I think it is a mistake to hide behind technology and CRM systems with clients and prospects. My advice is to disconnect from technology and focus on cultivating human, face to face relationships. Meeting for coffee or lunch can accomplish so much more than e-mail exchanges, social media posts, etc. and it is a great way to get to know people better, their interests, hobbies, and dreams. I have found that building relationships is what drives my business and technology supports them once they are solidified. Technology helps advance the conversation but it will never replace the human interaction that builds trust over time.
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 Paige Arnof-Fenn. She is the founder & CEO of global marketing and branding firm Mavens & Moguls based in Cambridge, MA. Her clients include Microsoft, Virgin, The New York Times Company, Colgate, venture-backed startups as well as nonprofit organizations. She graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. Paige is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.
Thank you so much for joining us Paige! 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 did not plan on starting a company. I always wanted to go work for a global business and be a Fortune 500 CEO. When I was a student I looked at leaders like Meg Whitman & Ursula Burns as my role models. I started Mavens & Moguls after beginning my career on Wall Street in the 80s and having a successful career in Corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and then working at 3 different startups as the head of marketing. All 3 startups had positive exits. I took the leap right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose. Running a global marketing business provides me a platform to do work I truly enjoy with and for people I respect. I get to set my priorities, I have time to travel and hang out with my inner circle, and work out every day. It has been a journey to get here but I am lucky to have found it. I love the autonomy, flexibility and the fact that I know every day the impact that I have on my business. When I worked at big companies I always felt the ball would roll with or without me, that if I got hit by a bus someone new would be in my office right away. Now my DNA is in everything we do and I can trace every decision and sale to something I did or a decision I made and that is incredibly gratifying and fulfilling. Like most entrepreneurs, I am working harder and longer than ever and I have never been happier. Working for yourself and building a business you started in incredibly rewarding and gratifying. It has been a lot of fun, I joke that I am an accidental entrepreneur.
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?
It can be hard to laugh at mistakes but looking back I remember one week early on when I had 3 or 4 talks lined up over a couple of day period so I went from one evening event to breakfast the next morning to lunch and evening talk the following day. I enjoy public speaking and get a lot of referrals and business that way. The morning after my final speech I showed up at a meeting with a prospective client along with a few of my colleagues and I realized I was completely out of business cards. I was so embarrassed and my team laughed at me since I always remind them it is important to be professional and prepared all the time. I ended up sending a handwritten thank you note to the prospect with my card enclosed and we won the business so I turned my mistake into a good outcome plus I have never run out of business cards again! It is a great lesson in the power of humility, resilience, persistence, manners and having a sense of humor.
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?
I have had great mentors and champions throughout my career. In my corporate life, I had bosses, senior women or alums from my alma mater who took me under their wings to help me advance and show me the ropes As a small business owner mentors can also be invaluable sources of inspiration, advice, encouragement and can help you avoid rookie mistakes (with hiring, fundraising, etc.) when you are starting out. They can also make key introductions so that you avoid getting burned by service providers or potential investors who have mixed reputations. I have seen several situations where a lot of time and money could have been wasted but was not. Expectations have to be managed, for me, I had mentors who I counted on for tough love and others to help me expand my footprint and elevate my profile in the community. Mentors have different strengths and connections that can help. I think everyone even established entrepreneurs can benefit from strong mentoring. The world is always changing and we can all learn new things along the way.
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 great customer experience is essential for success in business?
Whether you are B2B or B2C every business is P2P and connecting on a personal level is what matters most. Successful businesses understand their product or service is about more than the transaction, they are in the relationship business. People buy brands they know, like and trust. Everyone is not going to like, buy or hire you but for the ones who would be a great fit for you make sure they feel and keep a connection and give them a reason to remember you so that when they need your help they think of you first. Your brand grows when you have consistent messaging and deliver on your promises so build a strong relationship that is based on your value proposition not on price.
My favorite definition of great customer experience is related to the quote “people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” it has been attributed to many people including Teddy Roosevelt. I like it and find it helpful because it is a simple reminder even (maybe especially) online to listen more than talk, show empathy and try to look at the situation from another perspective. The goal is not to wear them down or impress them with your smarts. The goal is to connect, communicate clearly, solve the problem and move on.
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 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?
For me, the brands that offer the best customer experience share a few qualities:
* Timely response — they act quickly to address the issue in a genuine way not with a script but with sincerity
* Take responsibility — they do not make excuses or place blame they take ownership of the issue and do not pass you around or use threats and jargon, the customer feels heard and respected
* Professional and honest, polite to deal with
In my experience even if they cannot solve the problem if you feel respected and heard but the best they can do is refund you or offer a discount then at least you can say they tried. Some problems cannot be fixed but everyone can be treated fairly and with dignity. Exceptional service means you leave with a good taste feeling better than when you arrived. It is a lot harder and more expensive to find new customers than to keep the ones you have happy and loyal so it is an important part of your strategy to get the customer experience right.
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?
Yes, competition keeps you on your toes for sure but also the prevalence of social media because the last thing any business wants today is bad reviews online. Once customers start airing their negative experiences and issues it can create momentum online so you may have a lot of damage control to deal with that can dilute the integrity of your brand. The stakes are high because digital dirt can stay on the internet forever. It is important to keep your customers happy to manage your reputation today.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
In the first few years of my business, I had pitched a CEO about a month before I ran into her at a networking event where she was the keynote speaker and her topic was about being a woman leader in a traditionally male-dominated business. I had followed up after sending my proposal several times via e-mail and voice mail but the CEO never returned any of my messages or even acknowledged receipt of the proposal requested. You can imagine my shock when she announced at this event as part of her speech that she believes it is important to put your money where your mouth is and for women CEOs to support other respected & well-run women’s businesses and that is why she has hired my firm to handle all her company’s marketing & PR! Everyone congratulated me after, it was a better endorsement than the New York Times because she was very well known and had the reputation of being very tough with high standards so I got a LOT of business from people in the room that night because they thought if I was able to impress her I must be very good ;-) She continued to refer business and talk about how great our services were until she sold her company years later. Wowing her was a huge multiplier for my business in the early days and helped us build a great reputation from the start.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
Enthusiasm can be contagious so with each referral those clients felt wowed too and thanked her for the introduction which made her want to tell more people about us because it reflected well on her too. It became a virtuous circle of a lot of great women-owned businesses supporting each other and growing so that the tide rose for all of us, it was a win-win.
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.
I think it is a mistake to hide behind technology and CRM systems with clients and prospects. My advice is to disconnect from technology and focus on cultivating human, face to face relationships. Meeting for coffee or lunch can accomplish so much more than e-mail exchanges, social media posts, etc. and it is a great way to get to know people better, their interests, hobbies, and dreams. I have found that building relationships is what drives my business and technology supports them once they are solidified. Technology helps advance the conversation but it will never replace the human interaction that builds trust over time. I plan lunch meetings ~3 days a week and invite clients to events I think they might enjoy attending to spend time together.
Other key tips and advice to create great customer experience is:
* Most of my work comes by referral and word of mouth. I think having a good online reputation is incredibly important to building a strong professional service business like mine. Karma works.
* Do great work that people will talk about
* Give lots of talks and use examples from your experience, I do a lot of public speaking which leads to people talking about me
* Join networking groups to meet people who are the multipliers in your industry, they talk to everybody and know everyone
* Be active on social media so you can share your talks and content and your followers can help spread the word
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?
It is always the most effective and best when it is done naturally in an authentic way. You can certainly ask for referrals outright but it might be awkward or cheesy. I find that when you give referrals you model the behavior and tend to get those people recommending you too. It is a way to build the relationship and give before you get. I also always send thank yous to the people who refer us to show my appreciation.
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’d try to start a kindness movement to counterbalance what we see in Washington and all over the media today. I grew up in the South and people were generally nice, respectful, kind, and friendly. I do not believe life or business is a zero-sum game. We do not have to divide up the pie we can work together to bake more pies so there is enough to go around. I think the people around the world in the center want peace and we need to find ways to bring the extremists back into the fold but it is going to take people from all walks of life to band together to make it happen. There really is more in common across cultures when you realize everyone wants the best for their family and community so we should all be putting our energy into building stronger foundations and ecosystems that will help us all.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!