Today there is a lot of focus on the customer experience. How do your customers feel about their experience with your product? Are they satisfied, confident, and pleasantly surprised? Or are they frustrated, confused, and disenchanted? What are the main elements that determine your customers’ experience? Consider the following three pillars of customer relationships:
- Dependable Access. Often overlooked, and taken for granted by many producers, is the simple fact that your product must be available in order for your customer to buy it. The #1 reason your customer buys is because your product is dependably in stock and available for purchase time after time. Even loyal customers will buy a competing brand that they see as “more dependable” when your brand is out of stock – and they’ll continue to do so even after yours is back! You have let them down. “It’s not my fault!” you may say. “We have plenty of product!” But it is your relationship with your retailer and distributer that allows the run-out to happen. People along the distribution chain on whom you depend to keep your product in stock must have a long standing relationship with your company, and like your representatives. What happens when you have turnover? Out-of-stocks!
- Brand Promise. Your loyal customers have expectations about your brand’s price, quality and performance. They determine your brand promise, not your marketing or production people. They expect a certain label, size, and packaging, and if you disappoint or confuse them, they will leave you for a competing brand. Contrary to popular belief, your customer doesn’t want to shop. Just the thought of having to “shop” for a new brand to satisfy a regular need causes them anxiety. If you had a better relationship with your customer, you might have realized they were in a comfortable habit before you said, “But it was time for a change! We’ve had the same logo for 10 years!” Check with your sales people before you make any changes to your package, positioning, pricing, or quality. They talk to your customers every day.
- Customer Service. Your customers have to feel confident and secure in their purchases. This means that they know from their own experience, the experience of others, and your general reputation, that you stand behind your products and services. But even more, they have to know that you will improve your marketing, products, services and packaging based on their suggestions. If they think you don’t care or won’t listen, they will go elsewhere and, worse, they will feel obligated to tell their friends. “But we do care about our customers!” you may say. “We’re happy to refund their money.” Only a loyal customer will take the time to complain, and they want to see an improvement rather than a refund. Understand that your customer care people are the recipients of this valuable feedback and they are much more than the “complaint resolution department.” They should relay this valuable input to your marketing and production people. Your company should realize that every complaint represents hundreds who quietly take their business elsewhere.
The customer experience is all about how they feel using your products and services. They want to feel confident and, yes, “loved” by the brand they love. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Protect all your long-term relationships at every level of the supply and distribution chain. Take responsibility for the behavior of outsourced suppliers and services. Elevate the status your sales and customer care people to keep your brand relevant, keep your customers loyal, and keep the warm feelings flowing!
Who Are We.
Having built and sold a bestselling national brand, we appreciate the value of brands and everything it takes to make them successful. Companies are valued by their brand equity. Achieving and maximizing brand equity requires tremendous respect for all your customers, from your wholesaler to your end user.
Starting in our laundry room with no money and no knowledge of the industry, we built the famous Barefoot Wine brand. We learned a lot they don’t teach in school and much of it the hard way. Although our success was in consumer products, our real world experience will be helpful to anyone looking for information and advice about brands.
We have written the New York Times Bestselling Business Book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, which chronicles the history of the famous brand from its inception through its acquisition. Our book is now required reading in schools of entrepreneurship across the country. We hope this book will provide inspiration and encouragement for all those contemplating starting a brand or wanting to improve their existing brand.
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey
-Barefoot Wine Founders