By Marshall Ogen, Vice President of Business Strategy at CannabisBPO

The cannabis industry started as the inverse of normal business sectors. Cannabis was not a product that the industry needed to “sell” the benefits to potential consumers, it had an existing customer base already served by the illicit market. With expanded legalization, there are now more unique products of various brands. However, at a drilled down level, similar strains and products are sold at various dispensaries within the same states. With this in mind, the reason a customer chooses one dispensary or product line over another has a considerable amount to do with their customer experience. To put it simply, in cannabis, the “why should you buy approach” has already been answered. It’s not New Coke.

As part of my routine, I informally survey cannabis consumers who range from lawyers to entertainers, to athletes to doctors, to teachers and more on their experience with cannabis, and I’ve discovered something quite surprising. For this survey, I focused on why people who live in legal states still source from the illicit marketplace. My initial premise was the reason was primarily cost-based, as the legal market cannabis does cost more. However, we all know there is value in the price differential, as higher costs ensure quality assurance and companies that stand behind their brand and product, which are very important things.

But what I learned was more often than not, their reason for continuing to purchase on the illicit market was hard-to-rival expert customer experience. Yes, in many cases the illicit marketplace serves its customers better than the legal market. It’s surprising, but with the right focus, this reality and perception will change.

While none of those surveyed directly stated the term ‘customer service,’ having specialized in the art and science of the customer experience for over 25 years, it was quite apparent to me. The following were some of the paraphrased responses. Illicit cannabis suppliers answer the phone or return your calls quickly. They deliver to your home, or meeting point at your preferred time. They possess expert product knowledge, remember your name, preferences, and offer suggestions on new strains of consumption approaches. They proactively reach out to their customers when it is time to reorder. Yes, the product costs less and has more risks both legally and from product safety standpoint, but the customer service answers rated higher in the majority of conversations. How does this juxtapose to the legal, and safer marketplace? It’s simple, higher prices demand better customer service. Fact.

To pivot consumers to the legal channels, it’s imperative to take customer service to another level that’s aligned with the price. Legal suppliers need to ensure that their customer service does not end when the doors to their businesses lock. They need to ensure that the customer journey is positive and creates promoters, not detractors of their brand. Many of the tactics to elevate the legal cannabis industry’s customer experience above the illicit market are not complex with the right partner. The following are some ideas that every cannabis company should consider. Provide a 24-7 multi-channel contact center customer support for their products and organization. Products and packaging should include a toll-free number for consumer affairs touchpoints. Every brand should have a process in place to monitor and collect data on any actual or potential adverse events. Contact center employees should have the same level of expertise and customer service skills as face-to-face employees. While the ideas mentioned are just a sampling of what is needed, expertise in customer experience is the key to elevating the legal cannabis industry above the illicit marketplace. As a provider of the services mentioned above, CannabisBPO is focused on leading the conversation about customer experience in the legal cannabis sector.

If we want to grow as an industry, we need to pay better attention to the roots of the customer journey. It is incumbent upon the legal cannabis industry to focus as much on the customer journey aspects of the business as they grow, supply-side and branding. If the industry does not step-up the customer experience aspect of the business, the illicit market will continue to prevail, along with all of the associated risks.

In the cannabis industry, we stand on the shoulders of giants. Advocates for legalization risked their finances, freedom, and reputation to ensure that this plant, this medicine, did not become a footnote in history. It’s important to eradicate the illicit market and all of the associated risks. While the prices may be higher in the legal marketplace, if the customer service journey equals the quality of the product, along with educating, and serving customers with the same white-glove attention they’ve fought to deserve, if we get that right, we all win.

CannabisBPO is a specialty provider of contact center services for the cannabis industry. With locations in Canada and the US, the company offers outbound and inbound contact center services in a 24/7 setting. The company’s core service channels are text, email, mail, phone, chat and social media for customer service, sales, and technical support projects. CannabisBPO helps cannabis companies drive revenue and mitigate risks. For more information, visit Follow us on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn, and Twitter.

Marshall Ogen is the VP of Business Strategy for CannabisBPO and has over 25 years of experience in outsourced contact centers, quality assurance, having consulted with many of the world’s most recognizable brands to ensure successful customer engagement activities. He is a strategic advisor to the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, a member of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) Marketing and Advertising Committee and the co-chair of the Mid-Atlantic Professional Association of Customer Experience (PACE).