All businesses claim to be customer-centric. You'll see signs on the door that the customer is "the center of our business," or "always right," or maybe "our most important asset." We know from experience that only some businesses manage to rise above the noise to give us great "user experiences" and truly "customer centric" service. Today's panel on "All about You Them: The User Experience" at Inc.'s GrowCo conference brought together two women whose businesses not only strive to put the customer at the center, but also their businesses absolutely depend on that occurring.
Lauren Thom owns Fleurty Girl (note the nod to the classic New Orleans "fleur de lis" motif), a t-shirt and tourist-item chain with four locations around New Orleans, including in the French Quarter and on Magazine street. Thom says: "We want people to walk in and feel New Orleans, so we don't use standard retail shelving. Our stores are filled with architectural salvage from post-Katrina, and everything is a piece of New Orleans. You feel city pulse around you. Our friendly staff members aren't just retail clerks—we hire for NOLA knowledge, and we encourage our employees to make a connection with people." The shop doesn't just sell stuff, it also serves as a local concierge, directing tourists to interesting places to shop, eat, and drink. "We write all that stuff down stuff with special post-it notes with our logo and address," Thom says. Fleurty Girl created the notes so people have an extra nudge to come back and buy; or, if not, they might pass on the address and location to their friends who are going to visit town. The notes also contain discount codes for buying on the Fleurty Girl website, encouraging further purchasing and passing along.
Tara Hunt is CEO and Co-Founder of Buyosphere, a people powered shopping and fashion recommendation site. (She's also a frequent contributor to Inc.com.) The site aims to help people when they're trying to find specific fashion and taste items online. "Customers go to 10.7 resources online when they're looking for something," Hunt says. "From sunscreen to lipstick to higher-end products, historically people go to places they already know. If the can't find it there, they go to Google or do Google product searches, which can be frustrating. People are looking for taste-related items, fashion, design, or ability to match items. Sites like Pinterest are increasing discovery of items and providing peer-recommended objects of desire, but we want to help people find very specific things."
During the panel we explored customer-centricity, and the way other businesses be more customer centric. Some of the key lessons these entrepreneurs shared include:
Go far, far out of your way for the customer (it will pay off!).
Thom recounts a family who recently came in to buy the same shirt for 10 people. The store only had nine in the correct sizes. "I drove 30 minutes to another store and back downtown to deliver the last shirt to their hotel. That's the southern hospitality I was raised on," she says.
Put your self in the shoes of your customers. Do what they do.
"Be your customer. We are active on our own site. We 'eat our own dogfood,'" Hunt says, using a software industry expression for using a product to see how it works. "We regularly invite people to test the site, look over their shoulder, ask them why they went to certain areas. We use software to capture their clicks and analyze how they use the site. We don't try to capture the customer, or get their information solely for marketing purposes."
Thom adds: "We have friends go in and shop, and recount their experiences. We analyze the checkout process in the store—we have very seasonal variations, but we need to maintain consistency. Sometimes we have a line to the door so we look at past busy influx times to see where we can improve."
Make sure your online interactions are just as good as the in-person ones.
Fleurty Girl's friendly and helpful in-person service is replicated online. "We don't just sell, we share socially to be ambassadors of the city. We promote other's events." Thom's employees are all Facebook and Twitter administrators, and they all share the responsibility for answering questions on social media, just as if they were picking up a phone ringing in the store. She hires people who are passionate about the store, the brand, and New Orleans.
We all know a great customer experience when we feel it
Hunt recalled an instance of great service: a New Orleans waiter who insisted on sharing other locations in town they had to see, including other restaurants. "I still have the piece of scrap paper in my bag, and it has a list of places to go for everything from a good dinner to bread pudding," she said. Thom added "If you want your customers treated well, love your employees. We regularly do 'rock and bowl' nights or dinner as a team to build camaraderie. I've been in business for more than two years and we have almost no turnover."
Let your customers promote you.
What do you do about difficult or cranky Yelp reviews? Is it OK to ask your customers to review you in a positive way? The journalistic answer: Yelp's Terms of Service state you may not "…otherwise attempt to manipulate the Site's search results." So, it's probably not advisable, but you can certainly create experiences good enough to make people want to share.
Both panelists talked about the need to be very responsive to customers in social media. Buyosphere has a private Facebook group where they solicit feedback from some of their top users. Thom's "customer army" was introduced by another New Orleans native who asked about it from the audience. She was selling shirts with the "Who Dat?" phrase popular with fans of the New Orleans Saints football franchise. At one point she pulled them off the shelves and a fan tweeted to ask about it. She tweeted back that the store had received a cease-and-desist from the NFL about their use of the phrase. Within two hours she had national media outside the store. The fans of the store and the city rose up to help her, demanded her shirts and she went back to selling. (While the NFL has backed off, there are still pending legal issues that Thom can't discuss.)
Keeping the customers first is a great strategy, and these two savvy businesswomen have provided some great tips. What are your suggestions? Please share them with us.