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The Science of In-Store Music

muzak I read a very interesting (albeit an on old one) article in the New Yorker today. The article was about music in retail stores. The article focuses on a company called Muzak, the general industry, and the company’s biggest competitor, DMX. A lot more thought than most people thinks goes into picking the music that plays in your favorite retail stores.

These companies (and their clients) realize that the music that plays in a particular store is part of the overall experience, and subsequently, the store’s brand. What music the companies play in their stores should reflect their brand, its appropriate attributes, and the primary customer. The process can actually getting pretty complicated.

Think about a store like JC Penny. They have customers of all ages, backgrounds, income levels, etc. What music do you play in a store that so many different types of people shop at? It is a tough and fairly complicated decision.

The article gives a few examples:

  • Armani Exchange: “Shoppers there are looking for clothes that are hip and chic and cool. They’re twenty-five to thirty-five years old, and they want something to wear to a party or a club, and as they shop they want to feel like they’re already there. So you make the store sound like the coolest bar in town.”
  • Ann Taylor: “[the average shopper] is conservative, not edgy, and she really couldn’t care less about segues. She wants everything bright and positive and optimistic and uplifting, so you avoid offensive themes and lyrics, and you think about Sting and Celine Dion, and you leave a tiny space between the songs or gradually fade out and fade in.”

The executive from Muzak goes on to say, “You think about that when you pick the songs, and you pay special attention to the sequencing, and then you cross-fade and beat-match and never break the momentum.”

Elevator music first came about because people were nervous about riding steel boxes a couple of hundred feet in the air. The music that was chosen calming and laid back for a purpose.

I always find it fascinating to read about just how much thought goes into seemingly small parts of a customer experience. The best customer service companies pay attention to the little things. In the end, all of this stuff (collectively) ends up making a difference. The brand is everything to a lot of retailers and the customer experience is part of the brand. Music is a part of that experience.

Music that plays in the background, and all the thought that goes into it, is a classic example of Little Things, Big Differences. The little things eventually add up and end up making a big difference in the customer experience.

For some further reading, see this post I wrote back in May 2006 about Music on Hold.  The image above is courtesy of Threadless.

Employees with passion for what they’re selling.

container I’m reading a book (it will be reviewed here on Friday) that talks a lot about retail jobs. It seems that the best retail companies hire people that have a genuine passion for what they’re selling.

It seems that if people have a genuine passion for what they’re selling, then their jobs will be easier, they’ll like their jobs more, and on top of all that, they will be better at the job. If someone could care less about what they’re selling, then the chances of that particular person being motivated, enjoying their job, or doing well at their job go way down. The passion, the attitude, etc. are all extremely. Without those

People who don’t have that passion are often relatively easy to weed out. Passion is a hard thing to look for and be objective about. Experienced hiring managers (and people who are passionate about the company themselves) can often tell if a potential employee is truly passionate or just faking it.

In the book, the author profiles The Container Store. The company looks for people who are passionate about organization and what the company does. In their interview, they ask job candidates to tell the interviewer and each other (it is a group interview) about a product in the store (that the candidate selects).

The people who have experience using the particular product, those that have a need for a product, etc. are the best at selling and telling about it. They know about it first hand and can talk about their experiences using the product. That’s an example of passion and employees who can do that make the best type of employees.

The Apple Store does the same thing. The employees they hire are passionate about the Apple brand, the company, and the company’s products. I would bet money that a huge majority of Apple Store employees have used Apple products long before they were hired. As a result, they know a lot about the products. They’re able to make appropriate recommendations and use their pre-existing knowledge to answer questions. 

There is nothing to stop you from hiring employees that are passionate about what you’re doing. It could be technology (there are plenty of people passionate about computers and technology), food, or whatever. The point is that they are passionate and like what they’re doing.

My Free Gift from Despair

customercare Despair Inc. is an interesting company. They are authors of an interesting book called The Art of Demotivation which is a satire of all the motivational, management type books that an executive can buy. They make a series of interesting posters and products (like the one to the left) called demotivators. The company is most certainly interesting and I’ve personally sent the book to a couple of people and have received their products as gifts from others.

They openly mock their own customer service (the packing slip has a stamp like thing that says “inspected by: some random idiot”) and their attitude towards service might make you dread calling them if you actually have a problem. I had a problem with them and had to call. Here’s how my experience went.

A colleague sent me two products from despair – a poster about apathy and a post it note pad about meetings. Both were nice products and nice gifts, but the quality control at Despair (the inspection by said random idiots) apparently did not hold up. The company sent me the wrong thing. I got the correct poster, but instead of the post its about meetings, I got a a plaque about leadership. The packing slip had the correct items on it, but what was on the packing slip was not what was in the box.

So I called the company. Their phone menu was simple enough. I did have to wait on hold with really weird hold music for a few minutes before being connected to a person. The person was friendly enough and looked up my order. He apologized for the mistake and said he would be sending the correct item out right away.

When I asked what I should do with the leadership plaque, he said I could just keep it. It was my gift from Despair. It’s probably cheaper for them to let me keep it than it is to get me to send it back, so their intentions aren’t purely altruistic. However, it is always nice to get something extra for free.

To think, there are companies that will make you send the product back, even though they’d lose money. What in the world does that accomplish? If you have policies like that, get rid of them.

Marketing and Customer Service

Short post this evening. It is more of a post to get you to think.

I was having a conversation with a customer service executive at a fairly large company today. We were talking mostly about customer service and its challenges, but something that kept coming up was marketing.

Marketing interacts a lot with customer service (see this conference) and a lot of very smart people (i. e. Seth Godin) write about it, so I don’t talk about it that much. However, the more that marketing comes up in conversations about customer service, it shows that the two people understand they’re related. It shows that the two people don’t view customer service as a cost center.

Marketing and customer service are highly related. If you work in either department and don’t see the relation between the two departments, then you need to ask someone to explain it to you (or you could keep reading).

If customer service is done well, it can serve as marketing. Great customer service creates customer evangelists. They are people who will go around telling others about how great your company is. The evangelists that great customer service can create are the best type of customers.

Marketing also includes communicating publicly. This can really tie into customer service. Blogging, customer communication and engagement, etc. can and do tie into customer service.

If the goal of marketing is to attract and retain customers, customer service naturally ties into that. Both have to be done well for a truly successful company. How do you think that marketing and customer service align?

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An example of not being cheap.

sirius I have talked about the importance of not being cheap before. When you’re cheap with your customers and your customer service, you find yourself losing a lot of respect from customers.

I read an interesting story about Sirius Satellite Radio the other day. For them and this particular experience, being cheap actually ended up making them more money.

Here is Eric’s (the customer’s) story: His car was broken into and his Sirius radio was stolen. As such, he wanted to have the radio deactivated. He called the customer service line and they offered to make it so he could listen to Sirius programming online. The really interesting part of the story, though, is that Sirius offered to send Eric a new (actually refurbished) radio for free. On top of all that, they were going to give him three months of free service.

Sirius is smart when it comes to retentions. Instead of hassling Eric about canceling, they offered him a nice deal that would motivation him to stay on as a customer. They know that if Eric had canceled his subscription, even temporarily, the chances of him buying a new radio and subscribing again would go way way down.

Sirius figured out that it was worth a refurbished radio and three months of service to keep Eric as a customer. This isn’t something that every company gets. In fact, it is something that very few companies get.

Something that is important to note, though, is that Eric was not canceling because he was an unhappy customer. The effectiveness of free stuff goes way down when the customer is unhappy. If customers are unhappy, they want to be happy and a bribe isn’t a sure fire way to fix that. If they are canceling because of another reason, like because a relevant product was stolen, then the free stuff (especially when it is really relevant, like in this case) becomes a lot more effective.

Sirius’s story shows that there is a classy and highly effective way to do retentions. Not every retention story has to be the one like Vincent Ferrari’s AOL story.

By the way, sorry for the late post today. I’ve been busy all day and the time got by me.

Responding to the Good

I talk a lot about how companies should monitor the blogosphere for mentions of their names – good and bad (if they don’t already). I was having a conversation with a public relations manager from CarMax (interview here) before the holidays and he told me about how he responds to bloggers.

He responds to bloggers that write positive and negative things about CarMax. If they write about how they were unhappy, he makes sure they know how to get in touch with customer service and offers any help that he can provide. If they’re happy, he sends them a thank you note and a little gift such as a tire pressure gauge or a road atlas.

This PR manager has the right idea. It is important to thank the people who write positive things about you as well. Many companies focus solely on the bad reviews. This is of course a good thing to do, but it is also worth spending time and effort thanking those who write good things about your company and service. If they feel appreciated, the chances of those people continuing to write good things goes way up.

It is always a good idea to thank someone when they do something nice for you. The exact same principle / etiquette guideline that your mother taught you as a child applies to business and public relations. If someone writes something nice about your company, thank them. They will appreciate it. All you have to do is post or email something simple like:

Hi John,

I saw your post about Company XYZ today and wanted to thank you for the kind words. We try our best and it makes everyone happy to see customers write about exceptional, positive experiences they’ve had with us.

Thank you again for thinking and writing about us. Feel free to call on me if you need any assistance in the future.

Best wishes,

Bob Bobsen
Public Relations
Company XYZ

Some people may disagree about giving the small gift. I’m personally okay with it, but can see how some people might think it’s a bribe. As cliche as it sounds, it’s the thought that  counts with this sort of situation. As long as you post the thank-youthank you comment or send the thank you email, then you’ve done plenty. Sending the gift is optional – feel free to do it if you want to. It probably won’t hurt and it is certainly a nice gesture.

To take it a step further (in a good way), include a hand written thank you note with that little gift. The note can just be a nice little piece of paper with the logo on it (your company has a branded notepad somewhere, right?):

Thanks again for the nice words about Company XYZ!

– Bob

What are your thoughts on thanking people for writing nice things about your company? What about gift giving?

Happy New Year!

It seems as if every business in the United States is closed today, so there won’t be a post here on Service Untitled for New Year’s Day.


Hopefully you had a wonderful New Year’s Eve and the first day of 2008 will be just as good. Take some time to relax and contemplate your New Year’s resolution (you can always start doing it tomorrow, right?).

I would like to thank HostColor for advertising on Service Untitled.

If you are interested in hosting with HostColor (their plans start at $25 a year), just send them an email and let them know that you read Service Untitled – you’ll save 20% on your first order. Click here or their logo above for more details.

Happy New Year!

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