Great customer service trumps marketing

A surprising — and rewarding — shopping experience

Recently my wife went to return a sleep sack she had bought for our 9-month-old daughter. The sleep sack was too small. Unfortunately the store — Magic Beans — did not carry the sleep sack in a larger size. My wife received a full refund and then bought the sleep sack at a different store.

About a week later my wife received a hand-written note in the mail. It was from the manager at Magic Beans who had helped her. The note thanked her for shopping at Magic Beans, apologized again for not having the sleep sack in the correct size, and enclosed a gift card for $20.

I help design ecommerce sites for a living. I work with a number of brands — large and small — to craft their user experience. The majority of the time we focus on marketing tools and promotions; how users can be enticed to buy more items or sign up for special offers. We create interactions that get users to step through often times complicated business logic so that they purchase items in ways that comply with how the brand’s backend systems are structured. We spend very little time on the customer service features of the site. We may create an informational page with contact information, possibly an FAQ. Occasionally we’ll create a contact form that can be filled out and submitted online.

And here’s the thing — the focus here is out of whack. Marketing tools, promotions, complying with business logic— these are how customers can help brands. Customer service — this is how brands can help customers.

The emphasis is in the wrong place.

So back to Magic Beans. Some lessons I take away from this experience:

Amazing customer service can’t be automated. The note was hand-written and thoughtful, not auto-generated by an ecommerce engine. The store manager, Pati, was empowered by the store to do what she thought was right for the customer. Whether Pati sent the card on her own or asked permission to do so, she clearly took initiative on how to respond to a customer issue.

Experiment is the key to success. I highly doubt every customer return receives a gift card. It’s certainly not a scalable solution across their stores, especially as they grow. My guess is that they have a number of different responses to such customer interactions. Hopefully the store tracks the different interactions and identifies outcomes to fine tune and improve their overall approach.

Surprise and delight customers. Magic Beans really went above any expectations my wife had in processing her return. The personal note was unexpected and impressive. This is not just about the gift card. Had Pati sent just the hand-written note that would have equally amazed us.

Know your customer base. Magic Beans’ customer base is new parents. New parents need to buy a lot of stuff, and many of these things are repeat purchases. New parents want convenience because their time is short and their daily lives are quite harried. They’re a prime demographic to be turned into loyal repeat customers, so long as the shopping experience is truly great. Baby supplies is a very competitive industry. Standing out in the field is important. No doubt this evaluation played into Magic Beans’ decision process in crafting their approach to customer service.

My wife and I will be longtime customers of Magic Beans. The experience was so unique and rewarding that it would be foolish for us to go elsewhere. This is a lesson for all brands out there. Truly amazing customer service trumps marketing as an approach to securing repeat customers — and turning them into brand advocates.

If you are shopping for a young child, check out Magic Beans. They have 6 retail stores in Massachusetts and Connecticut.