Create a work culture that empowers employees to make customer-focused decisions. Here at HomeLight, we beat the drum: when our agents win, we win. We talk about it in meetings constantly, and we always make decisions with that goal in mind. If an employee has a suggestion on how to improve our customer experience — no matter who they are or what team they work on — I want to hear it. I want to empower everyone at HomeLight to keep our customer’s experience at the top of their minds and press forward with their ideas on how to improve it whenever possible.
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 Steve Mason.
Steve Mason is the Director of Agent Success at HomeLight, the real estate technology company powering the top real estate agents in America and building the future of how people buy and sell homes. Steve leads a team of dozens of employees who work to deliver the best possible customer experience to top agents and their clients, whether that’s helping them find an agent for their specific needs, securing a competitive mortgage, or ensuring an on-time, easy close.
Prior to joining HomeLight, Steve worked in various customer success positions at Yelp for over eight years, where he was responsible for thousands of customers and grew the team from single digits to dozens of employees across the country.
Steve holds a Bachelor of Arts in Human Communication from Arizona State University. He currently lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with his family.
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?
I had a pretty non-traditional start to my career and the roles that would eventually lead me to working in customer success in the technology industry. I admittedly didn’t have much focus navigating through college — at the time, I treated it like a race, where my only objective was the finish line. I didn’t think much about my own motivation, interests, or passion beyond that.
My first few years in the workforce were much the same. I’m a competitive person, so I was always interested in doing a great job, but eventually I realized that I lacked a sense of intrinsic motivation. Beyond outright achievement, what inspired me? What made me want to get out of bed in the morning? I didn’t have the answers to those questions.
It wasn’t until I found myself surrounded by highly driven, compassionate people that things really clicked. It wasn’t just about crossing that finish line ahead of everyone else anymore, nor was it only about the grind. I found that you could work really hard to build something impactful and still have fun along the way. Those were the early days at Yelp.
I spent the better part of a decade at Yelp, learning from and leading teams that focused on revenue generation, retention, and software implementation. I helped build teams from single digits to dozens all over the country in the matter of months. I had the opportunity to branch out from traditional advertising sales to restaurant software, where customer experience was paramount. Those teams brought me from Arizona, where I was based, to San Francisco, where Yelp was headquartered.
When it came time for my next move, I wanted to take what I had learned and bring it to a smaller company that kept customer experience at its core. That’s when I came across HomeLight. HomeLight combines incredible people culture (seriously, check out our Glassdoor reviews) with the drive to build products and services that keep our customers — the top real estate agents in the country — happy, engaged, and successful. I made the jump over a year ago and now spend my days building out the customer success team to support agents across the country.
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?
We’ve all made plenty of mistakes in our lives. I like to fondly remember some silly ones — they’re all teaching lessons, in my mind.
One of the biggest lessons I learned was early on, when I was first starting out: because we worked so closely together, I assumed customers were somewhat like friends. I got to know them. I thought they cared about my day, my stressors, and my deadlines.
Spoiler alert: they didn’t, and they still don’t today. That’s not to say that customers are callous. But they have their own stressors, their own deadlines. We’re all human, and we’re all trying to do the best job we can in our jobs and our lives. It’s my job to help customers achieve that — not the other way around.
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?
There are so many. I’m drawn to people, teams, and companies who are working hard to unlock something special for our customers. I’m lucky to have worked with some really impactful, talented leaders at Yelp, and some incredible leaders at HomeLight. Each time we’ve expanded our teams, launched new products, or acquired companies, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to learn directly from those leaders on what makes them successful and how they put the customer first.
One scenario that comes to mind was a recent acquisition we had here at HomeLight. We partnered with Disclosures.io, a listings management platform, to build out HomeLight Listing Management, with a goal of bringing greater transparency, speed, and certainty to the listing process for agents and their clients.
The team had thousands of loyal customers and managed all of that with just a few people and some brilliant marketing techniques. I’ve learned so much from just observing them do more with less. It’s been inspiring to see, and a good reminder that an excellent customer experience doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking. If it’s thoughtful, strategic, and executed well, it can do the job — and do it extremely well.
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?
Without customers, you’ll fail. And if you don’t leave a positive impression on those customers, you won’t thrive. That’s something we’ve set out to do at HomeLight, every single day.
We power the businesses of the top real estate agents in the United States, which means we need to understand their businesses, empathize with them, and be ready to support them whenever needed. We think a lot about what our customers need before they even realize they need it themselves. We ask for feedback and guidance in serving them, and we hire incredible people to help us execute that vision and experience. Without those things, we’d be just another real estate technology company.
Remember: your customers are your company. And if you don’t take the time to nurture and wow them, your company won’t be successful. It’s that simple.
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?
Excellent customer experience is expensive. And it’s not only expensive from a monetary standpoint — it takes an investment in customer success infrastructure and getting the right people in place at the right time for both the business and customer. You need to build a team of people who care about the customer experience just as much as you do.
And, of course, it can take an enormous amount of effort: effort to train your people, to empathize with them, to keep your best employees engaged and growing both in their role and their career.
The good news? Done well, customer experience can have an enormous impact on the business, from retaining customers, engaging them in new and exciting ways, and building brand equity. You simply can’t undervalue that.
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?
For certain industries, absolutely. You see this happen most often between competitors who offer similar products and are service based — if all else is equal, a stellar customer experience can help a company pull ahead almost every time. People remember how they’re treated. They remember how a company or service makes them feel.
The inverse can happen, as well. Competition to drive up margins can lead some executives to cut important customer success programs or deprioritize them altogether. There’s a fine line there — if a customer expects a certain experience when they work with a business and that changes over time, you can expect it’ll be that much harder to win back their trust. It’s a game you don’t want to play.
Of course, external pressures can drive improvements, too. We’re all familiar with it: something happens in-store or in-experience, and the customer turns to Twitter. Next thing you know, you’re trending, and probably not in the way you want. Being proactive and investing in your customer journey and experience works best as a preventative measure.
And remember, at the end of the day, you can actually have the same exact experience, but with a positive slant. If a customer is overjoyed, they’ll shout it from the rooftops. You should always optimize for that experience.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “wowed” by the experience you provided?
I’m lucky to experience these stories almost every single day at HomeLight. Whenever I chat with our agent partners, I’m floored by the love they have for their customers, our services, and the people they work with every day. A large part of that sentiment is driven by our products, which is one of the main reasons I joined the company in the first place. And since our team has grown, that sentiment has increasingly been because of the work we do every day to support our customers. I couldn’t be prouder of that.
At the end of the day, our job at HomeLight is to ensure that top real estate agents across the country are using our products to the best of their abilities to grow their businesses and better serve their own customers. One experience our team recently built from the ground up in support of that mission was our Agent Success Program.
We had our Agent Success Managers work directly with hundreds of our agent customers to parse out opportunities for the agents to improve how they use our products to support their customers. From there, we took our observations to build a robust coaching program for agents to help improve how they use our products, and, in turn, help grow their businesses. We only asked that they try their best to listen to and implement our feedback.
We ended up working with over 275 agents through the coaching program. Agents were beyond appreciative that we took the time to help them improve, going above and beyond to make sure our products were delivering the best results possible for them. Ultimately, they realized that we care about the success of their business just as much as they do. It’s formed an even deeper level of trust and commitment between us — one that I’m very proud our team has fostered over the years.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
Time and again, I’ve learned that when you invest in your customers, your customers invest back into you. One of the biggest achievements coming out of our Agent Success Program was building that two-way avenue of communication. Since the program, participating agents have given us valuable feedback, tried our other products, and more, simply because we’ve built such a strong foundation of mutual respect, communication, and trust.
Aside from the benefit directly back to HomeLight, agents improved. We’ve had enough time to analyze before and after data and agents that were part of our program got better at their job by booking more meetings with clients.
Just the other day, in fact, one of our top real estate agents, Kelli Griggs, shared that our HomeLight Trade-In product helped her earn over 10 million dollars in closed deals this year alone, which is just over 20% of her personal business. Our team had a tangible impact on her business and success. Frankly, that’s incredible — in my mind, there’s truly nothing better.
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.
- Create a work culture that empowers employees to make customer-focused decisions. Here at HomeLight, we beat the drum: when our agents win, we win. We talk about it in meetings constantly, and we always make decisions with that goal in mind. If an employee has a suggestion on how to improve our customer experience — no matter who they are or what team they work on — I want to hear it. I want to empower everyone at HomeLight to keep our customer’s experience at the top of their minds and press forward with their ideas on how to improve it whenever possible.
- Map out your customer journey and revisit it often. Oftentimes, a founder or CEO has an idea of what their customer journey or experience is, often based on the early products they build or the business idea they dreamed up. But that changes, especially as you scale into new markets, welcome thousands of new customers into the fold, and introduce new products into the mix. It’s important to go back to the drawing board, map where you are and where you’re going, and continually look for areas to improve as the business grows and changes.
- Don’t let internal shortcomings impact customer happiness. It’s important to understand that no process is perfect. While the business and team grow, especially quickly, there will be workarounds for workarounds. It’s easy to get into that mindset, but remember: customers shouldn’t know that, and it shouldn’t slow down how they interact with your business. Always optimize for your customers’ happiness and be clear on how your internal processes can deliver it efficiently and effectively.
- Obsess over your best customers. When your customer base grows, it can be easy to slip into the mindset of thinking holistically. But you shouldn’t forget about your best customers. Spend a little bit of each day thinking about them: how they interact with your business, how their metrics are trending, what value they perceive and how that differs from the value you think you deliver as a business. And most importantly, talk to them. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone, no matter what processes you’ve put into place as the company has grown. That human connection is paramount.
- Set the right expectations — and live up to them. One thing that’s important to understand is that, left unchecked, customers’ expectations can run rampant. It’s important to set those expectations upfront. It’s even more important to live up to those expectations. If you encounter a time when you can’t live up to those expectations, whatever the reason, communication is key.
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’s important we learn from mistakes so we can fix things — that’s a given. It’s also important to learn from wins to inform how you can reproduce that experience at scale for not one, not dozens, but hundreds of thousands of customers.
Again, it all boils down to communication. For us, it’s being clear that our work with customers is absolutely a two-way street. We encourage our customers to share with us, whether it’s the good, the bad, or the truly ugly. We can’t improve, nor can we do our best to help our agents succeed, without that level of trust, engagement, and commitment. With that foundation in place, agents know they can come to us with feedback, and they tell other agents to expect the same level of commitment when they work with us, as well.
One thing a lot of customer success leaders miss is considering the internal impact that two-way street can have, as well. Testimonials are a powerful tool for this. They can not only entice future customers outside the four walls of your office — they can also motivate your team to keep pushing through tough times. Consider calling out wins at all hands or larger team meetings, especially when a customer mentions an employee by name. The power of that recognition, validation, and gratitude can last for days, weeks, and months.
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 think we need more empathy in this world. We need more empathy for other people and their motivations. From that empathy, we can seek to understand instead of push each other away. You’re not always going to agree with everyone, but ideally, you can understand where they’re coming from, or at least try to.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My wife and I both work and we’re navigating parenting two kids under five during COVID-19, so my social handles have been a bit quiet recently — but you can find me on LinkedIn if you want to connect and talk about all things customer success.
If you’re interested in following HomeLight’s journey of making real estate simpler, certain, and satisfying for everyone, you can find us below:
- Instagram: @gohomelight
- Twitter: @HomeLightApp
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/homelight/
- Facebook: @gohomelight
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!