Get everyone involved: A great customer experience is a team effort. Give everyone on your team the information they need to form opinions and keep a pulse on what customers are saying and ask for their opinions on everything you do.
As part of my interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Connor Riley, the CEO, and Co-Founder of Mistobox. He is a big believer in getting your day started the right way, and for him, a great cup of coffee is a crucial variable in that equation. A coffee lover and adventure seeker, Connor has always found joy and fascination in discovering new roasters, trying new blends, and learning about the team behind the coffee.
Eight years ago in college, Connor found himself needing to choose a topic for his senior year project and the idea of MistoBox seemed like a great way to bring many of his personal passions together and make specialty coffee more accessible for everyone. While going through the process of the project he realized he was not alone in his love of coffee and even more impactful was that it’s one of the few things that people from around the world have in common, and there’s no reason why distance should keep them from discovering and drinking their favorite cup. What started as a college project led him to launch MistoBox, pitching and raising money on shark tank and today Mistobox includes over 500 blends from over 50 roasters.
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 was born and raised in Phoenix, AZ, and I’m the oldest of 4, with 3 younger sisters. MistoBox got its start in a pretty unconventional way. It all began as part of a school project at the University of Arizona before I had any “real world” work experience whatsoever. At this time (2011) the subscription commerce business model was just beginning to emerge, and I knew I wanted to pursue it. Knowing that, I identified businesses I thought were experiencing success with this model, and then tried to nail down some consistent characteristics about the products/industries they served. In every case, these products were daily consumables, non-perishable, lightweight (affordably shipped) & in a fragmented market. Everything about these characteristics screamed coffee, and that’s how the concept for MistoBox was born.
After graduation in May 2012, we were off to the races. We had a successful Kickstarter campaign, then appeared on ABC’s Shark tank a few months later where we received an investment from Mark Cuban. This gave us all the capital we needed to get going, and 8 years later we still haven’t had to seek any additional investment.
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. I even remember the exact date — December 19th, 2013. It’s funny looking back at it now, but it certainly wasn’t funny at the time.
One of our popular products are gift coffee subscriptions that allow a person to purchase a gift at any time, add a personalized note, and then schedule a date in the future they’d like the recipient to be notified via email. For obvious reasons a majority of gifts purchased in November/December want the recipient to be notified on December 25th. On December 19th, 2013, a bug was revealed in our code that handles the scheduling of these emails, and all 1,200 gift recipients were mistakenly notified via email with the personalized notes included. Some of these personalized notes included surprise holiday travel plans and even engagements. To make matters worse, I was the only one handling our support channels at this time. That day we had over 600 new emails, and our average response time went from 2 hours to 4 days.
Definitely some valuable lessons learned here. Gifting is a very sensitive & intimate experience. If you get it wrong you can really disappoint and upset people in a major way. If your business offers gifts, make sure you invest the time and resources to get things right- you owe it to your customers. Additionally, always have a plan in place if your support load were to increase by 4X overnight. If you wait until it does, it’s too late.
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 couldn’t agree more. The more resources you surround yourself with, the better off you will be. On the flip side, it’s equally important to be a resource for others as well. Advisors, mentors, coaches, tutors, etc. everyone should prioritize building and maintaining relationships with people who have had a positive impact on their personal and professional lives.
The person I am most grateful for is my dad, Jim Riley. He’s an entrepreneur himself (restaurateur), and they’re so many valuable lessons he’s taught me about life and business. I don’t have a single story to point to, but there is one lesson in particular that is in almost everything he does. Finish what you start. I grew up hearing this, but never really appreciated until later in life. Though applicable to many different aspects of life, it’s something I find myself saying on a daily basis and it has made this company better for it.
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’s everything because the customer is the only reason you exist as a business. If you don’t provide them with great service & experience, you won’t survive. They’re your financial lifeline, and they’re also a huge part of your company’s culture and identity. That’s an often overlooked component of customer service/experience, but it has a huge effect on the motivation & mindset of your team. At MistoBox we have our support software connected to slack, which we use for internal communication. Daily, our support agents are constantly posting both negative & positive customer feedback into slack for the whole team to see. It’s an incredible feeling of gratification for everyone when positive feedback rolls in because it’s recognition for the collective effort we’re all putting in.
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?
Great customer experience requires buy-in from every department across the whole company. It’s a big contributor to the company culture itself, and it’s contagious. I think not making customer service a priority is a reflection that management/employees aren’t passionate about the problem they’re solving or the vision for the company is too short term for them to feel invested in.
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 think competition definitely forces companies to improve their customer experience. In today’s world with Google, Amazon, Reddit, etc it’s easy to find the best provider(s) of a product or service and what actual customers have to say about them. If your competitors provide a better customer experience than you do, prospective and current customers will likely jump to your competition and your competition will make it easy for them (because they have great customer service).
Additionally, customers themselves can be major external forces in improving the experience. We have our customers to thank for many of the improvements we’ve made to MistoBox. When you respect the people you’re serving and listen to them, you can delight them in the process while making your product stronger.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
Definitely. The customer that stands out to me is a couple from Texas who had actually been customers of ours for 3 years. They emailed in one day out of the blue just to share how impactful MistoBox has been on their life. Since subscribing in 2014, we have become a meaningful part of the daily routine they shared together every morning where they would enjoy a cup of coffee and learn about the amazing stories behind each one. They thanked us for bringing an experience into their lives that brought them closer together, and now they give MistoBox to all their family members over the holidays.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
Yes, I think about this story all the time and it motivates us. These are the types of experiences we aim to create- to bring people together and make their lives better through coffee.
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) Listen to your customers: Engage with your customers as much as you possibly can. Ask questions and seek constructive feedback. Listen to everything they have to say, identify patterns, and use that to improve. We are constantly asking customers questions everywhere we can. A majority of our customer support is handled through email, and when they contact us asking a question, we resolve the issue and then use it as an opportunity to ask them another question. How are they liking the coffee we just sent? Is there anything else we can do for them? What roaster has really impressed them? It’s an opportunity to listen more.
2) Be honest: Admit mistakes and let customers know what you’re thinking, and why you’re making certain decisions. Be transparent and real. When we ruined Christmas surprises for a lot of people in 2013, we didn’t try to hide it or pretend like it didn’t happen. We owned up to it and tried our best to make it right to the people we disappointed.
3) Be proactive: Don’t wait for your customers to contact you. If an issue pops up that customers may have questions on, be proactive and communicate answers now.
4) Get everyone involved: A great customer experience is a team effort. Give everyone on your team the information they need to form opinions and keep a pulse on what customers are saying and ask for their opinions on everything you do.
5) A great customer experience isn’t great for everyone: We can try but you’ll never be able to make everyone happy. If you react to feedback and make changes every time someone has an issue, you’ll end up with an experience that’s disjointed and works in total for no one. Avoid biases, notice outliers, stay focused on who your target customers are, and identify patterns those customers are providing feedback on.
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?
Make it really easy to share with others, and provide an incentive to do so. We use referral codes and links which are easily accessible in customers accounts, and even included in the footer of a majority of our emails. We offer a 10 dollars credit to the referrer, and a 10 dollars discount to the referee.
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 would encourage more people to pursue careers in something they’re truly passionate about. So many people are unhappy & unfulfilled with the work they do, yet it’s such a big part of their lives and identity. Most people spend more time working than they do with their families, and if that work makes you miserable or even feel uninspired, that’s how you’re spending your life. I’d really like to see people take a closer look at what really makes them happy, and pursue a career that’s aligned with it.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I actually removed all social media from my life 3 years ago. It’s something I recommend people at least trying for short periods of time and seeing how it impacts their daily lives. You can follow @MistoBox on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for updates on what we’re brewing.