customer service


Vian’s Axiom: Marketing is what you promise, but Brand is what you experience.

Vian’s Axiom: Marketing is what you promise, but Brand is what you experience. 776 415 Marsh Williams

I have a great friend, Marty Vian, who has always said that “Marketing is what you promise, but Brand is what you experience.” I’ve named this Vian’s Axiom.

Now take that to heart for a moment and apply that to your customer’s experience. How much time to you spend extolling the benefits/virtues/outcomes of your product? How much time do you spend trying to cut through the noise and get potential customers to at least be interested or aware of your product?

If you’re like most companies this is the entire focus of your marketing and advertising effort.

Now take everything you know about your marketing and throw it away for the next fifteen minutes. Forget about all of the effort you’ve put into positioning, promotion and communications.

Make yourself a customer and do the following.

  • Respond to your own marketing offers.
  • Click on social media link, go to your website and pretend you know nothing about your offering
  • Post a question to your company on Twitter, Facebook, Etc and see who’s listening
  • Contact your customer support with an issue
  • Call your customer support phone number and see what happens
  • Call the main phone number of your company and see what happens
  • Send in an email inquiry through the website
  • Fill out a contact form on the website.

If you do these things, the response/result you are experiencing is your brand: as Vian’s Axiom goes, this is what you’re actually delivering to your customers therefore, it is your brand.

You probably know where to go from here, but make sure the response from these experiences matches your marketing…that’s real brand alignment.

Here are a few things we’ve worked with our clients to align; all the company names have been replaced with Green-Widget.

Do Not Reply

Don’t send emails out to anyone, under any circumstances, with a return email address that starts with “” all this tells the customer is that you don’t really care about what they have to say and you are making them look for a way to respond if they need to.

If you have to do this because your IT department is making your marketing decisions, then provide a contact email in the body of the message. Never, ever make your customer have to hunt for a way to contact you.

You’re Valuable, but not That Valuable

Do not send an automated reply to a customer service inquiry that says

**This is an Automated Message to confirm that we have received your inquiry.**
Thank you for contacting Green-widget Support.
As a valued customer of Green-widget, you will receive support within 1 business day.

How’s that for mixed messaging?

Setting expectations is a good thing but try something like, “Thank you for contacting us. We want you to know we have received your request and are reviewing it now. It may take us up to a day to review it and respond. However, If your matter is urgent, please get in touch with us at 123-123-12345 or and we’ll get on it immediately.

To contact us…aww, we’re only kidding.

Recently we encountered a firm whose website contact page had no email address or contact form. It simply listed Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, etc

We sent them a question via Twitter…no response.

We sent the same question to them via Facebook…no response.

We looked up their Chief Operations Officer on LinkedIn and send him an InMail…no response.

We looked up their VP of North American Sales on LinkedIn and sent him an InMail…no response.

That’s their brand you hear not talking, very loudly.

In Summary

If you want your customer to love you and what you’re doing, listen to them, engage them, and applaud them…but do not ignore them; what you say is marketing, and what you do is branding.


Photo Credit: aldenjewell

Backstory on Photo

The Chevrolet Corvair was an entirely new approach to car design, fun, fuel-efficient, and inexpensive: a marketer’s dream. Then reality set in when Ralph Nader published Unsafe at any Speed. It crushed the Chevrolet Brand for years. Thus a great case for Vian’s Axiom.

zappos customer service

There’s Zappos and Then There’s Everyone Else

There’s Zappos and Then There’s Everyone Else 1440 527 Marsh Williams

Updated: 1:15 pm 4/24/14

I’ve just had an interesting customer service experience to share and hopefully learn from.

I bought a Jot Script stylus to use with my iPad a few weeks ago and last week it exploded in my hand, not literally, but it certainly fell apart. I reached out to Adonit via Twitter and asked for help. They responded which was wonderful and they offered to replace the item which was great, but here’s where it went sideways, at least in my opinion.

I was asked to package the stylus “very carefully” and ship it to them for inspection after which they would send me a new item and pay for the postage it cost me to ship it, but only via PayPal. Sounds good right? Then my Zappos customer training kicked in. I literally found myself thinking, “What would Zappos do?”

Zappos would have said, “…we’re really sorry, we’re sending you a new one tonight and when you get it tomorrow please use the same box to return the broken one, and we’ll pay the postage both ways.”

Why? Why does Zappos do this? And, more importantly why doesn’t everyone else? After thinking about it for a while I realized something that I’d never thought of before: Zappos doesn’t make anything…nothing, nada, squat.

The only thing they sell is service. They have no emotional investment in the product purchased, or what it took to design, manufacture or engineer it. They are not attached to the product. Yes, they evaluate it to make sure it’s made well and stands up to their expectations, but they did not make it and are therefore free of all the baggage that goes with creating a product and getting it to the market.

So here is the question for every organization selling anything online…what do you really care about? Do you want happy customers, or do you want customers to like your product and appreciate all the work that went into creating it? They are very different things.

In my situation with the Stylus, it seemed as if Adonit was more concerned with getting their broken product back than in getting a new one to me. They put the burden on me to do everything first and then wait to get a replacement product, and to be honest while their intent is good, they are not putting the customer (me) and their (my) needs first. By the way—the real underlying issue here is that they don’t trust me to hold up my end of the bargain and return the broken stylus.

So I encourage you to think about the end game of customer experience if you’re going to sell online. If all you want to do is sell more product then you probably will not succeed. If you want to create an incredible customer experience then it is likely you will win big. It can be done. If Zappos can make money selling commodity items and doing it better than the brick and mortar joint down the street, imagine what you can do with your product and how incredible it can be.

Give your customer service/support the gift of not caring about what it took to design, manufacture or engineer your product(s) and let them focus on making the customers fanatics about the experience. If you don’t want to service the customer, if it’s too much trouble or it’s too expensive, or you believe the customer will just rip you off, or if your only goal is to sell more product, then do not be surprised if you get your butt kicked…just my opinion.

Set your course toward a Zappos experience. You’ll have bumps. You’ll learn a lot. But putting your customers first is the only strategy that will ultimately create a win. And instead of customers you’ll get fans, which are infinitely more valuable.

Post Script

I’m probably just going to go buy a new stylus because it’s a great product and that’s the easiest route for me, but I’m not feeling very good about the experience or the company behind it.

Post Post Script 4/24/14 1:15 p.m.

Now that ‘s what I’m talking about! After Adonit blew a chance to be customer service heros, Evernote stepped in and actually did it right. Evernote’s Social Media team had been listening in and filed a customer support request on my behalf. I then received an email from Theo (my new hero) at Evernote Customer Support with the following information:

“I sent a new stylus to you with one-day shipping; I don’t have the option for overnight unfortunately, but you don’t need to worry about covering that cost. You’ll receive an email with tracking information as soon as it ships.

Please let me know if I can assist you further.



Score Evernote! That’s the way it should be done…

Photo Credit: mdanys

Switchboard Operators

Online Customer Service

Online Customer Service 880 461 Gretchen Ardizzone

Good customer service can make or break obtaining and retaining a customer online. It’s no different than in-store. Nordstrom has thrived for years as being the brand that is best known for providing excellence in customer service. The truth is that customers have those same expectations for your brand online, and as eCommerce continues to grow customer service is going to be the key differentiator for where consumers want to invest their money. It’s also one way that small businesses can level the playing field with big brands. Here are some things to consider in providing customer service online:

Real-time Resolutions

Make it easy for your customers to contact you should they have a problem or issue they need to resolve. You’d be amazed at how difficult it can be to find contact information or customer service resources on some sites. Make it clearly visible for your customers to find, you don’t want them leaving your site in frustration. If you provide a service that could need customer support 24 hours a day, consider a service infrastructure that will allow you take care of customers’ whenever they need you.

Warby Parker uses their Warby Parker Help YouTube channel to post video responses from team members to questions posted daily to Facebook and Twitter. Amazon offers on-device tech support through Kindle’s Mayday button to let you connect with an Amazon expert via video. And while those may seem like more sophisticated methods, consider service agents that are simply skilled to support your brand. Online retailer and mens fashion brand, Jack Threads, offers a live chat service provided by university students with a keen fashion sense.

Make Sure You’re Listening

Not all customer service issues come directly to you. Customers may utilize your social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter to express their issue. Monitoring your social media platforms for this type of management is crucial to respond quickly. Use social media scheduling tools like HootSuite or consider other social listening platforms like Sprout Social or Meltwater to track customers talking about your brand.

Respond Strategically

Understand that you can’t please everyone though. You may have unsatisfied customers from time to time, but it’s best to have a planned response strategy. The key is not removing the content (unless it’s offensive to others), but managing the response. Sometimes people think the best thing to do is to remove negative comment or block the person, but that could actually add more fuel to the fire. If you’re at fault, admit the error and offer to resolve. You’d be surprised how many unhappy customers might be put at ease by being acknowledged for their complaint.

Take Notes & Pass Them On

I mentioned Nordstrom at the beginning of this post and while most of the magic of their customer service takes place mostly in-store, there is a great takeaway that can even be applied to managing customer service online. The fashion retailer collects customer service examples, “Nordy stories,” from their employees and publishes to share with other employees. It goes beyond protocol for instances of handling returns or out-of-stock product, but serves as a guide to teaching employees how to be the best at serving customers.

Follow Up

Yeah, you’ve made the sale, but one great way to ensure your customers come back is to show that their feedback matters. Encourage them to provide a review about the product or service, but reward them for sharing their opinion. Maybe it’s access to an exclusive product or a free product sample. If they’re a first time customer consider offering an incentive for returning, possibly a discount of their next purchase.

Truly Serving Your Customers

Your customer service should go beyond just managing issues or getting return visits. Use your customer service as a competitive edge; make your brand unique or memorable in the consumer’s eyes. Let your service be another story they share.

I still have fond memories of staying at the Soho Grand in New York a couple of years ago. Sure it’s a fantastic hotel alone, but the amenity that caught my attention was a simple goldfish. The pet-friendly hotel offers guests a “goldfish team member” at no charge to accompany guests for the duration of their stay. It was a thoughtful gesture to make my stay more enjoyable.

Want to hear more inspiring stories of customer service? Check out this amazing collection of 10 Unforgettable Customer Service Stories by Help Scout. It just might leave you asking what have I done for my customers lately?

Photo Credit: reynermedia

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