The Customer Experience Podcast
The Customer Experience Podcast

Episode · 3 years ago

7. Superior Customer Experience Starts Before There’s a Customer w/ Rachel Ostrander

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Customer experience touches every place a customer could possibly interact with your company, even before they buy the product.

Rachel Ostrander is the director of runner experience at Brooks Running.

“I heard a quote, ‘If you want to know where a customer or a company is, look at their sales. If you want to know where they're gonna be, look at their service.’ I believe in that, and my entire career has reinforced that.”

If you want to know our customer or a company as look at their sales. If you want to know where they're going to be, look at their service. I believe in that and my my entire career, has reinforced that. You're listening to the customer experience podcast, a podcast dedicated to helping today's growing businesses restore a personal human touch throughout the customer life cycle. Get ready to hear how sales, marketing and customers success experts surprise and delight and never lose sign of their customers humanity. Here's your host, Ethan Butte. Hey, thank you so much for clicking play on this episode of the Customer Experience Podcast. I'm really glad to have you along with us and I'm very excited for today's guest, Rachel Ostrander, who spent four and a half years as the customer experience manager with footwear and Apparel Brand Zoomi's and is now the director of runner experience at Brooks running. Rachel, welcome to the customer experience podcast. Thank you. I'm glad to be here. Yeah, I'm really excited to get into the kind of the analog nature of what you're doing, because so many of our listeners in so many of our guests are exclusively digital with software products that can be measured in monitor differently. But I'm going to start with you, or I start with everyone which you know customer experience. I think a lot of people know what it means if you ask them, but everyone has a different answer. So I like to know what your answers how do you define customer experience? How do you think about it? What are some of its characteristics? Yeah, I know that, especially in the world of software and digital products, the idea of CX and sometimes overlaps with UX. But when I think of CS as far as my job and my role, it's looking at every place a customer could possibly interact with our company. So it might be the experience of buying the product, which could be a direct interaction between between Brooks on the customer. It could be an interaction between the customer and one of our retail partners. So those processes are really important to me. Until they use our products, it's how they receive our products, when they open a box, when they first try on the shoe, how they interact with our website, how they interact with our customer service team. Everything should be. It should communicate the core of what we are, which is a company is trying to get you out running and being active and using that to improve your life. Awesome. That sounds very broad ranging. I'm excited to break that down. But let's start for folks that don't know Brooks. I've been running in Brooks for years since it go seven. I don't know what year that was, but I've been through at least five pairs. You know, as a scene setter, your companies generating more than six hundred million in revenue, at least did in two thousand and eighteen. Really good global growth, the number one and in specialty running shoe stores, the second most popular shoe with the Boston Marathon for several years running, no pun intended. But but beyond that, can you tell folks a little bit about Brooks if they're not familiar with the company? Yeah, Brooks has been around for over a hundred years, but for the last almost twenty we've been completely focused on the run, on performance running shoes and apparel and really just digging as deeply as we possibly can into making the best running gear in the world and making sure that our mission, which is to inspire everybody to run and be active, that we can facilitate that in people's lives. Brooks is absolutely a pioneer and the reason we're number one in specialty run is really twofold one is we really do make the best gear in the world. We work tirelessly obsessively about the details to make sure that we can let you experience the run you want to experience. We also really believe in in the emotional connection between...

...a runner and the run and what that provides to them in their lives. And then we also are just known for having the very best service in the world because while at a broad sense my customers are runners, I also have a ton of customers who are business owners, and so it's my job to make sure that we can facilitate them being able to get our product and sell our product to the easiest way that they can. That's awesome and I will attest to that. You know, the ghost of Levens, I love much better than the ghost tens. I like the tens as well, but you're constantly improving and and I have a story that will get to shortly, but I don't stay focused on kind of your role and how this is structured. You know, again going to this idea that you know we're typically serving and talking to software people on this podcast, where user like in using the product, you have live, real time feedback. On the other side. Is the company providing the service with you. Of course you've already defined, and I want to get into it even more. You know some of the touch points that you have and some of the relationships that you want to manage. But in so many cases that feedback has some kind of delay in it to some degree because you know, once it's sold and I'm out experiencing my relationship with my equipment in my run and myself, there has to be something to produce that back. So talk a little bit about how you collect and manage feedback for a physical product. Well, the good news is some of the feedback can be fairly fast. The bad news is it's still after we've manufacture the shoe. We have an enormous database of fit test where tests runners who take our product when it's still in the development phase and take it out of her run and see how it performs for them and give us really clear feet back. So that's a part of our development process. And then we have really amazing partnerships with our retailers. So fairly quickly when a shoe gets delivered, we can tell. We can know if there's fit problem, if shoelaces are going to be too short and if, for some reason, you know, a manufacturing problem like that happens, we do know pretty quickly because they know that we will make it right and that we want to make it right very quickly. So we have a great food feedback loop from them. We have a runner insights team who spends a ton of time having one on one conversations with runners in their living rooms. Sometimes on the run. They'll just go out and take a run with a runner and ask questions about how the shoes performing for them, what are they looking for, and really just gathering as much data from as much different sources as we can find to make sure that we're continuing to develop the very best gear. The footweard development process isn't short. You're not putting out a shoe in six months. It takes a couple of years from beginning to end and the science that goes into it as incredible. But at the end of the day it's runners who choose our shoe and who put it on and take it out for a run. So we want to listen to them as much as we can. I love all the direct customer connection that you do describe there. What does it look like on the other side? So people are collecting this stuff, they're organizing it in some ways. They're is it in an intranet do you have? How does this customer feed back make its way into the organization to the people who needed the most? Yeah, so from our end, when we receive feedback, I lead both the direct consumer service and the wholesale service teams. That feedback comes in in different ways and we keep track of what we replaced and we replace shoes that are maybe truly defective. We also replace shoes that have a customer perception that there's a defect because whatever is going on with a shoe, we want to make sure that you're out running in our product with confidence in it. So sometimes we replace shoes because of a perceived defect and not a real defect, but in any case we keep track of that information to the best or ability pass that on in reporting to our footwear teams. The wholesale...

...side does the same thing. The feedback they get from retailers. If there is a true problem with a product, it comes up really quickly because we have an enormous piece of market share in that specialty run channel. The minute that a new shoe arrives in a show store, they're falling them off the shelves and they're putting them on customers and if they see a problem, they let us know very fast. There are a number of different systems involved in that communication process and I'm sure, the same as every other company in the world, you're trying to figure out exactly what that looks like and how to make that as automated as possible as accurate as possible. And then our where test team, we have a full team of people, which is a growing team. Are where test team and then our runner insights team that receive the feedback from people who are are specifically wearing our product to let us know what they think. That's great. So how are you as director of runner experience? How are you structured in the organization? Specifically, what I'm wondering is how do you interface with sales marketing? Is a traditional customer service, customer support function within your team's you know what is it were the handoffs you're like to manage the full experience? How are you structured and how do you manage the handoffs with the people that are adjacent to you? Yeah, one of the one of my favorite things about Brooks and kind of one of the things that sold me on moving into this role and moving into this this company, is that I don't report to be anyone in operations. This isn't an operational function. As far as brooks is concerned. Service is a part of sales and I report to the vice president of sales and North America, and that tells me. I think that's incredibly telling. It tells me that they believe that service drive sales and that providing great service is a competitive advantage for a company, and that means a lot to me. I've always been a person who believes in great rate service because it's the right thing to do, but I also believe in great service as being great business and a company can't get behind that. I don't. I don't want to be a part of that was very telling for me. I work very closely with our ECOMM team, so I spend a lot of time with the director and the vice president of the ECOMM team to make sure our road maps are kind of an alignment to make sure that I'm providing them the feedback loop that they need. Then our digital products team that handles the technology on the website to make sure the bugs are reported appropriately and that we're really just kind of obsessively finding all of the areas of friction where a customer interacts with us. I have about half of my team is on the direct side and about half of my team is on the wholesale side, and then I also have a small group of people who are in kind of support roles, and this I feel like I'm sharing a secret here. This is a thing I think is absolutely brilliant, is I have technical minds on my team in the runner experienced team, so they are it level knowledge on our EARP systems and the way of technology flows together and how inventory works, and they're able to really really participate in enterprise why projects involving our technology and really advocating for the needs of the customer from that side and how those systems interact with with our customers themselves, and that can be really they're really challenging in an organization to make sure that that the it team is connected to what a customer needs and how that actually all flows down hell, and so that has just been an incredible experience for me to have those people on my team. Yeah, I love both of those things, both of those big ideas you share, the this idea that by putting you and your team within sales, you're kind of pre baking the repeat and referral business...

...that every business wants. I know I may repeat customer. I've shared my experience and we'll get into a story that I tell in a minute. So that I love that and I think you're exactly right about that. I can see why it's a positive sign for the type of company that you would like to work for. And then having this I t piece I've been on, you know, this kind of two track mind on getting more of our own team members, including it people and other people that are maybe a little bit unattached from the product itself, as well as a stronger customer empathy and more direct customer exposure. So I you're exactly right. It does feel like a big secret and I bet it's not common to have that level of it expertise so immediately adjacent to such a a customer informed team. So the story I tell is about. So I had a mind was neither a real nor perceived defect. It was somewhere in this weird gray zone. I bought a pair of shoes and I did it mostly because I really love your company and the brand and as someone who works in software, I know that there are you know, every time one person sends a support ticket in with a problem, a defect, that there are probably a hundred and fifty or a thousand more people out there experiences same thing that are just not annoyed enough to pick up the phone or to send in a ticket or whatever. So I was like, well, you know, if this is something other people are experiencing, I just want to corroborate it so that they know. So I thought I was doing my part as like a loyal customer. So I sent in a ticket about this minor kind of fraying on, you know, the rim, kind of like where your foot goes into the shoe, and I wrote it up in my personal blog, which is how you and I connected. I got a lot more than I ever expected. So I do fit probably into your into your perceived problem category here, and now that I'm talking it out, you know, I got immediate response in in the first one felt like maybe it was like the system generated one, but then within some very short period of time, a couple hours, a real person. It felt like it was coming from a real person who spoke specifically to my problem and specifically to the opportunity. You know, the the automated one was hey, we got your ticket and then gave me a choice of picking on a brand new pair of shoes. And so here I am with a pair of shoes with a minor defect that doesn't affect the run per se. It's not per se, it doesn't affect the run period, and now I have a second pair of shoes and you're like hundred and twenty dollar retail like a significant investment in making sure that you feel like you've done right by me and that I feel like I was done right by the company. And so was something I felt compelled enough to write a write up share on my personal social stuff. Got Some really horrible stories in response and got a very night about with other brands right, like other brands that under serve their customers and and I got a really, really nice email from you and you essentially I anchored in in brand and I have up on the screen here, like of the beliefs that are stated on the website. We do one thing at Brooks is one of the beliefs and it's we make the best running year in the world. Nothing more, nothing less, and you spoke to that. Can you can you tell me a little bit on your side of, you know, seeing the post? Someone on your team saw it and shared it. What you were so positive and reinforcing to me was this was helpful to have an outside person express some of the same things you try to share. Talk a little bit about this, the level of promise that you're making, in the commitment to fulfill it and to make it practical for people who are struggling with this in their own companies. Talk about the struggle of getting everyone on the team up to speed with what this promise is and how important it is to fulfill it, because I feel you're very, very sincere in it. Yeah, this is I might get up on myself walk for a little bit here. Please do. This is my favorite part. So, first of all, I've always been very fortunate to work for really wonderful companies. My time at Zoomi is and I was there for a total of close to eight years. Oh Wow. Okay, my time there was amazing and I loved working there and I...

...really love working here too, and I've always been empowered to really provide the kind of service I believe it. And when you had that interaction with my team, I was fairly new to brooks and I was working to overcome something that is so incredibly common and I think is a constant struggle for anyone in the service industry, and that is that you have a team of people who only deals with the negative. They consistently hear things that are wrong all day long and it's it can be very, very hard to keep that in perspective. It's kind of a constant communication challenge. Of Yes, the customers you're hearing from are having challenges, that is a tiny fraction of the customers who are out running in our shoes. And so when you break down a specific problem to how many calls we get and what percentage said is of total shoes and what percentage of calls is about this one problem, it is such a tiny, tiny, tiny problem, but it feels really big and especially when you have a great company that people love to work for and feel passionate about. Now you've added this layer of protection. So they say, listen, this free call or is not a big deal, this doesn't impact the run. You're complaining about a product I feel amazing about, and you now I don't like you very much. Yeah, it's just this instinct to protect this thing that you feel so passionate about, and so I was in the process of really communicating a change to just say yes, it doesn't matter if it's a real problem or not a real problem. Educate the customer on what the life expectancy of a running shoe is. It's not the same as other shoes. They're made specifically to be lightweight and so the materials are not going to last as long as a heavier shoe. So a shoe that you buy, you know, a kicking around sneak or might last for a long time, but if you're running thirty miles a week in a running shoe that's made specifically to be lightweight and provide a really specific performance, it's not going to last as long. So educate them on that and then make sure they have a new pair of books to go running it. Get them out on our shoes again, change that experience for them. It doesn't matter if they're right or wrong. It matters if they feel great about running in our product, because that's our mission, is to get you out running and being active and we want you to do that in our shoes if you can. So I was really in the meat of this project to really get them to start to feel confident and empowered to say yes all the time, and so you are right up really reinforced the things that I was saying to them, that it is not too expensive to replace a pair of shoes, because how many pairs of shoes have you been through in the last year? If you're running twenty or thirty miles a week, you might go through three or four pairs of shoes a year and if you buy one more pair of shoes from us, my work is done right. So it was the timing of it was perfect to be able to say look, look at what happens when you say yes, when you give the customer the education they need to make great decisions in the future and then get them out on the run again. This is the result and it's been really, really successful and my team is really a kind of carp told of it and I'm just so excited to see them move forward in that way. That's great. I think just say yes is an easy mantra and you know when you get the buy in. And I love the education...

...side of it too. I mean every one of these because obviously any software company person, especially in Cus, listening is like. Yep, my team does the same thing. They eighty five percent of the calls are negative, fifteen percent our neutral, and so we can let people feel heard, they immediately turn around to typically and just say yes and educate people. I mean, as much as I run and have run over the years, I'm still relatively ignorant and part of that email exchange I had with one of your team members was very helpful to me. What are you as we kind of wind down a little bit, what are one or two things that you now know about customer experience? You've been with a couple footwear and apparel brands. You were, I believe, with banks or financial institutions, priory of a great deal in some variety of experience kind of around customer support and customer success and customer experience. What are a couple things that you know now that you wish you knew? You Know Fifteen, twenty years ago when you're much younger professional. Yeah, I did my kind of call center life. Started in banks and I just moved into a role where, and it's going to be taking escalated calls, kind of at at a management level, not managing actually actual people, but taking escalated calls. And I said what, what do you want me to do? What you know? How do I decide whether I say yes or no or what I do? And My boss at that time said be nice and do the right thing for the customer, and I think I wish it hadn't taken quite so long to know unequivocally that that was the right answer, but it is. Every single time I've done that, even though it feels like the more expensive choice, it is always, always, is always successful. We always improve our service and it always cost less money in the end and then revenues go up. Because I do not have a name to retribute to this quote, it is not me. If you want to know where a customer or where a company is, look at their sales. If you want to know where they're going to be, look at their service. I believe in that and my my entire career has reinforced that. I wish I knew for sure way back then. That is so good. It's the unequivocally right thing to do. It's the medium to long play when you know so many of us are under short term pressure. But you're absolutely right about that and that's a great, great lesson among several that you've provided. Hey, at bombomb and here on the customer experience podcast, we're heavily focused on relationships and human connection. So I always like to end with giving you the chance to to thank or mention someone who's had a really positive impact on your life or career and to give a mention to a company that's doing customer experience right in your opinion. Well, I found out this a lot and I've been very lucky. I've had some really amazing leaders and some people who invested in me. A long time ago, in my my banking world again, I had a very, very big decision moment in my life where I had been laid off. The Bank I was working for was making some substantial changes. It didn't end well, spoiler alert, and I had a decision whether I needed to where there was going to move to keep the job. I had move across the country and I was a young mother at the time and there was a lot happening in my life and I spoke to our call center director at the time and I don't know what to do, and she said, Rachel's I know one thing about you, it's that you need to respect your leaders. And boy she was right and I kept her voice in my head as I made future decisions. I said earlier, I've been I've been lucky to work for great companies, but I have a friend who said I've been very careful about choosing and I think maybe that's it. I've...

...been very careful about choosing where I work and I think that that was the impetus for that. So thank you, Penny Garrett. Awesome. It is your a company that in your experiences, you've transacted with them in the past. It could be a local shop, it could be an international brand like Brooks. Give a shout out to one or two companies that you really appreciate and respect the way they approach stuff. You know, I saw an interaction and it wasn't one I had, but a friend of mine that uses the company stitch fix, and she had written to their customer service team and said, Hey, can you not send me shoes for a little bit. She had fallen and broken her ankle and had just gotten out of surgery and they sent her flowers just out of nowhere. They didn't send her shoes and they sent her some flowers and I thought that was just really, really lovely, just an extra touch. And you know, I hate to say it, I think that, while there are a million other things I could say about Amazon, they do work really, really hard to make their the buying process with them, frictionless. They have the resources to do it, but they really work hard at it and for the most part, fairly successful. And so obviously their resources are not attainable for most of us, but it's a nice place to look to say, what does it look like to make it that easy? Yep, one touch in Gosh, it's on the way and you've already charged me. Rachel, This has been awesome. I really, really appreciate your time and your insights. I'm glad to spend some time with you, especially after our email exchange several months ago. It's nice to put a face with it and and to learn so much more about what you're doing with a great company. If people want to connect with you or with Brooks what's the best way to do that? Well, Brooks is available on all of the different social media channels. They have an instagram account, we have limited books, instagram account, which is a lovely place to be, facebook, all of those places I'm on link him and don't check it that often, but our customer service team, if ever anyone needs anything relating to brooks. I will say one lovely thing about this team is that the number one call they take is how do I choose the best shoe? And all day long they give people this amazingly expert level advice on how to choose the right shoe to get the fit, the field variety you want on your run. So they are always available there. Excellent. Take them up on it. Rachel Ostrander, Brooks running. Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it. Thank you. You're listening to the customer experience podcast. No matter your role in delivering value and serving customers, you're entrusting some of your most important and valuable messages to faceless digital communication. You can do better. rehumanize the experience by getting face to face through simple personal videos. Learn more and get started free at bomb bombcom. You've been listening to the customer experience podcast. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player or visit bombombcom. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time.

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