Experience Files: Seamless Web's Recipe for Success

I got a tweet from Steve Rubel about Seamless Web giving away $100 worth of free food to bloggers who mention the company in a blog post. My first reaction was “Hmmm…good word-of-mouth marketing attempt, but is there really something worth writing about?” I decided to find out, and was very pleased with the results.

Seamless Web is doing some very smart things related to its business plan as well as its use of social media and word-of-mouth marketing. There's definitely some takeout (pun intentional) here for any smart marketer.

First things first. If you're not already aware, Seamless Web bills itself as the "fastest, easiest, and smartest way to order food online." The company enables users to order from more than 2,000 restaurants in 14 major US cities (including New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington DC, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco) and other cities in the UK.

Simply visit Seamless’ website and anyone within a participating region can order from a myriad of restaurants in four simple steps:


1. Enter your address – Using a simple form.

2. Browse & select a restaurant – Based on your zip code, a list of restaurants will display. The list is programmed to allow users to order only from restaurants that are currently open. Users can mouse over restaurant names for a brief restaurant descriptions. They can also sort the restaurant list by price (up to five $), estimated delivery time, order minimum and customer rating (up to five stars).

3. Browse & select from a menu – When a menu is selected, the interface displays the menu items in a simple, two-column display. A third column shows the “shopping cart” or order in process, and also showcases the restaurant’s most popular dishes to support user selection. Site users can roll over menu item listings for full descriptions or click to view more information and add the item to an order. Users who click to view more, or add to cart may add optional items (e.g. “add bacon”) or request order customizations (e.g. “hold the mayo” or “no nuts- I have a nut allergy!)

4. Pay with a major credit card. Delivery fees range, based on the delivery service (in-house, third party). For some restaurants, delivery is free. For others, such as ones delivered by Takeout Taxi, delivery fees are $8.95. Tips may also be added to the order.

Participating restaurants utilize the Seamless Web infrastructure to print incoming orders, which arrive within seconds. In turn, the restaurants send customized order confirmations via email, complete with estimated delivery times to site users. Participating restaurants then prepare the food and deliver it to the site user. After ordering, users can save their order for “next time” and also post ratings of participating restaurants for the reference of other site users.

Seamless Web follows the example of other experience leaders by providing the basics of solid customer experience in a number of areas:

Business Focus. Seamless Web is operating within a core competency. Following my (link) “Three Word Rule", we’ll call the company a “food delivery facilitator”. They don’t mess with food preparation or actual food delivery. Instead, they provide a one-stop ordering destination for customers, along with a robust communications infrastructure extensible to restaurants and delivery services (like Takeout Taxi) which effectively facilitate the delivery process. Smart!

Customer Focus. Starting at a basic level, they make the food ordering process easier for the time starved. It’s more consistent than ad-hoc dialing and more customer-centric as a result. All site users get clear information. They can customize orders to accommodate for food allergies or personal taste. They can order a meal for immediate delivery or schedule delivery in advance. They can save their favorite orders to streamline future ordering. They are encouraged to rank the performance of participating restaurants performance for the benefit of the ordering community. The site caters to the needs of both individuals and corporations. Seamless Web also offers corporate accounts with catering services and discounts. The service Seamless offers is basic – but it’s basic done well!

The User Experience. From a high-level usability perspective, Seamless sites are easy to access and they perform well. The main ordering site’s feature-rich interface is simple, streamlined, and not heavily graphics-infused. It successfully displays a lot of complex data in a very clear manner without many hitches. The language is simple and uncomplicated. FAQs provide detailed information on just about every topic you can imagine – clearly and concisely. The navigation functions well. While I’d like to see the 2.0 ability to order directly from a menu listing (rather than clicking on the item), Seamless Web has done a great job taking the ordering process and making it very simple and consistent across a myriad of restaurants and service providers. The blog follows the simple approach and is very up-to-date, engaging and entertaining, as well. The Facebook site is your is a standard cacophony of images, features and links… but overall, the online experience works - very well.

Social and Word-of-Mouth Marketing. Probe into Seamless Web and you won’t just find a site for ordering food. You’ll find solid grassroots marketing, word-of-mouth initiatives and solid use of Social Media. Check out the Seamless Weblog. There you’ll see their streetwise marketing at work, hear updates from the team, find weekly announcements about new restaurant openings and capture the occasional unwitting celebrity endorsement. You’ll also find Seamless Web active on Twitter. There’s also a Facebook site for Seamless Web, where you’ll find several thousand Friends, a viral video serial called “Johnny and Cam Order Food” (one part obnoxious, one part informative), featured restaurants, maps, featured fans, user reviews, contests (more free schwag) and more. They're keeping these sites fun, interesting and up-to-date. Good stuff.

Also, with regard to customers and word-of-mouth marketing Seamless does two things right:

1. The encourage customer dialog on a number of levels, across channels.This is a recipe for success.

2. They reward customer evangelism. Tell your friends about Seamless Web, and they’ll send you a 25% off coupon the first time your friend orders (they even provide a contact widget to help). Become a fan on Facebook and enter to win an iPhone 3G. Write a blog post and get coupons for $100 in free food - in addition to cross links and recognition on their own blog. All great ways to encourage word-of-mouth.

If I were to offer any criticism, it would center on the brand name and design. It seems Seamless Web would be more suited as a name for a web development firm -- rather than a destination for ordering takeout. From a branding perspective, I’m just not sure why the company went with this name. It seems like a missed opportunity to me. Perhaps there was an executive desire to be a bit vague (ala "Amazon" - allowing for future business expansion into a non-food market) or some another reason, which defies my own pea-brain logic? From a design perspective, I don’t mind the color red, if it’s done well – but I’m not a real fan of the logo, or the tag line that fails to “pop” on the page. So, there’s definitely room for improvement here -- but in truth, this can be easily remedied for the company.

In conclusion, while Seamless Web is offering people free schwag for posts … I am not posting for the free food.

In my line of work, I am paid to be somewhat critical. It's easy to find reasons to be critical with regard to customer experience and sometimes it's easier to be more negative than positive. That’s why it is positively refreshing to find smart companies that offer solid and well-rounded customer experiences. Therefore, it's my pleasure to offer hearty approbation and best wishes to the folks at Seamless Web. It is my sincere hope that we all take away something tasty from the company’s example.

6 comments:

Mack Collier said...

Agree, hate the name. The $100 free food offer to bloggers is interesting. I wonder how closely they check it? Could I post about something else, and slip in a 'BTW I love Seamless Web!!!' at the end and get my $100?

But on the other hand, if the free food actually converts bloggers into blogging EVANGELISTS for the service, then the $100 could become a bargain. I say kudos for trying, will be interesting to see what happens.

Beth Harte said...

Great write up Leigh! While I get the name Seamless they might need to spend extra marketing dollars to help others make the connection. As you suggested, why not make it easier from the start.

I agree they should probably take some of their blog graphics (food!) and carry them over to their website. Speaking of their website… it’s the one thing that surprised me the most because I couldn’t access it! Unfortunately, all of their social media, WOM and marketing efforts might go to waste if they don’t consider implementing a website that engages people prior asking them to start “a personal order.” I learned more about Seamless from your post than from their site.

Hopefully, with their social media tools they are listening to feedback or at least watching their analytics to see how much traffic they lose from people not clicking through to start an order.

LivePath said...

Mack,

See the link above. You have to email them with your link to get the food...deadline August 1st. I believe it's coupons for delivery -- and only within the cities they serve, so you and I are out of luck! Otherwise they send you other schwag... like t-shirts and stuff.

I would love to see a rebrand there...

- L

LivePath said...

Beth,

That's great insight. In my writing frenzy, I was so motivated to try it out - that I clicked to start my order, entered my address (and several in DC and NY) to test the site.

You're right. That first page (corporate or individual) should become a bit more salesy...informative... and reflect the character of the brand (fun, lighthearded, yummy, fast...) to better engage people. (Don't get me started again on the brand itself... but you get the idea).

There should also be an option for people in communities that are not served by Seamless...like "notify me when this area is covered" with a drop down menu. I think they'll get there, eventually.

Thanks for the comment. - L

Ann Handley said...

Interesting concept, for all the reasons you mention, Leigh. I have to admit, though, that I hate the "will blog for food" outreach. I get why some might think it's effective, but frankly I think bloggers should hold themselves to higher standards, and this approach is a little too "Pay Per Post" for me. Other than that, bravo.....!

LivePath said...

Just for the record again, i did not blog for food. Didn't accept any coupons or anything. Saw the promotion and it just happened to lead to what i believe is a pretty good social marketing approach...on a bigger level than that promotion. ;-)

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LEIGH DURST

LEIGH DURST
I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.

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