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Service Can Be Your Differentiator No Matter What Size Your Business
Adam and I have one key thing in common- we both think that amazing customer service is one of the key ingredients to having a very successful small business.
He believes it so much he wrote a book and has a business centered around showing business owners how to do amazing customer service right. His website and business name kind of says it all: Customers That Stick.
On top of that, he is the co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast. Let’s just say the man believes in winning through service.
And he’s right. Most businesses aren’t that different from each other in what they do – at least as far the customer can see. One landscaping business looks pretty much like another from the outside. So how can one keep growing and adding customers and getting referrals while another seemingly similar business languish without growth and barely keeping the customers it has? Great service.
That’s the way to set yourself apart.
And it’s pretty obvious what great service should look like, even though for every business it’s different. Just run through each point in your interactions with your customers and ask yourself- how can I make this easier, faster, less complicated, more friendly and better than what they can get anywhere else? If you keep working on that list it won’t take long before you’re leading the field in your area.
And notice- I didn’t say cheaper! With great service, people are willing to pay a little more to not have to go back to the hassles of whatever the cheapest possible option is. So don’t compete on price- compete on great service! You’ll win more business AND get paid better!
Listen to the podcast and you’ll see what I mean! Also, at the end of the transcript (below), Adam tells you how to get three free chapters from his book!
If you would like to make $100 for referring someone to our bookkeeping service, go here.
If you think you could potentially refer a lot of people to us (or more than one or two, anyway) check out our affiliates page.
Listen right here:
Matt: Great! Well, welcome to this episode of Entrepreneur Talk. I have the pleasure of speaking with Adam Toporek. He is the author of Be Your Customer’s Hero: Real World Tips and Techniques for the Service Front lines as well as the founder of the The Customers That Stick Blog and co-host of Crack the Customer Code Podcast. Thank you very much for coming on the show, Adam. I really appreciate it. And that said I’d love to hear some about how you got started and how you got to where you are today?
Adam: Oh, thanks Matt. First of all, thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. You know, we’ve discussed entrepreneurship a little bit offline and I have a really varied background because I’ve never followed a traditional career path. Believe it or not, I haven’t told you this yet; my first career job after college was actually as an accountant. I did not last long so I have tremendous respect for those of you in bookkeeping and accounting because it did not fit me and my personality but you know it’s great because it’s the language of business. I think it’s a wonderful that I was an accounting major undergrad. It was a wonderful way to sort of get started in understanding the meat of business. But since I’m a 3rd generation entrepreneur, I guess no one in my family likes working for anybody else, and I had a web design company and eventually I went back to school to get my MBA. Then after my MBA, I ended up going in to franchising and then I later branched out into CTS Service Solutions which is my customer service workshop and training company.
Matt: Awesome. What franchising were you into?
Adam: I’ve been into a few franchises. I was in Massage Envy and European Wax Center, if you’re familiar with either of those.
Matt: My wife is a customer of the latter and I’ve been to the former. So, I know both of those businesses. I guess my impression, I’ve never owned a franchise, and my impression of entrepreneurs who get into franchising is a little bit different track than somebody who starts something completely from scratch. What was your experience as an entrepreneur going into more of a structured kind of business like that?
Adam: Well, it’s interesting. I always say, because I’ve sold franchises, I’ve always told people “You know, to be in a franchise, you have to be half entrepreneur, half employee.” What that means is, you’ve got to have the entrepreneurial drive. You’ve got to have the desire to make your business succeed. Buying a franchise does not guarantee you you’re gonna succeed. It also doesn’t do the work for you. They give you a system. They give you a brand and your job is to take it and run with it to make it successful. So, you’ve got to have that entrepreneurial drive. On the other hand, you don’t own that name. You don’t own those systems. There are rules and constraints that come with that whether you’re with Subway or McDonalds or the latest jump jam. Whatever there may be. You’ve got to really have both aspects in your personality or at least be comfortable with both aspects. You’ve gotten the franchise side and of course I have my own business which is CTS Service Solutions. On that, it’s all pure entrepreneurship. It’s my business. Nobody else is starting it from the ground up. I don’t have to have the employee side of the skillset.
Matt: Right. One of the great things about franchises and the thing that I encourage clients to do if they haven’t already, and a lot of them haven’t, is to work on creating process and creating procedures for the business. So you are not re- inventing the wheel every day. You are not putting out fires all the time. You can delegate things and expect that they’ll be done effectively and correctly and that’s the way to be able to scale something up. I’ve tried really hard to do that, I think successfully, with my business. We onboard clients a certain way. We take care of their books a certain way. We make sure that we get back to them and communicate to them in a certain way. We’ve got to set policies and procedures for virtually everything so I can effectively delegate the work and scale up and bring new people on board and know that new clients are gonna be served just as well as older clients have because the system is going to take care of them and the people are gonna work the system. That’s something you can get with franchise where a lot of independent entrepreneurs don’t understand the value of it. They just don’t have the experience to know that just having something like that is super helpful.
Adam: Absolutely. You can take those principles because it’s part of what you buy in a franchise. They don’t give you every system you’re gonna need but they give you a lot of them, right? Especially mature, more developed franchise has a lot of that really boiled down. Taking those principles from those successful companies and applying it to your own company is really important. Just like you said, the more you have the system, the more you have quality control over your customer experience. And two, you know, it’s easier. You’re not reinventing the wheel every time.
Matt: Exactly. So, with your business, your current business, Customers That Stick and your CTS consulting, what is that about and what is it? I mean, I can gasp from the name but going into a little more detail for what is it you’re providing to clients and how you are teaching them to use service to win in the competitive landscape?
Adam: Absolutely. CTS Service Solutions is obviously about service. We focus on customer service and customer experience training and workshops. That’s really our primary focus. The goal with us is to bring the skills to frontline teams and help them to sort of learn more than the basics of customer service because that’s everywhere. If you look at my book, Be Your Customer’s Hero, the first 3 sections out of 10 are about mindset. One thing that gets discounted in customer service is how important mentality is and customer’s psychology and our own psychology as we’re providing service. We really look at delving into those things and exploring them in order to create a customer centric mindset because if you don’t have the desire to help the customer, if you’re not willing to make that effort or you don’t feel supportive, I can teach you all the skills in the world but they’re only gonna help you a little bit. So, you’ve got to start with mindset and attitude. One of the things we bring into it with the trainings or workshops is taking that approach. We’re really looking at why you do what you do and why do customers do what they do.
Matt: Interesting. Let me ask you this, how do you address in your training how liberal or how rigid customer service representatives need to be? That could be somebody on the front counter of a restaurant. It doesn’t have to be the typical role you think of as a customer service person. In being able to solve the customer’s problems, for example, Zapos is sort of famous for having the super liberal customer service team where they’ll send you a free pair of shoes or they’ll send you a gift on your birthday or different kind of things to sort of “wow” you with their service way beyond just saying “I’m sorry. You ordered red but you got blue. Let me send you the right color.” How do you train, or how do you kind of figure out how to stick within a certain amount of process and procedure but at the same time not hamstring people so they can provide an effective customer service?
Adam: What’s interesting is you’re really talking about employee empowerment. When you talk about employee empowerment, one of the first things you need to do, I’m gonna step back up from your question because there is a first step, you really want to understand your customer lifetime value. You want to understand what a customer’s worth to you. For small businesses, there’s so many owners who end up being penny wise and dollar foolish. I mentioned here Be Your Customer’s Hero and talking about mentality and the psychology and one of those things is we have this natural empathies not to want to get taken advantage of. And it makes people extremely defensive on customer service. I’m not just talking about front line people. I’m talking about small business owners. We all have these experiences at small business where they wouldn’t refund us a dollar or $.50. Right? And they ruin the customer experience because of that. One of the things I coach on small business owners is understand your customer lifetime value. Customer lifetime value is the reason you would never have been embarrassed at Starbucks, not make you another drink if you complain because the customer lifetime value of a Starbuck’s customer is high thousands probably close to ten thousand. I don’t know. It’s up there. I saw the number a while ago. So, why are they gonna quibble with you over a dollar cup of coffee? It doesn’t make sense. So, you start from there, you have an understanding of what a customer’s worth to you and then you have to look at employee empowerment, to get to your original question. How do you draw the line? What’s the hard line? What’s the soft line? First of all, there are some things that are always hard lines. Liability issues, things where there are some sort of high risk factors to it but there’s a lot of stuff people do not empower their employees nearly enough. So, you want to look at two things. Sorry, I’m getting a little deep. I’ve got a great research on this I can send you the link for your show notes on the Customer’s That Stick Blog post that says “The Ultimate Starter to Employee Empowerment”. It walks through a lot of details on that stuff. But you want to look at actual empowerment and psychological empowerment. Actual empowerment is “Hey Matt! You are empowered up to a $100. Any customer has an issue, you are empowered up to $100 to fix that issue.” Rich Carlson does it and the cap is actually $2000. So, that’s actual empowerment. Now, psychological empowerment is “Matt, you never use the $100 I just gave you. It’s been 2 months since I gave it to you and said “Hey you’ve got $100 for any customer!” and you never used it.” Because why? We’ve been a business for 5 years and I’ve been pinching pennies and never empowered you or allowed you to use anything with the customer, so you don’t feel psychologically empowered. When you look at it, you have to look at the systems: One, what am I gonna do? How can I empower my employees? And two: You’ve got to really, especially if you haven’t had the culture of empowerment in the past, you have to really make sure that they understand that they can use it like “hey, I’m not gonna eat your lunch!” Or maybe you could have done it and we’re gonna talk “Hey! You know you probably gave him $400 or you could have probably just given him a coupon.” One thing I’ve found out in my small business, we’ve empowered everybody to do a free service for different things, and they were more tight on my money than I am. They really were. They were more resistant to giving away things than I would be. They were scared- this was over a million years ago we first did this, I’ve been doing this for years now. But we were scared that we’re gonna lose our shirts or whatever. We do a month test and they were really judicious and if you create the right culture and give them the tools and also ask them where they need to be empowered, where are the places where “hey, if you would just let me give them a $10 coupon right here, I can solve 10 issues a week.” Find out where those points are.
Matt: Right, makes sense. I think that’s true. The employees a lot of times are more reluctant to do things than the owner because they don’t necessarily have that lifetime value mentality. They are thinking just the immediacy of that particular interaction. But I think you’re right. Not only teach them that they can do it, but teach them that they should and it’s okay and it’s part of their job. In fact, to save those customer relationships, I think that all comes down to training and the mentality from the top and it goes down to the rest of the employees of the business.
Adam: Right. They’ve got to feel safe doing it.
Matt: Let me switch gears a little bit. I’ve noticed that I’d seen..You put out there that customer service is one way that small businesses can be big businesses and I’ve happen to be a firm believer that that’s the case. We’ve tried really hard with our customer service to do a fantastic job for all of our clients and it’s one of the differentiators I hear more often than a lot of other things when clients switch to us and are talking about previous experiences. “Wow! You guys right back to me. My old person would take a week or two or sometimes they never got back to me. And you answered my question and you took the time to explain things until you knew that I got it even though you were probably frustrated because it took 10 minutes of your time to explain it to me and I really appreciate that.” So, talk a little bit about that and what the tools are that small businesses can use to really differentiate themselves with customer service?
Adam: Well, I love your example because the way I look at it, I look at it as macro economically which is when you look at your industry, what advantages does the large player have and what advantages does the small player have? If we’re selling sort of retail soft goods, taking on Wal-Mart we’ve got a little shop. That’s a little bit more of an ethical battle. You’ve got your advantages on your personal services than I would sign soft goods but they all come down to the same thing. Where they’re strong and where they’re weak in finding out where you’re strong and almost always that’s in flexibility, adaptability and what you just said, a personal relationship and the ability humanize customer interactions and the customer journey. So, if you look at a very big company, they’re almost always constrained by bureaucracy. They put out $100,000 into their new customer service initiative and they roll it out in their 50 billion stores and they’ve got a team of people doing it and the day after they do it, that is their system for the next 2-3 years and they’re gonna have a really hard time changing it. It’s gonna have its pros. It’s gonna have its cons. While you as a small business person look at it, “okay, this is how I’m gonna design my customer journey. I think if we change our own onboarding process like this, we can do this.” And when you look at it as a small business person, you have the ability to change it the next month. You have to ability to tweak it without 6 committees. And if you really look at the customer journey as a place for you looking at a competitive differentiation. Okay, what is the journey when they go to the big company x? What is the journey when they come to my business? And you look at every stop, every touch point along that way and say “How can I improve these risks?”, “How can I personalize it?”, “How can I do what the large company cannot do at this point when I touch this customer here, when I interact with this customer here, when I am able to follow up? And if you look at that and you create the systems and the feedback loops so you know what systems are working. You can absolutely kill big businesses and so many industries.
Matt: And then the challenge is just to be able to keep that personalization, that customer service high touch experience as you scale and grow bigger, right? You’re small and you win and then you get bigger and then you have to keep winning so you don’t turn into one of those big, slow, monolithic businesses that loses out to the small businesses right?
Adam: That is a huge trap, of course- you’re a victim of your own success. It becomes difficult. I mean, even if you are not gonna scale to be a fortune 500 or even a public company. If you scale from somebody who had 5 employees into somebody who has 150, yeah, you start to lose those things really quickly. You’ve got to be really proactive to your point and address it and make sure you don’t lose them.
Matt: Yeah. I guess there’s no plateaus where you hit them and go wow, now, everything is easier! Small businesses have their challenges. Big businesses have their challenges. Challenges are all along the way. That makes it interesting. In terms of your own business, how do you work on scaling that and marketing it, pulling in new customers for your CTS Customer Service resources and seminars? What’s your marketing channel for bringing in customers?
Adam: Well, it’s interesting that we’re on a podcast because my primary marketing channel for that has been content. I’ve been blogging for, I think in February it will be 5 years and it’s really what’s been driving that business. I’ve done other things and I continue to do other things with online advertising and so forth. But the primary driver has been having a blog, and later down the road, a podcast and producing content. I loathe this term but I will use it anyways because I don’t know another one right now, thought leaderships are just fake, in my space and in my area. I didn’t do really any kind of formal marketing plan. I just really started talking and I’ve found out as I put my ideas and knowledge out there over time, ”market place” responded and I was asked to guest host and I was listed as a top expert on this and that or whatever. And as that traffic and the interaction build, I start to really say “hey, this is a best way to create a marketing connection because it’s personal and it shows what I do when I do. An ad doesn’t show my knowledge or what I can bring to the table if I come to your company and present a workshop. It doesn’t show that I understand what I am talking about. It just shows “hey! Click here and maybe I can convince you to spend 10 seconds of your time to read the first paragraph.” Maybe I can convince you to learn more about me. Right? And the content has just been wonderful. I love content marketing and that’s really been what’s driven this business.
Matt: I agree. It’s something I’ve been trying to work on more as well. I’ve put out a book about 6 months ago on QuickBooks Bookkeeping Tips on Amazon. A lot of people pick that up. We definitely gotten some client work from that, which is great. I’m sure, that your book is also a sort of a gateway, lead generation tool for you as well. But the challenge again with content marketing that I find is it tends to take a fair amount of time. You want your content to be quality and educational and deliver value. Content takes a fair amount of time. It’s one of those business challenges.
Adam: And there’s another challenge to it. I’ve got a buddy whose name is Mark Schafer is sort of an expert on content marketing and he’s describe that thing called “content shock” you recommend going to his site. I think his website is businessesgrow.com. In content shock is that there’s so much content now it’s hard to cut through the noise with it. There’s a challenge with that. One, it does takes time. Content is not free as the expressions because a lot of peoples act like content is free but as you know better than anybody then what you do, time is money. Time you spent on producing content is time you are not doing something else.
Matt: Right, so you’ve got to make sure that the ROI is there which is again is something that we help our clients with and a lot of times they are surprised to find that the advertising that they buying in the newspaper or online or other places just isn’t returning anything but they continue to do it or they started doing in the first place because it was easier. That’s the easiest kind of advertising to do. You just pay money. You send them some images and a couple of slogans and a phone number and it gets plastered out there. But, it’s also hard to cut through the noise with advertising and return of that investment just may not be there. A lot of times I think it isn’t. So, content marketing is more of a high touch way of getting to customers but it’s more of a one of a time. It takes its own time. It’s a different kind of challenge.
Matt: So, just to kinda to get towards wrapping up here, what advice would you have? So my clients are all small business owners and I am sure there’s a lot of business owners listening as well. Do you have any typical piece of advice that you give somebody thinking about starting their own their business or working on starting their own business that would be helpful that you wish you’d heard when you were starting out?
Adam: Advise for small business owners. I’ll tell you what my dad told me as a child and I did not listen to him. He said “never go into retail!” but I didn’t listen. Retail has been good to me. I’d say a couple things. One, it will takes 10 times more work. 5 times more time. And 2 times more money than you expect when you start. So, plan on that. I’ve been around for a while so I sort of understand this but it always takes more than you plan on to get your business going. The dreams you have, the clients falling at your feet, the person you saw online who built their million dollar business in a week and a half, it’s not gonna happen. It’s always longer and harder and takes more than you think. So, plan on that. Make that part of your planning for small business. And then, I don’t know how you feel about this because lots of people have different opinions on it but I have a theory which is “When times are good, it’s called leverage. When times are bad, it’s called debt.” So, be careful with your borrowing.
Matt: Yeah, I always suggest to clients that there are certain things that makes sense to borrow for – Buying inventory because you can resell it and get the money back. And there’s certain things it doesn’t make sense to buy with borrowed money like advertising because once it’s spent, it’s gone. And if your advertising campaign didn’t work out, and then all you’ve done is just drew yourself a big giant hole with that borrowed money. Definitely, debt is something to be weary of. And I completely agree that being afraid that you are gonna be an overnight success is probably not something to keep you up at night. Not likely to happen. It could, but those are more one in a million stories not the typical everyday experience. So, for people who are interested in getting more information from you or about your book or some of your services, what’s the best way for people to get in touch with you?
Adam: Definitely. And I love to connect with people so definitely reach out. The main way is customerthatstick.com. That’s my main hub. You can find a ton of content on customer service, customer experience, and small business. Also, if you want to get 3 free chapters of my book, Be Your Customer’s Hero, you can go to customerebook.com. That’s customerebook.com, you’ll get 3 free chapters and some other resources and I live with the little blue tweety bird. I’m on twitter bunch. If you’re on twitter, feel free to connect with me there.
Matt: Awesome. I’ll put those links on all those in the show notes that you don’t have to remember those. Just go to the podcast page on our website and find all those links and connect with Adam. Adam, I really appreciate you taking your time to share your experience and your expertise with us and I hope you have a great rest of the day.
Adam: Thanks so much, Matt. It’s great.