Archive | April, 2013

JC Penney: Inspiration or Cautionary Tale?

19 Apr

I haven’t been to JC Penney in a while. As I remember it from trips with my mom for back to school shopping, the 111-year old department store was an endless maze of post-modern


Racks by Andy Warhol (Source:

clothing racks and stupid looking pants (really glad my mom didn’t let me get the stupid looking pants).

Not exactly a bastion of progress.

Apparently, the times they are a changin’. According to, since late 2012 JC Penney has been using the Apple’s iPod Touch as a primary means of customer service.

“It’s a customer service initiative,” said Kate Coultas, a spokesperson for the 111-year-old retailer. “We want to make the process of shopping at J.C. Penney as easy and seamless as possible. Our associates want to be able to be out on the floor helping customers. It doesn’t help if they are stuck behind the registers. Now, if you are on the floor, you need to have an iPod Touch with you.”

Pretty heady stuff for an old-fashioned company from Kemmerer, Wyoming (if you’ve ever heard of Kemmerer, Wyoming I’ll give you a dollar).

So far, the devices have been a big hit with the company’s salespeople, she said. “Some have nicknamed them ‘Libby,’ for ‘Libby the Liberator’ because they can be assisting customers without being chained down to a register,” said Coultas.

Artist’s rendering of Libby the Liberatory (source:

I wish Libby the Liberator was the viking mascot of JC Penney, but I digress. This is all part of JC Penney CEO and former Apple executive Ron Johnson’s attempt to modernize the company. Unfortunately, that strategy has met with mixed results, to say the least (Johnson was fired last week after 17 months on the job). In fact, at least one sales associates is less than thrilled about the new system:

We use iPods in some of the departments now. Often they do not work. If a customer does go to an associate and the associate uses an iPod that’s working for a sale, and then customer wants a paper receipt, we have to go halfway through the store to get the receipt and then take it back to the customer. That is not convenient for the customer. At least we don’t see how it is [on the sales floor].

Sure to cure what ails Ron Johnson (Source:

What’s to be learned from this from the technofication (a word I just made up) of the huge retail chain? Obviously, the iPods won’t cure all of JC Penney’s woes – for that they’d have to turn to some sort of late-1890’s miracle elixir. This is a company that’s lost huge chunks of its market share to Macy’s, Kohl’s, and online retailers, and there’s no quick fix. Some other thoughts:

  • Most plans take a long time to come to fruition, but unfortunately you don’t always get that time. Ron Johnson was fired 17 months into his three-year plan for revitalizing Penney’s. So if you’ve got an idea to improve your business, you better start now.
  • Technology won’t always save you, because everyone else has it too.
  • Know your culture. Analysts have been quick to point out how ambitious Johnson’s ideas were – he essentially wanted to turn JC Penney into the Apple Store of clothing. Unfortunately, for a brand and sales force built on family clothes at discount prizes, the gear shift may have been too much, too quick.

I think that last point is particularly important. I’ve talked a lot on this blog about the importance of technology to your business, and I’ll continue to do so. But slowly integrating new things into your business plan will help employees and customers adjust. Try starting with something small that can help you focus your customer service, then build to bigger things that will change the way your business runs.

Lesson #10: Learn About The Cloud

18 Apr

Cloud computing is so hot right now. But it’s kind of a nebulous term (get it? nebulous?).

For the uninitiated, in its simplest terms the cloud is a way of storing data and offering business services over a network (usually the internet, though an in-house network can work, too). It’s becoming more and more useful, with over half of all US businesses taking advantage of cloud-based services. So don’t fret if you used to take a nap during environmental science like I did (sorry, Dr. Tobin). The cloud is easy to use and can help you streamline, or even upgrade, your business tools.

The Power of Happy Customers

17 Apr


The landscape of customer service is changing rapidly as customers gain more tools to give companies feedback on how they are doing. While excellent service may appear more costly at first, it is one of the best ways to differentiate yourself from competition.  Having loyal and happy customers actually makes your business more effective in the long run.

With RingByName, you can personalize your business. Once a caller uses RingByName and has been identified, he or she is greeted by name from then on. Putting extra attention toward customers and potential customers means more people will chose to stay with your company plus more prospects will choose your business in the first place.

Lesson #9: Retro Isn’t Cool

16 Apr

As Peter Allen tells us, everything old is new again. However, being retro isn’t nearly that cool when you don’t have 20 back-up dancers.

It’s nice to make a retro logo or a retro commercial – it gives some cute variety to your public perception, which can help catch the eye – but you shouldn’t need that kind of gimmick to satisfy customers. In fact, no matter your field, you’ll be able to provide a much better product if you embrace technology. There’s a reason companies like Disney like to appear retro, while simultaneously using insanely advanced supercomputers to animate their movies: nostalgia may be cute, but it’s not going to make you money.

Hate Waiting on Hold? Here’s How to Improve Your Customer Service

15 Apr


You don’t want to make your customers wait forever just to get help from a customer representative.  All that time on hold adds up. Did you know that an average person waits 13 hours on hold annually?

Make a difference with your customer experience. With RingByName, you get a built-in automated attendant which allows your company to route calls effectively and seamlessly through their built-in humanized answering system. Calls to your company’s main telephone number are greeted professionally and presented with a list of options to route calls efficiently to the departments or individuals best suited to help.

I Can’t Get No Satisfaction (according to the ACSI)

12 Apr

Do I look satisfied to you? (Source:

Satisfaction. It’s essentailly what we search for our whole lives (especially the Rolling Stones, who still haven’t gotten any after 48 years).

For a business owner, though, customer satisfaction can sometimes be difficult to get a handle on. Customers aren’t always willing to directly tell you when they’re unsatisfied, and they’re even less likely to tell you when your service exceeded their expectations.

Fortunately, that’s what the American Customer Satisfaction Index is there for. Here’s how they describe themselves:

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) is an independent national benchmark of customer satisfaction with the quality of products and services available to household consumers in the United States.

Each year, roughly 70,000 customers are surveyed about the products and services they use the most. The survey data serve as inputs to an econometric model that benchmarks customer satisfaction with more than 230 companies in 47 industries and 10 economic sectors, as well as over 100 services, programs, and websites of federal government agencies.


Spoooooooky. (Source:

Pretty fancy, eh? Now, unless you’re the ghost of Sam Walton, it’s unlikely that your company is big enough to be surveyed by ACSI. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn some lessons from their survey.

Let’s take a look at the most recent results. According to USA Today:

Customer satisfaction with retailers is at an all-time high.

That’s good!

However, while the industry improved overall… not all retailers received high marks.

That’s bad.

At the positive end of the spectrum, while traditional brick-and-mortar retailers set a record, e-commerce scored better still.

That’s good!

At the negative end, traditional retailers received the most negative assessments.

That’s bad.

In total, traditional retail companies (stores that you go to) averaged a customer satisfaction score of 76.6 out of 100, while online retailers (stores that come to you) averaged 82. What does e-commerce offer that brick-and-mortar stores don’t? Mostly convenience. It’s not particularly surprising that people are happier sitting in their comfortable home, wearing their comfortable robes, shopping for items that will lead to further comfort.

There’s one notable exception to that online/in-store split, though.

While most online retailers have scored well on the ACSI, with an average score of 82 in 2012 vs. an average of 76.6 for brick-and-mortar retailers, Netflix (NFLX) was an outlier. It received a score of 75 in 2012, and 74 in 2011, when the overall average score for online retailers was 81. This was a dramatic reversal from past years. In each year from 2006 through 2010, the company exceeded its benchmark, and in 2009 it was the top-scoring company of e-commerce retailers that ASCI tracked.

What happened? You might have heard.

Netflix famously enraged customers in late 2011, when it increased prices and announced plans to separate its DVD rental and streaming platforms. But after a considerable hit to its image – consumers were outraged at the prospect of having to pay bills for two platforms that would not be coordinated — the company pulled the plug on the service split.

Netflix’s instinct to split their service and offer a more customized product wasn’t necessarily terrible, but obviously they miscalculated the number of customers who would be adversely effected. Though their stock has mostly recovered from the 80% hit it took, it appears their customer satisfaction numbers have yet to do the same.

You might not run a multi-national monolith, but there are two simple lessons to take away from those numbers. First, if your customers are overwhelmingly happy with your product, don’t dramatically change it – or at least do it in a way that doesn’t alienate everyone.

Second, the internet is no longer the future – it’s the present. If you’re not offering your services online, now’s the time. Actually, the time was probably two years ago, but Doc Brown isn’t going to bail you out with a time machine, so you better get on it ASAP.


Get on the internet, Marty! (Source:

Everyone has access, so get yourself a website; it will broaden your customer base. Shift your business tools to something web-based; you’ll improve your service.

If you ever want to receive an invite into the exclusive ACSI club, there’s no time like the present (or two years ago).

Lesson #8: Don’t Believe the Ads

11 Apr

The TV ads for phone companies always seem like they’re offering just a little too much.

It doesn’t make sense to me. Why is there an introductory rate? Can’t the rate just be the rate? Why is it cheaper if I bundle it with cable service? I know it’s all just an advertising ploy to get as much business as they can, but sometimes they seem no better than the late night infomercial shysters selling electric ab machines and hair plugs.

You can learn from their mistakes, and make your own advertising open and honest. Having a sale is fine, but things like introductory rates can come back to bite you. The most important thing is to have customer service representatives that are professional and friendly – that will help more than any gimmicky ads. You can also help yourself by signing up for a phone service that will help you get and keep clients, with a personalized answering service and lots of other powerful tools.

Remember, unless you’re shilling Shamwows, keep your ads and your customer service simple.