Using Customer Feedback to Boost Sales

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Jul 19, 2004
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By John Hennessy

Since adding a section on its Web site called “CustomInk Uncensored” that gives the public access to its customer satisfaction database, personalized T-shirt retailer CustomInk.com counts sales improvement among the benefits attributed to collecting and using shopper feedback.

“It lets us have a meaningful dialogue with customer,” said ceo and co-founder Marc Katz in an interview with Internet Retailer. “We’ve learned countless lessons regarding sizing and the products we carry.”

CustomInk also uses customer feedback information to motivate employees, expand product lines and improve the presentation of product information.

Katz has seen CustomInk double sales in 2002 and 2003 over prior years. He credits 10 – 20% of the sales increase to the CustomInk Uncensored shopper feedback feature.

Moderator’s Comment: How can offline retailers capture and better use customer feedback to both help their shoppers
and improve their performance?

It’s interesting how much more often online retailers use customer feedback than offline vendors. Amazon lets you rate the products it sells. Ebay captures
ratings from buyers and sellers on their transactions. Both sites earn high customer satisfaction levels (ForeSee
Results: American Customer Satisfaction Index
).

Beyond pure performance feedback, a customer information service that supports a supermarket’s core business might include an electronic board where customers
could make favorite recipes available to other shoppers. Or a retailer may want to reinforce its role as community anchor with a customer-driven service that is a database for
local business information, references and customer experiences.

My favorite way CustomInk.com uses shopper feedback is that it allows customers to help each other. Feedback on fit differences among the same sizes from
different vendors could be viewed as a negative. Instead, feedback from CustomInk.com customers helps other customers get it right. It’s a terrific way to harness the power of
existing customers to help satisfy new customers.

I got a chance to speak with CustomInk.com ceo Marc Katz while I was wrapping up this piece. I’m glad I did. Marc is a firm believer in listening to his
customers. “Uncensored” started out as a way to collect customer feedback for internal use – a quality assurance initiative, as Marc described it. As the information became more
and more useful, it seemed to make sense to put it in a database and then share with customers what they had been saying.

While Marc does not consider this a loyalty program, the impact of the effort suggests it is more successful at generating repeat business and high customer
satisfaction than many classic loyalty programs. The unintended consequence of providing his customers with a platform to speak and share their experiences is a kind of stealth
loyalty program. Those involved don’t realize how helpful they are being to CustomInk.com and its customers.

When I asked Marc why he thought so few offline retailers collected or used customer feedback, his initial response ran along pragmatic lines — data capture,
entry and data sharing issues being more challenging for offline stores. However, he also thought that some retailers just might not want to hear what their shoppers have to say.
Marc and his team don’t share that feeling. They use customer feedback information during the interview process as a way to demonstrate to new employees how committed CustomInk.com
is to its customers.

One example of CustomInk.com’s focus on its customer is their practice of actively soliciting information on orders. This practice uncovers issues large
and small that CustomInk.com works to solve.

According to Marc, many times when a customer encounters a problem, they don’t notify the company. Customers are often surprised when the company contacts
them about their order. That’s when they’ll share an issue and CustomInk.com can take action. That follow up and action is certainly part of the reason over 98% of CustomInk.com’s
customers say they would order again.

Talking to Marc, it’s clear he believes in, and has instilled in his company, a focus on his customers. Makes you want to go to www.customink.com
and order a batch of custom printed shirts. Maybe with “What would CustomInk.com do?” on them.

John Hennessy – Moderator

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