Interview: Joanna Jensen of Childs Farm
With digital now all pervasive there is an increasing argument that customer service in retail has become an after-thought and that organisations have forgotten that it is all about people and not something to be automated.
The value of people and their power to drive customer engagement has been recognised from the start by Joanna Jensen, founder and chief executive of Childs Farm, who says her business was created differently: “We’re quite unusual in that at the core of everything is the consumer and we’re very different in the way we engage with them.”
Authenticity not mysterious
“It’s all driven by our tone of voice. We [earlier on] had a digital agency who said we were too familiar with how we spoke to customers. We’d put kisses at the end of messages. They said we should not talk that way as they wanted us to be mysterious. But we’re authentic and empathetic and we’ve had great success from being this way,” she explains.
That agency also suggested Facebook was “rubbish” but it continues to be the key social media platform through which Childs Farm communicates with its customers and builds its valuable community.
Such has been its success in engaging over Facebook and other channels like Instagram, and to a lesser extent Twitter, that its large competitors – i.e. the major pharmaceutical companies - have tried to copy Childs Farm. But Jensen says they have failed because “it boils down to culture and they are global and have to have everything checked with legal, which creates time lags”.
Beating the large companies
In contrast to these global conglomerates, Childs Farm is the only independently-owned company in its category of baby and children’s toiletries, which has helped power its communications to the point that it achieves a share of voice in the category of a significant 85-100%. This has fuelled serious growth with sales this year 370% up on last year.
“We’re the challenger brand and we don’t have a blanket [communications] policy like the big pharma companies. We’ve a clear culture and every member of staff is aligned with this. They’ve got to have empathy and not just see it as a job. We do a lot of training so people are clear about what they can say and what they can’t. We don’t answer any medical questions – we refer them to their GP. But it’s mostly just reassurance they want and somebody to talk to,” says Jensen.
In reality, she says the company’s social media presence has helped it build up a very strong community only whereby the vast majority of questions are handled by this community and do not need direct involvement from the company.
Challenge of scaling
Jensen admits that the company’s pro-active approach to engagement is undoubtedly easier for smaller companies to take because “there will be less people to influence” in the business but then she says Childs Farm has a strict policy of only employing people who do not simply pay lip service to its culture and practices. This is helped by the fact she says: “People who come to us believe in the brand.”
She is confident this will enable the company to scale while still retaining its differentiated culture. This will be essential as it is currently on a hiring spree that is necessary if it is to not only further build its domestic base but also develop its international strategy.
At the heart of its culture is recognising the value of customer service – “it’s more important than price” – and manifesting this through communications that are based on the company’s employees behaving like a consumer and receiving service to the level that they would want themselves when shopping.
Talking to customers is essential
Even with this in place she says “one of the big mistakes is not talking to consumers enough”, and today this increasingly involves the digital channels. This move to new routes of communication has certainly caused major issues for those organisations that have been unwilling to adapt their practices and transform their models.
Fortunately for Childs Farm, Jensen says, it was built during the rise of social media so it has benefited greatly from using these platforms to communicate with consumers when it has not had the financial resources to undertake large media campaigns.
But even with this she says it is absolutely essential to continually adapt the business as circumstances change: “We’re not like other FMCG companies who don’t change because they say ‘we always do it like this’. We’re more like an old style shop, with that level of service. Family values and fun is at the core of our business. It’s very simple really - it is about products that people want to buy and keeping these products relevant by adapting.”
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