Grow by Fearlessly Listening to Customers – Case Study: CustomInk


In this era of social media, companies that embrace customer feedback and “believe” the words of their customers earn the right to growth. They realize customers turn to each other more than to advertising and campaigns. Here’s how one “beloved company,” CustomInk, fearlessly listens to customers and how this fuels their growth.

Earn New Customers Through Past Performance

CustomInk prints T-shirts for well over 100,000 groups and families per year. Orders are assigned a designer who personally reviews and inspects each shirt – there’s nothing worse than having your typing error printed on 1,000 T-shirts.

For example, if you accidentally mistype the word “annual” as “anual” in your T-shirt design, someone at CustomInk will catch that typo for you, sparing you the pain when you opened the box of 1,000 T-shirts for your “Anual Fun Run.”

CustomInk doesn’t want potential customers to take their word for the fact that they deliver this level of service. They want their customers to speak for them. So whatever a customer types in as his or her post-purchase online feedback appears word-for-word on the front page of CustomInk’s Web site. (And, in this case, to show the authenticity of the comments, even customers’ typos stay in the reviews.)

In this era of social media, companies that embrace customer feedback and “believe” the words of their customers earn the right to growth.

Customers Should Be Completely Informed

The company’s founder, Marc Katz, said, “We thought about cleaning customers’ reviews and making them more like testimonials, but we decided that doesn’t mean anything to the customer. Any company can pick a few great reviews. It’s the fact that we leave these uncensored and show all of them. It’s the 1 in a 100 few unhappy comments that show these are real.”

So CustomInk puts its money where their customers’ mouths are. Customers tell other customers if they believe CustomInk is the place to trust for T-shirts for their charity event, or for the shirts their entire family will wear at their grandpa’s 100th birthday party.

Revenue Grew 77 Percent from 2006 to 2009 – Fueled by Customer Feedback

CustomInk believes and trusts customers to speak for the company. This brave decision to “bare” customer feedback has fueled significant double-digit growth every year since the company’s inception. Revenue of $13.5 million in 2004 grew to nearly $62 million in 2009.

And this growth is largely organic, driven by customer love, and with no backing from venture capital. For its 284 employees, living up to customer accolades energizes them; people want to be part of a company that believes its customers.

Consider giving your customers a forum to connect and convince each other to become your customers. It does take some daring, and trust in your customers’ words. However, this is a powerful way to engage your company in customer feedback and to drive accountability in resolving customer issues.

Do You Dare to Bare What Your Customers Share?

CustomInk decided to put uncensored customer reviews on its Web site because they believe in the truth of their customers’ words. They trust customers to guide potential customers.

Consider giving your customers a forum to connect and convince each other to become your customers.

  • Do you trust current customers to guide future customers with their feedback?
  • Do you censor customer reviews? Do you believe in the truth of your customers’ words?
  • How would you rate your intent and ability to believe feedback?
  • How would your customers say you are doing? Do customers rave about how you trust them today?
  • How does your decision to believe and share customer feedback compare with this beloved company?
  • Do your decisions for believing in the truth of your customers’ words earn you “beloved” status today?

Jeanne Bliss is not an evangelist or observer of companies; she is a customer experience expert As the Customer Leadership Executive for five large U.S. market leaders, Jeanne fought valiantly to get the customer on the strategic agenda, redirecting priorities and creating transformational changes to the brands’ customer loyalty. She has driven achievement of 95 percent loyalty rates, changing customer experiences across 50,000-person organizations. Jeanne developed her passion for customer loyalty at Lands’ End, Inc., where she reported to the company’s founder and executive committee as leader for the Lands’ End customer experience. She was Senior Vice President of Franchise Services for Coldwell Banker Corporation. Jeanne served Allstate Corporation as its chief officer for customer loyalty & retention. She was Microsoft Corporation’s General Manager of Worldwide Customer & Partner Loyalty. At Mazda Motor of America she initiated the brand’s retention effort. After 25 years as the Customer Experience Executive in five major US Corporations, Jeanne founded CustomerBliss in order to create clarity and an actionable path for driving the customer loyalty commitment into business operations.

  • There’s a more human way to do business.

    In the Social Age, it’s how we engage with customers, collaborators and strategic partners that matters; it’s how we create workplace optimism that sets us apart; it’s how we recruit, retain (and repel) employees that becomes our differentiator. This isn’t a “people first, profits second” movement, but a “profits as a direct result of putting people first” movement.

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