Sarreid Touch program aims to connect with customers in a way that lets them know the company cares
WILSON, N.C. — Let’s face it. Many people today simply don’t like talking on the phone, much less sending notes of personal congratulations, condolences or thanks.
Disagree? Check the emails you receive and see how many of them have a phone number from the person sending the message. In an industry that’s supposed to be relationship oriented, this is baffling as a phone call is still one of the most personal and effective means of communication. Thus the message it sends is I really don’t want to talk to you — just send a text or email — if that.
Personal notes? That’s another rare form of communication, although it’s somewhat more understandable in an age where it’s become so easy to text and email.
Enter Sarreid Ltd., whose President and CEO Brad Cates has taken a totally different approach.
Through a program called Sarreid Touch, Cates participates in phone calls with team members at least once a week for a couple of hours to address various issues with customer orders.
“I go in and sit in the pit area with our team while they’re taking phone calls and we put it on speaker and they say, ‘Oh, by the way, the president and CEO of Sarreid is here.’ And I get to say hello and help to solve things,” he recently told Home News Now of the Sarreid Touch initiative, which has been in place for about the past six months.
The reaction? Most customers are quite surprised to hear the voice of the company’s top executive on the line. Granted, Sarreid is a small enough organization where a company can do something like that. But Cates got the idea from a much, much bigger company.
It actually grew out of his experience with a customer service representative for Delta who helped him resolve an issue with his flight. Immediately, he said, the customer service representative — who identified herself as Miracle to a customer that just so happened to need one that day — made him feel valued and appreciated as a Delta customer.
“I said, ‘I know these things are often recorded and I hope they are and that your superiors will understand that this is amazing service,’” he said of the conversation, adding that he later reached out to share the positive experience with an executive vice president at Delta on LinkedIn and heard back from him almost immediately.
He said the experience solidified his positive impression of Delta, affirming him as a “Delta customer for life.”
Today, he said, he wants customers to have the same impression of Sarreid, particularly when it comes to solving a problem. The communication from someone at the top like Cates — even if it’s just for a couple of hours a week on the phone with customer service reps — also helps.
“We are going to all efforts to give amazing customer service,” Cates said, adding, “We want people to be like ‘I’ve got three choices in tables, but I sure would prefer to do business with Sarreid.’”
In addition to calls that Cates sits in on personally, he encourages his team to communicate various personal circumstances, from the birth of a child to the death of a family member or friend and everything in between that he wants the company to personally acknowledge. For example the company sent a note of congratulations to Jeff Harris, president and chief executive officer of HNN 125 Retailer Furnitureland South, on a recent profile of the company in Business North Carolina magazine. Cates said it was signed by everyone on the Sarreid team.
“We’ve been doing this six months as a concentrated effort,” Cates said of Sarreid Touch,” he said. “And we are really seeing the return on this. I mean life’s tough, life’s busy. But if I can stop and say hello to somebody and be nice, that filters through the entire organization. And I think our conversations are better. … I am not looking to put myself on a pedestal, but sometimes we have to lead by example.”
Thus, the initiative has already filtered through all aspects of the organization, impacting everyone from the customers to its independent sales reps.
“We’re incredibly proud of the Sarreid Touch program,” Cates said. “It’s been a bit of a culture shift but it’s working and our customers are noticing and our representatives are noticing and we’re making certain that our customer service teams are keeping our representatives more involved in issues and they are also seeing my support. That’s why we put a name on it so people know exactly what we’re talking about.”
He said that the experience of Covid often resulted in people becoming more distant with each other. Today, he believes, there’s an opportunity to move beyond that and renew relationships in the industry in a way that creates a better experience for the customer. He said he knows it’s working based on the surprised reactions from some customers when he calls personally or is on a customer service call with the team.
“They were just like ‘you called?’ — they were blown away. I was like ‘Yeah, your business is important to me and I want to say thank you. … I wanted to make certain you hear my voice.’”
Today the emphasis of the program remains not only on responding to customer problems in a timely and caring manner, but also staying on top of issues the customer is facing and how to get better as a supplier.
“We just talk about what’s happening and when we do better, what was the response from the customer like and how do we take it to the next level?” Cates said.
“And I do think that at the risk of sounding arrogant, I do think for somebody with my title, it’s unusual for them to reach out and say, ‘I heard you had a delivery problem with this or that this table was damaged,’” he said. “’I am personally sorry this happened as we have less than a 3% defect rate. So this is unusual. But know that I am at your disposal to help in any way I can.’”
“I think it’s critical for all businesses,” he added of this type of communication, whether it’s from the CEO or someone else on the executive team. “I am not putting us in the same box as a General Electric or some monster company. But we are small enough now where I can and should — it’s my obligation to take care of our customers and it’s something that I hold very personal and very true. I want to be in the field and in the trenches and doing what I can to help.”