Train your people on what a good customer experience looks like. And don’t take it for granted and don’t just necessarily preach good customer service. It has to be the main part of your business. And I think it’s really important to really show people and to teach them and to help them evolve in that.
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 David Underwood.
David is President and Co-Founder of TopSpot in Houston, TX. With a BA in Marketing from Texas A&M University, David began his career as a salesperson in print and online industrial advertising. His experience working in the B2B sector allowed him to evaluate inefficiencies within the search marketing industry and led him to co-found TopSpot.
David’s unique business approach of a collaborative team working together to achieve clients’ business goals come to fruition with TopSpot’s Customer Relationship Teams. He takes pride in TopSpot’s analytics-driven methodology and strong company culture.
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 selling advertising for a 100-year-old print publication and started working with industrial manufacturers, distributors and service companies on selling them ad space. It was a print directory that evolved into an online directory. I got a lot of experience in working with a lot of different types of companies. In particular, the B2B side gave me a lot of insight into where the market was going by really understanding some of their strengths and some of their weaknesses when it comes to market: how manufacturers distributors and service companies worked, what their pains were, what their struggles were, and what was really important to them.
In 2003, we had a customer ask us, “How do we get on Google?” Pretty simple question. And I think what was unique at the time is that we understood, even back then, search behavior and how people would search back in 2003. When we set up the first paid search program for this particular client, we bid on very specific, very targeted phrases because we did not want them to get unqualified traffic that would lead to unqualified leads. And because we had a good understanding of the company’s business, we were able to bid on very specific, very targeted phrases. I think it’s something that has carried over for us. In fact, there’s a phrase that we use quite a bit, which is that “the search defines the user.” And what that means is, what someone types in on the internet tells us a lot about who they are and what their intentions are. By taking that strategy from day one, we were able to maximize somebody’s budget, get the right quality traffic, which would turn into the right quality leads.
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?
I can look back now and say it was funny, but at the time, it was probably very painful. At the time, the Google platform did not have near the features that it has today. It was not as customizable. One of the things we found early on was that because most of our clients were B2B, it really made sense for their programs to only run Monday through Friday. And early on Google did not have the feature to be able to tell it to schedule campaigns, to turn on and off. And so many times what we would have to start Monday morning and turn all these programs on manually. And then on Friday afternoon, after 5:30, we would turn them all off manually. Several times, we forgot to turn programs off and on. And so, unfortunately, it was at our expense that we were having to spend money to cover some of these paid search programs that were running through the weekends, or maybe running overnight that because we forgot to turn them off. So you know, kind of funny at the time, and also kind of painful because this was something that it was more user error than anything else.
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 would obviously have to say my family because that’s the most important thing. And my wife who had to have a lot of faith when we decided that we were going to start TopSpot. I was in a successful career, we had just had our daughter, we just bought a new house, and then I’m coming home and telling her, “Hey, we’re going to give TopSpot a go.” So, obviously I’m going to start there.
But, really, I’d probably go back to every single person who is currently or has worked at TopSpot at some point. We’ve built something pretty awesome. And whether it’s a current employee who’s been with us for a long time, or someone who’s been with us for a short amount of time, or former employees, as well: I think it’s really important. There have been a lot of people who have shown faith in us.
The third part of that would be a lot of our clients. We’ve had clients literally for 16 years, as long as we’ve been in business. Many of these clients date back to 2003 and were coming to us and saying, “Hey, look, there’s not a company out there that’s doing what you guys are doing.” For us, at that time there were traditional ad agencies, and there were companies who would build websites, but there wasn’t a digital marketing firm or a search engine marketing agency in 2003. And it sure didn’t exist in the B2B space. Having some companies who kind of pushed us in that direction, I think have helped be a part of this.
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?
Individuals — because I think we have to remember that in the space of customer service, it’s not B2B or B2C, it is a person. We remember when we have great customer service, but most importantly, we remember when we have bad customer service. Those really stick out to us. And it doesn’t matter what you’re selling — if you’re selling cars, if you’re in a restaurant you’re serving food, if you’re in the search engine/marketing/digital agency, you’re selling a service. We have found that if we take the approach that we are a customer service business and we’re focused on customer experience, and we just happen to sell websites, paid search management, and consulting, and I think that’s the approach to take. Because if you lose sight of what that customer experience looks like, you’re going to fall behind. But it’s something that can truly be a differentiator for a company. A company who’s really good at it, their profits are better, their customer retention is better, their employee retention is better.
Not to say that we’re perfect because we’re not. But I think it’s something that we talk about every single day. People come to us and the most important thing is that they have a great customer experience across the board. It’s something that we’re looking at every single day from whatever service that they’re actually signing up for: how we can make that better, how we can make that smoother, how can we make it not painful in any facet of the business.
I just think it’s such a critical part for business and unfortunately, I think there’s a lot of companies that may have a great product, they may have a great service, they may have a great restaurant, but they’re missing that question, “What does that customer experience look like?” And it’s something that is sometimes so small but can go a long way to make a big, big difference with an individual. Every interaction with a customer is an opportunity to create an experience
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?
Number one, I think sometimes it’s a difficult thing to measure. I think it’s becoming easier because you’ve got Google reviews, and you’ve got Facebook reviews, and you’ve got Yelp reviews or Review Product platforms.
I don’t think companies understand how to make it better. It is not something that you can just preach and say, “Hey, we’re going to be a customer service company.” I think that you have to have tools in place, whether it be recording phone calls, whether it’s talking about response times, or looking at your reviews. But more importantly, is not just telling your employees that you need to be good at customer service. I think you have to teach them and really emphasize the importance of this and what a great experience looks like.
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 there’s a lot of companies that don’t really understand what good customer experience looks like. And I think what we’ve seen is that sometimes, they’re great on the phone and they’re really good in the sales process, but sometimes, their online presence is not very good: their websites are not very good, not very intuitive; they’re not giving customers what they are looking for; they are not engaging, or they’re not making it easy to find a phone number to find out how to get in touch with them. They’re doing all these things wrong, but they’re getting it right when someone actually calls. Conversely, they’re doing everything online really well: their website’s great, their user experience is great, they’re providing great information, they’re providing, pricing information or specific technical data — whatever those clients would be looking for. Yet, when someone calls them, it’s not very good.
There are companies who are getting it across the board and give what we consider that complete user experience. By that I mean, finding someone online or through some type of advertising medium and then actually focusing on what happens after that conversion. That’s true, complete customer experience. A lot of people, and a lot of digital firms, don’t talk with companies enough about what happens after the conversion. I think they think that their job is done once the conversion occurs.
The reality is that to truly try to help somebody maximize their ROI, you need to be talking about the complete customer experience. What does their customer service look like? Are they putting people on hold? Is it a confusing automated system? Are their sales reps not knowledgeable versus what they’re looking at online? The companies that are really looking at that entire process will have a competitive edge
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
Well, I hope there’s a lot of them.
The post-conversion customer experience piece is something that we didn’t really mean to get into. It wasn’t something that we had a vision of doing. So, how we got into it was because we were listening to phone calls. We were listening to our client’s phone calls to find out if these leads were good or bad in order to refine the program. We learned a lot from listening to these calls.
For example, one particular client had an automated system and they had a Fortune 500 company call them multiple times — but they kept hanging up. And we could see this was happening in their automated system, but the company had no idea. They hung up at least three times and we knew they were hanging up because of the length of the phone call. And finally, when that company did get through, the phone call lasted 17 minutes. So, it was obviously a quality phone call. Sharing that insight with that particular client kind of opened our eyes that this is something that we need to be doing. So, it is a major part of our process now.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
After that, we started having conversations with different clients, where we’re telling them these phone calls are happening. Maybe your team is not handling them properly. One particular client was sending their prospects into an automated system that didn’t have an operator function. The user would go in there and they were getting stuck on this endless loop because they could not hit “zero” to get connected to an operator. So, we actually called them up and just suggested they add the operator function to give them the option to have someone to talk to. Well, by doing that, we basically doubled the duration of their phone calls. Something very simple that we were able to share with a client because we were looking and checking their phone call. There’s been a lot of cases like that and really giving them insight into what was happening that I think is really helped their businesses. It’s just simple things that can actually make a huge impact.
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.
Number one: Don’t expect that your customer service is right. We’ve got a ton of Google reviews and they’re really good. But what I try to stress with our team is, don’t pat yourself on back too much. Because we’re not hearing from a lot of people who didn’t have a great customer experience. And that’s probably the more important group to listen to. So, don’t just assume that you’ve got a great customer experience.
Number two: It’s the little things that can go a long way. We had a customer call here one day and get a Team member who wasn’t in that department and wasn’t really connected to that client. But that individual actually called the next day, followed up with him, and said, “Hey, I want to make sure that you received what you needed.” Sometimes the little things can go a really long way. So, surprise them with something, whether it be the results, exceeding the deadline, getting back to them, or doing some kind of follow-up on something that could help them a lot.
Number three: Train your people on what a good customer experience looks like. And don’t take it for granted and don’t just necessarily preach good customer service. It has to be the main part of your business. And I think it’s really important to really show people and to teach them and to help them evolve in that.
Number four: Always look to evolve and get better. What is the evolution of a good experience? What does that look like? Because it’s going to evolve, and it’s going to change. The way that people are being engaged online means they’re coming to expect more. That’s the reality. Ten years ago, a lot of customers would say, “There’s no way I’m going to sell my products through a shopping cart.” Well, now they’re looking at that and saying, “I have to sell my products through a shopping cart.” The person who is going to buy from you today is the same exact person who was on Amazon the night before. They come to expect a certain experience, so you have to evolve with what they’re going to expect from your site. A B2B buyer today was a B2C buyer the night before and their expectations don’t change. Their user experience doesn’t change and what they expect doesn’t change, even though it’s a different buyingprocess.
Number five: Admit when you’re wrong. I think it goes a long way. If you screw it up, be willing to admit that you messed it up and be able to call your clients and say, “Look, we messed up,” and hear from that customer. I think you’ll be surprised at how far that can go. Stop arguing with someone trying to defend yourself, especially when maybe you were wrong. I don’t think it really helps you.
And, I’m probably giving you a sixth one here, but understanding how important your reputation is. I’m a firm believer that your reputation means more today than it ever has, in part because of all these review platforms. How often would you go and buy from somebody who has two out of five stars on Google? You wouldn’t. You wouldn’t go to that restaurant, you would buy that car from that dealership, you just wouldn’t. It’s something that you can’t get away from it if you have a bad reputation. It’s going to hurt you more than you realize.
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?
The biggest compliment that you can possibly get from a client is a referral. If they’re going to give a referral from being really appreciative of you doing a good job, they suggest to someone that they come to you, whether it’s a friend, family, another company they work with, whatever… When somebody has good customer service, I do think that that’s something that you want to be contagious. I believe that if you provide good customer service and a good experience of someone working with you, it’s pretty easy for them to recommend someone else coming to you. And I think that it’s a great way of getting more customers. But you have to be confident in what you’ve done for someone. Don’t ask for a referral if you haven’t been very good at customer service.
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. 🙂
The number one thing for me, partly because I have young kids and teenagers, would be to reduce the negativity, particularly in social media.
It’s kind of fearful for me when I see such negativity. I think there are fantastic things that come with social media, but I also think that there’s a lot of negativity. Whether it be self-image problems or the tremendous amount of bullying (not just with children, but among adults, as well). I think what somebody is willing to say online versus what they’re willing to say to someone’s face are two different things, and I think it’s really sad. I hate it because there’s so much good that can come from social media but I think that there’s a lot of growing negativity. We can all have different opinions, ideological and religious views, and different views on parenting — and that’s okay. But showing some respect to each other I think is really important.
I think the amount of negativity and that that we’re seeing online through different platforms and the way people talk to each other, and the ack of tolerance — that is not the way that the world works and it can’t work that way. I think that we’ve got to be able to coexist and love and respect each other even though we disagree. Even though we’ve had different upbringings or we have different religious views, we can still respect each other and we can still be cordial to each other. I think it’s really important to consider our kids growing up and their reputations.
Working with people to reduce the negativity that can surround us online is one of the main issues I come up with when I think of what we can do to make the world a better place.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I am on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidunderwood1/ and on Twitter @davidmunderwood.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!