Customer care

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Lululemon, Liz Lemon’s yoga company (JKJK), has a wonderful almost cult-like following. First of all, it is associated with a pastime many woman adore so it’s in the right contextual neighborhood. Second the clothing very much shows women’s bodies in their best light.  And if you think that’s not a trend, walk around NYC and count the number of ladies wearing black tights/leggings.

About a year ago, Lululemon had a quality issue and the social boards lit up with talk about the sheerness of the fabric…with what the wifus might call “getting your picture took” issues.  It was Lulu’s first quality punch and one it handled just adequately. More recently, an issue with fabric pilling in the thighs has come up and the company’s response has worsened.

The Wall Street Journal reports that CEO Dennis Wilson is suggesting it is not the quality so much as it is consumer misuse.  To wit:

“Quite frankly some women’s bodies just actually don’t work for it,” Dennis “Chip” Wilson said. “It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there.”

And someone with no financial skin in the game (he typed wryly), an analyst, concurred:

“Oliver Chen, a Citigroup analyst, recently tested some Lululemon yoga pants and also found customers at fault. The “product we purchased was not defective,” he said in a note sent to clients. Mr. Chen said transparency was only an issue when “wearing a size that is too small, causing the material to stretch more than its intended amount.”

Here’s the thing, and it’s something I learned from market mover Joe Nacchio back in the day, your customer is not wrong and your customer is not a dog (don’t ask).  A customer may not use a product to spec, but s/he is never wrong. Custies may need education about usage but “wrong” they are not. They’re simply exploring and daring your product — looking for new use cases, which is commendable.

So Lululemon, chill. Get over the hump, Women will forgive you after a while. Focus on what made you great. Treat your ladies with respect and start sewing. Peace.

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There’s a whole side business in marketing devoted to customer care.  And there should be.  Caring for customers is important.  Back in the 90s as telephone and computers were learning to get along, call centers were investing heavily in computer telephony integration.  Software was reading inbound telephone numbers and matching them up with database records, putting customer information at customer service people’s finger tips. It was a great use of technology.  Problem resolution was making great strides. But the equation required putting people in the call center, which was a recurring expense.

Along came something called IVR (interactive voice response) “for credit cards press or say 1.” This invention helped keep headcount down in the call center by providing recorded information via prompt. Enter the web, which allowed the web to provide problem resolution via FAQs and tutorials – again less people. 

I received a call from Chase Bank last night – automated, of course – asking me to call a toll-free number because someone was trying to change my account access code or some such. In a panic I called and for 15 minutes was pushing prompts. McCrazy!  They called me. Luckily, the wifus (pronounced why-fus) was nearby, because I stalled at a prompt number 12 when  asked for my debit card number…which I don’t own.  “They want your ATM card number honey.” Turns out everything was fine and it was false alarm. So they say.

I’m so glad JPMorgan Chase is developing iPhone apps to make people’s banking lives easier.  But do you think they – and everyone else with customers – could employ a universal “I want a human” telephone prompt like 0-0?  That would be progress. Peace!  

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