Every aspect of running a business ultimately comes back to customers. Your product team works to find and build solutions to your customers’ problems; your marketing team obsesses over finding prospective customers that can benefit from your product or service; so and on down the line.
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 Doc Shufelt.
Doc Shufelt is the CEO and co-founder of ArenaCX. Prior to ArenaCX, Doc spent ten years with Republic Wireless in key operational and executive roles. He most recently served as General Manager and SVP of the Republic Wireless business unit where he led a total organizational transformation that took the business to EBITDA profitability. Prior to becoming General Manager, Doc oversaw the development of Republic Wireless’s innovative and award-winning customer experience strategy, resulting in notable accolades like Republic Wireless being included in Forbes list of the 100 Most Customer-Centric Companies in 2019. Doc earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Richmond and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business.
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?
It’s great to be with you and thank you for the opportunity to discuss such an important topic. I’m currently the CEO of ArenaCX, the marketplace for on-demand customer service, and I’ve been in the customer support and experience world since first taking on operations leadership for Republic Wireless in 2012. Prior to that, I spent several years in project management, focusing primarily on software development. On a personal level, I’ve been married to my wife, Shae, for five years and we have a nine month old son.
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 once worked on the maintenance crew at a golf course and one day we were reseeding some sections of the course. My job was to drive around to each spot and drop off bags of grass seed. Everything was going fine until I pulled up to a spot, got out of the cart, and was going to grab a bag of seed, when one of the other bags fell onto the gas pedal and the cart took off down a hill toward a big pond. You can imagine the scene of this runaway golf cart with grass seed spilling everywhere and me sprinting after it hoping beyond hope that I could jump into the cart and hit the brakes before it drove itself into the pond (which, thankfully, I did manage to do). Even though it’s trivial, I think about that episode often in the context of my leadership and personal experiences. It’s easy to get lulled into complacency and then suddenly find yourself in the middle of an emerging catastrophe, when just a little bit of diligence could have helped you avoid the entire situation. I also no longer park golf carts pointed toward a pond.
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 co-founder at ArenaCX, Alan Pendleton, has been a huge factor in not only the success I’ve been fortunate enough to have in my career, but also in shaping the way I think about leadership, particularly with respect to customer service. Alan has a rare ability to find patterns in concepts or domains that seem disparate and weave them together in novel and powerful ways. Everyone needs someone beside them that helps balance their flaws and accentuate their gifts and I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had Alan beside me for the last eight years.
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?
Every aspect of running a business ultimately comes back to customers. Your product team works to find and build solutions to your customers’ problems; your marketing team obsesses over finding prospective customers that can benefit from your product or service; so and on down the line. It continually surprises me that given the ultimate importance of customers (there is literally no such thing as a sustainable business that doesn’t have customers), businesses still often view customer service as a necessary evil to be controlled or avoided. We know that it’s far more economical to retain a customer than attract a new one and we know the power of word-of-mouth, so keeping your customers happy and net promoters of your business should be a no-brainer. The reality is that we should treat every support interaction as an opportunity — we can learn about our product and whether it’s satisfying the need we think it is, and we can build loyalty by truly being there for our customers when they need us.
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?
Delivering a consistently great customer experience is extremely difficult and can seem like a costly investment. When you think about all of the touch points a customer has with your brand, getting your systems developed and processes aligned across the organization so that the customer has a unifying experience, you realize how cumbersome and costly it can be to build. It is much easier to break the customer experience into functional divisions of ‘marketing/sales’, ‘customer support’, ‘customer advocacy/success’ and let each team choose the systems that best fit their particular needs.
Another reason why customer experience can be underfunded or under-prioritized is that it’s not flashy. For example: if a company is choosing between launching additional features to their product or automating a way for a customer to self-solve instead of opening a support ticket, the company will almost always choose the former because it shows demonstrable progress to the outside. Internal projects and those that make the existing products slightly better are often hard to prioritize.
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?
Healthy, constructive competition is at the heart of what we do at ArenaCX. I think the trend away from locking customers into contracts and the advancements made in cloud technology over local systems integrations has ushered in a new era of competition that will force brands to consistently deliver great experiences. In the wireless industry, for example, long-term contracts and the hassle of switching providers historically made it fairly easy for business leaders to gloss over the importance of obsessing over delivering great experiences — their customers could only switch every couple years, and even then the hassle of switching was enough to keep people locked in.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
One story that really stands out to me is from my time at Republic Wireless when a customer reached out to us after her father had passed away unexpectedly. She told us that she had received a voicemail from him several weeks before but that she had deleted it, not realizing at the time how important it would become. She was desperate to retrieve the message so she could always hear her father’s voice again. Unfortunately, that’s not a simple process and was not possible for a support agent to do alone. Rather than give up, the support agent talked to lots of people internally and ultimately enlisted the help of the product engineering team, who were able to retrieve not just that one message but several messages from her father. We saved them onto a zip drive and had them delivered to her so she could keep them safe for years to come.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
The effects of something like that are complex and wonderful. The customer was obviously over the moon with being able to hear her father say ‘I love you’ again on those messages and she was extremely touched that we went the extra mile. She went on to share her story on social media and in our online community and it really affected others that read it. One thing that business leaders often miss, though, is the impact doing acts of kindness like that have on their team. The pride and exhilaration that we experienced at having accomplished such a meaningful win for that customer was overwhelming. We honestly felt like we were doing good in the world and it made our agents realize that, while providing support is often a difficult and sometimes thankless job, they had within their power the ability to truly change someone’s life for the better.
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.
CEOs must be visible, energetic advocates for customer experience within their organization in order for their team to deliver consistently great experiences. Truly differentiated customer service needs to be a long-term, company-wide priority and get the level investment it needs in order to be successful. As is often said: there are no shortcuts.
It’s also important to focus on people as the center of your strategy. Technology offers fantastic tools that can help us be more efficient, but Wow! experiences rarely come from software; they almost always emerge from human empathy, creativity, and passion.
Leaders need to also recognize that customer service is not a cost center and shouldn’t be treated like one. I often propose the following thought experiment for those that are skeptical. Image for a moment that your company didn’t have customer service. I mean at all. What would happen? It would probably be a catastrophe. That tells us very clearly that customer support delivers a massive return on investment and we should do the hard work to quantify that return, whether through low subscriber churn or repeat product purchases, and more deliberately assess customer experience spend as an investment and not a simple cost.
It’s vital for CEOs to create an authentic culture of service within their companies so that their teams feel empowered and encouraged to look for an act on opportunities to deliver a great customer experience. Loving to serve others has to be ingrained in the DNA of your company and your team members.
CEOs and other leaders should also focus on the important difference between KPIs and outcomes. In customer service, we often obsess over our metrics but lose sight of why we care about those metrics. Average handle time, for example, is certainly an important thing to track, but it is not a tangible business outcome. By contrast, a happy customer that continues purchasing your product or service and refers you to their friends and family is adding tangible business value. I too often see business leaders mistaking a KPI for a desired outcome, rather than as a tool to make customers happier.
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 most effective way to build on Wow! experiences in my opinion is to simply ask the customer to share their story. That could be done by submitting a review, posting on social media (your company’s or the customer’s own), or simply relaying their experience to their friends and family. People are remarkably willing to go out of their way to help you if you’ve gone out of your way to help them. It can be uncomfortable at first to make that request, but in order for competition to actually work, information about alternatives has to be readily available. It’s incumbent on those of us that believe in making great customer experience the norm and not an anomaly have to be willing to spread the word.
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 start a movement in which every single person committed one act of service for another human being every single day. It could be as simple as holding the door or carrying groceries for someone — it just has to be deliberate and it has to be of service to someone else. Can you imagine?
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Yes, of course! I can be found at linkedin.com/in/doc-shufelt/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!