Our ShuttersUp Founders, Ross and Ashley, were recently interviewed by Authority Magazine regarding the five most important things a Founder should know in order to create a WOW customer experience.
For those of you that missed it, this is what they had to say…
Ross Evans and Ashley Weight are the Founders/Directors at ShuttersUp, a booming plantation shutter business with a strong customer service strategy that has been at the heart of their company since its humble beginnings in 2006. Their award-winning dedication to delivering a superior level of customer service has been pivotal in growing their client base from one client to over 12,000 since opening their doors, with plans to continue that growth nationally over the next five years.
They were recently publicly recognised for their reputation for quality and the standing and engagement they have achieved with their customers by receiving the Kent Business Champions award at the Town & County Business Awards 2022, as well as being ‘highly commended’ for the best internal shutter installation at the BBSA Excellence Awards a few months later. Ross and Ashley’s passion for delivering personalised customer service has helped thousands of households across Greater London to achieve their dream interiors, and we look forward to them sharing their experience and insights with us.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our Authority Magazine readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Ross: All entrepreneurs will testify that launching a business can be the most exciting yet most challenging of times. For us, this process was made much easier because we are not just business partners, we have been best friends since childhood! Having one another to turn to for support and bounce ideas off has been a massive bonus for our business. We trust each other wholeheartedly and it’s always great to celebrate our achievements together too.
Ashley: We initially met through a mutual family friend and knew each other for some time before starting our ShuttersUp journey. With a shared interest in carpentry at secondary school, a hunger to succeed in our careers, and a shared passion for golf, we quickly became incredibly good friends. After college, we both took different routes for a while, Ross worked in a mainstream carpentry position, and I took a role installing and surveying shutters. I found myself constantly talking to Ross about how much job satisfaction I got from interacting with clients and it wasn’t long before Ross joined me in fitting shutters. Eventually, we took a leap of faith to start a company of our own.
Ross: The salary was less at first, but the passion and job satisfaction that came from serving customers proved to be so much more rewarding. Similar to the likes of Amazon and Google, our business all started in a garage! Our first office space was in Ashley’s grandmother’s garage but, as time went on, the business outgrew the garage and we invested in a storage unit to buy us some more space. As the company grew from strength to strength, we moved on to bigger premises that suited both the office and storage space we required. In 2017, we moved to our current shop front premises coupled with a secure industrial storage facility, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Ashley: We’ve multiplied our company vehicles too, from one to 15!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Back in the early days, when our business first started taking off and we needed to recruit more installers, we took on a guy that had been working for a competitor company. While we covered a lot of ground during his interview regarding the expectations around the quality of his work and experience, we mistakenly assumed that having worked in this industry for a while, we didn’t need to go into detail with what was expected with regards to behaviour.
It only took a few installs before we were alerted to his love of swear words and ‘jovial banter,’ a particular problem when most of our work is carried out in domestic properties where children are often present.
The key takeaways were to never assume someone shares the same values as us because they’ve worked in a similar role, and also to hone our interview skills! Nowadays, new recruits go through a rigorous in-house training programme before flying solo on jobs. We are fully aware how privileged we are to be working in people’s homes and we make sure our whole team fully understand the importance of representing our company values when out and about.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Ross: Obviously, in our scenario, we are lucky to have each other, and our wives and families have been patient, understanding, and very encouraging throughout our entire journey. However, Ashley’s grandmother, Maureen, was particularly supportive during those early days (and still is!). Not just because she loaned us her garage to work in and, as a result, was up at 5am when we arrived for work with a cup of tea in hand and a smile, but also because she was always positive and encouraged us to keep going. She believed in us and, when you first start out in business, all you need to thrive is self-belief, a ton of energy, and a solid business plan!
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?
Ashley: People will always remember the feeling they have when interacting with a business, whether it be their initial phone enquiry with the office team, or the encounter they had with a fitter. They won’t always remember exactly what was said or done, but they will remember if they felt good about it, or not. That feeling will stay with them and it is what they will base their next purchasing decisions on or will determine whether they recommend you to someone or not.
It is the little touches that are important to customers and will make you stand out from competitors. As time passes, people won’t typically remember the exact name, colour, and style of shutter they chose, but they will remember if the fitter remembered to remove his shoes on the way in or they might remember the personally written ‘thank you for your business’ card they received from the team after installation.
Ross: Creating a genuine, positive vibe when interacting with customers and allowing your service offering to stand out from the crowd is even more important nowadays. If a customer has found your company online, they will rely on the online reviews of others when making their purchasing decisions. Likewise, if a customer has been recommended to us via word of mouth, it’s the same principle. The customer holds all the purchasing power. Up until the point a customer contacts us, they are only influenced by what others are telling them and what they can visibly see on our website and shopfront. With so much competition in play, and without glowing reviews and recommendations, it’s all too easy for customers to be persuaded to go elsewhere before they have even made direct contact with us.
We are still big believers that, as a local business, allowing customers to know the person behind the product enables a great community connection and a personalised service that just cannot be matched when buying online or from a chain business. That is why we continue to keep our shop front and engage with our local community as much as possible, on top of growing our online presence.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
Ashley: Modern life is becoming all about quickness. Advances in technology have produced an expectation to achieve the maximum possible in the least amount of time, so it would be easy to concentrate our efforts on streamlining processes to go after new business and drive profit rather than spending a little more time, effort, and money on a strategy to retain the customers we’ve already won. Building a strong, loyal customer base takes longer but it is critical to customer satisfaction and long-term success.
Ross: A customer experience must be genuine too. It shouldn’t just be a tick box exercise. You can’t just request feedback, you must really listen to it and act upon it to make a difference. As a business owner, it is always hard to hear negative feedback on a service you have worked hard to hone, but if you turn that feedback into a positive by using it to turn your products/service into something even greater, you will be rewarded with loyalty.
To create a genuine experience, delivering customer service needs to be at the heart of the company. It’s not just about training front line employees and getting them on board, it’s about training all employees regardless of their role. By creating a culture of respect and integrating the customer experience as the priority within a company, you will create a consistent, authentic experience for customers.
Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?
Ashley: A bit of healthy competition is always going to keep companies on their toes when it comes to improving their customer service, but only if they recognise the power that a great customer experience can yield in the first place. Our industry is extremely competitive and customer service is really our biggest differentiator, so we allocate a lot of time and resource to constantly improving it.
As we mentioned earlier, it’s easy now for a customer to talk about their experience online and have hundreds and thousands of people see what they have said within minutes. There is nowhere to hide. If the feelings and emotions associated with their experience with a company are good, they will remember the experience and are more likely to tell someone else about it.
A prominent external pressure that comes to mind at the moment is the rising cost of living. When purse strings become tightened, customers are more reluctant to spend and, if they do spend, they will want to make sure their decision is the right one. We recognise that we are privileged when customers choose to spend their hard-earned money with us, and we never take that for granted. Unfortunately, I think some businesses are guilty of forgetting this and it shows in their ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
Ashley: We recently had a customer who got in touch with us as he had purchased a house and desperately wanted to dress the windows with shutters. Unfortunately, he had already had three other companies visit, but all had told him that interior shutters were an impossibility because his windows opened inwards. One company even told him to buy new windows! We really wanted to help him so, after talking with him further, we visited his home to take dimensions and photos of the windows in question. We then had a brainstorming session with some of the team and actually came up with three interior shutter options for the customer!
The customer loved all options, but he felt one suited his requirements the best. He was so happy with the end result that he was visibly emotional.
Did that Wow! experience have any long-term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
Ashley: Yes! In this case, we were commended for the Best Shutter Installation in the UK by the British Blind and Shutter Association. However, this level of service is typical of our team and this is reflected in the fact that 50% of our work is repeat business; this is particularly high considering the competitive niche we work in and the fact that, because our shutters last a lifetime, you will only really need to come back to us if you have new windows that need dressing or you move home.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.
- Fully understand and map your customer’s journey, Understanding the journey your customers go on when making purchasing decisions in your niche will enable you to tailor your approach to the areas that demand the most attention and influence. For example, when customer order shutters with us, there is a 12-week lead time from the time they place their order until the time we arrange installation. To ensure peace of mind for the customer and to keep them connected and engaged with our company during that time we include several customer touchpoints before and during this phase of their experience with us. We want our customer’s expectations to be fully managed on this lead time prior to placing their order and then continue to fully assure them that their order is safe in our hands.
- Customer service should be a priority, not an afterthought. As we mentioned earlier, customer service should be a priority for business owners. How a customer felt during and after their journey with you is what they will remember and pass on to others. It needs to be genuine too and the only way to ensure that is to make customer service integral to all staff and in all corners of your business. We have staff training and development at the heart of our company ethos. Regardless of whether a team member works in the office, as an advisor, a surveyor, or is joining us from another company as a new fitter, we ensure all staff undertake extensive training before they start their new role within the ShuttersUp family. This is partly done to eliminate any mis-selling to customers and partly to ensure all staff work to our standards and uphold our core values. We want all staff to have first-hand knowledge of our products so they can advise customers confident and correctly.
- Say thank you. We all know a thank you goes a long way. Try and find thoughtful and creative ways to express your gratitude to customers when they choose your company to work with.We are fully aware of how privileged we are to be invited to work in people’s homes and to be chosen above the many companies we compete with. We never take that for granted. We thank our customers at every stage of their journey, including sending a handwritten thank you card from one of the team after their order has been placed. Details matter when it comes to customer service.
- Listen to understand for better engagement and retention. Truly listening to understand can be an excellent way to enhance customer engagement. Responding immediately to customer comments, questions, or challenges on social channels and review pages shows that your company and your brand genuinely cares about them.It also provides you with the opportunity to gather honest feedback that you can use to your advantage if you act upon it. Don’t just hear what you want to hear, listen to understand your customers. We regularly send out customer surveys to our client base to see how we can improve our offering. We welcome feedback as it is the best way to highlight the areas in which we can improve. Investing time in customer engagement may be time consuming but it will pay off, particularly with regards to customer retention.
- Be accountable. Get everyone in the company to be accountable for the customer, resulting in a culture where everyone genuinely has the customer at the heart of everything they do. Accountability in customer service is each person taking responsibility and ownership for their own decisions, actions, performance, and behaviours. It starts at the top, with leadership, and filters down to the most junior member of staff. What we expect from our staff is set out in the clear goals and expectations of our company. It is embedded in our company values, training, and development.
All staff are fully trained on their specific role within the company as well as our company objectives, vision, and values. We regularly give staff feedback, recognise successes, and coach them through challenges. Staff on the frontline understand the importance of delivering on promises and taking ownership for the customer. Responding to requests for information, managing customer expectations, following up, and providing ongoing communication are key to all ‘Wow’ service experiences.
Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?
Ross: People love to tell others about their experiences, both good and bad. That is very unlikely to change. When someone goes the extra mile for you or makes you feel great, they are sure to pass it on to others. Creating a Wow experience for a customer, will likely get spoken about among their family, friends, colleagues and even their social media followers. Creating a unique service experience will get you and your business talked about and, nowadays, that news can be spread to a wide-ranging audience within seconds.
You are persons of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Ashley: To encourage customers to consider sustainability and a company’s commitment to sustainability as a priority when making purchasing decisions. We take away all the rubbish we create when transporting and installing shutters for our customers and ensure all the cardboard, plastic, and polystyrene is recycled responsibly. Our manufacturer is one of the leading shutter manufacturers in the world and is committed to sustainability.
We chose to work with our manufacturer primarily because they are the best, but also because of their sustainable practices. They use a state-of-the-art water filtration system in their factories to ensure all water is filtered and reusable, they power their wood-drying kilns using their timber offcuts, and they recycle all the cardboard, plastic and polystyrene used during the manufacturing and transportation processes. Plus, they cultivate their own trees that regenerate organically once cut down.
If more companies were to commit to improving their green credentials, we would really improve things for the greater good and for future generations.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!