Under Promise and Over Deliver — I’m always super honest with our clients. If they don’t understand the difference between sales and marketing, we make it clear. We are also super clear especially with start-up brands that the first 3–6 months are all about research and market testing. That way when we nail it earlier or really capture the market, we have super happy clients.
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 Laurel Mintz. Laurel is the CEO and Founder of award-winning, Los Angeles-based digital marketing agency Elevate My Brand. Laurel’s gift is connecting with people and their stories. After all, companies are made up of people, and stories are just narratives that are the foundation of great marketing. Laurel’s energy has been the driving force behind the agency’s growth since it launched in 2009. Her awards include the 2017 Patrick Soon-Shiong Innovation Award; 2016 Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Company; Los Angeles Business Journal 2016 Women In Business Award; and more.
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?
If you had asked me in college where I saw myself in 10 years, I would never have predicted that I’d ever run my own marketing agency. I was in my twenties and I had just earned my J.D. and M.B.A., and I was getting my start in the legal world with a myopic focus on the partner track.
I fell into entrepreneurship when I had to run our family business right out of school. My father had become ill and I had to make sure that our family could survive. I was 26 and had a team of 60 and ran two 20,000-square-foot custom retail shops. It was definitely a trial by fire, but I learned about buying, merchandising, marketing, sales, advertising … you name it. I even baked cookies in store for big events.
When my dad recovered and I was able to step away, I was asked to consult for other retailers I had developed relationships within the time I ran the showrooms. In 2007, I partnered up with a friend in San Francisco who ran a venture fund and we worked to put together projects for our clients and get them off the ground. It was really exciting.
A few years later, I was asked to be a founding member of the Los Angeles Consulting Group (LACG). That was a great partnership, but the firm was focused on financial services, so I exited and started Elevate My Brand. At that point, I realized what I was good at and, more importantly, what I wanted to do and for what kind of clientele. And I never looked back.
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?
When we started out we were heavily food and beverage focused. I ended up at a tasting where there were a lot of new and emerging brands. I was walking around and was introduced to Adam Fleishman of Umami fame. We started talking about great restaurants in the area and he had mentioned Red O. I had recently heard of a friend who went and had a terrible experience in that restaurant and I let Adam know that. He replied, “that’s my restaurant”. It turned out I was talking about a totally different restaurant so I ended up being able to take my size 7.5 heel out of my mouth and we’ve been friends ever since. One might think that the lesson is, don’t make bold statements until you’re 100% clear and/or know the temperature in the room. But actually having that funny strange moment is the reason Adam and I are friends today so it really made me stand out. The lesson is that even perceived failures can be successes.
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 met my husband right around when I started my company. I thought, “well if this doesn’t work out at least maybe I’ll get a website out of this deal”. I’m happy to say that we’ve been married for 7 years and he has been instrumental in everything from our branding to our website. He’s run his own agency for 22 years so I trust him implicitly. He has great insights into how to successfully run a business and he’s extremely honest with how he believes I can be better for my team and our clients.
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?
I’m a relationship person. 90% of my job is business development or the shmooze as I call it. If I didn’t understand great customer service and experience, I wouldn’t have a job. I also think that it’s critical to be able to understand and build those relationships so that when things aren’t perfect there are clear lines of communication and mutual respect that allows us to solve issues easily.
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 think people are inherently afraid of conflict. That means a lot of people just don’t deal with it or what I call “ostriching” meaning they stick their head in the sand and pretend there’s no issue or that it will solve for itself. I find that it usually makes the problem worse and, frankly is disrespectful to the customer. I don’t have an answer as to why companies don’t make it a priority but companies that survive deal with these conflicts head-on.
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?
Absolutely. In today’s digital world bad news and bad customer service spread faster than ever before. That’s just one reason why competition is such an important part of evolving a company and improving the customer experience. It really speaks to the adage, “the cream rises to the top”.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
We have opportunities to do this all the time. A great example is a recent experiential moment we developed for the Tamara Mellon brand. They came to us 60 days before Create Cultivate having bought into the event series with no idea what they wanted to do. In less than 60 days we ideated, fabricated and executed an event concept that garnered them more social engagement in that first activation than in the entire 3-year history of the brand.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
Yes in this example, the client immediately hired us to execute their national experiential moving forward because we were not only able to execute quickly, but we understood the digital tie in that would really move the brand forward.
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. Be Process Driven — you always want your customers to know you are the expert. The best way to do that is to be process-driven. We have a lot of clients that come to us with fires. We always say their fire isn’t our problem. If we were to eschew our process and just jump in, that’s when we see client relationships falter because we haven’t used the success process, we’ve developed
2. Under Promise and Over Deliver — I’m always super honest with our clients. If they don’t understand the difference between sales and marketing, we make it clear. We are also super clear especially with start-up brands that the first 3–6 months are all about research and market testing. That way when we nail it earlier or really capture the market, we have super happy clients.
3. Provide Added Value — We have always offered our clients a little extra love. We do that by promoting them on our channels whether it’s our email list, our media platforms, etc. They are always grateful, and it gives us an extra angle of differentiation.
4. Connect the Dots — Even if we aren’t the right fit for a client, we always try to connect our community. It’s the “pay it forward” model. I can’t tell you how many times referrals have come back to us because we always lead with the help
5. Ask for Feedback — Just because you’ve closed a customer doesn’t mean you should stop communicating with them about their experience, not just the work. It seems intuitive but it doesn’t happen as much as it should. There is no better way to maintain your client relationship and improve your product and service.
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, it’s all about the social share. We constantly ask for testimonials and update our web, social content, and marketing materials to reflect these experiences. After all, we are a marketing agency so if we aren’t marketing ourselves we are doing it wrong.
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. 🙂
We are all about women and youth. Our movement would be all about engaging and teaching those demographics about entrepreneurship and empowerment.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
EMB Instagram — @elevatemybrandla (7.7k)
EMB facebook — @ElevateMyBrand (5.2k page likes)
My Personal Instagram — @laurelmintz (11.7k)
EMB website — https://www.elevatemybrand.com/