Raghav Somani is the CEO and Founder of Headphone Zone, a niche Shopify store located in India. Although Headphone Zone originally began their journey in 2010 as a brick and mortar retail store, they have since bootstrapped their way into becoming one of the largest and most successful Shopify stores in India.
When you listen to Raghav, you’re immediately drawn to his sense of humor and humble, self-effacing manner of speaking. He’s wicked smart but goes out of his way to help other entrepreneurs, regardless of the time investment or possible competitors he might create while doing so.
In this article, we’ll share the story of how Raghav revolutionized an outdated electronics sales and customer service model, in turn building a company that derives much of its success from its unique and exceptional customer service.
Seeing the Future and Meeting a Need
Raghav was born and raised in Chennai, India. The youngest in an eight-generation family of entrepreneurs, Raghav attended university in Singapore where he earned his Bachelor of Business Administration degree. In 2009, after college, he returned to Chennai to help his family run their wholesale electronics business, where headphones and earphones were only one of many products they sold.
“While helping my family run the business, I noticed something interesting about headphones. They were only ever bought as an accessory item,” Raghav said. “If you had an iPod, you needed headphones. But no one was marketing or selling headphones as more than that. They were just an afterthought accessory. Besides being a wasted opportunity for retailers, I realized selling headphones like this delivered a lousy experience for shoppers. I knew I could provide something better. So, it was then, in 2010, that I opened the first Headphone Zone retail store in Bangalore.”
That store was a success, and during the next couple of years, Raghav opened 11 more Headphone Zone retail stores. As you can imagine, he worked long hours each day to run the business, but he enjoyed it. “I liked working in the stores getting to know our customers,” Raghav explained. “I loved seeing their passion for music and how headphones fueled that passion. It was also great knowing we could monetize that love for music.”
While working in the stores, Raghav learned how to sell headphones. Or more accurately, he learned how to connect with customers in such a way that the sales experience is more about serving customers than selling customers.
“I’ve always liked the Ritz Carlton’s service motto: ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. That idea speaks to a human-to-human interaction where customer needs are more important than simply making a sale. When I’m talking to customers in a way in which I’d like to be talked to, respect is earned, and relationships are built. The whole Ritz Carlton philosophy inspired me to create a similar code for our customer service.”
Raghav and his team worked to understand each of their customers’ needs. Then they took the time to educate customers on the many options and features available. By serving customers instead of selling them, Raghav and his team increased interest and demand for headphones, so after a time, they were no longer just an accessory.
Headphone Zone Goes Online
In 2012, India experienced the first wave of ecommerce stores. By 2014, Raghav knew it was time to move Headphone Zone online. Once he did, he was sure it was the right move. The business realized an immediate reduction in overhead expenses. “When you operate an online store, you can carry a large inventory without the real estate costs associated with maintaining stores,” he said.
As for Headphone Zone’s growth and success, Raghav said it was a slow process.
“Headphone Zone is not a funded company, so we bootstrapped our entire operation,” Raghav said. “Our reinvested profits fueled our growth, so that meant we grew slowly but continually. Today, we stock about 65 different brands of headphones, 33 of which are exclusive to Headphone Zone. Monthly, we sell about 5,500 units, which amounts to about 2.5 Crores, or $350,000, in sales.”
Not bad for a product that was only seen as an iPod accessory a few years ago.
Using Customer Service as a Differentiator
Early on, as a company with a dozen sales locations, Headphone Zone made it a priority to deliver unique and exceptional customer service. Accomplishing that as a much bigger online retailer is something we wanted to learn more about. Raghav confirmed they still maintain their commitment to excellent customer service, and they do it by being clear about their mission and vision.
“Early on we decided we weren’t trying to be the biggest. We were trying to be the best. We wanted to be the best at what we do, which is sell headphones in a unique and personable way,” Raghav said. “To do that, we have to be tuned into our customers. One way we do that is by reading and following up on our customer reviews. Judge.me has been a great help in that regard. They make it easier to keep the communication flowing between our customers and us.”
Raghav and the Headphone Zone team are proud of their reviews and for a good reason. They are usually glowing 5-star reviews. Since everyone wants something different in a pair of headphones, the overwhelming number of satisfied customers speaks volumes about Headphone Zone’s investment in customer education.
Even when something goes wrong with a customer order or product experience, the team at Headphone Zone go out of their way to make it right. “If you read mention of chocolate cake in one of our reviews, you’ll probably wonder what that means,” Raghav said with a small laugh. “Well, if something goes wrong and a customer isn’t happy, we send them a chocolate cake. That gesture usually goes a long way towards keeping the customer happy and loyal.”
Unique Customer Service Programs
As you’d expect from a business-savvy CEO like Raghav, he did more than get his team excited about delivering exceptional service. He also created several unique customer service policies that are unmatched by other retailers. Here are a few of them:
A Priority on Product Education
Headphone Zone has a team of dedicated “headphone gurus” who help people navigate the myriad of options. Their only job is to educate buyers about the features and benefits of the 65 different brands of headphones, as well as the available accessories. This service is clearly a throwback to their exceptional in-person store experience, and Raghav explains it by saying, “there’s no replacement for one-on-one salesmanship.”
The Trade Up Program
Before Raghav revolutionized the outdated sales and service model, headphones were a one-time purchase. Once a customer bought headphones, they didn’t need a second pair, so they were lost as a customer. Now, Raghav has a way to continually extend the sales lifecycle, all the while keeping customers happy in the process, of course.
Headphone Zone’s Trade Up Program allows customers to resell their used headphones on Headphone Zone website. In turn, they’re able to upgrade their headphones for a different and usually more expensive model. Raghav reports that 10% of all Headphone Zone sales are a result of this program!
The Home Audition Program
In addition to the product gurus who help customers find the right headphones, Headphone Zone also offers free home demos. “Headphones are a sensory product,” Raghav said. “It’s hard to know if you have the right headphones unless you try them. We let our customers try out headphones for as long as a couple of weeks at a time. Once someone knows which headphones they want, they return the borrowed ones, and we send them a brand-new unit.”
Building and Nurturing a Community of Audiophiles
Raghav is an innovator. He took a second-thought, accessory product and created a demand for it by educating customers and serving them instead of selling them. Today he has a large community of audiophiles connected through their love of music and headphones.
To nurture this passion and connection, Headphone Zone hosts regular meetup events around India. Called the Headphone Connect, these events bring people together in cities like Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, and New Delhi.
Since some members of this passionate group can’t make it to the meetups, Headphone Zone also has their own private Facebook group, The Indian Audiophile Forum. In it, thousands of members talk about their favorite headphones, accessories, and music. Raghav tells us there are people active and posting in the group at all hours of the day and night.
What’s Next for Headphone Zone
As with all of our Shopify entrepreneur stories, I wanted to know what was next for Raghav and Headphone Zone. Raghav says they just completed a big rebranding to change the perception of the company intentionally.
“Before this rebrand, we were seen as a geeky company that talks about things many people don’t understand,” Raghav said. “While that might be true in part, our community of audiophiles connected by their love of music proves we’re so much more. We’re a lifestyle brand for people passionate about music, so much more than a company that sells headphones.”
At Judge.me, we’re excited to watch as Headphone Zone continues to grow. We’re also honored to facilitating online reviews for Headphone Zone because we know how seriously Raghav’s team takes customer satisfaction.