by Gary Paulin, VP of Sales and Client Services at Lightning Labels
With expansive product choices, it’s no longer enough to rely solely on product quality and availability. Today’s maturing cannabis marketplace requires differentiation to resonate and succeed.
Three pillars of that differentiation are stellar customer service, total transparency, and excellent education. At the core of each, sincerity and truth must predominate. In this age of “fake news,” anything that doesn’t seem trustworthy and true likely will backfire on the company sooner or later.
It only takes one unsubstantiated quality control or product claim to hit the social media lie detector, then potentially go viral. At the very least, one consumer badmouthing your company via word-of-mouth and/or digital messaging will harm your reviews and ratings. In most cases, the damage will be undetectable until it reaches a level where revenues and reputation are noticeably impacted.
Following are four basics of stellar customer service, transparency, and education:
Interact authentically. Scripts and canned phrases instinctively don’t resonate with most consumers. One obvious example is the “I’m so sorry you’re having a problem” response. How likely is it that the person is really sorry and not just parroting something they’ve been told to repeat time and time again? Instead, communicate in a real way by tuning into what the existing or prospective customer is trying to address.
For example, when someone complains about lengthy waits to receive live phone support (including disconnects while waiting), it’s okay to say something like, “I get it. We’ve been having challenges. Now that we’re on the phone together, let’s address your needs right away. And, please give me your phone number, just in case this call drops. I’ll call you right back.”
Offer multichannel communications preferences. Some people want live phone support, not a digital option. Chat bots can be extraordinarily frustrating unless the programming and ability is advanced. Ditto for “live chat.” As much as possible, make it easy and meet everyone’s preferences. Email, live phone support, texting, website knowledge center, and digital chat should all be offered to meet the customer in a way that works best.
Offer total and transparent education. Knowledge centers (and associated forums) and FAQs can be excellent tools to help provide priority information, but they’re only one piece of the puzzle. Consumer questions and concerns can cover anything. There should be an easy way to find more information through the above-referenced channels as needed. Product labels can provide easy access to a variety of information, starting with label content and extending to either Augmented Reality or QR digital gateways for more in-depth education. Those digital gateways should contain valuable information, along with easily found follow-up calling, emailing, live chat, and additional educational options (including possibly Knowledge Center, FAQs, and keyword-search forums/articles, et al).
“Full disclosure” should be at the core of all things educational, both in information repositories and customer service support. For example, CBD can make some people cranky and anxious. Full disclosure must override the desire to sell. By fully informing a consumer of risks as well as rewards, the experience is much more likely to result in high marks for the company.
Conversely, incomplete or inaccurate information provided by salespeople motivated only by making sales will backfire when less than optimum outcomes occur. In contrast, a salesperson willing and able to fully educate will help build long-term customer relationships with the company.
Hire motivated, attentive, smart people. No matter what policies and training are in place, ultimately companies need to focus on hiring the best candidates — those dedicated to top-notch customer service, truthtelling, and education. Workforce shortages are not a valid reason to abandon these core values in the name of expedient hiring. Be committed to employee wants and needs, and be prepared to follow through. Offer generous wages, but beware of those who seem overly money motivated and demanding. They likely will be gone as soon as the next “shiny toy” opportunity comes along.
There are companies that have weathered supply chain and workforce shortage issues — and even inflationary pressures — well. One that comes to mind is Costco. Unlike many retailers during the pandemic, their quality of service has remained high. Product availability and selection have been maintained. Prices, although subject to some upward movement, don’t seem to have risen as much as most retailers.
Clearly, Costco found solutions instead of blaming challenging conditions and using those as an excuse for failure. Follow this example. Find ways to do more with less, get creative about becoming more efficient, and plan ahead so that emergent problems don’t become overly taxing.
Cannabis companies that excel in being trusted, liked, and respected will outperform their competitors willing to live with mediocrity.
Gary Paulin is VP of Sales and Client Services at Lightning Labels, a Denver-based custom label printer that uses state-of-the-art printing technology to provide affordable, full-color custom labels and custom stickers of all shapes and sizes. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 800.544.6323 or 303.481.2304.