Customer Experience News & Trends

8 companies that increased business when everyone else blamed the economy

From Main Street to Wall Street, it’s been a tough few years. But some companies never used the economy as an excuse for failed customer experiences. In fact, they grew their businesses. Here’s how.

Stocks slumped, businesses shuttered and incomes dropped. Yet, some companies and their steadfast leaders and employees found ways to stay alive, competitive and grow during the Great Recession.

Stayed focused

In most cases, these businesses kept a sharp focus on the customer experience, rather than deep discounting. They made customers feel as good as they ever did, if not better, about doing business with them. The companies challenged their employees to take risks and strive to deliver what customers wanted, sometimes in a unique way.

These successful businesses didn’t let customer service slip. They also didn’t use the economy as an excuse to allow sales to drop.

Even better, we aren’t talking about big corporations with decades-old revenue to fall back on. Many are small businesses that upped their game at a time when their competitors lost footing. They stayed true to their roots to maintain loyalty and gain referrals from those who always followed them, or they found new ways to impress customers and win more business.

1. Brand Developers Limited

At a time when many companies aimed to stay status quo and just ride out the uncertainty, the leadership at Brand Developers Limited set a goal to double revenue within three years, without cutting costs.

David Chaulk, the company’s COO, figured his team could do it if they had the right incentives to sell more and continue making customers extremely happy. He asked his salespeople what would make them perform at a higher level. Their brutally honest answer: cash.

Brand Developers did the math to find a solution that made financial sense to the company. Service and salespeople who met stretch targets were rewarded with double their base salary for the next quarter, more paid days off and an iPad or iPhone. Many front-line sales and service pros delivered quarter after quarter, so Chaulk upped the ante, asking top performers for a bucket list of things they’d work even harder to obtain. They wanted trips and tickets to hard-to-obtain sporting events, plus the time off needed for them — and they got them when they delivered even better results.

Nearly two years after the challenge to grow despite a struggling economy, loyalty and sales per customer are up. Overall, company revenue is up 50%.


Some companies take a hit during recessions because of internal factors – lost productivity and attention to detail because employees fear the worst — rather than the external factors such as lost sales or declining customer loyalty. When internal factors affect the customer experience — and they do — customers will leave.

That’s what wanted to avoid. So the COO at the CRM solutions provider, challenged front-line managers across the board to take steps to help increase the average performance level of every employee by 10%. That way, they could stay on top or ahead of changing customer demands and needs, without letting service levels drop.

It worked: Nearly everyone stepped up to the plate, increasing performance by 8%, which was the equivalent of adding more than 20 employees. Customer satisfaction never wavered.

3. Starbucks

A $5 Starbucks latte is a luxury item when you can brew a cup of coffee for pennies. And when people experience salary freezes, take pay cuts or lose their jobs altogether, they splurge less, buying fewer luxury items, right?

So how did the coffee house and its army of baristas manage to grow through the recession? By making sure customers like the experience of getting the $5 latte and are willing to put paying for it ahead of other necessities and luxuries.

The company also listened to customer feedback and responded to it with financially responsible improvements and solutions. For instance, it pulled back on some retail outlets and added free Wi-Fi to remaining stores, giving customers even more reason to spend time there.

4. Apple

Speaking of luxury items, you might think that the demand for iPhones, iPads, iPods, iEverything would drop as incomes dropped over the past few years. But the opposite happened, and it had as much to do with the hands-on touch the tech giant now provides at walk-up retail locations as it did with Apple innovation.

Customers feel confident because their products are supported by helpful people in bright retail outlets who do the basics well — make eye contact when customers arrive, acknowledge them if they can’t immediately help, let them know how long it’ll be until they’ll be helped and then help them with the utmost expertise.

While many companies cut back on staff during downturns, and let basic customer service needs go unmet, Apple increased its presence in communities and staffed outlets with employees who had service and technical skills.

5. Slice Pizza

When people lost their jobs, they didn’t spend as much at local establishments.

Francis Brockway, owner of Slice Pizza in Blackwood, NJ, wanted to stay alive in the community and went so far as to expand to a second location — risky business in a volatile economy.

Slice stayed true to what customers liked — the products and the great service. And it relied on the new ways to market to customers: email and social media. But business didn’t grow as hoped. So Slice took a more grassroots approach, reaching the most loyal customers where they were going: local print publications and circulars.

Even better, Slice made an investment other local businesses (the publishers) when it placed the ads in the local media. Soon after, the business took off.

6. Oaklawn

Spending at gaming and resort destinations is not the first thing people want to do when they’re hit by a recession. Plus, competition in the industry has grown exponentially over the last decade as states have loosened gambling laws. As a result, many establishments threw promotion after promotion out to customers trying to get them in the door.

Oaklawn Racing & Gaming in Hot Springs, AR, managed to grow — and Natali Nimmo, director of guest services credits, it to the consistently good service customers counted on and received.

One of the keys: Regularly covering the JDLR — Just Doesn’t Look Right — situation in staff training. Employees were asked on a daily basis what they’d do when they saw something that didn’t seem right.

Examples: a customer struggling to maneuver through the facility, a patron with a worried look on her face, a colleague who looks overwhelmed and may need a hand, or an overflowing trash can. They’d discuss a variety of things that could be done in each situation and then hit the floor.

7. PostNet

Perhaps the hardest thing for businesses to do during a recession is gain new customers. After all, current customers know the business and have made a decision to stay for the products and great service. New customers don’t have any reason beyond a new need to become a customer.

Yet, PostNet took strides to gain new customers throughout the recession. Leslie Goldman, creative director, encouraged local franchisees to contact their local chamber of commerce organizations and offer attendees useful, promotional items at their meetings. They also tried the same things at local industry events. And then they sent “lumpy mailers” stuffed with items such as pens or candy that made the envelope stand out to people in their neighborhoods.

It got new customers in the door, Goldman said. More importantly, the franchisees focused on individual customer attention to build customer loyalty from there.

8.  Enterprise Holdings

The risk of running a rapidly growing business is that you may reach a point in which you can’t keep up with customer demand and the resulting dissatisfaction. Enterprise Holdings was running that risk after it grew 20% annually for several years.

Todd Hunt, regional VP, helped his company overcome declining satisfaction by focusing on gathering better feedback and using it to meet and exceed demands. First, they simplified surveys to get a better response: Reps called customers after interactions rather than mailing surveys, and they asked customers to rate their experiences and how likely they were to recommend the company to others.

To encourage management and employees to take steps toward improving the customer experience and meeting growing customer demands, awards and promotions were directly tied to “Enterprise Service Quality Index” scores that came from the surveys. It got everyone to refocus on great service.

Result: Service improved and the company continued to grow.

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