Customer Experience

Wagon Wheels (Reliving The Lunchbox Experience)

My parents were of European heritage so food was important to us. As a child attending public school in suburban Ottawa, my brothers and I rarely ate in the school cafeteria. Instead, my parents would make us lunches that we would schlep to school regardless of weather conditions (this included months of sub-zero temps as Ottawa was second coldest to Moscow).

In my early school days, I remember that plastic lunchboxes were all the rage. Not just any lunchbox, but the coloured “Thermos” ones that often came with pictures of your favourite superheroes or TV show characters. The lunchboxes would come with a good size Thermos container (attached with a clip) that would provide needed warmth with soup or hot chocolate on those endless bitterly cold winter days.

Included in my lunch would always be a sandwich – usually salami, cheese or peanut butter – to give us extra protein. Back then, our lunchboxes weren’t refrigerated at school so it’s amazing none of us came down with food poisoning. I still remember my parents buying those monster size salamis which sometimes looked like small baseball bats. Being a daughter of parents of European heritage, dessert was always a much anticipated treat to find in my lunchbox. If we were lucky, our lunches would also include a small size DelMonte pudding cup (usually chocolate). The cups came with sharp, pull off lids so you had to be careful they didn’t slice your fingers as you rushed to pull them off.

But the item that stands out the most as having the most impact on my day was when I saw a Wagon Wheel in my lunch. These tasty treats (resembling a Joe Louis by Vachon for those of you who grew up near Quebec) consisted of a generous portion of marshmallow sandwiched between two chocolate covered soft biscuits.

As a kid, I knew it would be a good afternoon if my lunch included a Wagon Wheel.

Today, the product hasn’t changed much except that with most consumer products, the size seems to have shrunken a bit. What’s funny is that I still occasionally buy it for a treat. The brand has the incredible ability to take me back to the carefree days of my childhood when a simple treat in my lunchbox was able to make my day.

Eating a Wagon Wheel makes me experience my childhood all over again as in spite of its seemingly smaller size, not much has changed with the product. The taste is still unique and I sense I am that same kid all over again.

What is it about some brands that make them so timeless?

I looked at the new packaging for Wagon Wheels and not much seems to have changed either except for the fact that I’m now looking at it from the eyes of an adult. The font looks the same (quite retro) and each piece is individually wrapped. In what is probably an attempt to bring us back to our Wagon Wheel roots, the company makes it a point of saying the product is “original.” Which is true, because that’s exactly how I remember them.

Yet what hit me the most on the package was the five word line printed directly below the product name “Ideal snack for the lunchbox.” The image right next to it features a yellow lunchbox with a Wagon Wheel and wrapper sitting directly outside of it.

What’s even more intriguing is that I wrote most of this post BEFORE I even took a look at the packaging. Dare Foods totally nailed it. As a consumer, you can’t get any closer to a brand experience than that.

In a world cluttered with competing messages, to me that’s brand genius. Timelessness, taste, experience and meaning make this one brand story that’s destined to be around for a long, long time.

Wagon Wheels






Chicago Takes Customer Experience To A New Level

Cloudgate There are few places where the words "customer experience" leave you with a positive impression. Having recently returned from a trip to Chicago, I have to say that I was duly impressed.

As a tourist (and a Canadian) I always felt welcome, and the locals were more than happy to chat if I needed help with something. On the streets playing tourist with a map in hand, I was amazed that people stopped to ask if I needed help (having lived in Toronto for almost 10 years now, I have to say that rarely happens!)

While browsing the stores, staff were helpful - especially in the Macy's flagship store on State Street. From the moment I entered the store, I was amazed at the depth and variety of the displays. I was surrounded by an incredible combination of sights, sounds and aromas! If I needed help, the staff didn't look the other way as if they couldn't be bothered...they picked up the phone and didn't stop asking questions until they found an answer! (for all you Canadian retailers wondering how to stay competitive, take a lesson from Macy's).

People who worked in the restaurants and bars were equally friendly and helpful. Tables turned over quickly, and there was none of this "I really don't like my job" mentality that's so prevalent in other places that I've visited. On several occasions, my husband and I took public transit. The first day we took it, there was a closure at one of the major stops along the Blue line. Our shuttle driver knew of the closure, and dropped us off at the closest alternative station. Once in the station, we were surprised to see Chicago Transit staff directing people where to go...and offering a helping hand to tourists who weren't familiar with the fare machines (again, Toronto's TTC could take a tip from Chicago).

From the architecture, to the sprawling the wonderful personality of its residents...Chicago left us wanting more. For anyone who has not had a chance to visit this great city, I would encourage you to go.

The cynic will say that we were treated this way because we were tourists. Even if this were true, would it really matter? When I compare our treatment in Chicago with that of some other cities, Chicago is a first class experience that leaves you begging for more.

What other cities have left you with such a positive experience? What happened to make you feel this way? What can other cities do to be sure that visitors are given the same type of positive customer experience?

Starbucks Wants You To Put A Little iTune in Your Latte

Promo_pumpkinlatteLast month, Starbucks announced a deal with Apple that would give customers the opportunity to access music from iTunes and download songs directly onto their portable devices. The iTunes Wi-Fi music store lets iPhone, iPod Touch or laptop users (with iTunes capability) access music anytime their device is within range of a Starbucks wireless network signal. The Starbucks icon pops up on the devices giving the user the capability of purchasing music in digital format.

In a recent article in Marketing Magazine, Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz is quoted as saying "Introducing this new service is a natural extension of our music strategy, which only enhances the retail coffee experience for customers by helping them discover and acquire new music instantly." To promote the new wireless services, Starbucks is giving away 50 million free digital songs in all U.S. stores (apparently there was no comment on any Canadian plans for the service).

The introduction of the wireless music service is Starbucks second venture to try and change the face of music retailing. This spring, the company created its own record label and signed up Paul McCartney as its opening act. Joni Mitchell is the second major artist to be featured in the deal.

In Canada, music retailer HMV Canada's President Humphrey Kadaner agrees that digital sales are going up, but claims that "almost 90% of the Canadian music market still prefers buying CDs to digital music." The company continues to build revenues as a retailer for DVD's and videogames, and claims that HMV is "becoming a multi-channel entertainment retailer, albeit with music as our core DNA."

The whole area of music marketing seems to be at a crossroads. Some music lovers still enjoy the experience of buying and listening to a CD, while others prefer the ease and instant gratification of digital downloads.

Which type of music buyer are you - traditional or digital? Do you still enjoy the experience of wandering around a music store looking for your favourite artist - or do you take the "surf and purchase" approach to enjoying your music?

The next time you walk into a Starbucks store, will the option to buy music on the iTunes Wi-Fi store encourage you to download a tune or two with your latte? 

Whatever Happened to Integrity in Customer Service?

Recently, I purchased a cellphone through a dealer authorized to sign contracts on behalf of a large phone company. What should have taken no longer than a half hour, turned into a 1 1/2 hour wait. The clerk was not properly trained to handle the details of the transaction, and inevitably messed it up. When I followed up with the dealer, I was told that they would take care of it and contact the phone company. Two days later, still no call from the dealer. The problem is still there, and I have to follow up again.

A couple of weeks ago, I sent an email to a professional resume writer who claimed to be tops in his field. He was a referral from a networking group, and seemed to have outstanding testimonials. When I didn't hear back, I followed up by phone. A few days later, I received a phone call from my contact who apologized profusely for the delay, then encouraged me to send in my resume for a free review. I did as he requested. Almost one week later, no call from this person and no response to a subsequent follow up email.

A major music retailer advertises that customers will receive a free "bonus" offer upon purchasing a new CD. The store clerk has no knowledge of the promo, and puts me on a "call back" list. This happens on the first day of the promotion.

Is it just me, or does anyone care about customer service anymore? It's easy to argue that people in customer service roles in the retail sector are not well paid - no dispute there. But why are attitude and professionalism always a matter of money? When I started my first job in sales out of University, I wasn't paid a lot of money to start - but that didn't matter. What mattered was the fact that I knew if I treated my customers well and actually did what I promised, then the money would follow. And it did.

So, why do people tell you one thing - then ignore you when you follow up?  Doesn't this create a great market niche for people who actually do what they say they will do? What a way to stand out in an otherwise cluttered marketplace.

In spite of the negative experiences, it's not all doom and gloom out there. We're in the process of purchasing new tires, and have contacted numerous dealers to inquire about service and pricing. Someone at one of the local specialty shops said he would look into some information for us, and call us back. I almost fell off my chair when he called when he said he would!

The deal was sealed, and we are going to this shop for service. In a sense, customer service is so simple. Listen to what people are asking, then do as you said you'd do. Even if the news is not good, it's better to call and let people know - than to ignore them.

Does the integrity of a company or service person matter to you? Does it affect your purchasing decisions - or do you just anticipate bad service and learn how to deal with it?

Want to Improve Customer Experience? Try a Dose of Behavioral Science!

In a June 2001 article entitled "Want to Perfect Your Company's Service? Use Behavioral Science" published in the Harvard Business Review, Richard B. Chase and Sriram Dasu discuss how an understanding of the psychology of service encounters can lead to better customer experiences and service management.

How a customer feels during a service encounter as well as their perception of what occurred determine whether or not their experience was a good one. With this in mind, it is possible to engineer an experience to ensure the best possible outcome.

When I think of customer service situations where I have been treated poorly, what matters is how I feel or perceive versus what I say. If I walk into a store and am treated in a negative way, I may mention my disappointment to the person(s) involved if I feel there is some benefit to be derived from speaking up. The way in which the issue is resolved then determines whether or not I will continue to do business there. It's my perception of what happened that forms my final decision.

How can this help practitioners in the service industry? Here are a few principles from the Behavioural Sciences that show how people react to experiences, and how they rationalize about them afterwards:

1) People don't remember every single moment of an experience. They remember the high and low points, the sequence of pain or pleasure and the ending. Application - People pay more attention to the rate of improvement in a situation and to the ending (ie. a terrible ending usually dominates the person's view of the whole experience), than they do to every point along the way. Focus on the last encounter and make sure your experience ends on a high note.

2) People who are mentally engaged in a task don't notice how long it takes. Application - Unless an activity is much longer or shorter than expected, people won't pay much attention to its duration. If the experience is pleasurable, this perception will dominate over any perception as to the time involved. Make the experience pleasurable for your customers and engage them if the process or interaction involves numerous steps over a period of time.

3) People want to put a human face on a problem and tend to blame individuals versus the system (ie. they will blame the hotel clerk for a billing error versus the faulty computer system). Application - Give people a sense of control over the process, and they are far less likely to pinpoint blame. If they feel empowered and engaged, they are less likely to be angry if something goes wrong.

The principles listed above apply not only to physical encounters, but to virtual ones as well. If a website is not designed to provide an optimal customer experience, then people become frustrated and will remember the final experience as a negative one (for more information on how to design better online customer experiences, see my article published in 2002 in Marketing Magazine).

The ability of marketers and customer service practitioners to control and manage the customer experience can have significant impact on a customer's buying decision. Put yourself in your customer's shoes. Which experiences can be shortened? Lengthened? What is the last image of your service that your customers remember, and how can you make it even better?

Remember - what we perceive, we believe...and if we believe, we will buy.

Studios eye new iPhone

Although the success of the iPhone is yet to be determined, Hollywood studios are keeping a close eye on the product. In a recently published article by the Hollywood Reporter, studios are hoping that the iPhone will be the device needed to align consumer products with entertainment content.

Traditionally a loss leader for media and entertainment companies, mobile video may see a resurgence with the iPhone as communications and content consumption converge.

Just as the iPod was able to provide customers with a compelling experience, hopes are high that the iPhone will provide a similar experience in wireless space.

While many still question the small size of the screen and its resulting ability to provide an engaging experience for motion picture fans, the introduction of the iPhone is at least a start to what may be Hollywood's answer to successful content distribution onto mobile devices.

At the very least, the iPhone will drive awareness as to what consumers can do on mobile phones.