Before co-founding CloseSimple in 2014, I started an online custom t-shirt company in 2004 out of my college dorm room. As a 20 year old kid I had no idea that business would actually take off and turn into a "real" job... and I'm still blown away to think Coed Monkey has been able to serve everyone from Google and Facebook to Medtronic and the University of Minnesota, as well as countless other businesses and non-profits, providing high-quality, soft custom printed t-shirts and apparel with their logo printed on them.
However, over the past nearly 15 years the market for custom printed t-shirts has become highly commoditized. Competition has sprung up faster than weeds in the first week of summer, prices have been driven down and I've had to re-look at what my competitive advantage really is.
Fast forward to a few years ago when I had an epiphany:
"Customers care more about us, when we care more about them."
... It was so simple.
In an industry that boasts about Customers Service, I wanted to be known for Customer Care. You see, Service is reactive; like going in for an oil change. You do it reluctantly and out of obligation. Meanwhile Care is proactive; like going to the spa. You didn't know you deserved such care and attention until you experienced it... and then it's hard to imagine your life without it.
At Coed Monkey we came up with a core value of offering 6-Star Customer Care (since Google Reviews only allowed us 5) and you should've seen the mentality of my team change. It all started with shutting down our Customer Service Department though... and we officially opened our Customer Care Department.
My team shifted from answering customers questions, to starting to think about "if we were the customer, what would we want to know?" Proactivity became the cornerstone of our Care mentality and business decisions began to filter through that lens; which led to better FAQ's on our website, as well as better email/phone communication with hot topic talking points that my team could bring up at certain points in the order process... all of this actually cut down the number of emails and phone calls that were not needed.
Sales increased, customer retention went through the roof and we found our sweet spot in the industry.
What could a culture of Care (instead of Service) mean for your business and your bottom line?
You might be wondering how you go from simply vision-casting to your team about how "we are going to be dedicated to caring more from now on," to actually doing it, and I firmly believe it begins by actually having your team experience what you expect (not simply telling them what you expect).
I learn 100x faster by experiencing something for myself, seeing it or touching it. So I wanted my team to actually experience what I expected, so began to look for a way to offer such an experience.
Since Coed Monkey is an online custom t-shirt company, I thought it would be nice if I could find another company that was also online; one that set the bar for customer experience and care.
Then it hit me... Zappos.
For years they have set the bar in online service and attention- from their outset even offering free returns on shoes that a customer might not want, and even boasting the longest customer phone call ever recorded (10 hours and 43 minutes). If they set the bar for the majority of the market, I wanted my team to experience what made Zappos, Zappos; care.
I will dedicate another blog post to provide a more detailed version of the Zappos Customer Care Challenge, but here is a quick overview:
- Each employee would get $150 to spend on Zappos on whatever shoe (or shoes) they would like.
- Before buying the shoes on a company card, they had to do 4 things...
- A phone call to ask 3 questions about the shoes they were looking at.
- A phone call to ask 3 questions- 1 about the shoes they were looking at, and 2 about the company culture and why that Zappos team member chose to work there.
- A Live Chat on Zappos.com to ask 3 questions about the shoes they were looking at, and then try to have the Zappos team member email them a bit of info based on the conversation.
- Take notes about what they experienced on each of these calls/live chats/emails.
- Order the shoes.
- Get the shoes & try on the shoes.
- Come together as a company (wearing the shoes) to discuss the process and their notes.
- Based on what the team experienced, talk about what we could do better as a company to offer proactive customer care.
Spending $150 per team member was well worth the results that came from the Zappos Challenge.
Please note though, this is in no way actually associated with Zappos... it is something I created so I could train my team based on the superior experience that Zappos consistently offers.
Read my full, step-by-step summary of the Zappos Challenge here. And if you'd like to chat about how you can do it for your business, let me know by dropping us a Contact Message and we'll chat about creative ways to bring this level of care to your business.