Sunday, June 25, 2006

Lessons from Customer Experiences

The lessons we can learn in the real world are pretty applicable to the PR world. Quickly, think of how you are treated at any place you might go into - a store, a restaurant, a doctor's office. If you are treated well, you think better of the place and tell others. If you are treated poorly, you are unhappy with the experience, you walk away slightly miffed and that's it. Oh,and you tell people.

Well, that's pretty much how PR should be thinking of what it is doing. It does not matter the content delivery system - blogs, podcasts, television, mainstream media - but we are trying to tell a story and present a positive side of the story. So, couple weeks ago I was heading out to a friend's niece's birthday party out in Berkeley.

And, here's a great example of two incidences on why the customer experience influences decisions, and cements views and opinions.

The first is buying a birthday gift for her at American Apparel, and the next is me going to Everett & Jones (best damn BBQ, bar none - just look at that photo).

Okay, I live near one of the American Apparel stores. I like the shirts, they fit me well. I don't really care about their political bent, but more power to them.

The fact is that they pound their chest on their factories in East Los Angeles, but my shirts from Lacoste are made in Macao, and last quite a bit longer. I love buying a T-shirt from American Apparel and having it unravel ... after the first wash, line dried, naturally.

But, that's neither here nor there. It's the customer experience that is the best part of American Apparel (which I touched upon here). Or the worst, if you have to go through it. I just have three great stories that say "um, customers - who are they?" to me in regards to the store.

First, I like wearing long sleeve shirts underneath my short sleeve Lacostes. I like the look, and, well, it's freezing here. So, I want lilac. I like lilac. I look good in lilac. So, they transfer a shirt from another store ... and then take 20 minutes to look for where they put the shirt. The kids - and that might be the problem with the staff, it's all kids with no adult supervision and too cool to help people - ran downstairs, ran upstairs, ran everywhere.

But, um, did not look next to the register where they apparenlty keep the transfers. I walk up and grab the shirt and pay. They all look confused ... because the name "Pepper" is confusing?

Second, one of my best friends - and the impetus for this blog, so blame Kyle - lives in London. I was trying to figure out a birthday gift for him, and decided to order some shirts from American Apparel ... but had to do it online, because he lives in London. So, I order from the UK site ... and hear nothing. I send an email, and get a bounce back because the mail box is full. I call using Skype - I'm not going to spend real money on a call - and talk to customer service.

Now, this is almost two months since I ordered ... and no correspondence. The person I yelled at in the UK - let's be honest, I yelled at him - took the initiative and started corresponding, to let me know the issues (one shirt never came back to the UK) and that he would keep on top of it. He did, and he did a great job.

So, I emailed his boss ... and heard nothing. Classic example of no sense in customer service.

The last example was the niece birthday gift. And, pretty much a last straw. I go in, and ask for some help on buying a gift for a three-year old. Now, as far as I know, clothing is pretty standard for children. I ask for help, and I get the "I don't know, don't bother me" look. So, I ask again, and pretty much note that how the hell do you work at a clothing store and know nothing about size.

An overall wonderful experience just trying to buy a T-shirt ... but no one is trained to actually know anything about clothes at the store.

It's the too cool to help you mentality. We're soooo hip, we don't need you is the vibe.

Now, a real cool store is Everett & Jones.

Here's an example of customer service that explains why the restaurant has been around for more than 30 years. When I lived in the East Bay, I used to go to E&J for brisket a few times a month. The place rocks. And, when I do go to the East Bay now, I try to hit one of the places, but usually go to the one on San Pablo.

What makes them so good at customer service? Well, they say hello, remember faces of people that eat there, and treat everyone pretty much the same.

The service is not special for some people, but an egalitarian place. It's clean (well, for an old building), it's fast and it's customer oriented.

Is that really so hard? In all the times I have been there, the staff has been friendly and chatted up a little bit, noted that I always get the same thing - they make me feel like they really care if I come back.

It's pure PR - working with the public that comes to your place.

So, what's the point? In this "social media" world - blogs, podcasts, vidcasts, Yelp - it is too easy to air your issues with a company.

If the company is smart - and I give American Apparel credit for finding my first post, and commenting - then they are going to work on the issues presented. If not, then the company - and this will affect the local, smallest place to the largest multinational - will suffer and not realize why.

So, it comes down to good PR at the front-end, and good monitoring and PR at the back-end.

Photo from
Trac_1980, all rights reserved.

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