Last week I had the privilege of speaking at The Conference Board’s 2012 Customer Experience Leadership Conference in New York City. I believe events like these are great investments because they combine networking and new ideas that help you bring fresh thinking and best practices back to your own organization. The Customer Experience Leadership Conference was no exception.
One of the highlights for me was a panel discussion that featured Jim McCann, the founder and CEO of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, the world’s leading floral and gift company.
Robert Reiss, the moderator and Chairman of The Conference Board, which presented the event, gave an impressive introduction on McCann and his company. But the company came from humble beginnings.
In the early 1970’s Jim McCann was a social worker and an administrator for St. John’s Home for Boys in Rockaway, New York. He worked weekends at a Manhattan flower shop to earn extra money. The entrepreneur bug bit him in 1976 when he opened his first flower shop. Less than a decade later, he owned 14 shops in the New York City area.
What amazed me about Jim and the success story of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM was his focus on “what’s next” thinking. He became one of the first companies to use toll-free 800 numbers to sell products over the telephone. In the 1990’s, he was one of the first retailers to establish an e-commerce presence on the Internet when AOL and CompuServe (remember them?) were the primary on-ramps of the early “information superhighway.”
McCann also mentioned that with the web being such an important e-commerce platform for 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, the company invests in start-up technology companies. He believes it is important “for us to get a preview of potentially game-changing innovations.”
Are you detecting a pattern here?
During his panel discussion, Jim talked extensively about the customer experience. He told the audience that 1-800-FLOWERS.COM is constantly looking for ways to bring more convenience to their customers “so they can easily act on their thoughtfulness.”
Today, McCann and 1-800-FLOWERS.COM is focused on their “So-Lo-Mo” strategy- social, local and mobile. Mobile technologies, McCann said, are deeply woven into the consumer fabric, adding “mobile technologies have become the remote controls of our lives.” And he’s right. With smart phones, tablets and other devices putting more power and choices at the fingertips of consumers, companies that want to compete and succeed have to be where their customers (and prospective customers) are.
Part of the 1-800-FLOWERS.COM “So-Lo-Mo” strategy is to not just develop apps that make the customer experience more convenient and helpful, but to use these opportunities to connect with their customers in meaningful conversations. McCann added that social media platforms have enabled them to gain “real world” insights and ideas from their customers. These conversations have actually resulted in the creation of new products and feedback on things like pricing and delivery.
Early in my career, I worked in the “fast moving consumer goods” category. But when listening to Jim talk about his business, selling a highly-perishable product like flowers takes “fast-moving” to an even higher speed. With a short shelf life, speed-to-market is critical. As Jim said, the secret to growing a multi-million flower business is nurturing the customer, creating the demand and delivering the sale with a first-class customer experience.
No matter what your product or service, and regardless of whether you’re a “traditional” business or a “new” one, the customer has to be the centerpiece of your strategy. If you’re not investigating and investing in new and better ways to reach and serve your customers, your competition will.
Takeaway for marketers:
Every large company has humble beginnings. The successful ones grow by building an exceptional customer experience and looking for new ways to connect and engage with their customers.