The only thing that matters

First of all apologies for the delay in publishing my latest post. I’ve been busy (hooray!) and I also took some time out to have the flu at the end of February. I really must get that jab next Winter!

My friend John, who just happens to be a customer experience guru is always saying that when brands are thinking about the customer experience they want to create, the only thing that really matters is how they make people feel. I think he’s spot on, and I wanted to write a post about that using a brand I love as an example. I’ve been a customer for a couple of years and even though sometimes they frustrate me, I keep going back for more – and that’s the point really. I keep going back for more. I buy the gear. I’m loyal. I’m on the mailing list. I do the surveys and I tell people how fab I think they are. Why? Because I feel an affinity to what they do. The product is high quality and they make it easy to do business with them with several little touches that make you think, “wow, look at that”.

Those of you that know me will probably know I like riding a bike. I started doing this 4 years ago, and I love it. I think it’s fair to say that I am not the cyclist now that I was in 2015. A number of things have changed: I go a lot further and a bit quicker than I did when I started. The bike has changed, and so has the clothing. I have learned what works and what doesn’t, and that is very important, especially where the clothing is concerned. It needs to keep you warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot (obvious – yes, easy to do – no). It needs padding in all the right places and quite frankly, because it’s tight, you have to feel comfortable and not that you look like some kind of lycra clad idiot (yes I know I probably do, but it’s how I feel that’s important right?)

When I started cycling, I bought the first bits of kit I could lay my hands on. Padded shorts – they’ll do. All in one convertible, windproof jacket with detachable sleeves – perfect, I won’t ever need any other tops and I can wear that all the year round (absolute rubbish). Same size shoes as I normally take (big mistake). Of course, it’s not until you get out there and do it that you realise you may not have chosen wisely.

Enter Rapha. I can’t remember when I first became aware of them, but I distinctly remember looking at their website and almost choking on my coffee when I saw the prices. Rapha is a brand which polarises opinion in the cycling world. Some say it’s just branding and overpriced gear. Others like me, have come to swear by it. If you’re interested, this article from Cycling Weekly a couple of years ago sums it up pretty well.

Rapha determinedly focuses on a particular part of the cycling market and sticks to it (see my first rule of customer experience strategy from my previous post – decide who your customers are, AND who they are not). So I am the prime target market, but I’m not just a sucker for a silky website and user experience. There’s a lot more to Rapha that makes me an advocate. Here’s the list of things I love – some big, some small: The gear fits. May sound obvious, but I’ve had several cycling jerseys in which I felt like a sack of potatoes. Ill-fitting and…..well just horrible to wear. Rapha fits very well, and it’s not just me – it’s all over the customer reviews.

It is of high quality. Jerseys made from merino wool – it really is warm in winter and cool in summer. It does what it is supposed to do. It feels great to the point that you don’t really notice it, and it lasts. I bought a jersey two years ago and it’s like new. Oh, and it doesn’t smell when you get hot!

If you lose weight/change shape within 12 months you can size down for half the price.

Free repairs if you have a mishap.

Free returns – Royal Mail 48 hours tracked.

People who work at Rapha are passionate about the sport. They wear the gear. They’re ALL product testing. So the design and functionality of the products get very direct user feedback, from cyclists.

If you time it right, two sales a year and various periodic offers of 20/25% off make it more affordable. This can be frustrating as far as size availability goes – but I find persistence counts!

Their review and Q&A sections of the website are a mine of information. If you’re unsure about an item, chances are someone will have asked questions about it, or bought it and reviewed it, in detail! If you ask a question, in my experience it’s answered within 24 hours. This is very, very helpful.

I could go on……but I think the thing I tell people about most is the time I bought a pair of their shoes. My first cycling shoes were too small. I put up with them, but in the end, I knew a change was required. Then Rapha knocked 40% off their classic shoes. It was fate! But which size? I checked the sizing guide and rather than just a few measurements, it was detailed so you could compare your current shoe brand and size, with the corresponding Rapha size. I thought that was great. But I still bought two pairs and resolved to put up with the hassle of sending a pair back. Shoes arrived, one pair was spot on. The others had to go back. I logged into my account, found the order, “click here to return”. So far so good. I had the packaging and Freepost return label. Then I dropped down the “reason for return” list. And there it was – “I bought two pairs to try sizes and I am returning one“. I had to smile, they’ve even thought of that. Now I know that’s not particularly innovative, others do similar, but it was the first time I’d come across it and it was just a small thing that made me think that they are really tuned in to what I’m trying to do here.

So if the only thing that really matters is how you make your customers feel, then I think many brands could do with taking a leaf out of Rapha’s book. I give Sky TV a lot more money than Rapha each year, but Rapha make me FEEL a million times better.

March 29, 2019 1:00 pm

1 Comment

  • Rufus Harper says:

    Great article Mike… So very true and your observations should be at the top of all businesses key focus. Keep cycling … It was never a sack of spuds pal!!

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