As a follow up to my post Your brand is your brand, I thought I would address a few additional points.
First, among the many hits that post generated, I got at least six visits from nat1.jo-annstores.com. Actual direct outreach from the company? Nothing. No use of my contact page, no comment on the blog, nothing.
While this didn’t surprise me, it does allow me to make a collateral point, which is well known to many people in relationship management:
When your customer knows you are listening and you do not respond, they will assume you do not care.
Not caring about your customers or service may work in the short term if you are a monopolist selling a necessary product with high barriers to entry. In that scenario, you basically have a captive audience until someone gets clever enough to surmount those barriers and compete effectively.
So what does Jo-Ann’s competitive landscape look like? They carry sewing supplies (fabric, thread, notions, sewing machines, etc.), craft supplies, and some knitting/crochet materials. The bricks-and-mortar options in my local area are thus: there are at least two other mass-market fabric store chains in my area with multiple retail outlets for each within 25 miles of my house. There are also at least two stores that carry craft and hobby supplies and a great wealth of independent knitting/crochet shops. There are probably also additional specialty niche shops in a variety of areas that could compete in areas where J0-Ann plays.
On the Internet side of things, there are also several large players and I don’t even want to begin to count the number of boutique players (including eBay sellers) who can compete with Jo-Ann.
So, the market is anywhere from very to intensely competitive and the Internet makes the barriers to entry exceedingly low. Not caring about your customers is a really bad idea in this instance.
Second, in not responding to my original post (which generated quite a bit of commentary and interest – at least by the traffic standards I usually go by), Jo-Ann basically ceded the conversation about their brand to me, which cedes a bit of control over their messaging. It is madness to chase rumors, but it is smart retail brand management to reach out to a customer you know is disgruntled and to try to fix the situation. Any person has the capacity to be your unpaid corporate spokesperson – you can either work with them and help them to be a source of positive brand messages, or you can ignore them (or worse yet be antagonistic towards them: see the recording industry for too many examples) and make them a font of negativity.
My third point is is also about who some of your other corporate spokespeople are. In retail operations, your store employees are your spokespeople — they are the face of your brand. “Corporate” may not recognize it, they may pay lip service to it, or they may embrace it. Not recognizing or ignoring this fact will not help you, because the people who come face to face with your customers every day are the ones who are creating impressions, building (or destroying) loyalty, and making your store a destination or a place to be avoided.
It is fashionable to be disdainful of retail as a career. There are exceptions: specialty shops are often repositories of knowledge, some large retailers (Apple, for instance) are known for their well-trained and enthusiastic staff. But for the most part, we have low expectations that are often disappointed — which only lowers our expectations further, and the next time… swings and roundabouts, ever downward.
But, in many cases, a person chooses a specific retailer to work for because they have a passion for the subject and knowledge in that area. Art shops draw artists to their payrolls. Fabric shops gather seamstresses. Fishing shops lure anglers (okay, I’ll stop).
Give that employee the opportunity to create bonds with your customer. After all, these two people already probably have something in common.
Will every customer coming in for a $2 spool of thread become a customer for life? Of course not. But they are far more likely to if they are confronted with an employee who is engaged, knowledgeable, and empowered to help, rather than hinder.
In this way, you create not just employees but spokespeople who are ambassadors for your brand, instead of apologists for your policies.