Understanding the Customer’s Priorities for Better Satisfaction

What are the most important things to customers? Answering this question effectively is the best way to provide customer satisfaction.

As general manager and chief operating officer at Uncommon Goods, Brian O’Connor built a customer-centric system to drive growth. He’s constantly implementing new strategies to improve their operations and deliver exclusive items to consumers.

The host of the Process Breakdown Podcast, Chad Franzen, welcomes his guest Brian O’Connor in this episode of the show. Brian talks about effective strategies for aligning your team with fulfilling customer satisfaction.

Listen to this audio interview

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Key Resource List 

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Uncommon Goods

LinkedIn Brian O’Connor

Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order ​​by Ray Dalio

Show Notes   

[0:26] Intro   

  • Chad Franzen mentions some of the past guests who have been on the show, including David Allen of Getting Things Done, and Michael Gerber of the E-Myth. 
  • Chad Franzen introduces SweetProcess, a workflow tool that helps businesses to streamline their operations even in life-or-death situations.   
  • SweetProcess offers a 14-day free trial without a credit card. 

[1:30]  Chad Franzen introduces the guest, Brian O’Connor.

[2:02]  Brian gives an overview of what Uncommon Goods is all about.

  • Uncommon Goods is a leading direct-to-consumer (DTC) company that offers intentionally uncommon gift items.
  • The majority of items the company sells are made and sourced in the US.

[3:03] How does the team come up with uncommon gift ideas? 

  • The organization works closely with its merchants to come up with interesting gift ideas.
  • In-house team members generate some of the gift ideas. 

[3:29]  Brian talks about some of his favorite uncommon gift ideas at the company.

  • Brian’s favorite gift ideas at the organization include the velociraptor lawn sculpture and the intersection of love customized photo print.

[4:18]  What does the team focus on in its operations?

  • Operations have evolved into different silos for efficiency.
  • A typical direct-to-consumer business has the following operations silos: merchandise availability, timely delivery, pricing, effective systems, and the right people.
  • Managing each silo effectively enhances the general operations.

[6:20]  Brian explains the organization’s approach to change management.

  • Having the ability to win hearts and minds is key in change management. 
  • Communicating the “why” to your team is important to get them on board.

[7:20]  How do you overcome people’s resistance to change?

  • Brian approaches resistance to change in three buckets, including ensuring that the “why” is communicated clearly, creating the right environment for the change to thrive, and understanding that people just don’t agree with certain things sometimes.

[8:18]  Brian outlines a boilerplate list of things that are most important to customers. 

  • The most important things to customers are price, the right merchandise, quick delivery, and the ability to follow through on the brand promise.

[8:59]  How many employees does Uncommon Goods have?

  • The company has between 150 to 200 full-time employees.

[9:18]  Brian talks about the processes set up in the organization to align employees with fulfilling customer satisfaction. 

  • The team prioritizes its inventory to ensure accuracy in customer delivery.
  • They audit the inbound receiving process upfront.
  • The organization has a dedicated team that does cycle counts at its different locations. 

[10:52] How long did it take the management team to figure out the processes for aligning its employees with fulfilling customer satisfaction?

  • When Brian joined the organization, they already had a strong focus on inventory management.
  • The organization has focused on building its systems in the last three years and grown from having one warehouse to three warehouses. 

[11:35] Brian gives insights into the company’s culture and how it impacts its growth.

  • The team is always looking for ways to do things better, making growth easier.
  • The team’s efficiency in fulfilling orders accurately has a huge impact on the organization’s growth. 

[13:12] How does the organization price its exclusive items? 

  • The team combines art and science to set up the right prices for the items. 

[14:06] Brian directs the audience to check out the interesting merchandise on the Uncommon Goods website.

  • The team is rolling out a special catalog for couples in celebration of Valentine’s Day.

[14:59] What’s Brian’s favorite book or podcast?

[15:36] Outro

About Brian O’Connor

Brian O'Connor is the general manager and chief operating officer at Uncommon Goods, a direct-to-consumer gift shop. He has a track record of transforming organizations' revenues from $150M to $1B by streamlining their operations. A visionary leader, Brian understands the market dynamics and helps businesses to meet consumer needs and adapt to the economic realities. Brian has the foresight for identifying consumer-centric growth, and spots opportunities to reduce costs for the most efficient use of resources.

Brian O’Connor is the general manager and chief operating officer at Uncommon Goods, a direct-to-consumer gift shop. He has a track record of transforming organizations’ revenues from $150M to $1B by streamlining their operations.

A visionary leader, Brian understands the market dynamics and helps businesses to meet consumer needs and adapt to the economic realities.  

Brian has the foresight for identifying consumer-centric growth, and spots opportunities to reduce costs for the most efficient use of resources.

Transcript of the interview

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Process Breakdown podcast, where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks and giving your employees all the information they need to be successful at their jobs. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Chad Franzen: Chad Franzen here, co-host of the Process Breakdown podcast, where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks and giving your staff everything they need to be successful at their job. Past guests include David Allen of Getting Things Done and Michael Gerber of the E-Myth, and many more.

Chad Franzen: This episode is brought to you by SweetProcess. Have you had team members ask you the same questions over and over again, and this is the 10th time you’ve spent explaining it? There’s a better way and a solution. SweetProcess is a software that makes it drop dead easy to train and onboard new staff and save time with existing staff. Not only do universities, banks, hospitals, and software companies use them, but first responder, government agencies use them in life or death situations to run their operations. Use SweetProcess to document all the repetitive tasks that eat up your precious time so you can focus on growing your team and empowering them to do their best work. Sign up for a free 14 day trial, no credit card required. Go to sweetprocess.com. That’s sweet like candy, S-W-E-E-Tprocess.com.

Chad Franzen: Brian O’Connor is general manager and chief operating officer at Uncommon Goods, a leading DTC company that offers customers a wide variety of items that they love to surprise their loved ones with. Brian has increased earning at Uncommon Goods at a 436% compound annual growth rate. Brian, thank you so much for joining me today. How are you?

Brian O’Connor: Excellent, Chad. Thank you. I’m doing very well. Thanks for having me on the show.

Chad Franzen: So tell me a little bit. I’m a little familiar about Uncommon Goods. Tell me a little bit about what Uncommon Goods specializes in and what you guys do?

Brian O’Connor: Yeah, sure. Uncommon goods, we specialize in finding intentionally uncommon things. So things that aren’t necessarily available everywhere as primarily gift, whether it’s gifts for someone else in your life or gifts for yourself, self gifting. The majority of what we sell is made and sourced in the USA. And we as a company focus very much on making sure we have the right merchandise, the right product, and also a social conscience in wanting to give back to the local community. And we worry very much about making sure our processes are also sustainable.

Chad Franzen: I told you before we started recording that I gave my wife cilantro and basil and camomile as her birthday gift. And she was very excited when she received those. How do you guys kind of come up with ideas for gifts that are kind of unusual that maybe nobody else provides?

Brian O’Connor: Yeah. We have a really great team of merchants, buyers as well as product development team, that is their full-time day job. That’s what they do every day and they really excel at it. We also have some of really great gift ideas have come from other team members. So it’s a really collaborative effort.

Chad Franzen: What are some of the most unusual gifts that you guys have?

Brian O’Connor: Some of the most unusual? Well, I don’t know unusual, but I’ll say some of my personal favorites, maybe that’s a better way to sort of do that. There’s a velociraptor lawn sculpture, which I just think is super cool. Also, I’ve given my wife a number of things. The intersection of love is something that I know my wife liked. And then, I’m trying to think of some other really unusual or cool gifts. But I’ll think of about 15 after the podcast is over.

Chad Franzen: Of course.

Chad Franzen: So what do you think that you kind of specialize in when it comes to operations?

Brian O’Connor: Yeah, I really specialize in operations, is sort of understanding what are the sort of… if you take a particular customer or customer segment, there’s going to be 20 criteria that the customer cares about. But if you stack rank those criteria in terms of order of importance, you’ll find that there’s five that really, really matter. And where I think operations as a practice needs to evolve to you is breaking down individual silos. So customer service has one silo. The warehouse has a different silo. And focusing on those five metrics. And depending on the customer side, it could be more than five. It could be less than five. That’s just kind of a made up number for the discussion. And making sure that the organization is best in class at those five, which to me means just beating the pants off of the competition.

Brian O’Connor: So for a typical direct to consumer company, number one is having the right merchandise availability. Number two is getting it to the customer on time and quick, because everybody in direct to consumer competes against Amazon. And then, price is three or some combination of one, two and three there. And focusing all of the other sort of sub metrics and getting the organization, the right systems and processes and people, to really excel at those top five. And no business has an unlimited balance sheet. So if you’re going to invest and invest appropriately to win in those top five decision criteria, you’re going to have to figure out and decide how to under invest in decision criteria six to 20. And that’s a fairly large change management program.

Chad Franzen: What’s your approach to change management?

Brian O’Connor: Wow. That’s really good. I think I leaned back on a lot of my early career as a management consultant of defining what is the future state going to be, and what are the benefits? What I’ve learned in the last couple of years is definitely hearts and minds, and winning hearts and minds is super important. So being able to talk to people and understand and communicate the why, as well as finding ways to set the space so people can understand, Hey, this thing that is personally really important to me, but is maybe item number 21 in importance to the customer, how do we sort of have those sorts of conversations?

Chad Franzen: Do you have a way that you overcome? Most people, myself included, are kind of resistant to change. Do you have kind of a way to overcome that kind of a resistance?

Brian O’Connor: Yeah. So there isn’t any sort of single stock answer. I tend to look at resistance to our change in sort of three different buckets. One is, is it communication? Like, Hey, have I not communicated why? The second is, are you resistant to change because there’s something about the program we haven’t thought through yet? So, do you not have the tools to do your job in this new way? And then there’s a third bucket, which is you’re resistant to change because we’ve satisfied condition number one, we’ve satisfied condition number two, and you just fundamentally disagree.

Chad Franzen: You talked about five things that a customer potentially would want. At Uncommon Goods, those five things can change, but have you found, maybe, a boiler plate list of those five things that a customer wants?

Brian O’Connor: Yeah. I think the boiler plate thing is, obviously, price is super important. You first have to have the right merchandise, you’ve got to get the item to the customer quickly. Again, we all compete against Amazon. And then I think the fourth is really, you got to follow through on the brand promise. The brand promise at Uncommon Goods is uncommon goods that are tasteful and packaged appropriately and good for the environment.

Chad Franzen: So how many employees does Uncommon Goods have?

Brian O’Connor: Yeah, so we’re a privately held company. We don’t necessarily disclose revenue or employees, but I would say ballparks around 150 to 200 full-time employees.

Chad Franzen: So from a systems perspective, do you have a process in terms of getting your employees aligned to fulfill the desires of those customers?

Brian O’Connor: Yeah, absolutely. So, I think from a warehouse fulfillment perspective, really the most important process, and it’s the one that’s probably least talked about, is inventory accuracy. And so that starts with inbound receiving. So when we get the items from the customer or from the vendor, are we accurately logging into our database what the item was, the skew number, the accurate quantity? And then Uncommon Goods, we have multiple warehouses. So we need to know which warehouse has, how many of a particular skew. So when a customer order comes in, we can systematically allocate that order to the right warehouse. And if any of that data is off, then that means the odds of us being able to ship a package or ship the customer order within 24 hours is very much reduced.

Chad Franzen: So what do you do to ensure that works?

Brian O’Connor: Yeah, so to ensure that works, we audit the inbound receiving process up front. And then we have a dedicated team of folks who do what are called cycle counts. So they go to different locations and count the inventory there. So we do try to stay accurate. Those are sort of the two best ways that we have found.

Chad Franzen: How long did it take you to figure out the best way to do that?

Brian O’Connor: I was really fortunate. So when I joined the organization, there was already a very strong focus around inventory management where I think, most of the work the last three years has been on the system side. So to have gone from one warehouse where everything is to sort of three warehouses puts a slightly larger stress on the overall system to know warehouse one, warehouse two and warehouse three.

Chad Franzen: How have you gone about building… You’ve increased the EBITDA by 436%. How much of that has been kind of the culture there?

Brian O’Connor: Definitely, the culture has played a really strong role. The team at Uncommon Goods very much wants to go out there and always look for ways to do things better, which makes change management… Getting back to your earlier point about people who aren’t necessarily bought in, it makes that much easier because the culture is that we want to always do better. And so coming in and being able to work with people who wanted to do better, who needed a little bit of help in sort of figuring out what is the right thing to sort of do, and how do you present it to get that project done, is really been valuable. A very sort of mundane project is within the warehouse. Just changing how orders get batched out. How orders get picked has a huge impact on cost and efficiency.

Chad Franzen: You mentioned that price was an important thing to a customer. The name of your company is uncommon goods. So I couldn’t find anywhere else to get my wife jars of things that she could grow, really, like basal or cilantro. How do you guys meet the customer’s desire in terms of price when you have the only thing like that on the market, at least that I could tell?

Brian O’Connor: Yeah, no, that’s a great question. So how do we price exclusive items? There’s definitely art and science involved. There’s nothing comparable, say in that particular example, there are other things you could do that would be similar in nature, or you could have gone off and bought the individual components yourself. Again, getting back to what I said around the merchant team, the PD team, like that’s all stuff that they really kind of work hard on. And I think they do an excellent job.

Chad Franzen: Sure, sure. Is there anything else we should know about Uncommon Goods?

Brian O’Connor: Look, the company’s got a lot of great merchandise. Shameless plug, you should go check out the website for your next gift giving event.

Chad Franzen: What’s your website?

Brian O’Connor: uncommongoods.com.

Chad Franzen: Would you say it’s a good place to go? Is a husband buying gifts for the wife, is that something… Valentine’s day is coming up, is that something that would be a great place to go? Is that a good gift shop for that?

Brian O’Connor: Yeah, absolutely. It’s got a lot of great merchandise. We’re in the middle of getting ready for Valentine’s day. Valentine’s day’s Day catalog’s going to go out next couple of weeks, or actually, next week is going to start going out. And we have a lot of items aimed just for husbands or people to give their wives or girlfriends gifts.

Chad Franzen: Sure, sure. Last question for you. Do you have a favorite book or podcast that you have found particularly valuable in terms of your learning?

Brian O’Connor: A favorite book or podcast? So there’s a couple of books, Ray Dalio, Radical Transparency, was one that I’ve found to be really good. That one I keep going back to.

Chad Franzen: Why is that?

Brian O’Connor: It lays out a set of principles on candor and transparency. And how do you as a leader live up to those two ideals, and what is it mean in a number of different situations?

Chad Franzen: Okay. Hey, that’s a great suggestion. Thank you so much. And I really appreciate your time today, Brian. Thank you.

Brian O’Connor: All right. Thank you. Thanks Chad.

Chad Franzen: So long, everybody.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to the Process Breakdown podcast. Before you go, quick question. Do you want a tool that makes it easy to document processes, procedures, and or policies for your company so that your employees have all the information they need to be successful at their job? If yes, sign up for a free 14 day trial of SweetProcess. No credit card is required to sign up. Go to sweetprocess.com. Sweet like candy and process like process.com. Go now to SweetProcess.com and sign up for your risk free 14 day trial.

Owen SweetProcess: Hi, this is Owen, the CEO and co-founder here at SweetProcess. If you’ve enjoyed listening to this podcast interview, actually, you know what I want you to do? Go ahead and leave us a five star review on iTunes. That way we get more people aware of the good stuff that you get here on this podcast. Again, go on to iTunes and leave us a five star review. Looking forward to reading your review. Have a good day.

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