Aug 202009

In my last post, I blogged about how a relatively unknown brand, Forzieri, integrated innovative product marketing tactics into its e-commerce solution. Staying on this same theme, I recently had a surprisingly positive experience on It’s been many months since I visited the site, so it’s quite possible JCrew has been doing this for a while.

I was looking for a pair of men’s shorts and clicked on a specific item on the initial results page to get the product details. Most websites selling apparel include a basic description and a size chart, but JCrew added a real personal touch. Beneath the button to add the item to my shopping bag, was the caption “Not sure about size? Need help putting it all together? Email Erica, our personal shopping expert, at”jcrew1

As I suspected, it turns out “Erica” is not a single person but rather an alias for a staff of personal shoppers who field questions and answer via email (as opposed to by phone in a call center). I was a bit disheartened, because I really would have liked to see JCrew pull that off. Nevertheless, when I am in the mindset of shopping online, I prefer to interact and transact electronically end-to-end versus interrupting the flow by making a phone call. As I argue in my previous post, I believe that’s where Zappos gets it wrong.

Granted there was latency while I awaited a response from “Erica,” whereas a call center rep might have answered my questions in real-time. But whether perception or reality, JCrew had me convinced “Erica” would be better equipped to answer my question. Hence, it would be worthwhile awaiting her response, which arrived about 5 hours later and included her direct contact details, both phone and email.jcrew2

My guess is this feature isn’t widely used (it’s a bit buried on the page), because I don’t get how it would scale, especially since there is no form, or at the very least, instructions on what information to include in your email. That said, I am convinced a meaningful segment of online consumers will see this as a refreshing alternative to picking up the phone and speaking to an agent, whose performance is largely being measured on standard call center metrics (i.e. production, efficiency and sales).

Jul 172009

I’m sure many others are laughing along with me as Comcast and Verizon spend ridiculous amounts of money attacking each other on TV, stretching truths and greatly exaggerating the other’s fallbacks. As is true of virtually all negative advertising, the message about customer benefits gets diluted in all the bickering. When it concepted the campaign, Verizon likely was aiming to replicate Apple’s “Get a Mac” ad series success, portraying a Verizon technician as cool and clean cut, and his Comcast counterpart as disheveled, overweight, and anything but hip.

But alas, Verizon is no Apple. Apple delights with elegantly designed products and fuels demand with brilliantly executed clean and bold marketing. Verizon is inherently disadvantaged as a tech hardware and infrastructure company. There’s no argument it provides cool services, but it cannot create the same emotional connection, because these days a landline phone connection is BORING, wired broadband is a commodity, and credit for the sharp picture in your living room goes to your high quality HDTV.

But enough with the Apple comparison, as that is not the focus of this post. My point is simple. The hoards of cash Verizon and Comcast are spending to one-up the other in this fight would be far better invested in sophisticated CRM systems.

No question, price and number of HD channels are two factors to consider when choosing a cable provider. And internet speed is important. But at the end of the day, are the companies’ capabilities really all that different? On the other hand, if you buy a bundled package (i.e. at least 2 of these 3 – phone, internet and cable), before long you’re bound to have a technical issue with at least one of them. Lord knows, FiOS has had numerous outages and glitches since I started using them around 2 1/2 years ago. Working in the high-tech/internet space, I understand complex systems sometimes fail and service upgrades often don’t go quite as planned. So, I’ve been patient with FiOS as they’ve gone through their growing pains.

But recently, when my credit card was triple charged almost $300 (i.e. $900 in total) due to a glitch on the FiOS website, I wanted answers, and I wanted them immediately. The fact that it happened in the first place is very disconcerting. That I still don’t have the issue resolved a couple of months later after speaking to over 10 Verizon reps (including a couple in the Collections Dept.), is inexcusable.

My initial experience with FiOS was great. The installation was fairly smooth, a local manager stopped by to inspect the work and ensure my satisfaction (he even gave me one of his cards), and they waived the installation fee of an extra phone jack for my fax machine. Judging on this one-time event alone, I would give FiOS a solid “A” for service. Therein lies the difference between simple customer service, and its far more powerful cousin CRM, which requires deep commitment to put systems, procedures and people in place to foster relationships with customers throughout the life cycle. It is here that FiOS has failed.

As one of the first subscribers in my town who’s still with FiOS, by definition, I am one of their longest standing (i.e. loyal) customers. My guess is I’m also in their upper tier of monthly spend at ~$160. And perhaps my best quality of all: I always pay my bill on time. Undoubtedly, these are 3 of the most important factors in assigning value to FiOS’ member segments. Not rocket science.

So CRM 101 should reveal to FiOS that if nothing else, I’m an above-average customer. Work even a little to keep me happy (e.g. a priority 800#) and show me you care (e.g. actually call me back when you say you will), and there’s a good chance I’ll stick with you. Take it to the next level and show you understand early adopter = influencer with potential for real evangelism, and watch how many people I bring to your service. And if segmentation is too much to ask, at the very least try following the no longer new Web 2.0 trends and establish a presence on social media channels, such as Twitter. Score one for Comcast, which is leaps and bounds ahead with its @ComcastCares initiative. Obviously Twitter alone is an insufficient strategy, but it symbolizes Comcast’s commitment to differentiate on service.