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Developing a Customer Relationship with Longevity

Season 1: Episode 76

072122 podcast robbins brothers

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Robbins Brothers prioritizes long-term relationships with its customers. The staff always aims to connect individuals with their dream piece of jewelry by providing a welcoming environment, but that experience goes well into the future, including follow-up interactions and annual cleanings. Tune in to hear Kevin’s engagement ring shopping experience and how General Manager Charlotte helps foster a positive environment within what can be an intimidating realm of jewelry shopping.

On the Yelp Blog: Read more tips from Charlotte on how to turn a one-time sale into a lifelong customer relationship.

EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Every episode I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur and the reviewer about the story and business lessons behind their interactions. Let’s hear what’s behind this week’s review.

KEVIN: It was March 7, 2020. And I know that date cause that was a date that I proposed to my girlfriend, to my wife now, but my girlfriend at the time. And she had told me that when I proposed, don’t buy her a ring because she wants to pick out her own ring because her selection’s very picky. So what I did is I proposed with my grandma’s ring, and her mom was there too because her mom’s good at selecting jewelry.

And so then we decided, well, let’s go buy the engagement ring. So we live in Oceanside, California, which is about an hour north of San Diego. And in San Diego, California, the main shopping district is called Mission Valley. And so I had driven along Mission Valley for, like, probably 10 years. And I’d always seen this jewelry store just on the corner at the location of a fairly busy intersection near the freeway.

EMILY: After years of driving past Robbins Brothers in San Diego, CA, Kevin finally patronized the business on the day he proposed. In a less traditional fashion, Kevin and his fiancée picked out the ring together, which I think is really cool. But it also added some additional complexities to the process.

Anytime you’re making a purchase as big as an engagement ring, it can feel extremely high stakes. It’s critical to find a business that’s trustworthy and treats you with care so you can feel confident in your purchase. Let’s listen to Kevin’s review to hear how things went.

KEVIN: Okay fellas, proposing is a big deal and it’s intimidating! But you don’t have to do it alone. Head to Robin’s Brothers for some expert help. Like seriously—you know nothing about rings. And they do. I worked with Garathon (Gare) to get the perfect ring for my then fiancée and now wife. He was able to find the perfect ring she wanted for the price that I wanted.

What did I say earlier guys—ask the pros for help. Bottom line, just put all your faith in Robbins Brothers and you’ll be good. A few extra perks along the way to note: My wife needed a ring adjustment, and Gare ended up driving the ring all the way up to us in Oceanside. That’s some serious customer service.

Also I purchased my wedding band from Robbins Brothers, and while it does not get the attention my wife’s ring gets, I’ve gotten a few compliments. Finally, our rings are currently being cleaned and made to look brand new, which is great. You hopefully need to only buy this ring one time LOL so don’t mess it up.

EMILY: In his humorous way, Kevin paints a picture of the intimidation factor that seems inherent to the process of buying jewelry for a special moment. Buying an engagement ring is one of those rare, once-in-a-lifetime moments during which it’s invaluable to find a true expert willing to go the extra mile—in Kevin and Gare’s case, quite literally extra miles—to make the jewelry buying experience feel smooth and enjoyable.

Charlotte Schmidt, the general manager of the San Diego Robbins Brothers location, understands the importance of having a good staff that’s been developing that specialized “white glove” expertise for years.

CHARLOTTE: We’re a smaller company, so we have 15 locations. My store is actually a flagship store and there’s a flagship store in Dallas. So we have the larger of the assortments out of the company. You do have stores located in Texas. You do have Arizona. You have a few in Seattle, and most are in southern California going up towards the Woodland Hills area. We’ve been around for a hundred one years. Last year we celebrated a hundred years. So it’s absolutely amazing!

We’re the old, traditional good guys, I guess you would say. I mean, we’ve been in the business for a very long time. So that’s where it comes from, you know, when you look at the talent inside the stores, the talent with the exec team. I mean, they’ve been doing jewelry for so long, so it’s amazing.

EMILY: Robbins Brothers has a long history of matching people to jewelry that will last a lifetime, which is impressive by itself. But in an industry that deals with a high stakes shopping experience, to continue the business’s impressive tradition, the staff needs to maintain a balance of first-class expertise and approachability. Robbins Brothers has a key philosophy of making the experience accessible for the customer.

CHARLOTTE: We do have 25 cases, all engagement rings. So we do have the largest selection in San Diego for sure. Engagement rings—we have over 6,000, so we kind of recognize that when customers come in, it can be overwhelming.

So that’s where the tone of the store is very casual. Like, ‘Oh my gosh! Welcome in. We’re so thankful that you’re here. Tell us about, you know, what brought you in.’ Let’s just start navigating the cases. We do what they want to do. So I think that the biggest thing with Robbin’s Brothers is we want to be a part of their love journey.

And we definitely call it a love journey because they found their significant other, which Gare always says, that’s the hardest part, right? Finding your significant other. We’re trying to make the other part easy and less stressful for you because we are the experts in the industry and we just walk them through listening.

I think that’s the biggest thing. We’re not like commercial jewelers. We don’t have commercials. We go by referrals. We go by walk-ins, but we listen. And we really want to be a part of their journey. And we do want to marry, as Kevin said, we marry each other because you’re gonna come back. We wanna take care of your ring forever. We want to be a part of this journey. We want to be a part of every journey when it comes down to when you get married, when you have kids, like, you know, get the push gift, like anniversary, let us do all of that for you. So that’s like the tone in the building.

Everyone who works here loves what they do. And it’s for a GM coming in, that’s priceless. Like you don’t find that. They love what they do, and everybody does it in a different way, but they absolutely love to be a part of that journey and then continue the relationship once it’s done.

EMILY: The situation might feel high stakes, but the staff at Robbins Brothers embodies a casual, welcoming tone to the shopping experience. They take the age-old approach of asking plenty of questions to get to know customers, the situation they’re in, and what they’re looking for. The goal is to put the customer at ease and move beyond making an initial impression and quick sale to forge a long term relationship. Robbins Brothers genuinely wants to be part of the larger journey of their customers’ lives.

CHARLOTTE: When they come into our store, there is no pressure. Yes, do we want to be their jeweler of choice? Absolutely. But it’s about the experience that they’re going to have, and it’s not about always closing, you know, closing the deal that day. It’s about fostering the relationship so they can see what they’re marrying too. So they can see, you know, ‘Oh, they are gonna call me and tell me that, you know, we ordered a diamond for them to come view it. Just come view it, come see it. We brought it in for you,’ you know?

We call them a week later. ‘How’s it going? How did you like going to a different jeweler? What was your experience?’ Because if they had a great experience and they were sold there, that’s great because that’s what they chose to do. Tell us what we did, what we could have done to get your business.

It’s a learning experience, but for us, it really is about the customer interaction. It’s about them getting and enjoying this amazing time either by themselves or together because it’s a lifetime commitment. And it’s a lifetime commitment to us as well. And we want them to love us as much as they love their ring, as much as they love the experience.

EMILY: As a business owner, you’ll sometimes encounter moments where you can’t make a customer’s day on the spot due to inventory shortages, staffing challenges, or one of a hundred other hurdles that businesses face every day. When the customer interaction isn’t at 100%, there are other ways of going above and beyond that might just end up with a stronger relationship than a simple transaction might have otherwise.

KEVIN: When we were buying the ring, one thing that Gare said is that I’m marrying my fiancée, my now wife, and we are marrying Robbins Brothers.

And that’s because they didn’t at first have the diamond in stock—the one that my wife wanted, they didn’t have that one available. So what they did was once that diamond came in stock a few days later, they put it on a temporary setting. He drove it all the way up to Oceanside, which is about an hour north. And luckily he was able to get that right before COVID shut everything down. At the beginning, it was March 7, 2020. And then luckily he was able to get it up there by like when COVID shut the world down. So we had the ring with a temporary setting for probably like two or three months—not any fault of their own, they were just closed. And then once we were able to go back cause they opened the stores up, I don’t know, June or something, they swapped the settings out.

He again drove it back up to us in Oceanside, which was awesome. And then like a year later and we’re actually getting to that point again now, as we really get the rings cleaned, and it’s kind of crazy because, I noticed, especially with my wedding band—not so much my wife’s ring, but with my wedding band that I thought I was gentle with, cuz I don’t wear it all that much.

I’ve got a plastic one that I wear that gets all scuffed up. But it was kind of crazy cause I gave him my wedding band that I thought looked nice. And then when I came back, it was like, ‘Oh man, I really scuffed this thing up.’ So, every year we can bring our wedding rings in and like, I don’t know what they do to it, but like they make it look basically brand new, which is awesome.

EMILY: Robbins Brothers has secured and continually reinforced their connection with Kevin and his fiancée. And that annual ring cleaning is a pivotal piece of what makes the Robbins Brothers experience different from other jewelers.

CHARLOTTE: People and lives become very busy, and we need to keep the diamond warranty intact. So if a diamond ever were to fall out of the ring, the only thing we ask is that you bring it in once a year. But we understand people are extremely busy. So we contact them to tell them, ‘Hey, it’s been a year—if you haven’t brought your ring down, come bring your ring down. Come see me.’ And you know, and that’s what it is. It’s a friendly reminder. Or if we know that Gare does it really well, all my sales people do it really well. They’re like, ‘You know, I know you proposed, how did the proposal go? Send me pictures. Okay, when are we setting a wedding date? Cause I need to remind you that you need to come at this time to order your wedding rings.’

Once they get married, you know, like, ‘Oh my gosh. So your anniversary is this day. I’m gonna remind you a month out. So then that way you don’t forget.’ Right?

So it’s just, we call it CRMing, but it really is being their jeweler of choice and being their friend in the industry to help them out—to not forget dates and also to not forget their warranty. And it’s just something that we do as a part of the service. You know, it’s amazing. It’s amazing when customers come in and they’re like, ‘Hey Gare, Hey Nicole, Hey Navity,’ like that they remember. And that feels—that’s rewarding. That’s why we do what we do. So that little service goes such a long way for both sides.

EMILY: These ongoing annual touchpoints that Charlotte describes are one way to move beyond the sale to turn a good initial purchasing experience into a lifelong relationship. It’s these intangible moments of customer interaction that strengthen their relationships with customers and show that your business really cares about the customer—not just the sale.

In business, when purchases are large, expensive, or complicated, the salesperson often has to put on their educator hat.

KEVIN: Yeah. So the other thing that I liked about him was he first figured out what my wife’s priorities were in terms of choosing the ring. And then, so she gave him the list, but the big thing that she wanted was like the size of the diamond. She wanted a big diamond. And like some people they might want a higher quality diamond or a certain cut or whatever. But hers, it was just size. That’s what she wanted.

So I think that Gare said that was really helpful for me was he says, ‘Well, if you want a large diamond, we can get you a lower quality—I’m not really sure how they classify diamonds, but like, he’s like a lower quality diamond, but a larger diamond. And then like that’ll save you money and it’ll still get you a big diamond.’ And then my wife’s response was, ‘Well, I want a high quality diamond.’ And then he says, ‘Well, like, can you tell the difference?’

And she’s like, ‘Yes.’ And then he looks at me and he’s like, ‘But can you? Because I’m like a gem nerd and I’ve been doing this for years. And the only way to like, realize the quality of diamonds is if you get it like in a microscope and like you’re trained like me. So if I get you a large diamond that’s a lower quality, nobody’s gonna be able to tell the difference. And they’re only gonna be able to see the size. So it’s gonna save you guys money and you’re gonna get the large diamond that you want.’

EMILY: Especially in more complicated industries like jewelry, where size and quality are just two of the many considerations that go into rating a diamond, education is key to guiding the customer toward the right purchase and building that trusting relationship. Teaching methods can include explaining industry jargon like clarity or cut in simple terms or utilizing visual examples to bring an explanation to life.

CHARLOTTE: With bigger diamonds comes a bigger price, and sometimes it’s a sticker shock for him or, you know, for whoever the partner is. It’s like, ‘Oh, I wasn’t expecting to spend that.’ And that’s where education comes in and what we can do. And what we do is we bring in three diamonds. Put ’em in front of the guest and let them just see—it’s visual proof.

Let them look at it. And you tell me, because a lot of times they’ve educated themselves online or they’ve gone to another place, and that place has wanted to upsell them to the most expensive. But we’re not about that here. It’s about, we wanna be—and we’re listening to you where you want to be in your budget, making her happy and you happy.

So let’s look at it and do it together. My people will take the diamond outside to be able to show them in the sunlight what it looks like. A lot of people buy because of the certification. But it’s so much more than the certification. It’s the sparkle, it’s the installation of the diamond. That’s not shown on that certification. And that’s what the education comes down to.

So you can go up in, you know, a carrot size and go down a little bit in the clarity and you get the best of both worlds, cause it’s not about the cert it’s about what that diamond looks like. And that’s what we show them.

We’re trying to educate you. Let’s talk about it. So tell me more. And all my people will ask the customer, ‘Where did you hear that from? So interesting. So tell me more, let me show you, what can you see?’ So it puts it back on them too, because at the end of the day, the decision is based on what they want to do.

And if you can’t see a difference between a $15,000 diamond and let’s say a $10,000 diamond, then why would we sell you the 15? Let’s sell you the 10—make you happy and you have confidence in us. And at the end of the day, that’s what it is.

EMILY: By educating customers in a clear and honest way, the trust between business and customer only continues to strengthen. And when an individual trusts a business, they may be motivated to leave a positive review, which in turn motivates staff to continue prioritizing customer relationships.

CHARLOTTE:  ​​So reviews, like I said, are the scorecard for the store and I am the general manager. So I take it very personal both ways. You know, you can’t make everyone happy and we really, really try. So it’s one of those things. We celebrate the five stars, the four stars. As a team, we send out a text message and we’ll screenshot it and be like, ‘Amazing job. That’s so awesome! You know?’ And so it starts the conversation of what did you do well, so they can each grow in their own way and get reviews.

When it’s a negative review—and they happen, you know what I mean? It hits home. It hits to the heart because I am the face of the business. I am the owner, they, the Robbins Brothers entrust me to run the best of a building. So I reach out to each customer. It’s being vulnerable and saying, ‘Where did we go wrong? What can we do to make you happy? Tell me about your experience. Would you come back in? What can I do for you?’

Because at the end of the day, you know, you do get in what they call those keyboard warriors. You know what I mean? But it’s still, I wanna make sure everyone is happy because it’s an experience to come into a jewelry store, picking out your engagement ring, or even getting it cleaned. And we went wrong somewhere.

So it’s the celebration and it is keeping it going, but it’s also to learn from what we see, because at some point there’s always that middle of the way we did something. So we need to make sure that we reach out to the guests and see what we could have done better to learn. And I think, you know, if you stop learning, you stop becoming relevant. And we wanna stay relevant with our customers. And we wanna stay where we get referrals and things like that. And it’s all through word of mouth and it’s all through customers looking at Yelp.

EMILY: Some of the most savvy business owners consider negative reviews a learning experience that can ultimately lead to a better customer experience. And while it’s always great to seek out the opportunity in the negative, it’s also critical to celebrate positive reviews to improve staff morale and encourage team conversations.

KEVIN: I’ve got far more positive and 5-star reviews on Yelp than I do 1-star reviews. And I think that it’s important that if somebody’s going above and beyond at their job—whether it’s a janitor or like, a manager or somebody high up at the company or whatever it is—I think it’s important that individuals get acknowledged.

It doesn’t really matter what your status is within the company. I think that when I see somebody that’s good at their job, they need to be recognized. And sometimes I can’t just be like, ‘Hey, where’s your manager? Let me tell them.’ And so if they did a good job, it’s easier for me to go on Yelp, and I can just share the whole experience. If somebody is going above and beyond, I will take their name. Just cause when the manager reads those, assuming they read those, I hope that they are like, ‘Hey, so and so, you got a shoutout on your Yelp review. That’s a good job!’

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