It's when you deliver that counts…

The title of this post is a snowclone of the title of a book on investing, published in the late 1990s. Writing before the dot-com crash, the author talked about the importance of, not buying, but selling stocks at the right time, at the right price, so as to realise profits. Amid the dot-com frenzy, he delivered a sanguine message that if you did not sell in time to appropriate the cash, it did not matter how high the stock price went.

Back to the post.

Communities and conversations are at the core of Web 2.0. Profitable businesses are harder to come by. When they do, they do so using principles, which can best be described as Web 1.0 or even pre-Web.

Pre-web, my first post-MBA job was in a cosmetics firm in India. In the summer when I began, the company launched a product, India’s first one to be sold as a ‘sunscreen’. Our competitor, Hindustan Lever, had a similar product, but it was sold as a ‘fairness’ cream. The ‘sunscreen’ position in the consumer’s mind was ours for the taking. The print and TV advertisements were aspirational and sophisticated. The demand sky-rocketed. I was a sales trainee with the unfortunate job of booking wholesale and retail orders week after week. Why unfortunate? Because we could not fulfil those orders! We didn’t have enough product, thanks to a production glitch, resulting from several factors including unanticipated demand and inadequate supplier management; yet the TV ads continued.

That was the most distressing summer of my life. Our wholesalers and retailers weren’t the only ones upset; my friends and family were upset too because they could not get the product. Meanwhile I continued using my supply of Oil of Olay, hoarded in the previous summer as a summer trainee at P&G.

The lesson?

If you want and indeed strive to create a demand, make sure you deliver. A consumer ‘primed’ to purchase a product is easy to lose, and difficult to regain.

But do these old-fashioned things still apply? Very much so.

Pat Phelan writes about how Bank of Ireland’s has failed to close the loop with their marketing partners O2 and CarphoneWarehouse. This has led to not just a lost customer for O2, but also a lost young savers account for Bank Of Ireland and lost commission for Carphone Warehouse. He describes them all as ‘muppets’, a description with which I find hard to disagree.

The lesson?

If you have a complicated product concept, make sure all the parties can deliver. A disappointed, irritated consumer is very difficult to woo back, especially in a competitive market where others are willing and eager to serve him.

Which brings me to Chris Brogan’s post, on promoting one’s book online. Chris writes about how Seth Godin just launched his new book ‘Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us’, using a whole slew of innovative marketing tricks. He gave free copies to some bloggers to give away; he made available a 0.99c audiobook on iTunes; and he built a social community, called Triiibes, ahead of the launch. Readers of his blog were invited to send him the electronic receipts of their advance orders and their snail-mail addresses. A certain number were then invited to register ahead of others on Triiibes. So far, so ideal.

The book was launched on October the 8th. As I write this post, on October the 20th, Amazon-UK tells me I won’t receive my ‘advance-ordered’ copy before November the 6th. I am not alone. Others who ordered with Amazon-UK are also waiting. So much for participating in the conversation about the book on Triiibes and for the advance-ordering hoopla.

Not just that – and I write this to complete the argument – our snail mail addresses were required as something special was to be sent to advance purchasers in October. May be, I am jumping the gun. May be, something will arrive in the next 10 days remaining in October. But when the book itself hasn’t arrived, I wouldn’t be holding my breath for anything else.

The lesson?

If your supplier screws up, it is unlikely you will benefit from the advance community building and promotion. A disappointed customer will not forget the experience.

Not very much unlike my first employer’s fiasco with the sunscreen, is this? Before ‘Tribes’, I had never bought any of Seth Godin’s books. The trend looks set to continue, unless a copy of Tribes somehow arrives, before I give up and cancel my pre-order.

It does not matter how many cycles of awareness-interest-desire-action you take your customer through or how many communities you create. The conversation just won’t start until the customer’s demand – whether of his own realisation of a ‘need’, or a latent need articulated through clever marketing – is fulfilled. Delivering the promises of marketing requires operational excellence. Whatever version of the Web we are at, and however creative our marketing, human expectations don’t change. They get more demanding, not less so.

In other words: it’s when you deliver the promised product/ service that counts.

What are your experiences of good service delivery and bad ones in the Web 2.0 world? Do use the comments link to share your stories.

Interesting reading:

Universal-McCann’s report ‘When did we start trusting strangers?

8 Replies to “It's when you deliver that counts…”

  1. @ Shefaly : Depends on how much you hype your product. If you have managed to build a fan base people may be willing to wait longer for a product or even pay more to get it. Lets take the example of the iPhone. People could not get their hands on one for days and still they waited patiently to get one because they believed they would be getting a superior product. I waited for around a month to get this Macbook and I did not mind it. I guess it depends on product to product, company to company.

  2. That was a very interesting read. I can relate to this ‘not delivering what promised..and lose the customer for ever’ phenomenon from my own experiences working in sales/marketing.
    Regarding my experiences on web, I remember once amazon screwed up.. it was Amazon Canada..after booking an order for a book, they send me an email three weeks later that book cannot be delivered as it’s out of stock..In any case, Amazon Canada sucks, so this experience sealed their fate for ever from my side..

  3. I find it very irritating when companies do not stock in advance. I think it’s plain inefficiency. Also I think a lack of understanding of the demand. There was a launch of a britannia health biscuit recently and the advertising was comparatively low key but the product just took off. I think so far we have had only imported biscuits of that quality and therefore the consumers went crazy! The product has disappeared off the shelves for the last 3 weeks and the ads are continuing! Poor sales and marketing.

  4. Hi Shefaly, well said. After working in Coke as an intern what i understood clearly was SCM is one of the most critical link of your Supply and your promotion is as good as the availability of the ‘product’ or ‘service’, specially in India you can see a lot of times there is no follow up.

  5. Firstly, I should say that Seth Godin’s surprise was a complimentary copy of the book, Tribes. It arrived on 23rd October from the publishers directly. I shall pass it on to my local library. Thank you, Seth! A book review may follow shortly.

    @ Odzer: I think it is not about the ‘hype’ but about the customer’s specific expectation and how the delivery differs from the expectation. People do not mind waiting but the more specific your commitment, the more definite the expectation and the more egregious the violation on that implicit ‘contract’.

    In the case of your Macbook, you agreed to wait. That set your expectation. In case of iPhone, people agreed to wait. That set their expectations. But when I am promised that such and such product will come on this exact date, and it does not, it is a failure to deliver on that very specific expectation. The ‘delta’ matters and would not be very different if you were told your Macbook will be with you in 4 weeks but actually arrived after 12.

    @ Dev: Thanks for sharing, it is very interesting. I think Amazon’s service standards vary from country to country. That is another problem in service delivery, esp as the customer becomes more internationally mobile and more ‘borderless’ in his or her purchasing behaviour.

    I am an Amazon Prime customer in the UK. No matter what, my books arrive the next day. I pay a fixed annual fee for this relatively quicker sense of ‘gratification’. I could of course go to a store but I would pay more for the book. I have also bought tonnes from Amazon US, when I am there and they serve impeccably. In fact in nearly 10 years of using Amazon, I have rarely been disappointed.

    @ Nita: That is a perfect example of companies not planning carefully although sometimes underestimating the product’s success can come at a price too. Thanks for sharing.

    @ Chirag: Thanks for sharing your experience. A friend of mine was in Coke in India and held several senior positions including logistics. I happened to be with her on a hot April day once when it started raining unseasonably. Suffice it to say she was lost to us all after the rain! The demand was going to be much lower if it cooled below the temperature assumptions in the demand modelling. That is of course the flip side of SCM, isn’t it?

    Demand management has sparked several innovations too. In some European countries, vending machines can automatically signal low stocks of drinks so the parent company can arrange timely refills.

    @ Rambodoc: Thanks for reading!

  6. Nice post. There are some things that I feel are perennial wisdom in the world of business- No matter what the nature of the business is. Goods / Products have always been part of this idea but I had a recent experience of this in the web 2.0 world. In terms of technology, cloud computing is today a buzzword with a number of players small, large and huge jumping. Software as a service, hosted applications are all bandied about and marketed as something ‘as easy as 1-2-3’ . After spending hours communicating , selling and convincing the customer the product just did not live upto the customer, rather the delivery mechanism was inefficient and in some cases never worked. The company in question offered a trial version and were supposed to send invitation emails. The emails never reached the person who was tried out.Reason: A technical glitch which would take a while to fix by which time the frustrated customer would have moved on to a competitor. Fortunately some larger tech companies strategically use vendors to take care of these issues so they step in and address these gaps and smoothen the process.

    So yes it certainly is relevant and will continue to be so.

What do YOU think?