In April 2014, when 95-year-old, family-run business Vitamix broadcasted its high-performance blending equipment on cable TV Network QVC, the explosive volume of orders and retail sales nearly caused the company to collapse. They received so many orders that its website, call centers, and demand for inventory were propelled far beyond their capabilities, and the systems were paralyzed for hours.
On the heels of this event and others that followed, Vitamix initiated a restructuring initiative that called for a new business strategy and IT foundation that could support its rapidly growing online, catalog, and wholesale businesses while maintaining its deep-rooted, high-touch customer culture.
Recently, I decided to mix things up and visit the Vitamix headquarters to meet with Holly Hacker, Director of Direct Sales and Customer Experience for Vitamix, in an interview I did about customer experience. I set out to understand more about how the company transformed its customer experience in order to scale its intimate relationship with its customers.
Holly is responsible for creating, defining and implementing customer experience guidelines and standards across all customer touchpoints; there’s no one better to give me the scoop on Vitamix’s unique blend of customer experience programs.
Below, I cover some of the best highlights from my discussion with Holly. Should you find yourself in the enviable position of having to quickly scale to keep up with market demand, look to Vitamix for guidance to expand your high-touch customer experience, too.
Create a Collective of Owners
“Every single Vitamix employee is an owner. We teach them how to blend, we help them learn new tips, tricks and skills, but also we want them to be healthy. It’s actually part of our wellness program here. And I think it really is a huge differentiator that any person you come in contact with can walk you through how to troubleshoot your blending [and] give you tips and ideas for recipes. When everyone you work with is a passionate owner of the product, it makes you behave and engage with your customers a little differently.”
Customer service teams are on the front lines of ensuring a stellar experience. By turning every employee into a Vitamix owner and providing them with extensive training, the company is arming these individuals with tools to help customers succeed though intimately understanding the troubleshooting process, providing personal insights from their own experience with various models, or just passing along some stellar recipes that representatives have created on their own.
It’s these exact values that caused Vitamix to shift the way that it views and operates its call centers, which are now known as customer care centers.
Recognizing that their representatives were doing much more than taking calls, but rather empowering their customers to be successful, the company has expanded from a mindset of efficiency to high-touch interactions with their loyal fans.
Help Advocates Create More Advocates
“Our affiliate program, those are folks who are passionate fans who have a following. They might have a website, they might have a blog, some of them are actually authors and doctors; [they’re] people who influence a lot of other folks. And they will teach people about Vitamix and refer them to buy. . . It’s because they’re so passionate about what Vitamix does for them that they really want other people to know about it.”
Vitamix intimately understands the power of its community. Holly pointed out that during blending demonstrations at Costco and other destinations, about half of the crowd that gathers is passionate owners who are, by their own choice, assuring others that Vitamix is a sound investment.
Vitamix even has a culinary experience store where some advocates are able to give face-to-face classes with their peers.
By working closely with its raving fans, Vitamix not only gives advocates a platform to share their enthusiasm but also gains a more intimate understanding of what fans want and where the company has room to improve.
Service Customers Proactively
“We got very, very busy during the holiday time period [and] ran out of certain models. So we actually took the time and made outbound calls to 700 customers and either upgraded them into a nicer model or if they really needed to have it, we put them on an escalated list. . . Everybody got something and they were satisfied.”
It can be a great problem to have when your product is selling so fast that you don’t have the inventory to keep up with demand, but it is a problem nonetheless. This can ultimately create a lot of unsatisfied shoppers that might turn to competitors for solutions.
By proactively servicing customers through outreach, Vitamix unlocked one of the secrets to legendary customer service: Reaching out to customers who were inconvenienced shows potentially angry consumers that the company truly cares about their happiness, which not only turns a negative experience into a positive one, but engenders tremendous respect and brand loyalty.
Employ Technology that Benefits the Customer
“For us, the technology’s going to be dictated by what the customers actually need us to do. Unlike other customer care technologies that are around, that allow you to get it done fast, get it done quick, and get to the next customer. We’re much more involved than that.”
Admittedly, technology is one of Vitamix’s more significant hurdles. Because of the explosive growth the company recently experienced, it became clear that the company was lacking in certain areas relating to tech.
Vitamix is now exploring better email management systems and live chat for its customers to leverage. In the future, Vitamix aims to potentially deploy a video chat solution so that its customer champions can provide visual guidance and advice.
Technological advancements, however, aren’t just limited to contact channels. Vitamix is also deploying technology in its products. While Holly didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag, she did allude to having, “…a video that is actually showing you how to load and blend while you’re blending, and that can tell you if you don’t have it on the right speed.”
This is the exact kind of innovation that creates die-hard devotees and keeps Vitamix at the forefront in their niche.
Walk a Mile in Your Customer’s Shoes
“Customer experience is something that we take very seriously as it relates to serving our customers and making sure that once they get a Vitamix, that it’s going to be part of their family for potentially a generation or more. . . In about 2013 and 14 we did a study to understand the [customer] journey. And so we went through the lifecycle and said, ‘What are the steps that people go through and where are the key moments of truth that, if we get that right, they will continue on that journey and ultimately become raving fans?’”
Not a lot of companies take the time to actually understand what a customer goes through on the buyer’s journey; this is a critical error.
Vitamix’s intense growth period revealed significant gaps in their systems.
As more and more people needed to engage with Vitamix, the company underwent a massive internal transformation as it related to their technological infrastructure and platforms to ensure that customers were served at the highest level throughout their journey.
This allowed Vitamix to better understand their customer’s journey and how to help convince prospects of their product’s superiority.
Vitamix is serving up incredible customer experiences on a variety of fronts. Their unique blend of technologies, philosophies, and programs has allowed the brand to build an army of dedicated followers and owners. And with the momentum the brand has generated, their growth is likely to carry on for at least another 100 years.