Thursday, August 25, 2016

My Experience with Customer Experience – Brooks Brothers vs. Men’s Wearhouse

Many people have hobbies, some more adventurous than others. Sometimes I bump into my neighbor, Jean, in the elevator of our building. A stout 70-something woman, she is often carrying a rifle as she is on her way to shooting practice. Of course she’s only taken up rifle shooting as a hobby since she gave up fox hunting on horseback. I don’t indulge in shooting practice, golf or tennis or even power walking, but I am in fact a power shopper. That’s my hobby, so to speak. Along with my wife, we can furnish a house or load up on wardrobe essentials for each season in record time and make a sport out of it. I would even dare to say that I could be a gold medalist in power shopping. We are savvy, know what we like and are loyal to brands that treat us right. The consumer part of me loves the act of shopping, but the customer experience expert lives for the experience itself – from a sharp and quipy exchange with the vendor of hot dog cart to a hot deal on a bar cart from a knowledgeable purveyor of mid-century furnishings.

In my line of work, I am inundated with customer experience stories. I hear all about them from clients, friends, family and I dissect them – the good, the bad and the ugly. Most importantly I experience customer experiences firsthand as an avid consumer. So, this got me thinking…I’m in an interesting position to combine those two very different lenses and provide insight on who’s winning at customer experience and who might need a trip back to “How to treat a customer 101” class.

This post will be the first in an ongoing series where I share my own personal customer experiences from online to waiting in line, from paying a cable bill to being handed a playbill. I will be naming names, sharing bright spots and the dark side of my customer experiences too, and shining a spotlight on how all customer facing businesses can deliver a great and differentiated customer experience to every customer, every time. Aggressive? Maybe, but it’s all part of my mission to help businesses in every industry deliver a customer experience they can be proud of, and promote loyalty with their customers.

In my first installment depicting the yin and yang of customer experiences, I want to share a recent experience I had with two retailers, on the same street, in a similar business. You’ll find out who won my loyalty and who lost it.

Brooks Brothers vs. Men’s Wearhouse
Recently, I was traveling home from a business trip and landed on a Friday afternoon at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. I passed the Brooks Brothers in the airport terminal and spotted a great looking sport coat. I like the quality and style of Brooks Brothers’ clothes, specifically when buying clothes for work. When I took a closer look at the sport coat, I saw that it was even discounted 50%, taking it from $599 to $298 (SCORE!). Truthfully, I would never be in the market for a $600 sport coat because my weight fluctuates dramatically and frequently, so I steer away from buying very expensive clothes that I know will only fit me for the next 90 days.

I needed a 38-Short (I am on the downside of the yo-yo diet right now) but the airport location only had a 40-Short. The sales associate helping me said he didn’t have it in my size and that was it. No suggestion of perhaps checking another location. He did however offer to alter the larger size with me paying for the alterations. That completely defeats the victory of a great sale. So I left sans sport coat and went about my day. Being a savvy customer I should have asked him to check another store but I was in a rush to get home after a long week, it would have been a great impulse buy but it was not to be.

The following Monday, I was out and about near my home on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Since there is a Brooks Brothers just steps from my home, I decided to pop in and see if they had the sport coat in my size. I found a sales associate, told him about the coat, he found it and it fit like a glove, no alterations needed! When I asked the sales person to confirm that the jacket was 50% off he told me the sale ended Friday and it was back to the full price. When I explained that I was really interested in this coat because of the great sale and explained I had just tried it on a few days earlier he turned on his heels abruptly and walked away without responding and leaving me in the dust of his dismissive attitude. I thought surely he was returning, he must have had an irritable bowl situation and he would be right back. Not the case, after waiting a few minutes for his return I started to make my way toward the front of the store and found him waiting on another customer. I left, again sans sport coat, but this time also feeling disgusted.

I should also add that this was not my first fail with Brooks Brothers. At another location, I had purchased a $180 sweater. I followed the washing instructions to a T and still it shrunk, dramatically. When I brought the sweater back to exchange it and explained the situation, the woman helping me said “that’s what you’re saying happened, how do I know if you really followed the instructions? We’re not taking the sweater back.” Oh my, really? That’s nice. The sweater was a week old and went from a men’s size medium to a Ken Doll’s size medium, and I’m being called a liar to boot…fun. I literally called the corporate office in NYC from my cell phone while standing at the sales counter at the store, and got someone there to help me get the situation resolved.

I have to say that I did have one recent very positive experience at Brooks Brothers’ Naples, FL location, where the sales associate was super helpful and engaged. It was 1 out of 4 experiences so it was hard to celebrate. It does however highlight the inconsistency issues that plague many multi-unit businesses, and in this case, the Brooks Brothers customer experience.

Now I had a hankering for a well-priced sport coat and was on a mission. I walked down the street to Men’s Wearhouse. I don’t particularly like the clothes there, I had a belief that I could do better elsewhere in the area of quality and selection. But it was close and I was on a mission so I went in and that’s where I met Frederick. I mention him by name because from the beginning, he was one of the most friendly, personable and engaging sales associates that one could ask for. From his greeting to check-out he spent time getting to know me and advising me, asking me great questions about my needs and showing me other items I might like in my size, paying attention to every detail of our interaction and delivering a friendly, personal, differentiated customer experience. You’ll never guess what happened. Not only did I purchase a great sport coat at the price point I wanted, but also ended up spending $2400 on an entirely new work wardrobe!

Now, admittedly, the clothing is not the same quality as what you find on the racks at Brooks Brothers, but Frederick was so engaged and engaging and took the time to build a relationship with me that he was able to find the clothing items that would work for me. He calls to let me know when alterations are ready. He calls to check that everything is okay with my purchases after the fact. Because of his level of attention and commitment to me as a customer, I am literally there every other week, to purchase clothing from HIM. I also have to admit that this is not the first successful experience that I have had at Men’s Wearhouse either. I have had a consistently good customer experience in their stores across the country. Today I have to walk 6 blocks further from my house and pass Brooks Brothers to get to the closest Men’s Wearhouse and I am happy to do it. Amidst all of the ways Brooks Brothers could prevail, I choose Men’s Wearhouse every time because of the experience Frederick, and his colleagues across the chain, provides me. You may actually say that Brooks Brothers drove me right into the arms of Men’s Wearhouse.

You should know that I am not alone as a consumer. Everyday, your brand is interacting with people just like me  - in stores and online. They have the opportunity to knock it out of the park and wow us with the customer experience. They can also come up short. Creating a great customer experience and delivering it consistently across your business is job one!
Need help figuring out where you fall? Let’s chat about it. Tweet with me at @GMagenta. Email me at

You can also read more about my take on customer experience in my latest book, 720 Haircuts.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Today's Managers...Yesterday's Shopkeepers

Customers can feel the culture, tone and atmosphere of a store the moment they walk in – or click on. Who determines that culture? Is it the corporate office? Is it the frontline employees? Maybe. Partially. But the key determinant of the culture of any store is the manager.
And, crazily enough, managers are the most underinvested employee segment in business. They’re pretty much left to figure out how to do their job on their own.
All great managers have one thing in common: They act like owners. These guys and gals:
  • Know their business: the marketplace, the competition and the consumers.
  • See their role as “Chief Engagement Officer,” not as just a great individual contributor wearing a manager’s badge.
  • Engage their teams in the culture, business, strategy and in delivering the Customer Experience.
  • Drive results through their employees.
Like this time I was shopping for a piece of art for my Chicago condo and fell in love with . . . wait for it . . . a 4×4-foot plexiglas photograph of Hugh Hefner smoking a pipe in the basement of the original Playboy mansion on State Street in Chicago, just a few blocks from where I live.
Yes, surrounded by Playboy bunnies.
True story! Now, what says “Chicago” more than that? I had to have it! My wife’s only objection? The price (that’s right, just the price). So I asked if the piece came in any other size, in the hopes that something a bit smaller would be more affordable. The sales person quickly dismissed me with a wave of the hand. “Oh this is an original. This is the only one.” And walked away.
Lucky for me (and the store) the manager was nearby, and he’d heard the conversation. He said, “Sir, have you purchased with us before?” I said, “No, I haven’t, but I’ve been window shopping with you for months.” “Oh great,” he said. “I can give you a first-time-customer 10% discount on that piece.”
BAM. Bought it right then and there, and went back that same day and emptied my pockets at that store even further. That manager knew what I wanted and was able to make a real-time decision to win me as a customer and begin to create a loyal relationship. That manager was acting like an owner. It wasn’t just the discount – it was his knowing what to do and how and when to do it.
Now, what happened to that hand-waving sales guy? And is his behavior that manager’s fault? Well, I don’t want to take up word count here – I want to give you some tips to help you improve your business starting today – but I do go into all the juicy details in my book, 720 Haircuts: Creating Customer Loyalty that Lasts a Lifetime. (And yes, there’s a story behind the title too.)
Empowering Your Managers is as Easy as 1, 2, 3, 4
Here are 4 ways you can start empowering managers to act like owners TODAY. Think of this an investment in delivering a world-class Customer Experience.
  1. Take managers offline to learn about your business and their role in it. Don’t let your manager feel like the best individual contributor on the team, make him or her feel like a business owner! Every manager in your organization should understand how their success is driven by the success of their team. The best managers are the lynchpins between the corporate office and the frontline. It’s up to you to make sure people understand this critical function of being a manager.
  1. Immerse them in your industry, the marketplace you serve and your strategy to win. As people deepen their understanding of the marketing, the competition and consumers, they’ll feel like the experts they are and bring that confidence to work with them. This will make your customers trust them, seek them out even and hopefully, if all goes as planned, become loyal customers who appreciate the knowledge your team provides them. All because you took the time to invest in your managers and give them all the knowledge they needed to truly understand your organization and your industry.
  1. Let them make decisions as if they owned the store, while upholding the standards of the business. Encourage and empower your managers to make split-second, real-time decisions that convert window-shoppers to buyers and first-time customers to loyal ambassadors. Yes, organizations have protocols set in place that should be followed . . . in most instances. But, be sure your managers understand when on-the-fly decisions are safe risks with big customer experience rewards.
  1. Build their skills so they can be CEOs – Chief Engagement Officers – of their teams. Your managers should view their role as Chief Engagement Officer, someone who main responsibility is to engage, coach and empower their team members. The best managers? The ones who understand the business and know how to engage each of their team members to this mission too. It’s all about driving results through their team members.
Once you’ve taken these steps, you are sure to see the benefits. It might not be easy and will take time and effort on your part, but empowering managers to act like owners is an investment in delivering a world-class customer experience.