Manage Expectations- If you’re out of stock, inform your customers ASAP, either on your website or through an email. Any and all delays need to be addressed, so customers know what’s going on. Any changes to the product need to be announced in some way — imagine how upset some customers might be if the model they ordered was modified in a way they didn’t expect! This is especially important if the pictures don’t accurately reflect the product. It’s your responsibility to let your customers know what they’re paying for.
As part of my series about the “How To Create A Fantastic Retail Experience That Keeps Bringing Customers Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dickson Lam from EFFYDESK , a startup based in Vancouver, BC, that is dedicated to promoting and selling ergo-minded products. Dickson Lam, founder of the company, believes that a company’s customer service is so crucial to the business itself that it serves as an accurate representation of the company as a whole. EFFYDESK strives to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our 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?
For sure! My backstory is, quite literally, a story about my back. I was born with a bulging disc in my back, which meant that I could never stand or sit for too long. This proved very difficult for me while I was in school, as sitting at desks all day caused me a lot of pain. Even as I went on to work a 9–5 office job, the back pains persisted. The day management introduced sit-stand desks was the day my life changed.
The adjustable features on the desk meant I could sit or stand as I pleased, without being tied down to a rigid chair all day. My back pain was nearly nonexistent as the movement throughout the day helped to reduce the inflammation in my bulging disc. On top of that, the adjustable desk improved my other pains, posture, and joint strength. It also made me so much more productive — of course, since it’s easier to work when my back isn’t hurting!
Since then, I’ve wanted to share adjustable sit-stand desks with the world.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
In the early days of EFFYDESK, I attended my very first trade show. As my friend and I rode the elevator to the main floor, I nervously practiced my “standing desk” pitch on them. I quickly touched on the benefits of these desks and explained how every office, small to large, should have one. Even though this was just a practice pitch, I was still so unsure.
What I didn’t know was that we were sharing an elevator car with the head of a small company, and they’d heard every single word of my pitch. Even though I was nervous throughout my brief presentation, they wanted to continue the conversation and see how standing desks could work in their offices. They ended up purchasing 20 desks there and then!
From this experience, I learned that I am surrounded by opportunities. All I had to do was put myself out there, even if it was out of my comfort zone.
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?
Even though I’ve been assembling standing-desks for many years, I constantly underestimate how heavy a desk is, or how long it takes me to install one. Every time I get stuck moving a desk that’s heavier than I remember it, I can always count on my friend Jacky Ng to help me out. Whether I need to borrow a larger vehicle or need an extra hand to install a desk, Jacky helps me out of the kindness of his heart. Honestly, I don’t know where I’d be without him. He’s been there for me through it all, swooping in with a helping hand in moments where I feel overwhelmed or stuck in a rut.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I’ve been inspired by the simple lessons presented in the Pixar film Monsters University. Sometimes, life throws so many curveballs at you at times when you could really, really use a breakthrough. However, in Monsters University, Mike Wazowski persevered despite being knocked down countless times. Eventually, his hard work paid off and he advanced to the very top position at his facility.
In life, there will always be hardships and obstacles that I can’t prepare for. But all I have to do is hold my head up, keep persisting, and work with my skills in the most creative way I know how.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
In the beginning stages of EFFYDESK, there was a time when we were sourcing out standing desks from the same supplier as our competitor. When the competitor found out, they weren’t pleased, and told the supplier to stop selling desk parts to us. Since our competitors were a bigger company than we were at the time, the supplier listened to them and dropped us like a hot potato. We were scorched with nowhere to go.
When we finally found another supplier, we discovered that they gave us more freedom in customizing the desk parts we were ordering from them. This customization significantly bettered our product, and allowed EFFYDESK to grow bigger than our rivals within that same year. Being able to adapt to new circumstances as they arise will help your company grow stronger in the face of troubles.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Remember: It’s not a race. Be as productive as you can during your designated work time, and try to really rest during your off hours. I say “try to,” because it’s almost impossible to take time away from a project you’ve poured so much effort into. But rest is important! You’ll be able to come back to the task with renewed vigour the next day.
My next tip: get at least 30–40 minutes of physical activity at least 3–4 times a week. This can be anything, from jogging, to weightlifting, to yoga. Physical activity gets your blood moving, and adds grease to the gears in your brain to help you perform better mentally.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. The Pandemic only made things much worse for retailers in general. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
Being able to pivot and adapt is one of the most important attributes any business can have in this climate. I’ve seen so many restaurants go out of business because they’re “waiting for the pandemic to blow over,” or “sitting tight until the pandemic is done.” The reality is — who knows when this whole thing will be “over”?
The successful restaurants these days are the ones that adapt by changing their menu, offering discounts on delivery, and encouraging takeout/pickup. Their customers adapt along with them, and they keep their business! This is what makes or breaks a business — their ability to adapt quickly to new situations.
Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
Focus on two things: customer service and lifestyle branding.
When you have an independent eCommerce store, you have control over your company and branding as opposed to selling on Amazon where you don’t have that same control. On your own, you have the opportunity to provide extra touch points and more follow-up when it comes to customer care. All companies should utilize the more personal customer relationship, as it’s something eCommerce stores have over Amazon.
Secondly, lifestyle branding. You want to create a culture that influences and motivates your customers. Amazon might be a non-branded commerce platform that provides the best “bang for your buck,” but the advantage to creating your own lifestyle brand is that people will begin to recognize your brand name. You’ll establish yourself as an authority in your industry, and customers will choose you over Amazon even though your prices might be a little higher.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a retail business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I’ve noticed that CEOs and founders seem to be giving up too easily, too soon. Its seems like the minute they sense a downturn, they hold their breath and simply hope for the best. As I mentioned earlier, they need to be proactive in uncertain times. When that isn’t feasible, they need to adapt quickly to whatever changes come their way, and steer the company so that you can provide solutions while still bringing in more traffic.
Another mistake, as backwards as it may sound, is for the business to grow too quickly — especially if the CEOs weren’t prepared! Rapid expansion after a huge success might cause companies to run out of stock, or flood their inboxes faster than anyone in the company could deal with. After a poor experience with an overwhelmed company, customers might leave bad reviews, effectively ruining the company. Make sure that you set customers’ expectations so you are able to meet them, and take time out of your busy schedule to reach out to customers.
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 in general and for retail in particular?
The quality of your customer service represents the quality of your company as a whole. This is your touch point with your customers, your opportunity to leave a lasting first impression. Every time the customer thinks of your company, this is the impression they have of your company. Was it a positive first experience? Was it awkward or frustrating? Separate yourself from your competition with exceptional customer service. When it comes to customer feedback, glowing reviews on your eCommerce page will greatly influence others who are on the fence about buying from your company.
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?
I think some people simply don’t take the time to value each and every customer. They might know in their heads that “customer service is important,” but don’t quite put that into practice. In order to provide good service, you must cherish each individual order as if it was your first order. Management must treat every employee like they were their first employee. As the company grows, they might slowly drift away from the stellar customer service they provided when they first started. Growth and expansion takes priority, and customer care gets put on the sidelines — and there is the error. While the company grows, the quality of the customer service must grow along with it. Getting too busy with a company’s expansion is no reason to lose customers simply because you didn’t take time to keep up your customer service!
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
I received a call from a customer who had just purchased a standing desk from us. She was quite frustrated with installation, as it was a bit too heavy for her and she had some trouble figuring it out. As she explained this to me on the phone, she started to cry and needed to excuse herself for a moment. I took this opportunity to look up her order number in our records, and I realized she wasn’t too far away from our head office. I offered to go over there in person to install her desk for her, free of charge.
As I helped her set up the desk, she opened up to me about how her dog had just passed away, and she was having a really rough week all around. She was so grateful for the assistance with the desk that she even offered me money at the end of it. I politely declined — I was more than happy to help a customer out! She began to cry again, and expressed to me how much she really needed someone to talk to about all this. When I’d finished up and gone back to the office, I received a heartfelt email thanking me so much for my help.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
Yes, actually! This woman was the VP of her company, and after she recommended EFFYDESK to them, I sold another 20 standing desks. Just goes to show you what a small act of kindness can do!
A fantastic retail experience isn’t just one specific thing. It can be a composite of many different subtle elements fused together. Can you help us break down and identify the different ingredients that come together to create a “fantastic retail experience”?
The main ingredient is genuine care and value for each customer. When they realize the effort that goes into customer satisfaction, they’ll appreciate you so much more. Go the extra mile — don’t just answer the questions they have, but give them other recommendations as well. If your customer is having a bad experience with the company, do everything in your power to turn the situation around so you leave them on a positive note. Are they missing something from their order? Send them the replacement part in expedited mail so they receive it promptly. Were they dissatisfied with a delay in shipping? Give them a discount code or coupon to show them their business matters.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Respond Promptly- Nothing is more frustrating than sending a message and only receiving a reply a couple hours or even a few days later. Online shoppers will appreciate the quick responses, and this first point of contact show them that you’re eager to have them on board with your company. In EFFYDESK’s early days, we experienced a sudden boom in business. Our inboxes were flooded with more inquiries than we could handle. We were responding to messages about 6 hours after we had received them, but in these 6 short hours, these potential new customers had already moved on and given their business to our competitors. Since other companies were able to answer their questions faster than we were, the customers decided to buy from them instead.
- Answering Thoroughly- A pet peeve of many customers is getting replies from a customer service representative that does everything except answer their question. What’s the use of asking if the rep dances around the answer and just tells you things you already know? At EFFYDESK, we put emphasis on answering with straightforward, detailed information. We want our customers to be well-informed but not overwhelmed by too much information. We learned this the hard way — when we first started out, we were trying to answer messages as quickly as we could to clear our inboxes. Our email responses were just short, simple answers. We quickly realized that these emails didn’t engage customers to reply, and we found that customers appreciated it much more when we took time to answer in depth.
- Over-deliver on Promises- whether it’s promotions or guaranteed delivery dates, always deliver on time or early. Everyone runs on different schedules and you never know how important it is for your customers to get their products by a certain date. If a delay is absolutely unavoidable, keep your customer in the loop about when they can expect their items. Delays don’t reflect well on eCommerce sites! Setting a customer’s expectations is far better than having them wonder, day after day, when they will receive a product. They’ll appreciate the clear communication.
- Manage Expectations- If you’re out of stock, inform your customers ASAP, either on your website or through an email. Any and all delays need to be addressed, so customers know what’s going on. Any changes to the product need to be announced in some way — imagine how upset some customers might be if the model they ordered was modified in a way they didn’t expect! This is especially important if the pictures don’t accurately reflect the product. It’s your responsibility to let your customers know what they’re paying for.
- Follow-up- Even after the customer has purchased what they need or gotten the information they wanted, make sure you leave them with a positive last impression. Make sure they’re set and that they’re satisfied with their customer service experience. If they were unhappy with it, here’s your chance to ask them what you can improve on. Even after you’ve righted a mistake (in shipping, wrong items, or a miscommunication), reach out to them to check in and make sure they’re satisfied with their experience. This is the last touch-point with your customer, and sometimes, that’s what turns a 1-star review into a 5-star review.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person 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. 🙂
I’ve always been a big advocate of mental health alongside physical health, hence the industry that I’m focused on. Mental health is one of the most important investments you can make for yourself, and many people aren’t aware of how this affects their everyday life. If I was an authority and able to inspire a movement, it would be promoting mental health awareness. I’d even bring it up to par with physical health! EFFYDESK office accessories aren’t just about relieving physical pain, but about promoting a stress-free environment as well. I want to make sure that people are evaluating and prioritizing their mental health as well as their physical health, especially in periods of crisis and stress.
How can our readers further follow your work?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!