Saje Natural Wellness CEO and co-founder Kate Ross LeBlanc shares how her company’s ‘outrageous customer service’ pledge is a key factor in this growth – and is as simple as treating people like special guests.
Saje Natural Wellness recent US expansion marks a period of exponential growth, with a store count that has increased from 10 in 2012 to 71 stores in 2017 in the US and Canada, as well as a robust online presence at saje.com.
I sat down with Kate Ross LeBlanc to hear more about how they scaled their ‘outrageous customer service’ by staying true to their mission: to spread wellness across the globe.
Starting small can mean big growth
Saje may seem like a newcomer in the natural health and beauty market, but they’ve been helping people feel better with essential oils-based products for 25 years. More than just body care, their product range has 100% natural, plant-based solutions to common health concerns. Saje offers over 500 products blended with the most therapeutic ingredients derived from nature and known to relieve common ailments like stress, sleep, pain, headaches, and cold & flu.
With stores across North America, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Kate’s roots are far from the high-trend streets of Manhattan. When her mother opened a fabric store in her small Canadian home town, it became a pivotal moment for Kate:
“I remember this tiny shop becoming such a gathering place. People from the community came not just to buy, but to spend time connecting with other people. I never considered that there was any other way to run a store. We didn’t call it customer service; it was just how we were with our neighbors.”
This difference in perspective and focus on human connection continues to set Saje apart from the retail crowd. “I want people to feel like they are walking into my home when they visit a store,” explains Kate. “I’m honored that people take the time to come and visit us and want to make sure they feel special and welcome.”
Make people feel better and the results will follow
Making people feel better isn’t just a concept at Saje: it’s a core pillar of the business plan and part of how Kate measures success. “The flag we’ve been flying since we first started our business is about providing that kind of service for people. We figured if we couldn’t do that well, then nothing else mattered.”
To do that, the Saje team is trained to actively listen to their customer and focus on solving their problem first. “We can’t have a true understanding of what is going on in someone else’s life, but we can be curious about it,” says Kate. “What we know for sure is that they took time to visit, which really becomes an opportunity to connect and help them feel better, regardless of how much they spend that day. We want to meet people where they are in their lives and for them to feel at ease, just by being in the store.”
Scalable success is an inside job
Trusting someone’s intentions isn’t just something that happens on the Saje store floor, it’s a key part of how the company hires–but this took some faith on Kate’s part. “A big learning for me was learning to let go so I could delegate and collaborate. I got to a place where I realized how much benefit there was in trusting people and not keeping them at arm’s length.”
This realization set the stage for hiring people who were as engaged in the company’s mission as Kate was, without exception. “I’ve found that if you do what’s hard, life becomes easy. Waiting for the right candidate can seem difficult and time-consuming, but being surrounded by people who share your values will bring you huge rewards.”
The job of maintaining your culture, she explains, is simpler when you’ve created a trusting relationship with every person on your team. “We can’t write a policy for every single eventuality that might happen on the shop floor. We want everyone to feel empowered to use their judgement and make sure that the customer is happy. They might not do exactly what I would do, but I can trust we’re working from the same intention.”
Don’t be afraid of the cost; be afraid of the loss
Kate also plays the long game when it comes to customer relationships. “Not all seeds that are planted need to be harvested in a single day,” she says. “Maybe they will come back in two months and bring three friends. Maybe they will order all their Christmas gifts from your online store. You never know what impact you’ll have on someone’s day, and your bottom line, just by choosing kindness in every interaction.”
When you approach your business from a relationship-driven position, the questions about what to do in a customer service situation get simpler for everyone. “Don’t be afraid of how much it costs you to satisfy a customer,” says Kate. “Be afraid of how much damage will happen if you don’t treat people with respect and kindness, and truly listen to their needs.”
And stay true to your mission
When it comes to maintaining the company’s mission, Kate sees it as the only way to do business. “Our job is to help people feel better. That can mean selling them a therapeutic product, but it can also mean making them feel welcome and valued. We’re here to do so much more than make sure they walk out of the store with product: we’re here to give them a positive experience and a reason to come back.”
And how do you ensure that positive experiences are scalable? “You have to stick to your core values, no matter what. Everything–including maintaining your mission–gets harder as you grow. It’s easy to celebrate when you’re doing really well, but it’s how you show up in the hard times that will make the difference. And when you empower your team to treat themselves, each other and your customers with kindness, you might land your business in an even better position than you ever imagined.”
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