How compassion became the secret sauce for my small business.
“ I was in the business of delivering exceptional experiences. That’s how I would keep my customers happy.”
I was living in Chicago, working as a marketing consultant for a variety of clients. An old friend of mine who owned a fish market in Bath, Maine, said he wanted to sell live Maine lobsters and seafood online. I decided to do some research for him before he got into something that wasn’t viable or profitable.
Little did I know that this exchange would later become the inspiration behind GetMaineLobster.com
I soon realized that there was a real business opportunity here …if handled the right way. My friend lacked the resources and time to pursue this idea.
So I decided to give it a try.
My Business Today
Fast forward to February 2011, one day after the Super Bowl. I’m in Las Vegas for a guys’ trip with friends. My phone starts ringing off the hook. Customers are trying to purchase lobster off my website but can’t check out.
Where did this demand come from?
“ How would I grow my customer base and design an experience to meet their needs?”
That’s when I realized I was in the business of delivering exceptional experiences. That’s how I would keep my customers happy.
That was my Eureka moment.
I knew what I needed to do, but didn’t know exactly how to do it.
Fifteen years earlier gave me a clue. I was working at LL Bean in the call center during the holiday season, my latest stop in the hospitality industry.
LL Bean is an exceptional company, one that makes bold promises and delivers on them. Most importantly, when they fail to do so, they always make it right. After working two holiday seasons, that mantra was forever ingrained in me.
The Secret Sauce
That’s when I discovered the power of empathy. That’s when I realized that many companies talk a big game about making their customers happy but do little to distinguish themselves in that area. That’s when I found my competitive advantage.
Now … back to the lobsters. How would I grow my customer base and design an experience to meet their needs?
“ My competitive advantage: I have a team that is really empathetic.”
But that wasn’t enough — I knew that I had to make some changes. I just had one other person on my team. Lacking the best technology, we spent too much time on logistics.
I needed to think less about logistics and more about the customer experience. So I hired one more person, invested in logistics technology and started modernizing the business.
My new promise? To deliver an exceptional experience from the dock to your doorstep.
Sure, customers want to be treated fairly. But that’s not enough.
You can get all the technical details right, even ace the logistics. But you’ll still be missing something: heart.
My competitive advantage: I have a team that is really empathetic. They take it personally when something goes wrong with a customer and will do everything possible to fix it. There’s always something that’s going to come up – companies like UPS get that. My folks do the same for our customers.
“We treat every customer like one of our own. ”
Our task seems simple. But you must have empathetic people to execute it. Empathy, by definition, means the ability to understand and share feelings of another. That’s not easy to do. We’re all motivated by self-interest.
So, what’s our secret sauce? A recent customer summed it up best.
Jeffrey in Buffalo explained, You guys treat me like a king.
This was tremendous validation. Here’s four reasons why I believe Jeffrey came to that conclusion.
In understanding our customers’ needs, we make it personal.
We provide a number of purchasing platforms, including text, phone, email — carrier pigeon, whatever the customer wants.
We offer loyalty rewards for repeat customers.
Finally, we treat every customer like one of our own.
In the end, we’re a customer-centric, e-commerce company that happens to sell lobster. But really, we’re in the business of selling empathy – and we’ll never run out of stock.
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