Organization Name: Pottery Barn – a brand of Williams-Sonoma, Inc.
Name of contacts: Laura Albert, CEO, Williams-Sonoma, Inc. and Sandra Stangl, President of Pottery Barn, pottery barn kids and PBteen
Williams-Sonoma, Inc. – company overview
Dennis Jenders’ blog – Pottery Barn Customer Service and the Power of Social Media
Blog article – 5 Ways to Boost Social Media Success
My affinity with Pottery Barn
I love Pottery Barn. There are very few brands that I feel a true affinity with, but Pottery Barn inspires me. When I look at any picture of any room featured on its website, I can relate. If you were to ask me what my design style is – I’d simply say “Pottery Barn”.
Pottery Barn has developed a very distinctive look. Whether it be a bedroom, a living room or an outdoor space, it is relatively easy to pick out a Pottery Barn design. I had never felt prouder of myself as a decorator, than when I was able to create a new bedroom for my 4 year old son, and to know that I had successfully created it in a Pottery Barn style – without using any (expensive) Pottery Barn furniture. I mimicked the style perfectly and the only pieces that were actually from Pottery Barn were two pillows with quotes from my son’s favourite movie series Star Wars – “In a galaxy far far away” and “May the force be with you”.
How does a brand create this kind of affinity? For me, it has been about inspiration. Every visit to the Pottery Barn store or website spurs a new decorating idea.
However, while I strive to achieve a Pottery Barn-esque design, I’ll often look for lower-priced furniture and accent options to create the look.
Therefore, I have been seeking to understand how Pottery Barn goes beyond providing inspiration, to turn its occasional purchasers into brand advocates and loyal customers. After a little online research, the answer is clear.
Pottery Barn wins fans and customers through social media
In his 2010 Mashable article, “HOW TO: Pick the Right Social Media Engagement Style“ Matthew Latkiewicz suggests there are five different engagement styles that businesses use on social media:
- The Game Show Host
- Your Friendly Neighborhood Service Rep
- The Beehive
- The Community Builder
- The Friend
In 2015, I’ll argue that B2C companies, especially retail companies, must be using most, if not all of these customer engagement styles to influence shoppers and secure a loyal customer base. Pottery Barn is a great example of a company utilizing various styles in its customer-engagement strategy, and engaging with customers is clearly a core part of the company’s overall business strategy.
Williams-Sonoma, Inc. is one of the United States’ largest e-commerce retailers with some of the best known brands in home furnishings, including Pottery Barn. On the company’s website, the overview mentions taking a “people-first approach” and states:
“… by embracing new technologies and customer-engagement strategies as they emerge, we are able to continually refine our best-in-class approach to multi-channel retailing.”
It’s easy to see evidence of Pottery Barn as “The Game Show Host”. Visit the brand’s Twitter feed and you’ll find a variety of promotions, discounts and contests being offered.
As noted in this Mashable article, “Pottery Barn’s YouTube channel does a good job of building community online. Video topics include how-tos for party planners, designer profiles and featured products. By giving advice about and telling the story behind products, Pottery Barn’s YouTube channel brings customers beyond the purchase — a proactive form of customer service.”
Most recently, Pottery Barn has turned to Instagram and Pinterest to engage – and to influence, its customers. A recent blog article on whereoware.com, classifies Pottery Barn as a trendsetter for curating content from its audience and sharing audience content on its social media platforms. Pottery Barn encourages shoppers to share real-life product pics on Instagram using the hashtag #mypotterybarn. The company then selects some of these images to share on its website. The result is fresh content for Pottery Barn’s website, while customers feel engaged and their posts act like inherent brand recommendations.
The company has an incredible 692K followers on Instagram! This social platform has Pottery Barn’s largest following, and the brand is successfully engaging with this audience by both providing value, and creating value for other customers.
The company also uses Twitter as a customer (“friendly neighborhood”) service platform. In fact, Mashable called out Pottery Barn for its exemplary customer service, in the article, “3 Examples of Stellar Social Media Customer Service”.
The article references a customer who had a bad experience with a Pottery Barn product (the glass top on her table shattered in the extreme Arizona heat). The customer initially sought help by calling customer service. When she got nowhere with the traditional approach, she posted photos of the tabletop explosion on the company’s Facebook page and within 30 minutes she received a call and was on her way to being reimbursed – and – getting a new tabletop.
Another customer took to writing his own blog entry about, “Pottery Barn Customer Service and the Power of Social Media.” In his blog, Dennis Jenders’ recounts his very negative in-person experience at a Pottery Barn store in Mayfair mall. He was so upset with his experience, that he decided to tweet the following:
Unfortunately the company was not quick to respond – in fact it took days. But once they did respond, Dennis was delighted by the response from Suzanne, a District Manager with Pottery Barn:
“I would like to express my most sincere apologies for the service that you received at my Mayfair Pottery Barn store. World Class Service is a top priority for us and I would like to assist in resolving your concern.”
In the article, Dennis points out that this is how the company quickly regained his trust. He indicates that Suzanne did two very important things with her response.
- The Apology. This is very important to customers. It’s simple and to the point.
- The Solution. She immediately confirmed that Pottery Barn prides itself on service and would like to resolve the issue.
This example shows how Pottery Barn uses social media as a customer service platform, and as a method for gaining – and regaining, customers’ trust.
The value of social media for transparency and trust
In this Social Media Marketing! podcast, author Chris Brogan speaks on the topic of “Establishing Trust: How to Build Relationships with Social Media”
He talks about how to use social media as a platform to create trusted relationships. He also cautions brands to ensure they have a place to call their own – and this needs to be more than just a Twitter feed. Brogan suggests that a blog or website is a primary “homebase” and should be the ultimate showpiece, in order to use any social platforms.
Pottery Barn exemplifies this strategy. The brand’s website is well integrated with the brand’s social media sites, and promotes engagement by displaying “Pinterest picks of the week” and giving customers the chance to post their photos through Instagram.
Engaging with customers is a way to earn their trust. Another way Pottery Barn earns trust is by being transparent. The company’s blog, “Inside & Out”, offers “Behind the scenes” and “Behind the design” articles that let customer’s in on the secrets behind their furniture designs and material choices. For example, the blog entry, “Behind the Design: Our New Reclaimed Wood Bowry Furniture” explains how this new eco-friendly collection is handcrafted from reclaimed hard woods that have been rescued from old structures throughout India. By being transparent and sharing this type of information, Pottery Barn can more easily influence a discerning buyer who factors environmental impact into his or her purchase decisions.
Pottery Barn is successfully utilizing multiple social media platforms, and tactics, to engage customers and earn their trust.
In today’s fast-paced online world, the retailer must leverage the power of social media to build trust with its customers and create a community of brand advocates. Customer service is no longer limited to the Customer Service desk in-store. Customer service begins with the shopper’s first interaction with the retailer’s brand – and now more than ever, that first interaction is likely to be online.
Both B2C and B2B companies can learn a lot from Pottery Barn. The company strives to engage its customers and this is something that will benefit any organization. Using social media in a customer-engagement strategy is quickly becoming a no-brainer as all buyers search out product information online before making a purchase. Five key takeaways from Pottery Barn’s strategy:
- Use social feeds to engage, not just to promote. You can establish a social strategy that allows for both. Offer discounts and product promotions to followers, but don’t forget to engage your customers by asking them to share – their ideas, their comments, their recommendations.
- Some social platforms are better utilized for listening to customers. Twitter and Facebook should be core to your customer service strategy.
- Some social platforms are ideal for sharing, and shares from customers can help influence potential buyers. Consider using Instagram and Pinterest as sharing platforms, and factor in the power of integrating these platforms with your website.
- Transparency can yield trust. Think about how transparent your organization wants to be – and can be, and then ensure your social content reflects this position.
- Expect to be called out on social media for failures and take the opportunity to turn disappointed purchasers into happy customers. This requires you to be responsive to social posts, be willing to engage, and to engage with empathy. Say you are sorry (on behalf of the company) and provide a solution that will resolve the customer’s issue.
These lessons can easily be applied to B2C or B2B environments. As you develop or enhance your social media presence, consider the five engagement strategies and like Pottery Barn, be willing to try more than one style on for size to increase customer engagement.
Submitted By: Julie Vaishnav, University of Waterloo SMBP
To contact the author of this entry please email at: Julie.Vaishnav@hotmail.com
If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Programme Director, Social Media for Business Performance.