In this ongoing series, we chatted with some of our customers to learn more about the ways they are using customer data to drive growth.
Michael Laniak is the Director of Customer Experience & Retention at Taylor Stitch, a men’s & women’s apparel company that sells products that are responsibly built for the long haul.
First, we’d love to ask you about your role and responsibilities — what does a Director of Customer Experience and Retention do?
The title is totally arbitrary. We had a few variations, but because we’ve never done anything quite like this, it was difficult to nail. At the end of the day, the role is about understanding and improving the customer journey as it relates to Taylor Stitch.
The meat of it is, we learn as much as we can throughout every step of the customer journey and apply those learnings (both historical and predictive) to communicate with the right customer, at the right time, with the right message — both on and off-site. Not only do we want to help our customers, but we want to create meaningful relationships.
As a follow-up, what led you down this path?
My background is in e-commerce and UX/UI. I think from always putting myself in the customer’s shoes, it was a pair that felt comfortable. I feel like I can relate to the customer and figured businesses could benefit from that.
Taylor Stitch exemplifies a new kind of conscientiousness-first brand. How have you seen this kind of attitude rippling across your industry? Are legacy brands taking notice?
Absolutely — I’ve had this conversation quite a bit lately. There seems to be a steady industry-wide movement toward the customer. Even writing that I’m shocked because it’s pretty much rule number one.
While many businesses are taking the “Amazon Approach” to customer experience (low touch, high efficiency), a handful of companies are experiencing the positive impact of understanding and communicating with their customers on a human level.
We’re seeing legacy businesses creating new departments and/or roles with titles in the realm of customer relationship management, customer strategy, and customer marketing.
What has been the most difficult part of your job since becoming the Director of Customer Experience and Retention at Taylor Stitch?
Really, it has been about pushing forward into this frontier. We’ve found a close-knit group of technology partners that have helped us accomplish three-quarters of what we’re trying to do. Filling out that last quarter has required a lot of innovation, creative thinking, and custom development.
We’re also full-steam ahead based on guesses and gut. We continue to invest a lot of time, energy, and money, hoping for a specific outcome. Sometimes when we get to the finish line, we find that we were wrong all along. That’s the difficult part — there are no real references we can lean on, so it’s all about not getting down on ourselves when we muck up.
In your opinion, what are the pillars of the ideal Taylor Stitch customer experience?
“Because knowledge is power.” -- GI Joe
Every touchpoint begins with a deep understanding of our customer. Within a glance, our crew has a snapshot of their demographic information, transactional history, and predictive insights. This arms us with everything they need to have a productive conversation.
“Being nice is ROI positive.” -- Gary Vaynerchuk
We try to pair all of our inbound conversations with the best crew member for the job, so there’s a thoughtful and intelligent answer. We constantly place ourselves in our customers’ shoes and ask, “If I were them, what would I want to hear as a response?” Then, we one-up that.
“If you’re reacting, it’s too late.” -- Taylor Stitch
As it relates to customer experience, most companies are reactive by nature. At Taylor Stitch, our goal is to decrease reactive conversations by being proactive. We see it as a huge opportunity — helping the customer before they even know they need help.
We also offer a concierge-style service, which is on the transactional level — reaching out to customers based on “leads” generated by a set of algorithms we’ve created in-house. This is one of the most innovative and exciting projects we’ve launched this year.
What does the most exciting or satisfying kind of success look like when your goal is CX and Retention? Is it increasing CLV or reducing churn or generating organic acquisition through user-generated content or something different entirely?
What makes me the happiest? Customer reviews pouring in over our Slack channels. We currently have an all-time high CSAT score and we’re in the 99th percentile with our NPS score in retail, but the written feedback from our customers is the best - they’re a smart bunch.
As it relates to business success — my personal favorite is what we’ve deemed “Customer Movement.” This KPI measures the journey of customers as they move up the ladder through purchase frequencies. For example, First-Time Buyer-to-Second-Time Buyer, all the way to VIP.
It’s how we know what frequency to focus our energy on as a department. Plus, if you’re moving a customer up the ladder, you know that CLV, Purchase Frequency, Repeat Purchase Rate, and Relationship Length are all moving positively too.
Speaking of experience, it’s really interesting that you listed hiking the Pacific Crest Trail as one of your LinkedIn “past jobs,” then you went on to work at Best Made and Taylor Stitch. Were you drawn to these positions because of your passion for the outdoors?
The Pacific Crest Trail was probably the most difficult job I’ve ever had. It deserves a spot on that roster! I was actually speaking with Best Made throughout that journey and we established a wonderful relationship.
I would say it’s less about the outdoors, although I do love the outdoors, and more about highly considered, well-made goods that resonate with me. As a marketer, I’ve found you have to love what you’re surrounded by every day. Otherwise, it’s tough to be sincere in your work. I’ve been lucky to have had such amazing products in my last couple of roles.
The experience of a 2,650-mile hike must have had a profound impact on your professional and personal life — are there tangible mindset shifts that have benefitted you in your jobs since the hike?
This question comes up. Everyone thinks it’d be an “ah-ha” moment the second you finish, but really all I could think about was a hot shower and a cold beer. That said, there have been a few realizations over the last five years.
The sheer volume of the obstacle called for constant practice of self-motivation and keeping a positive outlook. Both of these I carry with me to this day — with many things in life, as well as work.
To that same point, a goal can look so large that it feels unattainable. Just like on the trail, you take it one step at a time. You may blow-out your knee on day three (true story), but then you take smaller, more calculated steps until you’re moving again. Eventually, you’ll get there, which after doing some math was 5,596,800 steps. I like to use this rule with my team on the day-to-day.
As the world of marketing becomes more and more automated, templatized, machine-based, predictive, dynamic and data-driven, how do you see the role of the marketer evolving?
A friend was shopping for a new golf club and told the salesman he’d only buy it if it would improve his shot by 20 yards. The salesman said, “That’s not going to happen — technology can only get you so far. If you work on your swing, that will get you the 20 yards.”
For the record, I don’t golf, but I thought that was a great analogy. These are amazing tools to have at our fingertips, but you need to know how and when to use them, and when not to use them. We need to stay focused on our swing.
What advice would you give young people looking to become the next generation of marketers?
The advice I’d give to any young marketer is to align yourself with a product or service that you believe in. It makes every day so much more fulfilling and rewarding. What’s worse than trying to market something you don’t love? Beats me.