Friday, February 20, 2009

Don't fear transparency

One of the stronger marketing tools that we built at Skier's Choice was an active message board community for both of our brands. The ability for fellow owners to share their praise and frustration about their experience with our product proved invaluable to our efforts.

1. Instantaneous product feedback: we were able to gather product use data first hand, not screened by our dealer network. Issues that recurred became brush fires at the factory. Every complaint gave us the gift of 'stop and fix it'. Product quality improved because of the feedback provided by our owners.

2. Customer satisfaction increased: our owners appreciated the sounding board. They appreciated the opportunity to get direct feedback from the factory when issues arose. They liked being able to provide insight into how we could build them a better boat. In turn, they supported us when NMMA surveys reached them inquiring as to their satisfaction levels.
For three consecutive years both of our brands won the CSI award indicating 90%+ approval rating from our customers.

Not particularly surprising when you consider that our customer's helped us design our product through their comments; helped us identify issues for our quality team to correct; and carried on an on-going conversation with people who they came to know at the factory through the boards.

3. Our owners became our best salespeople: often times prospective customers would visit our board to ask questions of our current owners. Invariably our owners would speak to both their satisfaction with our product and more importantly their connection to our company.

4. Events bubbled-up: our owners would organize local events where they could get together with other owners to enjoy their boats together. This sense of community became a bond that not only made their boating experience better, but also increased their loyalty to our brands leading to stronger repeat purchase patterns.

5. Marketing efforts became more focused: the feedback received not only changed our product and our customer service department, it also changed our marketing focus. We chose to nurture the growth of these branded communities. We built programs that furthered the connections. We partnered with brands that supported our owners and that our owners told us that they believed in. We were able to reduce our direct mail costs because we grew our message board communities to the point that when we wanted to speak with our customer base, we did so primarily through our message boards.

The one fly in the ointment was that we simply had to accept that our mistakes would be publicly discussed. When product issues arose, rather then trying to secretly quiet the quell, we lived with the transparency of failure.

Transparency appropriately managed and responded to built the bridge of TRUST. Our customers didn't demand perfection from our product. Rather, they demanded that we be honest, attentive, and responsive to their needs.

We were, and because of that, our brands were rewarded with market share gains. Transparency works.

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