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Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009 at 10:35 am

When the little things matter most

By Howard Kaplan
January 22nd, 2009

Transparency.
Speed.
“We” are smarter than “Me”.
Interconnectivity.

These are just a few of the staples of the digital world in which we now live, and each present opportunities for success, or potholes that must be navigated around as business owners & brands interact with their audience, prospects and customers.

Consider three brand interactions I had yesterday, and observe the different ways I shared my experience with others (prior to this very public broadcast of all three!)

The good, the bad and the ugly

As some of you may know, I’ve recently decided to take the plunge, and make an honest woman of the one whose been by my side this past decade and a half (note to female readers: yes, I’m aware, I took a VERY long time getting around to the question, and yes I’m VERY lucky she said yes!)  We’re having a destination wedding so we wanted to make sure we gave our guests as much planning time as possible, seeing as we’re the kind of friends who inconvenience you and make you come away on vacation with us :)   That meant getting the save the dates out uber-early (check) and then even getting the invitations out sooner than expected as well.  The invitation buying process wasn’t exactly what I’d call easy, and online was ZERO help.

[An aside, if you're in that business, an area the web *should* dominate is in the education process of nurturing first time B&G's from early through late in the buying process.  What types of things do they need to know, what does all the vernacular mean?  It seems the main value proposition most sites pitch is a cost savings, which while it's nice, seeing as every other wedding vendor adds the "most important day of your life" tax, is only part of the equation and a useless one if you can't figure out how to get the invitations you actually want!]

I digress.  We ended up ordering from William Arthur, via Papyrus.  Elka, our absolutely fantastic “coach” through the process at Papyrus told us not to worry when the first proof came back, and wasn’t exactly as we had planned.  We were reluctant to order a second proof, for fear of delaying the eventual shipment, but she recommended we did, just to make sure they’re exactly as we wanted.  The second proof came back perfect, and off to the printer they went.  Here’s where the two brands each went above and beyond, and provided a delightful experience worth writing about (seeing as we live in a pay-it-forward world):

  1. Elka called us to let us know she rushed the delivery, so we wouldn’t be delayed from our original planned mailing date.  Within a few days of her phone call, we received our order, much ahead of schedule.
  2. William Arthur, on the top of the box had included an envelope “to the bride & groom”.  When we opened it we found they had included 10 extra copies of everything we ordered.  There was a note that read, “While printing your order, we noticed a few extras came off the line, so we hope you enjoy them with our compliments”.  Whether they intentionally produce a few extras, or this really is the case, who knows, who cares.  The end result is, they know we have far greater use for the “extras” than the trash can does :) and even keeps the groom from having to open every box of inserts to see what the finished product looks like (and getting them all dirty!)

I wonder, how many soon to be brides has Kelly now recommended Papyrus to?

Contrast that with the last remaining newspaper I’ll ever subscribe to in print form, the WSJ.  For the past few months I experimented with reading the Journal online only, like I do every other newspaper I still read (a dwindling number these days, sadly).  Ultimately I noted, I read more of the paper when I had it in print form than I did online only- I had a deeper engagement with it. Then in the mail (interesting to me that it wasn’t an email) I received a “professionals discount” with a very good rate for home delivery, and I decided it was time to resubscribe to print.

The subscription process was smooth & easy, not unexpected although many other sites (and far too many newspaper sites) fail here, and I was emailed a confirmation upon completion.  Imagine if you bought from Amazon, and your confirmation arrived, noting what books you had bought, how much you paid, what CC you used, etc… everything but the shipping/arrival date.  It would never happen, right?  Well, it happens every day with the WSJ!  Great to know my subscription was confirmed, but would you believe I had to write back, not once, but twice before giving up and assuming I’d simply have to wait and see if the subscription ever actually started!  Fail.

Ironically enough, missing subscriptions must happen with some frequency, as evidenced by the fact that yesterday (a few days AFTER I started receiving delivery) I got an email telling me I should have started receiving the paper already.

Where does this actually hurt?  Well, seeing as the newspaper business seems to be fighting the banking industry for the title “most likely to be OOB” these days, you’d think they want new subscribers?  I had the option to pass along my discount to other colleagues I thought would enjoy it.

I wonder, why haven’t I passed it along to anyone yet?

Then there’s the really ugly… and since I made a new years resolution to be more positive, and less snarky (it’s a two year old resolution!) I’ll change the name to protect the guilty!  Our CTO and resident coffee roaster John (unlike me, who is our resident lives-at-starbucks-far-too-much-guy) was scouring the ‘net looking for a new source of beans.  He knows we’ve talked to a few of the leading players in this space of late, and wanted to see what was out there.  After a little hunting, he found just product he was looking for at, er, um, Bob’s House of Beans :)   We thought it was a little odd the logo didn’t resolve properly, but chalked it up to Firefox/Mac issues, and kept plugging along.  Added beans to cart, check.  Entered credit card info, check.  Make purchase, fail.  Try as we might, the shopping cart and backend merchant account just wouldn’t connect, and after five minutes of reloading, we abandoned.  We tried once more later in the day (I assure you, purely as an experiment) and still couldn’t order.  If you’re an online retailer, no matter how large or small, you simply have to be able to calculate the cost of downtime, and require some proactive monitoring to alert you while the problem is ongoing.  In this case, the problem could have been on the bank side (I suspect not) but it’s really irellevant- the retailer lost the sale.

This is conversion 101, and yet, these are the mistakes which are still out there on the web.  If your site has some of these basic challenges, don’t get caught up in judgment (or let anyone else make you feel bad, myself included), it is what it is.  What’s important is taking the steps to correct, early & often. Get yourself on a program, and commit to continually improving your customer experience.  It’s the only way to grow in this day, age and economy!

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Comments (14)

  1. On the failed shopping cart experience, companies absolutely should understand the cost of down-time. In addition, they need to understand the cost of maintenance to avoid down-time. Too often business leaders want all IT hours to go toward *new* potential ROI projects without allocating maintenance time. They also need to grow that maintenance time as their portfolio grows. It is a cost, but likely something jr. staff can be hired to do, versus needing high paid consultants when the house of cards comes tumbling down spilling all of your proverbial coffee beans and lost profits on a known money making endeavor.

    As for service, it reminds me of a story about the W here in Atlanta. Two girls went to sell the W on some advertising for being a wedding venue. When they returned after the meeting the W had detailed their car and left mints and other W paraphenalia on each seat. I’ve grown tired of hearing the story repeated over and over again at every social gathering, but that added experience the W went through has sure paid off, much like Papyrus did for you.

    Finally, congratulations on your engagement!

  2. First of all, congrats on your engagement, huge step (for mankind ;-) ) but one that comes on a good time moment.

    On the internet i think there are so many open markets left where extra help can be made. If a company will fill up this gap, a marketshare will be reached for sure..

  3. I won’t read WSJ online. The reason is because they’re stuck in 1998. They’re trying to charge to finish off an article… and yet they still show you ads. That’s like buying a DVD and having to watch the previews (although I like previews). It’s the thing that frustrates people. I agree about the cost savings though deal though. I don’t shop at one place over another for that purpose. I do however, shop at Amazon exclusively for almost everything I buy (which is cheap). The reason I do though is because 1) it’s easy, 2) it’s fast and they have everything, and 3) they are great about returns if you mess up.

  4. I’ll add my congratulations. And a story. I was trying to order a product from a company in the UK, and was stumped when I couldn’t find a spot for my state. I added it after my city, and hit submit. Nothing. So, I did it again and did something differently. Again, nothing. Alarmed now, that I might have paid for two items and never get either of them, I searched for a way to alert the company. I found a drop-down box with a list of names. I decided to write to each of them (I let them know I’d written to the others as well.) I got a very nice e-mail back from the CEO assuring me that I’d only be charged for the original order, but they’d throw in more products they thought I’d be interested in because I was inconvenienced. I was so impressed — I immediately became a loyal ambassador. I’ve probably turned a good 20 people on to that business, just because of the way they responded to what was originally a problem.

  5. Congratulations on your engagement!
    I think a lot of companies on the internet should improve their service.

  6. Congrats! – The internet still has a lot of value to be found, explored, and exploited. It’s not over yet.

  7. Congratulations on your engagement. And it is about following the right steps!

  8. All great..

  9. Congratulations on your engagement. Destination weddings are becoming more and more popular, since they really help to single out the ones closest to the bride and groom. I’m not sure where your destination wedding is planned to be at, but if it is in San Diego let me know and I’ll see what I can do to make it as amazing as possible.

    As for your failed subscriptions– I’m dealing with a multitude of those, and also subscriptions to publications that have been closing their school doors and trying to send me their ‘sister publication’ instead. The declining corporate economy is really killing Wedding DJ publications, especially here in San Diego!

  10. When the little things matter most, you know you are in love. Glad everything worked out in the end for you two.

  11. I decided to write to each of them (I let them know I’d written to the others as well.) I got a very nice e-mail back from the CEO assuring me that I’d only be charged for the original order, but they’d throw in more products they thought I’d be interested in because I was inconvenienced.

  12. So how was your wedding altogether? Any advice for others having destination weddings that you’d care to share?

  13. So how was your wedding altogether? Any advice for others having destination weddings that you’d care to share?

  14. When the little things matter most, you know you are in love. Glad everything worked out in the end for you two.

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