Tag Archives: Customer Service

3 things to consider before your company offers a Groupon

It’s been almost a year since I moved to New York City!  It’s been incredible, invigorating and full of all the challenges I was looking for.

I’ve also been loving the truly mobile experience in the U.S., which  makes navigating the city a pleasure.  Google Maps are fully optimized with local establishments and estimated travel times, Spotcycle finds me my nearest Citi Bike, HopStop manages my subway ride should I need to go above 52nd Street, and Uber picks me up when I get stuck in Brooklyn in a snowstorm!

Finding local services in a new city can also be overwhelming with so much to choose from.  I have found Yelp to be useful for the information they compile, though was saddened to hear from a friend who runs a small organic business in Oakland, CA, that good reviews are often suppressed until they signed up for an advertising package. (read more on their rumored extortionate practices here).  This unfortunately makes me very sceptical about believing what should be unbiased ratings.

So Groupon has quickly become my best option for trying out local products and services for myself, particularly for a grad student on a budget!  I’d like to consider myself somewhat of a Groupon connoisseur having picked some gems so far – many of the places I’ve been introduced to through a coupon, have now become my locals.

However, I have also come across several businesses who don’t seem ready to make the most out of coupon leads.  And it’s certainly not a good acquisition fit for every company.  The following are just a few considerations that marketing managers should make before offering any coupon deal:

  1. Are you staff informed of the deals available?  Are they aware of the potential lifetime value of first-time customers?  The customer experience starts with the booking process, and although coupon customers may not be paying the full price, their first-time experience will have the most impact on their future business.  Coupon customers should ideally be treated with as much special attention as any other customer, rather than seen as a one-time bargain hunter.  (Groupon makes a point of reminding their members to tip for the full value of the service, so staff should also be rewarded by good customers).
  2. Do you have the right systems in place to redeem coupons?  Particularly when a retailer has multiple outlets, it’s essential that a centralized coupon redemption system is in place to ensure coupons are only used once – or that credit can be stored for multiple uses.  Keep in mind too that many coupons are now mobile, so customers will not necessarily have a physical print-out of the coupon for your records.  Make sure you have a barcode scanner or another system to capture this information.
  3. Can you afford to discount your services in large quantities?  This seems obvious, but if each service is offered as a loss, can your core business support this?  I feel this is particularly pertinent for business which are just starting out, or struggling through a downturn.  Make sure you know what percentage of leads will likely convert to established customers, and how long it will take them to start being profitable.  Groupon certainly have very strict terms and conditions for vendors and if a company can’t make good on the offers, expect legal action (as was the fate for my beloved Yoga Studio in Hong Kong).

For a great overview on the finer details of Groupon, here’s a very helpful article: http://computer.howstuffworks.com/internet/tips/groupon.htm




When Social Media Goes Astray

Brace yourselves, because haters are gonna hate, and trolls will never have anything better to do than to stir up trouble.  It’s no wonder that some companies still shy away from social media altogether, in favor of keeping their customer relations on a one-to-one basis rather than open themselves up to bad press on a public forum. 

Just as social media has become an open platform for free expression, no industry, brand or personality is immune from the backlash that can counter.  And the speed at which a controversy can erupt and spread is incredible.

The airline industry is often an easy target of disgruntled customers.  As a frequent flyer, I can sympathize with both distraught passengers and harassed airlines.  It’s when people feel like they’re not being heard that they take to social media, and today they are getting louder and smarter than ever.

Recently, one British Airways customer took his complaint to the next level.  Literally.  In a moment of frustration and creativity, he paid for a promoted tweet – a technique normally employed only by brands and services themselves.

Promoted Tweet

Unsurprisingly, the tweet was quickly circulated (within a few hours it had generated 25,000 impressions) and because of the customers extreme tactics, was picked-up by many media organizations.  At that point, what started as a single customer complaint had escalated to a social media crisis for the organization.

But the lesson here is that it didn’t have to.  There have been far more damaging social media faux pas  that companies have had to dig themselves out of.  In this instance however, the airline had already established Twitter as a channel dedicated to customer service, so should have expected complaints.  And the most important rule here is to respond immediately – even if it’s just an acknowledgment that you’re looking into the issue.


Beyond that, there are several key strategies to maintain your brand image and reputation on social media:

  • Make sure that you are constantly listening. Most social media mishaps happen when companies fail to ‘read the room’ and simply use it as a channel to push information.  And constantly, means whenever your customers are online.  It cannot be a 9-5 function (especially for British Airways where their customers are spread across multiple time zones).
  • Know when to take tweets seriously.  Are you talking to a troll looking to pick a fight, or a genuine consumer looking for your help?  Knowing your audience and using good judgment is once again needed.
  • Have a response plan in place, and a clear line of authority, for when issues inevitably arise.  Even if behind the scenes you are frantically deciding what to say and who needs to approve it, saying nothing can appear like indifference. Silence seems like a lifetime in cyberspace and will only add fuel to the crisis.
  • Consider enlisting the advice of objective social media experts as a preventative measure, as many organizations now do.

These might all sound like hefty investments, but it is surely justified to protect all the work that you’ve done building the brand, your social media voice, and your online audience to date.

And companies that avoid real-time conversations altogether are missing out on the opportunity here for a brand to show their true colors, and build trust when things get tough.  One brand’s silence then becomes an opportunity for their competitors, as @VirginAustralia demonstrated in one of my favorite Twitter wins during a Qantas strike.


Many feel that a social media crisis should be handled by PR professionals, and their expertise will certainly be essential when things get very publicly out of hand and bad press is being generated.  But on a day-to-day basis, I believe social media should be a tool for marketing to engage with consumers – both existing and potential.

A social media profile is also one of the best voices a brand has – beyond sharing information, every interaction should display the values and personality of the brand.  And if you’re listening, social media offers incredible insights into their customers, their concerns and life outside their relationship with the brand.  That’s extremely valuable to marketeers and should be tied into the overall marketing strategy of the organization.

The Bigger Picture behind User Experience

User experience goes hand in hand with good customer service and effective marketing.  A company’s homepage is the new storefront.  And today’s online customers are more discerning and fleeting than ever before.

This semester we are analyzing organizations to see how they use digital tools to enhance their storytelling, and how user experience is at the center of this. I chose to look at the website of Oxfam International, arguably one of the largest and most respected charities in the world.

At the outset, I presumed the key purpose of their website would be to raise awareness, enlist volunteers, and perhaps most importantly, to fundraise.  However, the user experience did not meet my expectations for an organization of this stature and through somewhat of a wild goose chase, I unraveled what I believe may be a larger strategy problem for the organization.

My journey went a little something like this:

•A Google search for ‘Oxfam’ led me to www.oxfam.org.  At that crucial first impression, there is a LOT going on in homepage.  The box layout works well to group various pieces of information, but there are still a lot of messages along with their own banner ads competing for my attention.  In fact, the layout looks really dated now that I am used to very minimalist websites with graphics telling the story as I scroll through.

Oxfam International

•The site is very text heavy, which does make Oxfam seem authoritative, but unfortunately it is not presented in an accessible way. It would be more efficient to group information by the key objectives of the user, and then gradually providing more information within each section.

•Lime green must be a challenging logo color to work with! The big green buttons certainly stand out but clash with other colors.  It’s hard to know if there is a system, but it’s not clear to the user.

• I really didn’t know where to start reading the content.  “Emergencies” seemed like it would be the most pressing, and this lead me to more sub-menus by crisis. The “Development” page had a good interactive map to navigate by region.    The ‘“Campaigns” page was then grouped by issue type.  It did leave me wondering though if these sections are internal divisions at Oxfam, rather than the best categories to educate their audience.

Sadly, this site left me a little frustrated.  I didn’t really know where the experience should start or end.   I am interested to know what the bounce rate is from their landing page, as I suspect many users are likely to return to Google to refine their search.  Or worse for Oxfam, find the information elsewhere.

Looking for signs of mobile optimization on my iPad, the homepage looked more or less the same.  But when it came to my iPhone, I was so disappointed. It’s not responsive at all!

Oxfam International Mobile


I end up expanding and panning across each inch of the massive homepage, not really knowing what I was looking for. It felt much like trawling a beach with a metal detector in hope of finding hidden treasure.

I was  surprised that Oxfam didn’t have a mobile site.  I had come through Safari browser on my phone so it should have detected my device.  I decided to try again through Google.   This time however, I tried searching for the phrase ‘oxfam usa donate’.  The top result took me to a very different looking page.  On closer inspection, I saw that this was a page for Oxfam America, which is an entirely different website!

I was happy to find that this site was mobile optimized and offered a much more pleasurable experience, through the layout, the colors and icons used.  Back on my laptop I found a complete user-centered experience at Oxfam America: large, scrolling images; a good content strategy; easy navigation by a few section links.

Oxfam America

But this brought up a huge question for me as to why the two websites are so different.   And how I missed this in the first place.  I went back to the Oxfam International page.  What I had scanned over previously was a box on the top right corner labeled ‘Oxfam Near Me’, which uses geo-location to suggest Oxfam America.

Oxfam International is actually made up of 17 member organizations across 94 countries, and I now realize that each of the members have their own websites.  Member sites are also listed in small print at the bottom of the International homepage and there is far more consistency among the country website, than any has with Oxfam International.  It also allows for each member to highlight locally relevant materials and customize the layout for their local audience preferences.

This ultimately makes me question the purpose of the International site.  Does it contain information that is not duplicated elsewhere?  This could send users away disappointed, and translates as a real lost opportunity for the charity.  Since fundraising is all channeled to local member sites, this is of huge importance for their key objective.

Unfortunately, it makes Oxfam look very fractured and shows a huge disconnect in the personality of the brand.    Is Oxfam International out of touch?  Are their objectives aligned?  Or are they simply last in line for the makeover?  I’ll be checking back for sure.