customers? Or will Zappos slowly slip towards providing Amazonian customer service from now on?  Customer engagement is the new marketing and this is where the real culture clash between Zappos and Amazon is going to play out.  May the best customer service provider (Zappos) win‚Ķ.

I know Tony.  He’s an incredible leader.  Even though big companies have historically chewed up and spat out those they acquire, I think if anyone can make this work it’s Tony and his team.

And while we’re on the subject, if you haven‚Äôt done a Zappos tour yet, get to Vegas quick and take one.  I promise it’ll change the way you think about business. 

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Business, Leadership

The Two Conversations

New marketing is all about conversations…not the ‚Äúconversation‚Äù where you the marketer shout out your message to as many people as possible, but the conversation where your customers are talking to their contacts about your company.

The first conversation is the conversation that’s happening some place else. 

Right now, if you have any market saturation at all, people are talking about your company.  They may be saying good things…or bad.  The question is do you know where the conversations are happening and, when appropriate, are you taking part in them?

The IT guy for a client of mine (a well known author) recently sent me a report showing all the references he‚Äôd been able to track that referenced my client over a two week period.  This included twitters, blog posts and news reports.  In 14 days there had been over 100 ‚Äúconversations‚Äù that referenced my client or his work.  Now, the question is what, if anything, should they be doing with that information.

My recommendation is whenever possible you should engage in the conversation.  If someone writes a blog posts and mentions your product, why not leave them a comment, thanking them for the mention and give them a coupon for a discount on the their next order (or perhaps a free download).  If someone is complaining about your company (check out the search results on twitter for AT&T), why not take the opportunity to pro-actively engage them and provide excellent customer service before they even ask (the whole world is watching).  Rather than dealing with negative comments once someone gets frustrated enough to reach out to you, why not take part in the conversation where its already happening.

The second conversation is the conversation that probably isn‚Äôt happening yet, but should be.  Its the conversation that you host. 

Who better to connect your customers than you, their point of contact. If your customers naturally gather around your product in the real world why not help facilitate that happening in the virtual world?  Threadless gets this…so does Amazon. 

I make purchasing decisions every day and very seldom, if ever, are they influenced by traditional media.  When I‚Äôm wondering if I should buy a book that‚Äôs been recommended to me, do I go to the New York Times book reviews?  Nope, I‚Äôve never read one.  What I do is look on Amazon at the book reviews to see what their customers have to say. 

You may be thinking, yeah, but Jon you‚Äôre on the bleeding edge of early adopters…true, but think about what influences your buying decisions.  Chances are the number one thing is word of mouth.  The same is true for your customers.  Why not create a place for them to connect with each other and prospective customers?  If you’re in the simple accounting software business, why not create the online destination for people to gather and ask each other their accounting questions?  Don’t try to control the conversation but do take part in it.  What you’ll earn is permission to talk to them about what you have to offer. 

Are you taking part in the two conversations? 

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Business

Twitter as a Customer Service Tool

Those of you who are following me on Twitter know that I recently witnessed an unfortunate interaction between an employee at my local Guitar Center store and another customer.  As I left the store I posted the following on Twitter via my BlackBerry.

jdale

Just finished watching an employee at Guitar center making fun of a
customer who was trying to exchange a cable that had a lifetime
warranty…I guess he doesn’t understand the lifetime value of a customer.

      

Within hours I received an email informing me that @Venezia had started following me on Twitter.  When I looked at @Venezia‘s Twitter page I realized that he is the Chief Marketing Officer and an Executive Vice President at Guitar Center.  I sent him a private Twitter message and asked him if he’d be interested in learning the details of what I’d observed while in the store.  He twittered me back and said he would.  So I sent him an email explaining the details of what I’d observed.  A few hours ago I received this email response from @Venezia.

(Posted here with the author’s permission)

Wow, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the time you took to write this richly detailed account of what you experienced. Twitter continues to make me more of a believer every day in its usefulness as a customer service tool.

First, of course, we deeply regret the scene you witnessed. I read your email aloud to the EVP of Sales, Mark Galster (in charge of the stores), and forwarded it to the Regional and District Manager. I will speak with them as well. So your critique falls on receptive ears. We’re on it.

Second, we have, as of the latest count, 11,249 employees. And we spend millions training them to create the best possible experience for our customers. With so many stores and employees, we conduct research that gives us “report cards” on our customer experience delivery, and we are quite deliberate about becoming stronger where we learn of weakness. The good news is, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the feedback is great. Better than our competitors, in fact. But like all good musicians, we need to have good ears if we want to get better. So I actually actively troll for dissatisfaction on places like Twitter and in the blogosphere. We have an employee that does nothing but look for critiques (and praise) on the net. And we stay out of the ivory tower and self-criticize to learn from missteps.

We take our satisfaction guarantee extremely seriously. I wish it were possible ID the customer you described, though it probably isn’t. But at least we have the feedback from you, and for this we are grateful.

We’re glad you’re our customer, and hope to see you in the stores for years to come. If there is anything you need from me, let me know.

Norman Hajjar
EVP/CMO
Guitar Center Inc.

What could Guitar Center have done differently (other than avoiding the incedent in the first place)?  I appreciate the fact that they are monitoring Twitter for customer service issues…I would have preferred it if they had proactively Twittered me to address the issue rather than just starting to follow me (in Norman’s defense…according to his Twitter posts he is at Disney on Vacation…so I’m impressed that he was even aware of this incedent…and he may usually initiate contact with people). 

If you really want to understand how to use twitter to provide customer service check out @Zappos or @Lijit. These are two companies that understand customer service and understand the internet.  It seems as though Zappos standard operating procudure is to offer a gift certificate or discount to anyone who blogs about them ( 🙂  I guess I’ll find out if that’s true).

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