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How to Gain the Competitive Advantage

Can listening to your customers’ needs and wants actually provide a new strategic direction for your business?

Shep Hyken interviews Chris McCann, the President and CEO of 1-800-Flowers, who talks about how they built their business to more than a billion dollars in revenue based on customer feedback.

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First Up:

Shep Hyken’s opening comments focus on 1-800-Flowers’ competitive strengths, which all companies should be focusing on to provide outstanding customer service:

  • Provide amazing response times.
  • Think outside the box (or, in the case of, thinking “outside the vase”).
  • Make doing business easy and seamless.
  • Exceed customers’ expectations, especially when responding to customer’s questions, problems, and complaints.

Featured Interview:

Shep begins his interview with Chris McCann, president and CEO of 1-800-Flowers, by asking what has given his company a unique advantage over other florists or other floral networks. Chris said that from the beginning, they tried to stay in touch with their customers to understand why they were doing business with them, and what customers expected and wanted. By listening to customers, they expanded their product line to include gourmet foods (rather than only floral arrangements) which has become more than half of their business.

They found that as they added these products, the customers didn’t buy less flowers, they only bought more often. The company constantly works to figure out, how to enhance the value that they bring to their customers? As a result, 1-800-Flowers went from being a retailer selling a product to becoming a value-added service solving customers’ gift-giving needs.

Top Takeaways:

  • Getting thousands of independent business owners to join a network – When 1-800-Flowers started out, they weren’t trying to build a network of thousands of florists. Instead, they started working with people who knew the industry, who had design capabilities, and were hired for their commitment to customer service. Once they mastered that strategy, they expanded their network into thousands of independent business owners that represent their brand.
  • Response times – 1-800-Flowers has a service level target of handling 80 percent of phone calls within 20 seconds (3 rings). They respond to an email within two hours. Customer expectations on social media are very different. The company’s initial response target is 5 minutes. As Chris McCann says, “We’re in the business of delivering smiles. A smile for some emotional reason. People can’t sit and wait, wondering what is going to happen when they try to tell a loved one ‘I love you’.”
  • Gifts When You Need (GWYN) – 1-800-Flowers worked with IBMs’ Watson platform to create GWYN, an early-stage artificial intelligence (AI) product. GWYN gives customers the ability to interact with her via text in a conversational manner to find the right gift for the right person at the right time. Further, the amount of learning they are getting from GWYN allows them to constantly tweak their questions based on the responses they are getting from their customers.


Chris McCann has been 1-800Flowers’ President since September 2000 and Chief Executive Officer since June 2016. Mr. McCann is a member of the Board of Trustees of Marist College.

Shep Hyken is a customer service and experience expert, best-selling author and your host of Amazing Business Radio.

“Always ask yourself, ‘What is the job the customer is hiring us to do?’ When we know what that is, it’s pretty simple.” – Chris McCann

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This episode of Amazing Business Radio with Shep Hyken answers the following questions … and more:

  1. How can artificial intelligence (AI) impact the customer experience?
  2. How do you gain a competitive advantage on your competition?
  3. How does 1-800-Flowers use technology to improve the customer experience?
  4. How can you prepare for your industries busy season?
  5. How can innovation impact the customer experience?

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