December 12, 2011, 12:43 PM

It’s the customer, stupid

Amid the social media craze, HauteLook sets a customer-focused example worth checking out.

Sometimes what makes retailers special isn’t always immediately noticeable—until you get inside their heads and how they operate. And sometimes, as in the case of HauteLook—which emerged on the retail scene a few years ago as one of the first members-only, flash sale e-commerce sites—what initially sets them apart is followed by something that may be even more important.

Members-only flash sale sites are no longer unusual, of course, with many of the more traditional retailers launching their own versions. Yet there’s something else about HauteLook and how it operates. It’s also not unusual to use social media to offer consumers another way to engage with a merchant. But this merchant takes it a step way beyond the common.

Most retailers, it seems, manage their social media efforts through their marketing departments, mining the social web for ways to open more marketing and merchandising opportunities. Makes sense, but maybe there’s a better way. “It gets down to who owns that interaction, and in most cases marketing owns it,” says Chris Purpura, director of member care at HauteLook. And when consumers in social media raise issues about a retailer—whether they’re suggestions for different colors or styles, or complaints about quality and service—the usual process is for the marketing department to take the lead on responding, and passing on certain customer concerns to the customer service department.

At HauteLook, Purpura’s member care department, what retailers typically call customer service, takes the lead on social media. “We’re right there, and we respond faster to customer concerns,” he says. And if the concerns involve things like product quality or even just suggestions for new styles and colors, his team will immediately communicate those concerns to the appropriate product designers and/or suppliers. If concerns arise about fulfillment, they’ll pass the concerns onto the pick, pack and ship teams in the warehouse. Most of the communications are expedited by software connections between member care and other departments.

HauteLook, of course, is now part of Nordstrom Inc., a high-end retailer known for customer service—just another good reason why it makes sense for this still-young retail operation to put customers first.

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