Front line staff who are providing customer-facing support need to see the bigger picture. Show them why their work matters and how the interactions they have with clients have a real impact on the customer and their business. Make it real to them.
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 Eric Schurke.
Eric Schurke is an entrepreneur with more than 16 years in the client service industry. Eric has led the VoiceNation team in providing the highest level of quality answering services to thousands of businesses worldwide. His expertise in workforce optimization and strategic planning has created an innovative and reliable work atmosphere. He has been a key driver behind VoiceNation’s growth and success by incorporating lean operational practices and creating a strong company culture. His experience and leadership have focused on driving customer experiences in the high-touch call centre industry, providing client service, and driving profitable revenue growth.
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?
Prior to working in the telecom and communications sector, I was an Assistant Golf Professional. Through an acquaintance, I met the founder of VoiceNation less than one year after the company got started. I was looking to do something different, so once we hit it off, it was confirmation that I needed to switch careers. I took the risk to quit the golf course and help the two founders of VoiceNation grow the business. As a garage startup with only four employees, we had to do literally everything. From Sales, Customer Support, Billing, Logistics, HR, Management, you become well versed in every area of the company by default.
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?
Not really a mistake, but funny… we did a deal with Comedy Central for The Colbert Report back in the early 2000s and had no idea that the show would generate so many calls to the toll-free vanity number we provided them. So many people were calling in that it literally shut down all the major LECs (Local Exchange Carriers) on the east coast and crippled the phone systems for tens of thousands of customers. The producer of the show panicked, and desperately tried to reach me during the show’s midnight airing to see what was happening. He didn’t have my phone number, but thanks to my unique last name he looked me up in the Atlanta yellow pages and called my mom at 1 am desperately asking to speak to Eric Schurke. My mom, of course, thought something had happened to me and called me to make sure I was okay. Needless to say it was a long night from there, but really funny looking back on it.
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?
Personally, my grandfather was a great role model. He had great values that have stayed with me my entire life.
Professionally, I look at the experience in the golf business as really important. It gave me a solid foundation of the customer service skills required to serve both internal and external clients and customers.
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?
All companies succeed in repeat business and referrals.
Consumers have so many choices and so much information to help them make those choices.
Cancel culture won’t tolerate poor service, as it’s too easy to move on to something different.
Everyone has a voice on social media and can damage your reputation with a click of a button. If you don’t provide great service, word will get out. You have to protect your reputation, or it will cost you in the long run.
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 think it all goes back to leadership and staff engagement. The staff who are typically customer-facing and providing support hold such a critical role, and will make or break your business’ reputation. So, if you have a team member that hasn’t been trained properly, managed well, held accountable, or treated as a family member, odds are they have no motivation to ‘wow’ the customer. The fact that many of these frontline workers are completely invisible to higher up managers/CEOs who are isolated away into an office and have ‘’more important things to do” makes it even worse. CEOs need to spend more time engaging with front-line staff and less time in the boardroom or in their office with a closed door.
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?
Absolutely. Competition is healthy, and necessary to push businesses to continually innovate and exceed their customers’ expectations. The COVID-19 pandemic has been an example of an external pressure that forced every business to re-evaluate. Businesses had to operate as lean as possible and hang on to as much business as possible due to the uncertainty of the future. It highlighted the old adage that every customer is your most important customer. The businesses that are fortunate enough to survive the pandemic will actually thrive in the future with a newfound appreciation for their customers.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
Years back when the company was young, we had a lot of non-profit groups needing our services. We decided that it was worth it for us to work with them for free. Sure, it cost us some money each month, but the intangible value and reward of helping someone else is irreplaceable. I remember speaking to some of our non-profit partners and being able to have those calls where I got to tell them we were going to be giving them our services, and how elated and excited they would get. We’re not talking a ton of money here, maybe 50 dollars/month, but when you are a non-profit and running on pure donations, every penny matters. Not every company needs to give things away for free, or start a non-profit, but there are plenty of ways we can give back. We need more of this in business.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
I still have contacts and connections on social media as a result of this non-profit initiative that led to further sales and growth opportunities for the business. Many of them still get our services for free today!
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.
- If you treat your employees like robots, they will behave like robots. Robots don’t provide ‘wow’ customer service! If you expect your employees to WOW your clients, CEOs and top leadership should be aiming to WOW their staff every day.
- Front line staff who are providing customer-facing support need to see the bigger picture. Show them why their work matters and how the interactions they have with clients have a real impact on the customer and their business. Make it real to them.
- Recruit and Hire based on the WOW factor.
- CEOs need to be intentional about engaging with front line staff who do the majority of customer-facing support as well as ensure their C-Suite/upper management are as well. I once had a co-worker who said “the fish stinks from the head.” That’s always stuck with me when explaining why we need to lead by example.
- Lastly, frequently gauge customer sentiment and client feedback, and use the responses to make big changes when needed to protect the business.
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?
There are several platforms out there, whether on social media, review sites, or customer sentiment apps where great “wow” moments can be shared. This highlights the need for businesses to embrace all forms of communications moving ahead, including chat, messaging, and video in addition to the traditional phone and email channels.
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. 🙂
One lesson I can personally attest to and firmly believe in, is that Hard work and a positive attitude will beat talent every time. I look at my professional journey, coming from a golf background to a startup company selling virtual phone services, with absolutely zero experience or knowledge. With a ton of hard work and a little talent, our team was able to take a garage startup to multi-million dollar business. Having a can-do attitude and hard work ethic are invaluable to everyone, not just in business. It applies to day to day life.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
No, thank you, for allowing me and VoiceNation to be a part of Authority Magazine.