Customer Experience Diaries: Trader Joes

Building Your Brand at Every Touchpoint

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“Brand” often gets pigeonholed to being the fluff of the marketing department — something that lives only in advertising. But what if your brand was represented in every customer interaction?

Image by: New Hope Network

Image by: New Hope Network

A Very TJ’s Experience

Last night I approached the counter to buy some Pinot Noir at my local Trader Joe’s when rather than the typical “How’s your night?”, the checker opened with “Hey! Have you seen the The Most Unknown on Netflix?”

Image by: The Most Unknown

Image by: The Most Unknown

I’m no stranger to chatting up strangers, but I was caught off guard by this random question. The checker proceeded to tell me about the (somewhat obscure) film about physics, psychology, and existential human questions for an uninterrupted 2.5 minutes. All my interaction-averse millennial mind wanted to do was grab my wine and run home as quickly as possible. Who are you to keep me from my well-deserved glass of red wine to tell me about this movie? But as I thought about the interaction more, it was odd, yes, but also oddly charming. All this guy wanted to do was open my eyes to the untapped knowledge of a great find in the depths of Netflix.

I was excited to be done with the interaction, but this in fact perfectly sums up Trader Joe’s success in one simple, often overlooked moment of customer engagement. Not only did this checker take the time to engage me personally, but he shared his own discovery that I wouldn't have otherwise found.

Image by: Thrillist

Image by: Thrillist

Trader Joes + Discovery

I’m not alone in this experience. This year, the first year they were included, TJ’s took the №1 spot in Forrester’s U.S. Customer Experience Index study largely due to their carefully curated customer experience.

Trader Joe’s began building a cult-like following in 1967 with the simple idea of exposing shoppers to unique, eclectic, and high-quality products at unmatched prices. In the years since, their stellar customer experience and unique private-label product offerings continue to convert brand evangelists. This commitment to helping their customers discover great products and experiences consistently makes an impact on their bottom line. Trader Joe’s boasts the grocery industry’s highest sales per square feet, and the brand has built an estimated $9 billion business with virtually no advertising spend (only their Fearless Flyer newspaper insert), no owned e-commerce presence, and a very basic digital footprint.

We live in a marketing era where a new advertising platform or hot creative trend hits the market every week — some of which are very effective. But in the ultra-competitive grocery industry, Trader Joe’s has taught us an important lesson: rather than spend more money on advertising or build out more routes to commercialization, Trader Joes has built an iconic brand based on an authentic customer experience down to the eccentric and intentional (FREE) conversation I’ll have the next time I buy my groceries.

Image by: Gephardt Daily

Image by: Gephardt Daily

What It Means For You:

So how can your brand learn from this lesson in authentic customer interactions?

1. “Research” your employees: Your employees are the front lines of interaction with your customers, and often know them better than you might. Use their insights to uncover what inspires and drives your consumer the same way you might a focus group.

2. What matters most?: There are certain interactions that will make an impact, positive or negative, on customers every time they experience the brand. Understand which interactions matter most and focus on nailing them every time.

3. Activate your ambassadors: Every employee, from hourly workers to the executive suite (in and out of the marketing department!), should view themselves as ambassadors of the brand. Inspire all employees, regardless of status, to believe that their actions and interactions are a part of the brand’s living, breathing voice.

4. Add a personal touch: No one likes a cookie-cutter experience. Create brand guidelines that empower employees build the brand at key points with their own personal and authentic touch.

5. Consider going offline: The world is increasingly digitized and impersonal, from your social network to your bank. Acknowledge the importance and significance of authentic human interaction and consider de-digitizing key customer interactions.



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