Your marketing people have done a fine job of creating a marketing plan, strategy, and package. They’ve considered the market, the competition and the delivery systems. They have honed the message, dialed in the positioning, and developed the compelling logo, catch phrase, and merchandising materials. But like any aircraft designer, they must eventually launch it. Then be ready to redesign it based on the constant feedback they get from the pilots who are actually flying it through the headwinds, storms and down drafts.
Who are the folks who intimately know what’s right and wrong with the program? Who knows first about the changes in the marketplace, attacks by the competition, and the nuances necessary to keep that experience excellent? Who are the pilots of the customer experience? Your sales and customer care people, that’s who.
In some companies marketing and production are considered to have a higher status than sales and customer care. Too often sales is viewed simply as “sales execution,” and customer care is viewed as “complaint resolution.” This attitude can result in restricting the information flow from the consumer to production and marketing.
Relevance is the key to an excellent customer experience. Your products must remain relevant and leading edge in a market filled with alternatives, creative initiatives by your competitors, and constant changing circumstances on the ground. Who knows about these shifting conditions and challenges first? Your sales people. Now they are not just executing sales – now they are your best source of timely tactical and practical feedback. Your marketing people should listen up and even thank them for sharing their street smarts!
Relevance is also a function of “complaints.” In fact complaints are a gold mine of information that will keep your products and services relevant. Your customer care people are in touch with your end users daily. They know more than anyone in your organization about what’s going on with your customer experience. Only one in a thousand complainers actually takes their precious time to call and talk with your company about their concerns. The others just walk. But the complainers really want to improve their experience with your product. Sure, they want resolution, but more importantly, they want your production people to hear their concerns to help keep “their brand” relevant. Do your customer care people have a clear channel to you production people? Better yet, do your production people respect their input as extremely valuable? Or do they see it as a threat to their job security coming from a lower level in the company?
The problems begin when the company culture dictates that there are separate divisions that are higher or lower than each other, rather than working together as a team. When the sales people are considered “outside,” the customer care people are in a call center, and everyone else is “inside,” there is can be a disconnect. The other departments have direct access to top management on a daily basis and can easily outnumber sales and customer care. So at a c-suite level, do you allow a misguided view of structural status to block sincere and valuable feedback coming from your end-user?
Ironically, from a status standpoint, if you really do put the customer on top, you must realize that sales and customer care come next on the totem pole. That’s how you stay relevant, practical, and excellent.
Everybody says they want to give exceptional customer experience, but they must be willing to hardwire their companies to get sales and customer feedback to marketing and production. Stay informed and stay relevant!
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