Category Archives: Retail

Oops. There it is!


Life is filled with so many interesting moments that I decided to create a regular conversation starter around the more entertaining observations. What’cha think?

How often do you stop and observe your surroundings?

Walking down a busy NYC street recently, I stopped to look at a lovely seating arrangement in the window of a high-end antique-auction house. Against the white fabric, was a dark spot. What is that? OMG. A large bug of some kind.

Laughing to myself, I went in to the store to find someone to share my observation. Surely, this could influence the bid price of the items. bug for blog

The staff member and I laughed at the situation. The large bug was a fat fly that had flown in from the street. The seating arrangement had already been sold. Both updates were positive.

The staff thanked me for taking the time to tell them of the bug and for taking the time to notice their window display.

How often do you stop and observe your surroundings?


A Smart Shopper Asks Questions with a Smile

A Smart Shopper Ask Questions with a Smile

Regardless of the subject, the smart customer asks questions, and the smart customer service representative considers the best way to handle the inquiry themselves or to refer the request to a supervisor.

Let me share a great example of this:I have been looking to lower the annual premium on an insurance policy for many years. Every year, I get my bill. I cringe. I call. No change. Yes, the psychology of fear around your insurance coverage. This year, I call and am asked a few additional questions. Turns out there is a product that I qualify for that will give me more coverage for less money. REALLY!”How long has this product been offered” I ask. “Uhhhh. A while” says the representative sensing where this conversation is heading.

With a big smile that can be felt across the telephone, I ask: Can you see if a supervisor can  review my  files. It would seem that I have been eligible for a product that was never offered to me, even though I have been a loyal customer for many, many years and call you annually about options to reduce my premium.
honeybee 2
Soooooo, what do you think happened next?
A Smart Shopper Ask Questions with a Smile -:)

Ask Me What I REALLY Mean

Life is filled with so many interesting moments that I decided to create a weekly conversation starter around one of the more entertaining observations made during the previous week. Nothing too complicated — fun to see how people answer the question.
Let me know what you think.

Understanding the customer end goal vs. pushing your product and business interests. Check out the article  @DanielBurstein @MarketingSherpa

  • Customer-first means seeing that wanting a 1/4-inch hole – not the sameDrywall as a 1/4-inch drill
  • Customer-first means not confusing a type of shoe with a desire for shoes
  • Customer-first means having a liberal return policy —  customers will be grateful, not abusive of your good will

Are you confident that you were able to uncover an answer that reflects the source of the customer pain?

Can Customer Service Excellence Go Too Far?

Did you talk about, tweet, email or blog about customer service today?

We have created new standards of service delivery and in this post; I ask if we have taken the concept of “anything for the customer” too far. Yes, pick up that jaw and let’s ponder the question.

Zappos is filled with best practices in their delivery of customer service. Let me add a personal experience to the list. Sometime during the summer months, I bought a pair of all leather sneakers. Upon receiving them I decided to put them away until the colder weather warranted a solid walking shoe of this sort. However, come November when I took the shoes out for walk, I realized that they were indeed very heavy shoes and made me feel like an old lady. I gave them one spin around the block for a total of some 40 minutes of outdoor wear. They continued to look mighty new, however they were used!

customer care imageCalling Zappos, I explained to them that I had an unusual request that may necessitate managerial input. “No problem” said the happy CSR, “tell me what I can do for you”. Here is where my own jaw dropped to the floor. The CSR then directed me to my email where I would find a pre-paid return postage form …..And for this one time only…..I would receive a full refund for my “worn sneakers”. This far exceeded my expectations and reinforced an already loyal relationship. My Zappos customer service experience will pay off in spades. I have little reason to buy shoes for my family elsewhere.

A similar situation happened to a friend of mine who knits with very expensive yarns. After discovering that she received some yarn skeins from another dye lot, the company graciously replaced the skeins. Unfortunately, the replacements were a completely different color of yarn. In turn, they once again replaced the yarns, being most careful to send the correct color and dye lot.

The extraordinaire part of the story, delivered by, comes with the full refund that my friend was given for the totality of her expensive yarn order. This experience gives her little reason to go looking at other yarn artisans at this time.

A recent meeting spot with a friend occurred in front of the reception area for a bank branch located in New York City’s Grand Central Station. I was amused as people came into the bank to ask for directions, restaurant recommendations, bathroom locations and so many more incidentals that were completely unrelated to financial services. This is not at all surprising considering the location of the branch. When the triage manager signed on-line to get a Google map for the individual inquiring about the nearest location of a Hale and Hearty soup restaurant, I was highly impressed. Unfortunately, in short time, I became somewhat disappointed. Why? Murphy’s Law made an appearance and a line at the triage desk was forming.

The exceptional customer service described in the Zappos and fine yarns examples are directly linked to potential business; Is the friendly banker example as clearly linked to a new deposit or mortgage application?
Here’s where the concept of “anything for the customer” can be taken too far. First off, it was not clear if the individual had a bank relationship——which is irrelevant when the bank triage staff is not busy with others. As the line formed, the triage staffer needed to make a business decision and take action: Specifically to take a quick inventory of the questions needing attention from those on line.

Human nature tends to supporting and helping others. In a front line role at a retail business center, the customer takes priority and in a major transportation hub like Grand Central Station, the triage staff is guaranteed to get a variety of esoteric inquiries. As I watched the line form and the impatient faces turn sour, I pause on defining the interaction I witnessed as customer service extraordinaire.

For quite some time, retailers have adopted the concept of triage in helping front line staff to direct customers quickly and effectively. In a healthcare setting, triage includes the identification of a patient profile so as to determine the urgency of the situation and the best way to deliver care. In our friendly banker example, we are reminded that retail triage also necessitates a qualification process. A process that should be used consistently with all interactions…..Individually, we all know way too well that Murphy is watching us from the corner!


Make like a honey-bee!


Life is filled with so many interesting moments that I decided to create a weekly conversation starter around one of the more entertaining observations made during the previous week. Nothing too complicated — fun to see how people answer the question.

Let me know what you think.

honeybee 1Waiting on a store check-out line, I listened to the telephone conversation of the person standing behind me. The dialogue was around customer service. “ I want my customers to receive the best possible customer service from my staff. At the same time”, he continued, “I will not allow my own staff to be bullied or intimidated.”

It seems that a staff member was upset because the customer’s approach was something like: “This is what you will do to correct the situation now” as opposed to “I would like to see you do the following to make good on the situation. What would be the next steps for this to take place?”

In your own dealings: Do you ask them OR tell them what you want?  As my father-in-law used to say: You get more with honey than vinegar! Now, go make like a honey bee.



Customer Experience? Customer Engagement? Just do it!

To positively experience something OR to engage with something:

Are they any different?

Speaking to another marketing-industry friend recently, we joked about the overuse of the words: customer engagement and customer experience. The word engagement implies a deeper connection with the customer although the two of us agreed that every experience can make a lasting impact on ones’ choices and impressions.

  • Just do it.
  • Make me buy your product.
  • Make me use your service.
  • Make me smile.
  • Make me say “Thank you so much for making this happen for me.”

Here are a few simple examples.

Walking back to the office one afternoon, I passed this Starbucks promotion. Looking to bring patrons back into the store for a mid-afternoon energy boost, the offer plays to one’s earlier purchase and reinforces Starbucks position as an all-day food source.  The price point for the treat equates to a chocolate bar. Having been in the store earlier in the day, you would know that the breakfast crowd paid 3-4 times that price. (And, to those snickering, let’s assume that the product freshness is intact.) starbucksMake me buy your product. 

Our family does not own a car and we become weekly rental customers during the summer. blue carFinding myself in Boston with a customer service problem involving a car picked up at the local Boston airport, I first called the Executive Member Customer Service center. Fail. Then I called our local rental site hoping that they would help. Fail. A direct FB message resolved the problem in one hour.
All four components of that experience made an impression on me.

Make me want to use your services.

This photo was taken at a marketing conference about a year ago. infographicThe artist was quick, creative and able to distill key points into a visually appropriate sequence. Looking at the info-graphic, like watching a twitter feed at a conference, served to reinforce my own learning while the visual format highlighted nuances in the presentation.

The multi-sensory experience made me smile. 

Walking around Manhattan during the bewitching hour of the mid-afternoon school dismissals, can be most entertaining. The other day, I literally stopped and turned around as I heard the voice of a very young child telling his mother that he splattered paint in class similar to the Jackson Pollack style of painting. It was not surprising when the child then went on to ask his mom about her email follow ups to confirm his weekly play dates.

As a mom, I was mighty impressed with the school’s ability to engage this very bright young child. I could almost hear the mom saying to herself:

“Thank you (school and teachers) for making this love of learning happen for my child.” 

Customer Experience. Customer Engagement. Whatever you call it. Just make it positively – memorable.



Originally posted for MENG on Feb 20. 2015: Customer Experience? Customer Engagement? Just Do It? by @sharonlewisnyc [TODAY’S POST] #MENGonline #Marketing

Ah-ha Moments for Competitive Intelligence

Competitive Intelligence can have a huge impact to the bottom line of a business. This knowledge comes in many forms, and ultimately, it is the application of human intelligence and human logic that reveals the value in the data, the trends and the inconsistencies.ahha moment lightbulb

With this in mind, the “aha” competitive intelligence moments will often reveal themselves where you least expect to uncover them. Here are some questions to help you find the “aha” in non-traditional places, creating competitive advantages for you and your organization:

1.     Does it really matter what the competition is doing?

Competitive Intelligence is not just about looking at what your industry competitors are doing; it is about seeing your business through a completely new set of eyes.

Better stated: The activity of your peers is only one part of the equation.  In fact, case studies show that many innovative breakthroughs came from non-industry competitors. Yes, know the industry competition and, do position yourself favorably. However, do not spend so much time on the competitor activities that you forget to focus on the activity of THE most important piece of the marketplace: the customer!

2.     Can you make lemonade out of lemons?

We know that every production line output includes first quality and imperfect items. Does your business allow you to develop a secondary distribution channel for the “seconds”? For example: “ding and dent sales” for furniture or appliances or consignment stores for manufacturers over-runs.

The lemonade concept has been successfully applied to situations where fixed costs render heavily discounted, last minute offers a preferable option for the business. Last minute vacation websites (think Travelocity, Cheap Tickets) alongside of theatre ticket offerings (think Play-by-Play and Theatre Mania in NYC)  have trained many consumers to plan these activities at the last minute, thereby allowing themselves  an experience that may otherwise be unaffordable.

3.     Do you have a diversified reading list?

We’ve all been trained to regularly read the daily newspapers and the industry journals for our business specialties. However, Best Practices are often industry-agnostic; can you imagine any call center manager disputing the value in real time call monitoring and feedback loops? Reading industry journals from any other industry but your own; reading political articles that you do not agree with and occasionally scanning a forever classic Dr. Seuss book….can move your mind into new directions and thought patterns that can impact your business?

4.     Does this really have to be a seasonal item?

Back in graduate school, I prepared an advertising campaign for matzo as an all year round cracker choice. Fast forward to today’s metropolitan grocer and you are likely to find boxes of matzo year-round. In a similar fashion, Gold’s Horseradish has created another category of condiments and eliminated horseradish as a seasonal product.

5.     How can you change consumer behaviors?

Slowly is the pessimist’s answer. By speaking to emotions is the more logical answer. Create a competitive advantage for yourself by focusing on the emotional level appeal.

Forget the product benefits – Focus on the storyline. This is another great example of seeing a situation through a different set of eyes. Madison Avenue examples of this:

  • Nike is not about shoes and running shorts. It is about a state of mind: Just Do It. Get out and exercise
  • The L’Oreal tagline” Because You’re worth it” moved the emphasis off of the products and onto the consumer. Yeah, I am worth it – I am beautiful
  • What if we could apply this to our children’s chore-list? Imagine: “A neat room is a higher test score”
  • Zappos is a customer service company…that happens to sell shoes!


Competitive intelligence is not just about looking at what your industry competitors are doing; it is about seeing your business through completely different sets of eyes.  And using these new and varied viewpoints to maximize opportunities.


Original posting: FIVE KEY Questions on Competitive Intelligence. New Places to find the “ah-ha” by @sharonlewisnyc #EQlist  via @CASUDI

Location. Location. Environment. Environment

Location. Location. Location. This has long-been the mantra in the real estate industry. I propose an extension of this mantra which says: Location. Location. Environment. Environment. The environment that you set up for your work, home, study and communications is as important as the physical location.

I recently learned of a wonderful woman who was looking to launch a think-tank for entrepreneurial start-ups. Her twist on the concept was great and I looked forward to getting the announcement details for the kick-off event. Her meet-up announcement drew a strong response. So why did so very few people show up to the meeting? The location, while conveniently located and free to the facilitator—-was to be held on the second floor conference room of a funeral parlor. Location and environment need to work together.

A recent retiree was excited to start taking classes at her local community center. She read the website and the catalog in detail and chose a selection of programs. Her first day of class, she noticed a sign on the building that she never took note of previously; it read: “Senior Center”. The woman felt horrible and while she knew that both the class and the other class participants were young and vibrant, she gets a knot in her stomach every time she enters the building and sees the words “senior center”. Nuances in one’s environment can make all the difference.

Years ago a decorator told me how they were asked to create a working space for a young student with ADD, poor grades and a frustrated attitude toward his school work. As the story was told, the decorator’s chest popped outward and his shoulders squared back—“I designed a working area for that student”, he said which “took that young man’s grades up to B+/A-. That marked an entirely different type of reward for the decorator who normally created beautiful entertaining spaces.

What do you do every day to create an environment that is creative to your own work and the comfort level of others? Here are a few more examples that I have found recently.

When you speak to your doctor, do they stand or sit so as to meet you at your eye level? They should; it creates an entirely different environment for your conversation.

When you meet someone in their offices, do they bring the conversation to the small work table in their office or move their chair around their desk so as to sit next to you while speaking? That desk creates an informal barrier.

Whenever I am in the elevator of an office building, I always look out into the offices of each floor that the elevator makes a stop. Today I watched as three people got out on the same floor and each employee passing by the reception desk took a piece of the fresh fruit sitting in the bowl on the reception table. What a nice way to tell someone: Good Morning; Take good care of yourself!.

And least, we forget the lighting, the flowers, the candles and the music which so distinctly add dimension to our environment.

Location. Location. Environment. Environment. Both are key criteria to making you, your family and your business team comfortable.


A Smart Shopper Asks Questions with a Smile

Regardless of the huge holiday sales and the temporary staff that are in place to help us during this exceptionally busy time of year, the smart customer asks questions, and the smart customer service representative considers the best way to handle the inquiry themselves or to refer the request to a supervisor. Let me share three (3) great examples of this that took place over the past week:

Verizon Phones and RCN Internet Services: I am satisfied with the service delivery from both of these organizations. However I cannot forget the frustration and the hour plus of my time that it took to load my RCN email address onto my Verizon Android. I recently realized that emails going out from my RCN address on my smart phone device were identified as coming from “Me” vs. coming from Sharon Lewis. Upon calling Verizon Help Services I was told that we would have to un-install and then re-install the RCN internet provider services from my smart phone. … Not so fast. There must be an alternative way to do this.
• Imagine my relief when only 11 minutes later, I said “thank you and happy holidays” to the service rep who figured out how to fix the situation without uninstalling anything from my phone! All I had to do was “to ask” for another possible solution.

Bloomingdales: Finding the one shirt that you love at a ridiculously reasonable price in the wrong size is a frustration that we have all felt. No problem. I asked the sales associate to re-direct me to the rack where I originally found the shirt. When we reached location, it seemed that I had the only one. Again, no problem – can you do a store search to see if the item could be shipped from another location. “Oh no, she said. Much of the sales inventory is out on the floor in our store and we now charge $20 in shipping and handling fees”.
Really, I can’t remember the last time, I spent $20 to ship one small clothing item—in a non-rushed fashion—from any department store or on-line retailer.

Let me hold onto this shirt while I continue to look around the sales floor.
As I finished my shopping and went to the sales desk, I found myself working with a lovely sales associate who was very attentive and very ashamed by the way today’s consumers throw “fine clothing” around the racks. So, I said, any chance you can do a store look-up for me on this shirt. “Oh sure”, she said and proceeded to find four shirts (in my size) at a West Coast store. “I can have it shipped for you at no charge she said. And, if for some reason the inventory is not correct, we will reverse the transaction. So, let’s do the shirt process as a stand-alone transaction so that it is easier to reconcile your credit card bill. Now, that’s a pleasant service experience.

A visit with the Doctor Allen: I sat in the examining room reading a magazine when the doctor knocked on the door and came in for our appointment. As I started to explain my reason for the appointment, I said “would you like me to get on the examining table as I explain my concerns to you?”
• His response— “This appointment is about you. Whatever is most comfortable for you to be while you tell me about your pain.” Yup—I stopped mid-thought—thank you. That is really nice!!

A Smart Shopper Ask Questions with a Smile.

The Adoption of Bank Technology

Why would an organization that has spent years driving customers away from traditional brick and mortar facilities spend millions of dollars driving customers back into the branch storefront?

 Citibank recently opened a new branch in the Union Square geography of Manhattan. The branch is well located on a busy corner in the heart of Union Square. A large selection of transportation, arteries, leading retailers, a large Green Market and a “hip reputation” all contribute to the high store traffic that any retailer in this physical location should experience.

So here is where I find the paradox.

 Service providers are scrambling to embrace social media and use it to further drive brand activities (including sales). For years, banks have been directing customers outside of the traditional brick and mortar storefront and into telephone banking, online banking and most recently mobile banking. These activities were originally targeted to the “less profitable” customer. No more. Practically every activity that can be done on-line or through a Smartphone device has been simplified, de-mystified, made affordable and is now heavily promoted to every customer profile and segment.

 Why would an organization that has spent years driving customers away from traditional brick and mortar facilities spend millions of dollars driving customers back into the branch?

 Perhaps like the Apple stores, any opportunity to close the technology gap and to get customers using the technology more will eventually result in delivery channel optimization. It was fun too see the techniques that are being used in the new Citibank branch to drive branch traffic ….. And potentially technology use.

Accessibility: The corner site in bustling Union Square will drive foot traffic.

Appearance:  Citibank partnered with the Apple store architects to design the new branch.

The open concept of the branch design is inviting and appealing to the eye. The signage is simple and bold. Something about it says: “come on in and take a peek.”

Awareness: Citibank delivered an integrated communications strategy to increase awareness and further drive traffic and interest to the new location.

Compelling: Once you are inside the branch, many new “toys” await your perusal: 

  • The branch boasts no paper. No colorful paper collateral is found on the walls of this retailer. Interactive media walls display real time rates and product benefits. Touch the media wall—it’s like a big tablet screen. Feels like the iPad; looks like the iPad on hormones.
  • A media wall with a live chat screen ensures that you are never alone in the ATM vestibule—24/7. Hmmm, seems like most e-commerce sites offers me that same level of personal service. Okay, no need to fear the technology. A human is just behind the screen.
  • Can’t find an envelope to deposit your checks or cash into the ATM. No worries—enhanced image ATMs capture every detail. This is “green” and it is safer  —  remember when the cardinal rule was “no ATM cash deposits—- you will never win the argument with the bank if there is a discrepancy  “how much cash” was deposited in the ATM deposit envelope? No more.

Ease of Engagement: It is easy to do more than just take a peek….

  • The interactive media walls are large and they are installed at various heights. Adds a bit of fun and exercise to the experience.
  • Of course, if you prefer to speak to someone, staff is available to triage you to the right area. And, yes, it appeared that there were many areas for private customer meetings if such was of interest.
  • The wi-fi offering and comfortable seating area accommodates weary customers who are invited to sit down and relax at their friendly branch. (No, they do not serve Starbucks coffee)
  • And, a long counter filled with laptops seduces you to play games with very attractive prize options…… Just provide your contact information so that the bank marketing department can get back to you with more news, more games and more opportunities to feel comfortable with the Citibank brand. 

Citibank will have many opportunities to measure the customer response to this new branch design and customer service experience.  

 Good Luck to Citi on this new venture. 

Side Note

In the mid 1980s, I was involved in the approved business case that developed a branch in the Carnegie Hill section of Manhattan; at the time, a capital investment of that magnitude in that neighborhood was built with a “pioneering” attitude. However the design of the branch which included a pneumatic tube system for accepting customer deposits was leading edge. Customers could sit with an account officer and no-one had to leave their seat to complete the deposit or the withdrawal transaction. Amazing.

The business case for the new Union Square Citibank branch had to be a lot of work and a lot of fun to develop. A lot of fun!