Email service providers are blanketing the world with services and technology. I am a true believer that marketers must engage consumers via email and social channels and must do so in a programmatic and relevant way. However, even with technology, strategy and marketing focus, some programs fail while others succeed -- even when similar execution strategies are applied. What causes this variance? Easy, the customer experience. At its core, it is the customer experience that turns a one-time buyer into a loyal customer, subscriber, fan or follower. I feel we lose sight of this fact at times. I had an experience last month that reminded me how true loyalty is created between a brand and a consumer.
For those of you unaware, the federal government in the state of Illinois offered $6.5 million in rebates to consumers who purchased "Energy Saver" appliances between April 15 and April 25. Not being one to pass up money from the government, I rushed to ABT Electronics in Glenview. Our family was in desperate need of a new microwave oven. As I walked into ABT, it became clear that this was no ordinary sale. They had parking attendants directing traffic and the store was an absolute madhouse. I was immediately dejected assuming there was no chance of finding an associate to help me, let alone make a purchase. I found the microwave section and stood there looking lost for no more than 90 seconds before a young woman approached and asked if she could help.
"Yes, which microwaves qualify for the energy saver government rebate?"
She looked at me and admitted she had no idea and ran (yes, literally ran) down the aisle towards a manager and started speaking. After about 15 seconds, she ran (yes, literally ran) back to me and explained that microwaves were not part of the up government rebate program. While I appreciated her enthusiasm, I was less than happy. But I still needed a microwave, so I asked what she knew about combination microwave/convection ovens. Again she knew little but promised to find someone who did and off she went.
Less than two minutes had passed when a gentleman in a General Electric golf shirt walked up to me and said: "I hear you need help with microwaves."
Now this was impressive. The store was mobbed, and in less than 90 seconds, I had an actual GE employee answering questions about GE appliances. A real subject matter expert on hand to help me! ABT had their vendors bring in experts to help customers understand the benefits of various appliances for the sales event. In less than two minutes, this gentleman helped me decide on a microwave oven, and I had forgotten all about the lack of the government rebate. The GE employee handed me off to a man in an ABT vest: "Follow me," he said and off we went towards a line that must have included 700 people. My eyes rolled back in my head and I said, "Listen maybe this wasn't the best day to come in..."
He cut me off, saying, "Don't worry, we will be done in less than five minutes."
Sure enough, this guy found a computer terminal and had me checked out in no time. I was in and out of the store on the busiest day of its existence in less than 30 minutes, feeling great about the product I purchased, even without the government discount.
Halfway to the exit my wife called. "Ryan, can you do me a favor and buy that replacement filter for our refrigerator?" she asked.
"Aargh," was my response. I explained, "Rachel this place is crazy! There's no way I'm going to be able to find a replacement filter." I could feel my wife rolling her eyes -- she's been trying to get me to order this filter for more than two months.
"OK," I finally said. At that moment a different gentleman in an ABT vest walked past. "Excuse me, sir," I said. "Do you guys sell replacement filters for your refrigerators?" We both looked toward the refrigerator section, which was a zoo. The refrigerators were actually included in the government rebate program. "You know what," I said. "Don't worry about it. I'll come back another time."
"No, no that's silly," the gentleman said. "I'll take care of you." And off we went in search of a computer terminal. The gentleman started flipping his fingers across the keyboard and asked me a few questions.
He then said, "I apologize if this takes a few minutes to process your order, I am the CFO, so bear with me." My jaw hit the floor.
Here I am at ABT on the biggest day of the year and the CFO is helping me make a $44 purchase. Not only did he treat me as if I were the most important person in the store, this guy, the CFO, was capable of entering an order into a computer terminal on the store floor and selling somebody something. I was absolutely blown away and walked out of there completely committed to buying every future electronic appliance from ABT.
In addition to my loyalty, thanks to the wonder of the social web, I took the time to write this blog talking about my experience at their store. Once finished with it, I will post it to my Twitter account, my LinkedIn page and hopefully one or two of the blogs I contribute to on a regular basis, sharing the story with thousands more readers. The blogs will deliver the story via email to an even broader audience. I am already a subscriber to ABT's email communications, and I will continue to anticipate and appreciate those communications.
The point here is that customer loyalty does not start on a Facebook page or in a Twitter feed. It is not developed solely through relevant email communications and the appropriate cadence of messages.
Engagement between a brand and a consumer in any channel (email or social media) starts with the customer's experience with that brand. If the customer experience is average, your consumer is unlikely to be a repeat buyer, they are less likely to click and open your communications, and they are never going to spend their social capital recruiting their friends to be your customers.
If the customer experience is below-average, you will likely have a consumer who unsubscribes from email programs and tells her friends about the negative experience, placing downward pressure on new customer acquisition and business growth. This is why the same email and social programs executed in two different organizations can have completely different results.
The brand with a commitment to customer service and exceptional customer experiences will find that email and social media marketing provides phenomenal results around engagement, extended reach and the acquisition of new customers. Those companies not committed to excellent customer service and experience will have the exact opposite contribution from email and social media, regardless of their investment in the respective channels.