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Do Your Systems Support a Personalized Customer Experience?

The day after Christmas, I had an “aha” marketing moment. It was one of those experiences that makes you truly appreciate the art of marketing and just how complicated it can be to create an awesome customer experience.

Let me set the stage: I was at the mall with my husband and his family. The only store I needed to go to was Lululemon, a store that I begrudgingly admit I visit too often. I’m sure their marketing team would call my husband and me “advocates” of their brand, based on our loyal and committed spending habits at the store—but I digress.

However, the reason for our visit today wasn’t as much fun as our normal visits. This time, I needed to return some beautiful ombre yoga pants my husband had bought for me because they ripped when I tried them on. Since I was so connected to the brand, I knew this had to be a manufacturing defect. After all, the quality of Lululemon’s clothing is one of the top reasons I’m devoted to the brand.

Getting to the Root of the Defect…

I took to the internet to see if this particular style of ombre pants had quality issues. When I didn’t find anything online, I decided I’d take them back to the store and exchange them for a new pair. In my mind, this would not be a problem—the store would admit their fault and give me a new pair.

What happened when I tried to exchange them was very different from what I had expected. The associate said they do not cover “accidents” and that I’d have to pay for a new pair. Accident? I hadn’t even worn these pants and they split! I asked to speak to a manager. The manager then came over and loudly stated that it looked like I had cut the yoga pants with scissors because their “pants just don’t do that.”

To put this in marketing speak, you have a loyal customer who has an idyllic image of a brand in her head for years. But in a single instant, that image can get destroyed thanks to a brief interaction with a brand representative.

Not Backing Down

Outraged, I took down the associate’s and the manager’s names and Tweeted at Lululemon, asking their customer care team for help.

Their Twitter team responded within 15 minutes. The message felt a little generic, but I was impressed that they responded in a timely manner and acknowledged that the picture I sent of the pants didn’t look right.

Since I figured they were going to tell me to call customer support, I did. A wonderful lady named Sylvia answered the line. I told her what happened, and she listened patiently. Her tone was professional yet empathetic; she acknowledged how embarrassing it must have been to be accused of such a thing in a loud, crowded store, while not speaking negatively about the store associates or manager. In the end, she issued a return and I will get a gift card to go buy a new pair of yoga pants.

The Four Marketing Takeaways I Gleaned

All of this activity happened within a half hour, but it brought up so many marketing “things” in my mind.

First of all, it’s incredibly important to establish a strong brand. I wasn’t even angry when my pants ripped—I thought Lululemon would take care of it. The inconvenience of having to drive to the store didn’t even feel like an inconvenience to me, because I love the product that much. Ask yourself what you are doing in your business to create connections with your customers. Even if your brand isn’t as iconic as Lululemon, you can still create a personality that breeds loyalists.

Secondly, consider the channels we use to interact with a brand. In this case, we have the corporate website where my husband researched pants, the store where my husband purchased the pants, the store where we tried to return them, Twitter, customer care (call center) and email (where I got my return information). Do you have a centralized platform where you can track all of these touchpoints?

In my experience, most brands do not. The call center uses one system, the social media team uses another and the in-store system uses another. Even in my phone call with Sylvia, she told me that the in-store system to track loyalty accounts is different than hers—the in-store one uses phone number and customer care uses email addresses. It took her just a tad too long to locate my loyalty account because of this disconnect.

Third, every single person that works for your company is a walking billboard. In this situation, the manager I encountered at Lululemon was a very loud walking billboard who didn’t align with the brand. So think about what your core values are. Do your people know them and apply them to their work?

Fourth, I wondered why this manager wouldn’t issue a simple exchange. Most people take the path of least resistance when dealing with problems. Maybe corporate doesn’t allow the stores to initiate exchanges at all. Maybe he was trying to hit a number or maybe he could have processed an exchange, but he was so busy he didn’t want to deal with it. If it’s one of the first two reasons, there’s a bigger conversation that should be had. What level of autonomy do these stores have? Do managers feel like they have the power to make it right for a customer? Or is customer care the only team that can make it right? If it’s the latter, I’d encourage them to reevaluate that strategy.

And if the reason he didn’t initiate the exchange was because he was busy, then that’s a training opportunity. How many of you “need to get an email out the door” so you don’t take the time to personalize it? How many of your SDRs forget to follow up on leads because they have bigger deals to work?

What started as a seemingly simple run to the store turned into a major learning experience for me (and got me a new pair of yoga pants, after all). Marketing and business lessons are around us every day, and if we pay attention, we can gain a lot of value by learning from others’ wins and losses. So I’m curious… What other marketing lessons can you pull from my story? Do you have similar examples? Leave a comment or connect with me on Twitter to share your thoughts with me directly.

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