One of the best ways to learn about the customer service delivery of a business or a brand, is to visit one of its front-line retail outlets.
I am not getting younger and my hands are not as steady as before. Most of my cameras are equipped with optical image stabilization (OIS) for both still photography and videography work, so that my image and video work are are hampered by my physical limitations.
Likewise, I was looking around for a replacement for my aging smartphone, and one of the key requirements was image stabilization, preferably optical rather than digital.
And little did I know, even if I did all the research online from user and professional reviews, the actual process of buying a smartphone with a good camera with optical image stabilization, was not as problem-free as I would have thought.
I read a great deal of reviews, from both editorial reviews from peers, to professional photographers who used smartphones for photography or videography. One of the better rated products, despite some of its interface quirks, was a well-known Windows Phone smartphone with a fantastic camera that would easily replace many compact or even better cameras. My second choice was the LG G2, which has a good quality camera (13 megapixels) and optical image stabilization and audio zoom, great for mobile videography.
So, with lots of enthusiasm, I visited the retail outlet that sold this particular Windows phone. The store manager gave me a nonchalant look the first time. I browsed and toyed with the smartphone for a short while and left. The second time I returned to the same outlet, this same gentleman quoted me the price and I wanted to pay with my credit card so that I can gain some points on my card. But he flatly refused and told me to go to the nearest ATM (automated teller machine) and draw cash instead. I was not pleased, and left. The third time I attempted to buy this quality smartphone was at another retail outlet with a friendly face, but the salesman told me there was no stock. I take it as a sign to move on. What a waste, because this smartphone was a technically sound product.
Next, I tested the LG G2 and found that its familiar Android GUI and its camera were very acceptable, but I figured there was no immediate rush to get the phone but to scout for other options just to be sure.
After that, I tried out a well-known Japanese smartphone, with a great camera too. Unfortunately, the encounter at its retail outlet was not exceedingly pleasant, with a salesperson tailing me around the shop when I simply wanted to try out the phone. She stood about 2 feet from me, much too close a social distance for me. And strangely, the camera did not perform to my expectations either. Just as well. I left.
Some days later, I passed a shop selling an innovative hybrid phone and tablet product. The phone was very well made, with a great camera like the LG G2 (in my opinion), and its tablet was great too. It would have made many of my other products redundant. However, while the product was first-rate and exceeded my expectations, its pricing was not, without a bundled pricing with my existing telco. This meant that I had to buy the product at SRP (suggested retail price), and from several shops I encountered, no discount was available. Too bad.
After the lunar new year, I returned to the friendly retail outlet and tried out the LG G2 yet again, against its cousin the Flex. I paid for the telco upgrade price for the LG G2, because its camera was great, with optical image stabilization, its price was right, and the purchase experience pleasant.
It was a circus of sorts, running around to buy a camera phone. And yet, there were lessons I learned for customer service, product innovation, and distribution strategy.
1. Logistics. A great product with excellent technical features and functionality cannot stand alone on these merits, if the logistics system pales against the competition. Any product, good or average, will do a lot better with a good logistics system that puts sufficient and ready stock in the hands of retailers and the paying customers. The lack of product availability will deter impulse purchases, and will deter return customers.
2. Retail. A poor retail and channel strategy will cripple good and average products alike. When a product brand appoints retail channels, it is imperative to appoint only those who have the passion and knowledge to serve paying customers, as well as giving respectful and friendly service to all, whether these are paying or prospective customers. Customers have their preferences. Respect their wishes. In the fiercely contested market of consumer electronics, there are many retail channels, and more are coming to the front-line. Take your time to find the right retail channel partners, rather than attempting to appoint as many as possible. One bad retailer can damage your painstakingly built brand and leave unpleasant retail experiences for would-be customers. People with no innate respect or warmth for people, have no real reason to be in retail.
3. Pricing. Competitive pricing is important, especially if you are able to partner with some other entities to make your product become more accessible to people. Some brands partner with telcos, card-issuing banks, or even large retail outlets, to offer competitive or bundled pricing, or even interest-free installment plans, depending on the price of the product. Get creative to make the purchase decision as painless for your would-be customer as possible. It is after all, about moving your goods out of your warehouse in as little time as possible. Stale goods in your warehouse will not appreciate in value.
The best products are usually the most available, with the most attractive or competitive pricing, sold through the best retail outlets or online sites offering knowledgeable and pleasant buying experiences. Selling a product is not rocket science, if you put sincerity, knowledge, empathy, and quality in your offering to your customers.