Ed Reeves: “Loyalty is first and foremost created by people”

Great service doesn’t mean expensive service. We’ve all been to the plushest offices, sat on the most expensive chairs, and admired the wall art. But that’s not what customer experience is about. A customer feeling valued, that’s what the measure is. Remembering their children’s’ names, knowing their birthday, how they like their coffee; small details […]

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Great service doesn’t mean expensive service. We’ve all been to the plushest offices, sat on the most expensive chairs, and admired the wall art. But that’s not what customer experience is about. A customer feeling valued, that’s what the measure is. Remembering their children’s’ names, knowing their birthday, how they like their coffee; small details that resonate with them are always the most powerful. For early-stage entrepreneurs, this is the easiest to achieve and often sets the foundation for the culture of service as the business grows.

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 Ed Reeves. Ed co-founded Moneypenny with his sister Rachel Clacher in 2000. Moneypenny is the world’s leading provider of telephone answering, outsourced switchboard, Live Chat, and customer contact solutions. Moneypenny works with businesses of all shapes and sizes, from sole traders right up to multinational corporations. In the UK, Moneypenny has over 700 staff, a figure that is growing at a rapid rate and has offices in Charleston, USA. The company currently handles over 15 million customer communications a year for 13,000 businesses.

Ed remains responsible for the overall strategic direction and for ensuring the company maximises its opportunities in the US and continues to deliver exceptional service and offer cutting edge technology.

Prior to founding Moneypenny, Ed travelled the world competing in numerous water sports events which provided an ideal outlet for his competitive spirit and active nature. Returning to the UK, he quickly established a small graphics business, which as it grew gave him the need, and idea, for an outsourced PA service — and Moneypenny was born.

Knowing what it is to be a client, remains central to Moneypenny’s success today. Under Ed’s leadership, the company has won numerous awards, including being one of the youngest companies ever to be awarded The Queens Award for Enterprise and to be recognised six times in ‘The Sunday Times Best 100 Companies to Work For’.

Thank you so much for joining us Ed! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. 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?

Our first recruit. What a disaster. We employed her off her CV and didn’t pay attention to her attitude. We were naïve. Within the first hour, we realised there was a problem. As a result of the copious amount of Coke she was drinking, she burped repeatedly down the phone. To her it was normal. We were dumbstruck. We had no idea that people could be so wrong. Our first recruit, to this day, was our shortest.

CVs mean pretty much nothing to us now. We always recruit an attitude first and then teach the skills. Anyone who effectively smiles down the phone can be taught the skills to become a stunning receptionist. Even with senior hires, if the attitude isn’t right, they’re immediately written out of the hiring process.

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’ll turn this around. My biggest motivation came from experiencing how not to do it. I was using a competitor before starting Moneypenny. When challenged with an issue, the receptionist simply responded with ‘there’s nothing I can do, I’m only the answering service’. This formed the backbone of Moneypenny, where being the answering service was an opportunity to impress callers, far more than any in-house receptionist could do. No one ever wants to be told they can’t be helped. That was simply a very poor service.

Outside of Moneypenny I’m very inquisitive. I’ll research or quiz people endlessly about their businesses, their motives, and their measures of success. And I’ll unashamedly cherry-pick their best ideas and turn them into my own. No matter how big or small their businesses, there’s always something you can pick up. The layout for our offices, that came from Oracle after hundreds of hours of reading up on sharing spaces. Whilst our family approach to our staff, that’s learned from countless small businesses where staff loyalty is always strongest.

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?

No single company has ever succeeded without impressing their customers with either price, quality, or service. It simply isn’t possible. Now, more than ever, people are buying on experience rather than just products. Amazon being the masters. Their assumption that everyone wants stuff immediately and are inherently lazy is absolutely right. They’ve used this to such stunning effect to leave a competitors’ void behind them. Convenience is their tool.

Two areas determine the customer value to a business; the number of times they return to you and how many turn into advocates. Both fall under the loyalty umbrella. And loyalty is shaped primarily by personal experience. By the relationship, you’ve developed with a given customer. A loyal customer base is a scalable base that turns any businesses into gaining recurring revenues; the holy grail of trading too often only achieved by the tech sector. Recurring revenues are the route to riches.

Loyalty is first and foremost created by people. Only by people. It can be killed off in a multitude of ways, but only people can create it. To lose it is the death nail in any business. And the most powerful loyalty creating tool? That’s relationships. Personal customer relationships. If you can master how to scale those relationships, you can sleep easy. In my case, scaling means focussing on my team. Empowering hundreds of individuals with the opportunity and freedom to wow their clients, judging and rewarding them according to how loyal those clients become.

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 suppose what you’re asking is whether there’s a place for companies who rely on price alone to sell? There always will be to a degree. In the UK there’s an interesting case of an airline, Ryanair, who is famous for awful service but cheap flights. Alongside we have EasyJet who were similar but have done an incredible job of upping their service. Placed side by side, now I don’t think there’s a single person who’d opt for the Ryanair flight. Disregarding service in favour of profit is a road to failure. And to turn a culture of poor service around is the hardest of business challenges.

The values of service are embedded within the staff, be that the person who negotiates a delivery contract and knows the customer perception gain of timely home deliveries, the senior management, or the person who answers the phone. They are the company’s DNA. Businesses miss this fact and sometimes see the service culture as something they can dial up or down. That’s not possible. And invariably, where it’s seen as a dial, it’s the customer who’s then perceived as a variable cog in the machine, rather than the fuel that drives everything. And customers hate being manipulated.

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?

Certainly, customer experience is enhanced through competition. But that’s not the full story. Customer experience is not just about delivering goods or services with a smile, it’s about understanding your customers and demonstrating that you’re responding to their needs and wants. Years ago we had milkmen who were on our doorsteps with a smile every single morning, unequalled levels of trust and service, but they just sold milk. They didn’t innovate according to our needs and as such, we moved on. They should have brought the paper, the post. And today they should be delivering for Amazon. But they stuck to milk and relied on their epic service. Service without innovation will fail.

If there’s no risk of losing a customer, there’s no motive to drive service or innovation. Competition is imperative and is the only driver to advance, state-run monopolies excepted (where service is notoriously appalling). We need that to be the case.

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

A client’s young daughter called her parents at work as she’d been left at the school gates and no one had picked her up. Our receptionist took the call and kept her talking on the phone for 20 minutes whilst one of her colleagues chased down the parents and another rang round to find a school teacher. Turned out both parents thought the other was picking her up.

To this day, this client is probably one of our biggest advocates. They realised that our receptionist had simply thrown away the rule book and used all the tools at her disposal to resolve a potential problem. We could never have taught that receptionist to act that way, but she knew it was the right thing to do, and she knew that it’s how she would want her daughter to be treated and that I’d respect her for that.

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

It taught everyone in the company that an opportunity can arise out of any circumstance, ones that you create, and ones that land on your doorstep. And it taught me that such examples are the best demonstration of intent. This event, along with countless others, is placed on the highest pedestals and praised more than any other within Moneypenny. You’ll see no accolades for general performance at Moneypenny, but you can’t avoid the praise we laud on those who go that extra mile for their clients.

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 wear the customers’ shoes. We started this business knowing only one thing, what it was like to be a customer. That’s shaped everything. But it’s hard to keep at the front as people naturally keep looking from the inside out. In the early days, I’d not let a single customer come through our doors without sitting down with them and hearing their stories. That shaped our future. With tens of thousands of customers, it’s harder to find a channel to learning from those customer stories now, to create the next generation of customer representatives within Moneypenny. Regardless of how many customers you have, you need a method of constantly assessing their wants and needs. Effectively a funnel to truly represents the customer experience, that feeds to service, product, and innovation. It’s imperative. The day a business closes that channel is the day they’re delivering to their expectations, not their customers’.

Recruiting on attitude. I mentioned this earlier. A person with the right attitude will find their place in your organization. And, accepting that you’ll make mistakes, firing the wrong people instantly, that is imperative. Hire slow, fire fast. Where service is your product, this can’t be emphasized enough. Every single time we’ve got this wrong, it’s because we didn’t follow this rule first. With recruitment, always go with your head and leave your heart at the door. I keep getting this lesson wrong and kick myself whenever I do. Only recently I made a mistake with a senior hire due to a number of reasons. I was so slow to react. It’s an expensive mistake to make. It’s never ever right to carry the wrong person.

Surprise is the most powerful tool to support great service. Always assess the drivers for gratification, be that to staff or clients. If it’s an incentive, then dangle it like a carrot. But if it’s an accolade or recognition, the surprise is your best tool. To this day, the most dramatic uplift I’ve gained was from getting someone to tape £50 under each chair in the UK office before a busy Friday. Then someone found it, then another, and so on. The ripple effect was astonishing. The delight was off the scale. It was my way of saying thank you for working so hard and keeping the customer experience front of mind. Had I announced that there would be a bonus in a month’s time, it wouldn’t have made the slightest difference. We apply the same approach to clients. An expensive bottle of wine at Christmas, that’s tedious and forgotten. A pair of Moneypenny socks in February for simply being wonderful you, that’s memorable.

Great service doesn’t mean expensive service. We’ve all been to the plushest offices, sat on the most expensive chairs, and admired the wall art. But that’s not what customer experience is about. A customer feeling valued, that’s what the measure is. Remembering their children’s’ names, knowing their birthday, how they like their coffee; small details that resonate with them are always the most powerful. For early-stage entrepreneurs, this is the easiest to achieve and often sets the foundation for the culture of service as the business grows.

Happy staff equals happy clients. Staff metrics are one of the best indicators of business performance. Staff retention, sickness, and loyalty; these reflect directly in your service standards. If staff retention is low, so is your service. A happy staff member will always deliver the best service and be the most productive. Knowing that your customers judge you by the contact points they have with your business means that you’ll always end up investing in your people. You can never have unhappy staff and happy customers.

The business inherits the service culture from the leaders. I was asked by large businesses to talk to their directors about creating a productive culture as a favour. One of the points I made was that their staff work there for three reasons; money, career prospects, and friendships. And that friendships are the easiest for them to develop. Their takeaway was to put on an office party to get everyone bonding and spent a fortune bringing in an events company. I asked them how it went afterward but they had no idea as they’d not gone themselves. They’d missed the whole point.

Telling people they’re valued is simply not enough. Spending money demonstrating it doesn’t work. Giving up time, showing people that you live by what you say, that’s getting a message across. That makes a service culture infectious. Those directors, they should have been behind the bar, collecting glasses, talking on a level, doing whatever it takes to ensure that their team had the best possible experience. If your staff see your conviction, they’ll inherit it.

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?

More businesses use Moneypenny than any other receptionist service in the world, and that’s come about by providing epic people and technology to our clients. We’re at the cusp of change whereby customers will announce they’re using us as a demonstration of their commitment to quality to their clients. And we’ve only reached this point through repeatedly exceeding expectations. We’ve found that within specific sectors the #MeToo factor is prevalent and delivers exceptional growth, but to reach that point we need to go through a stage of building volume, during which time we’re effectively delivering a secret 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. 🙂

It’s already happened to a degree. Some ten years ago my sister and Moneypenny co-founder stepped away from Moneypenny to found WeMindTheGap, a charity to support young women from less than fortunate backgrounds. Rachel, through giving her time, has resulted in hundreds of people standing on their own feet when otherwise they’d have been dependant on others. Regardless of how successful any of us are, we can all give time to support others.

My time to start a movement? This harks back to the attitude issue again. I’m convinced that coding is more attitude than anything else. The people who are great coders, they’re born that way, regardless of the hand they’ve been dealt in life. It’s possibly one of the easiest of character attributes to assess. And it’s such a distinct education that, assuming the attributes are there, the skills can swiftly be applied. We need a lot of developers. And there are lots of people from less than fortunate backgrounds with the required attributes.

I’d like to create a process to highlight, nurture, and educate. Will it change the world? No. But it’s more than a dream, it’s achievable, which means it’s a worthwhile movement.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn Ed Reeves and they can follow Moneypenny on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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

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