RedBalloon: Customer experience beats marketing

Not many people can recall having seen an ad for RedBalloon, but you'd be hard pressed to find someone who hasn't heard of it. Think about that, says founder Naomi Simson.

Everyone knows word-of-mouth is the most powerful form of marketing, but you'll never get people to advocate for your brand unless you over-deliver on the customer experience.

That was the message from Simson at last night's Stump the Strategist event in Darlinghurst, hosted by Step Change Marketing. The event sees a panel of experts tackle marketing problems from the audience in nine minutes or less.

Simson said she started experience gifts retailer RedBalloon as a business centred around "listening to customers" after her experience as a marketer at Ansett, where she felt powerless to act on customer feedback.

She said it took two and a half months to get her first customer. The first year RedBalloon served 300 customers, by the second it was serving 300 a month, and by the third it was 300 a week. "And that was before the days of social media."

She recalled how in the early days she would read every piece of customer feedback – today, with over two million experiences served, she obviously doesn't have time to read it all, "but someone does".

"If someone takes the time to give you some feedback, the least you can do is respect their time. You don't have to action everything because it's physically impossible, but you listen and you acknowledge and you say thank you," she said.

"When I was CEO, one of the key things I used to do was pick up the phone and listen to people. About five years ago, this person called and said, 'I'd like to speak to your complaints department.'

"I was sitting there going, how big does she think we are? I said, 'We've never had a complaint before.' She said, 'Really?' I said, 'Really – we've never had a complaint before. We've had people who want to assist us grow and develop and make a contribution to our service.' She said, 'I'll make one of those contributions.'"

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