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Customer matters

On a recent visit to London, I got off to a rather late start for dinner and decided to walk around the area and find a small place that looked interesting for a late meal. Walking past Berkeley Square and down a side street or two, I happened upon La Petite Maison. The menu posted outside looked interesting, the entrance was inviting and the place was absolutely packed. There was a 30 minute wait for a table for one and, seeing that the place was bustling, I decided it must be worth the wait. I stepped across the alley for a quick ale at the Iron Duke Pub while I waited and watched a soccer match with the crowd.Quick note:  Stick with me here, I promise there’s a point. 

When it was time, I went back for my table at the restaurant and was greeted kindly by the hostess, shown to my seat and introduced to the waiter. Being a new customer, I asked for recommendations. He asked a few questions about what I liked, what I didn’t like and what type of food I was in the mood for. I took his recommendations for food and wine, relaxed into my chair and waited. At that moment I noticed a young lady being greeted at the door by the hostess, who then led her to a seat just two tables from me. Much to my surprise, it was Gwyneth Paltrow, who was having dinner with five or six of her friends. What was surprising to me was that the attention she received was identical to everyone else in the restaurant. She wasn’t doted on or treated unlike any other person in the restaurant. The servers were bustling around everyone, with a mix of respect for diner privacy and attentiveness as close to perfection as I’ve seen it. Through the entire meal, and afterward being met at the door by the manager and thanked for my business, I found the entire experience extraordinary.

And, to get to the point, that is how it should be in eCommerce. The expectation of customer service doesn’t change just because the customer isn’t physically in a store. Nor should it change if you’re a first time visitor or a celebrity regular. Companies that have a strong commitment to customer service don’t change their service level based on your locale, your name or perceived social status.

On a recent visit to a company in the South of England, the Operations Manager took us on a tour of the facility. He mentioned that no one in the call center came from a call center background and that they were trained to be very customer service focused. There was a screen on one wall with a count of “missed” calls. They defined a missed call as any call not answered in 14 seconds, even if the call was eventually answered. They instructed their customer service staff to spend as much time with each caller as needed, with more of a focus on answering the customers questions and making them feel great about the company, than worrying about getting on to the next call. This company has experienced strong growth and is very well positioned to continue that growth to a very loyal and still growing customer base.

So why do eCommerce companies continue get this wrong?  What is it about the allure of eCommerce that moves some to primarily focus on revenue related to page views, clicks and other metrics that often diminish the importance of the consumer?  It’s not that these metrics aren’t needed, but there are times when companies obviously focus on the consumer as an afterthought — after all the other metrics are in line.  Having been able to look at the workings of many eCommerce companies, it seems to me that those that focus on customer satisfaction usually have better luck with their more analytical metrics.

Many companies get this right, though. There are sites with fantastic recommendation engines, superb online communication management (not too many emails, not too few) and appropriate follow-up touch points after the sale to keep consumers coming back for more. A couple that come mind are Amazon and Zappos (now also Amazon, of course) along with the unnamed company I visited that day in the South of England.  After all, it was as if the manager at La Petite Maison and the company’s Operations Manager had almost identical strategies. Which makes me wonder… is Miss Paltrow is a client of both?