Focus on the people, not the technology. We had a customer years ago who passed away from cancer. I personally went out to help his wife wipe his computer to be donated. While I was onsite, I helped her take the computer to a recycle center as well as helping her tidy up areas of her home and move around heavy items. She is constantly sending us referrals.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Black Men In Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Burton Kelso, owner and Chief Tech Expert at Integral, an on-site and remote computer and laptop repair service company for consumers and businesses. Burton is also a national speaker, a YouTube personality, and regularly appears on ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and Newsmax, on shows such as Show Me St Louis, Your California Life, Live At 5, and Ozarks AM, offering viewers easy tips on computers, technology, Internet lifestyle, and gadgets. His vision is to remove the frustrations and complexity of computers and technology and open people up to a world of new ideas, experiences, and opportunities. He loves technology. He’s read all of the manuals and he’s serious about making technology fun and easy to use for everyone.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Well, I kept getting fired from jobs. I am a hard worker and I have a passion for helping people. Yes, I’ve used technology for a large portion of my life, but the companies I worked for seemed more focused on making a profit rather than customer service, so I decided to jump in feet first into computer repair as I saw there was a need for a tech support company that focused on helping people conquer their computer challenges. In 1993 when I started Integral, consumer technology was a fairly new industry with many tech companies pushing out products without much instruction or direction for the average person. My goal with Integral was to help people navigate the complex maze of software and hardware. It’s surprising that 27 years later there is still confusion in the tech industry and more than ever both home and business users need to have an advocate to help them get the most from their technology investment.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
In 2011, my company was just another name with some of the tech support companies in my area. A national movement called the Cash Mob was beginning to sweep across the country. Many of our retail customers were being affected by the economy and I thought it would be a great idea to start to host monthly Cash Mobs at our customer’s businesses. In doing so, we got the attention of all of the media sources in the Kansas City Area which put a spotlight on me and the company. This led to my company and I being featured in all forms of media both locally and nationally.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the first appointments I went out on was the family dog at a residence rubbed up against me enough to cause an electromagnetic discharge that fried the mainboard of a computer. At the time this was a little beyond my skill set, so I took the computer to a competitor to get it fixed for the computer. There were several lessons I learned. 1. When working on technology, always make a backup of your information. 2. When you get stuck or get in over your head, always have the courage to reach out to someone. I know many people especially those in the tech industry don’t like to admit that they don’t know. You can’t know everything, nor should you try. Always have several resources you can reach out to when you get stuck.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Service businesses have it especially hard because you’re constantly looking to develop new relationships with customers that you can offer service to. After sailing through smooth waters the first five years of business, more competition started appearing with large and small companies offering computer support services. This obviously took a chunk out of our bottom line. I got down, but I always knew that if I continued on the right path I could see the way through these tough times. I’ve also had the mindset of ‘Your reality is what you make it’. Which means if I wanted to see change, I need to be the positive change to make it to the next level.
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 about that?
There are many people you encounter in your journey as an entrepreneur, but out of all of those people I would have to say my mother had the greatest impact on helping me get where I am. My mother was the one who introduced me to computers and suggested I make a career out of computers. She even purchased my first computer which was a Commodore 64. My mother also had a never die mentality and she was a very giving person. As a single parent, she did what I consider a successful job of being both mother and father to me. She was a very positive roll model in my life. I was devastated when she was killed in a car accident in 1990, but the foundation she built within me has helped me throughout the years.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life quote is “All You Need is Now’ As an entrepreneur, all you need is the moment you are in to make your dreams come true. We’re all given the same 24 hours in our lives. If you make the most of the time that you have, you can achieve great things.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
The subject of race has been put on the back burner for too long and unfortunately we’ve all evolved into a very selfish nation focusing on our own personal needs only rather than try to heal the needs of our community. Racism has been allowed in our country for so long that it’s considered normal. Major changes need to be made and part of what is adding flames to the boiling pot is people don’t want to change their views. As a minority, you want a voice, and a seat at the table to enjoy all of the things that the majority of our population enjoys. Also, we as a race are just tired of being treated as 2nd class citizens.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Diversity means that your business is able to see with many sets of eyes and think as if your organization had the brain of a super computer. It allows your company to see talent from a variety of races as well as market to a wide range of people. A diverse executive team will allow your company to make sure all of the needs of your team are met because you have different perspectives to draw upon.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. It’s hard to be satisfied with the status quo regarding Black Men In Tech in Tech leadership. What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
This is a challenge because much of it has to do with the mindset of the image of what someone in tech looks like. Unfortunately, tech is a white male dominated industry and the image of someone who knows technology is the white male. I experience this frequently as I don’t fit the image of someone who is capable of creating or fixing tech. Part of what needs to change is the image of black men being only capable only blue collar jobs or excelling in athletics. The other part is more people need to acknowledge that black men are capable of being leaders and giving them the opportunity to lead and be placed in executive roles.
We’d now love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
Integral provides on-site and remote tech support to home and businesses as well as managed services. There are a lot of tech companies out there that focus on fixing technology. We put our focus on helping the people who use technology. There are many areas that people and businesses struggle when it comes to technology. We provide solutions for Cybersecurity, remote work force, and finding the right combination of software and hardware to make smarthomes and smart businesses function in a way in which technology is a useful tool and not a source of stress, frustration or loss revenue.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We love people more than computers. So often, computer nerds and geeks stay too focused on fixing technology that they don’t work towards solutions that will minimize tech issues. I can share many stories where we’ve had techs that spend hours spinning their wheels to fix an issue, rather than focusing on the main thing we hear from all of our customers “We just want it to work’. We also work with the mindset that there has to be value with every invoice we present to our customers. It’s hard to bill for the sake of billing. We strive to make sure our customer’s needs are satisfied as well as taking a genuine interest in their lives to make sure they technology they invest in will help them achieve their goals. .
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are working harder at having more of a remote support model to handle all tech products. With social distancing and remote working, there are many people who don’t want to risk having a technician at their physical location. Also, with the wide range of technology products, it’s important to have a team that can support a vast majority of the products on the market. We want to see if there are better ways for our rural customers to get access to high speed internet. We are putting together a list of mom and pop broadband companies that will give them better options for the Internet. With ATT discontinuing DSL service, it will be harder for the residents and businesses in rural communities to get Internet. We are also focusing on ways that people can get more use out of their old technology products. Regardless of how the economy is, people still need access to technology so we want to be able to help those people and businesses extend the life of their tech devices. We also are working on ways to help bridge the digital divide by donating or repurposing tech so people with challenging economic situations can get access to technology … and a faster internet.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
Always remember that technology is a people business. Always focus on the person rather than the technology. You should make sure your company is always giving tips to help people have a good relationship with technology. Embrace social media as a means to develop stronger relationships with your customers and educate them So many tech companies are bad with social media, but informative posts, inspirational messages and educational videos go a long way in proving that you can do all that you say your company can do.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
Diversity is key. This gives you a wide perspective especially if everyone is your customer. Your team also needs to understand that everyone at the company is a marketer. If your staff is working under your brand, they need to always put their best foot forward regardless of their roll. Your team needs to understand that the customer is always right and they need to be able to talk the customers language to help them get the help they are looking for.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
Our company is 100% referral based and we focus on ways that we can develop relationships with people rather than just providing quick fixes. Make sure your staff is fully knowledgeable. Building a business is a long game. Don’t focus on the quick sale as opposed to developing long term relationships. The old saying is ‘If people like you, they will listen to you. If they trust you, they will do business with you.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
- Focus on relationships not sales.
- Follow up with customers after every interaction to make sure their experience with your company was good.
- Remember to reach out on special occasions (birthdays, anniversaries) to let them know you’re thinking of them.
- From time to time, ask them what services you can add to your company that they would find beneficial.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
- Let customers know that you are alive. One of the problems with tech companies is they perform the service, but don’t have any method of letting people know they are business. Call once in a while to say hi to them.
- Rise above the competition. Keep your name out and about. Getting recognized for community and business awards helps keep your name visible. Awards work great people people like to know they are working with the best company in the industry.
- Every interaction with your company should be a positive experience. It doesn’t matter which member of your team works with a customer, make sure your team always leaves your customers with the ‘warm and fuzzys’
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Focus on the people, not the technology. We had a customer years ago who passed away from cancer. I personally went out to help his wife wipe his computer to be donated. While I was onsite, I helped her take the computer to a recycle center as well as helping her tidy up areas of her home and move around heavy items. She is constantly sending us referrals.
- Hire people-friendly tech people. If you have a team that is focused on technology rather than people, you won’t be in business long. Even though they have a good marketing strategy, Geek Squad usually focuses on hiring younger kids who don’t have the best communication skills. Fixing technology is fun for them, so their solutions are usually quick fixes rather than long term solutions. Many of the complaints we hear from people who’ve dealt with Best Buy techs is that the technician didn’t listen to them or didn’t explain what was done. People who care about people take the time and have the patience to deal with tech issues and to take steps to make sure there aren’t recurring issues.
- Don’t be a one-size fits all company. Pick an area of technology and stick with it. It’s tempting to be all things to all people, but technology is so diverse, that you can pick an area of technology and become successful and profitable with it.
- Create multiple streams of income. Support contracts will keep revenue coming in. Establish tech support plans for both residential and business customers that deliver unlimited tech support. You don’t want to have a company that relies only on the next service call that comes in. Some tech companies only focus on businesses, but as technology advances there are a lot of consumers that need help with technology. Don’t forget them in your business.
- Don’t forget to market your business as a resource. This doesn’t mean take out advertisements. Market in the sense that you are a resource for the people who need and use your services. Tips, reminders via social media are great tools for marketing. Also focus on contributing articles to local and national media that will raise your brand awareness
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂
Focusing on eliminating the digital divide is a passion of mine. There are so many families that are missing out on usable technology and high speed internet. There are many that are suffering during this covid crisis by not having things that many of us take for granted such as fast reliable Internet and reliable technology items. Families need technology for education and entertainment, not to mention that access to the Internet opens up people to a whole new world. The Internet is the great equalizer as there are so many opportunities available as shown by the growth of such Internet based companies such as amazon and Netflix.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would love to talk with President Barack Obama. He is an inspiration and a wealth of information and is always calm under pressure as well as being a great role model for anyone of color. I hear he likes Lawrence of Arabia which is an excellent movie.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!