Matt Carinio of Hathway: “Take culture seriously”

Take culture seriously: From talent acquisition and retention to organizational communications and technology partnerships, brands that are successful in creating Wow experiences have embedded and fostered this culture in everything they do. As part of our series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of […]

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Take culture seriously: From talent acquisition and retention to organizational communications and technology partnerships, brands that are successful in creating Wow experiences have embedded and fostered this culture in everything they do.


As part of our series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Carinio, VP, Strategy & Consulting at Hathway.

With 20 years of experience across digital R&D, product management, marketing, and consulting, Matt thrives on formulating executable solutions to complex problems. With proven methods and a track record of working closely with executives and stakeholders of Fortune 500 companies, Matt’s obsession in making brands successful through the process of strategic planning and execution motivates him to always push the boundaries of experiential designs.


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?

After earning my International Business degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1995, I moved to the Bay Area where a family friend got my foot in the door at Yahoo! I started in Advertising Operations and in a short period of time was running the international Ad Ops department and a few years later U.S Domestic. Ad Operations. Over the next six years I transitioned to R&D developing machine learning technologies focused on the real time matching website, audio, and video content with advertising.

After a dozen years of building lifelong friendships and innovative experiences at Yahoo! my family and I moved back to San Luis Obispo where I transitioned careers into the digital agency arena and worked as a Business Analyst/Strategist at Level. At Level (which became Rosetta) I was the Mobile Device lead working with Apple, Samsung, HTC, and Blackberry. My time at Level/Rosetta sparked an interest in consulting and satisfied a desire to help companies deconstruct business challenges and create actionable strategies. After spending three years at Rosetta, I took a few years off to recharge my batteries having spent nearly two decades in the digital arena.

In 2015 I received a call from Hathway Co-Founder Kevin Rice to assist on a project and the next day I was in the office and soon on a road trip back to the Bay Area doing stakeholder interviews and talking with executive stakeholders as part of my first Hathway assignment. Over six years later I have never looked back and have enjoyed every minute at Hathway helping our scrappy agency evolve from a mobile digital shop to an industry leader partnering with the nation’s top restaurant brands on digital transformation initiatives.

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?

Just one? The early days of the internet in the mid-1990’s was definitely the wild west in many ways. But a story I can share is during one of our many late nights at Yahoo! a group of us broke out our RC cars for some impromptu racing around the office. At some point we hear a raised voice or two asking what is going on only to discover there was an executive meeting taking place in a conference room that we kept racing by. Lesson being, check your surrounding area for your Co-Founders and CEO before participating in some disruptive fun.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I give credit to my parents who always encouraged a strong work ethic, positivity, and provided unwavering support in all aspects of my life. When I was very young, I remember my father giving me advice to “Work smart, not hard.” Those words still inspire me today as I continue to strive to be a better person in the workplace and at home.

In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?

Customer service is one of many components to a customer’s experience. If any of these components do not meet a customer’s expectations it creates an immediate negative psychological response to that brand. If a brand is fortunate to have built up equity with that customer there is a high likelihood that this poor customer service may be forgiven. However, if is the first time the customer has interacted with this brand, a future relationship is not only unlikely, but this customer is also likely to share this negative experience with their friend network and negatively influence their relationship with this brand as well. The old adage of “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” is applicable to the business world as well.

We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we have 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?

For digital, there are a couple of factors at play that make creating an intuitive experience challenging. The first is the consistent evolution of customer behaviors and expectations. Influences on this behavior can range from societal influences to life experiences, and age. Aligning digital experiences with customer expectations requires keeping a pulse on these changes and adjusting your experience accordingly. A systemic approach to data acquisition that informs experience testing and improvements is a mindset and not a project. Brands that are successful have digital and a growth mindset instilled in their culture and identity.

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?

Greater competition demands consistent improvements. A complacent attitude will result in a lack of meaningful progress and ensure an erosion of one’s market share.

Over the last decade, there has been an increase in consumers’ preference for brands that appear socially responsible. This has created greater complexities to business decision making that needs to balance financial growth with social perceptions under the spotlight.

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

I am a big fan of Tesla and their mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy. Over the last six years, I have converted quite a few skeptics of what is possible by simply giving them a ride in a Tesla and a number of them have become referrals of mine and purchased their own. It is a product that must be experienced to appreciate.

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

My story is shared by numerous Tesla owners. Most recently a friend of mine was sheepishly mentioning how he used interrogate me about owning a Tesla and now that he has had one for a year he admits how “he gets it now’. I have over a dozen friends with similar experiences, and they are now influencing their network of friends and family. At the end of the day great products speak for themselves and their users are their greatest and trusted advocates.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience.

I will outline our framework at Hathway for Digital Transformation initiatives:

  • Focus on outcomes over outputs: Create a plan for what you want to achieve before moving too quickly into the details of how you are going to achieve it.
  • Management through measurement: You cannot manage what you cannot measure. All initiatives need performance measurement criteria and goals by which success and failure can be managed against. These criteria should be reviewed and potentially refactored, as necessary.
  • Customer intelligence is a differentiator: In order to create the best digital experiences, you have to know what will resonate with the market and your customers. To enable this intelligence, a systemic data acquisition strategy is imperative.
  • Digital as a data acquisition tool: Highly effective and engaging digital experiences and marketing communications improve the probability that customers will provide information and declare preferences for future use.
  • Take culture seriously: From talent acquisition and retention to organizational communications and technology partnerships, brands that are successful in creating Wow experiences have embedded and fostered this culture in everything they do.

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?

Intuitive experience and convenience are table stakes. Moving beyond these requirements, brands must highlight their value propositions and differentiators without focusing on price and discounts alone. These can range from quality, value (quality + price), social responsibility, and innovation.

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

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