Celebrate it: Take time to celebrate the successes, small and large. It is important to recognize the positive moments and give everybody an opportunity to enjoy them. This includes communicating with your customers and letting them know the initiatives you have in place to improve. And, when you can point to improvements, you should.
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 Mitch Bradley.
Pavement engineer turned sales executive, Mitch Bradley has over 20 years of experience in government operations, software implementation, and sales leadership. As Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Cartegraph, an infrastructure management company, Mitch drives new growth and strengthens client relationships by evolving the company’s sales, marketing and partnership strategies. He is passionate about optimizing the life of our infrastructure and leveraging smart technology to drive efficiency. In July 2020, Mitch was accepted to Esri’s Partner Advisory Council (PAC) where he will serve as a representative for a three-year term.
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 grew up with very hard-working parents who taught me at an early age to do everything to the best of your ability. My father, who spent his entire career working for the State of Nevada and retired as the director of unemployment, always instilled in me the importance of giving back to the community. He accomplished this by working for the state and making a true difference for people in Nevada.
After graduating from the University of Nevada, earning degrees in geography and civil engineering, I attempted to follow in my father’s footsteps. I was working for the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT), pursuing my interest in both geographic information systems (GIS) and infrastructure in their pavement testing division. It was fun work, but the technology in place at the state was dated or non-existent. After a few years I realized that to really affect change, I needed to get closer to the evolving technology. This led me to go into the private sector, working for a company focused on providing software solutions to state and local government focused on the management of infrastructure.
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 laugh looking back on it, and I wouldn’t necessarily call it a mistake, but this is what came to mind.
After leaving NDOT, I took a job that required me to be the project manager for the implementation of a maintenance management system at CalTrans. It was the largest project the company had ever undertaken.
After accepting the role, I had to research what a project manager does. I was way out of my league on this one; I knew what a maintenance division did within a DOT, but project managing the implementation of software was new to me. The project required a lot of very long days learning on the job, but it taught me not to be afraid to stretch myself during challenging times. I really experienced growth in my career from that role.
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 agree and I have been fortunate to work for a lot of great people in my career. I was particularly lucky in my first job at Nevada DOT to work for a manager who used to say, “I want to hire the next director of the department.” A simple statement but it said a lot. She taught me to never hold somebody back and that a good manager wants to see their employees grow, even if that means they’re promoted above you at some point and you end up working for them.
When I interview people, I am always asking myself if this is somebody that I could work for some day. What is this person’s ultimate potential? Not, “Are they good enough for the job we have open today?” This simple lesson has really made managing people enjoyable and gratifying. Sometimes it’s painful, when you see a good employee grow and move on, but it is much better than thinking I am holding somebody back from their potential.
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?
Customer service and experience are a big part of what we are selling. You might look at Cartegraph and say that software is our product. But, in order to be truly successful, we recognize that our customers need help with not just their products, but also their people and processes.
Our software, although the best on the market, is just one piece of that puzzle. To offer a comprehensive solution, we combine our product with an industry-leading services team that focuses on achieving the goals of the customer, not just getting the software live. We then follow up our implementations with a customer success program that continues to monitor and support our customers’ unique journey to high- performance operations.
This is a big differentiator for Cartegraph: that we’re a one-stop shop, a trusted advisor, and a true partner to our customers during and after the sale. We build the software, we manage the implementation of it, and we monitor and support the customer. If they have a question, I can assure you it’s never, “who do we call?”
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?
Creating a great customer experience is really hard. I don’t think any company wants to provide a poor experience, but they may not know how to fix the problems they have. Providing a great customer experience has to be part of the culture of a company, and it takes investment of both time and money to see success.
Companies focused on their profits will struggle with this as the ROI takes a long time to develop. But, once the ROI comes, it will come in many forms. Once you have a reputation for great customer experience, it helps with sales. In addition to that, it is a huge benefit for employees. It makes coming to work enjoyable and happy employees provide better service. So, once established, a customer-centric culture can really fuel itself. It can empower your teams to identify areas of improvement and strive to always try to be better tomorrow than they were today.
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 healthy for any market. A company’s reputation for customer service can be a significant differentiator, but like I said before, it is really hard to establish and maintain. So, we see competitors often focused on specific product features as their area of differentiation. I would like to think our success and focus on the overall customer experience is going to eventually force them to focus on improving their own customer experience, but hopefully not.
We have also embraced sites like Capterra, encouraging our customers to share their reviews of Cartegraph. I believe sites like this and social media are external drivers that could influence a company’s focus on their customers.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
One of my favorite stories that resulted in a wow moment occurred during a short-list demonstration with a Cartegraph prospect. The city asked each vendor to provide a list of three reference accounts, which is fairly normal. But the reference information they requested was only about the customer account — what they purchased, how long they had used it, etc. Nowhere did the request ask for contact information of an actual person at the reference account they could contact. Seeing this, we knew every competitor could fill out the form and claim all the right things, but the Cartegraph difference is in our people and our customer experience..
We adjusted our demonstration plan to include a Facetime call with our references and the prospect. We used an iPad to call our references and allow the selection committee to ask them questions on the spot as part of our presentation. The prospect was blown away that we would do this and be this open about them contacting our accounts. After we were selected as the preferred vendor, they told us this was a differentiating moment for them. No other vendor offered up or even suggested to them they should have this level of interaction with their reference accounts.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
That presentation idea, along with a few other influencing ideas that surfaced around that time, have really changed how we pursue new customers. We focus less on the features of the software, and really focus on selling Cartegraph as a whole.
We incorporate introductions to our project managers, account managers and customer success team into our sales meetings. We encourage free trials of our solutions and ask that the account contact our support team with any questions, so they can experience our amazing service.
As I mentioned earlier, our competitors’ software is attempting to solve the same challenges we are addressing, so the difference in software packages is marginal. But the people our customers work with is the difference we can provide, and now we do a better job of highlighting that difference.
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.
- Put yourself in your customers shoes: We appreciate that a deep sense of empathy must live throughout the business. From designing and coding software, to supporting customers, to partnering with them along their journey to high performance — we understand the importance of listening and the power of perspective. As an executive team we list leading with empathy as one of our key tenets to success.
- Build a culture, not a process: It is easy to get caught up trying to build the perfect process that never lets something fall through the cracks. But often this can be a never-ending exercise that gets everybody focused on the wrong thing. Instead, build a culture focused on great customer service and empower your teams to make it happen. Process is still needed, but if the focus is how it impacts the customer, that means your focus is on the customer which is where it belongs.
- Measure it: Nothing original here. If you are going to take the time to try and improve something, start with a baseline measurement. Very often these changes can take a long time, and it is tremendously powerful to look back and see how far things have come. If you are not measuring the results along the way, it can at times feel like nothing is changing. Seeing the results can be very motivating for a team
- Share the news: Keep your teams informed. And encourage them to do the same for you. The news is the news, don’t hide it, don’t sugar coat it. Some news is good, and some is bad. But bad news that does not get surfaced only gets worse. It is important to not react adversely to news; doing so will build a culture of hiding it
- Celebrate it: Take time to celebrate the successes, small and large. It is important to recognize the positive moments and give everybody an opportunity to enjoy them. This includes communicating with your customers and letting them know the initiatives you have in place to improve. And, when you can point to improvements, you should.
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?
You need to ask for the feedback and be prepared that it may not all be good. If you are not willing to hear the challenges that exist, you can’t expect to hear the good. We often poll our customers in an attempt to draw this information out of them as part of our continuous improvement process.
The second thing you can do is give them more than one avenue to provide feedback. We do this through direct contact, NPS surveys and community forums, like Capterra.
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. 🙂
Encourage people to give their time. Not everybody can make financial donations, but we all have time. It is really easy to get caught up in the day to day and feel like you don’t have any free time. But I would challenge anybody to really look at their schedule and tell me they don’t have a half a day during the year that they could volunteer in their community. If we all could just give that much, I think we would be amazed with the impact it would have.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!