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Are you Tuned In?


I’ve had the great pleasure to be working with a great team of marketers, the authors of “Tuned In:Uncover the Extraordinary Opportunities That Lead to Business Breakthroughs" (Craig Stull, Phil Myers, David Meerman Scott), published by Wiley in June.  It’s an incisive and clear book about how companies and organizations need to think and work in order to be successful in creating and then marketing their products and services.

At the most basic level, I think we all recognize “Tuned In” as a concept – when someone has a product or service that seems to work perfectly, or when the company truly understands what I want, I feel they are “tuned in” to my needs and wants, and are serving me in just the way I want to be served.  And conversely, it seems so obvious (and frustrating) when a business fails to meet my obvious needs or requirements in some basic or critical way.

Since I find myself thinking about Tuned In/Tuned Our behaviors frequently now, I know that the ideas this book sets forth have had a big impact on me.  Here are two recent personal examples that I think deserve recognition.

Tuned Out (in a really big way)
During the last heat wave, like a lot of Americans, I decided my old inefficient window air conditioner needed to be replaced.  I did extensive research using my usual online tools (Consumer Reports, Amazon customer comments, shoppers’ blogs, etc.) and determined that the best machine at a fair price was a Sears Kenmore low profile, high efficiency machine.  I went to the Sears site, where I discovered that I could order the AC unit and pick it up at the nearest Sears that had it on hand (which happens to be about 16 miles away).  I placed my order on a Friday night, received immediate confirmation, and further was reminded the next day by Sears that my AC unit was waiting for me to come and get it.  I printed my online receipt with scannable bar code and planned to pick up the machine the next day, when it might be relatively quiet in the store.

On Sunday afternoon, I took my daughter with me and drove to the Milford, Connecticut Sears store, parked in the convenient store pick up parking area, and entered the inside pick up zone.  Here is a checklist of my experience:

1.    The kiosk was right in front of the door, but did not work.  
2.    While I was pondering what to do next, a Sears “associate” came over and scanned my receipt, and got me into the queue to receive my unit.  
3.    About 15 minutes later he returned empty handed and told me they did not have any more air conditioners to sell.  I pointed out that I not only had bought and paid for it but had confirmation that they did in fact have it waiting for me.  Without apology or concern, he pointed to the store and told me to go see the air conditioning department manager.
4.    Suffice to say, after yet more waiting time, the department manager confirmed they did not have the AC unit I had purchased.  
5.    As a modern consumer, I was ready for Sears to offer me some sort of compensation for their mistake and my trouble.  Was I in for a surprise.  Not only is Sears “tuned out” to have created a system that does not function properly (you do not sell a product without being able to deliver it) but the store personnel’s only response was to offer a refund, or “allow” me to wait until the following Wednesday and come back to pick up a replacement unit they promised to have by then.  No recognition that I had wasted two hours of my time, 32 miles of driving (not insignificant these days of $4.50 a gallon gas), and was not going to be able to cool my home office for another three days.  No offer even of a credit off the cost of another machine.  Nothing but lame apologies and a confirmation by the manager that their systems were less than ideal (actually he blamed the people in the store back room).
6.    After I returned home, I wrote what I thought was a brilliant letter to Sears customer service, asking to be put in touch with a manager.  What I got back was a form letter apologizing for my experience and offering me a shipping credit for my order of another air conditioning unit.  I replied to that message again asking to be contacted by a high level customer service representative.  No surprise, I never heard another word from Sears.

In return for their miserable string of behaviors and missed opportunities to do the right thing, Sears has now lost a customer who really liked their products and their service, who owns and uses many of their tools and products, and who shopped with them for over 30 years.  In my view, it will neither surprise nor sadden me if the entire business were to disappear tomorrow.  Companies that cannot get it done will not earn a place at the table anymore.  

Tuned In (in a really big way)
What I find quite humorous is that telling the story of a “tuned in” business is a much shorter story than the tuned out example I just gave. My middle daughter is a rising high school senior; her summer activity this year is a stint at NYC’s School of Visual Arts in an intensive college credit film program.  She will spend three weeks living in a dorm, taking classes and hanging out with other kids her age. It will be a great experience, and nice preparation for college a year from now.  

Reasonably enough, as a teenager, she wants to look good when she arrives at SVA, and asked me to buy her a new pair of shoes.  She went to a local store, found her size for a pair of Asics, but not the exact shoe she wanted, and knowing I am an online shopper, she found the shoe she wanted in the right color and size at Zappos, and then asked me to place the order for her.  Since she was to be leaving in a few days, we decided to upgrade shipping to two business days to be sure they arrived before the 4th of July on Friday.

1.    Zappos provides the standard e-commerce tools, and sent me a standard email notice that the order would be filled the next day.  
2.    Later that evening, I received a surprise message that my order was being upgraded one entire shipping class at no expense to me, simply because I am a valued customer and Zappos wants to exceed my expectations.  Who could complain about this?  
3.    Not only did the order ship within 24 hours, but it was then delivered on the second day after the order was placed.  

Faster service than expected or paid for – big smiles all around and not only will I feel very good about ordering from Zappos again, but I will tell anyone who asks me, and now even write about how great Zappos is, how smart, how “tuned in” to the customer, etc.  All true – when we order online, time from order to delivery is critical.  Amazon knows this, which is why they implemented their two day prime shipping program.  If you want to get people to buy online when they could get the same thing at a nearby mall store by just going to get it, you have to give shoppers compelling reasons to shop virtually.  Exceeding my expectations will give you a pretty strong edge the next time I think about shopping for your product.

The other interesting news here – the shoes my daughter ordered did not fit!  But because Zappos got them here early, she had time to replace them with another pair from a local store, and Zappos will get this pair back from us using their exceptionally easy returns process.  Yes, this shopping experience really did not get me what I wanted and actually cost me money, but unlike my experience with Sears, I actually feel positive about it.  

Tuned In/Tuned Out Scorecard

Zappos – 100%
Sears – 40%

Posted by David Wilk on 07/07 at 10:08 PM
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