‘Treat Your Customers Like Treasured Friends,’ Says Sugarfina Co-CEO

With more than 50 retail locations across North America, Sugarfina has built a reputation as the category disruptor in the $200-billion confections industry. Here’s how.

‘Treat Your Customers Like Treasured Friends,’ Says Sugarfina Co-CEO

by Ernan Roman

Posted on 05-07-2018

Rosie O’Neill is the co-founder and co-CEO of Sugarfina, a fast-growing luxury confections brand that was recently named to Fast Company’s “World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies.” Inspired by a third-date screening of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” O’Neill and her co-founder (and now her fiancé), Josh Resnick, dreamed up a “candy boutique for grown-ups,” featuring the finest sweets from artisan candy makers around the world.  

The first Sugarfina shop opened in 2012. Now, with more than 50 retail locations across North America, Sugarfina has built a reputation as the category disruptor in the $200-billion confections industry. On a recent visit to a Sugarfina shop—where I was surrounded by Champagne Gummy Bears made with Dom Pérignon and Single Malt Scotch cordials (my favorite)—O’Neill told me about her passion for authentic personalization and emotional connection.

1. Why are these topics so important to you as an innovator?

In the age of technology, we sometimes forget that the most powerful aspect of our brand is the emotional relationship we have with our customers. Technology and artificial intelligence are amazing tools to drive efficiency, but it’s rare that they evoke emotion. No one tells their best friend, “Wow, I got this marketing email that was exactly customized to my interests.” On the other hand, it’s hard not to tell the story of a sales associate who remembered your favorite candy and tucked it into your shopping bag as a sweet surprise.

Our focus on the human touch came very early in our business. Back in 2012, when we first launched the company, I wrote a personalized handwritten note to go inside every e-commerce shipment. The impact was astounding. Customers would call to say how much they appreciated that note, or they’d post pictures of it on Facebook or Instagram. In that moment, I made a promise: No matter how large our company becomes, we will always include a handwritten note in every box.

2. Why is this so important?

Because it makes our customers feel loved. You can segment and target and digitally personalize to your heart’s content, but if you aren’t building a real, human relationship with your customers, they’ll always feel like something is missing. This “analogue” approach is particularly powerful today because so few brands make this a priority.

The simplest things can be the most effective: a handwritten thank you note, an out-of-the-blue “just because” gift, or a personal email checking in on something a customer purchased for a special event. When you treat your customers like treasured friends, you earn their trust and their loyalty.

3. How will this improve the customer experience?

Friendly, efficient service is expected. To create an amazing customer experience, you have to integrate a personal touch, both during and after the transaction. When you show a customer that you care about them as an individual, that naturally makes them feel good. It’s great to create that connection in the moment of the shopping experience, but it’s even better if you can find ways to do it outside of a transaction.

4. How will this improve the effectiveness of marketing?

The goal of effective marketing is to move away from a commoditized transaction in favor of a personal relationship. Customer retention is many times more cost-effective than new customer acquisition, so we should always be looking for ways to nurture the customers we have.

Creating an emotional connection generates tremendous lifetime value, but the effect is not always immediate or measurable. Oftentimes a customer with a strong emotional connection becomes an ambassador for your brand, spreading the word to friends and family. It’s difficult to track this additional value, but it absolutely exists.

It’s important to create a company culture that recognizes the nuances of customer lifetime value and doesn’t limit an ROI analysis to directly measurable numbers. People are much more complex than the numbers we assign to them. Empower your team to go above and beyond in their interactions with customers.

Bonus: What is your favorite activity outside of work?

I love to cook! My dream weekend involves shopping for fresh produce at the farmer’s market and whipping up a delicious meal using seasonal ingredients. I try to challenge myself by cooking something new and different each time, from cactus to cherimoya to enoki mushrooms. In a future life, I’d love to go to culinary school and open a restaurant.

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