As a firm believer in learning through experience, it is these hands-on mistakes that make you a better planner and a better leader.

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

With over 18 years running award-winning planning firm, Bridal Bliss, founder Nora Sheils possesses an intimate grasp on the ins and outs of the wedding industry. In her time working with countless couples and leading a team of 30+ women, she recognized a need for a more effective, streamlined approach to the often-daunting contract and invoice process. Thus, in 2018, Rock Paper Coin was born in partnership with her sister-in-law, Elizabeth, and the two have been committed to bringing together event professionals and couples ever since.

Nora’s industry experience has led her to become a thought leader in the way of project management, operational efficiency, business expansion, and team dynamics. Her expertise extends to event professionals who discover increased productivity through Rock Paper Coin, as well as those who hear her speak onstage. As a well-known and sought-after speaker in her local speaker circuit, including with associations like ILEA Portland and Seattle Business Babes, Nora is always prepared to share her favorite strategies for simplifying, refining, and refreshing business workflows. She was recently recognized by Portland Business Journal in its 40 Under 40 series.

In her spare time, Nora can be found spending quality time with her family, often over a long family-style spread of food and a glass of great sparkling wine. She also appreciate the chance to explore the vibrant culture and food scene of the Pacific Northwest, particularly in her beloved hometown of Portland.

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?

I grew up surrounded by beautiful wedding gowns, as my mom was a skilled seamstress offering alterations out of our home. Always smitten with weddings, I took the leap and opened up my own wedding planning business, Bridal Bliss, in 2002 after graduating from Gonzaga University. The company expanded into the Seattle and Central Oregon markets, led by planner and team member Elizabeth Sheils. Fun fact: After Elizabeth had been working with me for a few years, I set her up on a blind date with my brother-in-law, and officially became sisters-in-law in 2017.

One afternoon, we were out to drinks commiserating with each other about constantly chasing down contracts, printing contracts, writing checks and — not kidding — even faxing paperwork. We wanted to save our fellow Bridal Bliss planners’ time so we set out looking for a platform that would work not only as a CRM tool but allow collaboration between three parties. After 2 years of testing out various event software, we determined nothing existed and decided to build it, leading to Rock Paper Coin.

Between the two of us, we have 29 years of experience in the industry. We have taken our unique position as experts in the industry to custom build a solution that solves the pain points of running a company in the wedding and event space.

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?

Mistakes early on are hard, but definitely part of the process. As a firm believer in learning through experience, it is these hands-on mistakes that make you a better planner and a better leader. I’ve made more mistakes than I could count over the years! One that sticks out (painfully, I might add) is handing along an invitation assembly project to an intern, and not double checking her work. The invitations for my particular client were sent without a stamp on the RSVP! Trust me…this did not go over well and it took some time to win my client’s trust back. I can assure you that now, my team is never too busy for quality control and you better believe that every invitation is perfectly stamped!

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?

There have been so many people who helped me along the way. I was able to start Bridal Bliss right out of college, thanks to Gonzaga University’s Hogan Entrepreneurial Program’s business plan competition. I won, along with a teammate, and it provided me not only the funds to start my company, but also the confidence. Between helpful professors and experienced business professionals involved in the program, I was given priceless advice and opportunity to learn from people who had been in my shoes. I’m forever grateful to the Hogan Program, without which I’m certain my career would have steered another direction.

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?

Our clients know we have other clients on the platform, but it is really important to us to make every client feel like our attention is dedicated to them and their needs. Lightning-quick communication is a must; we try to respond as quickly as possible to every email, call, or text. We want our clients to know our team will support them, listen to them and help provide them with what they need to be successful. After all, their success is our success so great customer service is key.

By going above and beyond a client’s expectations, we not only meet them at their level but show them we are more than just an online product — we are advocates, community members and educators in the same industry as them.

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?

When a company experiences rapid growth, it is easy to get distracted with priorities. Some days, it honestly feels like everything is on fire. But even if things are crazy, good customer service is the most important part of growing your business. Understanding a client’s wants and needs is vital to the success of your future business. Just because a company thinks they understand their ideal customer, doesn’t mean that ideal customer profile won’t change over time. Many companies experiencing growth stop talking to their customers and this is where the disconnect can start. Constantly talking and listening to your customers is one of the best things you can do for your business.

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?

I absolutely think that competition can force companies to improve their customer experience. The name of the game today is customer service and, if someone comes in offering a similar product and providing a higher level of service, you will lose your market share. Listening and improving your product or offerings based on real customer feedback is of utmost importance.

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

I had plans to meet a planner while traveling to LA for a small wedding industry event. She fell sick and had to cancel morning-of. I quickly curated a care package with tea, cough drops, an aromatherapy candle and other necessary cold remedies and had them delivered later that afternoon. We kept in touch and when we finally connected, I was able to give her a demo of Rock Paper Coin. Before seeing the product, she wasn’t interested and likely wouldn’t have given me the time of day if it wasn’t for the thoughtful gift. When she had a chance to experience our platform, not only did she sign up, but she is now an active user and has sent countless referrals our way. We talk regularly and have formed a friendship since! Although inexpensive, that small gift of thoughtfulness wowed this planner, and paired with impeccable customer service has made her a lifelong supporter of our brand!

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

Yes, the wedding community is a pretty tight knit group. It truly has “community over competition” as one of its core values and, because of this, referrals are key. By taking care of our customers and providing the best customer service possible, we were able to get direct referrals and more loyal clients on Rock Paper Coin.

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

  1. Website. A client’s first peek at your brand is likely the website. It needs to not only be attractive, but informative (don’t leave out pricing, etc.!) and easy to navigate!
  2. Availability + Flexibility. Your team must be available to clients and quick to respond! Many of our Bridal Bliss reviews note that their planner was a great communicator with lightning speed responses. As a couple planning a wedding, communication is key so this is a big compliment. That also means being flexible and available when your client needs you to be.
  3. Make. It. Easy. When people are investing their money into something, whether it be a high-end home or an event, things must be convenient. If you fly first class, you get to skip lines, are served a cocktail as you board the flight, and people take your coats. When you fly a budget airline, you have to fight for overhead space and pay for water. You get what you pay for and high-end clients expect their investment to equate a convenient experience. Do whatever you can to make the experience easy.
  4. Social Media Interaction. Clients want a personal connection — there is no better way than to connect on social media. Comment on posts, bring up events during meetings, and make your clients feel like you care about them as people, not just their business.
  5. Keep all touchpoints on-brand. All of your marketing, all employee communications, all sales collateral, and all of your people at every customer touchpoint must be fully aligned to bring your brand to life.

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?

Yes, always ask for a referral. Ask your customer if they know of anyone who also might be interested in your company. And if so, ask for a direct introduction. This is a very powerful tool and often goes unused.

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. 🙂

I’m not sure if this is necessarily the most amount of people, but it would certainly be significant. I would love to start a movement advocating for more female-owned businesses. Rock Paper Coin has not one, not two, but three women at its core as founders, which is incredibly rare.

I will be honest and tell you that starting out in a male dominated industry was incredibly daunting and intimidating. Elizabeth and I are moms with young children and between managing our families, responsibilities at Bridal Bliss and then a brand new tech startup, we were exhausted. The support isn’t there for women and certainly not for mothers. Successful female executives have strength, resiliency, and grit, but they are also empathetic, flexible and willing to go the extra mile for the good of the team. We need more of this in our lives and in society as a whole!

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