The key to Rapha’s success

Written by Jamie Freeman

A logo might represent your brand, but so does your customer service - good or bad - and it does so far more powerfully.

We were lucky enough to play a significant role in one of e-commerce’s most influential success stories. Rapha were the cycling start-up who are now an established player whose influence goes far beyond the sport. There’s hardly an e-commerce clothing or lifestyle brand out there who hasn’t referenced Rapha at some point. Even those giants of e-commerce Mr Porter owed more than a little to the work we created on the Rapha website.

As well as building the website and back-end systems, we also designed the fulfilment process. It proved to be immensely capable, eventually allowing them to fulfil orders worth tens of millions of pounds a year. We’re pretty proud of that, and so the proven ‘Five Ps’ remains a core part of our Mothership platform to this day.

People sometimes ask me why Rapha chose to keep fulfilment in-house for so long, apart from the fact they had a very capable system. The answer is that it allowed them to really know their customers. Even as turnover was getting quite high, the core fulfilment and customer services team was still pretty small. This meant that any questions coming in from customers were being answered by the very people who were responsible for picking, packing and dispatching the orders.

This team would get to know certain customers, especially as they had a very high loyalty rate. They could gauge situations and balance their responses in a human way rather than with ‘computer says no’ attitude.

For the customers, it meant they knew that the answer was coming from someone at Rapha; there was no disconnect, no breaches in the brand, no ‘your call is being held in a queue’. It was authentic.

Rapha’s cult was very potent in the cycling world, and customers and Customer Services staff talked the same language. The staff were committed riders, just like the person on the other end of the phone.

Ultimately this attention to detail is one of the best examples I can think of where the company truly understood the meaning of ‘brand’. Every time a customer placed an order or picked up the phone or emailed a complaint, the experience they had was the brand. A company’s brand is every experience their customer has of them. It’s only later that a logo or a jingle comes to represent that brand. Rapha knew that (being founded by two successful brand agency people) and made sure it was implemented at every single step.

We have been approached by scores of companies eager to ‘do a Rapha’ in one way or another. However, it’s very rare that they understand this lesson and actually have the appetite to carry it through. You can have the most hipster logo, the best edited selection, terrific prices… but if I call with a query and that person doesn’t treat me right, then that is the brand experience I’ll always carry with me.

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