Sheridan Orr

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Customer Experience Lessons from the NBC Olympic #epicfail

In Brand, Customer Experience, Retail on July 30, 2012 at 2:17 pm

What retailers can learn from viewer frustration at NBC Olympic coverage.

I watched Bruce Jenner before he was a Kardashian.  I cried when Nadia Comaneci scored a perfect ten.  I ran the school track barefooted because Zola Budd rocked.  Therefore, I eagerly anticipate the Olympics.

With this joie to vivre, I opened a jar of hummus and a Pabst Blue Ribbon (I’m patriotic too) at 4:00 on Friday.  I anxiously scanned 2000 channels only to find that the opening ceremony was tape delayed.

Moreover, I was blocked from the BBC live coverage because of the agreement with NBC.  After consulting with my tech friends, I downloaded Tunnel Bear and tried to watch it that way to no avail.

My frustration at being blocked from live coverage was compounded by the fact that Twitter and other social media were buzzing with images and comments from the ceremony—a ceremony that I could not watch for another three hours.  I returned the hummus to the frig, but kept the PBR out to nurse the agony of defeat.

A New Hash Tag is Born

Once the broadcast started, my annoyance erupted to frustration.  The commercials were overwhelming, the commentary made even my 13-year-old son say “They really don’t know much do they, Mom?” and many poignant parts of the ceremony were edited out in favor of commercials and interviews.

Two hours into it, I gave up but not before seeing that I was not alone. Twitter was no longer buzzing.  It was flaming and the most popular hash tag was #NBCfail.

As a businessperson, I understand that NBC paid $1.2 Billion for the Olympic coverage and needed to recoup that investment.  However, the way they treated me as a customer, made me dislike the brand, abandon the coverage and lose my enthusiasm for the games.

Some of the problems that NBC had with the Olympic coverage are not unlike things that retailers do to annoy their customers.

Real Time in a Social Media World

For the past year, the 2012 Olympics have been touted as the “first social media games.” As such, NBC should have figured there was an expectation for real time data.  In a globally connected world, ‘now’ is the norm.

A delay of three hours feels like an eternity.   In that amount of time, the meme is old and something else is trending.  Because of this fast transmission of information, consumer patience is at an all-time low.

The competing demands of modern life make time a precious commodity.  If you don’t value your customer’s time, then they will go elsewhere.

Don’t Dumb it Down

Because of easy access to information, Gen Y might not be able to name all the state capitals.  Instead, they’ve become very adroit at looking things up.  Moreover, they are worldly and politically astute

Jokes about the names of countries or saying how Sudan has that genocide thing sorted do not endear you to customers no matter the generation.

This is especially true because there were many interesting things that could have been discussed.  For instance, the success of Tubular Bells actually launched Virgin Records.  Why did the commentators feel the need to focus on the vapid rather than the relevant and interesting?

Today’s consumer is sophisticate and craves information that is factual and in context.  If you try to be gimmicky you will alienate rather than endear your customers.

Over Restriction Causes Revolt

Because NBC blocked me from seeing content in other avenues, I went out of my way to circumvent them.  Moreover, I’ve only watched one bit of coverage since then—the women’s gymnastics.

If Nadia Comaneci was competing in this year’s Olympics, I’d surely have missed it because the camera was trained only on Americans.  Isn’t that the fun of the games?  To see the diversity?

Because I felt so restricted as a consumer and viewer, I opted out.  Instead, I get my coverage from other sources.  If you are too restrictive in policies, then your customers will seek ways to avoid engaging with you.

Quid Pro Quo

Part of the bargain of network television is that you get free content and they get to market to you.  Likewise, your customers know you need to make money in order to remain open to serve them.  However, they expect things to be reciprocal and in balance.

Unfortunately, NBC quit respecting my time and interests by airing a commercial every five minutes and eliminating coverage—like the tribute to the London bombing victims in favor of Ryan Seacrest.

In addition, NBC did their advertisers a disservice.  I was so bombarded that 1. I can’t remember any specific advertisement and 2.  I was irritated with the abundance of commercials and that had a transitive effect on the brands presented.

When you lose sight of why your customer is there and instead focus on your own objectives, you risk alienating them.  Customers understand you need to make a profit.  However, you need to ensure that they never feel victimized as you do so.

More commercials than content made viewers abandon NBC coverage.


NBC had an opportunity to create energized customers for themselves and the brands they represent.  Instead, they spawned two popular hash tags #NBCfail and #NBCsucks.   Some steps you can take to ensure that you don’t end up as the unpopular meme of the day are:

–       Ensure that you respect your customers’ time and provide them with the data they need when they need it.

–       Realize the clock has sped up and that means customers expect things ‘now’. Design your systems and processes with that in mind.

–       Recognize that today’s customer is sophisticated and resourceful.  Talk to them in a language that acknowledges this.  Yes, they want information in bite-sized morsels, but they don’t want it to be without substance.  The cardinal rule is to be authentic and useful.

–       Consider whether or not your policies and procedures are highly restrictive and designed without mutual benefit in mind.  If they are, you force your customers to go elsewhere.

–       Remember customers understand you need to make a profit.  However, they want to feel like they received value.

Think of social media as an opportunity get real time feed back.  If you listen and adapt then you will continually improve the customer experience. Hopefully, NBC will rectify some of their challenges before Rio in 2016.


The Curious Incident of Employees, Social Media and a Brand

In Brand, Customer Experience, Retail on July 18, 2012 at 5:44 pm

Burger King was thrust into crisis mode when a photo of an employee abusing the lettuce went viral

How can three employees, a smart phone and a social website throw a major company into crisis mode? You might want to ask Bryson Thornton, director of global communications for Burger King that question.

Thorton and his team have been doing damage control since a picture of an employee standing in lettuce went viral.  The caption read,  “This is the lettuce you eat at Burger King.”

The photo was originally posted on the site 4Chan, which allows users to post and comment anonymously.  The image outraged enough people on 4Chan that they used the photo’s geotagging to identify the store as the Mayfield Heights, Ohio location.

Soon social media was flooded with comments and shares and the franchise with calls from angry customers and inquiring media. By the time Burger King communications could spring into action, the picture had gone viral and global news outlets were covering the story.

Rogue Brand Impressions

Brand strategists frequently define a brand as the emotional connection you create with your customer and the space that you occupy in their minds.  It is impossible to think of how a picture of an employee standing in food about to be served to customers can create anything other than disgust. Therefore, the Burger King brand and the emotions created by this image are forever linked in consumers’ minds.

Once the photo spread and Burger King corporate became aware of it, they immediately issued a statement, which said:

Burger King Corp. has recently been made aware of a photo that shows a Burger King restaurant employee violating the company’s stringent food handling procedures. Food safety is a top priority at all Burger King restaurants and the company maintains a zero-tolerance policy against any violations such as the one in question.

While the statement is well worded, timely and reaffirms Burger King policy on food safety, it cannot erase the image from dinner’s minds.

Brand, culture and employees

The modern reality is that people share even the most intimate details of their lives.  Things that weren’t said aloud 20 years ago are conversation starters on social media today.

A workplace prank can suddenly become a public relations nightmare.  All it took to spawn the Burger King crisis was a simple image shared on one site.

While significant damage can be done to a brand through social media, there is no getting this genie back into the bottle.  It has become the way in which Millennials or Gen Y prefer to communicate.  In fact, many manage their lives though social media.

Progresses companies like T.G.I. Friday’s have recognized that employees will share. Instead of trying to quash this with Draconian policies, they have embraced it and provided a positive, sanctioned outlet for dialogue and expression.

Fridoids is a site where Friday’s employees can share stories about celebrities  who visit their locations, tips for customer service and fun pictures that exemplify the culture.  Moreover, the policy around this site is simply “don’t do evil.”  Employees self-police and share in a way that embodies the Friday’s culture and brand.

The reality is that companies can’t silence employees.  Instead, they need to provide positive outlets buttressed by a well-defined social media policy.

This may not stop rogue employees.  However, many companies, like T.G.I. Friday’s, are recognizing that building a positive culture of engaged employees who self-police is the way forward in a social sharing world. You can bet your Whopper that Burger King will be considering how they could have avoided this incident.


The Hippocratic Oath of Customer Experience

In Customer Experience, Retail on July 14, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Retailers should follow the Hippocratic Oath when dealing with customers.

Hippocratic Oath of Customer Experience

For thousands of years, physicians have been taking the Hippocratic Oath to “first do no harm”.  This philosophy is also excellent advice for anyone dealing with customers rather than patients.

I come from a long line of shoppers—perhaps that is why I am so passionate about retail.  When I was growing up my Mother, Grandmother and Great Grandmother would drag me off for marathon shopping trips each Saturday.

We would frequent stores where the clerks all knew my grandmothers.  They would set aside things that might possibly interest them.  They knew their names, sizes, tastes and those of my other family members.  Contrast that with my experience this Saturday morning.

The Experience

I had a simple list.  Pick up a book club selection, find wrapping paper and a card for a gift, and a cake for a cookout. Fairly simple stuff—or so you’d think.

First, I went to Barnes & Noble.  In the spirit of transparency, I love my Kindle and have not purchased a physical book in a while.  However, Catcher in the Rye isn’t available digitally and that’s this month’s selection.  Therefore, Barnes & Noble had a perfect opportunity to ‘recover me’ as a loyal customer.  Instead, to be blunt, they pissed me off.

How did they do that?

Clerk:  Do you have a discount card?

Me: (in good mood) Yes, but not with me.  Can you look it up?

Clerk:  What’s your phone number?

Me: 919-xxx-xxxx.  That may not be the right number. We’ve moved and switched phones.  Not sure which number I signed up with.

Clerk:  That isn’t your number.

Me:  Can you look it up by my name?

Clerk:  Not here.  You have to go to customer service.  Do you want to buy a new card for $25.

Me:  You mean I have to get out of line to go find my number?

Clerk:  Yep.  (glares at me)

Me:  Why would I buy a new card when I already have one?

Clerk:  Clearly you don’t know your phone number.

Me:  (giant WTF stare and then I look at the line of people who I don’t want to make wait) Just ring it up.

Me to my husband as we leave:  This is why I love Amazon.

So Barnes & Noble has systems that don’t talk to one another.  Instead of trying to help me get my number, they try to sell me something I already have.  Moreover, I’m the perfect customer for them.  Books are a priority in my family.  Yet, they seem to be trying to get rid of me.

Next, I head downtown for my other items.  There is a stationery store by the bakery and I pop in for the wrapping paper and a card.  I can’t help but think the store smells strange—kind of like a litter box.  As I’m looking at my husband oddly, a giant Ewok of a cat rubs against my leg.  I’m in a panic as I’m highly allergic to cats.

I race to the door knowing my afternoon is ruined because I’ll be in a Benadryl induced stupor.  The clerk looks at me strangely as I bolt out almost knocking over a display.  Over my shoulder, I call out “Sorry.  Allergic to cats.”  I’m already wheezing as we make our way to the bakery.

When we enter the bakery, the experience is completely different.  The pastries are beautifully arranged. There are samples that the clerks are happily sharing with other customers. The cakes are so delicious that the customers are selling them to one another.

I ask a clerk which one she’d recommend for a summer cook out.  Eagerly, she describes the strawberry amaretto in butter cream.  I’m sold!  Carefully, she packages it up for me.

Then she asks me “Have you thought about what you are going to do for your sister’s shower?”  I instantly order yet another cake.  I don’t feel upsold.  I feel relief.   And guess what?  I can’t wait to come back.  I feel a bit of that joy of those Saturdays spent shopping with the women of my family.

Contrast that with how I feel about the other two stores.  I’m not going back to a store that wants me to do all of the work and them to just take my money.  I’m definitely not going to the cathouse.  In fact, as my eyes swell shut, I reach for my phone to add a tip on Four Square “AVOID if you are allergic to cats.”

First Do No Harm

When you are crafting a customer experience, you need to seriously consider if your processes, procedures or choices cause your customers pain.

For instance, up to 30% of the population has a cat allergy.  On what planet does it make sense to alienate that many potential customers?

Why would you train your staff to try to sell someone a new discount card before you try to look up their old one?  Or even worse, why would you implement a system that doesn’t allow for multiple ways to look up customer data?

Things to Consider

When you are creating user journeys or customer experiences, make sure you look for any places you may cause the customer pain.  Some things to consider are:

  • Are you doing anything that could potentially alienate customers (is your store accessible, clean, dander-free?)?
  • Can customers easily find things?
  • Do you have procedures that make the customer do the work?
  • Are you selling at the right time? (not when the customer has a need that you are not resolving)
  • Is your staff adequately trained on how you wish them to engage with the customer?
  • Do you have adequate feedback loops so complaints can be addressed before they become big issues?
  • Are you monitoring social media for ‘customer pain’
  • Do you shop your stores anonymously to see what the experience is like?


Like physicians, retailers need to ask themselves if what they are doing causes damage to your customer and the relationship you want to have with them.  It is difficult for anyone to go from pissed off to delighted in one experience.

Therefore, you should be vigilant in looking for things that may potentially do harm.  While there are not lives at stake, the viability of your business may be.  My husband and I are already taking bets on how long the cat stationery shop will be in business. Anyone want to take a long position?

Meet Your New Gift Registry: Pintrest

In Customer Experience, Retail, Self-Service on July 11, 2012 at 10:21 am

Pintrest makes an excellent gift registry for all occasions.

I’m planning a party for my younger sister.  Usually, I flip through magazines or ask friends for ideas.  However, this time I went straight to Pintrest.

As I feverishly pinned for the party, I found so many cute things that I started an alternate board to collect things I wanted.  It isn’t that I’m super creative.  It was that almost every other person had a “Want it” or “Love it” board and I hate to be left out.

After I finished collecting ideas for my sister’s party, I went through the “Want It” boards of my friends.  I honestly felt like I had tapped into some sort of arcane knowledge about people I had known for years.

I now know Marnie’s favorite wine, Elizabeth’s preferred towels and geek gadgets that Eric covets.  No longer will I be anxious over what to take to a dinner party, house warming, or birthday bash.

Instead, I can go straight to my friend’s boards and see what they like.  In fact, I was so enamored with this discovery that I drag my husband away from the Cubs game to show him the “Want it” boards including mine.  We laughed about some of the bad gifts we’ve given each other and shared  a collective sigh of relief.

The Retailers Dilemma

While this is great for gift purchasers, retailers are left questioning how to capitalize on this trend.  No longer is it enough to just hand people a scanner and set them loose in the store.  Moreover, as your customers pin items to their boards, there is no guarantee their friends are going to know where it came from or buy it from you.

Traditionally, the gift registry was for weddings, babies and housewarmings.  Now people celebrate many and varied occasions.

Let’s faces it, you’d feel (and look) like a moron going to register for your Cinco de Mayo party.  However, now I know exactly what to get Margaret when she invites the entire family over to celebrate with her famous enchiladas.   What I don’t know is where to get those cute margarita glasses from her “Love it” board.

So how does a retailer capitalize on this trend?

Make sure that content you share has excellent photography and displays your brand in a subtle way.  Big ‘in your face’ branding typically doesn’t get shared as frequently.  However, by putting a subtle logo or link to the website in the coner you make it easier for the gift giver to say “ Anne wants this bread maker and I see you can get it at Buns in the Oven.”

Show products in creative ways especially if they are items that people can get anywhere.  One of the was to ensure that your branded picture is the one that gets pinned is by making it aesthetically interesting.

Share content frequently but don’t be seen as screaming like you are in the markets of Marrakesh.  Instead, have a conversation about trends or ideas.  Also use topics that are timely and relevant like  “Here’s how to beat the heat wave” and pin coolers, swimsuits, fans, etc.

Provide a tablet or kiosk in your store so that shoppers who are there looking for gifts for friends and family can find their boards on Pintrest.  It is hard to go through all of that content on a mobile phone.  This also helps bring the social experience into the bricks and mortar store.


Pintrest is an excellent tool for retailers to have conversations with customers.  It also makes it easier for friends and family find gifts for their loved ones that they actually want.  As a retailer, you need to ensure that your content and product pictures are interesting and sharable.   Also, don’t forget to brand every photo in a subtle way so that customers know where the items came from when perusing friend’s boards for gift ideas.

Is Your Customer Experience Smashable?

In Customer Experience, Retail on July 6, 2012 at 10:08 am

Joshy enjoys his extended vacation at the Ritz-Carlton

When was the last time your loss prevention team became an Internet sensation because of excellent customer service? Well, that’s what happened when Joshy went missing.

Joshy is the beloved stuffed Giraffe of the youngest member of the Hurn family. Sadly, Joshy didn’t return home from the vacation with the rest of the Hurns. Desperate to console a distraught toddler to sleep, the family told him that Joshy decided to stay a bit longer on vacation, but would return home soon.

When Joshy was finally located , he returned home with a scrapbook documenting his extended stay, his own loss prevention badge and some goodies for the rest of the family.  Can you guess where the Hurn’s stayed?  Yep. The Ritz-Carlton.

We all read business books that meticulously document models and methodologies to ensure that we craft excellent customer experiences.   These models always seem daunting, expensive and impossible to implement.  One of the darlings and frequent case studies found in those books is the Ritz-Carlton.

However, what the Ritz did in the Joshy incident doesn’t require a change management behaviorist to be on call 24/7 or a major Cap X investment.  Instead, it was a piece of a smashable brand and experience.

The Smashable Experience

 In 1916, Coca-Cola executives approached the Root Glass Company with a challenge—design a Coke bottle that would still be easily identifiable even if smashed into shards.  The result was the Classic Coke bottle.  Martin Lindstrom wrote about smashable brands in his amazing book Brand Sense.

Lindstrom argues that your brand experience should be like the Coke bottle—easily recognizable even in pieces.  Some of the examples he uses are the Harley Davidson sound, the voice of Disney, the smell of Abercrombie and the Intel tone.   Each of these pieces adds up to tell the overall brand story in a unique and identifiable way.

As retailers, we need to be deliberate about what those brand impressions are when it comes to our experiences. Surely, the Hurn’s visited a lovely resort with posh beds, clean rooms and friendly staff.  That’s what you expect from the Ritz-Carlton, right?

However, do you expect loss prevention to be as amazing as the mojitos by the pool?  Clearly, the Loss Prevention team considered themselves an integral part to the overall ethos.   Moreover, they went out of their way to prove it. That is what makes the Ritz-Carlton brand and experience smashable.

Is Your Experience Smashable?

When you shop your stores, how smashable is your experience?  Do you ‘feel’ the ethos of the brand?  Is it easily distinguished from your competitors? Do all of the pieces add up to tell a brand story?  And does the resulting story align with what you discuss when you are sitting around the table in corporate headquarters?

This is why those business books and customer theory books seem so daunting.   The problem is not just in one department or store.  Instead, it encompasses everything from merchandising to store design to marketing to even loss prevention.  So where do you start?

Creating a Smashable Experience

If you really want to create a smashable brand and experience, you have to do an honest assessment of where you want to be and where you are.  I typically take executives on an ‘empathy field trip’ in their own stores at the beginning of a consulting engagement.  Sometimes they love me at the end of it and sometimes they hate me, but I force them to be brutally honest with themselves.

Once you have created the map of current experience then you need to consider:

  • Have you clearly identified what that experience is going to be?  If this is not aligned with your brand-neither can be smashable.
  • Have you identified ways that you can do things that are differentiated from your competitors? And whether or not your customers really care about those things?
  • When you enter your locations, does it look, smell and sound like the experience you want?
  • Do your employees behave like the embodiment of your brand?
  • Do you hire people who reflect what your brand stands for and is it part of your culture?
  • Do you train employees in what type of experience you want to create?
  • Do you speak to your customers in a consistent voice across all channels?
  • Do you choose the things to go the extra mile on wisely?
  • Do you have ‘delight metrics’?
  • Are there ways to share stories to create a virtuous circle?


You don’t have to frame break your entire customer experience and strive to be the Ritz-Carlton today.  Instead, figure out what your unique customer experience is going to be.

Even small improvements, if they are deliberate, can help you build your way to a smashable brand.  Surely, the Ritz didn’t have a policy on what to do with lost stuffed toys.  Instead it had clearly defined customer experience in mind and this permeated every department.

Unlike the Coke bottle, you don’t have to build it all at once.  You can start from the shards and fuse them together to build a smashable experience.   Just identify where you want to start, what you are building towards and rally the troops.  Your customers will thank you.  The Hurn family certainly thanked the Ritz.

Fifty Shades of Frustration: Why Women Hate Best Buy

In Customer Experience, Retail, Uncategorized on June 18, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Women retain cortisol longer than men so this visual cacophony could have longer lasting effects.

It is the Saturday before Father’s Day and I’m sitting at the Cold Stone Creamery with my son.  That’s when I notice something strange—even eerie.  Women are rushing into all of the other stores, but avoiding Best Buy, which is directly across from us.

Men typically like gadgets and electronics.  Therefore, Best Buy should be an ideal place to shop for Father’s Day.  However, it is as if there is estrogen repellant wafting from their doors.  I point this out to my son and terror spreads across his face.

I’m curious and can’t stop myself—no matter how much my son begs, pleads, or threatens to run away.  I explain to him that this is the scientific method in action.  I’ve noticed something odd and I want to understand it.

Doing my best imitation of my high school science teacher, I explain that there is no alternative but for me to begin peppering the women who bypass Best Buy with questions.  Would Newton have stopped?  No.  Would Einstein have stopped?  Of course not.  Nor shall I. Now, I’m not only lame and boring, I’m so embarrassing that he ducks into the Five Below and tells me to text him when I’m done.

The Research

I fish out my notepad and start asking women “Are you shopping for Father’s Day?”  Of the eight women I accosted, all but one said they were.   “Does your dad or husband like electronics, music or movies?”  There I got a 100% response—minus the lady who walked away.  I’m not ashamed. I’m fully willing to be shunned by society in pursuit of science.   Mrs. Trent would be proud.

As I get to the heart of the matter, “So if you dad or husband likes what Best Buy sells and you are out shopping for him, why not go in there?” I poise my pen over paper, like Darwin on The Beagle and wait to be illuminated.  Of the seven women I didn’t scare off, they simply say, “I hate Best Buy.”

It is only by assuring them that I’m just a curious woman who writes blogs about retail that they went further. Plus, I’m on crutches so pity is working in my favor or perhaps they think I’ve had too much pain medicine. Anyway, I see my son peek out of the store and cower in shame.

When asked why they dislike Best Buy, the complaints fell into the following categories:

  • Visual assault
  • Lack of context
    • -Products themselves
    • -Products in usage
    • Lack of Connection
    • Associate allocation
    • Logistics
    • Policies

Noticing that I’m finished stalking innocent shoppers, my son tentatively emerges.  I say, “We are going to Best Buy.”

From the look on his face, I know that he is fully aware of what is coming next.  I bribe him with, “You can get a game.”  It still isn’t enough to be seen with me. Once more he retreats to the safety of the Five Below.

The Experiment

 I have to admit my bias as I go into Best Buy.  I’m a bit of a gadget geek.  Therefore, I vow to shop like a neophyte.  Strolling around the store, I search out evidence to disprove the women who are now hopefully enjoying their ice cream.

Visual Assault

I’m sure that the promos they show on the bank of TV’s look great when the agency is presenting them to executives or the vendor sends it to Best Buy.

However, the whirling, swirling, movement that makes content engaging on one screen is nauseating on 50.  Not to mention, there is different content on many of the screens.  It is mind numbing to the point that I can’t focus on the individual products themselves.   I study six TV specs in that environment and then I am mentally exhausted.

Another complaint was over the lighting.  I frequently hear this about warehouse stores.  There is a constant flicker because they swing and the types of bulbs. This is already annoying but in the visual cacophony that is Best Buy it makes you wish for a Dramamine.

Lack of Context

The women I spoke with complained that they didn’t know what to buy because they didn’t know which products met their needs.   I mean do I really need a DSLR camera or would a lower level be ok for taking pictures of my dog?  Or should I get my husband a plasma or LED TV?  Even once they knew in which category they should shop, it is hard to decide if 14 megapixels is enough.  Or whether they should wait for OLED to become ubiquitous.

You can’t read the information on the placards nor is there anything that might indicate which camera is best for your purposes.

Moreover, I looked at the spec sheets in the camera section.  I have been researching DSLR cameras for a year now.  Not only could I not read the specs of the cameras because the print was so small, the information I wanted to know wasn’t even on the card.


How would you know if this were the right camera for you?

Associate Allocation

There were more people charged with keeping me from stealing than to help me.  The Best Buy reality is that people come in and look at products on the shelves, whip out their phones and search for a better price.

I figured with the ‘showrooming’ trend that I’d be swarmed when I started snapping pictures. However, only one guy asked, “Can I help you?”  I respond, “I’m not sure which camera to get my Dad.  I need to do some research.”

While he was courteous, he didn’t ask me what type of pictures my father takes.  He didn’t say “Is this for Father’s Day?”  He didn’t ask me if I need anything else—remember I’m on crutches.  He seemed almost eager to go off to some other task rather than interact with me.  Maybe he’d heard that I’m a nutter from the women I spoke to earlier or possibly my son has posted it to Facebook by now.

I guess I should commend this guy because I was ignored when I entered and exited the store by the four people congregating around the ‘greet and show me your receipt’ stand. Otherwise no one else ventured to help me at all.


I needed some new computer speakers because of my recent Spotify addiction.  Therefore, I used this opportunity to shop for them.  I knew what I wanted, but I was enjoying my method acting experiment.  I waited patiently in the computer speaker section— 6 minutes.  I finally read all of the placards on each set of speakers.  I took more pictures. Still no associate.

Finally, I make my selection.  The box is large and I’m hobbling toward check out.  Again, of the four people at podium in the front, not one offers to help.  I think about the women I have interviewed-the one with the small kids, the really petite woman and the older lady.  I’d hate Best Buy too if I were not the impartial scientist limping toward the parking lot.


I could not test this in this experiment.  However, two of the women told horror stories about trying to return things to Best Buy that either didn’t work or were the wrong thing.  I think they only talked to me for the free ice cream and the opportunity to rant about this.

The Results

Here is the ironic thing, I chose Insignia speakers—Best Buy’s own brand.  I’ve bought them before because they sound good and the price point is low enough that I can rock out to my 80s play list on Spotify in any room in my house. Suddenly, I’m panicked that Best Buy will screw up so badly that I’m not going to have access to this brand.

I can’t help but think that the women I spoke with have a point.  Best Buy IS a difficult place to shop—not just for women.


If Best Buy wants to win with women, they are going to have to rethink their in-store experience—seriously.  There is no reason that promos have to look like they came from the X Games.  Moreover, cortisol stays in a woman’s body longer than a man’s.  Anything that induces stress will have a longer impact.  Also, women also have a bigger hippocampus, which means they have a greater memory of how things made them feel.  If a retailer irritates a woman, the effects of that can be long lasting.

Also, studies have show that showing emotion in marketing materials can have more effect on women.  Some of those promotions should have images that women can relate to if they want to sell to them.  I understand that Best Buy is frequently beholden to the vendors in how they display products.  However, they ultimately share the same customer.  Why not do what is best for them?  I’m guessing they have no desire to alienate a large portion of the population.


Women don’t want to buy a pink hair brush at Best Buy. Instead, they want to know which products are right for them.

The only evidence I could find in the store that Best Buy had thought about women as consumers was one very pink aisle.  Even though I’m fond of pink, I’m not sure that I’d go to Best Buy to purchase a hairbrush.  Instead of making a Hello Kitty aisle, how about trying to make it easier for us to buy a TV or camera?

Amazon is making it impossible for Best Buy to compete on price alone.  They have to face the fact that they are in a commodity game.  The only way they can differentiate is to create superior shopping experience.  That means making it fun, informative and establishing their associates as experts on electronics and media.

Best Buy will have to find innovative way to do guided selling at the shelf level.  If their associates need tablets to be informed, I’d think they’d know where to get a good deal on them.  How hard is it to create a color-coded system that categorizes the cameras into beginner, intermediate, expert, and finally Ansel Adams?  How difficult is it to set up a family room in the store that shows how all the products work together?

If Best Buy isn’t going to make it easier for shoppers to get the right thing and then establish Draconian policies about returns, they will find themselves with more and more store closings.  Plus, I’ve never seen a retailer thrive by focusing more on protecting themselves from their customers than serving them.

Retailers who want to thrive need to start thinking about how not to alienate their customers.  This isn’t just about targeting women, but making it easier for shoppers as a whole.  That means:

  • Creating an environment that is less jarring
  • Broadening appeal to women in content and context
  • Empowering associates with information
  • Abandoning a philosophy of protecting themselves from the customer rather than serving them
  • Eschewing the vendor-dictated model that isn’t working for anyone.

Four Hot Retail Trends Made Better by Customer Self-Service

In Customer Experience, Retail, Self-Service on June 11, 2012 at 8:01 am

Even iconic Liberty is setting up a temporary location to attract Olympic visitors

London is buzzing this summer.  People flocked to the city for the Diamond Jubilee. While it captivated the world’s attention, it was just a warm up for the Olympics.   As athletes and devoted fans from around the globe descend on the city, retails are getting prepared.  Therefore, you can see some of the hottest trends in retail on steroids.  Four in particular are made better by incorporating self-service or kiosks.  They are:

  • Pop Up Locations
  • Smaller Footprint Stores
  • Millenials
  • International Shoppers


 London real estate was already at a premium.  However, the massive influx of people this summer has made that even more pronounced—especially in locations surrounding the Olympic venues.  Therefore, retailers are getting creative with pop-up locations.  Even Liberty, the famed British department store has taken a temporary space in an outdoor area on the main promenade where Olympic revelers will pass en route to the park.

Trendy retailer H&M is opening a sports-focused store that will feature active wear in Union Jack colors.  These stores will be open for ten weeks in Covent Garden and Westfield Stratford City.  It isn’t just London that is seeing this trend, H&M is opening a pop up location in Miami Beach this summer.

The value of pop ups is being recognized by other entities beyond retailers.  EBay created several pop up locations.  Wired Magazine erects an electronics pop up in New York at Christmas every year .  Even the Flaming Lips have puckered up to the pop up trend .

Retail expert, Brian Walker from The Retail Doctor told Smart Company, “Pop-up shops give you instant accessibility, instant wow factor if done well, and put you in environments that you might not be otherwise.” He continues,  “A pop-up shop is an extension of the brand and should be treated that way – so investment of capital is key.”

Pop ups allow retailers, websites, magazines and even bands to capitalize on compelling events and locations as well as keep their brand top of mind.  Because of their temporary nature and space constraints, pop ups typically have limited selection.  By introducing self-service, kiosks or tablets, pop ups could be nimble as well as offer a broader range of items.

These locations are ideal for endless aisle types of applications.  Moreover, shoppers heading to the Olympic park or to South Beach may not want to be burdened with parcels.  A kiosk would allow visitors to purchase from the extended offerings as well as have items delivered at their convenience.


 Even after the Olympics, London real estate will be at a premium.  For brands and retailers interested in a more permanent spot in highly desirable locations, the smaller footprint store has become a mainstay.  Over the past few years, giant retailers have responded to changing consumer behaviors and adopted a more focused approach. Smaller footprint stores are ideal for urban locations and create a more European shopping model where consumers visit the stores daily—which is ideal for brand engagement.

Target created stores that were almost half the size of their traditional stores (60,000 sqft vs 120,000) for their urban locations.  Walmart Express was born to allow the retail giant to fit into this new reality.  In addition, stores like Kohl’s and Office Depot are embracing this trend and getting away from the mega store to broaden their appeal.

Like pop up locations, these smaller footprint stores are unable to carry the full product portfolio. Not to mention, have you ever tried to wheel your newly purchased office chair through the streets of Seattle?

The limited space and the realities of urban living make these locations ideal for kiosks, which can expand product and delivery options.  In addition, these stores don’t have room for support staff.  Retailers could take advantage of hiring kiosks to off load many of the human resource tasks.  This would ensure that associates focused primarily on the customer.


 Millenials are not only the athletes in this year’s Olympics they are a large percentage of those who will be drawn to the games. In a previous blog, I wrote about how self-service and Millenials are an ideal match.

Millenials will outspend Baby Boomers by 2017; however, they also currently punch above their weight.  That means they spend more than their actual purchasing power.  In addition, they shop in an entirely different way than their parents—who they trust less than random people online.

To meet the demands of this generation, retailers need to ensure that reviews are easily accessible.  Kiosk or shelf level tablets would be ideal to help these informed consumers complete purchases.  Because they are wired all the time, they are great researches and users of technology.   You don’t want to put your associates in a position where a customer pulls out their phone to show them they are wrong about their own products or specials—which could instantly derail a purchase and mar your brand.

According to a RSR paper, The Retail Store in Transition, an uninformed associate is worse than no associate.  Moreover, most Millenials don’t even want to bother talking to an associate.  They’d rather interact with an avatar or something ‘less human’.

Retailers can appeal to this demographic by ensuring peer reviews are available through out the store, providing easy access to information in a visually appealing way and empowering associates with technology to further the conversation.

Self-service and kiosks are ideal for this.  However, be aware that this is the Apple Generation and it has to be sleek, elegant and modern.  Any boxy, clunky things that are not graphically appealing or don’t work on the first try will be quickly abandoned and Tweeted about, Facebooked and Pinned under #fail.


 When I was growing up, Italian food was considered exotic.  Now, even in my small suburban town, I can eat at 30 different ethnic style restaurants and encounter six different languages on any given day.  This diversity is changing the shopping landscape.  Every four years we are reminded of how diverse our world is with the Olympics.  Can you imagine being an associate at the H&M location in Covent Garden trying to articulate the merits of products to people from every country on the planet?

Self-service and kiosk can make life easier for both the associate and the shopper by providing information in multiple languages.  This trend isn’t just for retail, but healthcare, public spaces like airports and public transit as well as universities.  Providing information in multiple languages in a single location is simple with a kiosk whether it is products, services, frequently asked questions, timetables or way finding assistance.


With summer heating up and the biggest shopping days ahead of us, retailers should consider how they are going to make these trends even better shopper experiences.  Self-service can make small spaces have big impact by expanding offerings.  It can help limited staff meet growing demand by offloading administrative tasks such as managing job applications.  In addition, it can bring the viral, social shopping experience into the store by incorporating reviews and rankings.  Finally, it can create a personalized experience no matter which language you speak.


You Had Me at Hello but… : What Big Data and Neuromarketing Miss

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Target uses big data to target women entering their second trimester

I’m a geek.   I love big data and ferreting out patterns.  Nothing fascinates me more than the burgeoning field of neuromarketing.

Like most marketing geeks, I read the New York Times article about Target using statistics to predict when women were entering their second trimester in awe of the sheer marketing brilliance.    By detecting small changes in women’s purchasing behavior and a few ‘trigger’ items such as a large quantity of unscented lotion, Target is able to discern when a woman is entering in her second trimester.

This is a critical inflection point because becoming a mom fundamentally changes women’s shopping behavior.   Target wisely figured if they could become the shopping destination of choice for women going through this transition, that they could gain more wallet share by becoming the one-stop shopping destination for new moms.  What is even more amazing is the accuracy with which Target was able to spot these women—even going so far as to know when a teenage girl was expecting well before her own father.

As luck would have it, my younger sister is in the process of starting her family.  Anyone who knows me knows that absolutely cannot keep a secret.  Therefore, it was a huge test of my willpower to not let her know that she was taking part in my own experiment—a validation of the efficacy of the Target second trimester targeting.

It was shocking how perfectly it worked. Two weeks into her second trimester, I get a call that she’s heading to Target to register.  I can’t help but feel like I’ve had some part in this coming to pass.  I am smug in my knowledge that marketing is, in fact, a real science.

I received notification of her registry while I was preparing for a presentation at a retail event.  I immediately text her:

Me (beaming with smug marketing brilliance):  Target got you!

Sister (confused as to what I’m on about):  Huh?

Me (in uber-nerdy mode):  Target has a campaign to identify when women are entering their second trimester.  They use behavioral cues and then start ‘targeting ‘ you. They got you!

Sister (a child psychologist who has kids to see):  Yep.  That’s me.

Me (smugness now with no place to go): J

Sister (in the longest text I’ve seen from her):  If you are working with them, tell them to put their pack and plays on the ground and have strollers that you can actually push.  Bolting these items to the second shelf where you can’t see or play with them is crap!

Me (suddenly not so proud of the brilliance of my profession and eager to change the subject):  Can’t wait to go shopping for the baby! :)))))

So How Can we Get it So Right and Still Screw It Up?

 The move to big data and neuromarketing takes us to more sophisticated level yet we still struggle with the basics.  We can predict with an amazing degree of accuracy who we should target, what messages they should receive via which channel at which time.   We can micro segment in ways that were unfathomable just five years ago.  That means that we should be able to create customer experiences that are as tailored as our targeting.  However, frequently it is the basics that cause us problems.

Surely, someone had a great reason for bolting strollers and play cribs to the second shelf.   However, anyone who had watched the expectant mothers in the aisle would have seen the frustration with this situation.  New moms want to touch and feel and personally certify anything that is going to come in close contact with their precious cargo.  I went and watched for only a few moments and saw several women with new baby bumps reaching and straining to try and get a better look at these items.

What Can Retailers Do To Avoid Creating These Situations?

 When I consult with retailers, the very first thing I do is chart the user journey as it is today with the desired outcome.  Typically, there will be two or three variations in a multi-channel approach.  Then I’ll identify crucial touch points in the journey—those places that can either make the user happily continue forward or perhaps to abandon their journey.   Finally, I take key stakeholders on an empathy field trip.  I’m a religious practitioner of design thinking.  Many people think that the power of this methodology is in the ideation.  However, it is truly in the empathy work.  I’ve had senior executives tell me, “I learned more about how my store operates in four hours than I would have ever seen from charts and tables.”


  1. Use big data and neuromarketing, but validate it in practice.  Don’t let all that brilliance go to waste when user frustration can easily be avoided.
  2. Create a user journey chart to show the customer’s path from targeting to purchase and brand affinity with key milestones and inflection points.
  3. Schedule an empathy field trip to go out and observe how your vision is translated into practice.  It is typically useful to have an impartial party lead these for a fresh point of view.
  4. Continue to validate and make tweaks as you get more data and feedback.

Gen Y and Self-Service: A Love Story

In Uncategorized on May 22, 2012 at 11:03 am

I just finished interviewing retailers about their employee challenges.  By far, the largest complaint was about managing Gen Y.  Now those same complaints were being echoed again.

They are lazy.

They don’t want to pay their dues.

What exactly are they wearing?  And do they think that is appropriate for work?  I mean look at the Facebook guy!  Wearing a hoodie for a Road Show!

They don’t read their emails.

They won’t look me in the eye when I’m talking to them.

They are like children, but they are 25!  When I was their age, I had a mortgage and two kids!

I can’t get them to put away their phones and wait on customers!

The room is packed with some of the largest retailers in the world at the Micros Retail Connect event.  We are patiently waiting for Jason Ryan Dorsey “The Gen Y Guy” to impart his wisdom on us.    The first thing he does is validate all of us cynical Gen Xers and hardworking Baby Boomers.

“Our generation suffers from delayed adulthood.”  The room nods in accord with him.  Then he says something that really makes me put down my pen (turns out Baby Boomers are the only ones who write things anymore.  I vow not to write again as I’m a proud latchkey kid of Gen X).

In 2017, Gen Y will outspend Baby Boomers for the first time.  That means that not only do we have to understand how to manage them, we desperately need to know how to connect with them as consumers.  As Dorsey continues to describe his generation, I can’t help but pick my pen back up and scribble furiously.

Gen Y or Millennials

  •  Need context and information.
  • Trust reviews of people online more than their family members.
  • Believe they are special and therefore want to be treated as such (they’ve got a 12th place ribbon to prove it.)
  • Have delayed adulthood and that affects their social skills (You can blame their Baby Boomer parents for this.)
  • Are not technology savvy but rather tech dependent
  • Really don’t want to talk to you.  If it is important, then send a text.  A phone call is considered an invasion of privacy.
  • Are never 10 feet away from their phone.
  • Are completely outcome driven

As he started ticking off some of these characteristics of Millennials, I couldn’t help but think Gen Y and self-service are a match made in heaven.

Provide Context and Information

As Dorsey said, Gen Y doesn’t really know anything.  However, they’ve become great researchers.  This translates into their consumer behavior.  It means they are very knowledgeable shoppers.

Self-service and kiosks are great to bring that online information into the store.  Also, another interesting fact about Millennials is that they don’t typically own a PC.  Instead they are tethered to their phones and take advantage of free wifi locations.    This means that having an interactive, in-store display with product information and how the product is used would help them move from research to purchase more quickly.

Showcase Reviews

 Anyone who is building a guided selling application without consumer reviews front and center is woefully behind the times.  As Dorsey said,  “Gen Y trusts online reviews from anonymous people on the internet more than family members.”    The good news is that this also benefits Gen X shoppers as well as apparently we don’t believe anything people tell us.

Personalize Service.  Personalized Products.

With facial recognition software like the Intel AIM suite we know more about customers as they approach digital signage or kiosks.  That means, we can intelligently predict items that they might be of interest for particular demographics.

Also, personalization of products is important to Millennials.  Nike ID has had tremendous success by allowing shoppers to design their own shoes.  Spoonflower allows consumers to design their own fabrics.  Gen Y likes to know they are being treated in a unique way to reflect their individuality.  Therefore, anything you can make personalized for them endears them to your brand.

Don’t force human interaction.

 Because Gen Y has been so sheltered, they have delayed their social development.  Many were cloistered away at university with Mom’s credit cards only to find the job market not very welcoming when they graduated.  Now they are 25 and living at home again.

This delayed development is compounded by the fact that many of their interactions are digital rather than face-to-face.   That means is that you new policy on ensuring that every customer is greeted in a friendly manner may actually backfire with this demographic.   Dorsey recommended that a tablet could be used for the associate to show the Gen Y what’s on special.  Therefore, making the conversation less intimate by using technology to guide it.

Tech dependent

 One thing we hear about Gen Y is that they are technology savvy.  Dorsey restated that, as Millennials are more dependent than knowledgeable.  They can’t tell you why it works but they do know they can’t live without it.

I recently watched a group of twenty-somethings waiting for their order at Noodles & Co (a very popular restaurant among the demographic).  They were clearly four close friends based on their body language.  However, not one of them was talking to the other.  All four had their phones out and were texting feverishly.    This means that when you are designing customer or self-service experiences for this demographic, technology is going to be a key component of how their path to purchase.

Outcome driven

 We often here that Gen Y is requires instant gratification.  However, it is more that they are outcome driven.  They need to understand what the ‘end state’ is before they embark on the journey.  The immediacy of results in their world means that they have little patience for lines –especially when waiting for their coffee.   Anything you can make easier and more expedient will endear this generation to your company, products and brand.


 The notion of what constitutes good service is evolving.   Gen Y will forever change that in 2017 when they start outspending Baby Boomers.  If you want to win the hearts, minds and wallet share of this generation, you will need to create personalized experiences that appeal to the characteristics of the generation.   There recently has been a lot of discussion about the Connect Consumer.   Some of the early research suggests that they are a demographic of their own as the transverse several traditional categories.  The good news is that Gen Y and the Connected Consumer expect many of the same things from their interactions. Some key questions to ask yourself are:

  1. How can I provide information to the consumer along their decision path?
  2. How can I bring customer reviews into the store?
  3. How can I create a personalized experience in products or services?
  4. Am I forcing other generations into uncomfortable social situations?
  5. Does the way I’m using technology make sense?  Is it easy to use and clear what it is for?

To find out more about Jason Ryan Dorsey, visit his website at:  If you are looking for an exceptional keynote speaker, I highly recommend him.

To Ignite Your Customers, Fire Up Your Employees

In Uncategorized on May 8, 2012 at 7:51 am

The connected customer can find anything they want. Your employees can differentiate the experience and your brand.

I’m one of those connected customers.  I scan QR codes.  I read product reviews.  I’m never without my phone and it is loaded and ready with Google Shopper, Red Laser and Barcode Hero.  I write reviews on Trip Advisor and Yelp!  I seek feedback about products  from my friends on Facebook and Twitter.

My son is an avid soccer player. He probably knows  as much about the merits of different products as most people who sell soccer products.  He’s a keeper and therefore his goalie gloves are superstitious item (I won’t even talk about his sock ritual!).  They have to be Reusche. Period.  If they are not, then his goalie mojo will evaporate.

In short, we are connected consumers who are crystal clear about what we want.

So why are we in the car on Saturday morning driving to a store 12 miles from our house when I could easily purchase what I want online?  One simple reason.  The employees at the Soccer Post.

If I’m being honest, I don’t usually like to talk to store clerks.  It’s not that I’m anti-social.  It is more that I really like to do things for myself.  I have all the information that I need at my fingertips.  What I want from them most times is to be courteous and let me settle my bill quickly.  So why is the Soccer Post different?  Because the employees are passionate.

It is clear they love what they are doing.  Their enthusiasm for the latest Joma shoe or ‘epic’ goalie jersey is contagious.  They know who has which patents on which type of finger saves in everyone of the goalie gloves they carry.  They truly understand the crazy sock ritual–something even I as the mother don’t get.


 Much has been written about the loyalty and caliber of Chick-fil-A employees.  The turnover among Chick-fil-A operators is only  5% a year. Among hourly workers turnover is 60%, compared with 107% for the industry.  They don’t pay any more than other fast food chains.  They don’t have any greater benefits.  The career path and training at McDonald’s is far superior.  So why are Chick-fil-A employees so much better?  The answer is not merely that they have a religious foundation and they recruit and hire from church communities.  It is not that they are closed on Sunday.  It is more than that.  They hire employees who believe in what they stand for.


Retailers don’t need to shut down their stores on Sunday and stand outside of churches with job applications as their new HR strategy.  The Soccer Post in Raleigh has the same type of employees and they were recruited from the elite soccer players in the area.

So what is the formula for getting employees excited?

Clarify what you stand for

It does not have to be a religious principle, but it should be clear and something that is easily understood.  In truth, if your brand is well done it should be instantly obvious.  It doesn’t have to be a lofty goal that a future Miss American contest quotes.  It can be simple like the Soccer Post—performance soccer gear for all levels.

Hire only those who believe

Once you’ve articulated what you stand for you, only hire those who have similar values.  We’ve all made bad hires because we were time crunched, dying for an extra set of hands, afraid that the headcount would go away if we didn’t act quickly or various other rationalizations.  I have been guilty of it myself and have always ended up regretting it.

When I asked the owner of the Soccer Post how he recruited such good employees he said “I find those who love the sport and I figure I can teach them retail.”

How often have you looked at a job application and tossed it aside because they had no retail experience?  Or worse does your HR team do this and you have no idea?  If you are unsure, should call your recruiters right now and give them some additional screening criterion rather than ‘previous experience.’

When you make bad hires, you are not the only one suffering.  Your brand and your customer are the victims of these poor choices.  Wait until the right candidate comes along.  Recruit from communities where people with your beliefs congregate.  This is  much easier than ever before with social media.  Moreover, these communities are global.  Leverage Linked In, Facebook and Twitter to find people who match your philosophy and aspirations.

Create a Culture Around Your Beliefs

Let’s say you are a struggling consumer electronics retailer.  You spend a lot of time hyping new products to your customers.  Do you also do that for your employees?  They are the ones who are going to be helping customers select products.  Do your employees exude enthusiasm about the latest television or video game?  Do you celebrate successful product launches of what you are trying to focus on?

If you are a women’s apparel store, do you get your teams excited about the latest in fashion?  Do you send them Twitter updates about the trends live from the runways?  Why not?  If you’ve hired well, then these people will want to hear this type of information and will eagerly share it with your customers.  Think of it is quick, inexpensive employee training.

 Make the Tough Choices

I’m sure Chick-fil-A has heard the business case from every freshly-minted MBA on why they should open on Sunday.  However, Chick-fil-A is steadfast in remaining closed so that employees can attend church and be with their families.

If you clarify what you stand for and something comes along and opposes that, you have to be willing to say “No.”  For instance, lacrosse is becoming big where I live.  What would happen to the experience at The Soccer Post if they started carrying lacrosse gear?  I’m guessing they would have to hire lacrosse experts too.  So when I wanted to know the specs on the new Reusch gloves, I’d have a lacrosse player trying to help me?  Or perhaps they’d go back to the old reliable “Must have retail experience.”


If you want your customers to be passionate about your brand and what you do, then your employees have to feel that enthusiasm as well.  In a connected world, customers can find lower prices, free shipping, etc.  Focus on things that can differentiate you and having great employees is one of the easiest ways.


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