In case you haven’t noticed, there are a LOT of skincare brands out there. And now more than ever, there are a LOT of skincare brands that identify as clean, green, natural, organic, holistic, plant-based, whole plant, you get the picture. One of the questions I receive most often from prospective Create Your Skincare Pro students is “how will my products stand out from the competition?” There is, of course, more than one way to answer this question. First, I might talk about the importance of having a clear brand identity, target market, and consistently high quality content marketing. But what’s crucial in a crowded market like skincare, is providing consistently excellent customer service.
How skincare is like cars when it comes to customer service.
I recently had an experience, while shopping for a new car, that reminded me of the importance of customer service. But before I tell you that, I should tell you that I know a bit about the automotive industry. My brother is a service advisor for a luxury dealership and builds race cars, and I worked for a car rental company as part of my former lifetime in Corporate America. I drove just about every brand of car, dealt with maintenance and insurance issues, and even did some car sales (yikes!).
I also know quite a bit about customer service because I worked for Nordstrom for 5 years starting at age 17, and they are known to be the gold standard in customer service. Before I had kids, my jobs were all in some form of sales or marketing–from retail to B2B advertising sales. And of course I’ve been a business owner for more than a decade who works directly with my customers. So I know a thing or two about cars, sales, and customer service.
Now, let’s get back to the story.
I needed a new car, because it got to the point that my long-loved Acura was starting to become a money pit. My brother warned me that there is currently a terrible shortage of both new and used cars, and that the prices for both new and used have never been this high. And he wasn’t kidding–it was actually more expensive to buy a newer certified pre-owned vehicle than a new one!
So I went from dealership to dealership and test drove everything I could in my price range. I was quite surprised at how little effort some of the salespeople put into our time together. At Mazda and Honda, the salespeople basically just gave me the keys and told me to go test drive the cars. They did not give me any product knowledge, show me the features and benefits, or even show interest in me as a customer at all. They did not ask me if I had a trade-in. When I thanked them for their time and said I didn’t love the cars, they did not ask what I didn’t like about them, or try to show me something else. I guess they just figured the cars would sell themselves–or not.
Then I went to a Subaru dealership, and had a completely different experience.
I was greeted and promptly introduced to a salesperson, asked if I wanted a refreshment, and sat down for a chat. The salesperson took some time to ask what brought me to Subaru and why I was considering buying one. He then gave me some insight on some things Subaru does differently from other similar brands, and then offered a test drive on two vehicles that he thought would be a good fit. He also asked about my trade-in, and what I liked about it before offering to have it appraised while I was on my test drive.
When we went to the cars to test drive, he showed me the engine and told me what was different about it, demonstrated security features, demonstrated how things worked inside that might be different from what I was used to, showed me the trunk space, etc. When I got back, he had my appraisal ready and I was happy to start talking numbers. The appraisal was in the middle of the range of what I had previously researched, which pleasantly surprised me. I left feeling respected as a customer, and honestly, excited to buy.
I just wanted to go to one last dealership before finalizing my decision.
I went to Nissan and at first, it seemed like it was going to be a somewhat positive experience. The receptionist and salesperson were friendly, and salesperson did a decent job showing me features and benefits of the vehicle I was going to test drive. Their normal used car appraiser was unavailable, but he said the store manager would be happy to take a look at my car while I was on my test drive.
I absolutely loved the car, and based on the homework I did on pricing beforehand, was ready to talk numbers. The salesperson came back with the numbers, including what they would give me for my trade-in and I was absolutely appalled. I was appalled that the price they quoted me for this specific car was nearly $8,000 higher than what it should have been according to what other nearby Nissan dealerships were charging for the same trim. I was then appalled that they offered $1000 LESS than what Subaru offered for my trade in. I said I was surprised by that, and said that I had not only a higher offer from another dealership in writing, but that I had also had the car assessed for much higher independently. I thanked him for his time and was about to leave, and of course he pulled the old “well, let me talk to my manager” bit.
The manager came back and basically bashed my trade-in, saying I was lucky to even get as much as they were offering for it, and reminded me of the car shortage. He also stated that the other dealership who quoted me $1000 higher for my trade-in must be charging higher than the MSRP for the new car, and said that they don’t do that here. I politely told him that I’d done my homework ahead of time, and had already visited several dealerships and knew that that was not true. I also pointed out that their price seemed significantly higher than what other Nissan dealerships in the area were charging for the same trim. He completely glossed over that and continued to tell me all the reasons why my trade-in was worth next to nothing, how the other dealership must be overcharging, and that this was the best I would do in this market.
I got up and left, vowing never to buy a single car from this dealership again (my husband and I had previously bought three new cars from them).
I was angry the whole way home.
That store manager disrespected me, did not listen to me, and insulted my intelligence. He badmouthed his competition (never the right thing to do), and went for the old bro sales tactic of “you’re lucky I’m even offering THIS much for your car.” He went on the notion that since there is a car shortage and negotiations aren’t what they used to be, that he had the upper hand. Not only did he not even try to sell me a new car, but he made it clear that he didn’t even respect me enough to do business with me. How did he know that I didn’t also have a wad of cash in my wallet, in addition to a trade-in?
Was it because I’m a woman and didn’t have my husband with me? Honestly, maybe. They salesperson asked me if I was going to be buying the car myself or if my husband would be doing the deal. It’s pathetic that he was so comfortable fitting right into that sexist car salesperson stereotype.
Let’s get something straight–even when there is an inventory shortage, there is still a TON of competition.
I live in the suburbs. There is literally a Nissan dealership in every other town. If I really wanted that Nissan, I could have taken the time to go from dealer to dealer, and bought one from the one who gave me the best offer for my trade, the best price for the new car, and the best customer service. This store manager acted like I had no other place to buy a Nissan–or a car within that price range, for that matter.
So who got my business? The Subaru salesperson.
When you have a product in a market that is saturated with competition like cars–and like skincare–you have to find ways to set yourself apart.
Whether or not someone buys a skincare product that looks similar, has similar ingredients, similar branding, and is in the same price range comes down to two things: how the customer connects to the brand and the customer’s experience. The product is the product, but the customer’s affinity towards that product, and likelihood to purchase that product again and recommend it to friends and family has more to do with their user experience. And that experience starts with customer service.
Even if your business is online, your customers’ buying experience still relies on customer service–even if that customer service isn’t provided by a live human being at first. Customer service begins by having a website that clearly guides the customer to the information they need to understand what the brand’s about, who it’s for, and how to buy. Sometimes customer service includes a chat box on the website. Sometimes it means a quick response on social media. Other times it is a quick and relevant response to questions about the product via phone or email, or making things right when things go wrong (tech glitches, shipping delays, products arriving broken, etc).
But customer service always has to do with treating customers the way you would want to be treated, no matter what.
As a skincare business owner, you know your customers have countless other options. And they don’t even have to get in the car and drive to another store–all they have to do is click off your site. If a customer comes to your website, signs up for your email list, engages with you on social media, and buys your product, then they deserve to be treated with respect and gratitude. No matter what. Though you may think your products are the absolutely best ones on the market, and that no one else’s compare, there’s actually no way to prove that since what’s “best” is always subjective.
In my online course, Create Your Skincare Pro, as well as in my private consultancy, I always educate my students and clients about the importance of customer service and customer experience. I also teach them how to create their own definition of the “best” products, and how to communicate that to their clients in a non-sleazy, authentic way.
Have you had a particularly wonderful–or not-so-wonderful customer service experience?
Or are you a skincare business owner with customer service as one of your core values? Tell me about it in the comments below!