So I referenced a recent Advertising Age article (See What Best Buy Learned About Service as Marketing and Empowering Employees, Nov 24) in my recent post about Best Buy’s Twelpforce — a set of Best Buy employees who respond via Twitter to customer queries and concerns. There is a line in that article that I have not been able to get out of my head: Service is the New Marketing. Here is the argument behind that statement:
Let there be no mistake — Best Buy views customer service as a marketing and brand-building opportunity. In reviewing hundreds of tweets, Twelpforce members did everything from route consumers to website content, demonstration links, or the latest Best Buy advertising.
Now pair that line of thought with this bit about Bonobos, the New-York-based seller of men’s pants that feature a unique curved waist line for an improved fit (On a Mission to Banish the Saggy Bottom, New York Times, Nov 26):
[Co-founder and CEO Andy] Dunn is well aware that manufacturers could easily replicate Bonobos pants, so he is trying to distinguish the company with customer service, convenience and technology. …
Bonobos also offers free shipping both ways along with lifetime returns, and encourages people to buy and return several pairs of pants to find the right fit. Its so-called style ninjas are available by phone, e-mail and, soon, video chat, where they will assess fit and give style advice.
So customer service is the new marketing and upstart firms are counting on customer service and style ninjas to differentiate themselves. So where does the line between operations and marketing fall? How many workers to staff, what activities are necessary to complete a transaction, how much discretion front line workers have all come down to issues of process design, which sounds like operations. However, if customer service is going to be the bedrock of your marketing plan, all of those choices now take on an additional dimension.
So here is a conjecture: This is easier to do in a centralized environment. Bonobos can do this because all of their ninjas are centralized in a call center. Best Buy’s Twelpers might work because the queries all come through one place and the responses are saved in a public record. Best Buy’s stores are a different story. The LA Times discussed this in a recent column appropriately titled “The sad illusion of happy customers” (Nov 11):
This week, electronics heavyweight Best Buy launched a nationwide marketing campaign under the banner “They’ll be happy, you’ll be happy, we’ll be happy.” What they’re saying is that the company will bend over backward to help you shop for gifts this holiday season and will do whatever it takes to ensure that gift recipients are pleased with what they get. This, in turn, will warm the hearts of Best Buy shareholders. “Happy customers is a long-term strategy for us,” Best Buy’s chief marketing officer, Barry Judge, told me. “If they’re happy, they’ll want to buy more.”
That’s the idea anyway. But after visiting a couple of Best Buy stores and chatting with customers, I’d say the company still has some work to do on the happiness front.
“The trade-off is that you get the selection and square footage, but you have to hunt to find someone to help you,” said Glendale resident Howard Erickson after buying a mini-fridge at the Best Buy in Los Feliz.
The sprawl inherent in large chains makes it harder to monitor and manage individual customer contacts. It will be interesting to see if Best Buy will ever be able to provide uniform high quality service across all its stores.