Last week I reported the latest news of the German train company (“Deutsche Bahn”) and their letter that asked me for some patience.
The latest News
This week I received another letter with the information that they needed my train tickets.
I booked the ticket via the Swiss railways on their mobile app. I remember that they also sent me an e-mail but why keeping it (I am definitely not a collector) if everything is on my mobile and I already returned from my trip?
So I called the German customer support explaining my situation. I understand that they cannot help me unless I can give them their order number.
The next issue.
Online tickets are being deleted 31 days after the trip happened. The only thing I could offer was the receipt that contains certain reference numbers. I proposed to send it by e-mail.
The customer support of the German train company only accepts letters. I MEAN PHYSICAL MAIL THAT GOES INTO A PHYSICAL LETTERBOX!
But I am glad they already know how to operate a telephone and accepted me to give them the respective numbers verbally. The gentlemen promised to give that number to the respective department which will bestow another letter upon me.
What is communication at all?
According to some system theories (e.g. Niklas Luhmann) communication and understanding are two different things.
Communication happens as soon as people talk about it. No matter if you understand the meaning of my words in this post. As soon as you tell someone that I wrote this article it is considered communication. In other words: Misunderstanding is as good a communication as complete agreement.
Form this aspect I had a great communication with the support centre. If it was also useful and I’ll get my fare or parts of it refunded is yet to be discovered.
Remember my post about my odyssey from Frankfurt to Zurich? In that article I complained that we were not informed what was going on.
I just want to give you a short update on this.
At the end of the journey all passengers received a form by which one can reclaim the fare or at least a part of it. Of course I completed it and send it in the envelope I got to the German railway company.
Last week – about three weeks later – I received a letter from the German railway company informing me that they received my request but due to recent (meteorological) events they had a lot of those forms and kindly ask me to be patient.
The funny thing is that they also asked about my e-mail address and still sent me a physical letter.
However, I do not want to complain too much. Even though, I do not have any of my money back, they are communicating again.
This week I read an interesting article about shopping behaviour and consumer experience.
The writer of this article states that nowadays consumers can order anything they want online and that there was no need to visit an actual store anymore. People only would come to the store because they consider the shopping experience was worth their time.
How does the shop owner know if the visitors really appreciate his (or her) store and its atmosphere? By charging an admission fee, says the article.
The thing I find really odd is the writer’s comparison with a theatre or a cinema where it is clear to everyone that they sell tickets.
As interesting as this article is as much I think that it missed the boat; in this case the company’s purpose. Cinemas and theatres sell the very service they stand for: entertainment. A store for Hi-Fi or a boutique for shoes sell the respective goods.
Moreover, the article mentions a coffee shop in London “The Ziferblat” where the coffee, Wi-Fi, cakes etc. are for free and the only thing you pay for is the time you are sitting there. A look at their website makes it very clear that they have a different business model. They rent working and meeting space and facilitate networking. This means coffee, cake and Wi-Fi is a courtesy to the clients.
You got it, I am sure.
The idea of making shopping more enjoyable is not extremely new. Shoe coffees where you get finest Italian espresso sitting among elegant shoes have been known for several years. Also coffee shops where every piece of furniture you sit on and all decoration items you are looking at are for sale are hardly a news flash. However, Haute Couture and espresso should maybe be separated a bit. Just in case you spill your coffee…
Let’s go back to the claim that shoppers want to be rewarded for their time investment. I really appreciate a good espresso but to me a great shopping experience comprises a nice shop where I can find what I am looking for and a competent sales person to consult me. If on top of it all I get an espresso I am in heaven.
Earl Silas Tupper was born on a farm in New Hampshire in 1907. At the beginning of his career he worked as a farmer and a gardener. At the age of 30 he joint DuPont where he learned a lot about plastics. Only a year later he set up shop. In the 1940ies flexible plastics was a very new product.
Already in the 1930ies Tupper experimented with different kinds of plastics and found a method to fabricate an unbreakable, flexible and hygienic material whereas hitherto plastic was brittle and therefore difficult to form.
By studying covers of tin cans Tupper also found a solution for the plastic lids.
The combination of the light and flexible plastic boxes that could take different colours and shapes plus the airtight plastic lids that were easy to open made Tupperware such a success and a household name if it comes to food storage.
The Marketing Strategy
The best product will not sell if nobody knows about it. We are in the 1940ies, a long time before the internet came to life. Tupper tried to sell his invention through retailers but it did not sell well.
Tupper began to market his product on private parties that are still known (at least around here) as Tupper parties. A recommendation from one experienced housewife to another one made the success. This is called referral marketing.
Multilevel Marketing Today
I don’t know about Tupper’s compensation scheme but today, referral marketing is a multilevel marketing and each seller in the system is an independent reseller.
Think of it as a pyramid, the higher up a person is the more he or she earns. The top person (dark red in the picture below) can sell products directly and also search other resellers (lighter red, level 2) that sell products and sell other resellers and so on. The point is that only the top level players really earn money because number 1 participates at the sales of all layers below, number 2 as from layer 3 and so on. You see that if you are at level 12 you might work a lot with little reward.
I was offered such an opportunity not so long time ago. Although my level was not too bad I refused for the following reasons:
I would not call this independent but rather see it as a modern form of slavery
Everybody can participate in this system and in the age of digitalization I did not want my name to be mentioned with people about whose business acumen I don’t know anything
Although personal contact is irreplaceable to humans and multilevel marketing might have been ok in Tupper’s time I believe that a sales strategy should look differently today. One of it is creating an emotional online experience
Have you ever participated in a referral marketing system? What is your experience?
Being the hedonist that I am, I regularly read the news on the fashion and luxury market. One of the very hot topics is digitalization and companies’ struggle with it. During the last days the interest in digitalization got another boost since Amazon announced their ambition in fashion, launching a new service “try before you buy” and revealed that they already signed up with Nike for a strategic partnership. To me this does not sound as if Amazon intended to go for low-end products.
From my own experience I can tell that Amazon’s customer service is excellent and the shop performance is hard to beat. Yes, I know that Amazon grew up with the internet, so to speak.
From Offline to Online. A Challenge.
This cannot be said about most other retailers, let alone the fashion brands I can think of. The typical high-end brand has a long history, high quality products, a carefully built brand, committed staff that gives excellent advice and mostly a clear idea of its target audience. What you just read it the description of the off-line world and the reason I like shopping.
The online world looks sobering. The performance is too slow by far, the filtering is inconsistent. Most online shops are hardly more than a catalogue on the internet. Information on the product, delivery time, refund policy etc. are hard to find. In many cases you see them only when you are already at the shopping cart typing in your credit card number. By the way, this shocks a lot of clients and they abort the payment process.
Creating An Emotional Online Experience that Sells
I will only discuss the two steps that seem the most important to me since I believe that the remaining ones are logical consequences of the first two which are
Make Bold Decisions
Set Ambitions for Your Business
Where do you want your business to go? I imagine that most retailers will run physical shops despite going digital and selling their products in an online-shop. So what products should be available online? What growth to you project? Maybe every product has to be treated differently? The questions are probably similar to the ones you answered for your off-line business which you know by heart.
Look at Your Clients
Your clients are the most important people in your organisation. So you should look at them long before you look at your processes. After all you run your organisation for your customers. They have been loyal to you because of your excellent products, your brilliant service, your reputation in your industry, your tradition etc. You see where we are going to: It is your brand. Your Brand is not just the hard facts. It is an emotion. It is what I said above about the off-line world.
It is important to have a well-performing e-commerce platform, there is no doubt about this. But of even higher importance is your clients recognising your brand that gives them the feeling of comfort and quality. So you need additional features to accomplish this.
Which ones? That is certainly not a question anybody could answer without a serious analysis of your customer’s journey. The method to visualize this is called customer journey map. The following video provides some valuable information on how to do it. The most important message is: a customer journey is something “personal”. It must be shaped for your brand and your clients.
Look at Your Processes
Digitalization will change the way you work dramatically. Not everybody in your company will like this so you have to sell the solution to stakeholders and to train people.
Let’s assume for a moment that the world was only black and white.
Black would be you buy a technical solution out of the box and organise yourself around this. I know a company who did so but depending on your business’ complexity this could be too black.
White in this case is the opposite and the system would be built around your processes and behaviours. I have never seen a company that did that since it is too expensive, too time consuming and digitalisation is also a good reason to get rid of old and obsolete habits and processes that maybe do not serve your business or your clients.
Just one word about planning. Most probably you cannot digitalise everything in one go. The risk is too high since your organisation must adapt to the changes and the cost could be stretching your budget.
So you have to set priorities on what to do first and set realistic timelines. Realistic or not: projects like this always bear surprises. It is realistic to prepare for an adventure worthwhile. After all you are about to win over the clients of the next generation.
1. You have been developing web-applications and websites since 1996 and are constantly watching the trends. What has proved the most important change on the web within the last 5 years?
The most important trend by far is the so called responsive design? In Switzerland more than 85% of the users surf the web on their mobile devices; foremost smartphones. For that reason a correct display of a website has become even more important since it determines the first impression. As you know there is no second chance for a first impression.
2. What is responsive design really and when is it a good one?
The adaptation to the respective screen size must be seamless. No matter if the user is surfing the web by smartphone, tablet or PC the site must always look aesthetic and legible. Even images must adapt according to the total screen size.
A simple and clear navigation has always been important. Yet it has become even more important due to the limited space on a smartphone screen. It still must be easy to handle.
The content of the pages – especially texts – should be short and clear. Epic information will not be read on a smart phone.
3. You are programming software solution. Where do you specialise?
I have been focusing on online solutions for years. It is another trend that software solutions are going online. The advantages are obvious. Online solutions do not require specific hardware, operating systems or the installation of additional applications because they are accessible on your browser from anywhere you like. An online software offers more than just the administration of your data but also builds the interface to your customers. Let’s take the example of an online-shop. The shopper enters his or her data which will serve to establish an invoice or a delivery note automatically. No data transfer to another system is required.
I specialise in the development of individual solutions which are an exact match to my customer’s requirements. Thanks to many years of experience in various industries I can offer support already in the conception phase.
4. There is quite some competition in this field. What makes yous services unique?
I do not use standard products; not for web shops nor for other solutions or websites. My emphasis lies on an easy handling of the CMS systems. This is possible because they really offer exactly those functions the respective customer needs which is not the case for standard solutions.
WorldService delivers everything from one single source. Our products and solutions are developed in house at attractive prices and within the agreed timeline. This also provides the client with a high investment protection. Since I coded the solutions it is easy to programme additional features and functions if the client needs them.
5. If you could give one advice to companies or private owners who need an online solution; what would it be?
Get an expert on board right already in the conception phase of your solution. The concept determines the success of your online-solution which happens long before the coding begins. Write down a clear definition of your goals and describe your project. I happily support you.
Daniel Haug is the founder and owner of WorldService and an expert for online solutions. His expertise goes back to 1996. Among others he created software solutions for the following industries:
WorldService also offers online-services to companies or individuals. All services are available on demand at very attractive conditions. Please click on the links below if you want to know more you want to try them for free.
P.S. All websites are in German. No worries, call Daniel, he speaks English, too.
CRM System with Integrated Newsletter function
CRM easy is designed to manage address data but offers many more functions. One of it is a built in newsletter function. If you are blogging it automatically reads your blog’s RSS feed and sends your articles as newsletters at the time you determine to the target group you like.
E-Card Tool is an ideal marketing instrument that fits in any website. You can send customised cards individually or to a target group.
We all get online-surveys from time to time. Depending on the subject they take from two minutes to almost an hour.
If I like a brand, a product or a company I am always willing to support them and to give honest and fair feedback. But sometimes the survey is so annoying that I cannot be bothered completing it. Probably I am not alone with this symptom.
I guess there is a large percentage of people that start the survey but abort it after a very short time. From my point of view there are three key elements that should be taken into account if companies want their surveys to be completed.
What Is the Purpose of this Survey?
Typically, companies give you a more or less believable reason why they need your answer. If it is missing I will delete the e-mail straight away.
Only Ask Relevant Questions
If you are – like me – almost constantly online you cannot avoid feeding Google with a lot of records about your activities and also develop a sense of how much you want to reveal about yourself and your life. So you are careful with your answers.
I expect the questions to be relevant for purpose stated on the invitation e-mail. Recently I received a request form an e-learning platform which wanted to make sure that their suggestions are accurate to their audience’s preference.
Of course they want to know if I knew their competitors, if I studied at a University etc.
But why did they ask about my income? Of course there are many reasons this information might be of interest but not for the indicated purpose. Moreover, I thought that this is none of their business and closed the browser window.
“Take 3 minutes for our survey”. That’s fine and I open it. Just formulate the questions as clearly that 3 minutes will suffice to answer them. I observe quite frequently that you open the survey and find yourself confronted with 20 questions, each with 10 possible answers plus an “other reasons” field. Clearly, it will take more than three minutes with tests the users’ tolerance.
No doubt there are studies that require 45 minutes from you. If you signed up for them because after some weeks the company will share the results with you your time might be a very good investment.
If you have other aspects to be taken into account I am curious to learn about them.
I elaborated on corporate design and on corporate identity before. This time I want to present you a real example that “happened” to me last week.
By accident I discovered a job offer for a Head of E-Commerce of a marketing agency. Everything I could see about the corporate design was really amazing and very consistent. I was thrilled and of course highly interested. Since the job offer had been published some time ago I wanted to find out if the position was still available and called this agency. This company only has about 10 employees so I figured that people know what is going on.
Here is what happened:
The phone was answered by the person whose name was mentioned in the job ad. Before I could finish my phrase the gentlemen informed me that he was not in charge, did not know what was going on but I should call again since Mr X who knows about it was on the phone. Moreover, if I needed the information now I had to hurry up since Mr X was about to leave for his vacation.
Two hours later I called again and Mr X was somewhere else again. The first gentlemen suggested I called again but I decided to ask my two questions by e-mail.
I sent a structured e-mail and within two hours I received an information that did not answer my questions. As if you asked for the time and got the weather forecast.
I thanked him and informed him at the very same time that I decided not to apply.
Corporate identity also includes behaviour.
If you are a professional you do not make someone call you again but ask the person if you can call back.
If your company only comprises 10 people you know when your name appears in a job offer or at least know about the job. Otherwise – and that is what the first gentleman’s tone suggested – you don’t give a damn.
If you receive an e-mail with two structured questions you answer accordingly. If not you either make it very clear that you are not interested in the questions at all or you make a fool of yourself. In the best case both.
Corporate design is a part – and only a part – of corporate identity. If you want your company to look professional – no matter how big or small your shop is – you need people that really engage in your business. Remember, after all we speak about YOUR brand.
So from my perspective they need two things:
Training/information on rules, events and processes
The feeling that they and their work matters to the company.
Do you have any other measures to close this gap? I am curious to hear about it.
E-Commerce has conquered and revolutionized the shopping world for businesses and consumers. Hardly a newsflash, I know.
But will e-commerce eventually make physical stores obsolete? No, never! Au contraire!
I already admitted that I was possibly born to shop. So of course and in spite of my preference for digitalisation I would not want to give up the “physical shopping feeling”. Not for all the e-shops on the planet.
But after reading and pondering quite a bit on this topic I can tell that there are more reasons than my egoism to stick with physical shops.
The pleasure of physical shopping
Let’s say you intend to buy a new car, exclusive jewellery, fashion or art.
Would you buy a car without at least one test drive? If you are not buying the driver as well I guess the answer will rather be no. Before you spend money on a ten thousand dollar diamond ring or on an artwork you must have seen this piece “life”. Right?
I think we have an accord that this cannot be done in an online-shop. But what if you liked the item you just tried but you cannot make the bold decision of buying it immediately? Of course you can take your time to think again before making such an investment and go back to the shop on another day. Still, we all have a life to get on with, a job that would not allow us to shop any time we want and we have to cut out time for shopping.
The comfort of e-commerce
This is where an online-shop comes in handy. You made up your mind that you want to buy the diamond ring that you tried. You know the size you need, are confident that it suits you and just want to have it as soon as possible. If so you open your browser and buy this item online during a coffee break.
How on- and offline shopping influence each other
Now we are getting to the reasons why e-commerce can be highly beneficial for a brand’s offline-store.
If you are shopping online you can compare offers and order the best one literally from your sofa which is very comfortable. The sellers on the other hand can easily gather data to what places which products are shipped.
Apparently, some online-shop owners set up an actual physical stores at places where they receive a lot of orders from. To me this sounds very logical since in this case these front stores are also a marketing instrument and brands know where there already existing offline stores can make more business. Not to forget that a physical store is a dangerous place for consumers since they could buy more than they actually needed or would have purchased online.
After phases one and two post-sales is the third and last phase of the process. Never underestimate its power.
Does not Work? This is the End
If you live in Switzerland (like me) or in Germany you often doubt if any of the shop owners understand what service really means.
Many of us bought things on- or offline that were not perfectly working or did not keep the vendor’s promises. And we all are familiar with the problems that occur in these cases. Many vendors try to make us believe that it is our own fold that thing broke or that we are simply inapt to handle it properly. This is typically the end of a harmonious consumer-seller-relationship. Some years ago I bought a very expensive shoe from a renowned shop. Two days later (I had worn them for maybe 2 hours) there was a problem with a buckle. I went back to the shop and the shop manager looked at me with a Medusa-like look telling me that it was not her fault. Well, I did not accuse her in the first place but just asked her to get it fixed because given the price I expected this to be a warranty case. I still like the brand but since this I always buy it in a different shop.
Some shops already understand that it is not the right way to deal with clients if you want them to come back and improved their process.
The Importance of Post-Sales
Again, I come back to Amazon since I experienced post-sales to be one of their strengths. I once ordered a physical book and the postman only delivered the empty package leaving me a message that he informed the police because the content had been stolen. I informed Amazon about this and almost instantly received an answer by e-mail telling me that they just sent the book again and apologized for the inconvenience. This makes me a returning client.
From my perspective the risk of buying the wrong size or not the right fit is even higher when one buys clothes online. So it must NOT be a problem to send it back within a certain period of time without being charged.
The most important thing to attract customers is the presales phase. However, if shops want returning clients that require a minimum effort in the pre-sales phase but enter the sales process straight away they better make sure their post-sales is impeccable.
As for me I buy books and other things online for simple convenience. But I enjoy the process of shopping too much to buy everything online. In other works I can shop for the sake of shopping coming home tired and with nothing more than a new nail varnish.