Andrea McKee: “Be in business for something that you’re passionate about”

Create an experience for your customers outside of the product to find community. 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 Andrea McKee. She is the founder and CEO of Swet Seat. From a decade in education to […]

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Create an experience for your customers outside of the product to find community.

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 Andrea McKee. She is the founder and CEO of Swet Seat. From a decade in education to musician to inventor, adventure is her game. Life is never boring, as she built her company simultaneously raising a newborn and 2 year old. As the founder of Swet Seat, Andrea focuses on values that show she is not only thinking about business, but also the long-term impacts of her business. Ethical manufacturing with humane and positive work conditions and a pledge to minimize waste by providing a repair service are a couple of ways that Andrea is determined to pass off the baton to the next generations responsibly. Based in Atlanta, GA where the products are manufactured, she aims for Swet Seat to be the go-to post-workout vehicle seat cover.

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 am a runner and so is my husband. In 2011, I ran my first marathon. One day while training, my friend and I finished 16 miles and her dad came to pick us up. He threw us both a towel and said, “Don’t get my car dirty.” After that, I carried a towel in my car. Fast forward to the summer of 2018. My husband was training for an ultramarathon while we lived in Colorado and needed me to come to pick him up from his run. Upon seeing him, I wouldn’t let my sweat-drenched hunk in our car until we found something that would prevent his sweat and stink from getting the seat nasty. Luckily I found a picnic blanket (that never got washed afterward). Both of these moments hung around my mind until eight months later when the idea for Swet Seat began to come together. I searched the market for a similar solution to what I was thinking of but couldn’t find anything I liked. Some post-workout car seat covers don’t have a headrest, yet I sweat on my head. Some aren’t sweat-proof / waterproof and to me, what’s the point of having one if it isn’t waterproof? Others would roll up too bulky like a towel when you weren’t using it. I knew it needed to be a universal fit for all cars, SUV’s, trucks, and vans. After seeing what was on the market, I knew there were a product opportunity and a market early on.

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?

Definitely early on the stories have to do with me leaving pins out while measuring early homemade prototypes. When you have a 2-year-old, you should not be leaving pins and scissors out for them to get into! Lessons learned and thankfully no little owies.

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 am particularly grateful to my husband who fully believes in me and my pursuits. He is supportive in every way, teaming up with all the housework and kiddos because we are a partnership. He’s great to brainstorm and problem-solve with. His sweat also inspired me to make the product. Most of all, he sees my goals as our goals and therefore is confident we can always figure it out, even when work gets busy for him.

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?

Simply stated, without happy customers, your company turns to begging. Desperate and forceful in your approach, focused on keeping the company alive, you would lose sight of giving more life to your customers with your product or service. If you are begging, you aren’t truly giving. It is so important to give your best products with a willingness to innovate and improve. You have to give your time with the customer who needs to feel like their money and trust in you was valued. If someone is willing to invest money and trust for a product/service, then you should invest right back in the form of satisfaction!

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 think a lot of people fall in love with their product, not their customer. If companies are so focused on how good they think their product is, then they won’t listen to their customer when their customer is trying to tell them how to improve the product. Additionally, if you’re in business for the wrong reasons, namely to only serve yourself with ego or wealth, and not focus on how to improve the lives of those you serve, customers will sense the disconnect. Some people fall in love with the idea of business, rather than with the experience itself and eventually lose focus on what’s important. You have to be smart about business, but I think that being smart means you know who’s important: the customer and the kind of experience they have with your company.

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?

Competition definitely has the potential to help a company step up its game in the customer experience. I think it also helps weed out the ones who aren’t in it for the long haul or who don’t have the right intentions or priorities. Fair competition can be a healthy way to keep the market efficient when all stakeholders are valued. New development means progress. Some other external pressures like direct customer reviews force a company to improve the experience or they simply won’t get the business. Cultural trends also play into the way companies will think about their customer base and how to best reach them and build community so that a purchase isn’t a one-off experience.

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

I have a customer who swims at her gym regularly and doesn’t want to have to change back into dry clothes before going home, so she wanted a Swet Seat to put on her car seat once she found out they would protect her seat from water. She bought the Classic and used it all the time. She was thrilled that she didn’t have to change out of her wet swimwear at the gym anymore. Once I developed our more feminine style, The Swexy, she fell in love right away and decided to buy two of them! One was for her and one for her tiny dog. She was so happy about her experience that she had trusted the product enough to buy two of the Swexys for herself. A great product and honest customer service does wonders.

Another experience was when a man gifted his fitness instructor wife a Swet Seat, and after using it she promptly went and bought one for her sister who had just purchased a new car. When my customers are wowed, I’m wowed right back that they’d share the love with their family, friends, and even their pups. That’s when you know you’re doing something right.

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

The cool thing about this woman and her dog is that she was so excited about the fact that I had designed something so dazzling that she couldn’t wait to share with the world by writing a wonderful review. I think that genuine reviews are a kind of true history litmus test for a company, not just what someone fancy wrote up about the product from the outside looking in, but someone who has used it loved it and felt the need to say so. That review, along with the others will be

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.

1. Be in business for something that you’re passionate about.

a. You have to ask yourself if you actually find your company to be useful, positively contributing to the greater society, and personally fulfilling. If you can say yes to those things, then you’ll have the power to wow. If you’re unsure or unmotivated inside and simply going through the motions, that will ripple outward to your work.

I LOVE Swet Seat because it solves a problem that I had. I use it every day for not just sweaty workouts, but when we vacation to the beach, and sometimes in my stroller for my kiddos! After designing and building the Classic, I personally knew that if I was going to be happy as a founder, I needed to get even more creative by building something more feminine and fun. That’s where the Swexy came into the picture and we have several more product designs in the pipeline!

2. Create channels for your customers to reach you directly: social media, reviews, phone, email.

a. I am slowly building an authentic audience on social media. The company is on Instagram @swetseat and it’s been a profound experience connecting with people who now love our product. I want the community to be genuine. I also love getting reviews from our customers on the website, Instagram, and Facebook because knowing how they feel means EVERYTHING to me. That’s how I get a pulse on how the product is doing and how I can make life more enjoyable in the car after a workout.

3. When customers speak, listen and show you understand.

a. In the first batch of Swet Seats that were sold, I asked every single customer individually for things they loved or didn’t love about the experience and what they would suggest to adjust going forward. About half of our customer base said the product slid a little when getting in and out of the car. I came up with a solution and offered for all the customers to send theirs back for the design improvement at no cost to them. Those who were interested in the upgrade were delighted that the company would care that much. I then added on a bottom strap to all the designs from then on.

4. Create an experience for your customers outside of the product to find community.

a. This one is a new one for me, but I am airing a podcast start date of Valentine’s Day 2020 called Feminine Will. It’s a podcast about women who choose athleticism, adventure, or bravery every day. I connect all the time with women especially on social media who are incredibly athletic and brave, so I wanted to share an in-depth look into their lives.

5. Stay grounded in your company values and build a positive culture within.

a. Company values go far beyond the standard mission and vision statement which can often feel pretty boring and canned. I have written up specific things I value, like ethical manufacturing. It’s really important to me that those who work on Swet Seat get paid a living wage and have a positive work environment. I also care about reducing the contribution to waste in the landfills. The company offers repairs for those who may eventually need a component fixed on their product so that they are less inclined to toss it and buy new. Design and durability are something I will not compromise. I want people to get their money’s worth. If we are going to build a company, then it’s going to be one that builds products that really work and really last.

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?

Brand goodwill and quality connection. All anyone wants is connection and validation. They want to feel validated that their money was spent well and they want connection in feeling like we care about them individually, even in some small way. If those things are taken care of, they’ll organically and genuinely share and help the company grow. It’s symbiotic.

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. 🙂

Wow, so many ideas. My husband and I have recently become more aware of animal cruelty and injustice in many farming industries. I think the level to which farming has become calloused to animal ethics is in part due to creating the unhealthy demand for animal products by consumers and corporations. Big agribusiness has profited by the public turning a blind eye or hushing common cruel practices. There are some ways in which I have turned a blind eye in the past because I didn’t think I knew enough to actually make a change. I may have naively thought that someone made this stuff up and so why bother looking at it?

This year, I got a hold of a book while on vacation that was written forty years ago and started reading it called, Returning to Eden. I was skeptical when I opened it, wondering what it would be about while sitting in a little Florida café for breakfast that sells second-hand books. Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. It was obvious this guy knew what he was talking about and he was incredibly intelligent and had done his due diligence on the matter. After fact-checking and careful consideration, my husband and I committed to making long-term changes in our own diet. Even if only our family reduces meat intake and buys ethically raised products, it makes a difference. I have grown empathy in many other ways from this small change. It is by the simple actions that big shifts come about.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow Swet Seat at @swetseat (FB and Insta). Follow Feminine Will Podcast @femininewill on Instagram.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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