Winning the hearts, minds and wallet share of customers in today’s hyper-competitive online marketplace is no easy feat. Companies know – and some have learnt first-hand the hard way – that it can take years to establish brand equity, and one critical flaw to damage, or even destroy it. Every touch point between online business and customer is an opportunity to create a brand advocate or brand antagonist – and there are plenty of touch points, both on and offline, along the customer journey.
With so many interactions and customer exchanges – handshakes and handoffs between order acceptance, processing, fulfillment, delivery, and after sales support – all the while maintaining customer contact through status updates – mistakes are bound to happen. So how can online businesses create sustainable brand equity, positive brand experiences and unwavering customer loyalty? The answer may seem obvious, even cliché, though only a few companies have truly mastered its execution – provide an unparalleled customer experience by treating every interaction point as an opportunity to deepen your relationship with the customer.
I am going to use a recent purchasing experience with online retail giant and subsidiary of Amazon, Zappos.com, to demonstrate what it truly means to make the most out of every customer interaction.
Ingrain it into your corporate culture
Zappos’ #1 core value is to “deliver WOW through customer service.” Unlike many companies who work the concept of unparalleled customer experience into their mission statements, Zappos walks the talk, and it starts on the front line with their customer service reps (CSR). Zappos CSRs are not measured like most other company call centres on throughput and the ability to solve customer issues in the shortest amount of time. They are empowered to come up with creative solutions to solve customer issues and establish relationships with the person on the other end. I had an issue that required me to call into customer support multiple times (like I said, mistakes are bound to happen) and I can honestly say that dealing with Zappos’ CS team was an absolute pleasure, and the amazingly warm and personal service I received was consistent across all encounters.
Establish trust with your customers by acknowledging and addressing their purchase fears
This is where companies can truly differentiate themselves and establish unwavering trust with their customers, which is the foundation for developing brand loyalty and love. I can’t think of a tougher online business than selling shoes. Let’s face it, buying shoes in a bricks and mortar setting can be a challenge, with all of the different brands and variations in style and fit. I can tell you that from my own personal experience, I was incredibly skeptical. How does Zappos overcome the most obvious concerns their prospective customers have? By offering a second to none user experience (measurement guides, pictures from every angle, videos, and customer reviews and fit surveys) and backing it up with free shipping, free returns, and a 365 day return policy. This is neither inexpensive, nor easy to execute, but Zappos knows that by overcoming its customers’ purchase fears and providing unequivocal WOW service, the brand loyalty and profitable relationships they get in return heavily outweigh the costs to deliver.
People buy from people – Identify your brand’s personality and infuse it into every customer touch point
It’s one of the golden rules in sales, so ignore it to your own detriment. Zappos has a set of core values and guiding principles that it has infused into its culture and successfully bled into every customer interaction, from virtual to authentic. If you make a purchase from Zappos and never interact with a human being throughout the entire process, you cannot help but walk away feeling a personal connection to their brand.
Zappos emails share the same warm and humorous tone projected by their website and CSRs. They refer to their customers as “Zappos Zealots”, their salutations include “XOXO” and “With Love”, they solicit feedback to make the customer experience better, and they sign off by promoting a family core value like “Create Fun and A Little Weirdness.”
I am not a review guy. Never write them unless the experience is extraordinary, and that doesn’t happen often enough. Zappos sent me a follow up email a month after my purchase asking me for a review, and you know what, I took the time to give one. Why? Because Zappos showed me love and I wanted to return it. And trust me; those reviews power the shoe sales engine.
While I was blown away at every turn by my experience with Zappos, the service I received from them is par for the course, 24/7, without exception. They are mavericks of customer experience whose methods and business practices are the subject of hundreds of case studies. Zappos take no touchpoint with its customers for granted and views even the smallest interaction as an opportunity to deliver WOW. If you are an online business struggling to develop a (profitable) love affair with your customers I can tell you it’s not easy – delivering WOW is an art; however, if you tried to model yourself after a company like Zappos, even imitate a few of their business processes, you’d be well on your way.