Selling Beauty Products: The Customer Experience in Reverse

Selling-beauty-productsIn the lucrative cosmetics business, it has been documented that many customers first go online to look for products and then travel to the store to find real experts.  Nancy Hastings, Vice President for Sales & Education for Tom Ford Beauty, said the company sells double the items per transaction at the beauty counter as it does online.

Bee Shapiro (no relation) recently wrote an article in The New York Times, sub-titled, “with technology and star talent, brick and mortar stores offer perks to compete with online retailers.”  Beauty products that enhance always hold great allure for both men and women and many high-end retailers are investing in the customer experience at the store.  “Customers, perhaps inspired by how-to videos, now expect better-trained counter staff,” and many companies are complying.  Alexandra Papazian, the Senior VP for marketing at YSL Beaute says, “in some ways the lines between the department store beauty shopping and e-commerce are blurring. A customer might notice something on a website first and then go to the store. You need to excel in both areas.”

All retailers should take note. Brick and mortar can still flourish and be profitable but experienced, tenured employees are a must.   Communicating with a live chat agent while visiting a website is helpful, but when it comes to selecting products for your skin and face, there is no substitute for the personal touch.

Does this concept only apply to those companies selling pricey cosmetics that have equally pricey profit margins?  No, personalized service by an experienced and service-oriented associate helps sales today and tomorrow no matter what the product.  Building customer loyalty takes multiple steps.  It requires a welcoming attitude, listening to what the customer needs and inviting them to return.

According to the article, customers reported, that, “gentle guidance, more instructive than the old-fashioned hard sell is worth the trip to the store.” If retailers want to survive and be successful it is necessary to make every customer feel that traveling by car, train, bus or subway, taking the time to go to the store, is worth the journey.

6 Reasons To Pay Your Frontline Associates More

6-reasons-to-pay-frontline-associates-moreKip Tindell, CEO of The Container Store, a home-organization retailer, says frontline associates should be paid more. Although Container Store sales and stock recently took a hit, he has no plan to change his employee compensation philosophy or policy, according to a Wall Street Journal article by Rachel Fentzeig.

I think Mr. Kip Tendell’s credo regarding his employees is sensible; in fact what he espouses just makes good common sense.

  1. One Person is Worth Three: Kip says that a foundational principal of The Container Store is that “one equals three;” one great person can be as productive as three others.  He goes on to say that if a company believes in that rule then by definition an employee can be paid 50 to 100 percent above the industry average.
  2. Let’s keep our super stars: The Container Stores wants to keep good people. That makes sense too. With services and products becoming so much more complex, consumers relish experience and want to interact with confident frontline associates.  In The Container Store paradigm, employees are given large annual increases based on their individual contributions.  In other words they are rewarded on their ROI.
  3. Provide Employees Quality Feedback: Employees are reviewed on an annual basis and their managers spend four or five hours not only providing feedback, but discussing each of the performance criteria in detail. This allows the manager and employee to study the overall assessment and create improvement plans that work.
  4. Motivate Entry Level Associates: Entry-level associates are reviewed and given increases after the first three months. While everyone appreciates a salary bump, Kip says getting a raise when first starting a career is a great motivator. It’s another way that The Container Store attracts good people to apply for positions within the company.
  5. Employees Recommend Future Co-Workers:  The Container Store does not rely on Human Resources for the employee pool but encourages current associates to recommend individuals.  This system has worked well. There are no rules about relatives not being recruited.  Kip’s wife, Sharon, is the Chief Merchandising Officer.  Certainly this is thinking outside the box.  Associates have suggested interviewing a waiter they met at a restaurant whose customer service skills were great or a friend who they know would be a good fit for the company.
  6. Maintain Your Principles During Good Times and Bad: When asked about the recent stock decline, Kip states emphatically that he will not compromise his principles even when same-store sales are lower.  There is always fluctuation and bumps in the road.  Doing what a company believes is right is the constant.

Kip Tindell will become the new incoming Chairman of the National Retail Federation in a few months.  It will be interesting to see if his leadership will influence those retailers who are satisfied with paying frontline associates either minimum wage or slightly above to meet the P&L. The Container Store epitomizes “Penny-wise, pound foolish.”   Kip understands “you get what you pay for.” I’m looking forward to reading his new book, Un-containable. I know it will be an interesting read and a great tutorial for all retail establishments.

The Customer Experience Continues After the Transaction is Complete

Customer experience starts when the transaction is completeIn order to develop true customer loyalty, the shopping experience must feel like more than just a transactional exchange. Gestures of appreciation are important to remind customers they are important.

It is innate in human nature to be suspicious of someone who does not express interest in us after money has changed hands. Reaching out to express appreciation provides an opportunity for a true human connection. Pick any company customers say they “love.” You will find they make sure their customers know they matter. Customers will not want to pursue a “love affair” unless they know they are important.

Remembering customers after the transaction is rarely included in a company’s overall customer service strategy. This is a mistake and should be an integral part of the master plan. Companies think that sending emails on a regular basis, providing discount coupons and announcements of future sales is a way to keep in touch with customers. However, it’s not enough, especially the constant email bombardment; that is more annoying than anything else.  What is needed are procedures, policies and training for staff to show customers they matter in the regular course of doing business.

Companies recognize that it is important to have processes in place to react to issues. However, what is less obvious is the neglect that customers feel when a company can’t be easily reached when a problem or question arises.  Telephone contact numbers are not published or difficult to find and contact pages hidden.  Customers are in a holding pattern for long periods of time and return policies are inflexible.  All these send a message to the customer that the company really doesn’t care about them or if they remain loyal.

A good example of furthering the connection and making a customer feel important is as follows.  A mother of the bride purchases a beautiful dress for her daughter’s once in a lifetime occasion. The boutique does all the right things; they have knowledgeable sales professionals, excellent fitters and tailors and meet all the time commitments. That may be sufficient, but perhaps not. To really show the customer they matter, the salesperson should pick up the phone a week later and ask about the wedding and the gown. How was the party? Was it everything she envisioned and hoped for?  Tell your customer that she and her daughter were in your thoughts.

Those questions would make the customer feel good and know that her money was well spent. I can promise you that even if this customer won’t be buying another evening gown, she will recommend your store to all her friends.

Have your staff come up with ways to show customers that they are still important after the transaction has been completed. Add the human element and touch. That sale might be over, but the customer experience will continue to flourish.

Five Ways to Poise Customer Service for the Future

Five Ways to Poise Customer Service for the FutureIt’s Monday and the first day of Customer Service Week. Let’s begin by setting goals for a long-term strategy to make sure that customer service is one of your company’s competitive differentiators.

I think it’s a fair estimate that a typical customer service representative handles more than 10,000 calls a year. That’s 10,000 interactions, 10,000 opportunities to positively influence the customers’ loyalty toward the brand and the company. There is no other department so uniquely positioned to achieve this goal. The Customer Service Department must take its place on the C Suite level to have the greatest impact.

Here are five ways Customer Service can demonstrate its value and be a top rung in the organization’s ladder.

  1. Turnover in Customer Service is extremely high. According to Forrester’s analyst, Kate Leggett, having less than a 20 percent turnover for call centers is considered good, with some experiencing over 100 percent. As issues become more complicated and communication instantaneous, organizations must have agents who are competent and well trained with comprehensive information about your company’s products and services.  By definition, this requires longevity.  Representatives should be appreciated and compensated for their expertise. It’s important to include representatives in the decision making process.  They are an integral part of the bottom line profitability.
  2. Stakeholders are critical to Customer Service.  Many departments within a company rely on Customer Service to support them with information not easily obtained otherwise. Consider getting feedback from stakeholders to assess their satisfaction levels. Discover additional services that Customer Service can provide to stakeholders to further support their functions. This will result in additional exposure and help secure supplemental budgets for personnel, training and technology.
  3. Customers demand a personalized experience. There are new innovations in technology almost daily and multiple products and services from which to choose. Delivering a unique customer experience becomes even more crucial.  Hiring customer service agents with specific skill sets and providing ongoing training is mandatory.  The customer service representative must have the necessary tools to accommodate an individual’s specific needs and requirements.
  4. Executives need to walk the talk. Posting letters from C-Level executives highlighting the importance of Customer Service doesn’t mean anything.  Company executives should spend at least a half of a day a year responding to telephone and email inquiries. Feedback should be provided about what they learned from the experience and the processes.  Sending wave files of selected calls won’t achieve the same goal.
  5. It’s more than just putting an empty chair in your meetings. Jeff Bezos, from Amazon, placed an empty chair at all meetings; that represented the ”customer.”  This was to keep in the forefront that the customer is central and what would they think of any new ideas suggested.  But is that sufficient?  The person or team in charge of Customer Service should also be in those meetings. That department has the direct connection to the customer. An empty chair can’t talk. Customer Service has its finger on the pulse of what customers want.

Bottom line:  Customer Service is responsible for customers, a company’s most important asset.  Let’s celebrate Customer Service Week by acknowledging both the customer and those who represent them and make sure we give representatives the tools, authority an recognition they well deserve.

@Uber Customer Service Matches Their Car Service

@Uber Customer Service Matches Their Car ServiceMy son told me to download the Uber app.  I did as he suggested but never had the need to use the service.  I live in Manhattan so there is usually a taxi available.

Last weekend we were going into Queens and I thought it was time to contact Uber.  The car arrived within five minutes, right on schedule.  In fact, the app provided a countdown; I liked that.  We got into the black Toyota and were on our way.  Almost, immediately, I received a text from another Uber driver saying he was waiting for us in front of our building.  Whoops!  Apparently, another resident requested a car at the same time as ours.  I looked at the confirmation text and yes, it said Toyota, but a Corolla and we were in a Camry.  I told the driver about our mistake and he said, “don’t worry, just tell the driver to cancel your trip.”

The next day, I get an email from Uber.

Dear Richard

Did you mean to contact Uber Support?

Please reply to this email if there were any issues we need to look into. I’ll be happy to help.

Happy Ubering!

All the best,


Uber Support

Somehow I must have hit “support” in error when I was trying to reach the other driver.  Mistake #2.  Uber got my message without any content.  It could have been ignored, but instead:

  • Sent me a personalized email using my first name
  • Asked if I still needed assistance
  • Offered to help and assured me I wasn’t a bother
  • Wished me a good day – Happy Ubering!
  • Personalized the email with a signature, Les

They treated me like a person. They were proactive. They could have sent me an automatic response that read,  “If you need help, please call us, but don’t reply to this email.”

I emailed Les to tell him that it was our first experience and we accidently got into the wrong vehicle and I hit Support in my haste to contact the driver.

Les replied almost immediately:

Hi Richard,

Thanks for writing back and letting me know. Happy to help.

So sorry to hear about the trouble here! I’ve gone ahead and refunded $8 back to your method of payment and requested an updated receipt be emailed to you. You should see the change reflected in your account within 1-3 business days.

Thanks for letting us know and please let me know if I can help with anything else. Happy Ubering!

All the best,


I appreciated his response and felt comfortable that I would get a refund within a few days; he even provided a timeframe. I also knew I could contact him anytime with other questions.

Uber has a unique model that is proving to be highly successful. But, coupled with the car service is their customer service, both providing a smooth and hassle-free ride.

When Setting Customer Expectations Backfires

When Setting Customer Expectations BackfiresOne of the most important ingredients for delivering service excellence is setting a customer’s expectations. I live in Manhattan and use the subways for transportation.  When a station has an electronic sign telling me when the next train will arrive, I’m happy. I, along with everyone else, have important information that helps us make decisions.  We are in control.

I also use OpenTable, a website for making reservations at restaurants.  It’s easy to navigate: click on the city, date, time and restaurant of choice and hit enter.  The table is reserved. Repeat customers on the site are rewarded; certificates can be redeemed to use at certain restaurants after enough points are accumulated.  It’s OpenTable’s policy to recognize loyal users.

So far, so good.  I decided to cash in some points for an upcoming night out.  I received a pop up message that I should expect my coupon in three weeks.  That sounded ridiculous.  Why should it take that long to send my reward?  That was the turnaround in 1970, not 2014.  Then to add insult to injury, I got the following email:

“We have received your request for an OpenTable Cheque. While most requests are processed in fewer than 3 weeks, please allow up to 6 weeks for delivery.”

I was not happy with that communication as you can well imagine.

Setting customer expectations is a “must do.”  Creating the process to back up the expectation is just as important.  In this case, the company must determine how to deliver their reward in a timely manner.  Tell customers using the website that it could take up to a month and a half to receive their “cheque” so plans could be made in advance.

I read recently that acquired OpenTable earlier this year. I hope management looks into an electronic system to send customers their coupons.  At least that’s what I would expect.

Five Ways to Destroy Customer Goodwill

5-ways-to-destroy-customer-goodwillMillions of dollars are spent each year attracting new customers.  Once a company procures that customer, an investment is made to deliver an excellent customer experience. However, all the money on advertising, social media exposure, and staff coaching, goes right out the window with the word, “NO!”  There are other variations as well: “can’t, won’t, not allowed.”  All have the capacity to destroy customer goodwill.

  1. In August, I went into a men’s store and asked if they had their winter gloves in stock yet. The answer was “no.” Period.  It could have been,” What were you looking for? Let me check with my manager if we will be getting the style you want.  Please give me your number or email and I will contact you tomorrow.”  When an associate just says no, the customer is being told we don’t care and you’re not important.
  2. We recently had our bathroom renovated.  The contractor had promised that he could install a 4-inch deep medicine cabinet.  When the sheetrock was removed, he discovered the studs were not where he thought they were and wouldn’t allow for the cabinet we wanted.  Did he say, “No, we can’t do it?”  Actually not; he said, “We have a problem and don’t worry, I have two solutions. You can decide which one will work better for you.”  When customers can make a choice, they feel better.
  3. I called my credit card company with a question.  I tried to resolve the issue on their website, but could not.  The recording that answered my call said,  “We are experiencing a high volume of calls and customers should contact us another time.”   That’s a terrible message.  It’s telling me I’m not important and my question can wait.  There must be enough representatives available to help customers without a long hold time or calling back.
  4. Many restaurants require a reservation. How many times have you called and were told,” Sorry, we are booked.” Is the restaurant booked for life?  A better response would be, “ Is there another time or day that would work for you?  We would like for you to dine with us.” Let a customer know their business and loyalty is valued.
  5. The founder of CitiStorage, Norm Brodsky, instructed his staff never to say “no” to a co-worker or customer without speaking to him first.  In the early 1990’s the company was only storing furniture and “stuff” from peoples’ homes. A customer called and asked if he could store 27 boxes of business records. That request had never been made and Norm had not considered that kind of service.  Because of the customer’s inquiry, Mr. Brodsky decided to start a new division of his company, storing business records.  Today, that is a significant part of his sales and profits. The opportunity may never have presented itself if company policy was just to say no.  How much money is your business losing?

It is vital that customers feel valued and appreciated.  Telling customers no defeats that purpose.  Don’t lose a customer’s loyalty with a negative.  The relationship may end and never be recovered. 

The Perfect Retail Associate at @Macys

The Perfect Retail Associate at @MacysTwo years ago at Christmas, a friend gave us a gift card to Macy’s.  For whatever reason, one of the largest department stores in the world was not on our radar. Maybe because of its size and crowds or its location in Manhattan, we never shopped there.  However, armed with our gift and needing new sheets, we decided to go to Macy’s after the holiday rush to find new bedding.

We arrived just as the store opened and was greeted by Rochelle with a big smile and welcoming attitude.  It was really cold that morning and the first thing she said to us was, “ I’m glad you’re inside where it’s warm.  How can I help you?  Something important must have made you venture outside on this frigid day.”  We told her what we wanted, that we had our gift card and she responded, “ You came to the right place.”

Immediately we liked Rochelle.  Not only was she a delightful person, she knew her stuff. There was no question she could not answer about all the merchandise on her floor.  She was on a first name basis with every associate working in the department.  Rochelle asked us many questions too: what was our color scheme, what kind of furniture did we have, what about photos of our bedroom to give her a better picture of what we could purchase.

Rochelle had many suggestions.  She pointed out every pro and con.  We selected merchandise and she kept all the items at her cash register so we could see everything together and know how much it all would cost.

We learned that Rochelle had been working at Macy’s for years, not months or a season, but for a long time.  She shared some stories from her extensive career and told us about her family.  We were so happy to have met her and she was excited as well.  Rochelle gave us her email and said we could reach her anytime with a question or concern.  She invited us to return to Macy’s.

Fast forward to last week.  We decided that new towels for the bathroom would be nice and without any hesitation, emailed Rochelle.  We knew she would still be on the sixth floor of Macy’s and asked when she would be there.  We were looking forward to seeing her again and relying on her expertise.

Our second experience was just as fabulous as the first. Rochelle was our tour guide as we walked from one bath department to another.  If she didn’t know the stock in a particular area, she asked one of her fellow co-workers to check the inventory.  As we browsed and brought things to her register, she not only took care of us, but other customers as well.

We bought our new towels and a few other things too and when we said goodbye to Rochelle, it was like leaving a good friend.  Of course she said she hoped to see us soon and not to let too much time go by before another visit.

Rochelle has the perfect personality to create and build a customer relationship as well as the knowledge of her department to give us confidence that we were in good hands.

Both components are important.  Expertise coupled with a welcoming smile and listening to the customer and paying attention is the formula for great customer service.

How much is Rochelle worth to Macy’s?  I don’t know the dollar amount but, as the MasterCard commercial says:  Rochelle and the customer experience she creates is priceless.


Do C-Suite Executives Really Want Customer Feedback?

Do C-Suite Executives Really Want Customer Feedback?In the 1970’s and 80’s I worked for ADP. The CEO for most of my tenure was Josh Weston. Josh was brilliant. He knew every financial indicator for each region. He could quote specific numbers for overall satisfaction, customer churn and profitability.

Josh was interested in customer feedback too.  Not just the numbers, but what customers were really thinking: what did they feel was good, what wasn’t working, were they confident that ADP could handle their future requirements?  At ADP I was Vice President of Client Retention and Customer Satisfaction and responsible for the National Account Manager Program.  When I returned from customer field visits around the country, I would prepare a detailed analysis about what I learned from customers and document any suggestions customers had to improve service delivery or product features. Encouraged by Josh, senior executives were eager to read the report because it contained valuable customer insights that could be turned into actionable data.

Now I find most C-Suite executives are only interested in one number. It could be the company’s Customer Effort Score, NPS, or overall CSAT. They can probably quote any of those in their sleep. But, if you ask them how customers really feel or what specific changes their company is making to promote customer loyalty, they probably don’t have answers.

When customers rate a company on customer satisfaction, they are primarily basing their overall perception on their transactional experiences. Many factors are involved: how easy is it to reach the call center; is resolving a billing issue difficult; what is the company’s return policy? The frontline associates who handle these transactions can be the catalyst to move the loyalty needle. Unfortunately, I think most senior level executives don’t spend enough time learning what’s behind the numbers and fail to invest to customer service.

Numbers are meaningless without backing them up with what customers are thinking and feeling.  The saying is, “the devil is in the details.” Customer feedback can provide the details creating the roadmap to make improvements at every point in the customers’ loyalty journey.

The Human Touch vs. Self-Checkout

The Human Touch vs. Self-Checkout Walmart is replacing their self-service checkout this holiday season.  Instead, they are employing people to provide a personal touch and customer service at the point of purchase. I’m happy to hear that at least one retailer recognizes that self-service and reducing costs are not synonymous.

Shelly Banjo, a Wall Street Journal reporter, wrote an article about Walmart execs trying to stave off further quarterly declines.  The executives have been quoted that it is well known people are frustrated waiting in long lines to pay for their purchases.  They understand that self-checkout can be a slow process when customers can’t figure out the process or the equipment malfunctions.  Often there is no staff to help.  Walmart had experimented with a program called “Scan and Go,” allowing customers to scan items on their mobile devices as they walked through the store.  Then, with a scan of their phone, the items could be purchased at any kiosk, eliminating the cashier line altogether.  The result was a disaster.  The process was complicated and confusing and the pilot a failure.

How many times have I become irritated with a long wait and left my purchases to go to another store.  I am personally pleased that Walmart is taking this step to improve their customer service.   I have some suggestions for Walmart and other retailers.  The checkout counter should not only be the place for customers to pay for their purchases but the spot where frontline associates can make a connection and create a personal relationship.  The checkout counter should not be the end of the retail transaction but the beginning of the customer loyalty journey.

Some suggestions for transforming checkout into a “Welcome Counter” include:

  • Hire frontline associates who can personalize the encounter.   Just by noticing items purchased or what a person is wearing are important first steps. I appreciate when a representative says to me, “I like that yogurt flavor, too, or that’s a great tie you are wearing.”  Of course, it has to be genuine.
  • Cashiers who introduce themselves even if their name is on their badge, helps create a connection; “Hi! I’m Mary. I’m happy to help you.”
  • Thanking customers for their purchases and using their name. Many times customers pay with a credit card. The associate knows their name. Saying: “Thank you, Mr. Smith and have a great rest of the day,” can make customers feel special.

Walmart is on the right track. The purpose of having people at the checkout counter is to reduce the wait and have fewer complaints.  Human beings are great when they act human.  If the cashiers at the checkout counters behave robotically, the process may be more efficient and the lines a bit shorter, but the opportunity to generate repeat business will be lost.

Many customers love self-service counters. I use them when I have to, but often think that a big smile from a person would make my day. What do you think?