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Ken Blankenhorn: “Keep an eye on the future”

Prioritize but blend. Remember to always prioritize your customer’s goals at the top, but if your team is lending you industry insight that suggests it’s worth altering the solution, blend that into your solution. In our experience, our customers are coming to us for our guidance. We know what they want to achieve, but sometimes […]

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Prioritize but blend. Remember to always prioritize your customer’s goals at the top, but if your team is lending you industry insight that suggests it’s worth altering the solution, blend that into your solution. In our experience, our customers are coming to us for our guidance. We know what they want to achieve, but sometimes we have to adjust what that looks like or how we get there, or on occasion, whether that is indeed the most fruitful thing to invest in. Their goals are king here but don’t forget you’re building a roadmap to that end together.


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 Ken Blankenhorn.

Ken is the President and CEO of Desiccare, Inc., an industry leader in atmospheric control solutions, identifying challenges and solving problems related to the fluctuation of humidity and, or atmospheric packaging conditions for some of the globe’s biggest retail giants. With a background heavy in manufacturing and supply chain logistics, Ken is well aware of what it takes for a product to travel from inception to the consumer’s home. Ken leads the company’s forward direction, forging into new territories by keeping a diligent eye on trends and forecasts, while simultaneously maintaining close contact with customers who often illuminate the next steps for Desiccare based on exhibited or anticipated pain points. If anyone can read the future in client tea leaves, it’s Blankenhorn.


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?

It feels like I’ve been doing this work for a long time, but my first job during my college years was as a fork truck driver at a lumberyard. It sparked my curiosity into supply chain logistics and management, which has been very helpful throughout my career in understanding how business-to-business customers function and what solutions will enable them to function even 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?
 
 
In my initial analysis of supply chain procedures, I had a lot of ideas about improving the methods of moving goods from point to point more efficiently but did not incorporate the value aspect of inventory. Eventually working with various companies who incorporated “just-in-time” procedures during the ’80s gave me a much better understanding of the complete 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?

The President of the SPS Technologies Automated Systems Division, John Omlor put me in the position of the project manager. The largest companies in America (Intel, General Motors, Xerox, Northup, Lockheed, and more) were heavily into factory automation. As a project manager, it was necessary to learn the intricacies of their business in order to design and implement automation systems to improve the manufacturing and support processes of these companies. Working intimately with these companies was an incredible education.

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?

A President/CEO, or any type of business manager, you must stay in touch with the rapidly evolving cultural climate of our times. We live in more of an instant-gratification climate than ever before. My wife was shopping recently and found the perfect item, but it was not in her size. While the clerk went to call another store to check inventory, I was able to search the brand name on-line, find the item in her size and pay to have it shipped to our home. Before the clerk had an answer the transaction was completed.

At Desiccare, we lean hard into customer service. When Desiccare began more than 25 years ago, it was the one opportunity the company had to really carve out any distinction for itself. Certainly, we had competitors, but we weren’t in a position to offer overtly advantageous pricing so we determined that client-focus was pivotal for success. Learning the customer’s pain points and predicting their challenges (and problem-solving against those challenges), became our primary competitive advantage — however long that road might be. Our sales and customer service organizations have adopted the age-old creed of “the customer comes first.” This has built Desiccare a reputation of being highly mindful of customer experience, and also properly setting expectations to that end. Our desire is to have our company be recognized as the company that is the very best at solving your problems and taking care of you after the sale.

Some customers have fairly simple needs and we can provide them with something of a transactional solution. When that happens, we are proud to offer a (now) ideal price point and an expeditious solution that makes our clients look like rock stars in their own customers’ eyes. But to make sure the client experience is still positive, we do set proper expectations with those customers we know we may have to innovate for. If the customer knows what they’re in store for and can look to you as a guide, you can have a mutually beneficial journey together. But setting that expectation on the front end will ensure you mitigate challenges that could mar their experience.

When it’s a bad experience, the memory that the process or result was painful is going to stick in a customer’s long-term memory. So as long as we’re setting expectations and providing ideal service, we are better suited to walk a multitude of diverse pathways with our clientele.

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?

At the end of the day, we’re all humans, and some things boil down to face-to-face interactions, right? Sometimes we think customers want convenience when what they really want is to talk to a person instead of an automated system. Companies could think their fancy systems are saving them money and guarding against inefficiencies when they could actually be building ill will for their brands because those adjustments cause customers grief. If we forget our customers are human or prioritize profits over client experience, it opens up liabilities.

In our world, our customers are experts at what they need to accomplish, while the Desiccare team of laboratory experts, chemists, scientists, and experienced managers are experts at researching and developing solutions or products to meet our client needs. If our side isn’t holding the customer’s end goal up as a priority, there’s an opportunity for the disconnect.

Ultimately, there are plenty of reasons for the disconnect, but in my experience, the most common culprit is a lack of focus on the common goal resulting in improperly applied resources.

Most companies aim to satisfy, but those who aren’t afraid to expend resources identifying and refining the internal processes that set the team up in a way to best help clients are the ones that will see the highest gains.

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?

Competition can be an extremely healthy force for businesses. Some of the best innovations in our current global economy come from a desire to outpace, outsmart, out-tech, or out-service a competitor. That desire is ok, but it can’t be all-consuming. Again, the customer has to rank at the top of this hierarchy of forwarding movement. That said, it’s worth noting that my screen-saver says, “Just Win Again Today.”

Other external pressures that can improve the process include the customers themselves, especially as they’re enabled by highly transparent, hyper-connected technology. Bad PR can travel quickly. Four negative reviews for a company weren’t an issue 30 years ago. But four negative reviews from someone with a large network — whether the critique has merit or not or the person criticizing has the credentials to do so — can have massive negative ramifications for a brand.

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

We worked with the meat supply company years ago to devise a more efficient means for them to package hamburger meat in a way that ensured a longer shelf life. We worked through a few iterations of what their solution might look like, looping in the full breadth of our scientific team, always reiterating they were at the top of our priority list.

This was a new industry for us to delve into, but one we realized had tremendous potential. Onboarding the research and development costs that came with innovating the product they needed was an easy decision.

Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
 
 
That engagement was back in 2010. As a direct result of its success, we now work with five more meat industry companies.

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.

– 1. Understand what you bring to the table, and what you need to bring to the table. When Desiccare started, the company knew what it had to offer, but that wasn’t startlingly different from its competitors. But the company knew the niche it wanted to carve (which represents a pretty hefty market share now) and channeled energies into that direction, specifically research and development.

– 2. Keep an eye on the future. CEOs should be keeping one eye on the horizon and one eye on strategic implementation. The eye on the horizon needs to be scanning for trends in the customer’s world that translate into challenges or pain points so he or she can tell the company which direction to innovate. That strategic implementation eye is critical, of course, but understanding whether you turn left or right in the next 10 steps gives a company time to develop the capability of being the expert in mitigating client challenges before the client even gets to that point. We firmly believe Desiccare will have a heavy hand in altering the way medical, food, and waste industries are going to operate because our sights are trained on where the trends lead.

– 3. Research and develop. Customers will function with the product or technology they perceive to have the best solution. When you can provide something innovative, something that’s either making their life so much easier they can’t imagine living without said product or truly eliminating a frustration that’s been needling them, customers are going to adopt that product or innovation in a heartbeat.

– 4. Keep an ear to the ground. You have to pay attention. Keep an ear to the ground to hear both in-house teams who communicate with clients and clients themselves. Formalize that process as much as you can, because, without a feedback loop to understand how customers are perceiving their experience, there can be no roadmap for sustaining or improving customer service.

– 5. Prioritize but blend. Remember to always prioritize your customer’s goals at the top, but if your team is lending you industry insight that suggests it’s worth altering the solution, blend that into your solution. In our experience, our customers are coming to us for our guidance. We know what they want to achieve, but sometimes we have to adjust what that looks like or how we get there, or on occasion, whether that is indeed the most fruitful thing to invest in. Their goals are king here, but don’t forget you’re building a roadmap to that end together.

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?

Outside of your hands, there’s not too much you can do (short of stamping a logo on everything that can feasibly carry one). But the real magic happens in your execution — in implementing an engagement that’s easy and intuitive, in communicating clearly and in a timely manner, and in fulfilling or surpassing expectations. If you do that, you’re setting the foundation for a partnership that your customer is going to want to continue being a part of for the foreseeable future, and one that (barring trade secrets or the admission of any intellectual property secrets) they will share openly.

We find that not all of our business-to-business customers are going to want to share everything with a megaphone, but they’ll retain the experience they had with our company and have it at the ready the next time they’re asked.

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 believe an open mind and a positive personality are key factors to a happy, successful life. I teach my people to live a positive lifestyle in the constant pursuit of uninhibited adventures and to be as nice as you can, to as many people as you can, in every situation that you can. If I could influence people, it would be to follow the philosophies stated above. I have some ideas using modern social media influencers and gaming that would enable me to reach out to more people but right now I am too busy helping Desiccare to get to the next level to pursue outside ideas.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Desiccare is on Facebook at /desiccareinc, on Instagram at @desiccare and on Twitter at @DesiccareInc. We have

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

Thank you! I am honored to have been included!

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