Use Voice of Customer Insights to Effectively Gain and Retain Customers


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Relationship Marketing Innovator: Palms Trading Company

New Mexico Trading Post embraces cutting-edge marketing strategies yet stays true to its ties to the Old West and generations of Native American artists.

THE PROBLEM: How to use sophisticated marketing strategies to gain new customers and retain existing customers…in ways that are true to a low key, folksy, and friendly culture?

THE SOLUTION: Trust the wisdom of customers and prospects to advise you regarding the marketing they feel is effective and authentic to your core culture.

New Mexico-based Palms Trading Company is one of the country’s oldest Native American trading posts. It was recently named one of New Mexico’s Top 25 Small Businesses. The company has historic ties to the Old West and to generations of Native American artists.

When I first visited Palms Trading over a dozen years ago, I was struck by the quiet dignity of the Native American artists who brought in flimsy plastic laundry baskets filled with what appeared to be rags. When they unwrapped the rags to show their pottery, the intricacy and quality of their work left me speechless. These gifted artists had been working with Palms Trading for generations and had developed a bond of trust, which was now being maintained by Guy Berger, the owner.

A similar sense of trust and personal connection was obvious in Guy’s interactions with his retail and wholesale customers, some of whom had been buying from his company for decades. Yet, as Guy was quick to admit, he and his team needed help on a new marketing initiative. His sales to certain wholesalers were not as robust as he wanted. Did I think he could dramatically expand his market share among wholesalers…without changing the unique person-to-person culture of his enterprise?

I was certain Guy could expand his business, and at the same time respect its unique culture, by doing what he was already doing with those artists and with his own best customers: Listening well.

We designed 1 hour depth-research interviews to understand the needs and expectations of wholesale customers and prospects. Findings from this Voice of the Customer (VOC) research indicated that they wanted a stronger, more personal, and more proactive relationship with the company, via multiple points of contact: face-to-face, online, and telephone. They were also very specific regarding the role and value each of these points of contact needed to provide.

As a result, Palms expanded its specialized Personal Shopper customer service program (which had up to that point been targeted exclusively to retail customers), and tailored its offerings to meet the multichannel needs of the wholesalers on-line, in person, via phone and in person.

The VOC-driven process has continued to provide important guidance. For instance, it helped Palms create several new online and social media strategies, for both wholesalers and retailers. An exciting example is an opt-in driven e-newsletter, meant to increase understanding and appreciation of the beauty of Native American art. These proactive outreach efforts are driven by the opt-in preferences of wholesalers regarding the frequency and focus of communications.

The VOC identified ways to deliver even greater levels of service and care, while ensuring that the tone and feel of these increasingly proactive communications retained the low-key, caring, and folksy flavor of their company culture.

RESULTS: Since the inception of the VOC-driven program, sales increased at an average rate of 10 percent year-to-year. During these tough economic times, the strong customer relationships have kept the company on an even keel, while many in this industry have suffered.


Trust the wisdom of your customers and prospects. It is in their interest to provide blunt, candid insights to help you improve.

Be humble enough to ask for guidance and wise enough to recognize the value of the voice of the customer.

We recently completed our 100th VOC research effort. The company turned out to have been one of our very first VOC research clients. They have been humble enough to keep seeking the voice of the customer so they can keep improving the quality of the customer experience. The company: IBM.

Ernan Roman
Ernan Roman (@ernanroman) is president of ERDM Corp. and author of Voice of the Customer Marketing. He was inducted into the DMA Marketing Hall of Fame due to the results his VoC research-based CX strategies achieve for clients such as IBM, Microsoft, QVC, Gilt and HP. ERDM conducts deep qualitative research to help companies understand how customers articulate their feelings and expectations for high value CX and personalization. Named one of the Top 40 Digital Luminaries and one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing.


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