Customer Service: a Personal Touch in a Virtual World

Cannovate on a tablet and cell phone
Photos: Cannovate

Today’s cannabis consumers enjoy a variety of shopping options, with online orders and curbside delivery on the rise. However, a significant number of customers still opt to walk into brick-and-mortar retail locations. This challenges dispensaries to cater to those who crave an in-person experience at the same time they entice the more digital-savvy crowd to buy online—all while remaining competitive and unique in an ever-expanding marketplace.

From daily deals and discounts to an expansive and constantly revolving array of products, dispensary owners have tried a slew of ways to remain relevant with their clientele. Recent industry conversations have revolved around digital innovation like sleek point-of-sale systems, streamlined customer-relationship management, and the ongoing development of artificial intelligence. The cannabis market—like the rest of the world—is migrating into the cloud.


But no matter how far we advance technologically, one essential part of customer service simply can’t be mimicked virtually. For customer-service-solution company Cannovate, the real secret sauce to retail success is the simple and timeless act of knowing customers by their first name.

“The cannabis competition is fierce right now,” said Cannovate founder and Chief Executive Officer Nadia Cavasilios. “But in turbulent economic times that coincide with market oversaturation, it’s proactive customer service that will help increase sales—that personal touch that keeps people coming back for more.”

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After handling customer-service solutions for Fortune 500 companies, Cavasilios decided to take her expertise to the cannabis industry and help retailers understand how to make a repeat customer out of a first visit. After exploring how most dispensaries approached their marketing tactics, she instinctively recognized what the industry was missing.

“I created a customer profile when I first began looking into dispensaries, and I bought a vape pen refill and some edibles,” she said. “To this day, that dispensary sends me texts about flower. But I never purchased flower from them, and I never will.

“That experience informed how I approach the dispensaries I work with today,” she continued. “Once I help them understand how to use customer data to specifically market to clients, dispensary texts read like, ‘Hey, you’ve bought a vape pen before. Here are all the cartridges we have on special right now.’ Customers find that much more useful than generic messaging and are way more likely to re-engage.”

Digital innovations are undeniably useful, especially when it comes to collecting essential customer data. But, according to Cavasilios, data technologies are woefully underutilized if they’re not employed to personalize consumers’ experiences.

Cannovate 5.17.23 Nadia C-15 web “I use Starbucks as a powerful example,” she said. “This big international coffee business that you see on every corner started closing several locations in [Washington] D.C. Why? Some locations knew your name, your go-to drink, and what time of day you were likely to come in. Those locations survived. But the ones with streamlined, impersonal customer service shut down.”

This is a trend for the cannabis industry to pay attention to, she said, because it will continue to expand. With a dispensary on almost every corner in legal regions, it’s important to know who your customers are and make them feel at home when they come in to make a purchase.

“We’ve lost touch with that small-town-business feel for a long time now,” Cavasilios said. “Companies want to streamline and make everything digital, but customers don’t want to talk to a computer. When I call dispensaries and a machine answers, it drives me crazy.”

She’s not alone. According to NICE’s 2022 Digital-First Customer Experience Report, only 15 percent of consumers are satisfied with automated customer-service experiences. Even worse, a November 2022 Amazon Web Services survey found 64 percent of respondents would abandon a commercial relationship after just one bad customer experience.

Cannovate has a solution: organized call centers that help dispensaries handle consumer demand without leaving customers feeling detached from the location.

“As businesses grow the clientele inevitably expands, and you’ll have so many variables to personalize,” said Cavasilios. “For [multistate operators], it’s important to find ways that standardize support and customer service while still keeping it brand- and customer-relevant.

“As we go from state to state, or even from northern California to southern California, audiences and products are different,” she continued. “Our call centers are trained based on location, so they are knowledgeable about regional trends, speak the lingo that’s used in the dispensary, and ultimately make the caller feel like they’re talking to the actual dispensary and not some random, out-of-state representative.”

The mix of customer-service personability and consumer-data review is how Cannovate helps retailers ensure their clients feel seen and heard—and much more likely to come back. But even if personal touch is the secret sauce, staying tuned into digital developments is a key ingredient in the recipe.

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“You have to look at every point of contact you have with a customer as an opportunity to win them over and deepen that relationship,” Cavasilios said. “This means paying attention to everything: what condition or outcome the person is shopping for, what products they’ve purchased in the past, and what they might be interested in trying. Then, dispensaries can use that to market instead of just marketing the same promotion to everyone. This sort of approach will create loyalty with the customer, which, in turn, will create repeat sales.”

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