Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How well do you know your customers?

The better you understand your customers, the better you can connect your brand with their wants and needs. Recently I saw one of my favorite “get to know your customer” strategies being used as the subject of a smart local television commercial.

Walter E. Smithe, a Chicago-area furniture retailer, is as renowned for the humorous advertising antics of its management team—brothers Walter, Tim and Mark Smithe—as for its custom-upholstered furniture. These guys really seem willing to get to know their customers. In the store. And beyond.

Over the years, the brothers have sung the store’s tag line, “You dream it. We build it.” in commercials where they’ve been everything from music video stars...

To cicadas (“Cicada sale. They just won’t leave.”)…

To Jedi (“May the furniture be with you.”)…

The latest Walter E. Smithe spots feature a practice more marketers may want to adopt. We call it…

Riding the truck

In the commercials, “Surprise Visit #1, #2 and #3, the brothers take time from their management duties to climb aboard Walter E. Smithe delivery trucks to visit with their customers as furniture is delivered.

In addition to providing material for the TV spots, Riding the Truck gave the brothers an opportunity to gain vital insight into their clients.

It put them in direct touch with their customers at a critical part of the brand experience—furniture delivery. Here’s where anticipation of the arrival of custom-upholstered furniture turns into delight. Here’s where the customer has the delivery team move the furniture to just the right location. Here’s the moment Walter E. Smithe lives for: Truly satisfied customers. Passionate word-of-mouth advocates. Potential repeat customers. A thriving business.

The brothers also had a chance to observe, first hand, how well their delivery staff does their job. And how important that critical customer connection is to happy—and loyal—customers.

Works with your other audiences, as well

Riding the truck isn’t just for customer visits. It’s for getting to know every key stakeholder in the marketing cycle. From your distribution channel. To your sales team.

Ever hear, “the sales force will never buy that idea?” If you ask why, time and again you can’t get a concrete answer from anyone in the home office. Because no one’s been out in the field with the people doing the work recently.

Ride the truck. See what a day in the field is like. How they handle customer questions and issues. Share your ideas and ask how to make them better. Ask them for their ideas. Integrate this feedback mechanism into your process and watch a difference in response the next time marketing and sales need to join forces for a major initiative.

Isolation grows when you don’t ride

Working on a new piece of automobile business, we insisted that everyone on our team make multiple visits the auto maker’s dealers. And the competition as well. We posed as buyers and took test drives. We went through the sales process. We pretended to “kick the tires” while observing others in the act of buying. Watching the sales team in the act of selling. We hung out in the showroom and collected literature. We dropped off our cars at the service department to see how well that important end of the business was run. We went to auto shows. We surfed the net. Downloaded Consumer Reports and Edmund’s recommendations. “Rode” with online car fan sites.

When we presented our findings, it was obvious that our clients had not been inside a dealership in years—even to purchase their own cars, which they bought directly through the company. Their connection with the customer experience was remote.

All kinds of brands have the same issue. Their marketers don’t get out often enough to experience their brands as customers do, and as their sales teams do.

So get out of the office and connect

Want to know your customers better? Put down the spreadsheets. Step away from the analytics for a moment and the second-hand reports. Take a page from the Smithe brothers.

Get out of the office and go ride the truck for yourself.

Put your team on the truck as well. I guarantee you’ll learn something every time. You’ll generate better, customer-connected ideas and you’ll be armed with first-hand knowledge that will help you sell those ideas.

All images, Walter E. Smithe.

Blog content: ©2009 Paul J. Hydzik. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


Paul Hydzik grows brand value. As a brand marketer and award-winning creative leader, Paul has more than 15 years of experience driving business success from start-ups to blue chips. His strategic resume covers all aspects of B2B and B2C branding from go-to-market to consumer insight to identity development and all forms of marketing communication.

1 comment:

  1. This is such a fantastic post!! I love it.
    I have always thought the commercials that Walter E. Smithe does are great. They catch your attention so well, which is the whole point.
    I am President of a market research firm in the Chicago market and I have clients calling me all the time to send out a batch of mystery shoppers to "see" what their customers "see". This is still one of the best, most cost effective way a business can look at things from a different angle. Like you said- get away from those spreadsheets and see things for yourself and from the customers view. You may be very surprised by what you learn. I also preach to shop, shop, shop your competition!! Use your standards to shop them - you will learn so much.

    Thanks for a great read!
    Kathy Doering
    Ann Michaels & Associates, Ltd.