Ep 37: How to Provide Great Customer Service

Provide exceptional customer service.

How do you keep customers coming back for more? By being attentive to their needs and priorities. Learn customer-centered ideas to integrate into your business from the best. Mitzi Rivas, CEO and Founder of Livie & Luca, is all about customer service and she’s got the customer retention rate to prove it. And John DiJulius, the founder, Chief Revolution Officer, and President of the DiJulius group, gives us some great tips on how to provide great customer service no matter where you are in your small business journey.

(4:13) - How Mitzi personalizes her customer’s experience.

(09:46) - How you can enhance the customer experience using delivery.

(15:04) - What do entrepreneurs get wrong about customer service?

(18:04) - How do you maintain good customer service as you scale?

(19:24) - How can a smaller business compete with a larger business when it comes to customer service?

Episode Transcript

[00:00:03] John: If you came into my salon today and got a haircut or pedicure, you then don't go across the street, down the street to our nearest competitor and compare. So how good we are to our competitor is almost irrelevant. We want every experience after that to pale in comparison. Now we have deeper pockets. We can spend, we still don't spend anything in advertising. I mean, we found that the best return on investment is customer experience.  

[00:00:33] Host: Hi, This is Small Business, a podcast brought to you by Amazon. I’m your host, Andrea Marquez. On This is Small Business we cover all things small business that will help you start, build, and scale your business. We will hear from guests with diverse backgrounds, point of views, and stories, with the hope of hearing from many types of small business entrepreneurs. By the end of each episode, I'll point out key takeaways that you can use on your business journey.

Customer service is something that can often be overlooked [00:01:00] by early-stage entrepreneurs because it seems like there are other priorities when everything is on your plate. But as you’ll find out on this episode, it might be something to put at the top of the list. The better your customer service is, the more likely a customer will choose to come back to your business or choose you over other options. So how do you improve your customer service? What else should you be doing to give your customer the best experience possible?

Coming up -- I'll talk to John DiJulius, the founder, Chief Revolution Officer, and President of the DiJulius group, a customer experience consultant firm. We'll be digging deep into how you can provide great customer service to ensure that they come back for more. But first - I want you to meet Mitzi Rivas, CEO and Founder of Livie & Luca, a brand that makes handmade shoes for kids. Like most of the small businesses we feature on the show, you can find her shoes in the Amazon store. Livie & Luca is all about customer service. [00:02:00] Mitzi has been able to keep an excellent customer retention rate through involving children and caregivers in the shoe-making process. So if you’ve been wanting to improve your customer service or get more return customers then this episode is for you.  

Also, don't forget that if you want to hear your story on This is Small Business, we have a voicemail line where you can ask questions or share your entrepreneurial story. We want to hear from you! Find the link to the voicemail line in the episode description.

Today’s episode of This is Small Business is brought to you by Buy with Prime. Buy with Prime is an Amazon direct-to-consumer offering that helps online brands grow their e-commerce businesses on their own websites. By using Amazon’s fulfillment network, wallet, and the trusted experience of Prime, Buy with Prime has been shown to increase shopper conversion through the promise of fast, free delivery, easy returns, and a checkout experience that millions of shoppers love.

[00:03:00] MITZI: 18 years ago, out of the trunk of my car, I started Livie and Luca. But before that when I was pregnant with my son, I knew that. Gosh, with all of my heart, I wanted him to be able to follow his own lights, to be able to think for himself, to be able to show up in the world just as he was. And I wished that also for myself. And in order to make that desire of mine happen, I realized I had work to do and so, that is why I started Livie and Luca. And, Livie and Luca is a mission driven children's shoe company. We design our products with children, and we've been doing that since the very beginning. And we also design them with their caregivers. We are completely customer centric. Every aspect of our product development to the commercialization [00:04:00] and marketing of our products include our customers.

[00:04:04] ANDREA: I love that you bring in the customer to the process of making the product. They feel like they are part of the brand, and the brand is part of them. So tell me more about how you include your customers into the design of the product.

[00:04:19] MITZI: We bring children together, you know, and at that time they're our teachers. We receive wisdom from them. We pose a question like our last co-creation workshop that we had, we asked the children like, if you could create your own world, what would be in your world? And from that question, we allow each child to answer that question. And we have someone in the background really capturing all of the notes and the drawings. So this, this question that is posed is answered by each child, [00:05:00] and we also will do artwork and storytelling. So there's a variety of different mediums that we use in order to tap into the imagination and into the wisdom that each child holds. And each child has a turn, but each child is also has the opportunity to be witnessed and also to be the listener and to hold space for the other children to respond.

And what we have found over the years is that, yes, it begins with being able to share what is true it, you know, for each child, but also to allow those children to create something that is bigger than themselves. And that is why I love design, and that is why we believe in this being a source of empowerment for each child, [00:06:00] but also the customer insights and the product, making a relevant product that includes their voices is just as much for us as well as a business. The customer feels like they own Livie and Luca and, they're a part of our community, so they could just give us input. It's a two-way street in terms of communication. And not only that, when we need to spread the word, these parents are the first to support us in helping us spread the message and so what constitutes success is when I know it's a conversation versus being talked at.

What's coming to mind for me right now is a workshop that we had with caregivers. We wanted to understand how we might serve adaptive footwear, how we might expand who we serve so that there's more inclusion. [00:07:00] And they came with ideas. And so that to me, when I'm feeling like. Yeah, there definitely was a conversation, but they were so excited to show me their innovations, so all of this has just taken customer service far beyond. How can we do better? It's a platform for listening and for having a conversation and doing it together.

[00:07:24] ANDREA: I think that's a great example of how far you can go in getting as personalized as possible. So, how do you scale a feeling like that, a feeling of personalization?

[00:07:38] MITZI: For us we have to scale our purpose with our business. For us, that is success. If we just scaled one or the other, we would not be successful in this venture. So, in order to serve more children, in order to have more workshops that allow [00:08:00] for co-creation to happen, we had to look at our operations. How could we leverage our inventory, for example, to capture the ideas or the experiences of more groups of children. How do we capture the needs of parents? And it really came down to being able to leverage our inventory and being able to leverage technology in order for us to scale these experiences and to be able to offer more, more of these opportunities through being able to have shorter design time cycles so that we could generate more customization of our products. So, we're leveraging UV technology. We're leveraging shorter design [00:09:00] and production cycles in order for this to happen. That was just like one aspect. It's our products, but also ensuring that our website, for example, has the opportunities to have places where we can express that co-creation. Or what we're also looking at is how do we co-create, how do we use what it is that we do within our design process, which is a very well-established process to the tiniest of details when we're touching our customers.

[00:09:35] ANDREA:  So, leveraging technology and working with shorter production cycles to allow for more co-creation. You also previously mentioned, in one of our conversations, that part of your customer experience is also about meeting delivery. Can you tell me about that? 

[00:09:52] MITZI: So, we were having issues with our warehouse and just having the ability to not only be transparent [00:10:00] with our customers about this warehouse because transparency is also really key when building this ecosystem because it really is built on trust and having Buy with Prime allowed us to provide options that were trustworthy, that, were just another option of, of receiving our product so rapidly and having that be on our site. Just having that seamless, experience of fast service, easy click of a button, it just elevates that experience. And it also, it's one way of honoring our customers and their needs.

[00:10:43] ANDREA: You've already done so much to make your customers feel like they're part of the brand. But I'm wondering, aside from workshops, are there any other ways that you do that?

[00:10:54] MITZI: One thing that we have seriously been considering and planning for and scaling for [00:11:00] is to make Livie and Luca a customer owned brand. So we are capital raising and what feels right and best for us as a company, just knowing that we co-create like, this is who we are. Having the customer actually have shares, have equity in Livie and Luca is the most aligned choice for our capital raise than any other option out there. So having it be a community owned business where we have a scaling plan. We plan to scale with our community. Why not share that success and that ownership with our customers?

[00:11:50] ANDREA: You're listening to This is Small Business, brought to you by Amazon. I’m your host, Andrea Marquez. You just heard from Mitzi Rivas, CEO and Founder of Livie & Luca. [00:12:00] You can find out more about Livie & Luca in our show notes on our website: Thisissmallbusinesspodcast.com.

Mitzi takes customer service a step further by including her customers in the making of the product so they feel like they are part of the brand. She also stresses the importance of having a conversation with your customers. So the next time you’re looking to get feedback or improve your product or service, try talking to your customers, just like Mitzi did when she held a workshop with caregivers to better understand how she can be more inclusive with her product.

Mitzi mentioned Buy with Prime which is an Amazon resource that helps her reach her customers and continue to grow. By using Amazon’s fulfillment network, wallet, and the trusted experience of Prime, Buy with Prime has been shown to increase shopper conversion through the promise of fast, free delivery, easy returns, and a checkout experience that millions of shoppers love. Learn more by visiting our show notes.

Like Livie & Luca, the small businesses we feature on This is Small Business are some of the many small businesses selling in the Amazon store [00:13:00] who have tapped into some of the tools and resources offered to help them succeed and grow. One of those resources is the Amazon Small Business Academy where you can find the help you need to take your small business from concept to launch and beyond. You can strengthen your skills at no cost with live and on demand trainings, Q&As, events, and even find more This is Small Business content. If you don’t know where to start, you can take the free self-assessment on the Amazon Small Business Academy site at www.smallbusiness.amazon.

So far, we've talked about how Mitzi used her specific customer service to bring back more customers and improve her brand. So let’s dig deeper into other ways in which you can make customer service an essential part of your brand with my next guest: John DiJulius, the founder, Chief Revolution Officer, and President of the DiJulius group.

[00:13:53] John: A little bit over 30 years ago, me and my wife opened a salon, in Northeast Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland [00:14:00] it took off and we expanded and started opening up multiple locations and this is the early mid 90s and we had a really good reputation for the customer experience and, are priced really high for Cleveland. So, people started asking, because of our reputation, me to speak and it just morphed and, by 2002, my first book, came out, Secret Service, and that basically took me out of the beauty industry, the salons, and full time speaking, which then morphed into a consulting company. Still own the salons, but not active in the day to day.

[00:14:40] ANDREA: What I really admire about that story is that you have lived what it means to offer good customer service. So, John, what do you think entrepreneurs get wrong about customer service?

[00:14:52] John: They think it's common sense, they think it's innate. Most of us didn't grow up... Flying first class, right? As a kid, [00:15:00] staying at five-star resorts, getting a Mercedes Benz when we turned 16 or spending 200 bucks in a salon for a haircut. Yet our first 10 jobs we got we were expected to give those types of experience to clients, patients, tenants, guests, whatever we may call our customer. And it's not realistic. And so how good someone's service aptitude comes from three places.

First place is your previous life experiences. You know, the worst compass for a customer service is the golden rule. I don't want my 22, 23, 24-year old’s treating our VIP clients or guests like they want to be treated. There's a big disconnect there. So, the second place that our service aptitude gets shaped is previous work experiences. So we can't change those two things. We can only do the third thing and it's what we do with them after we hire them. [00:16:00] And in most cases, the training that companies give employees is 99% operational, technical processes, how to ring up an order, how to, you know, book an appointment, and very little of it is soft skill. And the soft skill a lot of times is: we are customer centric. Okay. Go do that. If you tell a hundred people to be customer centric, you'll get a 100 personal interpretations. So, the best companies, small or big, remove personal interpretations and teach them what that looks like. Here's our non-negotiables. Here's how we create compassion, empathy. Here's how we build a rapport. And then they test you before you're allowed to interact with their customer to make sure you represent the experience that has gotten them to here.

But here's something else that I bet you a lot of your listeners can relate to when we started our first business back in 1993, 30 years ago, we were pretty good at customer experience [00:17:00] because 50% of the staff was me and my wife. As we started growing, our customer experience started going backwards because we weren't everywhere. We weren't 50% of the staff, you know, we had multiple locations and we just, we did the same thing everyone else did is we just thought, oh, this was just natural. And all of a sudden, we started suffering from employee roulette. Right? An employee roulette is when the level of your experience is dependent on who you get. And we all, to a certain degree, suffer from employee roulette, but the best companies, it's not dependent on that. And so that's what we really had to learn was how to systematize it higher and make sure everyone understood and got tested on this.

[00:17:45] ANDREA: How do you keep this expected level of customer service while you're scaling?

[00:17:50] John: So if you look at any world class customer experience company, their leaders, founders, person running it, were or are obsessed and they'll never have a conversation, [00:18:00] it could be about product, it could be about sales, that they don't bring back and how it affects the customer experience. And as they grew, they didn't compromise. Every company that we work with has nevers and always. It's a short list of things you can never do or always do. And we test you on it. Little things, silly things but they happen all the time. Never point, show them. So when you think of never point and show, you think about of a restaurant or a hotel, you say, where's the restroom? And they point down the hall, turn left and turn right, versus show, take you there. But this also applies to virtually over the phone in an email, whatever you're asking for, we can say, you can get that off our website. That would be the pointing versus the showing would be, we send you the link, right? We send you the files and people do that all the time. Never say no, always focus on what you can do.

[00:18:57] ANDREA: So an employee is going to be paid regardless [00:19:00] of if they show or point, right? So, how do you convince your employees that they do this for themselves as well?  

[00:19:10] John: All the clients that the DeJulius group works with, the first thing we do is we help them create a day in the life of a customer. Every company has one, and it's a two-to-three-minute video if you watch, you'll cry, and it's a little thing watching someone, you know, pull up to the drive thru or taking their kids to school and there's a little like blurb above their head just found out that her brother has cancer, or it could be good news. It could be that just got promoted at her job, getting engaged tonight to has to put a mom in a nursing home because of you know, dementia, right? And that's all the things our customers are dealing with before they come in. And then you also make them specific to what you do for a living, you know, so has her first date since her husband died three years ago. So that would be specific to the hair salon [00:20:00] because we got to make her look at 10. We got to help her look and feel a 10 where she has a bounce in her step because of the anxiety she must be receiving.  

And so, these day in the life of a customer helps our team members realize why they need to be the best part in the guest day because they're struggling. Most of our days are chaotic and so we want to be that escape and help refill them, regenerate them and be the best part of their day or whatever the company is be, you know, make every moment matter. That's Starbucks. And that was on the inside of their green apron for over 10 years. Your customer vision statement is not to be advertised to the consumer, it's to be advertised to your employees, so it was on the inside of the green apron, so they saw it 10, 15 times a day when they took it off and put it on, so that is one of the ways. You rally people around what you're doing. Listen, no one wants to trade hours for dollars, [00:21:00] but when you're part of something bigger, they'll make sacrifices, that's why those great companies have, you know, become who they are, they've done that every step of the way.  

[00:21:10] ANDREA: I love that depth. Everything is connected and that's why you have to be part of a shared mission. So tell me, how do you think that smaller brands can compete with large companies?

[00:21:22] John: You got to take advantage of your strengths and smaller companies’ strength is personalization. And I better know who you are and better teach my team, you know, once we get to 50, 500, You know, you're not going to be able to do that. But at five, 10, we can do that, and we can cheat. I take great ideas from big brands and bring them into my, my own little business you know. When I call American Express. They say two things before I hang up. Is there anything else I can do for you today, Mr. Julius? I say no, thanks for asking. They say we just want to thank you for being a Platinum member since 1998. I'm like, oh my god, [00:22:00] they must talk about me every day, right? I mean, that woman might have just started yesterday, but it's on her software, right? We brought that back to our salon. We have like 400,000 people in our database. But our top 2000 who spend 10, 15, 20, 000, they're silver, gold, and platinum. And it says that, so they call up to make an appointment. They check in, they check out. You better say, Andrea, we want to thank you for being a silver. Uh, VIP, I want to let you know, I did take 10% off your product.

You could also make the person that comes in once a quarter or twice a year feel like a VIP. And so there's little ways, right? So, our software pops up and says, this is Andrea's first time. Or one of the cool techniques all our clients duplicate is if you come into our salon, you're gonna see a bunch of people getting their hair cut. 8, 10 people getting their hair cut, let's say. You're gonna see, 7 of the 10, [00:23:00] 8 of the 10 in a black John Roberts haircut and cape. You're gonna see 2 of the 10 in a white John Roberts haircut and cape. What's that mean to you? We have black and white capes. What's it mean to our team members? Anyone in white has never been here before. So now if I'm just walking by you, I could say hi, I'm John I hope your first experience here is you know, or if you're in a black cape, I'm walking by say hey great to see you again and you don't have to have worked here three years three months or three hours to know how to personalize the white cape from the black cape.  

[00:23:35] ANDREA: Do you think that price could be irrelevant?

[00:23:38] John: A hundred percent. That's what we do. We help companies make price irrelevant. Now making price irrelevant doesn't mean you can double your prices or even raise them 50% and not lose existing or potential customers. What making price irrelevant does mean is based on the experience, a brand consistently delivers you. You have no idea what their competition charges. [00:24:00] So there's a lot to unpack there. A brand consistently delivers that is removing employee roulette, right? At every touch point, you go into our website, you call, you see someone in person consistently delivers. So when you give an unbelievable experience, a consistent experience, a personalized experience, and listen, everything else needs to be, your product better be good. Your expertise better be good. We're assuming you got that nailed, but there's a lot of smart consultants out there. There's a lot of smart lawyers out there. There's a lot of smart doctors out there. And if that's all you're competing on, you're a commodity. You gotta bring the whole thing, the personalization, the compassion and empathy, making a brilliant comeback when you drop the ball. That's huge.

[00:24:50] Host: That was John DiJulius, the founder, Chief Revolution Officer, and President of the DiJulius group. As always, here are some key takeaways [00:25:00] on standing out and building brand equity with great customer service.

  • One. Once you start scaling, and by that I mean, once it is not just you, make sure you have guidelines and train your new hires so you can avoid the dreaded employee roulette. You want to ensure that your customer’s experience will be consistent no matter who they end up talking to. If you need help with motivating your employees to provide great customer service, try creating a day in the life of a customer for your business. It’ll help your employees feel like they’re part of something bigger and be empathetic to experiences customer may be going through every day.  
  • Two. Find ways in which you can personalize a customer’s experience. This can be done is many different ways like writing a note to a repeat customer when you’re packing their product, or having a database of high spenders and repeat customers so you can welcome them back each time. Livie and Luca has workshops where they invite their customers to take part in the creation of the product. [00:26:00] Find something that feels true to your brand and that of course, you can deliver consistently on. This is where you, as a small business owner can outshine bigger companies because the smaller you are, the easier it is to personalize a customer experience.

Remember, customer service, as we learned, is not as common sense as we think. So do the work, especially toward the beginning of your journey, of formalizing how and when you will touch points with customers and provide them with the quality customer service that you want to be tied to your brand.  

I'm curious – Have you been thinking about how you can improve your customer service? Or maybe you've implemented some strategies and like Livie and Luca have managed to get an amazing retention rate. I'd love to hear about your journey! Reach out to us at thisissmallbusiness@amazon.com to tell us what you're up to. Or let me know what you think of the episode by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts – it’s easier if you do it through your phone. And if you liked what you heard -- I hope you'll share us with anyone else who needs to hear this!

[00:27:00] If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, and I hope you are if you’re listening to This is Small Business. Or maybe you already have your small business up and running and you’re ready for the next step. A super valuable resource that can help you is the Amazon Small Business Academy where you can find the help you need to take your small business from concept to launch and beyond. Take the free self-assessment on the Amazon Small Business Academy site at www.smallbusiness.amazon.

That's it for today’s episode of This is Small Business, brought to you by Amazon. Until next week – This is Small Business, I'm your host Andrea Marquez -- Hasta luego -- and thanks for listening!  

CREDITS: This is Small Business is brought to you by Amazon, with technical and story production by JAR Audio. [00:27:48]


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