Retro Customer Service in a Digital World

People often assume when you work in Digital Marketing that you’re some sort of über geek who judges anyone with less than perfect website optimisation, slick social media or the latest tech knowledge.

This can lead to small business folk and startup founders feeling inadequate or uneasy - unnecessarily - in your presence.


Content Strategy for Small Business

I noted the phenomenon again this week as I delivered an information session on Content Strategy for local businesses on behalf of Digital DNA’s Optimise 2.0 Programme funded by Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council.

*I’ve uploaded the presentation to limited effect on my SlideShare account:

I try to demystify everything when I speak, bypassing the jargon and encouraging business owners to have a go themselves. That all the opportunities presented by social and digital media are fully within their grasp, with just a few pointers in the right direction.

And yet, despite what a firm believer I am in the true business benefits of digital marketing elements like blogging, what often goes unsaid by me, and many people in my industry, is how EQUALLY important offline elements are.


Offline Customer Service

Case in point, I find myself moaning to my husband yet again about the local petrol station (mere yards from my home) covering my hand in smelly fuel before a meeting, with no tissues in the box, risking staining my clothes and shaking hands with people smelling like a lorry Diesel spill on the motorway. I walk away swearing I’ll never go back.

Compare this experience then to Creighton’s Garage, a petrol station that I’ve loved since my days living opposite it, where they regularly clean the pump nozzles. In fact, they have staff whose entire job it is to fill your car for you while you go in to pay, directing cars in their high-vis jackets to each pump to make the queue move as swiftly as possible.

And there’s always a queue at Creighton’s.

Because people like me, travel 20 minutes across town, passing 3 or 4 filling stations on the way, until we reach it.

Creighton’s are also famous for the effort they put into an other “old-school” offline traditional marketing tactic - visual merchandising!

Creighton’s is so successful the family-run business is now building a “super-station” further down the road.

They don’t even have a website yet. It’s the little things.


Offline Marketing for Online Businesses

You could argue that these important customer service perks might only work for local businesses, selling consumer utilities. But the more I pondered the issue, the more I realised that the traditional service skills and tactics I’d been taught over a decade ago can still apply in an eCommerce world.


More Than a Number - Nespresso

I cut my teeth in the working world from the age of 16, as many people did, working in retail and hospitality. I worked in high-end and high-street fashion stores and waitressed in a hotel on the weekends. The funny thing about the modern consumer world is that we’ve become so accustomed to how data-driven it is.

I worked in retail just after the dawn of the internet. The way to find out a customer’s needs and meet them was to have a real-life conversation. You want a pair of shoes? Well are you going anywhere special? Can you walk easily in heels? Will you be dancing? What colour is your outfit? Do you need a bag to match? (I did a stint in Barratt’s Shoes FYI).

It would have been unheard of back then to receive a promotional coupon in the post for an item the shop knew you bought a few months ago and would be running low on, the way Boots do for example.

Likewise, if a retailer had emailed me in 1999 with all the shoes they had on sale in my size, I probably would have been found rocking back and forth in the corner with tin foil wrapped round my head, babbling about the Big Brother government…

Today’s businesses have so much customer data at their disposal that most of it isn’t even fully utilised. But many brands do predict buying patterns, profile customers right down to how much they earn or how they vote, and then use those demographics on social media to target specific communications messages to each audience segment accordingly.

As amazing as this is, it’s nice once in a while to not be treated like a number on a graph. Asking for Twitter poll answers or SurveyMonkey feedback just doesn’t have the same effect…

This week Nespresso called me.

Like a real person in an office called me on the telephone, to ask why I hadn’t re-ordered in a while. I explained my issue was two-fold; I hadn’t had time to research how to clean the machine but knew it needed descaled and we were struggling to find coffee capsules we liked in the plethora of choice online.

The employee knew our previous orders and concluded that my husband likes high-intensity espresso and I prefer longer cup floral coffees (correct). He was able to recommend a few other similar options to try, as well as explaining how to clean the machine with a descale product. He threw in free delivery, some espresso cups and “Bob’s Your Uncle”: one customer retained.

And we all know that it’s more efficient and lucrative to retain a customer than luring new customers to your business.


Offline, Off-Side, Off The Mark

I’ve had many “offline frustrations” with companies in the last year ranging from difficulties changing my surname post-marriage with multiple retailers who demanded reams of paperwork (as though it’s not a common occurrence!), to the CIM claiming they “don’t do refunds” and  then this week, Charles Hurst Peugeot taking all day to service my car by giving me an expected finish time only to extend it by 2 hours when they hit the deadline, until I had wasted a whole day of work and missed the school run.

None of these issues have anything to do with online, digital marketing, social media or any new-fangled whats-its.

These issues require the use of common sense, limiting bureaucracy, streamlining the customer journey and delivering a high level of service to paying customers.

Sometimes, unfortunately, brands can get so focussed on what they’re doing online, that they forget how important it is to be human.


Good Ol’ Customer Service - Hello Fresh

One company that aced good old customer service was Hello Fresh.

My husband and I signed up to the weekly meal plan a few months ago to make eating healthily and making meals creatively easier, and to eliminate food wastage.

We hit a hiccup with the first box when, unbeknown to them or us, the nifty online ordering system had allowed me to choose any delivery day when in actual fact the boxes can only be delivered on a Tuesday in Northern Ireland, due to courier constraints.

I chose Monday. So you can guess what happened.

With no word from them, no groceries in the fridge and no dinner for my professional athlete other half, I sent an angry customer service query email.

A guy called Chris rang immediately. He took all the details and went off to investigate. He called back 10 minutes later to tell me what the problem was. His IT people were fixing the glitch right then.

Bigger problem was I wouldn’t be home the next day to receive my big box of food. And our house sits right out on the road…

Chris took it upon himself to send a message to the courier to hide the box securely. He then rang us the following day as promised to double-check the delivery had been successful and offered us a £10 discount.

Thing is, Chris was off work the day the box was delivered. He asked his team colleague to track the order for him and rang us as soon as his next shift started.

Chris has his own life and problems to deal with. He made me feel so looked after I almost felt guilty for saying anything!

But we remain Hello Fresh customers to this day.

Yes, the brand’s social media is great (they use the #HelloFreshSnaps hashtag to encourage User Generated Content for their communities), they now have high-level celebrity endorsement from Jamie Oliver and their app is really clever - showing upcoming recipes, saving favourite recipes and enabling the sending of offers to friends and family.

But ultimately, as with Nespresso, it was a dedicated customer service agent and a telephone that won the day.


How To Improve Your Business

If you’ve got the traditional human communications elements and customer service journey down to a tee then by all means, let’s get cracking on mastering digital and making it work for your business.

(If not, let’s go back to basics and sort that out before we get adventurous!)

I’ll be delivering my content session for free again in Banbridge on 19th April.

If you can’t make it, all 80+ pages of my “tell-all-tips” eBook for small businesses and startups will be available in March 2016.

Subscribe to the blog if you’d like to receive an email when it launches!