Thursday, August 29, 2013

Brandemix Bonus Reel: Improving Customer Service

Jason Ginsburg, Director of Interactive Branding at Brandemix, shows how smaller retailers and independent boutiques can create personal connections with customers -- increasing both loyalty and sales.

Thanks again to Software Advice for sharing this research with us.

Monday, August 26, 2013

When Employees Create Personal Connections, Both Customers and Retailers Win

Recently, I demonstrated how small retailers can improve and emphasize their competitive advantages over national chain stores. This week, I came across an interesting research project that took this philosophy to the next level.

Ashley Verrill, a CRM analyst and managing editor of Software Advice's Customer Service Investigator, launched a research exercise in Austin that she called "The Great Retail Experience Race: Local vs. National."

20 secret shoppers conducted 200 site visits of at least 15 minutes each to five national chain stores and their local equivalents. The breakdown:

Starbucks vs. Jo's Coffee
Nordstrom vs. Maya Star
Panera Bread vs. ThunderCloud Subs
Barnes & Noble vs. South Congress Books
The Apple Store vs. Austin MacWorks

Verrill looked at three metrics: 
  • Did employees up-sell, cross-sell, or tell customers about a deal?
  • Did employees create an emotional or personal connection with the customer?
  • How long did it take for an employee to create an emotional or personal connection?
The results were surprising. Four of the five national chains performed better in the up-sell category than the local shops, while all five smaller stores did better in creating a personal connection. The time for the connection was split 3-2 in favor of the boutiques.

So even though employees at smaller shops were interacting more (and more quickly) than at the national chains, "the small businesses simply didn't take advantage of these opportunities to up-sell at the same rate as the national stores," Verill writes.

Verrill drew some conclusions from this research and also brought in customer service expert Shep Hyken for his take. They both agreed that great customer service starts with employee training and a culture of service.

"Let's operationalize customer service. You train it, you reinforce it, you recognize people when they're doing it right," says Hyken in his video interview with Verrill. "You try to get them to recognize themselves when they're doing it."

I absolutely agree. Independent stores may not have the selection or low prices of a national chain, but they have the intimacy to create personal connections. While such "people skills" can be found in many retail workers, it's much more effective to train them to "ask really specific questions," as Verrill advises, and to "be consistent with deals at the register," where a lot of up-selling occurs. 

And that may be why national chains outscored the smaller stores in the up-sell category: their scale requires training manuals and consistent procedures, ensuring all employees are trained the same way. At smaller stores, customer service training can be much less formal -- if it occurs at all.


Of course, customer service goes beyond training. Hyken says that once an owner or manager sees an employee providing great service, "you recognize that and you celebrate the success with them. That might mean having a meeting with all the employees and...everybody applauds everybody for doing a great job."

I've often said that employee recognition is a great way to engage employees, which itself leads to higher productivity and profits. It can also create better customer service as well.

Customer service gives a smaller store a competitive advantage, offers a path to a more engaged and productive workforce, and leads to loyal and higher-spending customers. I thank Ashley Verrill and Shep Hyken for providing such valuable insights. 

Want to learn more about employee training, recognition, or engagement? Write to me.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Facebook vs. LinkedIn: Two Years Later

The Backstory 

2 years ago I wrote a polarizing blog about why I believed that within 2 years, Facebook would destroy LinkedIn as the best place for recruiting talent into an organization. Today, I concede my timing may have been off. But was I wrong?

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

The Backlash

Hear Brandemix Director of Interactive Branding face off against The Recruiting Animal. 

August 21 at 12pm EDT

Show your support by tuning in, calling in, and weighing in.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Social Media PR Disasters: The "Lean In" Intern

Earlier this year, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg published the book Lean In – Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. While controversial, the book’s success allowed Sandberg to found Lean In, a non-profit that offers women “the ongoing inspiration and support to help them achieve their goals.” The organization’s site features inspirational stories, lectures on leadership, and interviews with high-profile women.

The Brand
Lean In
·         265,131 Facebook likes
·         34,105 Twitter followers

The Incident
On Tuesday, August 13, Jessica Bennett, Lean In’s Editor-at-Large, posted an ad for an intern on her personal Facebook timeline:

Wanted: Lean In editorial intern to work with our editor (me) in New York. Part-time, unpaid […] and able to commit to a regular schedule through the end of the year.

The listing also asked that candidates have web skills, design skills, and “social chops.”

To many of Bennett’s followers, this posting was ironic; Lean In’s philosophy exhorted women in business to help other women, yet Bennett was asking a (presumably female) intern to work for free, for around five months, while living in one of the most expensive cities in the country. They posted almost 300 comments on Bennett’s post, including “What in your world makes you think it is ok to exploit people?” and “To not pay your intern for an organization and job like this is not only laughable but mostly pathetic.”

The Problem
Critics were particularly outraged because Sheryl Sandberg had made news just a few days earlier by selling her Facebook stock for $91 million. Surely the organization she founded could use a tiny part of that money to pay an intern?

The next day, Bennett posted this response, addressed to “What Appears to Be My Entire Facebook Feed”:

Want to clarify previous Lean In post. This was MY post, on MY feed, looking for a volunteer to help me in New York. LOTS of nonprofits accept volunteers. This was NOT an official Lean In job posting. Let's all take a deep breath.

Needless to say, critics didn’t like being told to take a deep breath. Along with that insult, they pointed out that Bennett’s original ad began with the very words “Lean In editorial intern,” for a position assisting the Lean In Editor-At-Large, and thus was very much an “official Lean In job posting.” 200 angry responses followed.

The flap was covered on ValleyWag, which called Bennett’s actions a “shame” and a “disgrace”. On those sites, most of the commenters united around the idea that interns should be paid on moral, legal, and financial grounds. Some were galled by the “regular schedule” commitment demanded by the listing: “You want someone to commit to a very specific timeframe? Fine. Pay for it.”

The Response
On Thursday, Lean In president Rachel Thomas posted on Lean In’s official Facebook page, saying she “recognized the ongoing public debate.” It read, in part:

Like many nonprofits, LeanIn.Org has attracted volunteers who are passionate about our mission. The posting that prompted this discussion was for a position that doesn’t fall within LeanIn.Org's definition of a “volunteer.”

As a startup, we haven’t had a formal internship program. Moving forward we plan to, and it will be paid. We support equality - and that includes fair pay - and we’ll continue to push for change in our own organization and our broader community.

No one asked why an organization’s president had to “push for change.” Why couldn’t she make the change her own?

The Result
Of the 194 comments to Thomas’ post, at least half of them were positive, such as “I don’t see the problem with unpaid internships. It’s an opportunity to gain experience, not a career move” and “I appreciate the responsiveness and care you took with this issue.”

Much of the discussion turned to the difference between a non-profit “volunteer” and an “intern.” Gripes about the $91 million mostly disappeared.

So the matter seems to be resolved. This debacle, along with the recent court ruling in the Fox Searchlight Pictures case, the era of unpaid internships may be coming to an end. 

The Takeaway
So you don't hire unpaid interns. There are still valuable lessons to take from the Lean In case. 

- Don’t Disappear or Delete
To Jessica Bennett’s credit, she left up her original job listing, unedited, along with its hundreds of negative comments. She also responded to the critics the very next day…though she only added fuel to the fire. Still, she left those negative comments up as well. Her Facebook profile is public, so the posts and comments can be seen by anyone who is signed in, even now.

- Acknowledge the Critics
Bennett’s dismissive response to “take a deep breath” did nothing to stop the critics. But when Rachel Thomas appeared and acknowledged the uproar, it died down. While she didn’t promise anything specific, Thomas said she believed in fair pay and would “push for change” at Lean In. Bennett didn’t say that at all, and even appeared to be lying about what an official Lean In job was.

- Learn the Law
Plenty of commenters brought up the legal definition of an intern, which includes the fact that it is “similar to training” and “doesn’t displace regular employees.” Neither Bennett nor Thomas defended the job’s classification except to say that it didn’t fit Lean In’s definition of volunteer, whatever that is. If you’re hiring an intern, make sure you know what you’re offering and what you’re getting.

Perhaps the lucky intern who gets the position will write about her experience and add another point of view to this important debate.

For the latest on social media, online recruiting, mobile marketing, and other branding trends, please like Brandemix on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and join our LinkedIn group, Your Digital Brand

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Brandemix Bonus Reel: Improving the Customer Experience

How can retailers improve the customer experience -- before and after the customer visits the store? Jason Ginsburg explains.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Brandemix Bonus Reel: Recruiting with Google Glass

Jason Ginsburg, Director of Interactive Branding at Brandemix, shows how Google Glass offers exciting ways for recruiters to connect with job-seekers.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Creating a Competitive Advantage in the Retail Space

No retailer wants to be “just another [your product] store.” But how can you stand out? Every business has at least competitive advantage, some positive quality that sets it apart in the marketplace. For example:

McDonald’s competitive advantage is convenience; a restaurant location
is never far away and the food is inexpensive.

Keens Steakhouse’s competitive advantage is quality; its single Manhattan location isn’t convenient, and the prices aren’t low, but it’s consistently ranked as one of the best restaurants in the city.

Outback Steakhouse’s competitive advantage is price; you can get a six-ounce sirloin steak there for $10.

So how do you determine your store’s competitive advantage?

First, you’ll need market intelligence. That includes discovering what your customers want, what they’re willing to pay, and what needs they have that aren’t being fulfilled. That information can be gathered from studies and trade magazines, or by directly surveying your customers.

Next comes competitive intelligence. What is the competition offering? What is attracting their customers to them instead of you? What are their strengths and weaknesses? These findings will help you determine what separates you from the rest of the marketplace; the positive differences can become your competitive advantages.

"Investigate" your competition to determine your competitive advantages.
The strongest competitive advantages have these qualities:

Whether it’s unique merchandise or a fun policy (like The Disney Store’s “You break it, you don’t have to buy it” rule), a true advantage must be uncommon among your competitors.

Small differences don’t matter. If your competitive advantage saves customers money or makes their visit more pleasant, they’ll definitely notice.

Hard to Copy
If your competitors can easily duplicate what you’re doing, it won’t remain an advantage for very long.

“Buy One, Get Three Free” would probably result in customers rushing to your store. But then what? An offer like that can’t last long. Make sure your advantage is a true change in policy, procedure, or philosophy, and not a short-term gimmick.

Even if you can’t provide the finest products or the lowest price, there’s one simple and effective way to stand out: the customer experience. That means making the customer feel valued while in the store, handling complaints and returns with ease, and reaching out to the customers afterwards to get their feedback or offer discounts. Studies have shown that
our happiest memories are tied to experiences, not possessions, so it’s possible that the experience of buying your products is more important than the products themselves.

The customer experience includes tech support and customer service, too!
“Simple” doesn’t mean “easy,” however. Creating a great customer experience means training employees differently and offering them incentives for great service. It may mean operational changes to make sure complaints and exchanges are made as hassle-free as possible. It might also mean expanding the job responsibilities of your HR or marketing teams to oversee all these improvements.

How will you when you’ve succeeded? Luckily, it’s easy to measure your store’s competitive advantage. Sales volume, same-store sales, and customer traffic are all straightforward metrics. You may also see more chatter – or at lest more positive chatter – on social networks, as customers share their experiences and write happy reviews.

Your retail store is unique, with advantages over your competitors. Once you discover those advantages, emphasize them, and make them part of your brand, you’ll reap the benefits.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Recruiting with Google Glass

I don't say this very often, but it's possible that recruiting is going to change forever, thanks to the "wearable visual technology" known as Google Glass.

Why? Because, as the economy improves and the competition for talent increases, Google Glass will allow organizations to show a job listing and a corporate culture instead of telling. From talent acquisition to employer brand, this technology can be used to engage job-seekers in several new and exciting ways:


A Day in the Life of an Employee
What does, say, an "associate director of strategic communications" actually do? A job posting for a position like that will likely have a long list of "Responsibilities," "Requirements," and "Qualifications." But pictures can be worth a thousand words. Instead of a confusing job title followed by a page of unexciting text, companies can allow an employee to shoot a video of their daily routine using Google Glass. Job-seekers could see all the interesting, challenging, unexpected aspects of the job, which might not come across in a listing. A first-person video allows job-seekers to envision themselves working for the organization, a very powerful experience.

Meet Your Recruiter

Some brands, like Taco Bell, showcase their recruiters, putting a human face on what can be an intimidating process. Google Glass will let companies take that strategy to the next level, by showing what daily life is like for a recruiter. Job-seekers will get a behind-the-scenes look at the application and interview experience, seeing where to park, how employees dress, what the interview room looks like -- even where the restrooms are. This sort of advance knowledge does wonders for nervous applicants who usually have no idea what to expect at an interview.

Your recruiter in her "natural habitat"!
Inside the C-Suite

At Brandemix, we sometimes have the pleasure of producing company videos that star the CEO. But not all business leaders are comfortable with the spotlight. Google Glass can put camera-shy executives at ease by letting them wear the camera! Job-seekers love sneak peeks and inside information, so the unprecedented access allowed by a CEO wearing Google Glass is sure to be a hit. And the executive doesn't have to take time out of her day to recite lines under hot studio lights. Everybody wins.

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Some employers, like Ann Inc., make a point of showing off their office's neighborhood. Google Glass gives employers a chance to move beyond photos. Videos can show what restaurants are nearby, how easy the commute is, and area secrets that only locals know. If job-seekers perceive a company's location as a disadvantage, a Google Glass video can be an effective way to change their minds.

Ann Inc.'s "NYC Office Guide" board on Pinterest

As you can see, Google Glass can have a major effect on recruiting for any employers who adapt it early and use it wisely. After all, many people, including job-seekers, would rather watch than read. If your office is lovely and your employees are friendly, you should show them off! 

Want to learn more about Google Glass and other innovative talent acquisition strategies? Write to us.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Brandemix Bonus Reel: Recruiting IT Professionals

Jason Ginsburg, our Director of Interactive Branding, shows how smaller tech companies use clever strategies to lure tech workers away from giants like Google and Microsoft.