Helping parents be the heroes

A Q+A with senior director of Mattel consumer services Gary Cocchiarella

Sitting on the frontlines where the latest toys and little hands finally meet, Gary Cocchiarella shoulders considerable responsibility. During the busy holiday season and throughout the year, he and his team of consumer service pros pick up the phone to answer any customer questions. Depending on the request, they spring into action as shipping and logistics gurus, experts in toy assembly, and even, if necessary, one of Santa’s elves. “Whenever there is a chance to create what we call a ‘magical moment,’” explains Cocchiarella, “we try to make that happen.” He says that might include overnighting the perfect gift just in time for a big birthday, or shipping a missing part directly from Santa’s workshop. Helping parents save the day, he explains, is the ultimate goal.

With the December holiday upon us, we asked Cocchiarella – a 22-year veteran of Fisher Price’s consumer services department – about some of his most memorable interactions with customers, the toys that seem to delight kids most, and more.

Q: Do you get more calls around the holidays in comparison to the rest of the year?

A: Yes, during our peak week, which is right after Christmas Day, it’s about a 10-to-1 ratio versus a regular day. Between December and January, we probably take 40 percent of the volume for the whole year. Especially right after a holiday. If a normal day is X, come that week after Christmas, it’s usually about 10 times as much.

Q: This year, what kinds of toys are captivating kids the most around the holidays?

A: This year it’s all about “Jurassic World,” that’s what’s leading the way right now. But I think the most captivating toys are the ones that inspire kids to imagine situations that they’re in, not just play with a feature. For example, there are sets like the Barbie Dreamhouse, or “Jurassic World,” where you’re imagining being in the movie or being in a certain situation. I’ve always felt those are the toys that inspire wonder in the child, because it’s their imaginations that make them laugh or have fun. Those toys have a kind of re-playability, versus a single experience.

Q: Do you have a “golden rule” for interactions with parents?

A: There’s a saying that I’ve been using for years. We have so many people interacting with consumers, so I always remind people this time of year that behind every phone call, whatever the case may be, there is usually a child. A child that maybe wants their toy to work, or an infant who hasn’t slept in a week so the parent is tired. I know that when I’ve had a difficult phone call, it always calms me down to remember that there is usually a little girl or boy behind the request.

If the parent gets to be the hero, I think we can say ‘mission accomplished.’

-Gary Cocchiarella

Q: Do you only communicate with parents? Do you ever speak directly to kids?

A: Our staff definitely does. Sometimes we get a call and it’s about a big present for a birthday or Christmas, and there’s an issue with the toy, maybe it’s broken in some way or a part is missing. A lot of times the parent will get me on the phone and say, “Can you please pose as Santa’s elf? Say like, ‘Hey, Johnny. It’s going to be okay. We’ve got the part on the way and your toy will be working soon.’” It takes the pressure and the guilt off the parent. It’s just like, “Don’t worry. Santa knows and they’re going to fix it.”

Q: Do you have any particularly memorable calls from consumers?

A: I’ve had some really special ones that I remember personally dealing with. A couple of years ago, a dad called in because he had purchased a Power Wheels Barbie Mustang for his daughter’s birthday. The shipping got delayed, so he knew it wasn’t going to make it in time for the birthday, and he was just devastated.

We moved into action. We have a toy store on the campus where I work, so I went to the company store and they happened to have the same Mustang. I had my team assemble it, and took it to our mail room and they same-day couriered it to this gentleman’s home in time for the birthday. He sent me all these pictures of the party – the day was saved. It was just one of those magical things where you were able to help the consumer in that situation. If we can do something like that, to make what we call a “Magical Moment,” we certainly try to.

Q: As customer service, you speak to consumers and really are on the frontline. What’s it like to be the voice of the brand?

A: It’s really neat. We look at it as, “We’re stewards of the brand.” I think the consumer’s lasting impression of the company and the brand is the service they receive, if they happen to contact us. I think people remember more of that in terms of how they feel. I think it’s like work. You don’t remember day-to-day projects five years later, but you do remember your coworkers, and how you felt, and some of the good times. You remember more of the emotions of it, rather than the day-to-day projects. I think it’s the same for us, where we know we’re stewards of the brand. We know we’re on the frontlines and consumers are going to remember their experiences.

I will tell you that the best part of that is enabling the parent to play what I call “hero” to their child. Going back to the elf situation, it’s like that. Even without the Santa aspect, it’s a great feeling as a parent when you can resolve a situation and tell a little boy or little girl that it’s going to be okay, we can fix it. We love empowering parents that way. If the parent gets to be the hero, I think we can say “mission accomplished.”

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