Everyone in the company should go through customer support training when they start. Everyone, regardless of title. Everyone should know what it’s like to get customer support inquiries. Everyone in the company should participate, on a weekly basis, in taking inbound support inquiries and working with customers. Every single job in the company is in service to our customers because, without them, we have no business. So we all need to stay engaged.
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 Howard Spector. Howard Spector, Co-Founder, and CEO of SimplePractice has over 20 years of experience in the information technology industry. As an entrepreneur who has conceived, built, managed, and sold a successful technology company, TrackYourHours, Howard’s additional experience includes project management of complex multi-million dollar systems and executive management positions for various start-ups. His passion lies in helping health and wellness professionals build and grow successful private practice businesses.
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?
I tend to believe that I am in a constant state of “getting started.” To really answer your question, we’d have to go back pretty far in my life because it’s all connected in some way. The common thread that weaves its way through the many twists and turns is that I’ve followed my curiosity and desire for knowledge. At first, it was an overt search for self-understanding which led me to the works of Carl Jung and other depth-psychologists. In their work, I felt a sense of homecoming and normalization of who I am. It wouldn’t be until many years later, after a variety of jobs, that I would end up pursuing a graduate degree in psychology with the intention of becoming a Psychotherapist. It was during my training that I had an idea for a software tool to help other pre-licensed people track and report their required training hours in order to be eligible for licensure.
As I started getting close to completing my own training, I began searching for a tool that I would be able to use to run my private practice. I wasn’t able to find something that suited my needs. That planted the seed of the idea to build something that I and others could use to run our businesses simply and efficiently, so we could focus on the important clinical work of helping others. As the idea had time to do its work in the background of my mind, one day it came to me how I would want this product to work, and I set out to build it. That was in 2012.
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?
This is a tough question. Everything happens on a continuum and a ‘mistake’ is just part of a process of always seeking the right direction and all these course corrections are opportunities for learning and growth. All are part of the story that gets you where you are. So it’s hard for me to find one thing that fits that label. Early on in our company, I made some decisions about who I thought the product should serve. One decision had to do with who was our customer — was it just for solo practices, or do we also build it for practices that have more than one professional? I decided to just go after the solo practitioners. Soon after launching, I realized that we were losing a lot of potential customers, and we would have to find a way to alter the product to accommodate group practices. This would require a major overhaul of the entire product. We didn’t start this right away, probably because we knew how hard it would be, so instead, we focused on building out other features our customers were asking for.
Because we didn’t have to build our new features in a way that needed to accommodate the complexity of group practices, we were able to release updates very quickly. This allowed us to very quickly ‘catch up’ to entrenched competitors with regard to features. By adding more customers more quickly we were able to generate more revenue. With more revenue, we were able to hire more people, and we grew faster. Eventually, we did add support for group practices and by the time we did that, we had built the industry-leading product. So getting back to the original question about a ‘mistake’, I would say that our ability to find opportunities in our mistake led to our company’s success.
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?
There are two people who come to mind that have provided unconditional support and stability to me through very turbulent and difficult times. One is my therapist who provides me with the tools to embrace myself and keep going — without them I probably wouldn’t be here today.
The other is my wife. She has been an unwavering source of stability in my life as I have sought to find my way and place in the world. Through more lows than highs for many years, she believed in me and let me be who I am. She supported our family while I got this business off the ground and listened patiently while I suffered through the enormous onslaught of never-ending stress that is required when not only starting a business like this but running it even after we’ve found ‘success.’
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?
As a business, we are nothing without our customers, period. Customer experience includes customer service — it’s all connected. Human interactions are increasingly more important and impactful in a world that seems to be becoming less personal. I attribute much of our success to the importance we place on customer success. From day one when I was our entire customer success department, I intuitively understood the value of being honest and transparent with our customers and knowing that we have to establish trust with them through not only our personal interactions but also communicated through how they experience using our product. So we have to be thoughtful about the user experience and design.
Most of our customer growth is driven organically through word of mouth. Meaning, our customers become our best marketers and salespeople. This wouldn’t be the case if we didn’t have a great customer experience. I believe that if you provide great service to your customers then even through times when there may be product issues, your customers will stick by you because they know you are there for them.
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 don’t think many business leaders deeply understand what it takes to create an environment and culture within a company that values and supports customer experience. In most companies, customer success departments are viewed as cost centers, and the roles in those departments are not valued as much as those in other departments. Most of the experiences customers have, outside of using a product, are when they need help. In those moments, when the relationship is on the line, it is essential that they have a good interaction. I believe that, in addition to great training, the most impactful thing you can do is create a company that has a thriving culture built on specific values. These things must not only be communicated and discussed but lived and enforced every single day.
The leadership team at a company must believe in the values and hold one another accountable, and each must also work with their groups to hold them accountable every single day. Leadership must truly care about everyone and understand that they serve the people in the company. They must proactively help their teams grow and thrive, always monitoring to make sure that the right people are in the right roles to find success. I believe that by doing all this, and more, with thoughtfulness and intention, ensures customers will be taken care of at the highest levels. I believe this because we prove this every single day at SimplePractice where our customer satisfaction scores are consistently in the upper 90th percentile and our customer Net Promoter Scores and Employee Net Promoter Scores are consistently in the 60–70s.
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 can only speak for myself and what I believe is that I am internally driven to build a better product and customer experience for our customers and better company experience for our employees. This comes from within, from a desire to improve and not settle. For me, this is just how I’m built. I’m always driving myself and our team to do better, regardless of our competitors.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided? Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
John reached out to us in 2014 interested in trying SimplePractice. At the time, he worked at a clinic and was thinking about starting his own practice. Fletcher Dennison, who’s now our COO, ended up getting on a call with him to show how easy it was to manage the billing side of things in our platform. He started as a part-time practice owner and then a full-time practice owner, and throughout the years, Fletcher continued checking in with him.
John ended up sharing that it took many years before he felt confident in starting his own practice. That while at the clinic he wasn’t able to actually treat patients or see the impact of his work. He felt burnt out and questioned going back to his previous career. After using SimplePractice and speaking with Fletcher, he shared that it was how we interacted with him as a customer and the time we spent connecting with him throughout the years that gave him the confidence to start his own practice and business. This story is unique to John, but it really shows how we strive to create meaningful relationships with all of our customers.
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.
- You’ve got to invest in great people and help them thrive. Take care of your people and they will take care of the customers.
- Understand that a company, like a product, needs to evolve. Nothing is done and nothing is static. Always be monitoring the health of the company system and be comfortable with making changes as often as needed to make sure the right people are in the right roles.
- Have clear company values that are discussed and lived. Always be monitoring and course-correcting yourself and others to make sure the values are being adhered to. Also, keep updating the company values as you get more feedback. Things change.
- Make sure you have multiple channels where your customers can give you feedback. Engage with them often.
- Everyone in the company should go through customer support training when they start. Everyone, regardless of title. Everyone should know what it’s like to get customer support inquiries. Everyone in the company should participate, on a weekly basis, in taking inbound support inquiries and working with customers. Every single job in the company is in service to our customers because, without them, we have no business. So we all need to stay engaged.
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?
We have a community forum that helps foster communication among our customers, so they can help one another as well as share their experiences — even the ones that are not “wow” experiences. While we all learn from great experiences, we also learn a lot from experiences that are not so great as it helps us know where we can improve.
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 think we can all benefit from greater self-awareness and awareness of how interconnected we are to one another and our planet. We need more empathy and compassion. One way I believe we can foster that is through meditation. Training oneself to be more aware and engage with themselves and the world in a more thoughtful and responsive way. To me, this is the foundation for everything.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
First, I would suggest that readers follow themselves as they are their best teachers and should spend time looking inward rather than seeking wisdom through tweets and posts. Sorry, you asked 🙂
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!