Keep in touch, not too touchy. Just because we CAN reach every customer whenever we want, it doesn’t mean we SHOULD. We have been testing the frequency of email and text communications with our customers to find the sweet spot of feeling informed, but not stalked.
Aspart of my series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kyle Barich, Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at Holistic Industries, one of the largest, private multi-state operators in cannabis. As CMO, Kyle oversees Holistic’s emerging “greenhouse” of brands that include corporate, retail, and consumer products. Kyle leverages his expertise in the highly-regulated pharmaceutical industry to help develop and grow Holistic and its brand with the goal of becoming recognized nationally as a leader in cannabis, a major challenge while cannabis is still under Federal prohibition. The brands that Kyle oversees include Holistic Industries, Liberty and Liberty Cannabis Cares, Strane, Do Drops, and the Jerry Garcia cannabis collection, among others.
Thank you so much for joining us! 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?
Before joining Holistic Industries in October 2019, I spent 25 years in marketing and advertising for the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry. Twenty-three of those years were spent at CDM, where I held various roles ranging from VP to President and was eventually named CEO. While there, I spent much of my time trying to understand the complex dynamic between doctors and patients (particularly with the launch of Viagra) and immediately saw parallels with what the cannabis industry is facing. Over the past two years, I’ve also been advising several cannabis companies and startups on how to successfully run their business and help with their branding and marketing strategies.
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?
I was responsible for a big agency pitch earlier in my career. A wow, creative, enthusiastic presentation all the way through, until the end. I flashed up a slide of agency past experiences without realizing that one of the logos was of this company’s fiercest and most hated competitor. The room reacted and we never recovered. The giant lesson I learned was about the little things. Sometimes details matter, sometimes they are everything.
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?
When I arrived in ad agency middle management, my boss was the Director of Client Services, the toughest job in an ad agency. Among the many gems, I learned from her was that nothing actually happens in meetings. Everything of importance and worth happens in the meeting before the meeting. And everything else happens in the meeting after the meeting. The goal she counseled, was to master the before the meeting and the after meeting.
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?
Let’s face it, customer retention, for any business, is crucial. In fact, I read a recent 2019 survey by Yotpo that reported that nearly 9 of 10 consumers professed loyalty to brands, with nearly a quarter (24.82%) saying they’re in fact more brand loyal this year versus last. It takes a lot of purchases to cultivate loyalty, so it needs to be earned and re-earned. That means you have to first engage with the customer in some way to get them to come into the store, then create an amazing customer experience at the time of purchase and follow that up with reasons for them to keep coming back.
Cannabis has unique customer service challenges because of the regulations placed on everything from marketing and advertising to the in-store retail experience, to the product itself and how it’s packaged. While cannabis is still illegal under federal prohibition, it is not yet possible for cannabis brands to gain the trust of consumers at the national level. That’s why a great customer experience, at every point of contact, is so important in the cannabis space right now. That halo of brand awareness and trust that national brands in other industries have established just isn’t possible. However, there is also a supply and demand issue in some legal markets meaning that some cannabis brands don’t actually need to provide any customer service at all because they are the only place patients and customers can get the products they truly need.
As the industry matures and consumers expect more from cannabis brands, we’ll see a renewed focus on high-quality customer service, more competitive pricing, and friendly retail experiences that will create greater brand loyalty.
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?
Sometimes businesses forget to prioritize the customer because they’re caught up in other aspects of their business and marketing strategies…and that never ends well. In this new digitized era, customer expectations are at an all-time high, and this new generation of consumers expects their favorite brands to understand the entire customer lifecycle.
According to a recent Harris Poll survey, 37 percent of consumers indicated that they will no longer do business with a company that fails to offer a personalized experience. This tells you that just one poor experience could turn away a customer forever who’s been loyal for years.
In cannabis, we have regulatory requirements that actually make it challenging for brands to provide a great customer experience so we have to work extra hard, and be very creative, to make sure our customers feel comfortable and are happy. If you’ve ever been to a cannabis dispensary, either medical or adult-use, there is some form of security at the entrance and an obligatory I.D. check. This experience will normalize as cannabis and the dispensary experience becomes more mainstream, but it can be an initial shock to consumers who enter a dispensary for the first time. So, we have to think about how we make every customer interaction, including that one, very positive.
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?
Oh, absolutely. The more options a consumer has, the greater the potential for them to seek out new brands to find what they like best. Customer experience isn’t just what happens when consumers interact with a brand online or in-store, it’s also their experience with the actual products. In the cannabis space, we’re already seeing more companies ramp up their Intellectual Property (IP) and R&D efforts to create new formulations and form factors that will delight, and sometimes surprise, customers to retain them. Brands should always be innovating if they want to be long-term players in the industry, and need to differentiate and stand out from their competitors.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
One of our employees in our Liberty dispensary in Rockville, MD was Rabbi James Kahn. In his role there, he consulted with patients and customers to provide a very personal experience. He listened and helped them determine which products would be most beneficial, made recommendations, and was sure to follow up so that he could tweak his recommendations accordingly based on the customer’s experience. Since he is a Rabbi, James also brought a very special perspective to customers who would wait, sometimes over an hour, to speak with him in the dispensary about their cannabis use and the stigma still associated with it.
One patient who had been using medical cannabis to recover from an accident came to James one day with an admission of guilt. He said that he had fully recovered from the accident, but he continued to use cannabis and felt shame. James spent over an hour with him, asking questions about his experience and why he continued to use cannabis after the accident. The patient said before he started using cannabis, he didn’t deal with anxiety and stress well and after work would rather go upstairs to his office and sit by himself than interact with his family. He told Rabbi James that when he took a few puffs on his smoke pen after work, he actually wanted to play with his children, make dinner with the family and sometimes even make love to his wife. The counsel from Rabbi James helped him see that there was no shame in using cannabis after the accident since it dramatically improved the quality of life for himself and his family.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
We saw that our over-the-top customer service at Holistic, and specifically the experience with Rabbi James in our Liberty dispensary in Rockville, could dramatically impact the quality of life for our customers. So, we knew we needed to scale and replicate that experience in other locations. We recently promoted Rabbi James to the National Director of Outreach for Holistic so now he is able to bring his perspective and counsel to customers and patients around the country.
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.
1. Hug, don’t haggle. Everything we do at Holistic is about putting the customer first. This is the ethos of our CEO and founder, Josh Genderson, who learned everything at his family’s wine and spirits business, Schneider’s of Capital Hill and cellar.com. His family business has always been synonymous with the over-the-top customer experience and that’s what Liberty Cannabis dispensaries are all about.
2. Surprise and delight with your brands. When you open a package of Strane, our newest brand of strain-specific products for people who know what they want, the connaisseurs, you might find a “HighKu”.Who doesn’t want an unexpected clever little poem when they buy their cannabis?
3. People want to feel like they’re getting a deal. Everyone wants a friend in the business and everyone wants a deal. We use merchandising techniques from the wine and spirits industry to increase the size of the basket and have the customer feel good about it. Can’t share every secret!
4. Make it right when things go wrong. Retail is impossible to get right for every customer and cannabis retail is dramatically more complex. We can’t always guarantee the availability of every product all the time and not every customer is satisfied with the product they take home. We know that it is better to be liberal with return policies. See lesson 1.
5. Keep in touch, not too touchy. Just because we CAN reach every customer whenever we want, it doesn’t mean we SHOULD. We have been testing the frequency of email and text communications with our customers to find the sweet spot of feeling informed, but not stalked.
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?
Yes, positive recommendations and reviews work wonders. We like to encourage customers that have had a great experience to follow us on our social channels, leave positive reviews and comments where they can, and tell others in their community about their experience. Having our social media channels and hashtags visible in the dispensary helps along with our referral program and running promotions that encourage sharing with a friend.
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 would make sure that true cannabis treatment was covered by insurance.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can connect with me on LinkedIn here and follow me on Twitter here, at @KyleBarich. If you’d like to learn more about Holistic Industries and all of the great work we’re doing for the cannabis industry, you can visit www.holisticindustries.com.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!