By Peter Messana, Contributor
This is a two-part series on the key touch points for our Customer Experience (CE) at Austin Kayak (ACK). In the first part I will be laying out our recipe of success for our physical stores, followed by how we are bridging the offline and online world to provide the same great CE. For a little background, we operate three physical retail stores in Texas (Austin, San Marcos & Houston) and a successful Internet site
Part I – Physical Traditional Stores
Customer Experience (CE) in our stores is similar to practically no one else, and it is what makes us so successful. We go way over the top to provide the best possible Customer Experience, but honestly how we do it isn’t all that secretive. If you have been to a Marketing 101 class you have undoubtedly heard of the five P’s (People, Process, Place, Price and Product). This blog covers that, not because this is a business course or because I couldn’t find my own cute analogy, but rather because it holds the basis for our recipe of success. I will also be honest that I wrote this blog before this paragraph and only came back to reference the five P’s because it seemed that someone reading would certainly notice that I was not being original.
Our physical store recipe is simple; it starts with our location (see prior blog). Our out of the ordinary location is the first step in our recipe to provide amazing CE by allowing us to focus on the customer and spend as much time as needed or wanted. Next up is the hiring of employees that are not good salesmen but rather great listeners, advocates for the sport, and just plain fun, happy people that will sell the ‘right’ product. The last main ingredient is our product selection, we do a Good, Better, Best selection but our ‘good’ is most company’s better and even possibly their ‘best’, we do not play around in the entry level products that are not of high quality--inferior products produce bad customer experiences.
You may have noticed that I have left price out of the equation, while price is certainly important we do not drive any of our CE on price discounting and quite frankly it is the least thought about ingredient. We are not the low price leader; we are the low price follower. We will never be the first to reduce our price but we will never keep our price higher than anyone else, including internet competitors. To me personally, nothing is more frustrating than buying something and going home to find out that Amazon had it for 50% less, to me you have failed me. No matter how great your service was or how convenient you are to me, you have taken advantage of the convenience and thus of me.
The other main thing to understand about us and price is that we will NEVER run a sale. I cannot stress that enough; while it may work for some people and their business model for us we see no need and no value. Sure a sale can drive traffic and sales, I clearly understand that, but it can also be counter to your CE efforts. Think of the last time you went and purchased something only to find out it went on sale the next week. Providing Day-in-Day-out prices makes it much easier for our employees to sell, they don’t have to worry about what is on sale this week or when the next sale is, they are there to sell the ‘right’ product, not the best ‘deal’. The other pitfall of sales is that you train your customer to wait for the sale. Would any of you ever go to Michaels and pay full price for framing? They run 50% off sales three-quarters of the year. Or how about those 20% off Bed Bath & Beyond coupons, if you pay full price for an item you have been taken advantage of, all you had to do was wait a week and check your mail. Customer’s are easily trained, we train ours to expect the best price everyday and you are welcome to price shop, should you find it less, unlikely but can happen, we don’t flinch to match the price.
Once we have you in our store our amazing CE takes over and hooks you. It starts with the no pressure sales atmosphere. Our employees are not commissioned and never product ‘spiffed’ (Spiffing in the retail world is common place whereby employees get some sort of bonus for selling a specific product.) Why don’t we commission our employess? Well, the sales process typically consists of multiple visits covering multiple employees, add the fact we only sell the ‘right’ products and never over sell, it only makes sense. Spiffing would also be highly detrimental as it would push a product that might not be the right product for the need. We have some very simple rules, since we pledge the ‘right’ product we will special order any product that we do not carry in our company at no additional charge. If we don’t have it in the store but located in our warehouse or another store, we will either transfer it to the store for you to pick up, or, if you need it in a hurry we simply place an internet order and it ships directly to your house and arrives the next day if we get the order in before 6pm.
Our commitment to the right product can also be found in our bi-annual Demo Days where we bring 90 different models out for customer to try, we make it a giant event and bring in all the manufacturers to display their products, it isn’t a ‘sales event’ at all, we do have a ‘special pricing’ but do note we do not advertise the event as a sale and nothing we are pushing is about selling, it is about trying and testing. It is a fine line we tread on our anti-sale mantra. The second place you will see our commitment is in our “try before you buy”. Buying a kayak is not easy, you can sit in it on the floor but that doesn’t do much, so we encourage you to try it out first. To do this it means we often load a kayak right off our floor and send you to the water for you to try it out, if you don’t like it, no worries, take a different one and try it. We do ask you to be careful but quite frankly 50% of the boats that people try and don’t buy get scratched and we remove them from the ‘new’ category and sell them as ‘used’. Someone is going to get a killer deal on a few scratches.
After you have purchased and we have provided our amazing service we do one last thing that is out of the ordinary. We get your full name and address. Okay that isn’t out of the ordinary, but each Wednesday we mail postcards to all new customers from the prior week, this means if you came in on Saturday and purchased from us for the first time you will get a post card on Thursday thanking you. This isn’t an ordinary post card, it is personalized through variable printing to specifically thank you.
Going above and beyond the Customer’s expectation is simple when you get to face them face-to-face and we excel in your stores at this. Through our online channel we provide amazing CE, but very little translates over………
Peter Messana is CEO and Co-Owner of ACK. Part II of his piece, describing how ACK provides incredible ONLINE Customer Experience, will appear on Wednesday, April 4th.