Brandon Blahnik: How DTC Cookware Titan Made In Builds IronClad CX
DTC cookware brand Made In was launched in 2017 as a resource for premium kitchen tools at a fraction of the price. In 2020, while most of the world shut down, their business grew by an astonishing 7x.
DTC cookware brand Made In was launched in 2017 as a resource for premium kitchen tools at a fraction of the price. In 2020, while most of the world shut down, their business grew by an astonishing 7x. The growth was incredible, but also led to a strain on the CX team. Brandon Blahnik served as Made In’s Director of Customer Experience. In this episode, he shares how the company survived and thrived thanks to a focus on CX that started from the top down. Key to their CX success was taking a proactive approach to problem-solving, and constantly seeking to improve even when CSAT scores were great.
Brandon Blahnik served as Made In’s Director of Customer Experience from 2020 until early 2022. His role at Made In included overseeing all customer-facing teams such as phone, chat, email, and social, and working strategically with business partners to improve products and solve problems. Prior to Made In, Brandon worked for over a decade in service roles. His career began with the Orlando Magic, where an internship turned into a senior Premium Client Services Manager role. He also served as Head of Service Operations at Corkcicle from 2017-2020. Made In delivers high-quality kitchen tools to home cooks and professional chefs. Their philosophy is simple: better cookware means better meals.
11:16 - Prioritize CX from the top down
When Made In encountered an extreme holiday backlog, the CEO decided that every employee needed to pitch in.
“It was right after Black Friday, Cyber Monday in a year where trying to keep anything in stock was virtually impossible. So long lead times backorders for a lot of the orders. Which, as best as we tried to communicate those lean times to folks and expected ship dates, still led to a ton of questions and problems. So we were sitting on a 4-5 day first response time for a lot of the stuff in the email. We had called a couple of what our CEO titled as ‘snow days’ internally, where we had everyone in the company kind of shut down for a day and attack the queue, including our President, our CFO, all of our leadership team, the accounting team. Whoever was all kind of jumping in and attacking whatever questions we could just to try and get back to folks before the holiday. So really quickly identified that this is a leadership team and a culture that cares about the customer. They're not putting CX off on the side. ‘Good luck, we feel for you, here's some coffee and we'll cater in some food for you guys to try and work hard. Noo. They're in the trenches with us and making sure we had what we needed.”
18:06 - Look at where you can improve
It can be easy to relax when CSAT numbers are high. But the winning strategy means looking at unhappy customers to continue to improve the overall experience.
“I think at scale it gets easy. It's like, oh man, I'm glad I don't have to touch that and deal with the problems and the ugly stuff. Like, I like seeing the five-star reviews. I like seeing CSAT sitting at 94%. Like that's awesome. That's great. But the 6% is where I feel like a lot of the insights come from that can be a little uncomfortable to dig into, but I think that’s what's really going to drive improvement longer-term. And for us at Made In, it's where I've really credited Chip And Jake, our two co-founders, and Lindsay and Chad our VP of marketing and VP of ops. We sat together every two weeks and have a strategic conversation about what do we need to be working on? And that we didn't get to steady state with really strong CSAT first response time then they gave a pat on the back and thumbs up and said like, Hey, great job, keep it up. And let us run things. No, they still wanted to know where we could continue to improve.”
21:05 - Identify specific problems and questions
Brandon’s team is constantly on the lookout for common questions and issues, so that they can brainstorm solutions as quickly as possible.
“It all starts with identifying what are the problems and issues that we need to go do something about. What are the questions that are coming in from customers that customers don't want to ask? What are the problems that people are experiencing that we can do something about? We're shipping physical products, so there's going to be issues that happen. Anytime you're shipping products across the country, there's going to be damages. There's going to be stuff that's lost. We're limited in what we can actually do to solve for some of those problems. But there's a lot that we can solve for internally. When we think about issues or bugs or problems on the website, how do we very quickly capture that feedback, those issues, whatever info our web team needs to go try and solve whatever that specific problem is.
22:16 - Make data your friend
When you have data at your fingertips, use it to sift through trends so that you can identify areas for significant savings across the business.
“We've got a ton of data on returns, and return reasons, and product defects, and warranty requests, and a variety of feedback, product reviews on, you've had it for a couple of weeks using it. What what's your experience been so far? And so how do we pull all that data together to identify trends, and like, ‘Hey, product team, we're not getting as, or we're seeing a drop-off in performance reviews and ratings across X product. I think we may need to dig in from a QC perspective here,’ or, ‘we're seeing breakage rate up and to the right in some of these SKUs. I think we need to rethink our packaging with a few hundred SKUs, that data can get clunky really quickly. So if you're not digging in and putting in place some structure to identify changes to those trends, there's stuff that can easily get lost. And as we shift towards our individual margins across stuff, there's some insights there that can certainly drive some real savings and impact across the business.”
25:06 - Conduct regular check-ins
The Made In CX team meets weekly to rehash the previous week and look to the future. This provides high-level stakeholders with the opportunity to work together.
“Every Monday we've got a full operations meeting where it's not our frontline service staff, but everyone else across the logistics and ops and CX side of the business all talking through expectations for the week, trends problems from the previous week, and just having a 45-minute strategic conversation about what's going on. What are the themes, problems that we're seeing on the CX side that the ops team needs to know about, so when it comes to fulfillment issues, problems, delays, and initial scans, and getting product into the carrier network, and some of those things. We're raising some of those concerns for my counterparts on the logistics ops side to do something. And then I've got a strategic conversation with the other directors and our VP across ops, middle of the week, to be a little more strategic about moving forward our larger projects.”
27:18 - Communicate with customers proactively
Prioritizing CX means keeping customers in the loop at all times. If a shipment is delayed, Made In immediately lets customers know what is going on.
“We want people to purchase. So we want to be as close to accurate as possible. We don't want to under-promise and over-deliver where this is going to ship March 1st, because there's a lot of people that aren't going to buy, even if we think it's going to ship earlier. So how do we properly manage and communicate any of those changes so we're as accurate as possible on the site, so we're not having to send that email of, ‘Hey, so sorry. We're going to miss your ship date.’ But that's important too that if we are going to miss an expected date, that we lay it out. I don't want to wait for the customer to realize, Hey, you said it was going to ship yesterday. It's today. Where's my stuff? But instead, ‘Hey, we had a delayed import, this is what's going on, expecting it's going to ship on X date,’ and how do we make sure we're not wrong twice? So how we properly manage that becomes really important. And we went from a really reactive set up there in a lot of ways to being much more structured in how we manage those dates on the site to lead to a better customer experience by managing those expectations properly.”
32:53 - Maximize customer acquisition costs
Every existing customer has the potential to purchase more. It’s important to take care of any person who has bought your products in the past.
“We hope that if we can get you to buy once, the product's awesome. Not worried about that. But you have a great experience, even if you have a problem, if we resolve it really, really well, your trust in us goes up and you're much more likely to buy a second time. And the customer acquisition cost is the same whether they buy one pan or a $3,000 outfit your entire kitchen package that gives you everything you need. So for the ones that bought one or two, how do we get them to transact a second or third time? Those initial dollars are already spent to get them in the door. We need to take great care of people once they've committed to purchase, and trusted us enough to give us their credit card number and order something that they physically haven't touched or seen outside of a website or an ad somewhere on Instagram or YouTube.”
39:06 - Build a great CX team
Brandon says that the best team members are empowered to make decisions on the fly, and are proactive about solving problems that come up.
“Identifying staff that can think not just in hard and fast rules of ‘this is or is not what we do’ and to empower them to make decisions is really, really big. And then it’s people that can work with enough flexibility and trust and execute kind of day to day, just because I don't have the time to babysit, they’re adults. And if I trust and empower them, I feel like engagement is higher. Retention is higher. I’ve been lucky that I've been able to take care of my staff and not had turnover, which I know in a lot of service environments, you're dealing with the 1-2% of problems and issues all day, and that can be really draining. But by empowering staff to take care of folks and bubble up problems and trends and trying to solve for those so those questions don't keep coming in. No one wants to be a hamster on a wheel that's answering the same question every day. What can we do to prevent that same question from coming in so that they can work on more interesting challenges and problems is helpful.”
47:17 - Create content that adds value
Work to educate and inspire customers in mediums and platforms that matter. For Made In, this means catering content to home cooks as well as professional chefs.
“Regardless of who we're speaking to, we want to make sure we're meeting them at the level that they're at, through the channel they want to interact with us at. And how do we do that at scale is a really interesting, fun challenge. And how do we get more targeted and personalized with the level of education? Because we don't want to speak underneath the professional chefs, and we don't want to speak over the heads of the more casual home cook that may not know a premium tool from a more basic one. But either way, we want to meet them where they're at with the right information, the right place. And how do we be more strategic about how we attack those problems and challenges this year are I think some of the questions we're trying to ask. How do we create content that adds value to the customer experience?”
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