March 26, 2014 Julia 15 minutes to read

The secrets of customer centricity at

This article was based on a speech at the conference “Business of Online Stores” in 2013. Roman Rybalchenko talked about 7 secrets of customer focus at Intimo online lingerie and swimwear store.


My name is Roman Rybalchenko. In 2013, I worked as a marketing director in an online lingerie and swimwear store. I want to tell you about the 7 secrets that helped us achieve 94% of satisfied customers at Intimo online store.

In October 2009, I read a book by Carl Sewell and Paul Brown called Customers for Life. It was the first book published by Mann Ivanov Ferber, it was quite old, and it impressed me. A year later, my business card changed. I started selling lingerie and swimwear and called myself a happiness seller. And if you call yourself that, then you have to do it.

I came to Intimo, an online store that already had a customer focus. For example, if the underwear did not fit, it was replaced without any problems. This is hard to imagine in most stores, even with a less complex group of products, but in the case of lingerie and swimwear (women will support me), it is very relevant.

CC Secret №1: play the long game

The first customer-centric tip is that for a store to be customer-centric, you need to play the long game. You need to count on profit in the long, long run, not on quick money now. This is what many entrepreneurs lack.

Customer survey

We conducted a customer survey. We set ourselves three goals. The first was to collect feedback, and the second was to remind or tell them about the features. And there is an interesting point here. When you ask your customers if they know that you have this or that in your store, even if they say no, they already know about it from that moment on. And thirdly, we wanted to find out what our customers lack.

We took a sample of everyone who had placed an order in the last 6 months — no matter if the order had been fulfilled or canceled. Why it didn’t matter? Because there was most likely something wrong with the unfulfilled order, and we needed to figure out what it was. Why did the person cancel their order?

What services did we use?

  • Mindjet MindManager — for question structure
  • Uploading from the store admin (e-mail, name)
  • Mailchimp — for sending a personalized email
  • SurveyGizmo — for the questionnaire
This is what the Mind Map looked like.

The questions varied depending on your replies.

And this is what the email looked like. It was very personalized, in my name.
My name is Roman Rybalchenko, I want to have a really customer-oriented first-class service, you can help me.

Along the way, we also tested the email subject line and found that when we tell a person that we need their help and don’t ask if they’ll help us, the feedback is better. We used split tests in Mailchimp to send one email subject line to one half of the customer base and another subject line to the second half of the base.

There were 15 questions in total, 10 of which were mandatory. The survey took 8 minutes to complete. 39% of those who we sent it to completed the survey. This is a good figure, and it was largely due to the fact that we wrote the email as normal human beings would do.

We also added a Net Promoter Score survey. This is a whole methodology: you tell people to rate from 1 to 10 how much they would recommend your store. Then you count the percentage of people who answered 9-10. And then you minus the percentage of those who answered from 0 to 6. You get an indicator that shows how likely your business is to survive and grow through word of mouth.

Here are the figures for Amazon and Apple. Ours are not so rosy, I can’t name them, but they are good.

This is what the updated survey looked like, and we even got it nicked :)

And then I realized one thing. Even when you are stealing something, you have to put your heart and soul into it. A person can tell me that they have adopted my wording because it is better, but it does not make their store more customer-oriented. Therefore, the next rule is as follows:

CC Secret #2: good artists copy, great artists steal

That’s why good artists copy, and brilliant artists steal. I also steal good ideas, but I try to let them go through my specificity, through my soul.

CC Secret #3: be honest with yourself

We turned to the Kuruza portal and asked them to do an independent crash test. And at this point, they asked me: what should we buy? I said: “Guys, I don’t care, I don’t even want to know what you’re going to buy. Just do a clean test.”

Here I have identified the following rule for myself: you need to be honest, at least with yourself. If you want to understand whether you are good or bad at customer focus, you have to analyze it on a clean sample, not just order a good review of yourself somewhere. This is the next secret.

I once went to a restaurant as a mystery shopper. I filled out a questionnaire about the restaurant, and not everything was good. Furthermore, I was contacted by representatives of a service that analyzes the effectiveness of the customer focus of restaurants using the Mystery Shopper program, and they asked: “Did it happen?” I said: “Yes, yes, it did happen.” The service: “It’s just that the restaurant supervisor was there at the time, and she thinks the manager did everything right.”

You get it, right? A company pays someone to do independent testing, and as a result, the company and the supervisor of a particular restaurant are in cahoots. And the supervisor knows when the inspection will take place and who is likely to come.

CC Secret #4: mystery shoppers cannot be outsourced

After that incident, I realized one more thing: mystery shoppers cannot be outsourced. Our mystery shoppers are my acquaintances, friends and Internet users. They buy from us, then they tell me what’s wrong with us, and I pry the information out of them: “No, you’re telling me that everything is fine, that the courier is good. But still, what was wrong?”

In addition, we created a form together with the launch of the new website. It allowed people to leave praise, complaints, or questions, and all the complaints and praise were made publicly available, and it became a guestbook. Of course, it was simulated, but we became more open with the launch of the new website, we started posting all the complaints with our response and all the praise.

CC Secret #5: you need to have the drive

I made a sign in Google Docs for the employees, and they saw how many more positive reviews they needed to collect without a single negative one to raise the percentage of satisfied customers. We started with 92% when we collected all the feedback from emails and other sites. Now we have 94%.

I brought a cake to the team for 92%, and the project owner realized that he had to lead the process, so we organized a whole corporate party. Employees were interested before, but now they have a bar that is constantly rising. They say: “Well, when is 95%?”. And with 350 positive reviews left and not a single failure, they already realize that every failure means delaying the corporate event.

You need to have the drive, you need someone to be a power engine in customer focus. Someone who pushes all these changes. The marketer or the owner. Colleagues will support you, especially if cakes and corporate parties are included.

CC Secret #6: reaction speed and authority

The next tip is the speed of response and the authority of the person who responds or accepts complaints. Any of your couriers should be able to write in the receipt that they did not have the change and it’s necessary to credit it to the next purchase. And customers can control this process: if you have credited the change, everything is fine, if you forgot or delayed it for two days, they start complaining.

What do we do in case of problems?

We respond and we respond quickly. I broadcast to the team that we react to problems like a red card. The client shows us the red card. If we treat a complaint left in the form as something other than an incoming call, it’s wrong. That is, if a person is not lazy and writes a complaint online, we must respond to it as quickly as if it were on our phone line right now.

We apologize. I am very annoyed by some Ukrainian banks that constantly screw up. There is a big bank that screws up and never apologizes. And we have no problem saying “sorry” even if we were right. Unfortunately, this is a rarity among Ukrainian businesses. At the same time, there is an Apple Store in the West where they say: “I’m sorry you spilled something on your keyboard, but I can’t repair it.”

We try to solve problems, to really solve them. The person who works with complaints is able to solve them. We have several ways to thank the customer if there was a problem in the past. This is a discount on the next order, a credit to the personal account (i.e., the amount of the next order will be reduced by this amount), or in the most difficult cases, a refund, when a person makes a scene, refuses to accept the goods, we refund the money, although by law we are not even supposed to accept the goods back.

CC Secret #7: empathy

The thing I learned from Apple is empathy. Empathy is to understand what the client is feeling at the moment when he or she complains, to try to experience or remember your similar situation and take the client’s side, not the client against the store, but the client with the manager against the situation..

Empathy means walking a mile in someone else’s shoes

Read the article on how Apple does it, there are specific examples.
From there, I adapted their three F’s rules for our employees:

A person comes to you with a complaint. At first, you say that you understand what the Client is feeling at this moment (but you must understand what the person is feeling at this moment). “Yes, it’s a shame. Yes, it’s inconvenient. Yes, it’s unpleasant. Yes, you were expecting something else. I understand, I’ve probably been there too.” You then move this story back in time and tell the person how you felt. You start to smooth out this story. And then you have to offer a solution to the situation: “I can help you, I can do this, I can help you in this way, and I can do that. What do you think about this?”

This is all about the ability to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Imagine that you have been given someone else’s shoe, which has a pebble in it, and it rubs your calluses. And when a customer complains to you, you have to put on their shoes. It’s an extremely difficult task, especially for managers, and it’s emotionally difficult. But when you let them listen to conversations where they turned on empathy and didn’t, they see how the course of the conversation changes. How the Client stops blaming you and you start solving the problem. Or the Client, on the contrary, starts getting angrier.

What else?

  • We record calls (thanks to Binotel), listen to them, and analyze them..
  • We collect audio feedback to work with trust and make a sample of those people who haven’t left  text feedback for some reason.
  • Furthermore, we monitor mentions on the web. Google Alerts doesn’t work well, Yandex Blog Search doesn’t work well, and Inbound Link Alerts works well if someone has followed a link to you. It’s a very cool service that costs $5-10 per year.
  • We also manually go through selected sites and see if there are any reviews there.
  • We give our clients gifts. As part of our business model, we can afford to give a person something as a gift
    (I recommend checking it out for yourself :)

That’s all we do for customer focus.

UPD. Intimo’s customer satisfaction rate has grown to 97% in more than 10,000 reviews.

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