By Robert ReissForbes
Customer experience drives business. In fact Steve Jobs said, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back towards the technology – not the other way around.” So I recently sat down with manufacturing and service leaders from marketing – the function currently driving the customer experience – to discuss their customer model.
- Jamie Mattikow, Chief Commercial Officer, Ferrara Candy Company, America’s largest manufacturer of non-chocolate candy
- John Surane EVP Merchandising Marketing and Sales, Ace Hardware Corporation, recognized nine consecutive years by J.D. Power as “highest in customer satisfaction among home improvement retailers.”
For context, the future of customer experience is summed up by customer experience authority Albert Rees, who coined the name of the generation after generation Z as “The Ubiquitous Generation”: “The Ubiquitous Generation will continue to replace physical presence with social, electronic presence which will be everywhere and anywhere at any and all times. The future of Customer Experience will need to recognize that this generation will expect instant and virtually unlimited access to information, products, services and social networks, ungoverned by time of day, or the day of the week.”Robert Reiss: What’s one piece of marketing advice that’s important to you?
Jamie Mattikow: Be very clear on who your consumers are and stay current with them. Be honest about meeting their expectations… and drive to exceed them.
John Surane: Study those customers. The analytics and data we have behind our business is incredible. To the extent we can mine that, analyze it and deliver consumers a specific solution, a specific product or promotion, we win. You have to know your customer better than, sometimes, you know yourself.Reiss: What is your brand’s model for customer engagement … and what’s an example?
Surane: Our brand stands for another level of “helpful.” Our vision is to be the best, most helpful hardware stores on the planet. When a customer enters an Ace store and is greeted by an associate with the headset, the magic question is “What can I help you find today?” This specific question will take consumers directly to that product that helps solve their issue.One example of how we are increasingly utilizing powerful analytics to target customers is in our birding category. In January, when it gets cold, birds get hungry and people buy a lot of bird seed, so we’re able to promote in the colder sections of the country with very specific bird seed offers. We focus our targeted outreach on Ace Rewards customers –more than 30 million card-carrying loyalty members. Our goal is to tell them what they need next before they know they need it–that is delivering on our helpful promise.
Mattikow: We lead the non-chocolate category with brands like Brach’s, Trolli, Black Forest and Now & Later. Our brands are available across a broad range of customers, including Mass, Grocery, Drug and small format stores. We utilize multiple sources of insights, like “liquid data” in partnership with IRI, to target category opportunities and pursue them aggressively and quickly.A great example is our recent launch of Black Forest Organic gummies. Through our industry-leading R&D, supply chain and sales capabilities, we were able to commercialize the category’s first USDA certified organic gummies in nine months. These products deliver on great taste and retailer response has been outstanding. Based on our fast read of repeat and incrementality, we quickly broadened this line to multiple new segments and flavors.Reiss: How do you connect with millennials?
Mattikow: Millennials are the future of our brands and where we really see the growth. Millennials love sour, chewy, extreme and unexpected flavors. You have to delight and excite them. We did that with our Red Hots brand, which has been around for years. Mostly a hard candy brand, Red Hots was never in a chewy format. Consumers wanted wanted that, so we went there. We also looked for new flavor combinations they wouldn’t expect–chocolate covered Red Hots and cinnamon with mango, lime and habanero. We get real time feedback via social media on how we’re doing and then we make modifications from there.
Surane: Generally speaking, our average Ace Hardware store consumer is in the 45 or older age range, and that’s the core demographic in which we focus the most. We are working hard to communicate with these target customers our tremendous line up of high quality, differentiated, and locally relevant brands, like Big Green Egg, Traeger, Toro, Stihl, Valspar and Craftsman. By having this compelling value equation, we believe we will attract the millennials who will become great Ace Hardware customers in the future. Once we reach them, they’ll learn that, “Hey, that neighborhood Ace is a great place to go to do my shopping, find the help I need and the products I love for that fix, maintain and/or repair occasion around the home.”