Skip to main content

Building Customer Trust—and Relationships

With Alli Webb, Allison Bentley, Alex Bradberry, Meredith Ruskin, and Alisa Gumbs

42 minutes

Build and grow your business with Yelp

Verify my free listing

Building trust is the first step in establishing long-term relationships with your customers. As more consumers seek out businesses that align with their values, it’s never been more important to create a trusted relationship from the moment they walk in your door or look up your business online. This panel brought together experts to illustrate how to create strong relationships with customers at every stage of their purchasing journey.

Prefer to read? Check out the blog version of this session.

Additional resources

Alli Webb Founder, Drybar
Allison Bentley Senior Director of Merchandising Initiatives and Consumer Insights, GNC
Alex Bradberry Founder and Owner, The Sparkle Bar
Meredith Ruskin VP of Marketing, Kona Brewing Co., Anheuser-Busch
Alisa Gumbs Deputy Chief Content Officer, BLACK ENTERPRISE

Emily: … and since we are running tight on time, everyone, we’re going to throw up that poll and roll right into our next session, so do not run away. Let us know what you thought about preparing for economic uncertainty and stick right here because now I am handing the mic over to a dear friend of mine and someone who I am so glad is joining this panel this year.

Alisa is going to be leading this conversation, and man, do we have a powerhouse of speakers coming together to talk about building trust and relationships, one of the most important elements of a business. So without further ado, Alisa, I’ll let you lead us off with this incredible group of women.

Alisa: Thank you so much, Emily. Hello and welcome to the next session in Yelp’s Women in Business Summit: Building Customer Trust and Relationships. I’m Alisa Gumbs, vice President and Deputy Chief Content Officer at Black Enterprise and the head of our Sisters Inc. Franchise for women entrepreneurs and I’m so excited to be here with you today.

Developing strong and lasting relationships with customers is arguably the most important job of any small business. And as consumers demand more from the brands they shop with, building trust becomes even more essential. Joining us are four knowledgeable and accomplished women in business who will share the strategies that worked for them.

Please welcome the Senior Director of Merchandising Initiatives and consumer insights for GNC, Allison Bentley, the owner of Sparkle Bar, Arizona’s first makeup only beauty studio. Alex Bradberry, the founder of Drybar, the national chain of hair salons, dedicated to giving you a better blowout, Alli Webb and the Vice President of Marketing for Kona Brewing Company, part of the Anheuser-Busch family, Meredith Ruskin. Ladies, thank you for being here.

Allison: Thank you for having us.

Alex: Thank you.

Meredith: Thank you.

Alisa: Let’s start with a little background into who each of you are and what you do. Allison, can you start us off?

Allison: I’d love to. Allison Bentley. I’m Senior Director of Merchandising Initiatives and Consumer Insights here at GNC. And just so everyone’s aware, GNC’s a leading global health and wellness brand that provides high quality science back solutions to our customers to support their need to live well.

Specifically in my role, I’m responsible for defining and driving our consumer centric programs that are built with a mission to support customers health while also driving loyalty to GNC. In addition, I’m accountable for our consumer and competitive insight functions within our organization that really help us understand the customer behaviors, motivations that thoughtfully inform how we evolve our solutions that we offer them from product development to programs based on the customer needs and what. So I’m excited to be here with you today.

Alisa: Wow. Alex, can you tell everyone what you do?

Alex: Yes, I’m thrilled to be here today. My name is Alex Bradberry. I’m founder of The Sparkle Bar. We are a makeup and beauty studio that was created to celebrate the diversity in beauty by creating inclusive spaces that reminds people that they’re perfect as they are because it makes them special and it makes them unique because that they’re one of one and we’re here to remind them of that magic that lives within them.

The Sparkle Bar is a brick and mortar that has a team of artists that are here, but we also travel, so we’re able to create experiences that really leave people feeling better than what they came. We like to think that you leave here leaving a little sparkle wherever you go.

Alisa: Love that. Alli, how about you?

Alli: So I started a company called Drybar, gosh, 13 years ago. I sold it two years ago, which is a pretty long story. I’ve since started a handful of other companies, most notably Squeeze, which is a massage concept that you probably haven’t heard of yet, but we are a completely franchise operation now, having learned what works and what doesn’t work, and it’s a massage concept. It’s a brick and mortar, same founding team as Drybar it, but it’s at base, so you book on the app, you tip on the app, similar to an Uber experience, but for massage.

We’ve sold 60 franchises in the last year so it’s really taking off. And then I have a jewelry company that I’ve started. I’m working on my second book. I’ve actually just finished it. It’s coming out in November. And I advise on a lot of companies and invest in a lot of companies. A lot of things that I’m doing at this kind of second act in life for me.

Alisa: That’s awesome. And, Meredith?

Meredith: Awesome. Hi, everyone. So happy to be here. I work at a not so small company called Anheuser-Busch. So I’m pretty sure you guys are probably familiar with their products if you’ve ever drank a beer, which is great. And I’ve had the privilege within Anheuser-Busch to work on some incredible lifestyle brands.

So I spent the last couple years working on scaling Corona globally, leading their lifestyle platforms, digital content, storytelling content, as well as all innovation and new product development. And now I have the privilege to be the VP of marketing for Kona Brewing, which is a brand born in Hawaii that we’re now expanding around the US.

Alisa: The expertise on this panel is so impressive. I want to jump right in. Today we’re talking about building customer trust and we’re going to get into some of the differences between some of our big brand representatives here and some of our smaller or startup businesses.

Let’s start with the bigger brands. Allison, your role at GNC was specifically created to take the brand from product-centric to consumer-centric. How have you created and strengthened trust with consumers?

Allison: Yes, so like Alisa mentioned my role is a newer role here within the past year and really it’s to take us from more of a product-centric organization to a consumer-centric organization. So at GNC, consumer-centricity means the customer is the focal point for all decisions we’re making from everything in the assortment of our products or services, experiences, all to create satisfaction and loyalty.

Really through this we focus on listening to our customers and responding to them, so the voice of our customer is utmost important. Specifically in my role, I’ve contributed through creating and strengthening the trust of our customers with the development of our consumer-facing programs. So this includes our subscription program, which we have renamed and really more than just a renamed, completely revamped it to be more mission focused. That’s called GNC routines and this really goal-oriented that really deepens the relationship with our customers.

This also includes our newly launched telehealth and prescription services program, GNC Rx, which provides customers solutions beyond just the assortment they can find in their stores. And then it also includes loyalty, engagement tools through my GNC rewards loyalty program that support behavior change, goal achievement and compliance.

So really taking the consumer experience or just from being product-focused to overall health and wellness goal achievement, compliance base. All these programs were created to really to strengthen the trust with our customers to drive loyalty and to the brand at the end of the day. We have the ability to reach them online through our mobile app and in stores all across the country.

So whether it’s through routines, a GNC routines, our GNC Rx or customized consultations with our in-store coaches that we like to call them, our store associates, we really pride ourself on offering unique solutions to every customer that really helps them with their goal achievement and to live well, which is the utmost important.

Alisa: You mentioned listening to your customers. What are some of the tools that you’ve leveraged there, whether it’s listening to customers, whether it’s building loyalty, building engagement in order to strengthen that relationship?

Allison: We have a myriad of tools we use. We have our own GNC innovation panel that actually is GNC consumers that we can reach out to even if we’re thinking about launching a new product. We can see that product with them ahead of time, bring them along the journey with us. So that’s just one area that really goes into impacting our product development and from the taste, the formulation, the delivery, the packaging.

We also have our customer experience and customer service standpoint where we really daily look at the reviews on the site, what our customers are saying. There’s the social aspect of it through social listening. So I think the voice of your customer can come from all different areas within your organization.

Even with our coaches in store, we have a direct dialogue with them to understand what customers are saying in store that we potentially can’t capture online. So through all the touchpoints as well as externally, what other consumers, even the competitive landscape are saying and looking for.

Alisa: Wow. Meredith, similar to how GNC is working to shift to be more consumer-centric, I know Kona is also undergoing a large shift in how it brands itself and how it’s seen by consumers. As Kona is expanding to new markets, what are you doing to build and maintain customer trust?

Meredith: Yeah, it’s a great question. Kona Big Wave is a brand that is still pretty small, so some of you might not have heard of it, but it’s not a new brand. It’s actually a brand that was started 30 years ago in the Kona area of the big island in Hawaii and has been growing organically since that time, so it has a really rich and deep history and a very authentic connection to its homeland of Hawaii.

And so for us, the way it really got built was quite the opposite of the normal Anheuser-Busch way of going big and fast. It was really grassroots. It was people who maybe traveled to Hawaii and had an amazing experience while drinking this beer and then they came home and they wanted to recreate that and they wanted to feel that and experience those memories again. And so as it started expanding distribution to the mainland, people were discovering it. They were really getting swept away by the values of the brand, by the lifestyle of the brand. And so it was this very organic and grassroots expansion.

And now I’m in a position where I get to go bigger, get more distribution, have a little bit more investment behind this amazing brand, which is great, but it’s also a responsibility not to change what worked and not to betray the authenticity of that foundation. That’s why it’s loyal fan base loves it today.

And so when thinking about expansion, we’re really thinking about how do we create broader appeal and make the brand more accessible but stay true to its values? And so what we know today is that even though people love this beer, a lot of people don’t want to try it because they think it’s a craft brand. And not everyone loves IPAs or heavier craft brands, but actually the liquid is this amazing, easy to drink, refreshing, perfect for the group kind of liquid, but people don’t know it because it looks more like a craft brand.

So we are making very intentional choices to show people that this brand can transcend the world of craft and really be a go-to beer for anyone. So we are evolving the packaging from some of the more intricate illustrated styles that you often see in craft some to something more modern, more sleek, easier to decode, more representative of a lifestyle.

But we’re not losing the key elements of the DNA, the Kona Big Wave blue color is staying. We still have our wave illustration with the outrigger on it. We’ll still have amazing foliage, the hibiscus that’s so true to Hawaii, but we’re just kind of simplifying and making it easier to decode and a little less intimidating for your less frequent, less heavy beer drinker.

So it’s changes like that where we’re evolving, but we’re staying true to who we are. And most importantly of all, we’ll never lose that authenticity of the roots from Hawaii because that’s the one thing that no other brand can have is really that spirit of aloha and it’s something so true and that we absolutely can’t lose in anything that we do.

Alisa: Consistency and brand cohesiveness really is so important when building a trustworthy brand. Alex, being in the beauty industry, I know consumer trust is crucial to your business. Can you tell us what you’re doing to build that trust with your customers and what it looks like on a day-to-day basis?

Alex: Yes. Here at the Sparkle Bar we were created to celebrate diversity. And so that really starts in how we show up in the messaging and story that we tell and being very true to who we are at our core. Our North Star for us is Maya Angelou’s quote that, “People might forget what you say, they might forget what you do, but they’ll never forget how you make them feel”. And it’s what that vein in mind always that we approach every single person and here to remind them that they are perfect and beautiful as they are. We’re just going to enhance those already amazing features using our medium of choice, which is makeup.

You work so hard to get clients in the door. So really creating a consistent experience that they want to rave about and then tell their friends about is really the goal and objective. We aim to over serve an underserved audience who’s ever felt like they didn’t match the beauty standards, which for us don’t exist.

So it’s really important that through every single interaction we have, people walk away feeling filled and because the way that we show our love is through makeup and reminding people that they are perfect and beautiful and sending them off into the world better than what they came.

Alisa: I’m sure, Alex, that some of our smaller or more local entrepreneurs would love to know the ways that Sparkle Bar builds trust with customers even without having the big budget of a national brand.

Alex: Right. And yes, I mean we are a completely bootstrapped and that’s something that can be very tricky. So once you have that client in the door, it’s super important to delight them and to the point where they’re going to evangelize on your behalf. For us, the referral is the highest compliment that we can ever receive. And so to create experiences that are super positive or people are wanting to come back and tell their friends and to the point where their friends think of us for the next time they have something special, whether that’s a birthday, a bachelorette, whatever is very important.

We have to create experiences that are super positive because when you don’t have a huge marketing budget or PR or a lot to spend on SEO, you are required to get collaborative and really create awesome experiences that are consistent throughout. So something that is a part of who we are is that we’re able to service every skin tone type, texture, age, ethnicity.

The reason we don’t do hair is because if we can’t do every hair texture type, we will do no hair, so our clients know us and know that about us, and we’ve built a reputation on being able to over serve our audience.

Alisa: Alli, for a bigger beauty brand like Drybar or a personal care brand like Squeeze, building trust may look a little bit different than for smaller business owners. As we talk about Reach. How are you able to authentically build a national community?

Alli: It is really, I mean I think we’re all kind of saying the same thing here and it is true. I mean, you build brand loyalty kind of one customer at a time and it is, like these ladies have said, it’s like the second a client walks in the door, the surprise and delight factor for Drybar, it was an affordable luxury, but it’s a very high-end, luxurious brand and experience.

And I come from a long line of entrepreneurs and I was raised with the notion of the customer is always right, the customer is king, you bend over backwards. And I think when you work in a service business, if you don’t bring that to the table and like Alex was saying it’s like it’s all about the way we make people feel from Drybar to Squeeze. I mean, it’s really what matters and whatever you have to do to continue to garner that loyalty with really, for me, it was always about total transparency.

If we had to raise our prices, it was because our rent was getting raised and we would communicate that to our clients. I mean, radical transparency, amazing customer service, staying really connected with the customer on what’s working and what’s not working to a point. I’ve never been a figure things out by committee. I think customers also don’t always know what they want until you tell them. And that was kind of Drybar.

I had so many people tell me that the concept wouldn’t work, that we couldn’t survive on doing just blowouts at $35. But I felt like in my gut there was that customer out there. But yeah, we are a bigger company now, but for as long as I can remember, we still operated a small company and we were doing the same things that Alex’s company is doing.

We’re collaborating and we’re asking people to talk about their experience and tell their friends and post about it and all of that stuff never goes away. It’s kind of like the bread and butter of any business, no matter how big you get, even the bigger you get, the more important that stuff is.

Alisa: You walked us in your intro through some of the journey that you had with Drybar. You started with salons, expanded to hair products and hair tools, then you wrote a best-selling book, launched a podcast, you’ve just written another book and expanded into other businesses after you sold the company.

But that expansion is kind of a tricky thing for small businesses to navigate, so can you share strategies for building trust while you are expanding your customer’s idea of the brand?

Alli: Yeah, it is. I mean, it’s one thing when you have one or two or five or 10 stores, there is still a level of connectivity that you have not only with your customers but your teams in all the stores. And as you grow, it gets increasingly harder and harder to do that. I think for us it was a lot of really empowering our store managers and our regional managers to get really connected to the customers in that local market and to make sure that our managers had the ability to surprise and to delight clients and staff to keep that mom and pop feeling that we had worked really hard to create. That started to go away.

There was a point where I knew every single stylist in LA and then we got past five stores and I was traveling around the country and there was no way to know it, so it was really important that whoever the manager was in that store felt like that store was their store. And that was always the sign. I mean, you’re only as good as your people and I’m sure everybody on this panel agrees with that.

It’s the people who are the front lines running the business are the people to empower. And we would do that in a variety of ways by giving them extra budget to surprise and delight their staff on a really crazy day where it was hard and three stylists didn’t show up and we’d just go buy lunch for everybody so that everybody feels really taken care of.

And that kind of stuff, which I think somebody else said really translates down into the customer if whoever’s taking care of the customer feels really taken care of then that, it’s a domino effect. So I think my best answer to that is as we grew keeping that really intact and with a company like Squeeze, which is a completely franchise operation that doesn’t have, it still has a manager but has an owner and operator in every store, it’s a lot easier, which is frankly why we chose to go down this, is part of the reason that we chose to franchise because you do have an owner operator in every store, every market that can pop into the store or if business isn’t doing well, they know how to get that local buy in.

Whereas somebody, in my case, I lived in LA and if the Chicago market was suffering, I just didn’t know that market and I didn’t know anybody in that market. Whereas an owner operator has that local knowledge and can go drum up business and go to the local schools or the local news and whatever it is. So it’s like it’s as you grow bigger, paying attention to who’s in the trenches, the smaller parts of the business.

Alisa: Yeah. I want to get into some of the challenges that we can be faced with when trying to build relationships with our customers. Allison, you’re in the unique position here of helping a brand that’s almost a hundred years old. GNC has been around for a long time, for better or for worse, people sort of have a set idea of who GNC or what GNC is, and you’re now helping them evolve and adapt in response to consumer trends. That can’t be easy. Tell us about it.

Allison: Right. Yeah. So we have been around since 1935, so 87 years, which is really important I think, to bring that expertise and knowledge that we have had for so long into the future. And I think that’s really over time as our consumers needs and preferences have shifted, our business has had to adapt to remain intact for 87 years. So I think that there is always that challenge.

And our challenge in particular is the consumer trends and preferences are constantly changing when it comes to health and wellness and evolving mostly for the good through education that’s out there. And so this is a challenge, but also it allows us to really focus in on the transparency of our products, the efficaciousness of them and innovation, which really allows us to be seen as a trusted resource to provide health and wellness solutions.

A key way of doing this is listening to them. Like I mentioned earlier, is bringing them along and creating this amazing opportunity to connect with them and help them in their health and wellness journey.

I think a lot of what people don’t know about GNC is that we have an incredible team of in-house researchers, scientists, nutritionists, dieticians, all on staff that their day-to-day task is literally to scour research, to look at ingredient trends and evolve each product in the development process just to make sure it is the best out there. And there is not one product that’s on the GNC shelves in store or online that doesn’t pass the review for efficaciousness and ensure that the ingredients in it are what are supposed to be in it.

So I think me, when you’re into the organization, that’s something I didn’t know that really matters in this industry is to know what you’re putting in your body or on your body. We really look at the trends within the market from ingredient trends, packaging trends, consumer purchasing trends to get the development in line for the future. And what can also, I think Alli said this well, it’s like sometimes they don’t know what they need and it is our job to provide them with those solutions that they don’t potentially know that they need.

So in summary, I think the 87-year history is the leading role that plays in our customer trust and something we don’t take for granted. They’ve come to us already for 87 years and we don’t want to lose that trust with them.

Alisa: Yeah. Alex, I think you’re incredibly relatable on this panel as the owner of a single brick and mortar store, and I know that you have some tactics that you use because of that involving foot traffic or being part of the local small business community that helps you with your relationships with your customers. Can you share more about that?

Alex: Yes. Yeah, we’ve been very grassroots from the beginning and have been very tapped into our local community. One of the ways that has helped us grow is being a part of local organizations and groups that have a very similar audience of those people who would be likely to get their makeup done because the same girl or guy that likes to get their makeup done probably also enjoys pressed juices, also has enough disposable income, also has the treat themself mentality.

So it’s important that you really understand your client. And to Alli’s point too, our team is everything. They’re the nucleus of our organization. And so making sure that within our team, everyone is having, everyone [inaudible 00:25:20] have a great day all the time, but to ensure that they’re well taken care of because these are the people that are having direct interactions with your clients and become evangelists for your brand.

And so you want them to have a consistent experience so that when, it doesn’t matter whose chair they sit in, that they know that when they walk out of these doors, they’re going to look like the best version of themselves. Just like when you walk into Target and look to your left. Guest services is right there or where you can expect to find the toilet paper. That kind of consistency that people can count on is what is important.

But yes, collaborating, working with others, being in community, I think it’s the only thing that truly helps save us over the last couple years because being a brick and mortar as a service provider, which defied the laws of social distancing in makeup, having that community around us to help buoy us through these challenging times is very important. So I would encourage everyone to get plugged in, whether that’s your Better Business Bureau, any marketing or groups where you can network and just stay plugged in because as an entrepreneur it can get very lonely.

Not everyone understands what you’re going through, the conversations that you’re having with yourself after you’re thinking about it all the time. That’s something that I had to realize that even though I have people who work here and that really love their job, this is not their whole life. And so it is important to get in community with other people who understand what you go through.

I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I love what I get to do every single day and it makes me very happy that I get to do that. And even reframing the words of what you get to do versus what you have to do is really important, but it is an honor to be able to create a space where people come in and feel welcome and invited and included, where they can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that there is somebody here that understands their unique needs.

For us, it is in particular women of color who’ve ever had a bad experience with makeup and ever walked out looking like another version of that that they didn’t understand or relate to. So really knowing your customer and client, being true to yourself, your why has been I think something that has been very helpful in us and as we continue to grow.

Alisa: Meredith, you mentioned earlier the importance of staying true to the brand identity. As brands try new things, how do you make sure you don’t alienate those customers that have been with you from the start?

Meredith: Yeah, I think I really like and relate to a lot of what Alex and Alli were just saying about local. I think as you expand the local element of what you’re doing becomes even more important because that’s how you get feedback and that’s how you make sure you’re not losing touch with the actual person who’s enjoying your product.

And so I think yes, as we expand, does that mean we’re going to invest in mass media so that we can reach more people and grow awareness? Absolutely. But if we do that without maintaining the bottoms up programming, that actually is where you engage with the customer day-to-day, then you’re going to lose relevance with that customer who actually has been drinking you for years and already really loves that brand. And so that’s where programming at the bar level, programming at the experiential level becomes so important.

And so experiences is a big part of our marketing strategy as well, as well as on-premise bar programming. And so we’re able to host aloha hours and that’s where we can train individual bar owners, this is what an aloha hour should look like, this is what it should feel like. You get $2 off your Big Wave, and so that’ll be something all summer long that it’s like if you go into your local bar on a Wednesday at four, I want it to feel like you’re having a different experience that Kona’s bringing you and that’s allowing you mentally to disconnect and go to that place of paradise just by enjoying a beer in your local bar.

And so it’s doing those things at scale, but really in every single place that’s going to allow you to stay really relevant for people in their day-to-day life. Beer isn’t a complicated product, they just want to relax and enjoy you and so how do you be that for them and keep being that?

The other area of course is we do have a community on social, so how do we make sure we’re still engaging, asking for feedback? Kona has really sick merch and it always has, so our consumers love to rep us, which is amazing. So as we’re changing a little bit of the packaging, how do we come out with even cooler merch that they want to go out and get the new thing versus feeling and theirs becomes vintage, which is still amazing.

So there are definitely things like that, but for me it’s more about the day in, day out experiences at the local level and trusting our sales team, our bartenders, everyone around the country that if we explain the brand well enough, then they’ll be able to then convey that to their local customers as well.

Alisa: And Alli, looking back on your 10 years at Drybar and now the starts of your new ventures, what are some of the lessons you’ve learned when it comes to building customer trust and maybe what are some things you would’ve done differently?

Alli: I mean, there are so many lessons that we learned in terms of things that were surprising to me. For example, we have from the get-go at Drybar, you could book on, well, this was 2010 and people were still kind of on blackberries, but you could book on your computer, you could book a blowout in the middle of the night, and that was always a great experience.

And then eventually when the iPhone came along and you could book on the app and we thought everybody would do that. However, 50% of our clientele would still like to call in, which was just shocking to me. As someone who does not to talk on the phone, I just couldn’t believe it. And no matter what we did, they wanted to book by calling. So I think it was like then we found ourselves in the call center business, which wasn’t a business I wanted to be in, but something that we had to be in.

So I think obviously being really nimble and paying attention to what your clients are wanting, it’s just as important. It’s a really important rub like we’ve all talked about of like, “Here’s what I think you need, but here’s what we’re telling you we need as well.” And so the marriage of those two things, and I think the call center is a great example because that was a massive challenge to figure out how to do that right?

None of us had ever been in the call center business. I knew blowouts and I knew salons and I knew customer service, and we knew branding and we knew a lot of things that made us successful. The call center business was not one of them. And then we were, at the time, I mean we first opened Drybar, for anybody who’s listening who went to the first Brentwood location, we did actually have phones inside the bar, but what was happening is that people would be, the shop was crazy and it was loud and blow dryers and music, and then the phone would ring and we’d be like, “What?”

And we couldn’t really hear people and realized we could not give the person standing in front of us a great experience and talk to them about their blowout and how everything went and have the person on the phone because at that point it was somebody at the front desk and trying to man the phone and talk to somebody. It was a terrible experience for both people.

So we quickly were like, “Oh shit, what do we do here?” We were like, “Stop answering the phone, let it go to voicemail.” Which can you imagine? We sent everybody. And that at that point, Drybar was, it was the first location, it was on fire, people were calling us. I mean, the phone was constantly ringing and we were sending all those people to voicemail, which was crazy, but I felt like we really needed to take care of the people that were there that were handing us their money. Those people come first and then we call everybody else back.

Obviously that’s a very not sustainable model. And so we very quickly realized we’re going to have to figure out a way for somebody to answer the phone when it’s quiet and peaceful and calm. And so we ended up pulling the phones out of the shops and we hired a couple of people to, were basically work out of their home. So when you called, it was a quiet experience. And that as we grew become a much, much, much bigger business, and you can do the math on 150 locations and 5,000 employees and over a million…

It was just crazy how big and expansive that had to become and it wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t even close to perfect because a call center is where the phones are not in the shop, which customers didn’t like because they wanted to talk to somebody, be like, “Hey, I’m running 10 minutes late.” And we had to then communicate with the shops and then that created a whole other challenge of communicating.

I mean, as you can imagine, the stress that I even feel just talking about this story again because it was just, it became an operational nightmare that we had to figure out how to deal with, which I just think is an important lesson because you don’t know what’s coming in your business and where you’re going to have to move and pivot and figure out a different way to do it. I would’ve never imagined we couldn’t have phones in the shops, but we couldn’t in order to create a great experience.

So I think that was one of the big challenges that really threw us for a loop the first couple years and then just increasingly got harder to deal with as we grew and expanded. And we kind of got it under control eventually, and certainly not an expense that we wanted to incur. Having to have 10 people on the phones at all times basically to meet the demand was a good problem to have, but an expensive one too.

Alisa: Yeah. So we have a question from the audience. “Because so many business interactions happen online now, do you have any tips on building customer trust virtually?” Anyone want to weigh in on that?

Allison: I mean, I’m happy to take this since we have a large business of, percent of our business online. A tip to build customer trust online. I think it’s through the experience that you provide them and for us, we always try to emulate the experience that they’re having in store through our coaches, through education online.

And so that’s one key thing is making sure that the education and knowledge about the products or services you’re providing them are easily findable that you truly do develop your digital tools, whether that be on your online website or your mobile app through the eyes of a customer and how they’re going to be engaging with it and making sure it’s user-friendly.

And so we do that through looking at heat mapping. You’re like, “How is the customer actually interacting with it?” We have our hypothesis of how they will be, but truly understanding that. So that’s how I would say.

Alex: For us, I mean, we rely heavily on reviews. That’s somebody’s experience that they are taking the time to write about. So good, bad, and different. There’s always an opportunity to learn from those moments. And I think that how you respond as a business owner, so it’s a lot about you as well. So we invite and welcome those opportunities and are able to learn a lot from them.

But we always aim to do our best. And even when it’s not a great experience or if that ever does happen, it’s important to take the time to make the call as hard as that is for a business owner and have a conversation about what you can do better, because those are all opportunities to learn and will eventually help you just continue to improve the experience.

Alli: And on that note, just to piggyback on what Alex is saying, I mean for us responding publicly too. I mean same, we would call customers all the time that had a bad experience, but I always wanted to, even when you would get a really bad review online that was public or on Yelp, I always wanted the opportunity to write and say, “We are so sorry. We messed up. We dropped the ball. We want to make this right.”

And just that public acknowledgement, of course we’re going to… And where can we reach you? How do we talk to you? But I think that public acknowledgement, of course, you’re always acknowledging the good, but also acknowledging the bad and saying, showing that humility as a business owner. In contrast to what I had seen a lot and see a lot is a very defensive owner and I remember seeing that also reading Yelp reviews from an owner that would be very defensive and be like, “That’s not true. We didn’t do that.” And I’m like, “What are you doing?”

And maybe the customer is a little bit like oversensitive and whatever, but just being open to the feedback and being just open to fixing it and showing some humility online, I think goes a long, long way with your other customers who also might not have a great experience but want that public acknowledgement as well.

Alisa: As we wrap up, I would love it if you guys could do sort of just a quick fire round. One tip, tool, or resource that will help the other women in business out there build better relationships with their customers. Meredith?

Meredith: My tip is a word I’ve been hearing a lot today, which is collaboration, not just with your customers, but I’d say it starts with your people. And so you’re never going to have every answer yourself on how to relate to every single customer. But if you’re able to build bridges and really collaborate with partners in different local areas, different people who are touching various elements of your business, you’re going to be so much stronger by knowing what you know and also knowing where and how and who to ask for help.

And so my big takeaway for building trust is just starting with collaboration and being really open to listen and to learn at every step of the journey. I know it’s very general, but it’s been a big theme I think of today and a really important one.

Alisa: Alli?

Allison: Oh, sorry.

Alli: Yeah, I mean think it’s transparency. It’s staying connected, responding to as much as you can. I think networking, going to as many things as you can, staying top of mind for people. I just posted a video the other day of if you’re a founder, you’re running a business, talk to every person and anybody who will talk to you about your business. You never know who you’re going to tell that’s going to know somebody who… I mean, there’s just so many, as we all know, the more people you talk to about your business, what’s going on, what you need, what you have, what you want, the more opportunity to bring all that of that stuff in, so be really vocal I think is my best tip.

Alisa: Alex?

Alex: I have to agree with all of these comments. I’m saying wear your brand, tell everyone who will listen what you’re doing, be willing to, we do a lot of community give backs as well. And so donating to local charities or for events that will have a high concentration of people who might come to the studio, but being invested in our community as well. I think that being a part of networking groups and building community among other entrepreneurs and business owners like yourself is super important.

This can feel really exhausting and there are really difficult days, so if you don’t really love it, it’s going to be really hard if you are building something amazing. But to stay committed to the vision. I’ve heard to be committed to your vision but be flexible about how you get there.

So I think it’s really important to collaborate with others and to be willing to take on the feedback so that you can continue to grow. I take none of this personal because I know that every piece of feedback we receive is going to help grow our business and help my team. So it’s important to remove the personal from it so that you can just stay focused on the mission, which is growth.

Alisa: Yeah. And Allison, I will give you the last word.

Allison: Thank you. I immediately thought of listening and responding to the customer, but also, which I think we’ve talked a lot about today, but also the employees. I think we’ve, a few of us touched it a lot, but helping bringing every single person within your company, whether it be a large organization or a startup organization along on this journey, and really have every role understand the importance that they play in creating a consumer-centric organization or experience.

Because if you take care of your people, they’ll take care of your customers. I know we’ve said that, but also to the culture piece of it. And I think a lot of customers want to shop with brands and organizations that have a positive supportive culture internally and the customers feel that.

Alisa: Thank you so much, Allison, Alex, Meredith, and Alli for all the wisdom you’ve shared with us today. And thank you all out there for joining us. Stay tuned for more great content from Yelp’s Women in Business Summit.

Alli: Thanks.

Meredith: Bye.

Emily: Thank you so much, ladies. That was fabulous. We really appreciate all of that advice and guidance.

Grow your business with Yelp

Manage my free listing

Explore further


Unleashing Your Creativity to Build Great Brand Experiences

Learn from leaders in branding about how to infuse creativity into your branding that translates into a great customer experience.
Learn more

How to Turn Your Social Presence into Dollars

Hear from the industry’s best social marketers as they discuss how to harness the power of social media for your business and convert social followers into business results.
Learn more

Lessons Learned From Small Business Owners

Hear from this roundtable of entrepreneurs on the important lessons they’ve learned in starting, running, and growing their small businesses.
Learn more