3 Lessons My Move Taught Me About Marketing

This is the last article about my move, I promise! The interesting thing about a move is that it forces you to step outside your comfortable bubble of everyday life. Suddenly you’re forced to navigate new situations, often on a tight timeline.

Recently I orchestrated a cross-country move, shifting 19 years of my life in the course of a week. When you’re in a high pressure situation like that, customer service experiences are make or break. I’m always on the hunt for luxury goods and experiences, but it’s been a long time since I’ve viewed a brand experience through such a high-stakes lens.

Unfulfilled Promises = Customer Resentment

Adding a pandemic-related banner to a website or a COVID-19 reference in the hold music seems to be a common recommendation, but it’s vital that those messages be based on transparency and the desire to communicate useful information to the customer.

While I was trying to get my wifi set up, I spent what felt like a lifetime on hold with the Internet provider, Spectrum, and its droning hold music that reassured me they were “keeping me connected” during COVID. Meanwhile, I had to wait 17 days for installation and wait on hold (with no callback option!) any time I needed help.

Big communications utilities are notorious for fueling absolute resentment and anger, but all brands would do well to remember that it’s better to underpromise and overdeliver. And hey, reminder to check your client experience so you’re not infuriating them with messages that they matter and you’re keeping them connected when you’re not.

High Functioning Service Beats High Tech

In my previous post I mentioned brands’ increasing reliance on tech solutions, often at the expense of customer experience. It’s only becoming a bigger issue as companies turn to tech for help adjusting to the pandemic landscape. While some companies are more well suited to replacing in-person services with tech solutions, what customers really care about is whether they get what they need.

One of the standout brand experiences during my move was surprisingly low tech. I set up a business account with FedEx to manage shipping my 20 boxes from NYC to LA. The website felt absolutely antiquated, but the customer service was exceptionally smooth. Could they benefit from revamping their customer portal? Of course. But I got exactly what I needed. I’m not even close to a luddite, but providing great service is always going to be more important than keeping your tech looking cutting edge.

The Net-Net and Inspiration From Being an Airbnb Host

At the end of the day, the moving experience really helped me think about how I counsel my clients on their customer experience. I think what happens is that brands develop a service or product, pay a ton of attention in the development phase, think they have it all sorted out, and then just set it and forget it. What this taught me is that brands need to actually go through their own customer experience.

Call customer service and try and get a new install. Wait on hold and hear messages about keeping you connected or taking advantage of the brand’s latest tech. Ship packages and see how jarring the experience is when you have to jump back and forth between old and new platforms. By walking in your customers’ shoes, you’ll discover what’s working with your brand experience and what is not.

This whole experience reminded me of Airbnb. I have a vacation home that I rent out on the platform. To get to super host status and become Airbnb Plus, I tried to walk through the customer experience by reminding myself what makes me happy when I check into a 5-star hotel: cookies from the bakery on the counter, bottles of water next to each bed, and making sure the essentials (like milk for a.m. coffee) are always stocked. Then I would sleep in every single room to see what it’s like at night. Does the TV work? Does the AC blast cool enough? Does the street light peep through the blinds? By walking my guests’ walk, I was able to see the areas of friction and create a great customer experience that resulted in only 5-star ratings.

Brands need to walk their customers’ walk.

Brand Experience and a Tale of Two Startups

As if there isn’t already enough happening in the world right now, I’ve been taking on one of the most stressful endeavors at regular times, amplified during COVID: a move! Not just any move — a cross-country move. The thought of being by myself all summer long in this strange pandemic version of New York was making me feel a little unhinged, so I departed for sunny California.

Selling my NYC condo is about as much real estate woe as I can handle, so I turned to specialty startups to help soften my landing in CA. It was like living through one of my very own presentations about brand experience do’s and don’ts.

It all boils down to what I tell my clients all the time:

Customer Service Is the Original Creative Branding Solution — Don’t Overlook It.

Brands are increasingly relying on tech like slick websites and flash apps to appeal to customers. Those things are great, but they only go so far. Great tech is worth nothing if the brand is not thinking about the end-to-end customer experience and all the different touch points that can affect a customer’s perception. Big-picture customer service just isn’t being talked about anymore.

Case in point — the startup I worked with to set up my new place. They specialize in doing all the boring, time-consuming condo tasks, and marketed themselves as having beautifully furnished corporate apartments so that I could “simply show up and start living.” The opportunity to test out an interesting building before I choose exactly where to settle sounded perfect. But what would happen after the marketing has done its job and it’s time to follow through? Nothing good, it turns out.

Just to get the contract signed I was passed around from person to person. It didn’t bode well for the rest of my experience. I’ll spare you the full horror story that awaited me when it was time to check in to my new place. Let’s just say there wasn’t even a bed ready to sleep in. I had to use all my negotiating experience to back out of the agreement, and didn’t receive so much as an apology.

I seek out a great customer experience wherever I go, and this particular experience was a powerful reminder that too many brands are putting the cart before the horse when it comes to marketing and customer service.

Reach out to me if you want to know the company I am talking about so you can avoid the same headache.

Problems Are Universal. Problem Solving Is What Sets You Apart.

Enter the next startup, Feather. I moved to a different unit in the same building, and picked a different startup to work with on furnishing. You get to rent anything you want from their inventory of stylish furniture, which they deliver and set up — it’s more of subscription service versus the good old-fashioned Rent-a-Center model. Everything happened on a sleek app. When I signed up, there was a credit card issue. I got an immediate phone call from a real person who solved the problem. I received follow-up calls to check in and offer help all throughout the process. When a delivery went wrong, they made me feel like fixing it immediately was a priority to them. They even honored a promotion I received after signing up.

As a global brand strategist and a picky consumer of luxury brands, I’ve seen it all, and I promise that old-fashioned customer service isn’t going to stop being important any time soon. Fabulous brand events and other cool experiences you create are quickly forgotten when someone has a bad check in experience at a hotel, or the internet doesn’t work in your Airbnb rental, or a luxury car dealer makes a busy executive come into the dealership to sign paperwork. Never, ever underestimate the basic and fundamental human experience along every touch point of the customer journey.