Consumer Buying Habits Still Challenge Retailers

ALT="Jayme Soulati Christmas Tree 2015"Consumer buying habits remain a mystery to retailers, apparently.

Yesterday, I was at a holiday party with my tennis groupies in an affluent home with several Christmas trees and many lovely decorations admired by all. The conversation launched into the fact that there were no more cool ornaments in stores, and the selection of holiday decorating accessories is limited.

We talked about Target and Pier One as places to go on the hunt while others preferred to wait until after Christmas for the deals. Wait! We all agreed there are no more after-Christmas deals for decorating goodies; if you see them before Christmas, you have to snap them up. That is so sad. We used to be able to get really cool ornaments and now retailers are not stocking shelves. Who wants to buy ornaments online, anyway? You have to touch them already.
The fact that retailers began to limit holiday selections is not new. I noticed this trend about 2009-2010 during the last recession when no one was buying that stuff. [Read more…]

Service Experts Gets A+ For HVAC Customer Service

service-experts.jpgWe each are consumers of heating and air conditioning. Most every homeowner is subjected to the rigors of natural disasters that cause the electrical grid to weaken and shut down and bring the comfort of home environments to a standstill.

Who’d know there would be so many marketing lessons in a customer experience about heating and air conditioning? This story has oodles, and I have to share my experience with Service Experts Heating and Air Conditioning, a national HVAC company also known as Stevenson in Southwest Ohio.

About Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning

A well-done direct marketing letter arrived from Service Experts, a company I had not heard of in spite of the fact it has been around for 120+ years. The letter was touting the local high school football rivalry, a two-for-one special, and $50 off plumbing if I was one of the first 50 callers. So, I called within two days; do you think I was one of the first 50 callers? (I still don’t know after two weeks, although I asked every technician who came to my house over 10 days.)

When I called to schedule my maintenance and informed the scheduler about the offer, he had no idea about the price point in the letter and didn’t know what I was talking about. (Mistake #1)

Mistake #2 was that the first technician to the job had never seen the marketing letter either, so I showed it to him. I made a copy of the letter to ensure I got the price point advertised (and I’m still going after my $50 off coupon for plumbing when the time comes!) The technician promised he would take the letter to his morning meeting and inform marketing that frontline customer service has to know about new marketing programs.

We talked at length about that disconnect; from the new customer standpoint, the letter worked even though marketing did not inform frontline customer service or the call center about the direct marketing campaign.

There were about 22 touches I had with this company; 11 of them were in person, one was via correspondence and 10 were via phone. The in-person experiences ranged from heating and air conditioning maintenance, two sales guys, one plumbing inspection guy, two HVAC installers, one air conditioner technician, two thermostat installers, and one senior technician after installation about the thermostat and wiring. The air duct cleaning crew is scheduled this week, and today I saw the plumber.

22 Customer Touches in 10 Days

In a routine maintenance for my fall furnace inspection with Service Experts/Stevenson, my 17-year-old Lennox furnace was doing OK, but nearing its 20-year life span.

During this inspection, my 7-year-old thermostat was on the fritz, and I mentioned to the technician I wanted a Nest (the coolest product with the highest marketing budget ever). I was unaware that Service Experts sold an I Comfort thermostat that is higher quality and easier to use. Frontline customer service was not selling the company’s smaller products. Mistake #3

During this experience, Craig (a great technician) suggested I look into pricing a new HVAC unit although I wasn’t in the market. The sales guy came over and gave me prices of $10,000 to $14,000 (yikes). What I didn’t know was that Lennox sold a lower level HVAC unit at 93% efficiency instead of the 96% efficiency unit that was priced. The first sales guy gave a lackluster presentation and didn’t try to work within my budget at all; nor did he inform me there was a lower grade of equipment that would work equally well. (Mistake #3)

I bought my Nest and had the guys come back to install. I was lucky to get Craig again who was wonderful. During the time he spent with me that day, he suggested I look into a cheaper HVAC unit and would I be interested in speaking with Jim? Jim came by and we did the deal on a Friday afternoon within my budget parameter. The guys wanted to install the unit over the weekend, but I was traveling Monday and Tuesday; so we
scheduled it for Wednesday.

Over the weekend on Sunday night, my current air conditioner died. I called the company back and they sent a technician to see if he could repair the old unit just for 2 days. Nada. The temperatures were to be 93 degrees for four days, and it was. My kidlet had to stay at her grandparents and everything was disrupted (at least I had a clean house). The temperature soared to 95 upstairs in the house.

When I returned from travels, I drove directly to my folks to spend the night and returned to have the HVAC team arrive on Wednesday morning. The good news was they upgraded me to the higher efficiency unit for free. What an amazing surprise, and what amazing customer service.

The guys could not get my new Nest to work with the new HVAC unit; they installed a Honeywell thermostat (a basic model). My house cooled 1 degree in four hours. I called the company and the technicians were all on call; it was the hottest stretch of the summer. I collected kidlet and off we rolled to my folks house again to sleep, 25 minutes away.

The next day, Steve came over to check out my Nest. He called the company, and the company said we needed to plug the Nest into my computer and I searched high and low for the right connector tips. Luckily, I had it, but wasted time finding it. Once we plugged the Nest into both the iMac and the Windows laptop, nothing happened. Steve was in the house for hours trying everything. When he finally asked me about the house’s wiring, I told him it was a DIY house and the wiring was old and faulty. That’s when his light bulb went on; he said he wanted to rewire the thermostat and recommended Service Expert’s I Comfort instead of the Nest.

Steve is not a fan of the Nest although consumers haven’t a clue that the equipment isn’t the best technology. That’s the beauty of marketing; we see something cool and we want to buy it. Consumers have no concept of a thermostat and why it’s important to purchase a high-end product with features that address humidity, blower speed, outside temperatures, programs, holidays, filters, alarms, and maintenance.

Luckily, the temperatures outside cooled to 60 and 70 degrees (naturally) and we didn’t need to run the air conditioning. Steve returned with his crew of two within two days, and they fully rewired and programmed my new I Comfort thermostat and trained me at the same time.

Service Experts Customer Service

Within 10 days, I experienced every aspect of frontline touches and call center inbound and outbound scheduling that is possible in a company.

Today, the plumbing inspection guy came and reviewed water issues. Tomorrow the air duct cleaner guys are coming and will spend three to four hours cleaning all the ducts and vents.

The gentlemen who came into my home were:

  • Dressed in uniform
  • Professional with boot covers in and out
  • Personable, reliable, arrived on time, called before they were to arrive
  • Fixed what was broken, stood by their work, and ensured I was ultra-satisfied during my entire ordeal.

I don’t think I have ever had this much experience with a company the way I have with Service Experts/Stevenson. There’s absolutely no way I would change to any other company after investing so much time and financial investment in this company as a brand new customer.

Hire Jayme Soulati

  • I want to teach workshops to the frontline sales technicians.
  • I want to sit in front of marketing and inform that person his letter was great; I picked up the phone after one touch, but he didn’t inform his sales or service teams.
  • I want to reach out to the CEO of Service Experts and ask for work with his company.
  • I want to help them with content oriented to customer education about thermostats and how to buy a furnace and what size of house needs what size of air conditioner.
  • I want to be that female homeowner role model for Service Experts who doesn’t know anything but knows enough to make the right choice.
  • I want to help Service Experts become an authority in this sector and earn the trust of customers. Will you hire me Service Experts?

Satisfied Customer

I tell this story because every single homeowner is eventually going to purchase HVAC units for their aging equipment. I highly recommend Service Experts in your region, and I commend each technician and scheduler and for being professional and doing the job to the best of their knowledge and ability. Had everyone known about the wiring in the house being faulty, perhaps the process would’ve been more efficient, but there are lessons to learn in every experience we have.

Jayme Soulati is a highly satisfied customer, Service Experts. Your Net Promoter Score is 10.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Brand Gamification Is Hot Trend in Social Marketing



Whether the term gamification connotes negativity or it’s just a word taken direct from the video game industry to entice, the trend is pulsing through social customer service, location-based marketing, and social marketing.

You need to begin now to view gamification as something that inspires, incents and motivates customers, employees, prospects, and others who engage with your brand in a variety of ways, on mobile platforms, in-person, via phone, or other.

At the core of gamification is a study in human behavior.

There is a burgeoning and nascent industry around the psychology of human connectivity which also stems from how we’re wired to compete.

About Klout

Several years ago, Klout hit the social stage, and many pioneer users were up because the platform was assigning scores on “influencers” based on the number of tweets and +K awarded on a variety of irrelevant topics and levels of engagement. Was that really influence or was it selective tallying of whose on Twitter longer than most?

Flash forward. After many closed their Klout accounts in public protest, I just received last week my first Klout Perk — a free Sony Walkman. My Klout hovers around 60, and I can influence that score by three points sitting at Social Slam and tweeting and Facebooking and Instagramming all day in conference. Is a Klout perk bribery or good marketing? It’s probably good old gamification — incentivizing Klout users to tout, share, post, feel good, and compete, while sharing the good news in a blog post that a free Sony Walkman just arrived. (Yes, I felt compelled to write about that; it’s a high-quality product and I paid nada.)

About Foursquare

Meanwhile, earning badges and becoming the mayor on Foursquare drives my competitive streak. While recently on spring break driving 2,500 miles, I was the leading scorer among my Foursquare friends until someone in the UK racked up 1,000 points literally overnight. My 11-year-old kidlet and I were not happy; so I tried to unfriend that guy to no avail. We knew he gamed the system and cheated while I diligently checked in at each Hilton hotel to earn 50 points in the Hilton Honors program.

With these two examples from one person, multiply that by Pi. I’m not even a gamer; I’m in a much older demographic, and I hardly engage with the platforms that would allow me to compete at a furious pace.

What Gamification Means To Marketers

Website magazine’s May 2013 issue has a short piece by Evan Hamilton, head of community for UserVoice, on this topic. He references Zappos, Wired magazine, and Gartner’s prediction that 50% of brands will gamify by 2015 and 70% of the largest organizations will have at least one gamification app.

What he also writes is of interest:

“Gamification is not about creating motivation, it’s about reminding people of their inspiration.”

Think about that a moment…

Hamilton says…”If you’re trying to get your users more engaged, take a deep look into what inspires them. Then try building in gamification that evokes that inspiration and reminds them of why they’re doing what they’re doing.”

Social customer service is an area ripe for gamification. The frontline ambassadors need to realize that their motivation is not about earning a badge for the most calls completed; rather, motivation needs to be satisfied customers.

I find the psychology of human behavior behind gamification fascinating. As marketers, we need to delve into the crux of customers’ competitive nature and their need to be acknowledged. Blend that core element into product marketing, customer service, and mobility programs and platforms to motivate response via winning beyond just earning a badge or free dessert.

By Jayme Soulati

Enhanced by Zemanta

Harry And David Customer Service Thank You

fruitIn the midst of the holiday season with gift baskets flying across the U.S., Harry and David took time to read this blog, see a negative net promoter score, find a contact form, and write an email to fix what they thought was a remark against its brand that needed attention.

I mentioned Harry and David, the online fruit and foods retailer, in a recent post, Does Your Business Give Holiday Gifts? In that post, I suggested my experience with the fruit of the month club was disappointing while others had a lovely experience with the company.

The company’s social media team was listening. Over the weekend of Dec. 15, 2012, I received a contact form comment from Harry and David. They offered to send me a gift because of my previously poor experience with the company.

My  response to Maria of Harry and David was to thank her with a polite refusal saying the company’s attention and response was gift enough.

She continued to insist; I acquiesced and within a very short time, I received a gorgeous holiday gift tower complete with pears (the company’s fruit is top quality), candies, nuts, salmon, cheese, and other goodies.

I applaud Harry and David for having a social media team at the frontlines listening, monitoring, tracking and responding in a very personal way.

I’m so impressed the company was proactive and also gracious enough to showcase tremendous customer service during an extremely busy time.

Thanks, Harry and David, I’ll always be a promoter of your brand and excellent products.



Enhanced by Zemanta

Customer Service Survey Fatigue

I’ve been threatening to write about this topic but the envelope push was this week with my lawn service, TruGreen. I’m not picking on them at all; they are just the straw in a huge haystack that has been growing for a year or more.

Customers are extremely tired of surveys, companies. Let me repeat – we are sick and tired of being asked to fill out your stinkin’ surveys. We get phone calls, duplicate ones at that, asking for our ratings for a water heater that was installed 30 days ago. We are asked by every teller and retail clerk to “go to this website and you can win a shopping spree, an iPad, new diapers for your baby” if you fill out the survey and tell my company I rock.

The TruGreen guy rang my door bell, disappeared awhile in back and came around to shake my hand and make eye contact. I went back to work and so did he. On the door knob were two pieces of paper – the one about the application he applied to my lawn that day (with a handwritten “please take my survey”) and a piece of white paper with no branding asking me to complete a survey with my customer number and, and, and.

My friend at Allstate is an auto claims adjuster. He travels in the field to speak with policy holders and informs them how much Allstate is going to pay for vehicle damage. He lives and breathes by the customer satisfaction surveys he gets after that frontline experience. In fact, Allstate is chasing people out the door if adjusters’ numbers are lower than 90/100. That’s some serious pressure right there.

Companies need to stop.  People need to be empowered to do their jobs basically, satisfactorily and then over and above. Customers will notice the over and above, and guess what, companies? We will make the effort to call in out of the blue and tell someone we had awesome customer service. (Have you ever tried doing that? It’s next to impossible to nail down someone or a recording to report excellent customer service…I know as I’ve tried.)

Instead of customer service surveys at every interaction with frontline employees, consider these options:

1. Beef up your social media engagement with a Facebook page and let customers speak with you there. Add a Yelp profile where we can really give you a rating with stars and write about our experience. What are you afraid of? Does your customer service suck that bad that you’re fearful of negative backlash? Whose problem is that – the customer or the company?

2. Rate your employees randomly; work with them in the field and you can see their performance and how customers regard them and their service. Give them a rating that day and about 10 other times in the year – is that enough? You can’t tell me someone working with their boss is going to be that much different to customers; people do what comes naturally – customer service should come naturally.

3. Ask for the un-survey. Tell customers “this is not a survey. We’re not asking you for a rating of this employee today, we’re asking you to rate this employee only if you have something to share, something good or bad. We know you’re tired of all these surveys, and so are we. If you have thoughts on what we should do differently, please let us know by filling out this un-survey.”

4. Trust in your training programs! Give those people you’ve hired an opportunity to experience good, bad, indifferent customers and they will know what to do in that situation. Know that the people you hire are who they need to be on the frontline.

5. Give employees a survey goal – we want you to earn 10 surveys a month; pick your customer or your engagement and get your scores. That means they don’t need to ask for a survey every cotton-picking time.

I’m not sure when this survey business started, but it’s become a joke. No one takes the survey seriously any more. And if you’re a company like Allstate demanding high marks for all customer service engagement, it puts undue pressure on policyholders and frontline employees at the same time.

What do you think, dear Readers?