A customer should never have to repeat themselves, ever. By integrating the right culture of active listening into your business, supported by IT systems and infrastructures you have in place, you’ll have happier customers who never have to repeat themselves.
As part of our series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chuck Canton, Founder and CEO of Sourcepass.
Chuck Canton is a seasoned and dynamic technology executive with more than a decade of experience at hyper-growth companies. Chuck brings a distinguished track-record for his successful efforts in launching and growing startups, securing growth funding, acquisitions, and sales. Over the past decade Chuck has driven 6.5 BN dollars in enterprise value, successfully completed 20 acquisitions, and has produced a 5X average return on equity to company shareholders. Chuck is also a proven leader in successfully managing and supporting wide ranges of customers, from small to mid-sized businesses to large, multinational corporations.
Prior to founding Sourcepass, Chuck held roles as the Global Vice President of Customer Success and Operations at Vonage (NYSE: VG) and Head of Financial Services and Operations at Compass, a rapidly growing tech-enabled real estate company. Chuck was instrumental in helping Compass (6.4 BN dollars) and Vonage (3.3 BN dollars) achieve multi-billion-dollar valuations.
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 started my career at iCore Networks, an early-stage start up in the DC-metro area where I was one of the first employees. I was in a hybrid role: selling cloud communications services to businesses and then managing the accounts after the sale. This role was so valuable to me because I was able to work with clients through every stage of the customer life-cycle: sales and solution design (finding the need), solution implementation (the install), on-going support, and eventually the renewal. This was when I really learned how to not just interact with these businesses, but more importantly, how to understand their needs and how to help them run more efficiently. There was definitely a learning curve, but once I mastered this, my career really began to take off. I went from a sales rep to a sales director managing an elite market, and eventually I was running all business operations: solution engineering, service delivery, customer care, business systems, product, and account management.
In 2015, we sold the business to Vonage (Nasdaq: VG), one of the world’s leaders in cloud communications services. At Vonage, I continued to embrace a customer-obsessed approach to the business and eventually ran all post-sales processes for the entire business services division. It was my first international role, and it enabled me to learn even more about the client’s happiness, as we were in charge of Customer Success for over 100,000 companies and 5 MM end users. It was this experience that made me realize a huge gap in IT services and eventually led to the vision for Sourcepass.
Sourcepass is a business concept that we have been working on for over five years. Co-founders Bruce Simms and Roli Points and I have spent most of our careers delivering innovative technologies to businesses. Most notably, we worked together at Vonage.
The pattern we’ve noticed is that technology companies typically only focus on solving one small segment of a broader set of issues customers deal with. This causes a necessity for businesses (specifically small to mid-sized businesses) to have to rely on dozens of vendors to properly power their businesses’ required technology. As a result, they get caught up in a web of IT vendors pointing fingers at each other when something goes wrong, and they also tend to overpay as all of these services added together can be costly. This translates to a very poor customer experience that we feel no one has solved yet. We started Sourcepass last year with the goal of solving this service gap for every small business in the U.S., and then we will embark on that same mission internationally.
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?
Years ago, I was working with a company that ran major horse — racing events. They had a dated, 50-year-old phone system that none of our competitors at the time wanted to touch, and they wanted to convert it to an IP, cloud-enabled system. I was more technical than the average sales representative, and I remember listening to the client describing their current situation and where they wanted to go. From the get-go, my technical curiosity and creativity got the best of me, and instead of fully ‘ripping the band-aid off’ and taking the legacy system straight to the cloud, I focused on coming up with some other ways to make the old phone architecture work in an IP-enabled world. I set to work converting devices from analog to IP and did this successfully, but it proved to be a very nerve-wracking process, particularly as one of the client’s biggest events of the year approached. In my gut I felt sure that the whole thing would fail because the solution I had devised didn’t work.
In the end that didn’t prove to be the case, and everything went more smoothly than I expected. The event went on without a hiccup in the phone system/technical department. I did learn a lot from the experience, though, the largest lesson being that forward-thinking technology is great, but sometimes caution is warranted. Take the time to test solutions you’re trying out, follow processes, and respect checks and balances — they’re there for a reason. In this instance I caused undue stress and nerves for our team in trying to come up with this solution when it would have been easier to encourage the client to move their system directly to the cloud from the get-go. The other big lesson I learned from this example was the value of having the right partnerships. Sourcepass co-founder, Bruce Simms, was also involved in this project and as the more seasoned technical professional at the time, his advice and leadership was invaluable in educating me on why following processes are so important to achieving goals and improving customer experiences.
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?
Absolutely. I have been fortunate to have had a lot of great mentors over the course of my career. However, there are two one who have had the most influence on me.
One is my grandfather, Rocky Flaminio, who even posthumously motivates me every day as I strive to achieve even just a fraction of what he did over a successful 60-year career. My grandfather was the child of Italian immigrants and couldn’t even speak English when he entered the first grade. Even with his humble beginnings, he ended up being the valedictorian of his high school in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He got into several top tier colleges, but instead chose to support his country by enlisting in the Marines the day after his graduation. What followed was his participation in over three theaters of war and nine accommodations medals for heroic acts during World War Two, including a Silver Star and Purple Heart.
His heroism alone during decades of military service is incredible; however, even after all of that he still had the energy to become a successful entrepreneur. He started a telecom and technology company called Tollgrade Communications that he led to an IPO on Nasdaq with a multi-billion-dollar valuation. He taught my siblings and me the importance of hard work, always maintaining your integrity, and choosing a career that you truly love. I think about him every day. My wife and I named our one-year-old son, John Rocco, “Rocky,” after him.
Another role model for me is my brother-in-law, Ryan. He is an entrepreneur who owns a real estate investment group and restaurants in the Wilmington, Delaware area. As a 20-year veteran of running successful businesses, Ryan has been my long-time mentor as I have grown and now am venturing out on my own entrepreneurial journey. When I was in college, I funded a portion of my tuition and most of my spending money through a contracting business I started, primarily pressure-washing decks. Ryan and his brothers guided me on how to get this off the ground and before I knew it, I had a group of employees and a consistent client list. Ryan really sparked my love for entrepreneurship, helped me realize how much I enjoyed small business and get a taste for the day-to-day and the challenges they can face. He continues to be an inspirational figure in my life as he is an example of how important hard work and passion are to building and running a successful business.
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?
First off, I would say that the basic truth is that without customers, you don’t have a business. It’s really as simple as that. I think it’s critical that employees not just understand this reality, but truly internalize and appreciate it every day, in all that they do. It’s important that a business doesn’t focus too much on looking so much inward that they neglect the huge impact of their customer base.
In my experience, an ‘outside-in’ approach works well here — thinking along the lines of ‘how can we, as a company, improve the experience so our customers never want to leave?’ How can we make them feel that they want to buy more from us and tell their friends and networks about what a great experience they had working with us? One of my favorite quotes from Walt Disney sums this up well: “Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.”
At its core, a business is started to generate a service and fulfill a need that a segment of customers are experiencing and subscribe to. This focus and mindset are essential to forming and sustaining a successful business. Plus, it’s important to remember that good customer service actually saves you money and time if executed correctly — you retain customers, avoiding costly churn, generate referrals to help you grow, and keep building that strong foundation that allows you to keep your business moving to the next level.
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?
Customer service, while it may seem intuitive, isn’t easy. Building an effective customer service approach requires trade-offs, discipline, and answering what can seem like difficult questions in the short-term. The biggest disconnect I see in organizations comes from the fact that investments in tools and infrastructures that enhance customer service delivery, such as responsive ticketing systems, require an up-front investment that will not show results right away. These costs make your business profits go down in the short-term, but in the long run will make up the expenses and save you time and money. Companies’ management teams are often ruled by looking to the next quarter, planning for the next monthly call, and satisfying investors. Truly great CEOs who are disrupting industries, by contrast, such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, are thinking five years down the road. It’s vital to acknowledge that building a good customer service structure requires sacrificing short-term profitability for long-term returns.
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?
Definitely. Competitors can elevate each other in several ways. While it’s important of course to be aware of your competition, being overly competitor-focused can hold you back and distract you from achieving the top levels of customer experiences that will move your business forward. External pressures always exist, and they do absolutely impact the evolution of customer experiences companies deliver. Social media is one of the most potent tools customers have to share their experiences and hold companies accountable for the level of service they deliver. It’s wise to lean into the external pressures that social media can exert and encourage your customers to use their platforms to talk all about the great things you’ve done for them. The social reference power — as well as the amplification — it offers can pay off in significant and unexpected ways.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided? Did that Wow! experience have any long-term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
One that really stands out to me comes from back in my days working at iCore Networks with one of our biggest clients who was a leading lumber retailer. They were expanding their footprint and building stores rapidly, and to continue to do this at the pace they required, the client needed a way to standardize their key technical tools, such as their point-of-sale (POS), phones, and internet systems. Our team came up with an innovative, repeatable solution to this challenge — a proprietary set-up we called the ‘Lumber Board.’ Each store had a Lumber Board, which housed the key materials they needed to run their business, such as their router, wireless device, firewall, switches, and others, in an organized, color-coded structure. We custom built the Lumber Board for the client to be able to easily hand off as a package to the management of each new store. This facilitated an easier and more cost-effective overall process to get their business up and running.
The Lumber Board was a smash success, and definitely delivered a Wow! experience for our client. They grew from 30 to 300 stores as a result, and the standardization in technical systems played an enormous role in enabling that. In this case, what I think really made the difference was that our team truly listened to our client and what they needed and built something to specifically fit those needs. We did what was easier for them as opposed to what was easier for us, and the result formed a critical element in the client’s ability to scale their business, later issue their IPO, and become one of the largest players in their industry. This focus on customer service and being fully committed and accessible to getting the job done is something we continue to take extremely seriously, and I feel also that made a significant difference in the case of this project. My co-founder Bruce Simms and I (both on this project as well) went above and beyond because it was the right thing to do, even to the point of taking client calls that required Bruce to delay walking his daughter down the aisle at her wedding, and me occasionally having to connect during my honeymoon or family vacations if that is what was required. I believe in what I call ‘work-life harmony,’ and a key element to executing this successfully is ensuring customers come first and their needs are a priority. This is at the core of how I’ve achieved numerous Wow! moments for clients over my career.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Build for the customer, not the company. Make this an integral part of your company’s culture. An example is that in founding Sourcepass, we were building a business to address the common and pervasive gaps we saw in the SMB space. These companies are experiencing several IT — solution and end-user technology problems and it’s difficult, if not non-existent, for SMBs to access on-demand IT services designed for their needs. By formulating our concept around this need, we’re positioning ourselves to directly serve the customer and give them an offering they can’t get anywhere else.
2. The better you know your customers, the better you’ll be at supporting them. An example of this is investing in an easily accessible, detailed CRM with information about each customer that an agent can leverage to ‘warm up’ the conversation should they need to call in. Details such as their birthday, location, or what solutions they are running will allow your company to come across as knowledgeable, confident, and able to jump right in to address their needs.
3. A customer should never have to repeat themselves, ever. By integrating the right culture of active listening into your business, supported by IT systems and infrastructures you have in place, you’ll have happier customers who never have to repeat themselves. You’ll save time in back and forth and be able to act in a laser-focused way to address their needs. Embedding systems to capture customer data and support your team’s active listening approach goes a long way to making it more natural and organic for them to engage with your customers.
4. Omni-channel communications are a must. A key example of how to do this is to integrate your systems with customized engagement and communications tools that meet the customer where they are on an individual level. This allows you to talk to them in the manner most convenient for them. Some people prefer a call, others text or email. Still others like a chat format. Either way, omni-channel systems allow you to bring that deeper level of personalization that endears your company to your customers and allows you to engage more personally and efficiently than forcing just one communication method on them.
The way you sell your products should be a solution — and product — driven sale, not necessarily a relationship sale. The old-fashioned, smooth-talking sales approaches that usually include, sports games and wining and dining are relics from the past. Sales dynamics are shifting now, and more than ever, what really ‘sells’ a customer on a product or service is a company they trust and that they perceive as an expert. People want you to listen and take the time to really understand their needs. Solution-based sales build trust, which gives you the insight you’ll need to fulfill the customer’s need correctly, the first time and ensure it’s a smooth process. Ultimately, building customer trust and loyalty is a long-term investment and you can’t have one without the other. Remember, there’s a lot you can get from a loyal customer (referrals, positive word of mouth promotion, etc.).
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. In my opinion, it starts with the culture of the business being rooted in promoting customer wins and how they’ve improved customer lives with their solution. Having this culture makes customers more willing to share this information with you and feel appreciated as a part of your organization. Joint promotions with the customers are smart to do, even if it’s a small win — it showcases how dedicated you are and promotes the customer at the same time.
My particular expertise is in retail, so I’d like to ask a question about that. Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
Good question. The first thing to realize is that digital experiences are no longer a nice to have — they’re table stakes. Direct-to-consumer, predictable digital consumer experiences, like what Amazon offers– are essential in today’s world. To stay competitive and successful, you have to think of something your business can do to give customers this level of a direct-to-consumer service in a repeatable, consistent structure that they can rely on. While there are still gaps in the eCommerce sector today, one keyway to bridge these is to bring an enhanced focus on the human aspect of the sales relationship. The personal attention and consultative sales approach are now more important in eCommerce than ever, because it can be very difficult to buy something online and feel confident that you know everything about it. The old storefront of the past, where a seasoned expert could advise you on just the right product for your needs in a one-on-one interaction is an element that many eCommerce companies are missing.
The fact is, people want a great customer experience, where they feel that they are being listened to and advised on the right product that they can buy at the right price. In many cases, companies can even charge slightly more for these products in online settings, because for many, knowledge is more of an issue than price. As far as the international competition aspect, some customers do place a value on locally produced, U.S. goods, but as a company, that alone isn’t enough to sustain your business. You have to balance that with a creative mindset, to come up with new and unique ways to align with cultural elements impacting purchasing decisions among customers in other countries. This will help enable best price and product selection confidence for your customer and expand your company’s market share to remain competitive.
An example of a company I have seen that executes the element of eCommerce and international competition very well is Best Buy. Their stores are heavily staffed with experts in key product categories to provide that personal attention and advice customers are looking for. The other key value proposition they offer that makes an enormous difference is price matching. Customers may prefer to shop there, but will go online, to Amazon, for example, if they feel they can get the same product at a lower price from an international or domestic vendor. Instead, with a price match structure, the customer gets the best of both worlds — the personal shopping experience they want with the confidence that they can get their product for the lowest price available. This offering has been critical to the growth Best Buy continues to see in positioning itself competitively among the eCommerce giants on the international stage.
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. 🙂
One of my favorite Martin Luther King Junior quotes is: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”
I would love to be at the helm of a movement where we globally embrace the spirit of this question to honor MLK’s legacy. If we start and end every day asking ourselves this question and embed it into our culture as human beings, you’re going to see the world become a better place.
Here is our website: www.sourcepass.com
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!