Dianne McKay: “Walk your talk”

Always express gratitude to your clients. Send a note or a small gift. Remember their birthday and significant life events. Gratitude for those that help bring you success cannot be overstated. As part of my series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of […]

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Always express gratitude to your clients. Send a note or a small gift. Remember their birthday and significant life events. Gratitude for those that help bring you success cannot be overstated.

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 Dianne McKay.

Dianne McKay, an elected public official, influential nonprofit leader, business owner and president at Mustang Marketing, has a comprehensive wealth of experience and established community relationships spanning her decades of service within the greater Conejo Valley and Ventura County regions that have shaped her into a sought-after business and community leader well known around the state and in Sacramento.

After graduating with a degree in business administration and marketing, McKay co-founded Strategic Television with her late father. With nearly two decades of McKay’s guidance, Strategic Television grew to be the leading facilitator of satellite technology for live events. In 2004, she sold Strategic Television and turned her passion toward the education sector.

McKay served in many leadership positions in the Conejo Valley schools including chairperson of the District Advisory Council, followed by her role as president, executive director, and founding member of the Conejo Schools Foundation, and interim president of the Conejo and Las Virgenes Boys & Girls Club. To continue her passion and commitment to education, she ran for the Ventura County Community College District board, and was elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, and most recently in 2018.

In 2010, McKay joined the Mustang team, bringing her well-developed management expertise and business savvy skills to propel the company to its current status as the largest full-service marketing agency in Ventura County. McKay helped the agency attain a consecutive three-year growth rate of 85 percent and a spot in the Inc. 5,000 list of the fastest-growing companies in America. McKay oversees all accounts, maintains close communication with clients, brings her experience and expertise to every creative project, and actively fosters new business relationships. In addition to serving well-known national and regional accounts, Mustang contributes to the success of its community and nonprofit organizations.

As a leader in the business, education, and community spheres, McKay has proven that she is committed to taking the time to do things right. This altruistic approach has been instrumental in allowing both businesses and the county’s education sector to prosper.

McKay has received numerous awards for her outstanding work ethic, ranging from PTA Honorary Service Awards to the San Fernando Valley Business Journal naming her twice as one of the Top Women in Business for her outstanding achievements in the business community. In 2011, she was honored with the Thousand Oaks Rotary John Conlan Award and named a Paul Harris Fellow. The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) Ventura County granted her as Education Advocate of the Year for its annual Bravo awards in 2016. And, in 2018, McKay was named Woman of Year by the Greater Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce. Under her guidance, Mustang was named as Business of the Year in 2018 and 2019 by Ventura County Leadership Academy (VCLA) and the Greater Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce, respectively.

A long-time resident of Ventura County, she is a mother of four and currently resides in Thousand Oaks with her husband, Duncan. She enjoys being active within the community whenever she has the chance and has an impressive collection of service awards that recognize her dedication to community service.

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?

While I got my business degree with a concentration in marketing, I used it primarily in the background as I built my first company, Strategic Television, a high-end broadcast television service company. The brand image for this firm was consistent delivery of high-quality service in an industry that demanded near-perfect execution — and we added high-touch service as well. As glamorous as traveling the world to do television events might sound, it was exhausting, and I had four children at home. I traveled the world and saw nothing except airports, hotel rooms and usually stadiums — sometimes a theater. I tell friends I have used more porta-potties than most construction workers. I sold that business and had some time to decide what was next. Finding Mustang Marketing was a bit of serendipity, and while the services are different, it still requires the same building blocks of any service business, including strong branding, high-quality execution and being easy to work with.

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?

My funniest story is from before I worked in marketing when I hired a marketing firm for a new logo, our first website, and a professional brochure. The technical part of the television that my company did was hard to explain. There was no easy elevator pitch. Yet, I was stunned at how much I was spending while still having to commit my own time to assist with copy. I was horrible to work with for that firm. I keep that with me always, especially if a client is using an agency for the first time. I feel their pain and try to get all that out of the way in the beginning. I cringe at my own ignorance and am grateful that the firm I used was so professional about this.

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?

My dad. I worked for my dad from when I was in high school when we started Strategic Television together. He taught me that “a spoon full of sugar” goes much further than being nasty in almost every circumstance. He also did not believe or accept that easy “no” from the other side of the phone when someone didn’t want to try something that was going to be hard. He also knew when to step out of the way and let the right people get the job done, the job that we hired them to do. We created a “family” of people we worked with and trusted, and in turn, we were all there to help each other. That always comes in handy still, but when my dad died suddenly when I was just 30, that family held me together and then I could hold our business together. These people moved mountains to help me. I have created that same family around me now, and we back each other up and move different kinds of mountains when needed. The “spoon full of sugar” is still my go-to approach, and I can still hear my dad singing it into my office if he felt me getting sharp on the phone with anyone. And that really means anyone. Our businesses can’t survive without our vendors OR our clients, so treat them all with dignity and kindness.

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?

The service business is all about the customer experience, especially if there are others that can offer the same thing your business can. I read once that the service side is more like high school than college — meaning you need to be the most popular. This means your customers are treated with genuine friendliness and affection. It’s why I try to work with people I like, and I work to get to know them. I want to be their partner in successful marketing, not the vendor for a website. It is easier to forgive a friend when the dreaded mistake happens — and they happen to all of us. And for me, it’s easier to cheerlead my staff and ask them to work overnight for people I truly care about, not just a client that pays well — though that helps too!

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?

This is always a head-scratcher for me too. Harkening back to an earlier answer, even if I am the one that received poor service, I try to be friendly and teach by example. It doesn’t always work, but I try to make a game of it and see if I can turn them around because clearly they are having a bad day or are working for a company that doesn’t get it. For the companies that do, and send out a survey about the service I received, I always try to find something positive to build that culture around me, even with the companies I do business with personally. It does take a village to change a culture, and I work hard to be part of that. My adult kids care far more about the experience than money, and that sticks with me too.

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 absolutely believe more competition forces better service. It shouldn’t have to, but it does. Many will live with bad service for a better price, but it better to be significant or it doesn’t last. The Nordstrom approach is my living example. I prefer to shop there because the culture is all about incredible customer service. On the flip side, look at public education. In our community, we have a great public school district. However, when the city started to age and the schools started to shrink, they had to address their survival as a business would. We did research, and it came back clear that a new culture of excellent service was needed, especially in the front offices where parents most often had their first experience with the school and the district. How the phones were answered and people were greeted needed retooling across the campuses. Fortunately, they had leadership that was willing to teach by example, and while it wasn’t an overnight fix, it is a far different experience now for parents, visitors, and students.

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

If I am walking my talk, I should have many, and I do. We have recently been jumping through hoops for a local municipality that needed some communications crisis management/prevention. They have not only been generous with their praise to us but also shared their praise with their counterparts in regional organizations, which has made its way back to us. That never gets old.

On the flip side, just today, I got an overnight delivery from one of my clients. It was a beautiful thank you gift. We absolutely love working together, and I would jump through fire for them anyway, but last week I took a couple of days out of my work calendar and participated in a program for them, as did other women in this industry. I’m sure we all received this extraordinary thank you. This client is in a service business too, and they are well branded — by us — for their unmatched customer service. It clearly starts at the top.

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

Both examples I gave are very recent, but if history is any indicator, we will continue to work with public organizations in the region because of our service and relationships. Good word travels fast too.

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.

Always express gratitude to your clients. Send a note or a small gift. Remember their birthday and significant life events. Gratitude for those that help bring you success cannot be overstated.

Walk your talk with your staff and lead by example. When my staff sees that I will get up and drive three hours for an hour-long meeting, as I did this week, that sets the tone for the service expected for everyone who works here.

Give back. The community where we are located has been very good to us, so we give back and support our staff in their efforts to do the same. Customers notice, and it helps in ways that aren’t always immediately visible. Many of our clients know I have an elected position on a community college district board. Most see this as a real positive, even when there are times that a schedule conflict may arise because of it.

Doing the right thing is always the right thing, no matter how small the gesture. We recently were overpaid for a project. We brought it to the client’s attention. They may or may not have ever caught it — and it was a time when we could have used the cash — but I can’t do business dishonestly.

“Success is not final, and failure is not fatal” is a quote from a friend. Mistakes happen, so it’s how you handle them that resonates with a customer. Own it, FIX IT, and then shake it off and move on. Also, I recently read and completely agree that saying you are sorry does not have the same impact as saying “we were wrong.” Think about that. We recently skipped a step of getting a sample first, and then the product came. The color was wrong. I met with the client and showed up with the bag over my head. I said we were wrong and that we were fixing it as quickly as possible — but we would be getting a sample for them to approve first.

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?

If we get an email or note of praise for our work, I not only thank that customer, but I ask them if I can use the quote as a testimonial. I think it inspires others to want to work with us and other clients to send notes. It also inspires me to send notes to the folks I work with. It goes back to creating the “family” you choose to work with.

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. 🙂

As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” I try to be part of our community and movements to create change for the better. Count me in. I would hope that everyone can see something they have to give back and try it. Maybe it’s a small thing, but it all adds up. Recently, I read to elementary school kids in the morning for Read Across America Day. My soon to be a retired business partner and I have done this for years. We had a new potential client coming in, and it would probably have been better if we skipped the reading. However, we figured if the new client was grumpy because we were a few minutes late from being at an elementary school to promote reading, then we probably wouldn’t be a good fit to work together in the partnership I envisioned.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow Mustang Marketing on Facebook: @mustangmarketing

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

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