What You Can Learn from “The Fantastic Four”

Jul 13, 2005 7:35 PM  By

The movie “Fantastic Four” last weekend rescued Hollywood from a record 19-week box-office slump. Studio executives are breathing a collective sigh of relief in hopes that the tide has turned. They will soon be scrambling to clone the successful superhero movie in anticipation of more revenue.

But what if the film’s fantastic opening was due to climate instead of content? Last weekend had hot weather in some areas, rain and storms in others, all of which can entice folks to seek cover in an air-conditioned indoor facility such as a movie theater.

This is not a review of the movie. Rather, it is a cautionary tale about how an industry can miss the point by focusing on the wrong issues. Movies have a long-standing tradition of providing an escape from everyday life. They delight, inspire, and sometimes educate, all under the guise of entertainment. And today they can easily be viewed in the privacy of a home theater. A trip to the local cinema is more about the experience than the movie.

In the studios’ search for the next box-office blockbuster, the customer has been forgotten. The typical theater experience starts with a short-term loan for tickets and concessions. This is followed by standing in line at the concession stand for expensive, slightly burnt popcorn and watered-down soda. Next there is the challenge to travel across the sticky, litter-strewn floors to the seats. Hearing the movie dialogue is a challenge with crying babies and conversationalists holding court. And avoiding the restrooms is a really good idea, because they haven’t been cleaned since the original “War of the Worlds.” It is little wonder that most people just wait for the DVD.

What does this have to do with the direct marketing industry? It is all about the customer’s experience for us too. The Internet has opened up a world of opportunity and competition. Growth and profitability depend on the ability to provide customers with a positive shopping experience from initial order to fulfillment. Technology provides the tools, but the focus must always be on the customers’ needs and expectations. This should be balanced with efficiency so expenses are kept in line with income.

The holiday selling season is just around the corner. The companies that serve customers well will be rewarded with growth and profitability. Now’s the time to review every aspect of your business to ensure that your customers are served quickly and efficiently. Here are some tips to get you started:

1) Be sure that your Website can easily be navigated by all visitors regardless of access. Some sites are accessible only with high-speed service. This severely limits sales opportunities. Customers will leave a slow-loading site in search of one that takes less time.

2) Provide a customer service number on every Web page. Yes, it may increase the number of calls. It will also increase sales because it encourages trust and answers questions. Customers should know that someone is always available to help.

3) Have a live operator answering calls instead of a router. All agents should be trained to answer basic service questions and take orders. This will minimize the call time and improve service.

4) Schedule enough staff to process sales regardless of venue. If there is a service center or a checkout station in the store, have at least one clerk to work it so customers are not searching for a place to complete their purchase. Use available resources for overflow calls. This can be a third-party call center or internal resources such as the marketing team and executives.

5) Communicate, communicate, and communicate. Let customers know when to expect their orders and what the return policies are, and update them when a situation changes. An informed customer is a satisfied one.

Debra Ellis is founder of Wilson & Ellis Consulting (www. wilsonellisconsulting.com), a Barnardsville, NC-based firm specializing in strategic planning, logistics, and inventory management.