Maintaining the Gold Standard
When a product’s inaccuracies can’t be resolved, the item is taken out of the catalog. “Anything that compromises the brand is unacceptable,” insists Coleman. That includes toy dinosaurs whose forearms are inaccurately proportioned and stuffed animals with the wrong number of toes.
This all-or-nothing mindset persists beyond the product sale.
“We have a very simple policy: 100-percent satisfaction,” says Coleman. “We don’t argue [with customers], we just take it back.”
Though the catalog’s call center operations are outsourced to Keystone Internet Services in Hanover, PA, the catalog’s staffers at headquarters often are required to listen to monitored calls. Last year, the catalog also began what aims to be an annual mail survey that asks 2,000 customers to rate their overall product and sales experience. In response to some of these findings, the catalog expanded its variety of lower price point merchandise and children’s products.
Staffers also read and respond to customer mail. One customer who wrote to dispute the accuracy of the battle information presented in the copy for a set of Civil War figurines received copies of the group’s own product research, which proved to be correct.
National Geographic even recalled two products in 2000 and 2001 (a lantern and a wooden vase, respectively) that prompted mild quality and functionality concerns from customers. The company sent each customer who’d bought the items a refund, an apology letter and a gift certificate for future purchases.
“That’s the kind of standard our customers hold us to,” Coleman says. With an average magazine subscription-renewal rate of 12 years, adds Berkeley, the Society, and by extension its catalog, has an extremely loyal and perceptive customer base. Officials at National Geographic take that loyalty very seriously and work hard to maintain it.
The catalog has increased its product offerings by about 80 percent since its 1998 relaunch, and can credit its best-selling items with enabling it to do so. Top sellers include telescopes, atlases, books, shoes and licensed children’s T-shirts.