Digi-Key's "Minnesota Nice" Customer Strategy

Customer Strategy
Customer Experience
The electronics components distributor goes to its roots to deliver a memorable customer experience which keeps clients coming back.

Delivering a great customer experience is one of the most important differentiators for organizations. Not only does it play a part in retaining existing customers, but it is also instrumental in attracting new clients.

Digi-Key Corporation, a Minnesota-based distributor of electronics components, is a firm believer that a great customer experience is a necessity for the company's success. As Linda Johnson, the company's vice president for sales operations, says in this interview with 1to1 Media, in an age where the quest for instant gratification has become run of the mill, organizations need to find new ways to not only meet, but also exceed their customers' expectations.

1to1 Media: Why is delivering a great customer experience especially important for Digi-Key?

Linda Johnson: Great customer service has always been a "differentiator" for Digi-Key and an important part of our value proposition. Others have spent years trying to figure out how to emulate our model. Today the challenge is to deliver the great customer experience through every channel. Instead of reacting to customers' need, we need to anticipate their needs and remove the roadblocks. Offering the best service possible to our customers has always been our goal at Digi-Key. We aim to support the design process from prototype to production, with resources focused on each step of the process.

1to1: Can you share information on how Digi-Key manages to deliver a great customer experience?

LJ: By providing a consistent, efficient, easy, and friendly experience regardless of where and how the customer touches us throughout the world. Today's engineers are looking to get the parts they need, when they need them, as well as resources to help shorten design cycles and speed time to market. Digi-Key checks all these boxes along the way. The company stocks more than one million products, available for immediate shipment. Through our website, digikey.com, the company offers hundreds of white papers, datasheets, product training modules, and videos, as well as access to 24/7 tech support via phone, email, or web chat. One unique feature to the company is that you will always speak with a real person when contacting Digi-Key, providing a personal touch with each and every customer.

1to1: What tools and technologies do you use to help improve the customer experience?

LJ: In an age where instant gratification has become the norm, we are always seeking new ways to meet and exceed our customers' expectations. We've implemented tools that aid in our efficiency and enable us to respond very quickly, regardless of how the customer chooses to interact with us.There are a lot of new and innovative tools available out there. The challenge is to find the right balance of innovation and people. If I were to share the exact combination of tools, it would be like sharing "Mom's secret family recipe." Regardless, we are in a constant state of evaluation and continuous improvement.At the end of the day, it still comes down to the people and we have an incredible, loyal, and talented workforce.You can't buy that, it's grown and developed over time.

1to1: How does Digi-Key use social media to communicate with customers? Can you share some examples of instances when social media helped to enhance interactions with customers?

LJ: Social media allows us to have more visibility to what our customers are hearing and sharing. Social media sites, communities, and forums are yet another avenue for us to learn from our customers and to understand topics, issues, and ideas that we may not have been aware of in the past. It's a great feedback mechanism and we are active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Google+. We are trying to incorporate visual social media, such as YouTube videos that show how to use different components. We also use social media as an engagement tool and have different contests from Monday to Thursday every week where we give out prizes to customers who participate over Twitter and sometimes Facebook. Last December we also had a campaign, Digi-Wish, where customers could Tweet their wishes for a Digi-Key product for less than $100 for a chance to win it.

1to1: Do you use social media for service?Can you share some examples?

LJ: Yes, we do. The beauty of social media is that it provides a real-time forum for customer communications. As an example, if we have a customer asking "how-to" questions around designing a product, we have experts available who can interact and offer comparisons, advice, and best practices.In some cases, after a series of questions, a customer may decide to place their order with Digi-Key. The value to the customer is that Digi-Key is not just a vehicle to place an order. Rather, we offer multiple options for interaction from a presence on some of the familiar social media outlets, topic-focused conversations within our online community, Tech Exchange, as well as high technical interaction with our application engineers via www.eewiki.com.

1to1: Can you share what your mobile strategy entails?

LJ: We've definitely embraced the mobile trend as cell phones, tablets, and other devices become the norm.Digi-Key's mobile application has been very popular among our customer base with more than 83,000 downloads since its launch.The app brings Digi-Key's online experience to a mobile device. Enabling customers to access a broad product selection and support offered by Digi-Key remotely only serves to make it even easier to get needed products and tech support.

1to1: Can you share some information about your "Minnesota Nice" customer service and how you deliver this?

LJ: "MN Nice" is who we are.There is no magic formula, it comes naturally and is deeply embedded in our corporate culture. We care about our people and we care about our customers' experience from the initial interaction with us to the delivery of the box.

There are many times when we have received calls from a frantic customer who needed a part for a line down or emergency situation over the weekend. Our customer service and sales departments are staffed, but our warehouse and shipping areas are not. We have found someone to pick and pack an order and then drive it to an airport 60 miles from Digi-Key to go as cargo on a passenger plane to our customer's location. We've also had people volunteer to drive several hundred miles to meet a customer and hand off a package when no courier options were available. These things are outside our normal processes, but "people" look for the solutions and find a way to help a customer.

1to1: How do you train employees to excel in delivering a great customer experience?

LJ: We invest in several weeks of system and process training before people interact with customers.The right people, the right tools, and the knowledge are the "keys" to delivering great customer service.

1to1: You try to answer every call with a live person within four seconds. How do you do this and what happens during the busiest times?

LJ: It's actually easier to do this now than it was in the past when the main channel of communication was the phone.Now with customers interacting with us in a variety of ways (email, chat, phone, fax), we are able to fully utilize our agents throughout the day, and do not have to over-staff to cover peak call times. Our agents receive their work via a "push" system, which delivers them work based on their availability and skillset. If they are not on a call, they will be receiving e-mails, chats, or other work.A customer calling will receive first priority.We also have done cross-training in other sales-related areas, so during peak times the workload can be distributed if needed.Customers come first and metrics like answer speeds on calls, chats, and turn-times for e-mails are understood and worked toward by the whole team.