It’s not about you or your tech — it’s about solving the customer’s problem in a way that matters 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 Kevin Dooley.
As a 6-time founder/co-founder with a passion for customer success, Kevin Dooley has seen it all. From building a SaaS start-up and selling it, to starting his own hot dog stand, Kevin has experienced first-hand how cloud technology redefined customer success. He has developed a Top 5 list for what customer-centric brands need to do to create long-lasting, authentic customer relationships. Kevin wants to share his successes and failures to other business leaders and give them meaningful insights for creating, capturing and delivering value throughout the buyer/customer journey.
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 have bounced around quite a bit in my career…by design. I love to challenge myself to grow and be uncomfortable in a lot of different roles and business environments. I wanted to learn a little bit about everything so I could start my own businesses one day.
After undergrad, I started in a straight commission sales role, then I went on to cost analysis and then to product management and leadership roles — my preference has always been to stay close to buyers and customers.
In 2002, the telecom company where I led a product segment declared bankruptcy on the heels of the dot-com bubble crash. A classic too many companies — too few users story. I was grateful to have received a severance package and started a…(wait for it)…BURRITO BUSINESS! This is where I really learned about the customer experience!
I went on to co-found a SaaS app builder company that was keenly focused on cultural institutions. Before I exited, I repositioned our account team to align with the customer success philosophy pioneered by Gainsight and others.
Currently, I’m doing business growth coaching on Shift/co and over some freelancer platforms while I lead development on a new customer success software product.
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?
They say “fail fast” right? Most of my ha-ha funny stories happened during my “burrito days” when I was really trying to figure out what my customers wanted. It was before Moe’s and Chipotle had penetrated my local market and I was pushing a healthy mix of protein and veggies. I had partnered up with the pro sports teams in Rochester, New York, and was invited to be a food vendor on the stadium concourse during a Team USA Women’s Soccer Friendly Game. We had a line longer than we had ever seen before and I was still asking friends to help me sling burritos. We ran out of food before the National Anthem finished. We sold out of everything. I remember casually telling my friends — let’s break this down and watch the game. I told them I was buying as I carried a garbage bag full of cash to my truck!
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?
Not just one. Different people at various inflection points inspired my actions when I really needed it. First my Mom — who pushed me when I was a mighty mite playing in hockey rinks on weekends at 5:00am. We lost her a long time ago, but I still like to get started early on my business days! My first boss in the product management ranks who shared so much knowledge to help me mold my career. My “Problems in Finance” professor in my MBA program who taught me to be thorough in all my analyses. The work of Steve Jobs for obvious reasons.
And most recently, serial entrepreneur, Terri Maxwell, and her conscious entrepreneurship philosophy.
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?
Because buyers are expecting it now. They have unlimited access to information. It’s a subscription-based pricing world and you have to deliver value every month to keep churn rates in check and grow your base. There is also a movement towards buyers targeting companies that support the greater good. Consumers want to know that you care about them and the planet. The business world has had a lot of customer facing slogans over the years but now the customer must be represented in every function of your business — from development to marketing to sales and support and beyond.
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?
Companies can become too short-term focused. They’re not thinking about a customer’s lifetime value. Sometimes the customer is just not a good fit and other times the company puts other things ahead of the customer experience. Training your team on how you want them to interact with customers is critically important. It’s one of those things that is simple — but not always easy to do. I think well managed companies are taking a deep look at this now before their churn rates start to tell they have a problem.
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 think it’s a combination of competition and differentiation. We all consider multiple factors when we make a buying decision. Companies must take notice when they see their competitors position their solution in a different way to attract and retain buyers. The companies whose business models’ focus on creating, delivering and capturing value will have long-term success.
The consumer focus on buying from companies that care about the greater good is another external factor. We’ve seen data that two thirds of customers would switch brands if the new company had a purposeful mission. I think COVID has strengthened this purpose plus profit shift, even more.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
Absolutely. With our app company, we had a customer that flew his clients over Mount Kilimanjaro in a small 7 seat plane for a bucket list experience. He used our platform to create an audio tour with cool facts and history about the mountain. Then, he added GPS trigger points to auto-play the audio tracks he created. He created and launched his tour in just a few weeks. Our client got such great feedback from his customers that he was beaming with excitement about his app tour and how our team made it so easy for him.
Did that Wow! experience have any long-term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
It sure did. It led to other tour operators using our platform. This customer experience also got our team to think about new use cases for our service. We started to co-create some solutions directly with 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.
- It’s not about you or your tech — it’s about solving the customer’s problem in a way that matters to them.
- Make value your jam — don’t lose sight of value as you scale or add features.
- Do what you love — then your passion shines bright with your customers.
- Be authentic — buyers and customers won’t tolerate B.S. anymore.
- Rise & create — treat each day like a fresh opportunity to create value.
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?
Yes, for sure. We want to create fanatics of our brand or service. It starts with a commitment to mutual success and an authentic customer advocacy program. Let’s change the long-standing belief that unhappy customers talk about their experiences more than happy ones. One of the biggest buying factors people consider is referrals and reviews, so you have to put a process in place to encourage and reward customers to rate you. Sharing usage data is also a great way for buyers to clearly see your benefits. This info is so appreciated that customers are happy to share it with potential buyers.
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. 🙂
It’s not an original thought but to all think like conscious entrepreneurs and leaders. To balance purpose with profit. I used to wake up each day with “rise and grind’ mind chatter — now it’s “rise and create”. How can I create something that impacts the greater good? How can I create win-win opportunities? That kind of thing. If more people take this approach, the collective impact would be big.
This was so fun to do — thanks for the interview!
How can our readers follow you on social media?