When I was growing up, I kept hearing “The customer is always right!” Usually this phrase was brandished by people who were, unwittingly, the very exception to the rule. Like it afforded them every privilege of royalty without any of the consequences of just being a horrible person.
In the 60’s when this phrase became popular, the idea behind it was not “Whatever this mouth-breather says, just agree and give them whatever they want until they leave. Hopefully we’ll still be left with the racking on the walls.” No, you can’t do that. Those mouth breathers will bleed you dry and return next week, mouth agape, just looking for more. That’s no way to do business.
The idea behind “the customer is always right” was about being “customer-centric” in your approach to business. Recognising that the customer experience matters. You need to treat them as if they are special, because without them, you have no business.
With Bare Bones this is something that I recognised from the start. I know the excitement I have when ordering trinkets for myself online, and I wanted to make sure my customers felt that too.
Did we just become best friends?!
I’ve always tried to find ways to make the customer feel special. For every order that goes out, I hand write a note to say thanks. For as long as I could, I included one of my childhood collector cards until I ran out (90’s basketball, Jurassic park, OG Batman with Michael Keaton) - this was my way of sharing something personal with the customer. The confirmation emails after purchase also include a follow up email and invitation to reply with feedback or questions. When packing the order if there are any ways I find to be generous, I do this too. I want each customer to know that I appreciate their business and find a way to connect with them.
This all takes a lot of effort. But people are overwhelmingly thankful and excited by the process. I know this, cause they take the time to email me and tell me which shows it’s working.
Throughout this process I’m trying to turn this ‘stranger’ into not only a customer, but a ‘friend’. (Awwwww!)
Sign on the dotted line
In the year I threw money at Facebook like a 'Bada Bing' regular in The Sopranos (pop culture anyone?!), I was targeting my ads to ‘strangers’. Aiming for new customers. This worked too. I got a steady stream of sales from first-timers. Even though my profit didn’t grow that year, cause facebook took them all, my database did. By the end of the year I had just shy of 3000 people signed up to my mailing list. New and potential customers who were willing to let me email them about Bare Bones.\
Through their first order experience, I had made a ‘friend’ of them, by creating a connection and starting a conversation. So, when they later received an email newsletter from me, it didn’t feel like we were starting from scratch - it was a continuation of our conversation. My hard work of ‘selling’ my brand was already done.
Last year, I largely ditched social media marketing and focussed on email marketing. That year, the majority of my sales came through returning customers who were making their second, third or fourth purchase across my catalogue. It was almost like I was finally seeing the return on investment that I’d made in all those ads. A second bite of the cherry, if you will, but seriously, who’s eating cherries in more than one bite.
I continued to make these ‘friends’ feel valued, after all they were now the lifeblood of my business. From acknowledging their continued support in a thank you note or sending free additional accessories with their purchase just because. I wanted each customer to feel as if they mattered, because to me, they did.
You’re special. So Special.
During the great 2020 lockdown (as I’m sure it will become known), like most businesses, mine came to a grinding halt. It was like a simultaneous kick and punch to the face and gut - the ultimate punch as it’s known on the streets. I’d spent 15 years building White Flag and to have most of my work put on hold for the foreseeable future was disorientating.
Through this time, and as I wrote in my previous emails, I decided to stay busy and help others where I could. I wasn’t sure where my business would end up in 3 months, but in the meantime I wanted to try and keep moving forward. White Flag has always been about partnering with small business and this was a time where I could offer a hand.
In looking to help others, I found an immense amount of support from my clients in return. Clients who are friends, and in this case I ditch the inverted commas. As I looked to help them, they in turn were reaching out to me. What started as conversations about how they could expand their offerings online or pivot their services, ended up with us finding ways we could work together. But it was the conversations and solidarity that really helped me. It made me exceptionally thankful for the business I have and the people I work with.
It’s really easy to get into the rhythm of exchange in any business and forget that each sale comes from a human decision. An emotional exchange before a financial one. I’m guilty of that.
If this lockdown taught me anything it's that we’re all in this together. In Australia I saw communities unite and take care of each other - even though we didn't understand what the hell was happening.
Through this rollercoaster ride of uncertainty and emotion, I've found a renewed appreciation for my business and those people that choose to work with me. I don't want to take that for granted. I want to keep trying to show them my appreciation and keep trying to treat them as special. Cause, to me they really are.
So yeah, the point of this post started as "build your database and make customers happy. They’ll return and it’s good for business.
But I guess I also wanted to share the reminder I've had of how important it is to value your customers or clients. People can work with or spend their money anywhere they like. When they choose your business, find a way to let them know how appreciative you are. It’ll show them that their business matters. That they matter. The more authentic your connections with your customers, the stronger your business will be.
In doing that though, you might just have to suffer through a mouth-breather or two.