CUSTOMER CARE: How Viking Office Products Does It

In its ongoing effort to provide what it has for years referred to as “fanatical” customer service, Viking Office Products has become a master at customer loyalty programs. Customers who belong to the Torrance, CA-based Viking Premier program have a 30% greater retention rate than Viking’s core customer group, says vice president of marketing Sean Clough. In fact, the nine-year-old program has been so successful that Viking has launched it in other countries in which it has a presence, such as United Kingdom and Germany.

What’s in it for members?

Viking Premier provides members with a welcome pack that outlines the programs benefits, which include:

  • a special dedicated toll-free phone line for placing orders
  • free shipping on most orders, including some furniture deliveries (regular customers have to spend $25 for an order to qualify for free shipping)
  • unlimited lifetime guarantee on all orders (compared to the one-year guarantee on orders for those not in the program)
  • special pricing on certain items — often those that Premier members purchase regularly, such as file folders
  • free monthly samples and free gifts of selected office supplies
  • personalized order pads to make ordering easier.

What’s more, the phone reps who handle calls from members “are some of our best and most experienced reps,” Clough says. “They have to be able to assist customers with anything they might need — product information, returns, and, of course, order entry.”

Once on board, customers receive inkjet promotions on the covers of Viking catalogs and targeted messages upon logging on to the cataloger’s Website.

Keeping the program under control

The Viking program has three tiers of members. The platinum level consists of fewer than 500 of the cataloger’s very best customers; the gold level is for the next-best buyers, and one level below that is silver. The higher the tier, the better the benefits, though Clough won’t share specifics.

Nor will Clough reveal the order levels required for each plateau. All he’ll say is that Viking wants only customers “who place orders with us regularly. Their sales have to be approximately four times greater than our average customers’ sales.”

To maintain control over the number of members, Viking doesn’t promote the program. “The only way that customers are in the program is if we ask them to join,” Clough says.

A goal of the program is to always move customers onward and upward. A silver customer may be selected not only for his current spending levels but also for his potential to grow into a gold or platinum customer. “We want to get them into the program as quickly as possible,” Clough says, “and then improve their retention and drive additional sales.”

Ernan Roman, president of Douglas Manor, NY-based consulting firm Ernan Roman Direct Marketing, gives Viking’s program top marks for the benefits it gives as well as the results it receives. Most loyalty programs “aren’t as effective as they should be, because they don’t anchor a solid relationship,” Roman says. “The airline and hotel frequent-flyer/frequent-stay programs, for example, give you no special treatment and, particularly, no special toll-free number to call. But the Viking strategy takes a fundamental commitment to exceptional customer service. Everybody can get discounts from other office supplies companies. But Viking provides a dedicated toll-free number and other extras. And you don’t expect that in office products.”

Clough says that the cost to offer and maintain the program is minimal, although he won’t provide specifics. Among the added expenses of the program are the production and mailing costs of the welcome kit and the cost of operating the additional toll-free telephone line.

“With what it costs to acquire or reactivate a customer today,” Clough says, “this program more than pays for itself. After all, it was originally created to drive retention rather than being sales-based.”

The next Customer Care report, focusing on “the human touch” in providing customer service, will appear in the August issue of Catalog Age. The fourth report, in the November issue, will look at customer service superstars.

Did you miss the first Customer Care report? Then read it online at www.CatalogAgemag.com

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