Have you ever engaged with a brand and thought, “Wow. They really get me?”
Sheryl Clark, CEO of women’s apparel retailer Boston Proper, believes building emotional connections like that with customers is the key to loyalty.
We recently caught up with her for an enlightening discussion about customer loyalty.
Jim Tierney: Can you talk about how BP caters to its loyal customers and how that is a competitive differentiator for the company?
Sheryl Clark: At Boston Proper, we are very aware that our loyal customers drive a tremendous amount of business for us. What we’re doing right now is working as a team to understand the ways in which we can be impactful and thank her for being a loyal customer.
We’re doing this not just through traditional discounting, but by engaging her further in our brand with service-oriented offerings like personalization and handwritten notes, onsite content, and special events that are just for her.
In early 2020, we have plans to introduce even more of these surprise-and-delight offerings to our customers. We want to make sure she knows that we know how important we are in her life and how important she is in ours.
Jim: Trust is a huge component of customer loyalty. How does BP build trust with its customers and create sustainable two-way relationships?
Sheryl: For us, it’s about being consistent in our product offerings to her that are age, trend, and fit appropriate so that she builds the trust with us collection after collection and knows she can shop with us and feel confident about her purchase.
To be honest, this has been a challenge, but it’s also our biggest opportunity—to get that consistency of product and quality. That’s huge when it comes to building trust with your customer and ensuring they remain loyal. Our goal is to ensure not just that we’re hitting the mark when it comes to quality, but that we’re exceeding her expectations.
We also have an opportunity to build trust through communication by showing her how and where she can wear each look by showcasing the versatility of our collections throughout our content.
A strong win we’ve had recently as it pertains to trust is that we’ve had an increase in frequency year over year. It’s been a journey to get to that place that we’ve put a lot of hard work into including speaking directly with our customers through social media, surveys, customer service escalations and customer discussion groups.
Trust is an ongoing goal of ours and a big part of that is consistency—consistency of our product, our quality, and in our communications with her.
Jim: Since BP’s product line is always fresh and provocative, you must have a keen understanding of your customers. How do you survey your customers to understand what they want and desire?
Sheryl: We did customer focus groups and a very in-depth survey at the start of this year, and throughout this year the e-commerce and marketing teams continued to do surveys focused on logistics—for example, preferred shipping methods—and collections like our Beyond Travel collection.
We’re constantly reaching out to her to understand what’s important to her so that we can build programs and products that cater to those interests. We also are engaged with a company that allows us to send out tests and get feedback on our designs, product, prints, styling, and so much more to ensure we have an ongoing two-way conversation with her.
Every day we get comments through tools implemented on site regarding her shopping experience and monthly we have a very comprehensive review of the items returned to us. Each of these pieces allows us to take immediate action on things that aren’t working in her shopping journey or in the product.
This is critical to our business so that we can ensure that we understand exactly what went wrong in the experience so that next time we can get it right for her. We work hard on these improvements and return rates in the past year have shown that this hard work is paying off.
Jim: How would you describe the attitude that BP caters to and how does that translate to customer loyalty?
Sheryl: We believe in strong, confident women. One of my favorite inspirational quotes is from Beyonce, who stated, “The most alluring thing a woman can have is confidence.”
As a brand we’re all about empowering women to feel confident and sexy in their lives, whatever that means for them, through age, fit, and trend-appropriateness. We describe our brand and our customers as fearlessly feminine, confident, and sexy, and we build our collections to reflect that.
A note on sexy, as this can be an interesting word for a lot of people—to us, sexy is when you feel confident and empowered in your own skin. It’s not about the perfect body or the provocative poses, it’s really about confidence.
Our customer is all about being distinctive and unique, but sophisticated. By creating distinctive collections that are relevant to her sense of style, we ensure that our loyal customers are coming back to us for looks she can only get from Boston Proper.
Jim: How does BP leverage social media and what impact does it have on customer engagement?
Sheryl: We’re active on social media and have just built our team by bringing on a senior level team member to help us better understand the power of social media, how to engage with our customer, and the platforms in which to do that, ensuring they are spaces that foster that open line of communication with our customer.
We leverage the feedback we get on social media internally to make real change and help educate everyone on our team from merchandising to product development to keep our lines relevant.
We also now have data scientists here that are helping us understand what she’s buying and how she’s shopping on BostonProper.com so we can further personalize her experience with us. These things help us make better, more informed decisions and further build trust with her.
It truly all comes back to trust in a lot of different ways, so she feels more comfortable with brand.
Jim: Emotional connections are so important today in creating loyalty. Can you talk about BP’s approach to this?
Sheryl: We are an emotional brand—we love our customers, we live this life, and we are an emotional brand.
Whenever we meet someone that is familiar with the brand, they let us know that they love it.
I recently ran into a woman at an airport while traveling for work—and this is the second time we ran into each other at an airport, oddly enough. We were both wearing Boston Proper which is how we got to talking and when I introduced myself as the President of the company, she couldn’t believe it.
Our clothing line truly brings people together when they recognize it on others. The connection is amazing each time we meet and talk to the people who love our brand. It’s so inspiring and such an amazing moment. We want to create more of these moments, not just for us but for her.
We want to make sure she knows we’re listening to her and that we hear her. Outside of social media and our surveys, we’re actively working to bring our customer service center in-house so that we have our team close to us and we can make that line and our site a style destination for her.
We want her to call in and talk to us about how to put outfits together and what she should wear to the specific events she has coming up.
We’re always looking for opportunities to engage with her on a personal level and to provide a service to her. Our brand positioning is to inspire women to discover their inner style and embrace their unique confidence and you’re not confident without having an emotional connection to the brand and the style that you are wearing.
Jim: What do you see as the biggest challenges in retail connected to customer engagement?
Sheryl: The biggest challenge right now is that there’s just so much noise—brands, stores, emails, communications. There are so many places that you can shop so the challenge is becoming distinct and standing out in a sea of players.
It truly is about making that connection with your customer and nurturing it throughout her life and her experiences and becoming an important resource for her.
Our magazine is a unique opportunity to engage her that not a ton of others have. We have to use our digital channels to raise awareness of our brand so that we can get this unique catalog into their hands. We also are engaging with her in marketplaces outside of our own—like Amazon—because that’s where she is so it’s important for us to be there.
Boston Proper is working to create a unique storefront, content, and in-person experiences for her wherever she is to ensure she hears us through the noise.