Don’t Bury Amazing Customer Experience Under a Mountain of Customer Effort



Back when I was a kid, we used to get prizes inside cereal boxes, and getting to those prizes was a bit of a ritual.  Arriving home after the Friday night round of weekly grocery shopping, my brother, sister, and I would open the box of Shreddies we brought home and spend the next fifteen minutes or hard at work.  Our first step was to peer inside the box hoping the glint of plastic would catch our eye.  If that didn’t yield results, we’d reach in and see if we could find the prize through touch (touching every, single Shreddie in the process).  If that didn’t work, we’d dump the entire box into a big bowl and sift through it until we got the prize.  Looking back, I see how much effort we invested to get them.

I share that with you because of my recent experience with the company that makes my blender.  They buried their prize, which was a stellar call centre experience, beneath a mountain of effort to get there.  A closer examination of my experience provides an excellent case study on how great recruiting (the customer service agent I finally spoke with was superlative), training, and an obvious customer-first culture was buried beneath heaps of inattentive social media, a poor IVR, and a website that made finding their toll-free number more difficult than it needed to be.  So, let’s get to it.  I broke my blender, and here’s what happened next:

Step 1:  Twitter

Upon discovering my blender had become non-functional, I hit their website on my phone and found that they’re on Twitter.  Awesome.  A look at their Twitter handle showed some customer service related engagement (the standard, “Sorry to hear that.  Please DM us your details and we’ll get back to you.”).  I Tweeted my issue and expected a reply.  After 24 hours, nothing.  I Tweeted again: More silence.  The result of this was a sense that my blender company had little concern for customer satisfaction.  Turns out that perception was far from accurate, but I wouldn’t have known that from my experience with them on Twitter.

Step 2:  Phone Call Attempt #1

Going back to their website, I managed to find the “contact us” button at the bottom of their site in very small text.  Clicking on that, I scanned the page, found their toll-free number, and dialed.  After listening to their automated greeting and being given 4 options (none were for what I was calling about), I hit “0,” was greeted in French (not sure why), told the call would be recorded, and then after a moment the recording advised me that the office was currently closed.  Argh.

Step 3:  Phone Call Attempt #2

The next day I called,  hit “0,” got French, pressed “1” for my language preference (English), seemed to get more French, then an English call-recording notification, then silence.  And more silence (one usually hears music, or….something).  Unsure of whether I had been disconnected, I hung up and re-dialed.

Step 4:  Phone Call Attempt #4

I repeated Step(s) 3, but this time instead of silence I was connect to a truly fabulous customer service agent.  Alice took the time to express sympathy for my situation, carefully made sure she understood what the issue was with my blender (she even got the same model blender I had, so we could walk through my issue together), and she made careful notes.  At the end of the call, she took my address and promised a new blender would be sent within 10 days.  And voila, 4 days later, I have a new blender.

Keeping the Prize Well Hidden

What’s fascinating about this is that based on my experience with Alice I’m convinced that my blender company is 100% dedicated to their customers’ satisfaction.  Having said that, the focus of their efforts has evidently been on the contact centre touch-point, potentially at the neglect of other touch-points that come earlier in the customer journey.  The onus was on me to sift through the pile of negative experience (including the fact that the blender had broken), until I finally got to the prize, which was a brilliant customer service professional and a new blender that arrived earlier than expected.  Had I not done the equivalent of dumping the box of Shreddies into a bowl and gone sifting, all of the effort that had gone into the phone experience would have remained hidden, and I would have a new blender from a different company.

What We Can Learn

Many organizations invest significantly on training and technology designed to deliver great customer service at the contact centre level.  But if your customers need to exert unreasonable effort to experience that service, you may be investing in something that many of your customers never get to.  Indeed, they may have given up earlier in the process and taken their business elsewhere.  Providing great customer experience through the contact centre is awesome.   Be careful not to hide it under a mountain of customer effort to get there.



Social Media Strategies of H&M, Zara, and Esprit – Analysis


How H&M, Zara, and Esprit Use Social Media for Customer Care

In Search of a Buzz (Social Media buzz, that is)

If you’ve been reading my previous blog entries, you’ll be familiar with the varying approaches different organizations take to handling customer inquiries via social media – in particular Twitter.   After reviewing thousands of tweet exchanges between brands and customers, I think a new performance indicator for brand engagement may be emerging – Social Media Buzz.

Social media buzz can be loosely defined as a spontaneous back-and-forth between customer and brand.  Initiated by the customer, these exchanges are expressions of joy over the great experience the brand is creating.  The expressions can be in the form of the overt “you guys rock” variety, or they can be inquiries from an enthusiastic fan, such as “when will X be available in my area?”   The responses are also characterized by a thank you, and perhaps a follow up to keep the exchange going.

They’re unique because, with rare exceptions, they can only happen in social media, since social media is a relatively painless way for a customer to reach a brand (compared to the effort involved in placing a call, waiting on hold, navigating the IVR, etc.).  Sure people call a brand to provide praise, but as any customer service rep will tell you, a customer calling to say “I love you” is a rare occurrence indeed.

As well, these are most likely to happen in Twitter, because Twitter encourages random communication, as opposed to communication within a more narrow context of commenting on existing content (which would be Facebook, or a blog).

As we analyse the Twitter customer care strategy of more top apparel brands including H&M, Zara, and Esprit, let’s keep the additional key performance indicator of social media buzz in mind.  What you’ll notice is that some brands have it, and some don’t.

First, let’s start at base camp, which is Zappos.  Here’s an example of the buzz that I’m talking about:

[blackbirdpie url=!/mewmewlee/status/69783004993687552]

[blackbirdpie url=!/Zappos_Service/status/69786936159645696]

 Now let’s take a look at how some other brands handle customer care on Twitter.


H&M has a variety of Twitter handles which are country specific (@HmUSA, @HmCanada, for example), as well as simply H&M.  While they have an online presence, they don’t have online shopping.  So, other than PR like this:

[blackbirdpie url=”!/hm/status/62886771192639488″]

H&M seems to field a lot of questions about when United States online shopping will be live, like this:

[blackbirdpie url=”!/leahx09/status/61957609858662401″]

[blackbirdpie url=!/hm/status/62890655487229952]

Not really “buzzy.”  But take a look at the following.  I’d say that as far as customer engagement is concerned, @HmUSA at least is certainly in the game.

[blackbirdpie url=!/hmusa/status/63588350229102592]

Notice how @HmUSA leverages that buzz by “re-tweeting” the original comment, rather than simply replying to it (like, Delta, or Zappos, for example).  That way it’s really easy for customers to see the positive feedback on Twitter.  What’s more, to further capitalize on this, if you click on their Twitter link from the H&M website, you’ll be greeted with tweets and tweets of happy positive energy.  It’s a pretty impressive view, and certainly creates a sense that something pretty awesome is happening.  

I noticed, though, that there wasn’t any negative feedback.  I took a look at replies from H&M that didn’t include Re-tweets.  They told a different, and predictable, story:

[blackbirdpie url=”!/hmusa/status/63314776226398208″]

Here’s what it’s in response to:

[blackbirdpie url=”!/Chrisse_Ingrid/status/63293529878822912″]

So @HmUSA rewards positive comments with a re-tweet.  Negative feedback warrants only a response.   While some would say this is savvy policy, others might say it’s inauthentic.  Regardless of the debate, re-tweeting positive comments certainly something to consider when crafting your brands’ Twitter strategy.  Speaking of customer care, H&M’s Twitter team doesn’t do that.  Here’s the evidence:

[blackbirdpie url=”!/hmusa/status/59353361400602624″]

From the brand’s silo mindset, the people who handle Twitter for H&M are PR, so they don’t handle customer complaints.  To them the “not my department” mindset makes sense.   The problem with that is customers don’t think in terms of silos, they think in terms of one brand, one voice.   To a customer, the overarching message is that while H&M wants you to follow them, and read their tweets, and appreciates your positive feedback,  they don’t want to help you if your experience goes off the rails.  It’s no stretch to suggest that in an increasingly customer-centric market, this is an unfortunate and outdated strategy.  The risk is that customers will first “unfollow” on Twitter, and then completely disengage from the brand.  Case in point, Amanda no longer follows @HmUSA.  I wonder if she still shops there.


Zara is really fascinating because there is certainly a huge amount of buzz about the brand on Twitter.  Here’s an example:

[blackbirdpie url=!/lylemcadam/statuses/70078885370408960]

The interesting thing is that there is no engagement from the brand back to their fans.  If this tweet was about Zappos, there would have been a reply from Zappos within minutes.  But from Zara, the sound of crickets is nearly deafening.   There is an option to tweet a product one is looking at from their online store.  Other than that, though, you would think Zara didn’t know Twitter existed.  Good thing the majority of tweets are positive.  One can only imagine that if Zara chose to give a little love back to their customers, the Zara brand would enjoy considerable growth.


Esprit also has no presence on Twitter.  At first I thought @Espritgirls might be them, but I was mistaken (@Espritgirls is a very different vertical, or, um, shall I say “horizontal.”  If you look up @Esprit_girls, you’ll see why.).   This is also an excellent example of why it’s important to stake your Twitter territory as soon as you can.

What’s also interesting about Esprit is that they do have an e-commerce site, despite not having a Twitter presence.  If you have a question, you still have to pick up the phone and call them.

That’s kind of too bad, because they don’t have any way of addressing comments like this one:

[blackbirdpie url=!/nandoism/status/62587439981662208]

If you click on the link, you’ll see how this social media savvy cusomer is using Foursquare to name the specific store where he had a negative customer experience.  Ouch.

What is different between Zara and Esprit is that no one seems to be even talking about Esprit.  Perhaps there is a relationship between that and the fact that, according to a recent Milward Brown Optimor report, Esprit’s brand value declined a pretty incredible 28% (Zara showed an increase of 4% , so more or less flat.  And Zappos, well, nearly a billion dollars for an online shoe store).

Overall Learning

The overall learning from this is that effective participation with a customer base on Twitter can increase brand engagement, and it stands to reason that it increases the brand’s overall value.  Brands that choose not to engage their customers on Twitter, and in social media in general, miss a gift-wrapped opportunity to leverage customer engagement to drive sales.  H&M clearly engages customers well, although there is room for improvement by providing some genuine customer care.  Zara and Esprit have either chosen not to listen to customers on social media, or just aren’t there yet.  While Zara is an omipresent brick-and-mortar brand, one can only imagine the potential of harnessing their existing online buzz by actually participating in the exchange.  And for Esprit, which for a long time has languished as a marginal brand in North America, and is in decline globally, one wonders if social media engagement could be the shot in the arm this brand needs to build some upward momentum.

Thank you as always for reading.  Comments and questions are always welcome.  And if you want information about how our organization can help leverage social media to drive customer engagement with your brand, let’s connect.