Success metrics are SO important. For us, we have multiple things we measure every year and honestly, customer experience is Queen. One other thing to note is that metrics can and should change. I see so many companies get stuck with a metric that makes no sense and really does not serve them or their customers; be open to changing and reimagining what success means.
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 Holly Glowaty.
Holly is Co-Founder of the consulting firm, K+H Connection, and is founding Co-Producer of Flourish Conference and Media. At K+H Connection Holly and her team develop gift cards, loyalty, and promotional value programs (aka Branded Currency) that engage consumers, increase sales, and enhance brand-specific initiatives. The Flourish Conference, Taking place March 16–18,2020 at Radisson Blue Aqua in Chicago, is the only independent and agenda-free gift-card conference, enabling courageous conversation and actionable programming via fresh thought leadership. At Flourish, leaders from all parts of the branded currency ecosystem converge to drive change for industry modernization and advancement.
Holly has spent over 12 years working with retailers to create profitable partnerships through FinTech, loyalty/rewards, and event sponsorships. Holly was named one of the 25 Most Influential People in Incentives 2017 by Incentive Magazine, is a founding Chair of FinTEx: FinTech Women, and is co-founder of FinFoundHer: an initiative aimed at helping female-led businesses grow and gain access to funding.
Thank you so much for joining us! 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?
It was definitely a winding road to where I am today. I was a theater and political science major. I really thought I was going to spend years living in a hole-in-the-wall, starving for my art until I “made it”! Instead, I’ve ended up having several years of starving for my business haha. People are often surprised that I started with a theater background, but one thing that I like to tell people, and that I truly believe, is that a theater degree was the best preparation for being an entrepreneur and understanding/ getting to know your audience.
I spent my entire college career learning how to create a show, which is very much like creating a business. I also learned how to be on stage (aka: presenting), read a room (aka: know my audience) and create characters through the parts I played (aka: creating personas). So a lot of that really influences the way I approach my work. Since college, in addition to theater and sketch comedy, I have worked in education, politics, sports and finally the industry that I am in today, which is retail and installment technology.
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?
Oh gosh… just one?
Honestly, when I think about the biggest lesson I ever learned, this is the moment burned in my brain. I was doing an improv show (I know… I know…). I was so excited to prove myself to my team and a couple of friends who came to watch us. As you may know, the first rule of improv is to say, “Yes, and” to whatever the first person to speak says ie:
Person 1: “Lovely weather we are having today”
Person 2:“Yes it is, maybe now you can finally wash the car”
Well, I had a line in my head that I really wanted to say, so I ignored the “Yes, and” rule… and said my line… and I made the room go silent! I mean CRICKETS. I was so embarrassed, I can remember the way the audience looked and I can feel my cheeks get red to this day.
So why do I choose that moment over everything else? Because it was the first time I understood a few things that I constantly think about today:
- You cannot do anything alone. I don’t care how great you are, you need a team
- Listening to your team and your audience is how you make something really great
- I AM NOT ALWAYS RIGHT (don’t tell my husband)
- Failure is not the end, if you learn from it, you can come back and redeem yourself
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 so many people that fit this category… but I would say my brother Jim is one of the first people that comes to mind. I actually left college for a bit to work on his political campaign when I was 20. He gave me a role that was so packed with responsibility, and I mean, the REAL opportunity to mess up, and have implications far beyond me. I was baffled by why he would do this. But he never ever gave me any indication that he doubted I could do it. In fact, he would be confused as to why I could not get something done. Up to that point, I don’t think I ever had someone so fully believe in me and my abilities like Jim did and does.
And honestly, on a daily basis, my husband. He has the ability to keep me calm when things are stressful and to help me see the bigger picture when things feel narrow. He has never suggested I quit or think about walking away from my business, even when times were lean. He just told me he believed in me and that one day he would achieve his dream of being a man of leisure because I would make something big happen. You need people like that. The people that can help you step back and see the progress you have made… and laugh.
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 a great customer experience is essential for success in business?
At the end of the day, great customer service and customer experience are a result of listening to and caring about your customer, while respecting the limitations of your company’s resources.
Inconsistency causes confusion. People want to know what they can expect from your company; so be realistic about what you can provide and do it really well. Customers will come back for something they can rely on. We all know prime 2-Day shipping will happen in 2-Days. I know that Rent the Runway will take care of me in a day if a dress I rent is not what I expected, no questions asked. I know that I can order from Jimmy John’s and my sandwich really does get to my door freaky fast. These are promises these companies can execute on, and they win the loyalty of their consumers time and again.
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 a 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?
The issue is that many of the backend technologies, that make specific features or functionality possible, are often built to serve one purpose and were never built with the idea of speaking to your CRM, and your eCommerce platform, and to a logistics platform, which speaks to a customer service platform, and a installment platform…. and so. It’s an incredibly complicated web of applications that power in-store and online experiences. Legacy retailers may have built platforms in the early 2000s that are meant to talk to new technology from 2020… that’s actually really hard to do! It is like introducing a dying language to emojis and saying, “Ok, talk to each other!” So while a truly omnichannel experience may be a priority, right now many retailers are simply multi-channel while they try to figure out the right mix of systems.
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?
I absolutely do. And I would argue that it’s not even direct competition that causes companies to change. For instance, I love that Uber (founded in 2009) and the Starbucks mobile app (also launched in 2009) have probably changed more installment behaviors in the US than any of the traditional installment companies.
Installment is a very important part of the customer experience. It is the last step in the completion of the customer journey. If it is not a focus for your customer experience, you are missing out. Check-out must be frictionless. I remember seeing a woman pay with the Starbucks app in-store for the first time and she giggled! Giggled and said, “Oh that was cool!”. Guess what? I bet she reloads her Starbucks gift card inside the Starbucks app every time she steps in-store now.
You know who else wants that experience? Everyone who contacts me to help them with their gift card or other branded currency programs. I would say 90% of the time my team is asked, how do we do what Starbucks does? And it’s no wonder! Tools like gift cards are consistently becoming more and more popular as their use-cases evolve. In 2019, holiday sales for gift cards increased an estimated 7%; whereas total sales for retailers rose only a reported 3.4%. Not to mention, more than half of consumers spend as much as $30 to $59 over the value of their gift cards, representing significant revenue upside for both boutique and big-box retailers.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
My co-founder, Kristen Thiry and I run a conference every year called Flourish. And one of the best moments was in our first year when I caught someone trying to walk off with a branded pillow! This pillow was branded for our conference not for their company or anything. When I said, “Hey… those aren’t really for anyone to take home.” This person turned and said, “Oh, the design is cool and the whole vibe made me feel really comfortable… I wanted to put it on my couch at home…” and while it was a little awkward, and I just let the person take it home in the end; what we realized was how important it was to pay attention to the details that make people feel welcome, and we did that! People felt so welcome they wanted to take a piece of the conference home with them!
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
Oh absolutely! Since then, as our conference and team have grown, one of the comments I am most proud to hear is that people still notice our attention to detail. We don’t want you to walk into our conference and think your voice does not matter, or what you are working on is too out there. We are reimagining an entire industry! We want to be the place where you have courageous conversations about how we grow our industry. We also want you to feel comfortable sitting down with partners and clients to review holiday sales and plan for the year ahead.
Our audience knows they can grab anyone on our team to tell us what they like, what they would like to see next year, and what maybe we could have done better. I have even called people to say that I read their feedback and these are the changes we made this year, so let me know what you think. We can control how comfortable people feel about making this conference their own; so we work hard to keep that feeling going.
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.
- Talk to your customer and truly listen to what they have to say/ what their needs are
- Be honest about your resources and what you can deliver on
- Be consistent
- Keep it simple
- Make it measurable
These 5 things should all be working together if you want a really successful customer experience. Referencing the story I just told above about the conference:
- We talk to our customers. We have surveys, we take phone calls, emails- everything! We make our team visible and we make it easy to figure out how to contact us.
- We know that technology will let us down, we know that each space we move to will have restrictions and limitations we cannot control; so we control what we can. We have a great staff, high design, compelling content, we make introductions to people and offer tons of networking opportunities. (We also have good food and a fun party!)
- We make sure that you can expect that list of things in bullet #2 every year.
- While events are never simple to execute, we try to keep our message clear. We know our purpose. We communicate in ways that make it easy to make the most of your time with us. Not only that, but we try to reward you for interacting and we have multiple ways to be involved.
- Success metrics are SO important. For us, we have multiple things we measure every year and honestly, customer experience is Queen. One other thing to note is that metrics can and should change. I see so many companies get stuck with a metric that makes no sense and really does not serve them or their customers; be open to changing and reimagining what success means.
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?
Yes! I love a good referral program. I find ones where both parties are rewarded (referrer and referee) are best. It aids both customer acquisition and retention. Again, keep it simple. You don’t have to over-complicate this. Do what works for you and your team. If you want referral codes to use those, if you want someone to make an email intro, that is great too!
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 would have everyone follow and support what is going on in 2 real-life organizations. I honestly get excited every time I see what these amazing people are doing:
● Liftupchicago.org: By focusing on both economic and social outcomes, LiftUp is accelerating the stability and mobility of individuals in low-income communities
● prismaticmovement.org: They are using the arts and relationships with corporations to create career development programs and paths for students in under-served communities (we all know theater helped me start my own business!)
How can our readers follow you on social media?
● If you want to mostly see pictures of my dog @hollyke44 or my business is @flourish_con on instagram
● @flourishcon on twitter and facebook
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!