Saturday, December 02, 2006

The big small

I downloaded Seth Godin's "Bootstrappers Bible" e-book a week ago and have been digging into it over coffee this morning. It's free for downloading for a limited time. Anyone who deals anywhere near business or biz owners/entrepreneurs/marketing will benefit from this read.

One of Godin' main points is that size (small size for small companies, thinking small in big companies) can be one of the most powerful advantages over competition. The e-book is written for the bootstrapper entrepreneur, but also speaks to the organization of larger businesses, especially retailers. As I'm reading his thoughts on the customer service opportunities afforded to small businesses, my phone rang. (I must be in Godin mode, because this transition/illustration feels very Godin)

It was Tom from Aesthetica, a great little gift store in the Crossroads. About 8 months ago, I received a Retro 51 wallet as a gift. The wallet was perfect, as it held a small notepad and a great Tornado Classic Lacquers pen inside. Most who know me know I jot notes obsessively, carry Moleskine Cahiers in my coat/pocket/backpack/car, and feel as nude as Woodstock if I'm caught somewhere without a way to collect thoughts.

No surprise that I burned through the wallet's notepad (front and back, and cardboard support insert) quickly. When I went back to Aesthetica (three months ago) to get a replacement pad, they were out. The company had the stock on back order. Aesthetica employees have called me four times since then. Never with the news I wanted, but with an update. So when Tom called today, he let me know the pads are in ("We have 24 of them" - maybe thinking, as I did, that I should go ahead and buy all 24). He also apologized for my wait. Wow.

We've all had great customer service experiences and darned if we don't tell them to the world. I've found, especially in the retail/service industry, that the simple act of being considerate of the customer goes an incredibly long way. Tom transcended customer service. I consider his call a sincere gesture. And I'm equally impressed that somewhere in Aesthetica's files, my name and number are penned in as a reminder to call me with updates.

The most telling part of Aesthetica's customer service is that they know I've never been a paying customer. The wallet was a gift. The two times I've been in the store, I've left empty handed. I am, profit-wise, worth nothing to them. Yet they've invested a large amount of staff hours on communicating with me, and keeping me happy...with the goal of selling a replacement notepad!

Many people will say, "Sure, they can do this...they're small. Someone was bored and found the note to call you. Amazon would have had those inserts in stock months ago."

The big small, though, is a concept I've been thinking of for a while. Especially when I'm thinking of the lessons learned with small businesses. On the flip side, many of the "large" companies are most successful when they small-down their layers and concentrate teams for R&D, marketing and sales. Big companies that were started as garage-corner bootstrapper-launched ventures often grow with the big small mindset. Keeping customer service, quality and organization at a manageable - and successful - level. We're seeing this mentality in many of the Web 2.0, neo-bubble companies now. Small mindset that hasn't changed during buy-outs and increased funding.

I read Jason Jennings biz book, "Think Big, Act Small" about a year ago and found it an essential part of my understanding of how big retail can keep customer interactions tailored. Some excellent examples are included to illustrate Jennings' points. Check it out.

I'm always baffled when marketing plans don't include equal parts campaign/promotion development and agency input - or at least some carved-out, strategic muscle - to address a brand's front line relationships. The responsibility falls on agencies to stop the train and shove a few hours in to focus on those relationships. Whether that input addresses a brand's on-shelf display, customer service process, new-employee training manual, loyalty programs or internal communications, it's our job to think of the little things when the big benchmarks must be reached, national campaigns executed and encompassing in-store design approved.

Listening to - Badly Drawn Boy, About a Boy Soundtrack


Anonymous Jane said...

That reminds me of an experience I've been having with the celebrity gossip blog popbytes. I won one of their occasional trivia contests and have been receiving chatty, personal e-mails about the site ever since. Most of them are along the lines of, "I hope you're still reading because..." with some kind of site or celebrity news mention.

It definitely makes me want to keep reading and also tell other people about them.

3:52 PM  

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