How Fast Can Your Brand Reverse?

How fast can it reverse? That's a question you'll never hear a customer ask a car dealer and it's unlikely a car dealer would know the answer, and so they are not likely to bring the subject up. We all think going forward is how we should judge ourselves, but for brands that is really dangerous territory because the customer isn't always speeding ahead with you. They often want to reverse, particularly in retail, where goods need to be returned.

I still remember speaking to a digital consultant at a function many years ago. She made this exact point that the brands that would shine in e-retail would be the ones whose supply chain worked as well in reverse as going forward. We have all grown accustomed to a physical store offering returns at the cash register or a customer services desk. Move into the digital space, however, and things seem to have become a lot more complicated.

Step forward George Clooney, or rather the Nespresso coffee he advertises that wakes the Hargrave household up every morning and even makes the occasional sneaky afternoon appearance with an equally cheeky cookie. It's a slick brand with slick advertising. It has substance too, though. The coffee is great, and everyone who has a machine generally raves about it. The main point is, the machines are highly pressured, so the water flowing through the pods gets all the taste out. So you have celebrity endorsement backed up with a good product. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, sadly, it's the interface between George Clooney's people and the customer. They haven't learned the first rule of digital retail -- you have to be able to reverse as easily as you speed forward. I've had to put in four phone calls to get an order rectified from going to a relative's address to my address. Rather than flash up a warning that it was sending a shipment to the last address used and not my usual billing and delivery address, the system logged a delivery for my relative. I immediately called to rectify this and apologise for my oversight with a nugget of knowledge that most other retailers warn when an order is not being sent to the normal address so you can be alerted to the retailer's assumption that you want a package sent to the last address used.

Anyway, despite several phone calls, my relative has my coffee and is waiting by the door to hand it back to the couriers who have supposed to have come twice before. I don't have my coffee, although a Yodel driver (yes, my alarm bells ring with that name too) claims to have left the box on my porch.

OK -- I'm going to come out of micro mode because I know there are only two people who care about whether I have my coffee or not. Suffice it to say that Nespresso's systems don't allow it to alter a booking until it is ready to be shipped, two hours after the order has been placed. That's even if a customer phones up a moment after noticing an error -- the package still has be made up and loaded onto a van. Even then, numerous calls don't seem to clear an issue up, and even worse, they don't tell you when your coffee has arrived. Honestly, who now doesn't send out a "hope you're enjoying your x" email to sound friendly but to also let the person know the goods are down as delivered? Needless to say, it took a week for me to realise my coffee was so late I needed to put in a call to find that a courier claims to have delivered it several days ago.

Nespresso is pretty lucky in that customers are locked into its capsule range via the machine they have bought. We're a captive audience. If you can't say this about your brand, ask yourself a couple of questions. How do we help customers not to make mistakes, how do we help rectify them, how do we inform them we have found a solution and how do we help when things have to go backwards and goods are returned?

It seems fitting to end up with a cliché, but customer experience really is the new CRM and so if you can't work backwards it sounds very much like Web 1.0, doesn't it -- before Web 2.0 suggested that brands needed to listen as well as publish? Retail is a two way street and if you can't reverse and make things right, then customers will find someone who can -- even if it means you don't get to pretend to be George Clooney any more.

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