My Customer Experience Shopping For Bathroom Tile

ALT="customer experience, Soulati Media"Ever have a customer experience shopping for bathroom tile? It’s not something you purchase lightly or soon forget. In fact, if you don’t have an interior designer, you’ll select everything alone. It’s quite a heady customer experience and it’s one many a marketer is grappling with now.

There’s a retail/online shopping conundrum these days, and you can see the bubble bursting with this news:

[Read more…]

Our Latest Episode Is Right Here! (25:29)

Home Depot Customer Experience Fail

ALT="Soulati Media, customer experience fail"What is happening to big box retailers with customer experience? I toured the aisles of Home Depot over a weekend expecting to find product for my master bath remodel. Alas, the lowest-end vanities, four commodes, maybe six shower fixtures and NO tile I could even remotely consider were featured. As I walked faster through each department, I realized that the brick and mortar business is failing customer experience.

Home Depot Customer Experience Failure

I went to customer service and asked about the selections in the store and mentioned I would need to order online. The CSR immediately told me the online store was not the same as the retail, in-person store. She wanted me to come in with my list and sit with a sales associate and order my vanity direct from the manufacturer or make custom furniture.

After I expressed confusion, I then realized and said, “Oh, I get it. Home Depot corporate is the same but the retail outlet competes with the online outlet for revenue.” The customer service rep said yes.

No wonder people are buying more online, eh? With that kind of customer experience, who wants to go into the brick and mortar store any more? And, I can get delivery to my front door of the 30 lb. sheets of Hardie Backer board for the shower instead of attempting to lift 25 of them through check out myself (because there are no cashiers) and into my vehicle.

After Home Depot took away cashiers at check out several years ago, I stopped going there. I thought I would give it another chance over Lowe’s, but you know what? Lowe’s is beating Home Depot hands down. I even found some tile in the store at Lowe’s and a vanity I could purchase there, too. Guess which retailer is highly likely to get my bathroom remodel business?

Tory Burch And Customer Experience

In the Wall Street Journal, March 23, 2016, I was delighted to see a brand I absolutely love featured in a story about marketing and customer experience. Turns out, Tory Burch has decided to build its ‘first permanent retail outpost for a fledgling brand in the world of athleisure, the fast-growing, still confusing mode of dressing that has overtaken the apparel industry.”

This is a reverse of what most companies do — first they build a brick and mortar business, attract customers and sell, sell, sell. Then, they get an online business to attract a wider audience beyond geographic boundaries.

Tory Burch is disrupting e-commerce + retailing and making a case for the customer experience. Here’s my absolute favorite part of this article in the Wall Street Journal, extracted directly:

“Stores are changing, Ms. Burch says. Their purpose is to engage customers and to build a community. They also can be a place where the online and offline worlds merge. A big cube in the middle of the Tory Sport store has an interactive tabletop where customers can view projected images from the Tory Sport look book.”

What Tory Burch is doing with her new designer store (where only 1-2 sizes are available on the shelf), is to “immerse and entertain shoppers in the fictitious, tightly controlled world the brand creates. It’s a chance to show and explain all that a brand stands for — and to seduce a shopper into buying something.”

Home Depot Meet Tory Burch

Back to the concrete and metal fabricated warehouse that stocks whatever a homeowner or builder needs to maintain a residential or commercial structure. The two experiences are related yet don’t compare.

I had no customer experience at Home Depot. There was no one on the floor to help me; there was no good feeling as I perused the aisles of product stacked to the ceiling. No one cared, no one was engaged, and I was extremely disappointed. The Tory Burch brand and shopping experience, on the other hand, is made to delight. Shoppers are put into a setting of sports leisure with travel destinations and tennis (my absolute fave pasttime). You’re invited to sit, have a beverage, engage interactively, and chat with the designers floating around the store.

Hey, Home Depot, can you take a lesson from Tory Burch?

How I See A Home Depot Customer Experience

Here’s what I want when I walk into a Home Depot or Lowe’s:

  • Remember the K-mart blue-light special? An announcer belted out the aisle number for the blue light special and customers in the store raced over to grab something. We had to; we didn’t want to miss a deal. How about that? Put an announcer over the intercom and get a deal going on lighting, paint or other slow movers. Engage the shopper so they feel positive about the brand.
  • How about some training demos in the store? Want to show how to tile a shower wall or how to put tile together to design something more exciting than laminate? (Funny, just found a list of DIY workshops on its website, but how are customers made aware of these? I had no idea my store offer these at all.)
  • I’d like a gathering place in the store to sit and have a coffee. That way I can look at my list and think while taking a breather.
  • You know that garden center that pops up every spring? What an opportunity to have someone demoing shade plants, landscaping, and how to select perennials that bloom in all seasons.
  • There’s absolutely nothing appealing about Home Depot for me now; not after this most recent experience that has been a customer experience fail.

Retailers are going to need to get a clue how to re-attract the customer. The online experience, while convenient, is not always the first choice for shopping, but it permits comparison shopping. If you want my business, and I know you do, Home Depot, then act like you care and put people on the floors who are engaging, want to be there, and want to help me.

You can bet had someone approached me and asked if they could help, then you could have rescued my customer experience and made a huge sale on a master bath remodeling project. As it went, I walked out with nothing and my business is going down the street.

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.

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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

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