Kyle David: “Anyone can see sales performance with a pipeline report”

The Unexpected is the element of an experience that allows the recipient to be pleasantly surprised. It is so rare that people can be pleasantly surprised these days when we have such control over everything. However, the unexpected adds a subtle element to an experience that can’t be denied. Just a silly example, but if […]

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The Unexpected is the element of an experience that allows the recipient to be pleasantly surprised. It is so rare that people can be pleasantly surprised these days when we have such control over everything. However, the unexpected adds a subtle element to an experience that can’t be denied. Just a silly example, but if our Help Desk team sees that a client has not submitted a lot of support tickets, we will reach out to see how they are doing and congratulate them on staying problem-free. It could be a 45-second phone call that is a pleasant surprise.

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 Kyle H. David. He has made a career in technology and entrepreneurship for nearly 20 years, all starting with a huge opportunity at the age of 14. Then, a much shorter version of Kyle dazzled the management of a multi-million dollar, Philadelphia-area IT consulting firm into giving him a job as a consultant. Over the course of the next four years, he was able to work his way to Senior Technical Director, leading projects for clients spanning from Fortune 50 companies to large university hospitals.

Always the entrepreneur, Kyle went on to form two separate Internet ventures, growing them both to profitability during a period when few Internet companies had figured out how to achieve revenue growth. As an early adopter of the concept of affiliate marketing, Kyle pioneered the idea of “price scraping”, which offered customers the ability to search for the best price among competitors — an unheard-of concept in the mid-90s. However, over the course of two years, he brought this exciting new technology to some of the largest online retailers at the time, including eToys, Amazon, and CDNOW.

In 2002, he returned to consulting by forming The Kyle David Group, now KDG. Since that time, the company has grown significantly from the early days when the “group” constituted of himself and a goldfish (Nathan). Over the past 18 years, KDG has grown at a rapid pace both in headcount and client base, attracting clients ranging from the United States Senate to major financial institutions, international nonprofits, and Division I universities. Throughout the evolution of KDG, the focus has remained on the development of entrepreneurial technology and strategy for education, nonprofit, and closely-held/generational businesses.

Kyle’s entrepreneurial efforts have not been limited exclusively to KDG or technology. Over the past decade, he has acquired, exited, advised, and served as an officer to over 14 early-stage technology startups, raising over 18M dollars in private funds. In addition, he founded Kyle David Capital Partners, an investment partnership with substantial holdings in both residential and commercial real estate, structured debt, and intellectual property.

Kyle received a B.A. from Muhlenberg College in three years. While he’s a law school dropout, he earned certificates in Strategic Management from Cornell University and Disruptive Innovation from Harvard Business School. Kyle is a part-time lecturer at Muhlenberg College, teaching a course called, “Disruptive Businesses and Marketing Strategies.” He resides in Orefield, PA with his wife and kids where they are active members of The Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit in Emmaus, PA.

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 got started on a scorching summer afternoon in 1985. My mother, always an extraordinary host, was feverishly running throughout our house to see if she could open the windows just a little bit more or turn the fans on a little bit higher. Thirty people were on their way to our house to celebrate my grandparents’ 40th wedding anniversary. Sadly for them, the invitation did not note our lack of air conditioning.

Upon crossing the threshold, the expressions on our guests’ faces soured when they realized that they were not going to receive the humidity-free refreshment that only air conditioning can provide. Instead, they were met with a two-and-a-half-year-old version of me wearing nothing but a diaper and a smile. Cute as I was, I had little impact on the palpable feeling that the heat was bound to take out one of the senior citizens. My money was on Aunt Marta mostly because her makeup was melting. The party quickly moved outside to see if there was any semblance of a breeze.

As family folklore dictates, it took me about 20 minutes to zero in on the fact that the only things bringing relief to our guests were cool drinks. As videos and pictures depict, I commandeered the entire ice supply in the house by hiding the ice bucket and emptying the freezer. I then set about selling the ice cubes to our guests at a nickel apiece. Even at two-and-a-half, it was not lost on me that when you put the proceeds in your diaper, change for a dollar is rarely requested. Seeing the demand, I recruited my older brother to be the “ice guy.” I remained the “money guy.” While there is debate over nature or nurture for entrepreneurs, in the infamous words of Lady Gaga, “baby, I was born this way.”

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?

I must preface this with the fact that I’m a strong believer in equality in thought and practice. With a kind heart, I had a breathtaking lapse in judgment relatively early in my career. I like to sell things. I’m good at selling things. I’ve had a lot of practice in assessing prospective clients and getting a feel for how they want to be talked to. Some clients are all business, while others like to joke around. I was calling on the CEO of a very well-known regional company. He was a total pleasure in email and on the phone. We quickly traded sarcasm, laughed openly about business issues, and he spoke with total humility. As a result, we set up an appointment for me to come out and see his operation.

When I met him in person, he came with a seeing-eye dog. I learned quickly that he was completely blind. He was a seasoned pro at acknowledging and dissolving any initial awkwardness that people may have felt around him. He was hilarious. He would say things like, “I’m starting to see the differences between KDG and competitor A.” Then he’d sense my unspoken retreat to awkwardness and then bust out laughing. At one point, he and I were both uncontrollably laughing at something, I don’t even remember what.

Feeling a sense of ease and drafting off of the good humor, I fell into my sales “groove” and started on the topic of data visualization, not thinking how irrelevant it was to someone who cannot see. At first, he giggled slightly in the kind of way that someone would when you made fun of them in a way that only they can make fun of themselves. Then the mood in the room went south quickly. Here I am yapping away about dashboards and how helpful they are and he totally shut down and abruptly ended the meeting. He literally said, “We’re done here” and walked out. Stunned, I showed myself the door.

I made it to the parking lot before realizing how insensitive I’d been. I played back my monologue on data visualizations that included such bon mots as, “Anyone can see sales performance with a pipeline report,” and, “With these alerts, you will know if have a real problem or an optics problem.” I concluded with a verbal crutch of mine, “When the last dog is hung.” I even insulted the guy’s dog.

Horrified, I did an about-face and walked back into the office building, up the elevator, and to the receptionist at the front desk. I explained to the receptionist that I’d just made a total fool of myself and wanted to personally apologize, if possible. It was not possible. I never heard from that company again.

I wish I could say that an apology made it all better, but it didn’t. Lesson learned… don’t get too comfortable too quickly and be more considerate of others. Nothing I said was with malice, but it was with plenty of stupidity.

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?

I’m grateful to many people for my success, but two people come immediately to mind.

Glenn Kessler is the President of HCD Research. I’ve known him for almost 20 years. Glenn is not only a savvy business person but also a good person. In business, he is on a very short list of people who have never compromised who he is. I’m grateful to him for teaching me early on that you need to be yourself in order to succeed. That includes being good-humored about your faults and making sure that what you are doing and saying is coming from the right place. He is the antithesis of the stereotypical “cut-throat” CEO but has shown that he can be even more successful.

John Tolmie and I were founding members of a startup that began like a rocket ship. One day, our CEO resigned and it was quickly revealed that there were significant issues within the organization that had been papered over. John immediately stepped into the role of CEO, methodically corrected our problems, and kept a very large and diverse staff at ease. He never wavered or doubted anything. He just did it. I’m grateful to him for teaching me that there is nothing that cannot be weathered with grace.

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?

It’s not just essential in business, it’s essential in life. Everyone, from your spouse to your neighbor to your client, needs to have a good experience with you in order to maintain that relationship. Good experiences build trust and trust is the glue that keeps relationships, client or personal, together. In my mind, customer experiences are the primary job of any organization. Everything else is derivative.

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?

When an organization is in growth mode, the quality of relationships matters. While they are difficult to manage, organizations generally do a nice job of making sure customers are happy on the way up. However, they get to a point where managing relationships and experiences take a back seat to the numbers. Particularly, as companies begin to do well, there becomes a greater and greater focus on the numbers. Numbers are comfortable, they are safe, and they are easier to manage than customer experiences. Therefore, organizations shift their focus to purely quantitative metrics and neglect the qualitative aspects of customer experiences.

When they do this, they lose more than just quality customer experiences. They lose trust and they lose the feedback that customers provide that can propel an organization forward.

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 is a fickle thing. As Peter Drucker said, “The customer rarely buys what the business thinks it sells him.” If you take that to heart, you realize that your competition isn’t always who you think that it is. Harvard’s Clayton Christensen made his Jobs Theory famous when he put forth the theory that customers “hire” products and services based on how much progress they will afford them in a particular circumstance.

What does this all mean? It means that Uber or Amazon may start to set expectations for how effortless experiences can be. Before you know it, customers are saying to themselves, “Why can’t I hire a plumber like hiring an Uber?” If you are a plumber and you don’t offer exceptional customer experience, potential clients will just hire someone or something else. They may even hire duct tape from Amazon to fix their leaky pipe. In that sense, Amazon and the hypothetical plumber are competing for the job of fixing your leaky pipes. While duct tape isn’t the perfect solution, the experience of obtaining it and implementing the fix was better than playing phone tag with the plumber, taking a day off of work to wait for them, and then paying a big bill.

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

I reject the idea that you have to “wow” a customer because you set your organization up for failure when you don’t “wow” in the future. Instead, I like to build in what we call, “the unexpected.” The unexpected is little things that really make an impression, but not one so big that it reframes all expectations.

At KDG, we like to gather client feedback. There are plenty of expected ways to do this: sending surveys, text messages, or just asking for it. However, we wanted to put in the element of the unexpected. We send out a weekly request for feedback on Fridays. It’s a one-click survey similar to other NPS systems. However, when you submit feedback, KDG makes a donation to the selected charities of the employees that worked on your project. You also get to learn why those employees selected those charities. This helps in two ways: (1) it humanizes feedback and builds a connection with our staff on a different level; (2) the staff and charities change, so there is always something you don’t see coming. The outcome from this is that we always get a lot of feedback, for better or worse.

Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

I think that our feedback system has had one of the most significant impacts on conveying our culture to our clients. While many folks will never meet us in person, it sets the tone for who we are and what matters to us. In doing so, we build trust faster and we can always intervene in earnest if something isn’t right. I actually intervene in many cases, which is another unexpected element.

The long-term effect is that we have a lot of clients who want us to replicate our feedback system in their organizations. We also have quite a few organizations who have referred us with a comment that we are the firm that will consistently do the right thing.

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.

There are five elements of good customer experience: time, understanding, ownership of emotions, the unexpected, and follow-through.

Time is sort of the obvious one. Most people look at time and effort as the same thing. People typically use the excuse of “not having enough time” when they don’t want to expend the effort to do something, even if it is a trivial task. That said, in most circumstances, the longer an experience takes, the more detrimental it can be to the experience. However, this is not always the case. If you are getting a massage and the masseuse adds ten minutes to be nice, that is the enlargement of time as a tool for a good experience.

Understanding is the second element. This comes down to understanding the context of the customer. Delivering a good experience must take into account how the customer is going to consume the experience. For example, I have a policy that all emails should be able to be read and responded to on the toilet. Sounds gross, but it makes an important point: no one wants to read a long email and respond on their phone. Since most people consume email on their phones, you must understand that they need direct questions with simple options for answers. If I’m asking someone to do something in an email, I keep it short and then give options for answers: a, b, c. If someone has all the time in the world to read my emails, perhaps I’ve done them a disservice, but most people are running from meeting to meeting and the simple setup is helpful.

Ownership of Emotions is the third element. In order to deliver a solid customer experience, you must know your customer’s emotional state. Are they happy, sad, anxious, nervous? Emotions are very powerful tools that can enhance experience delivery 10x if you read them right. For example, we know that a lot of KDG’s clients have bosses of their own. In many circumstances, they want to do two things: (1) look good in front of their boss (2) keep their boss off their back. Those two things cause a lot of anxiety for many people. As a result, when we deliver project updates, they are designed to address everything that could be keeping our client up at night AND make them look good at the same time. It’s our goal that those emails get forwarded to their boss, who then has no problem authorizing more funding to further the project.

The Unexpected is the element of an experience that allows the recipient to be pleasantly surprised. It is so rare that people can be pleasantly surprised these days when we have such control over everything. However, the unexpected adds a subtle element to an experience that can’t be denied. Just a silly example, but if our Help Desk team sees that a client has not submitted a lot of support tickets, we will reach out to see how they are doing and congratulate them on staying problem-free. It could be a 45-second phone call that is a pleasant surprise.

Follow-Through is perhaps the most important element. I’ve consulted with a lot of companies that nail the first four and die on the hill with follow-through. Essentially, you raise the bar for yourself when you focus on experience delivery so you must make sure that you follow through with all of your points of interaction. For example, I had a consulting project where the client designed excellent sales and onboarding experience but intentionally made it very difficult to cancel their service. The long-term effect was that their sales declined because of their reputation for being a pain to cancel. Cancelations, however laborious, were quite high. We turned the table and made cancelation one-click by self-service. Not only did sales eventually go back up, but customers that had canceled came back! Their commitment to ease of doing business and making sure all experiences followed through on their mission was quickly recognized by the market.

I want to note that price is not one of the five elements. Pricing is dependent on the value, and experience can have a TON of value. For example, let’s say you have two plumbers. One is 10 dollars/hr, but they waste people’s time, don’t clean up, and are a jerk to deal with. That’s about as bad of an experience as you can have. On the other hand, you have the other plumber who is 50 dollars/hr but is on-time, clean, and fair. Even if they both do the same quality of work, which one will survive? Which one will get more referrals? I bet you can guess. My point is that, within reason, price shouldn’t play a leading role in experience delivery.

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?

Follow-through is the biggest one. While everyone likes to be special, it is just for a moment. What most people crave is predictability. If you continue to deliver good experiences through every channel, customers will refer you because they don’t risk their own reputational harm in doing so.

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. 🙂

The values that I espouse in business are all very biblical. If you are going to ask me what I believe would do the most good for the most people, it would be to start a movement to promote belief in something bigger than yourself, your money, or your status in the world. Whether you believe in Jesus Christ as the savior of the world or not, if you approach the Bible with an open mind there is a lot that can be learned from his life; even if you are not Christian or seeking religion. I highly encourage it.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@kyledavidgroup on Twitter!

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

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