MKTG 455: Strategic Internet Marketing, taught by Adjunct Professor Stuart Atkins at Cal State Fullerton was where I found myself on the night before Valentine’s Day. Looking at the 40 bright, hardworking students getting close to graduation time, I became even more excited to be guest teaching about customer experience.
Professor Atkins also owns a marketing consultancy and helps his students understand how to apply their skills into the real world. He has been teaching popular marketing and business classes here for over 10 years – and I could tell, just from a quick scan of the syllabus, that this class was special. Personal internet blogs, the launch of an e-commerce business and a group video? This was not my college marketing class of the 90s.
The class started with us all giving a round of applause for Professor Atkins celebration of his 18th wedding anniversary. Professor Atkins reminded the students, the night before Valentine’s Day, that it’s important to love someone. No better life lesson than that. Thanks Professor.
And so, I began by sharing my personal story of how a little girl, who served as her father’s demo in his sales job at Computerland in the 1980s, sold the IBM PS/1 to families looking for their first personal computer. That computer ended up having a big effect in my life – as I spent the first 15 years of my career leading software design and development teams. And through that journey I pushed myself and my teams to follow the words of Steve Jobs:
"You've got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around."
And what better way to teach students to walk in the customer’s shoes but to teach them how to create their own customer journey? Their assignment for the evening, on the night before Valentine’s Day: buy a bouquet of flowers online.
We split the class into eight teams of five, each team assigned one of four online shopping experiences: The Bouqs Co., FTD, 1-800-Flowers, and Amazon. The team were to use sticky notes to capture each action, each thought, and each emotion they felt as they went step by step through the customer journey. As they pulled up their iPhones, we talked about the feelings this “persona” would have as he was searching for a bouquet. Nervous about finding something? Worried about how much he would pay? Guilty that he procrastinated so long?
We questioned what experience would soothe the nerves and create confidence in the poor guy searching for a dozen long-stems. One site flashed up the message “There’s still time!” and the group documented the “relief” emotion on a pink sticky note. Another group wrote “ooooohhh and ahhhhhh” as they perused the available flower selection that would deliver in the zip code they had just entered. But the moments of delight were quite rare in the class.
We learned that the devil is in the details when it comes to the shopping experience. Two groups abandoned the experience altogether and started searching on other websites. Many were frustrated that nothing was available in the price range or felt misled by the original price compared to the final price with the additional delivery charges and constant up-selling. One group questioned the “good, better, best, exquisite” arrangement options and wondered if their “good” selection would actually result in their significant other receiving a dud.
Even Amazon failed to delight our customers in the buying experience.
But: two differences in the Amazon experience. Thanks to the product variety, one group altered their thinking and purchased a lovely gold leaf Beauty and the Beast Rose – something the other online floral companies just didn’t have. And one student actually had purchased a dozen roses and chocolates and picked them up earlier that day – thanks to the Amazon Treasure Truck.
Apparently, this new service sends text messages revealing the day’s must have items that are in a truck in your area. You purchase the items and pick it up at one of the convenient locations where the “Treasure Truck” is located. Items everything from trending tech, to steakhouse-quality filet, to outdoor equipment, to holiday must-haves. Wow. My mind was blown.
And what a cool lesson – while the traditional path we were heading down in our journey was to 1) go online to flower site 2) see what’s available that doesn’t break the bank and 3) buy something we pray is of the quality that our relationship still exists tomorrow… Amazon figured out a new journey for us.
The other companies didn’t fare so well. We calculated the Net Promoter Scores of the four companies we evaluated. Unfortunately we didn’t have a company break into the positive numbers (no, not even Amazon!)
While the students challenged the online flower companies to delight the procrastinator persona with a “save the day” moment at a fair price, they all failed. And so, the class learned an important e-commerce lesson about the importance of customer experience and why some industries will be “Blockbustered.” Put the experience first… or die.
Professor Stu and the students of MKTG 455: thank you for inspiring me! The future is bright.