Stick to your word and never obfuscate the truth, even if it is hard to do. Customers might be unhappy about bad news at that time, but they will appreciate your honesty.

As a part of our series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Estelle Cockcroft.

Estelle Cockcroft is one of the foremost experts on large catamaran sailing, living, buying, and selling in the world. She has traveled more than 70,000 nautical miles of remote waterways, explored 45 incredible countries, and, as Catamaran Guru Co-Founder, Co-Owner, and President, brokers dozens of catamaran transactions each year and manages the company’s $40M+ annual revenue. Estelle shares her passion for sailing through her blog on the Catamaran Guru website and as a qualified Royal Yachting Association captain and American Sailing Association instructor.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Stephen and I left Cape Town in 1992 on our 45ft monohull called Royal Salute on a sabbatical for two years. He was in the trucking industry and I was a fashion designer by trade. It was always Stephen’s dream to sail around the world in a 45ft boat. Our intent was to leave for two years to explore the oceans and return to our home and careers in Cape Town. Seven boats and 30+ years later, we are still living onboard and have sailed several oceans and around 70,000 NM or possibly more. We stopped counting a long time ago.

As early as 1992 when we first sailed on a friend’s Shuttleworth design catamaran in the Indian Ocean we realized the potential of these vessels. Cats were overbuilt and heavy with very low bridgedeck clearance in those days and slammed like crazy in any type of waves. So, while this was not the most pleasant experience, we knew that this was the future of sailing.

We could not afford a catamaran at the time, and we were still skeptical about their seaworthiness, but we followed the progress of catamaran design until finally we were able to buy our own and, in the process, buy ownership in a catamaran factory in Cape Town, South Africa in 2004. Stephen, his close friend Derek and a team of shipwrights built our first monohull, so Stephen had intimate knowledge of boat building which was a great foundation for our venture. We managed to sell 30+ Island Spirit Catamarans, designed by Phil Southwell, in the USA and it was a beloved brand. It was never our intent to be “salespeople” of cats but few people were knowledgeable about cats and we gradually went from advisors to owning several different brands of catamarans to selling cats.

The French catamaran brands like Catana, Privilege, Lagoon etc. were technologically more advanced and had a more stable industry so we moved on to sell catamarans manufactured in Europe. We also have owned and operated charter catamaran fleets in the Caribbean and have probably made every mistake possible in this industry. Which is probably why we are “well qualified” to help and guide buyers and sailors of catamarans.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

This might not be the funniest mistake, but it was a high value mistake that Stephen managed to “fix” with a bit of humor. Our customer, Roy requested information about a Lagoon 620 sailboat. Stephen by mistake sent him a brochure and specifications on a Lagoon 630 Powercat. Roy called up and told Stephen that this was not the boat he was asking about because there was no mast and questioned whether Stephen had any knowledge of this Lagoon product. It was rather embarrassing, but Stephen rolled with it and told him tongue in cheek that the mast is “extra”. They ended up chatting about the virtues of a powercat for his application, and they weighed the two options. Roy warmed up to the idea of a powercat, something that was never on his radar before. The upshot was that Roy flew to France with us to the factory and bought a Lagoon 630 without a mast (powercat), loved it and we became very good friends. The lesson: We all make mistakes. Admit the blunder, make light of it if you can and move on. Mistakes can take you in all kinds of directions and in this case, it was a blessing. The customer got exactly what he wanted and had an exceptional experience while he owned the boat.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

When we first started Catamaran Guru, we were fairly new in the country and armed with only our knowledge and a vision. We wanted to become the best “help” and authority website for catamaran sailors. We had very little money, but we knew that what we had was valuable because so little was known about catamarans at the time. Not only that, but we were also one of the most sought-after sailing instructors in the Caribbean because our customer satisfaction was superior, and we sold many boats to our “students”. A customer turned friend, Ian Grant Smith, recognized that and encouraged us to start the Catamaran Guru website so that if people wanted to find out more about us, they could go there to research us and learn about catamarans. We had no idea what that even meant at the time because we knew very little about technology and even less about social media. But Ian, being a technology and financial whizz, encouraged us to build our brand and embrace technology. It was the best thing we could have ever done! We are currently building another technology-based company with Ian’s guidance that will change the landscape of our industry. We are excited about this development and will launch the product soon.

Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?

In today’s competitive market, products and services can often be similar. A business, therefore, has to deliver outstanding customer experiences to stand out. Exceptional service can become a unique selling point and help build a positive brand image.

By providing exceptional customer experiences, a business can generate word-of-mouth referrals that will attract new customers without significant marketing expenses. We all know that word-of-mouth marketing is very powerful. Happy customers will share their positive experiences with others and can significantly impact a business’s reputation and growth.

Retaining existing customers is more cost-effective than acquiring new ones, and satisfied customers are more likely to remain loyal and recommend a business to others. They become your strongest and most loyal brand advocates, which is crucial for sustainable growth.

For example, customers who attend our sailing schools when they first start out on their sailing journey to boat ownership receive an exceptional learning experience. Their experience during the weeklong liveaboard sail training fosters trust and confidence in these brand-new sailors. This sets them up for a lifetime of enjoyable onboard experiences, and they trust in our ability to teach them valuable lessons for becoming confident and safe sailors. Once that level of trust is established, they will always come back to us on their journey to becoming boat owners themselves. We know our products extremely well, and we guide the customer to make good decisions. We often become their brokers to buy the first boat, and when they are ready to sell their boat and buy another one, they come back to us to sell that boat and help them with the next one if they so choose. Some customers want to do expensive upgrades to their boats and, once again, they are confident in the knowledge that we will advise them properly.

The first and ongoing good experiences of the customer are crucial in fostering this loyalty.

We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?

Often companies have an inadequate knowledge and understanding of their customer’s needs. It is tough to deliver a good experience if you don’t know what your customer needs, what the pain points are and how to deal with them. Management must instil a customer-centric culture with employees and be trained to prioritize the customer.

Our motto is: “We are the Can-Do” company. We can help our customer achieve the outcome that he/she desires. We guide them and give them the tools to make good and educated decisions about boat ownership.

Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?

Yes, more competition generally helps force companies to improve the customer experience. Competition drives companies to innovate and find new ways to attract and retain customers. They invest in improving product quality, customer service and overall satisfaction. Companies that embrace technology to enhance the customer experience often gain a competitive edge.

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?

One of our customers got a devastating cancer diagnoses shortly after he signed a contract and paid his 20% non-refundable deposit for a $700k boat. He told us about it and let us know that he would not be able to close on the boat. He knew that he would lose his deposit. It was a devastating thing to witness, and just on a human level, we could not see him and his family deal with his illness AND lose his deposit, which was substantial. We managed to find another buyer for his boat, with a small discount as an incentive, to buy this boat, and Peter was made whole again. We lost a sale obviously because we could have sold a second boat to the new customer, but it felt good to help someone in need.

We forgot about that and delivered the boat to the new owner a few months later. He loved the boat and sent us a note to express his satisfaction of the whole process. He then asked if we would pass a note to the previous owner that “he would love for him to use the boat for a vacation any time he liked in the British Virgin Islands for free”. In his words, “I was blown away that you returned Peter’s deposit to him and not imposing a penalty”. He received a discount as an incentive to buy the boat sooner than he wanted to, but it really worked out for him, and he wanted to pay it forward.

Did that Wow! experience have any long-term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

Yes, both families are strong advocates for our company. But more than that, we feel that we did the right thing. It is not always all about business. The business has a human face, and we must be mindful of that. A small kindness can make a big impact on someone’s life, and it makes us all better people and business owners.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. A wow customer experience is when service goes beyond simply doing the basic and necessary customer care. Our company culture is: “We are the Can-Do company”. We always endeavor to deliver a quality product, quality service and build quality relationships before, during and after the sale. We strive to exceed customer expectations. Success will follow.
  2. Know your customer and treat them well. They want to be known, understood and remembered. Stephen always says: “hold your customer in the palm of your hand”. Seemingly insignificant gestures that may not cost much or take much time, will leave a meaningful impression.
  3. Make it easy for the customer to buy your product. Streamline the process, respond quickly, know your product, offer solutions to problems and answer the phone!
  4. Stick to your word and never obfuscate the truth, even if it is hard to do. Customers might be unhappy about bad news at that time, but they will appreciate your honesty.
  5. We live and breathe the lifestyle that everyone who buys a boat from us wants, so we are believable, and our product knowledge is exceptional because of that. We don’t just sell this lifestyle; we live it and that goes a long way towards guiding and educating our customers to believe that they, too, can do this.

Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?

Educate your customer and manage expectations. Our philosophy is to be absolutely honest with every customer. Some people are just not meant to own a boat and we have to be host enough to tell them that. We constantly tell all our employees “it is often easy to do the wrong thing. It’s very hard to do the right thing”.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If we had superpowers and could change anything, we would clean up the oceans with the wave of our wand. Since that is not possible, we always try to advocate for sailors to leave the anchorages better than they found them, and to be honest, most sailors are very careful about what they leave behind and not to damage the coral reefs.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Estelle Cockcroft Of Catamaran Guru On 5 Ways To Create a Wow! Customer Experience was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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