Norman Happ of EZ Texting: “Thank customers and invite them back”

Thank customers and invite them back. Do what you can to make customers feel remembered and appreciated. Thank them for their business and create a welcoming environment for returning customers. This is something else that my local hardware store excels at. They actually follow up with you to find out how your projects are going […]

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Thank customers and invite them back. Do what you can to make customers feel remembered and appreciated. Thank them for their business and create a welcoming environment for returning customers. This is something else that my local hardware store excels at. They actually follow up with you to find out how your projects are going and will ask for updates when you visit the store. There are, of course, ways to accomplish this at scale.

As part of my series about the “How To Create A Fantastic Retail Experience That Keeps Bringing Customers Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Norman Happ.

Norman Happ is EZ Texting’s CEO. Previously, he was at Evernote since 2016 as Senior Vice President of Sales and Partnerships and was responsible for growing company revenue worldwide. Having previously spent 8 years in go-to-market executive roles within Intuit’s Small Business Group, he knows the challenges of high-velocity SaaS sales. During his time at Intuit, Norman developed and designed a series of breakthrough customer-targeting data mining algorithms. Prior to Intuit, he spent 5 years at H&R Block in diverse leadership roles, where he was responsible for building and scaling the company’s first inside sales organization. Early on in his career, Norman founded two technology companies and worked extensively throughout Europe. He credits his career beginnings as a technologist for setting the foundation for his tools-driven, analytical, yet customer-oriented approach towards revenue growth.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, 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 fell in love with computers and technology at a very young age, so part of my story begins there. I had planned to go to law school, but then I realized software was a far better fit with my brain and I decided to pursue that instead.

The other part of my story begins with skiing. I loved to ski, and I started working at 14 to fund my skiing habit. This is how I fell in love with the intensity and reward of working under great pressure.

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?

I had a college internship at Computer Associates, and they told me they had “flex hours.” I was still living in Virginia where the summers are notoriously hot, and I had an old car my parents lent me that didn’t have air conditioning. I was unclear about what “flex hours” meant, so I started going into the office at 4 a.m. so that my dress shirt, which I ironed myself each day, wouldn’t get sweaty. I worked from 4 a.m to 2 p.m., got in a full workday, avoided the in-office smokers, and still got in nine holes of golf every afternoon at a course where a friend worked. Lesson learned: do what you can to achieve balance in your life.

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?

My dad and mom are the two hardest working people I have encountered in my life. They helped shape my belief that anything is possible — but you have to work your butt off for it. Instead of telling me my nutty new business ideas were bad, they would help me refine them and ensure I believed the possibilities were endless.

Another person is Mark Ernst, the ex-CEO of H&R Block. I worked for Mark for just under two years in a chief of staff role. During this time, Mark taught me how to tear down the financials of a business and create sophisticated models of various outcomes.

I’m also grateful for Caroline Donahue, ex-Chief Sales & Marketing Officer at Intuit. In my eight years at Intuit, Caronline taught me how to deepen my focus on organizational design and winning the hearts and minds. She has a special gift for uncovering talents people didn’t know they had. She’s a people-whisperer which motivated and grew people while delivering business results.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The first thing that comes to mind is Jack Welch’s biography, Jack: Straight From The Gut. His ideas about doing a rotation around a company really shaped my career. When I first read it, I was an entrepreneur twice over but still didn’t have world-class general management skills. The book prompted me to join H&R Block and do a rotation across a host of functions; this gave me a huge lift in my skills.

I also love the podcast “How I built this” buy Guy Raz as he does such a nice job of surfacing the trials and tribulations of business. He focused on entrepreneurs that often end up in the headlines and unpacks the underlying story of pivots and perseverance while humanizing the challenges they faced.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Many of our customers are small and medium-sized “mom and pop” businesses; they aren’t professional marketers and don’t have sophisticated technology or marketing teams. We help them create marketing initiatives that deliver real results and break through a very noisy advertising environment.

For example, one of our customers is Farm Fresh Foods, a husband and wife team who provide organic, family-farmed food. EZ Texting has yielded a 15% clickthrough rate, a conversion rate 3x higher than email, and an return on advertising spend 10x higher than any other channel they use.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Take care of yourself physically. Exercise cleanses the mind. I’ve been meeting with the same group of four friends to go running every Tuesday, Thursday and most Saturdays for the last 13 years. We assemble at 5:45 a.m. and share stories of business, family, and technology… it’s generally the best hour and a half of my day.

The other thing I would advise is to make small changes often. For example, change your scenery, work schedule, tools, and meeting formats. Keep things interesting.

The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. The Pandemic only made things much worse for retailers in general. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?

The retailers which are thriving during the pandemic have a few things in common. Most have invested in great people, innovations and systems. They also share a focus on the customer experience and a willingness to listen to customers even when it’s uncomfortable.

In addition, they made preemptive changes to the way they do business. If you’re changing under duress, you’re likely behind the curve.

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?

Other companies might be able to undersell you, but they can’t fake quality or a good customer experience. There will always be people willing to pay for that. There are two keys to success: product innovation and untouchable service.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a retail business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Many founders fall in love with the solution they’re developing and stop really listening to prospective customers. Like all people, business leaders are prone to confirmation bias and can get stuck only hearing feedback that supports their thesis which may be misaligned with the customer.

My advice is to be an astute listener and fall in love with the problem instead of the solution. That will keep your focus in the right place. Also, be sure to test ideas before making big decisions or investments.

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 in general and for retail in particular?

Customers have a vast choice of retailers to choose from. Customer experience is the real differentiator. Is your brand voice distinctive? Is the shopping experience easy and intuitive? These are the things that keep customers coming back.

You also have to develop trust with your customers. They need to have confidence that they’ll get what they asked for when you promised to deliver it. Price is just a race to the bottom.

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 have to believe that many companies still don’t understand the damage of mediocre service and/or the viral impact of amazing service.

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

One of our customers is Bailey Bariatrics. They do gastric bypass and weight loss surgeries, and they use EZ Texting for marketing and to communicate with patients.

When they switched everything to telemedicine last April, they found that their patients were much more responsive to texts than to other forms of communication. EZ Texting enabled them to do thousands of telemedicine visits they couldn’t have done otherwise.

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

By incorporating texting, they were able to schedule and complete thousands of telemedicine visits, which literally saved lives. That’s a pretty great ripple effect.

A fantastic retail experience isn’t just one specific thing. It can be a composite of many different subtle elements fused together. Can you help us break down and identify the different ingredients that come together to create a “fantastic retail experience”?

To me, a great retail experience begins with an excellent customer experience. You create that by being a good listener. What do your customers actually want from you? Where is your business succeeding? What could be improved? Sometimes identifying answers to these questions requires reading a bit between the lines.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.

To elaborate on the points above:

  • Deliver expertise. For example, my local hardware store has a staff that is truly knowledgeable about home renovation and improvement projects. They greet customers at the door, ask about their projects, and give them undivided attention, one at a time. That’s a true value-add.
  • Go above and beyond with the customer experience. I get excellent support, often for free, at a local tire and auto repair shop.For example, the staff takes care of you right away, and they don’t charge for small jobs. Their priority is customer loyalty, so they’re not nickel and diming customers. They know if they take care of you for the small things, you’ll come back to them for the big things.
  • Listen actively. Actively try to understand the problem you’re trying to solve and what your customers actually need from you. To stick with my neighborhood tire and auto repair shop example, they create an environment of trust with customers and make them feel comfortable enough to ask questions. This gives them the opportunity to understand what customers really need and most appreciate from them.
  • Make interactions with your company easy and pleasant. This includes in person and by text, phone, email, or app. Be respectful of your customers’ time. What comes to mind for me here is the Chick-fil-A drive-through experience. They personally guide you through the process of getting your food. It’s easy and pleasant and takes the burden off of the customer.
  • Thank customers and invite them back. Do what you can to make customers feel remembered and appreciated. Thank them for their business and create a welcoming environment for returning customers. This is something else that my local hardware store excels at. They actually follow up with you to find out how your projects are going and will ask for updates when you visit the store. There are, of course, ways to accomplish this at scale.

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.

I would start a movement to help people lead healthier lives.

I’d love to see parents waking up to go running or swimming before their children go to school. Exercise isn’t just about the body. It creates variety in the day and often provides a catalyst for stimulating, intellectual conversations.

I’ve been doing this myself for more than 20 years, and I can’t overstate the mental health benefits of starting the day with exercise. It improves your mood, affects how you treat other people, and sets you up mentally and emotionally for the rest of the day. It’s been particularly vital this past year, and I wish I could share it with the millions of people struggling with depression after a year of lockdown. It’s an excellent antidote.

How can our readers further follow your work?

They are welcome to follow me on LinkedIn and the EZ Texting website.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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