At Your Service! Really!

I had to meet a friend unexpectedly at the hospital the other day. As you would expect, my mind was racing with all sorts of “what ifs.” I was wondering where to park when I pulled into the main entrance, and several kind people positioned at the door offered to valet my car and escort me to where I needed to go. This level of service reminiscent of a fine hotel, not a hospital, pleasantly surprised me. Genuine helpfulness and sincere caring. (And, thankfully, all turned out well for my friend.)

I had to meet a friend unexpectedly at the hospital the other day. As you would expect, my mind was racing with all sorts of “what ifs.” I was wondering where to park when I pulled into the main entrance, and several kind people positioned at the door offered to valet my car and escort me to where I needed to go. This level of service reminiscent of a fine hotel, not a hospital, pleasantly surprised me. Genuine helpfulness and sincere caring. (And, thankfully, all turned out well for my friend.)

As a brand strategist and a customer of many brands, I am in tune to the many ways companies tout their customer service. If your experiences are akin to mine, actual meaningful and truly excellent service still seems to be a rarity. Customer service gets lots of talk time (the one true brand differentiator!) these days, but is it time to double check and see if your brand is paying more than lip service to this important customer-centric activity?

Do you know if your service level is actually accomplishing what matters most to your customers? Would customers consider it a concierge experience? Take a peek at these examples and see how a few companies pay more than lip service to this important function:

Focus: Target Audience
Bed Bath & Beyond knows that the back-to-school season is almost akin to Christmas-in-August for its brand. With thousands of new freshmen heading to campuses nationwide in need of all things dorm related, Bed Bath & Beyond has truly gone beyond in creating an amazingly useful college-prepping brand experience. The website is chockfull of helpful advice about pertinent things top-of-mind for new college students. Take a peek at the topics covered in their online College Checklist:

  • Storing Your Stuff
  • Making Your Bed Better
  • Climate Control
  • An Inspiring Work Area
  • Resolving Technical Difficulties
  • Keeping Your Room Clean
  • Doing Laundry
  • Surviving a Shared Bathroom

After perusing both a printed checklist, a succinct magalog and an online version, students can enter their colleges in the company’s website and see if there are convenient Bed Bath & Beyond locations near their dorms so they don’t have to haul all this new merchandise from home. This concierge-esque brand takes it even a step further and has prepared lists of what the specific colleges and universities have already provided, what they want students to bring and what is not allowed. There’s even a college registry available, all set for family members who may want to gift the new freshmen upon high school graduation with these dorm life must haves.

And, once those students are settled in and living their particular collegiate lives, Bed Bath & Beyond continues to develop its student relationships with a “Grade My Space” program described as follows:

Grade My Space is a new interactive site where you’ll get an inside look at college living spaces and residence halls. Students connect and share ideas, designs, comments and provide the inside scoop on campus living and more.

How might your brand borrow brilliantly from Bed Bath & Beyond and put this usefulness in action for one of your specific customer segments?

Focus: Product Category
Target’s “guest-centric” brand attitude has always hit the bull’s eye, but the company is building on this experience in one particular category in a more nuanced way across 300 of its stores—Beauty. According to a recent press release:

Participating stores are staffed with a Target Beauty Concierge, a highly-trained, brand agnostic beauty enthusiast who is available to answer guests’ questions in-store. Serving as a trusted expert, the Beauty Concierge provides guests with personalized, detailed and unbiased information about beauty and personal care products offered at Target and acts as a knowledgeable source of advice in what can sometimes be an intimidating department. Beauty Concierges are located in the beauty aisles at Target wearing a distinct black apron. No appointment is necessary.

In addition to Target doing this with beauty, Lands End has done this with swimwear … a troublesome category for many women. Might there be a department or category within your brand that customers would welcome some one-on-one consultation? How might you enhance your service level in a key product category to generate not only more sales, but a more customer-centric experience?

Company-Wide Focus
Nordstrom has long wowed its customers with service that goes the extra mile. Today, its website reminds customers that unlike some other department stores, working with Nordstrom personal stylists is “fast, fun, free and zero pressure!” They’ll even prep your dressing room for you in advance of your visit.

“We’ll be there the whole time to offer new suggestions and honest advice—even if you are only looking to research, not to buy.” My girlfriend utilized this service in helping outfit her son, a new college graduate preparing for an international job opportunity. Not only was the time saved important, but now this stylist has all his measurements and style/color preferences recorded to make future shopping needs a breeze.

Office supply multichanneler, Staples, also is promising a company-wide concierge experience to back up its brand promise of “EASY”! Under its “Need Help?” tab is a listing for Product Concierge. Here’s what Staples says:

Can’t find what you’re looking for? We’re here to help! If you need help tracking down an item, we’ll search for it for you-even if it’s something we don’t currently have on our site. Tell us a bit more about the product and we’ll do our best to find it. There’s no obligation to buy.

Might your brand be able to promote this kind of across-the-board expectation? If not, what might have to change to do so?

Truly serving your customers concierge-style takes a full commitment from each and every brand ambassador within your company. It requires active listening and keen observation. It requires a servant heart and a willingness to sweat the small stuff to provide an excellent and memorable experience that will not only delight your customers once but keep them coming back for more … and raving about your brand to others.

Lavishing: A Branding Must Do!

I was already familiar with the radically different publishing company called Twelve, and had used them as a model in some of my client work. One of the publisher’s key points of differentiation is that it purposefully publishes no more than 12 books a year. This is a contrarian approach, as most of the publishing world simply does not work that way. With over 1 million-plus books published just last year (according to Bowker’s figures), most publishers release a plethora of titles.

I was already familiar with the radically different publishing company called Twelve, and had used them as a model in some of my client work. One of the publisher’s key points of differentiation is that it purposefully publishes no more than 12 books a year.

This is a contrarian approach, as most of the publishing world simply does not work that way. With more than 1 million books published just last year (according to Bowker’s figures), most publishers release a plethora of titles. Most have their A list books/authors, B lists and C lists, and plan promotional dollars and energy accordingly. Out of all those millions of titles each year, only a few will trickle to the top of our country’s reading lists and generate worthwhile conversation, information, and entertainment. Most of the rest get lost in the shuffle until they are “remaindered” (like a funeral for a book).

But it was one verb in The New York Times description of Twelve that made me linger: “Twelve is an experimental boutique publisher dedicated to releasing far fewer books than a traditional publisher, with the implicit promise that an unusual degree of editing, publicity and marketing would be lavished on each book.” LAVISH. That really was the publishing company’s brand differentiator. The product developers (in this case publishers/editors and publicists) were lavishers.

Twelve’s mission statement declares: “Talented authors deserve attention not only from publishers, but from readers as well. To sell the book is only the beginning of our mission. To build avid audiences of readers who are enriched by these works-that is our ultimate purpose.” They go on to share 12 Things To Remember about TWELVE … here are just a half dozen:

  • Each book will enliven the national conversation.
  • Each book will be carefully edited, designed, and produced.
  • Each book will have a month-long launch in which it is the imprint’s sole focus.
  • Each book will have the potential to sell at least 50,000 copies in its lifetime.
  • Each book will be promoted well into its paperback life.
  • Each book will matter.

For Twelve, lavishing works. Its books garner rave reviews, bestseller list success, and have won almost every publishing award available.

Lavish. It’s a powerful brand action. How might having a lavishing mindset make your brand more focused? Create more relevant products? Delight more of your customers? Why not spend a few minutes creating a “Lavish List” and just see where this verb leads you!