Clarence Bethea: “Talk to your customers first”

Talk to your customers first. They will help you develop what they need and want. Before we built a real product, we talked to hundreds of customers and figured out if there was a real problem to solve. As part of my how to provide a wow customer experience column, I had the pleasure of interviewing […]

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Talk to your customers first. They will help you develop what they need and want. Before we built a real product, we talked to hundreds of customers and figured out if there was a real problem to solve.

As part of my how to provide a wow customer experience column, I had the pleasure of interviewing Clarence Bethea. Clarence is the founder and CEO of Upsie.

Thank you so much for joining us, Clarence! 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 worked with a local trucking startup and in less than one year, negotiated new contracts and increased revenue by 200 percent while managing a team of 10. It was my first real job and it showed me that I was capable of so much more. I went on to help launch another startup and in the first two years, helped them reach 1.5 million dollars in revenue. All of my earlier experiences strengthened my foundation and gave me confidence in my abilities prior to starting Upsie.

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?

The funniest mistake I made early in my entrepreneurial career was thinking that “If you build it, they will come.” It sounds silly, but you can spend so much time working on creating the business, that you can forget that the work does not end when you launch. You have to market it, and more importantly, you have to be able to communicate to other people why they should even care. However, the lesson I learned is that building a company is hard and takes a lot of hard work, people will not just show up because you exist.

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’ve been fortunate to have great people around me. Our investors, team, and customers are at the top of that list. I’m also grateful for my wife who stuck with me through the ups and downs of this startup journey. Starting a company from scratch can be very stressful on marriage and my wife has kept all the wheels on the bus at home so that our home life has maintained some semblance of normalcy that allowed me to grow and do my best.

However, there is one particular customer that continues to inspire me and illuminates the mission of Upsie. This customer bought her daughter, who was heading to college, a new laptop. This proud mom had saved up for two years to buy this laptop. When she finally saved up the money to afford it, she found herself at the register being pitched a 400 dollars warranty. She had not saved much more than the laptop but she knew she needed a warranty because she knew her daughter would break it at some point. But, at the moment, she remembered that her friend had recommended a company called Upsie and she checked us out. Our plan costs 140 dollars

for the same laptop. She said to me “I’m glad that I didn’t have to make a decision between buying groceries and a warranty.” This is exactly why Upsie exists, making warranties more accessible to consumers without compromising on the service.

As an entrepreneur, especially during times of crisis, this story inspires me to keep pushing, for people like this mom who work so hard to get things and deserve to have affordable options for protection.

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 Upsie, we are fanatics about our customers and the experience they have. Customers are trusting us to protect their most valuable and costly devices. We take that responsibility seriously. Having great customer service is vital to keeping our customers coming back.

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 that companies will always do what they’ve always done. In our industry, the experience has always been the same. You walk up to the register and get a warranty pushed on you. There has not been an incentive to excel at service because consumers have been led to believe their only choice is to buy or not to buy the warranty offered at the register. However, there is a new barometer for brands today in terms of how well they treat their customers. We see studies such as the Edelman Trust Barometer that demonstrate how trust helps people decide where to put their dollars, whether that is giving a donation to a charity or buying goods and services. The warranty industry has done a terrible job on this front. Upsie is here to change that and make this experience much better for the consumer.

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 definitely think that new players coming into a market can force it to rethink how they do things. We are seeing that in our industry every day. We believe that we need to continue to innovate on behalf of our customers and our future customers. When consumers have more choices, the industry tends to get better.

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

We have many stories where customers have had an experience that was over and beyond what they thought they would get. Recently, we had one California based customer who bought a smartphone warranty a year ago. He ended up having to make a claim on a cracked screen. He made the claim at 1 PM and had the phone repaired by 3 PM from a local repair store. The customer was blown away by the ease and speed of service.

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

We have very healthy repeat business. This is a testament to Upsie’s customer-centric model and the great experiences customers have had with us. We don’t take that for granted and do our part to help customers choose us not once, but again and again.

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. Talk to your customers first. They will help you develop what they need and want. Before we built a real product, we talked to hundreds of customers and figured out if there was a real problem to solve.

2. Hire great people. I feel fortunate to work with the smartest people in the industry. They make what we do possible every day and ensure our customers always have what they need.

3. Use the right tools. There are so many tools you can use to stay engaged with your customers. For example, we use Facebook and Messenger heavily because we have learned that our customers are comfortable with that platform. Understanding what tools are right for your business is important, and of course, they must be easy for your customers as well.

4. Be fanatic about your customer. We believe that every customer deserves our complete attention. No matter if you’re making a claim on a 39 dollars blender or a 5,000 dollars TV, we give each person the same high level of service.

5. Continue to learn. At every step of our growth, we have always asked ourselves “What would the customer expect from us?” For example, we have always offered smartphone warranties but learned that people often needed more than 30 days after the smartphone purchase to get a warranty. As a result, this year we extended the time to buy a warranty for 60 days.

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?

We are fanatical about service and encourage our customers to share their experience with family and friends. Everybody buys electronics and when they protect it with Upsie, it gives a certain peace of mind that they are in trusted hands. We have heard many stories of how customers have shared Upsie with their friends and family because of the great experience they have had with us. There is no greater compliment than having customers share your brand with their network.

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.

We have a saying posted in our office. “Live Life With Grace” I believe that if we treated everyone like a human and with grace, we would all become our best selves.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter/Instagram: clarence_Bethea

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