Wednesday, February 25, 2009

influencing and changing behavior - a case in cloth diapers

A few weeks ago I attended a BCAMA breakfast to hear Jim Nelson, Senior Manager of Marketing from BC Hydro speak. Jim oversees the PowerSmart brand and I found his presentation on changing and influencing behavior through social marketing very interesting. Several weeks later it is still resonating with me, in particular making me think how I came to be a cloth diaper advocate.

I can easily be described as a city girl. I started in advertising in Toronto in the early 90s when Melrose Place was the 'best' example of my profession. No my skirts were never that short, no I didn't switch from an account person to a writer to an art director in a single episode and no I never tried to drown anyone in the pool in the center of my apartment complex. But I did live a hard working, fun living, disposable lifestyle. That changed somewhat after I moved to Vancouver. But I was still very focused on my work and my social life. When I met my husband I was travelling a lot for work, dropped my laundry off at the laundromat to be cleaned, dried and folded for me and I had a cleaning lady twice a month. Not the type of person you'd expect to get excited about her diapers drying on the clothes line in the backyard.

So what happened? How was I influenced to change? Certainly mainstream media had an effect on my thinking about my disposable lifestyle. It always really bugged me that diapers live pretty much forever in our land fills. And while the cloth diaper movement is growing is it certainly not mainstream and there are no large marketers pushing their virtues. This is a case of social change through word of mouth.

At the breakfast session Jim gave us a little exercise to discuss amongst your table a behaviour you'd like to change - discuss the excuses you'd give not to change, actual reasons not the change and the reasons to change. (and he reminded us that real and perceived issues were equally valid)

Well the excuses not to try is pretty obvious - the fear of poo and the need to stay as far away from it as possible. Some valid reasons for not trying them is the upfront cost of buying them, the extra steps required when your baby is wiggling away on the diaper table and the extra laundry (and the additional hydro cost that goes with that). The reasons to try are primarily environmental, but also cost.

So I was commited to the idea that I would try cloth diapering part time. Use them at home and then switch to disposable when out and about. It seemed like a nice little step to try and reduce the amount of diapers I would send to the landfill.

I was one of the last of my friends to have kids, so I asked my friends. The reactions were
  • "hahahahahahaha I give it a week"
  • "you are a better woman than me"
  • "I tried it but my husband wasn't on board so I gave it up"
  • "there were too many extra steps - diapers, snaps, liners, covers - so we gave it up".
So word of mouth was certainly NOT influencing me to change my behavior. But I had one good friend who was cloth diapering - she had three kids so I figured if she could do it the least I could do it give it a try. So we took the advice of a colleague and started with a diaper service.

Then it was like we fell into a rabbit hole - of the marketing kind. Cloth diapering itself was easy. Figuring out the shopping process was NOT. My friend with the 3 kids (who lives in Toronto by the way) was my life line to all things cloth diapering. Cloth diapering seem to be a great business opportunity for Work at Home Moms (WAHM). And the internet is just stuffed FULL of diaper options. But I spends hours and hours and hours reviewing websites and scouring to read reviews. No wonder people don't want to change and try something different... it is overwhelming. More overwhelming than buying a stroller!

The diaper service was great advice as it gave me a few months to get used to my little man and his diapering needs and then buy a couple of samples to see what worked for him and us. I then bought the diapers we liked on craigslist (the good diapers like mother-ease really hold their value and I expect I'll be able to resell them when we are finished with them OR give them to a friend).

In the end, we found the times when we used disposable diapers we had more messes and that resulted in more laundry than washing diapers. So we became full time cloth diaper parents. And somewhere along the line I've become pretty passionate about it. I've posted reviews on, I've passionately advocated to poor pregnant women wondering what it is all about, I've purchased wet bags (btw the best are from - expensive but worth it) so I can travel with cloth diapers and I obsess about those 6 disposable diapers a week that get used on my son while he is in daycare.

So how did I get here from those Melrose Place days????? Word of mouth worked against me, there were no negative consequences or social pressure, I knew no advocates..... I guess it just came down to my belief that the social norm was NOT acceptable to me and the help of ONE good friend.

So what no... well I'm trying to do my darnest to influence other people's behaviour by advocating my experience. It only took one friend to help me change. And it really it isn't that hard - once you get over the intial shopping experience. Now if we could just convince a large marketer that money could be made here then we'd have a lot more power behind our cloth diaper revolution.

Monday, February 16, 2009

customer experience is more than just polite customer service

A friend of mine posted a blog a week or so ago about "Marketing in a challenging economy... Customer Service, duh!" He spoke about the companies he knows doing it right. I completely agree with his assessment, but one has to ask about those that just don't get it. When does the gap between the brand promise and customer experience become so big that you walk away?

I expect an organization to deliver a customer experience that matches their brand promise. If not, then there is a gap in my opinion of them. This isn't just about customer service, this is delivering what people expect in product quality, technology, service, etc. It is delivering on your promise at every point I experience your company. The nice folks at Saturn called it the 'moment of truth'. And it isn't just about training your staff to be friendly and polite, it is providing your staff with the right tools and enabling them to use them. Sounds pretty simple in theory... but billions get spent in brand, product development and marketing every year... and it is often like pissing in the wind when the end result is nothing like what was promised. And it is often the biggest companies that seem to have the most difficulty delivering. My experience with Shaw is such an example.

I have to admit I hated Shaw pretty early in our relationship. When I moved to Vancouver Rogers was my cable provider. Then they did a deal with Shaw to take over their BC customers. The Shaw technology was far below that of Rogers. I complained to Shaw that I wasn't receiving the same level of service that I had paid for previously. Now I was a high value customer, rented my digital box, had most of the digital channels at the time and the movie channels. I thought my value as a customer would mean something. Nope. They tried to tell me the technology Rogers was using was illegal or under some law suit so they couldn't provide it (the technology in question was a little device that you could program through your digital box to turn on your VCR to record a program for you). Seemed like a BS excuse to me. Why not just tell me that you don't own the rights to that technology. But true or not they still offered me nothing - it wouldn't have taken much to make me feel appreciated as a customer... maybe a couple of months of the movie channels free, some free pay-per-view movies. But they offered NOTHING. So I was stuck with a service provider that I didn't pick, paying the same for lesser service and feeling like they didn't give a damn. I wasn't prepared to order satellite, so I was stuck.

I'll skip past my high speed internet experience with Shaw and fast forward 9 years. Our PVR dies. Still a high value customer, no longer renting my digital box as we bought a PVR box from them 4 years previous.

Shaw's reaction - NOTHING. Yes the box was past its warranty period. I can accept that. But 4 years isn't that old and they offered no help in suggesting how we get it fixed. We called on 3 separate occasions to discuss it with them - no a new box couldn't be given to us (yeah that was a stretch I know), no they don't repair the boxes they sell and no they couldn't make any suggestions on where we could get it fixed. It seemed the only option the very friendly service person could offer was 3 months of free HD channels (which we would have to call and cancel at the end of that period). They did (after our 3rd call) send out an equally polite service technician to check it out for us - yup box DEAD. Nope - nothing they could do. You could see that the technician felt like an idiot not being able to provide some suggestions for where to get it repaired. I think he had even tried to do some of his own research for us. But Shaw had not enabled him with the right tools to try and help us.

So in the end Shaw was telling us that if we wanted to continue to receive the level of service we had been receiving, we would have to purchase a new PVR box. A new PVR is $650, which if it last 4 years, is an extra $160ish/year to our service costs (which were about $90/month).

The difference today vs 9 years ago... there is a new guy in town. Now TelusTV is new and the quality of the product and functionality of the PVR is nowhere near as good as Shaw. And many may hate Telus as much or more than I hate Shaw. But the customer experience so far for us has been fantastic. Well informed service people (they can even out-tech my techie husband) who follow up if they don't have the answers. Service technicians that leave their cards in case you have questions - they follow up - they drop by extra cable cause they were in the area and knew we could use it - they call to check in. The product itself is going through some growing pains. After a month we are on our 2nd box and we spent 30 minutes on the phone with service again today. But these people really seem to want our business, so we are willing to work through the little start up issues.

Now price is not our primary incentive here but it doesn't hurt that with a home bundle (phone, internet and tv) we save a lot each month. Plus, my husband works for Telus and gets an additional discount. It does make it easier to be patient with TelusTV's growing pains when we are saving money too.

If the PVR hadn't died would we have switched right now? Probably not. If Shaw had offered us some more 'incentives', a little appreciation, or a clue where to get it repaired would we have stayed? Maybe... Did Shaw provide the friendly customer service that their marketing and brand campaigns promise. Yes. But did they offer true customer service? No. Shaw needs to stop treating their customers like they did when there was little or no competition, they need to focus and really deliver on their brand promise of customer service.

And oh yeah, we found a place in Richmond that fixed our PVR for $60. Perfect! Now we can sell it on craigslist.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

car vs stroller

When I first started in advertising my first client was GM of Canada working on Saturn, Saab and Isuzu. I worked with them for 5 years - all of them without a car. I was sort of the running joke the 'agency girl' that had to rent a car to come out to their offices in Oshawa. But it was my first job out of University, I had just moved to Toronto and a car was just not affordable (and honestly the receptionist was making more than me at the time). So I spent 5 years helping promote the benefits of cars, which I could drive, but not own. I had no problem getting my head around the relevant features and benefits. So when I bought my first car it was easy. (it was a Saturn 3-door Coupe).

When I bought my second car, after I moved out to Vancouver, I knew I wanted a Jetta (much easier to fit those 6 foot art directors in the back seat when going to client meetings). I just had to shop around to find the best offer/deal. Had a little bit of help from a male friend and it was done.

When I became a Mother last year I realized that buying a car had NOTHING on buying a stroller. To start with that McDonald's commercial is right and some strollers cost more than your car. Plus you really have NO IDEA before you have your baby what you will need. I was warned by friends that this was going to be a nightmare and I heard stories about three and four strollers. I was naive and thought they were crazy. I should be able to assess the really important feature vs benefits easier than that - I mean I worked in marketing for goodness sake. And I refused to spend $1000 or more on a stroller.

We had one lucky break in our stroller saga. My sister in law gave us her old stroller which worked with our baby car seat. It was a 'boat' but it worked well enough for a few months while we assessed our options. It was like a 3 month test drive of a vehicle we didn't want...

I followed the classic shopping process. Made a list of things both my husband I wanted and then hit the internet to research. Overwhelmed by that experience, but with a short list of strollers in hand, I hit the stores with baby safely seated in his 'boat'. I had one salesperson look at me like I was crazy and then say "you CAN'T be serious - you can't ALL have that". So back to the internet, better grasp of stroller measurements, then more shopping. More confusion... then REPEAT. Of course I was doing most of my research at 4am while pumping (yeah I know TMI). Finally I had a reasonable short list at reasonable prices and I got my husband back involved. More shopping.

Now we were down to a shortlist of 2. My husband's choice (Bob Revolution) and my choice (Bumbleride) both had 3 wheels, rubber tires, easy to fold, fits in my trunk, light weight, manoveured well, seat adjusted easily, not too wide, good sun cover, good online reviews, and reasonable price. Now I remember having long conversations with the folks at Saab Europe and Saab USA about cup holders. The Swedes just couldn't get their heads around the fact that Americans would make decisions on a car based on cup holders. Well my husband could NOT understand why I refused the Bob because of the size and accessibility of its basket. I walk and do a lot of shopping in our neighbourhood. And the basket MUST be accessible and large enough to carry home some groceries. I won (coincidentally the cup holder on the bumbleride is crap - fell off the first time we use it - but I don't really miss it).

But the saga wasn't yet over. We had to find the stroller at the best price. Only one store in Vancouver (Richmond actually) sold it - Pinky Blue. The prices if you bought online from the US were a lot cheaper. We wanted to support a local Canadian business. So we negotiated with the store. They were GREAT - it really reminded me that customer service is not dead. They matched the US price (with some adjustment for duty and exchange). Although they are not conveniently located, we try to make as many of our larger baby purchases with them (ie: stroller accessories). I know it is not the Saturn way, as I got a deal the next guy didn't get just because we had the 'balls' to ask. But the store has our loyalty and we love to tell everyone we know what a great customer service they have. If they would just start selling cloth diapers they would be my 'one-stop shop'.

So how is the stroller? We really like it. But it is actually really rather underused. We use the carrier (Ergo) more, and didn't even take a stroller at all when we went on a trip to Europe. But when we do go to the park or walk to the store it is very helpful, handy and the little guy is happy to sit in it. But mostly it lives in the trunk of my Jetta.