…The employee’s focus should be on the customer. A manager needs to understand his customers to execute the proper employee hiring, training, and compensation plans to deliver the most value to them and the largest margin to the company, but the employees are the vehicles to meeting those goals and thus must be his focus. Well-hired, well-trained, well-compensated employees focused on their customers will yield fantastic results. Common business knowledge states that for the company the customer always comes first; but that is a recipe for inconsistency and chaos and puts the cart before the horse. Happy customers come from productive employees which come from fluid processes.
As part of my series about the “How To Create A Fantastic Retail Experience That Keeps Bringing Customers Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Junge, an MIT/Kellogg-educated Business Strategy expert in high-tech that has worked with companies ranging from new startups to Microsoft, to craft and execute successful growth strategies. He is currently CEO of PointerTop, an innovative Remote Sales and Service Software company based in Scottsdale, AZ.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, 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’ve always been a tech geek, graduating from MIT with degrees in engineering and MIS, and fell in love with entrepreneurship from my father who was always inventing new technological solutions to business problems. I worked for a consulting company straight out of college and did so to gain the knowledge and experience to eventually launch a business of my own, while I also waited to come up with an idea worthy of its own customers.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
My biggest mistake with one of my first businesses was reducing our brand name from a two-word descriptive name to a one-word, abstract name since that was the fad, made for easier publishing and signage, and seemed “stickier”. I quickly learned that when it comes to retail, clear and simple messaging always wins the day. Branding is a long-term and expensive exercise, and it helps when your brand name is obvious.
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 best friend from college has always been there to support me in every project I’ve undertaken in my adult life, no matter how crazy or difficult. Being Greek, he lives and breathes the Socratic method, and keeps me honest along the way. The last time he helped me was when I was having a difficult time coming up with a name and slogan for our flagship product since the concept was so new and broad in its capabilities; we had to educate and market at the same time. So, on his advice I travelled away from the office to get a fresh perspective, isolated ourselves in a hotel conference room, and went through a few hours of brainstorming, refining, and testing until we landed on something we felt thread the needle: CrozTop, Cross-Interactive Websites!
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
My favorite author is Dostoevsky, and his The Brothers Karamazov was especially impactful. The author in general, and this book in particular, impressed upon me the importance of the individual and his specific experiences to the meaning of life and society, even business. Every human interaction, including business transactions, is an opportunity to add meaning and value to someone’s life. Great companies are those that design their visions, products, and services with that impact in mind.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
At our company we insist that our product and customer-facing employees be themselves customers of our own products and services to understand the issues, problems, and concerns our customers face, and try to fix them before they even arise. The most remarkable aspect of having your employees as customers is that if and when they leave, they’ve become so comfortable with the company’s products and services and such believers in them that they often hire us afterwards as real customers and wind up becoming evangelizers.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
The worst form of business anxiety I’ve experienced as an executive is when looking over my shoulder at the competition. Although I do believe it is important to keep the competition in view, especially to stay on top of new industry ideas and concepts, it is more important to focus on the company itself and its customers and the ongoing balance between value delivery, pricing, and sales. Focusing on the competition is a defensive tactic that will drain any executive of energy and motivation, whereas focusing on customer value is an offensive tactic that can inspire.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. The Pandemic only made things much worse for retailers in general. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
Key to retailer success in the long-term is to focus on points of specialization that make the retailer unique enough to its target market to justify higher margins when compared to the discounters or ecommerce. Retailers can use their market knowledge, experience, and expertise to build themed communities and not just stores, supplying expert advice, value-adding bundles, and community forums and events, for example. Home Depot, Lululemon, and REI are great examples of retailers that have focused on building experiential stores that cater to an industry where customers go to have their problems solved, rather than to just “shop”.
Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
US-based retailers have several advantages they can use to stand out in the marketplace, especially against foreign Direct-to-Consumer companies and Amazon. High among their advantages are their brick-and-mortar locations or close proximity to their customers. Retailers can merge their customer-facing operations between their physical presence and their web presence to create a coordinated and superior customer service experience that together is more convenient and impactful for the customer (for example, by making the return process more convenient and more prone to non-return resolutions). D2C companies will compete on price, and Amazon will compete with automation; national retailers must then deliver superior service quality, specialization, and/or customer experiences as an alternative.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a retail business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The biggest mistake I see retail companies make is to expand too rapidly, whether a company’s product and service selection, its target market, or its footprint, only to see quality and margins suffer. Key to avoiding this mistake is for a CEO to develop a detailed business plan, maintain it, and diligently follow its brand messaging and ROI requirements when considering new expansions. If a product, service, or new location does not fit within the brand or is not generating the required returns, then shut them down. Knowing when to say “NO”, and saying it often, is a critical skill for a CEO.
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 in general and for retail in particular?
To compete in the business world, and especially in retail, a brand must be “Top-of-Mind” for consumers to visit them when a need arises. A brand must either have a strong emotional attachment (or be a recent presence) to a consumer for it to surface above the noise, and that emotional attachment is usually derived from a unique and/or exceptional service experience. Advertising often and across several channels will help with the recency effect, but much more impactful and lasting would be to develop a strong bond between the customer and the brand via powerful customer experiences.
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?
Customer Service delivery as a corporate strategy cuts across multiple company departments and competencies, making it difficult to plan, coordinate, and execute. Good customer service requires proper planning and positioning with the product or service being offered (Product Engineering and Marketing); proper staff hiring and training (HR); proper channel development (IT); and proper enforcement and follow-up (Customer-Facing Operations). Most large corporations are calcified by their organizational silos and have difficulties implementing cross-organizational strategies, so their customer service wounds up being delivered as an afterthought and in a disorganized manner. On the other hand, smaller companies can seldom find the time or managerial competency to properly bake their customer service strategies. Excellent, well-planned, and well-executed Customer Service is rare and a true path to differentiation.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
We had an elderly customer acquire a warranty service at the store but forgot to sign the warranty contract. He was unwilling to return to the store to sign the contract and did not know how to use email. We were able to service the customer at his home via our website using the CrozTop eSignature tool and have him sign the contract using his cellphone. He was grateful and surprised by how quickly and easily we were able to assist him.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
Our company quickly learned that we had to be able to service all types of customers by using and integrating our different channels. Some customers prefer to do things by themselves and be left alone, whereas others prefer handholding. Either way we learned that we needed to use technology to help every type of customer wherever they came in contact with us. Today’s technology allows for greater customer convenience and customers will shop around until they find what they want.
A fantastic retail experience isn’t just one specific thing. It can be a composite of many different subtle elements fused together. Can you help us break down and identify the different ingredients that come together to create a “fantastic retail experience”?
A ”fantastic” retail experience doesn’t happen by accident but has to be designed, planned, and executed, and it must start with the brand vision and message. Every aspect of the retail experience must reinforce the brand, starting with the advertising mix and content; the aesthetic theme of the stores; the service levels and availability; the product and service offerings; and post-purchase follow-through. All aspects must match and reinforce each other and the brand to avoid customer confusion and to get to top-of-mind.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
If you want to be able to succeed in retail, first order of business would be to clearly define your brand vision and message. Confused customers are lost customers, so your aesthetics, products, operations, and service levels must all match and reinforce each other.
Second is to define your target customer demographic and ideal persona to ensure that your marketing is focused and effective.
The third order of business is understanding that the process is the result. To get consistent revenues, margins, growth, and satisfaction, you must have consistent, well-designed, and well-understood processes in place for everyone to follow globally. Metrics and statistics are great in-so far as they are tools for adjusting and fine-tuning company processes but should not be meant to be end-consumables in-and-of themselves.
The fourth order of business follows from the third which is that although an executive’s focus should be on processes, a manager’s focus should be on his employees.
Fifth is that the employee’s focus should be on the customer. A manager needs to understand his customers to execute the proper employee hiring, training, and compensation plans to deliver the most value to them and the largest margin to the company, but the employees are the vehicles to meeting those goals and thus must be his focus. Well-hired, well-trained, well-compensated employees focused on their customers will yield fantastic results. Common business knowledge states that for the company the customer always comes first; but that is a recipe for inconsistency and chaos and puts the cart before the horse. Happy customers come from productive employees which come from fluid processes.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. 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. 🙂
Our company PointerTop was created with just such a movement in mind — to create humanistic technology. Humans are naturally social, individualistic, and creative beings meant to extract meaning by interacting with each other. Using Automation or Artificial Intelligence (AI) to knock out human agents from commercial interactions misses the point of human interaction in general (to derive meaning from other humans), and misses the potential productivity derived from human creativity specifically. The real potential behind AI is to make human interaction faster, cheaper, more productive, and more convenient, but not to replace it. Our platform CrozTop was designed with these benefits specifically in mind; to allow consumers to navigate websites productively with the assistance of automation when needed and for as long as possible, and then integrate human agents at the end to finish the transaction to increase satisfaction, basket size, and perform essential consumer education. The end-result is a happier, better-educated customer spending more money when compared to a self-navigating customer, and with far less labor involvement when compared to a call center transaction.
How can our readers further follow your work?
All my posts, articles, and interviews can be found at https://www.pointertop.com/news , and my book “Why Freedom” can be found on Amazon.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!