I want to acknowledge my bias from the start. I don’t like Amazon. I really don’t. They’re the new Walmart. The working conditions are “brutal”, it makes a hot mess of the shopping experience, they have too much market power, and the list goes on.
“Amazon.com, the giant online retailer, has too much power, and it uses that power in ways that hurt America.” — Paul Krugman
This is why a piece of me dies when I see commerce and retail brands rolling over in front of Amazon because why even try, right? It’s not just the mom-and-pops either. I’ve worked with some of the largest retail and product companies in the country and almost all of them accept that eventually–some day–Amazon will win. It’s a morale killer and stifles innovation; two things I hold dear.
They obviously do a lot of things really well when it comes to experience. Convenience, speed-to-transaction, great customer service policies, and data-driven personalization to name a few. There’s one thing they’ve never managed to get right though. Loyalty.
“Our customers are loyal to us right up until the second somebody offers them a better service.” -Jeff Bezos
The context of the quote above is that it forces Amazon to constantly improve their services. I appreciate the sentiment, but in their pursuit of faster, cheaper, and more options (Amazon’s definition of “better service”) they’re overlooking something.
Moments That Matter
Chewy.com is quietly and slowly becoming a powerhouse in online pet supply sales (OK, maybe not quietly…they were acquired by Petco for $3.65B). Like most successful retailers, they offer recurring auto-ship delivery for consumables like food. It’s pretty common for customers to call in and cancel…and do you know what the most common reason is?
Their pet died.
If you’re like me, the feeling of gut-sinking despair immediately sets in just reading that. Thoughts of loneliness, sadness, and “what to do next”. It’s a deeply emotional moment. Chewy also knows this is a tough moment and they sympathize with it…genuinely sympathize with it. Chewy customer service will talk to the customer, help them, maybe even soften the loss if they can. And the last shipment? Don’t worry about it. You can donate it to a shelter or other pet in need if you want.
Chewy.com can own this moment because they genuinely and authentically care about the situation. After all, they built an entire company culture of caring about animals.
On the other hand, Amazon doesn’t care that your cat died. Sure, they may let you keep the last shipment too, but it’s merely a transaction for them. Relationships and loyalty aren’t built on transactions; they’re built on moments and shared values. This is Amazon’s Achilles Heel.
Start with a simple question
As an experience & innovation firm we create a lot of connected consumer experiences. And because we believe that brand matters, it’s important for us to look each of these moments and see what the opportunity is to continuously strengthen loyalty. The most effective question we can ask our clients in these is cases is this:
We know how we would do it, but how would you do it?
That is, how does your brand personality, values, tone, voice, etc. influence a given interaction with your customer? We can all figure out how to take a call and cancel an order efficiently in a satisfactory manner, but how Chewy.com infused and operationalized the brand at this moment of need is an extraordinary example of great brand experiences that drive towards loyalty.
We can also look at shipping experiences. For the most part, everyone does it the same way. Cardboard box, packing material, and product. Maybe they include a note…big whoop right? But what happens when we apply a brand lens to that experience?
You get experiences like Trunk Club.
So whether we’re talking about Chewy.com’s sincerity or Trunk Club’s personalized experience understanding how your brand–your values–influence touchpoints is key to beating the Amazons of the world.
Operationalizing your brand is the foundation of brand experiences & loyalty
One of the nicest clients I’ve ever worked with was Southwest Airlines and that was apparent from the first elevator ride at their Dallas Love HQ. Southwest is a brand that’s always doing the right thing in an industry that’s usually not doing the right thing. That’s not marketing, that’s culture. As a first time visitor, random strangers are nice to me in the elevator and–to this day–they’re the only client that started our meetings off with hugs.
Because the culture of Southwest Airlines shines through in the office, at the airport, and in the sky they’ve built a loyal, resilient customer base.
The same goes for Chewy.com. Because their brand is based on love for pets, people that love pets work there. And these employees answer the phones. The moment of sympathy and outreach that come when dealing with grieving customers isn’t a script because it doesn’t need to be, it’s authentic and sincere empathy…and it will create some really loyal customers.
This type of “operationalized brand” doesn’t come easy. It’s not a thin marketing veneer. It’s foundational. It’s how they do business. From hiring practices that place an emphasis on positivity to empowering all their workers with a sense of values, Southwest Airlines and Chewy.com make sure that brand comes through in the customer experiences whether they were designed to or not.
If you’re a brand manager, then you need to look inside of your organization just as much as outside of it.
If you want to get here then look to create partnerships with hiring teams and dedicate some of your resources to employee engagement. It may take a while to materialize, but if you can do it right, great brand experiences and loyalty will come naturally.
Personalization is the next big leap
If you already have the right brand and the right culture in place, then you’re next big opportunity to elevate the brand experience is personalization.
Personalization is scary because it’s so amorphous. What does it mean to your organization? What do the deliverables look like? How do we get it in place? What about privacy and social attitudes? How do we best activate the platform we just bought? These are all the questions that you’ll need to answer as you look to create continuity across the consumer experience. If you can answer these questions, you can level-up any brand experience to be that much more impactful.
Personalization is a big topic in business right now and it’s only growing (and rightfully so). Companies like Panera understand how important it is to connect personalized experiences from digital to in-store; and commerce brands are looking more towards personalization as data accrues.
Luckily there are partners to help. Partnering with experience firms like Carter Edwards & Company and real-time personalization platforms like Evergage allow you to design the best personalized experience for your customers, understand which data needs to drive it, and integrate it into CRM and commerce systems to bring it to life.
Stop being afraid of Amazon…you can do this if you can 1) understand who your brand is and 2) use that to fuel better brand experiences.
About Carter Edwards & Company
Carter Edwards & Company is a customer experience and service innovation firm that partners with commerce brands like Panera and Bai to deliver connected commerce experiences that drive towards brand loyalty.
Evergage is a real-time personalization platform. Using advanced machine learning, brands can understand and interact with each customer and visitor — one at a time, “in the moment” and at scale — to deliver the most relevant, individualized experience.