Customer Experience

Get ready to soar with customer engagement: Q&A with Shark Tank Australia’s Naomi Simson

Get ready to soar with customer engagement: Q&A with Shark Tank Australia’s Naomi Simson

Shark Tank Australia judge Naomi Simson is passionate about memorable, amazing experiences. Her passion led her to found RedBalloon, a pioneer in experiential gifting. The company empowers Australians to give friends and family members experiences (like cooking lessons, chocolate tours and skydiving) instead of material things. It’s now one of Australia’s biggest success stories in the digital era, selling over three million experiences since its launch in 2001.

Simson will bring her entrepreneurial wisdom to the 2016 Customer Intelligence Summit in Sydney on July 21, where she’ll deliver a keynote. A respected speaker, blogger and LinkedIn Influencer with over 1.2 million followers, Simson will talk about the challenges of and opportunities in creating a business culture of customer experience.

We sat down with Simson to get a preview of her Summit keynote and to hear her philosophy on how to create businesses that people love.

How did you come up with the idea for RedBalloon?

Prior to RedBalloon, I was a marketer, working at companies like Apple, IBM and KPMG. I saw an opportunity to create a business by aggregating an industry online in some way. It had to be something that’s never been done before.

Aggregation, in my point of view, is bringing likeminded people together. I saw an opportunity in selling and branding memorable experiences. Together with my team at RedBalloon, I found a community of companies that were individually already supplying experiences. RedBalloon provides a single platform that aggregates and promotes these companies, bringing the power of the crowd to each of them. There is safety in numbers—together, and with the RedBalloon brand, these companies providing experiences become part of a powerful offering rather than going it alone.

What business lessons did you learn in the early days of RedBalloon?

I would do anything to gain traction for the business as long as it was consistent with my brand voice. My biggest lesson has to do with trust. When RedBalloon was just starting out, there weren’t many consumers online. We created the market for experiential gifting; no other companies offered what we did. Before we could sell a single experience, we had to build a relationship with our customers and gain their trust.

Business leaders today need to keep in mind: to build a business, you must develop a genuine relationship with consumers first.

To build a business, you must develop a genuine relationship with consumers first.

How do you create authentic experiences at RedBalloon?

Our approach to authentic experiences is simple: we do what we say we are going to do. We hold ourselves accountable and make sure that we deliver on our promises—time and again.

How do you ensure that you’re following through on promises?

It boils down to customer engagement. We’ve provided more than three and a half million experience. After each one, we send follow-up activities to our customers to ask them about their experience and how we can improve.

We have a high response rate, and from people’s feedback, we get valuable customer insight. More importantly though, by engaging our customers, we can track whether the experiences we provide are improving—and if we’re continuing to deliver on our promises.

As an entrepreneur or a business leader, it’s not about you; it’s about your customers.

As an entrepreneur and judge on Shark Tank Australia, you’re an expert in startups. What causes startups to fail?

Ready to Soar - Naomi SimsonMy latest book, Ready to Soar, covers this topic extensively. Many entrepreneurs who’ve pitched their ideas on Shark Tank Australia have no clue what their customers and market wants. Many of these entrepreneurs can’t answer simple questions such as “what’s the problem you’re solving?,” “how many people have that problem?,” “where are they and how can you reach them?” and “how much will it cost you to market to them?.”

In addition to knowing the market, entrepreneurs need to bring their heart into it. They need a deeper understanding of the customer experience. It’s time to consider questions like “how has your business built authority to be truly relevant to your customers?” or “how relevant is your business in the grand scheme of things?.” Sometimes, entrepreneurs get caught up in their own world and drink their own Kool-Aid. That’s not important to customers.

As an entrepreneur or a business leader, it’s not about you; it’s about your customers.

The companies that do customer engagement best are the ones with the data, feedback and insight necessary to succeed.

When you’re evaluating pitches on Shark Tank Australia, what role does customer experience play?

I often ask founders about their philosophy on customers. What I’m looking for are companies that engage with customers throughout the buyer journey. It’s hard to overemphasize the importance of understanding your customers. If you know how people feel and what their aspirations are, you can build customer relationships that are more symbiotic and not purely transactional.

The companies that do customer engagement best are the ones with the data, feedback and insight necessary to succeed.

Why do many businesses and entrepreneurs fail to improve customer experience?

To be an entrepreneur, you need a certain amount of ego. You need to be self-assured. Being confident is a powerful thing, but you can’t afford ignore your customers. Learn how to ask customers the right questions—and take responsibility for learning about them.

Being confident is a powerful thing, but you can’t afford ignore your customers.

One of your tips for budding entrepreneurs was to run an idea past people who have no vested interest in the outcome. How can enterprises apply this approach at scale?

A big enterprise is no different from a startup—it just has more employees. All businesses, regardless of size, are about people. That’s why entrepreneurs need a core understanding of human behavior, needs and desire. Entrepreneurs need to be intentional and consistent in their quest to be better listeners.

Several companies here in Australia have created tribes, or communities of passionate customers who advocate for a brand. These successful enterprises deliver compelling solutions to meet people’s needs.

Why should companies build a long-term relationship with customers?

You have to maintain an ongoing relationship with your customers or you won’t have a business. It’s that simple. If you don’t understand them and their world, they’ll shop somewhere else. I remember a time, a long time ago, when I had no customers. Believe me, it’s a lonely, sad world when you have no customers. Your customers are everything to your business, so treat them that way.

Your customers are everything to your business, so treat them that way.

Register for the livestream of the 2016 APAC Customer Intelligence Summit to watch Simson’s keynote and hear valuable tips and strategies from APAC’s most customer-centric brands. 



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