Joel Coen of TruNorth Advisors: “Know them better”

The first would be to be in touch with your consumer sentiment. It is critical to understand what your customers are thinking in an unbiased way. This is why the use of surveys are so critically important. For those that don’t use a survey system, it is ok. Google does this for you through the […]

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The first would be to be in touch with your consumer sentiment. It is critical to understand what your customers are thinking in an unbiased way. This is why the use of surveys are so critically important. For those that don’t use a survey system, it is ok. Google does this for you through the Google My Business rating system. When you do a Google search for a business or topic you will see a rating system affiliated to the business in their listing.

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 Joel Coen.

Joel Coen is the President of TruNorth Advisors based in the Phoenix Metro area. As President of TruNorth Advisors, Joel Coen delivers what is most important to his clients through innovative reporting, sales automation and complete consumer lifecycle management. His areas of expertise include web development, e-commerce, all major digital marketing and competitive analysis. Over his career, Joel has been honored with several national awards for his unique approach to conversion-based marketing strategies. His clients have realized substantial marketing returns on investments through proprietary marketing automation and digital strategies that propel their business. In addition to all areas of marketing strategy and development, Joel is passionate about helping business owners and major communities flourish through the development of partnerships with local nonprofits and community-based programs that help promote the mission of ethical businesses.

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?

One could say that I was born into my industry. I grew up in the Bay Area and have always been interested in technology and the web. I got my start in the advertising world in my early twenties when I was exposed to some very early iterations of e-commerce with a Fortune 100 company. This is back when Google was really just getting started and I was lucky enough to see how their algorithm would change based on consumer behavior. Soon, I got hooked on staying ahead of the curve on organic search methodology and the entire suite of Google products, and never looked back.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Without a doubt, one of the more frustrating and funny stories was related to some work that we did for a ‘refillable ink cartridges’ launch at a large-scale office supply company I worked with. The campaign was called “Think Ink” and part of it was to have a bunch of bikers with tattoos riding down Michigan Avenue in Chicago. We thought it would be late enough in the season where we wouldn’t have to worry about snow and cold, but boy, were we wrong!

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?

At the very beginning of my career, there was a man by the name of Bill Jenkins that trusted me to take on a tremendous amount of responsibility. He had been in retail for many, many years and although he could have handled many things himself, without issue, he allowed me to take the reins and let me make the mistakes that would help me to learn. He was always there to guide me when I needed him and always had my back. I still think about many of the tenets and best practices he taught me 20 plus years ago.

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?

It is fairly simple to me, really. As consumers, we work hard for our money. When we spend that money on goods or services, we want to know and feel that we have spent what we have worked so hard for in the wisest way possible. We also want there to be a respect for the sacrifice it took to earn that money and an understanding that we could just about spend it anywhere we want. When we make the decision to make a purchase, we are connecting not only with the brand that represents the product but also to the entity that sells it. When there is a bad experience with just about anything, we may buy there is an innate frustration that comes with that. On the flip side, the world of business can be very harsh. When we come across a situation where we feel respected and appreciated, we are far more likely to return and experience it again. To me, great customer service is a ticket to the game. You can’t just hide behind your reputation anymore as the advent of online reviews has made the reality clear. You have to connect with your consumer and over deliver on your brand promise if you truly want to stand out.

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?

I believe that pride is one of the biggest reasons. There are some companies that believe that they are just too big to fail and, therefore, can offer a substandard product or service. I can think of several banks, airlines and mortgage companies that clearly just don’t care if their company provides the level of service they should because they feel they simply don’t need to. As we work through the recovery from COVID-19, I believe that many companies will begin to take customer service a little more seriously as their very survival may depend on it.

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 believe that healthy competition absolutely helps to increase a level of customer service. In the modern world, when you make a mistake or you provide a bad experience, that experience is most likely going to end up online for the whole world to see. If you don’t rectify that situation, it will be present for the rest of your potential consumers to see for an extended period of time. For those that are focused on accepting and rectifying their mistakes, that effort can be clearly seen through the online reviews that are being left by consumers. In a competitive marketplace where consumers have many choices, customer reviews play a big part of a purchase decision. Plainly said, if you aren’t taking care of your clients, it is likely that someone else will.

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?

I think that Southwest Airlines is incredibly consistent when it comes to offering a great experience and doing what it takes to do the right thing. You can do a search for viral singing airline attendants or fun things they have done (look up Southwest attendant in the overhead bin) that are unexpected. For me, there was a personal experience that truly showed how much they care about their clients. My wife and I were at a charity event in Colorado when I experienced an extreme back injury. It required me to come immediately back home and go to the Mayo Clinic. When I arrived at the hospital, they let me know I would have to go into emergency surgery. My wife was doing everything she could to get home as quickly as she could, but all of the flights were full. The Southwest staff at Denver International Airport did not stop until they could get her on the next flight out, which they did. It took a lot of pleading on the behalf of the staff, but their tenacity and passion compelled someone to give up their seat and let my wife be there once I woke up from surgery.

Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

I have flown Southwest for years, not just because of that story. There have been multiple times where I needed to switch flights, get help finding bags or just chatted with the flight attendants and in almost every case, they have always been pleasant and understanding. The company cares and that makes their employees care too.

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.

The first would be to be in touch with your consumer sentiment. It is critical to understand what your customers are thinking in an unbiased way. This is why the use of surveys are so critically important. For those that don’t use a survey system, it is ok. Google does this for you through the Google My Business rating system. When you do a Google search for a business or topic you will see a rating system affiliated to the business in their listing. The rating goes from 1 to 5 with 5 being the best and 1 being the worst. Consumers have high expectations so if you are less than a 4, know that not only does that take you out of the consideration set for 50% of consumers on average, but that it also takes you out of being found for terms related to “best”. As an example, if I am rated a 3.8 for my sandwich shop and someone locally types in “best sandwich”, there is a good chance I will not be found.

The second would be to focus on your employees. Employees that feel as though they are not trusted or don’t grasp or understand the company mission will have a lot of difficulty in delivering the A+ experience that consumers expect. If you don’t care about them, why should they care about your customers. I believe that many airlines in the U.S. are experiencing a lot of this right now as they face mounting profitability, customer service and employee related issues. When there is tremendous stress on a company workforce and little reward for positive behavior, the result is a less than stellar experience as a whole.

For my third, fourth and fifth examples, I am going to steal a page from the Google playbook. Google believes, as do I, that if you are going to really be successful in a competitive marketplace, that you should do the following with your customers:

  • Help them faster — In this day and age, you have to be able to help your customers as quickly as possible. This means minimizing the amount of time they have to interact with your website and affiliated marketing. Let them get to what they want to buy as quickly as possible and give them the information they need. Often, I see brands clutter up experiences because of information they think their consumers want to see. Use data to help you navigate what works and what doesn’t. Often, you will come to find that properly establishing your brand message, in addition to your product or service, will often lead to a sale far more effectively.
  • Know them better — It is one thing to put out some ads and just hope that someone clicks through to buy your product or service. You need to know your consumer. Know the demographics of your core purchaser and take the time to get to know what they like and what they don’t like. I can’t tell you how many times I have been told who a core consumer is for a client or brand only to find out it is not what they thought. This is where data comes in to save the day. Use Google analytics to help you decipher who your customers really are and make sure you are speaking to them with messaging that is authentic and real.
  • Wow them everywhere — This is the biggest piece to any successful marketing campaign. If you put out subpar materials or an effort that truly isn’t thought through, customers will move on. I see this in real estate perhaps more than anywhere else. Just because you are present in a marketing channel doesn’t mean that it is doing you any good. Just like a lot of things in life, you have to put your best foot forward and not skimp on your overall brand presence. If you think that your client base can’t tell the difference between the website your 16-year-old cousin made versus one that has been made through a bonafide website production company, I promise you they can. Compare yourself to those that are the best in your industry and see where you stack up. Once you have done this assessment, ask yourself what it will take to be the best and make it happen.

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?

The best thing that someone can do for you is to leave positive reviews, especially with Google. It is part of what will help you to be found more often in Google search and also is the most exposed and trusted resource. I would also say that asking for a referral is often one of the quickest ways to find additional business opportunities.

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. 🙂

It would be for people to make data-minded decisions. You wouldn’t believe how often we deal with assumptions (often our own) and then find through data that we were wrong. If everyone used data to make proper decisions, I can’t think of how much money would be saved. There are so many free platforms out there that will help you make well informed decisions. Be willing to challenge the status quo and ask for the data. If you can’t get it, find someone who can, like TruNorth Advisors.

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