Extra-mile reputations

In the 1970s a little, relatively unknown company in Freeport, Maine broke into the national consciousness when its signature product — a half-rubber/half-leather boot with a chain-link tread became a  preppy-driven status symbol. Invented by Leon L. Bean, the boots weren’t especially high-tech, were a bear to walk over ice with, but they looked weird and before long everyone had to have a pair. One thing was said of L.L. Bean: they would replace a product, no questions asked. I never had a chance to put this to the test, but the legend went that if you walked into the Freeport store with a broken something, the clerk would get a new one and hand it over.

Sears Roebuck is legendary among mechanics and carpenters because of a similar policy with their Craftsman line of tools. Walk into any Sears with a broken Craftsman tool and walk out with a new one. No questions asked. (I have never tested this guarantee either.) According to the Oracle of Wikipedia:

“Craftsman® is ranked by men as the No. 1 brand in America for overall quality, according to a recent brand survey. Consumers in general ranked Craftsman No. 2 in terms of quality – preceded only by Waterford crystal. (Source: Nov. 2002 EquiTrend(SM) survey by Harris Interactive).”

I did not know that. Doubtlessly some of that reputation comes from the lifetime guarantee.

Guy Kawasaki used to tell the story of Nordstrom’s during his days as Apple’s evangelist in the 80s, extolling the legendary customer service that would see Nordstrom employees making good on products the department store didn’t even sell. Again, No questions asked.

I’m sure there are other examples of brand that don’t argue, don’t quibble, don’t point at the fine print, but who simply suck it up and hand over a new one of whatever. Of such stuff are marketing legends — perhaps myths made. I bet it feels great to work for such a company.
I started thinking about this yesterday afternoon as I boarded a JetBlue flight from Boston to West Palm Beach. The plane was packed. We left on time. We arrived on time. I was happy. Was I offered a second bag of Terra Blue Potato Chips because the attendants were told to? An act of junk food contrition?

Once I was in line at a Best Buy and the guy in front of me was given the usual upsell for an extended warranty on a disposal piece of electronics. His answer was a classic: “Why? Will it break? What’s wrong with the warranty that comes with it?”

We’re entering a new age of consumer empowerment. The Better Business Bureau can move over. Bills of rights, class action law suits, hate blogs … the megaphone is in the customers’ hands and I suspect only a very select few brands are ready to handle the revolution.  Mark Hopkins has a  about the coconut cake — I suggest anyone in marketing or customer service read it. It’s about the extra mile, something only a select few can do, or afford to do.

ForbesOnTech — Segment-specific evangelism

ForbesOnTech: Bifurcating the Convertible PC World and Marketing– the New HP Way

“I’m waiting for other notebook makers to realize that the biggest potential buyers for their convertible computers are students and that students really want computers that can be used for academic and entertainment purposes. When that happens, watch out, because this category is going to really take off.”

Jim Forbes has been an advocate of evangelists focusing on specific segments — he’s a fan of the fact that HP has a tablet-advocate focused squarely on academia.  I agree, evangelism is a great way to gain market intelligence and feed it back into the organization as well as a focused way to get the message out.

New dynamics of crisis management

New dynamics of crisis management (The Net-Savvy Executive)

Nathan Gilliatt has a great post on passengers finding their voice during a customer service melt-down. This is in the context of the American Airlines incident a few weeks ago, and probably applies to last week’s JetBlue debacle.

“Today’s lessons:

1. Blogs can give anyone a voice, even non-bloggers. Comments on an easy-to-find blog can become a platform for angry customers.

2. Angry customers can use social media to organize themselves against you.

3. Mobile phones give customers access to mainstream media now.

4. Camera phones are everywhere (and digital cameras are standard issue for vacations). If anything visually interesting happened on those planes, someone probably took pictures. Don’t be surprised if they pop up on photo-sharing sites soon.”

Regrets

I was scheduled to participate in a panel discussion tomorrow at the Triangle Interactive Media Association (TIMA), but a touch of the winter bug has grounded me on Cape Cod. I wish I could have made it as the other panelists were very illustrious and it was on a topic I like to talk about — customer service and blogging.

Nathan Gilliatt, who blogs at the Net Savvy Executive,  organized the panel, which included Andy Beal — he of the Marketing Pilgrim — and Cindy Akus from Crossroads PR.

I’m being covered by Mark Hopkins, the true force behind Lenovo’s blogger support initiatives, who blogs most eloquently at Markitude.

Sirius And XM To Merge

MediaPost Publications – Sirius And XM To Merge – 02/20/2007

I’ve been a loyal XM customer for two years. I’ve often wondered how two players would compete for wallet-share. Now I know.

“AFTER MONTHS OF SPECULATION, SATELLITE radio rivals Sirius and XM have agreed to a merger with the goals of offering greater variety to subscribers and reducing costs, which have kept both companies from profitability. Under the terms of the agreement, announced Monday, Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin will become CEO of the new combined entity, and XM chairman Gary Parsons will serve as its chairman. XM’s CEO Hugh Panero is expected to step down after the merger is complete.

The new company, whose new name has yet to be announced, would have total assets worth about $13 billion and a shared debt of $1.6 billion. Combining XM’s 7.6 million subscribers with Sirius’ 6 million, the new company could have a total subscription base of well over 16 million by the end of 2007, if previous projections are accurate.”

tecosystems » Not Done With JetBlue

tecosystems » Not Done With JetBlue

Stephen O’Grady at Redmonk writes about his continued allegiance to JetBlue. I too am unswayed in my happiness with the airline, but as Stephen says, I wasn’t on an airplane for eight hours on the Kennedy tarmac.

“Speaking of JetBlue, a couple of folks have pinged me to see if my opinion of the airline – I’m a longtime fan – has changed in the aftermath of this ice-storm precipitated disaster. The answer is pretty much no. It’s easier for me to say that, of course, because I wasn’t trapped on a plane at JFK for nine hours, but ultimately the reasons that I fly JetBlue – as opposed to, say, United – haven’t changed. Yet, anyway.”

My wife and son flew to Fort Lauderdale yesterday morning out of Logan, and said the airport, even at 6 am, was still a bit chaotic in the aftermath of last week’s weather-induced travel cancellations. I guess it was truly a perfect storm coming right before a major school vacation. As I posted earlier about the “vomit comet,” the scene at Logan on Thursday night was pretty bad. I am happy not be flying until Thursday evening.

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