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Phil Lore of Affinity Solutions: “It starts with culture”

It starts with culture. You need to be authentic in your drive to create a differentiated and valued CX, share the mission with the company, and hire the people who are passionate about the mission and believe they can contribute to delivering on it. Build the experience into your product or service. A WOW CX […]

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It starts with culture. You need to be authentic in your drive to create a differentiated and valued CX, share the mission with the company, and hire the people who are passionate about the mission and believe they can contribute to delivering on it. Build the experience into your product or service. A WOW CX should be by design across all solutions and delivered across all channels of engagement. For example, if you have an eCommerce channel, everything from the user interface, the path to purchase and customer service experience must be consistent in communicating the brand’s values. Always be communicating with your customers on how they feel about your product and brand. This goes back to the ‘satisfied’ versus ‘very satisfied’ customer. Only through thoughtful and intentional communication and openness and interest in feedback can you truly have ‘very satisfied’ customers.

Any weak link in your product or service will undermine the customer experience you’re focused on delivering. You must walk the talk, and that starts at the top. If you’re not consistent in modeling the behaviors true to your stated mission and culture, it falls apart.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Phil Lore, EVP, and Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) for Affinity Solutions. Prior to joining the company, he served as Group VP of the Financial Services business unit at Acxiom Corporation. Phil has over 20 years of experience building high performance sales/account teams in Banking and Financial Services. Phil began his career at IBM, holding many management, sales and operations roles. He has been a guest lecturer at the MIT MBA program and was a Certified IBM Client Executive through Harvard Business school. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a BA in Economics, and a minor in Computer Science.

In 2019, Phil was recognized by New York City and New York state as one of the top 100 professionals for his charitable efforts. He serves as the co-chair for NYC Academies helping disadvantaged students with career and college readiness. He currently lives with his wife Erin in Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY.


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?

Growing up in a blue-collar neighborhood in northern New Jersey gave me an appreciation for hard work, strong family, community and the importance of what would become lifelong friendships. My first job was as a paperboy in our community, at the time a pretty rough neighborhood in Jersey City, NJ. I was the second member of my extended Italian-Irish family to attend college, studying economics and computer science at Rutgers University.

My goal after graduating college was to get hired by one of the most admired and sought-after companies in terms of employment, which led me to a job at IBM. What has stayed with me to this day is their strong culture, which is focused on growing leadership from within based on a strong meritocracy. I was fortunate to have had a variety of management roles across different parts of the IBM organization prior to becoming a sales leader for financial services where I worked on Wall Street with key clients, including American Express, Goldman Sachs, and Merrill Lynch.

I’ve spent my career building businesses predominantly in financial services, like I did for over 12 years at Acxiom where I ran the financial services business and now as the Chief Revenue Officer at Affinity Solutions, where I see tremendous opportunity to build out solutions for brands to deliver on a truly transformational customer experience.

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?

Early in my sales career, I secured a meeting with the CFO at one of the largest investment banking firms in the world. He asked me why I was there, and I immediately launched into a product pitch. He listened and then politely recommended I speak with the CIO because, and I quote, “I don’t do that.” At that moment, I learned a critical lesson which has helped me throughout my career. I hadn’t at all thought about what his objectives might be for taking this meeting. You’ve got to do your research, prepare, know your audience, ask good questions and listen as much, if not more, than speak. You need to listen closely and focus on your prospective client and their point-of-view first, not lead with your own agenda. Often, we’re too interested on what we have ‘on the truck to sell,’ which is the mistake I made with the CFO.

As a corollary, you can always get one meeting with a senior executive if you’re tenacious, but this approach will not get you a second meeting or a sale. This is something I have instilled in our sales organization and across the company at Affinity Solutions. The customer’s needs and objectives are our North Star. Before you try to solve a problem or propose a product, you come prepared with a strong point of view that has a crystallized value proposition for the prospective client.

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?

One of my first influencers was my first grade teacher, Sister Helen Mary at St. Aedan’s. Sister Helen Mary identified me as having a good voice and asked me to sing a couple of Christmas carols in front of the class. I think of this as my first ‘public speaking engagement.’ She not only shared her belief in a talent I never thought I had, she encouraged me to perform outside of our class, and soon I was singing for the second and third grade classes too. This early encouragement gave me confidence that I had something of value to share, which enabled me to believe in myself.

Someone else who has greatly influenced me is John Wooden, known as the “Wizard of Westwood.” He was the legendary coach of the UCLA Bruins and one the most successful college basketball coaches in history. He holds the record for the most National Championships. He’s written many books on leadership, and one of the key learnings is to focus not on the outcome (winning) but on the fundamentals of the game including practice, preparation, and team work. I’ve applied these principals throughout my career, focusing the organization and teams I have led on doing the hard work, coming prepared, and the value of collaboration in working as a high-performing team. If you put in the consistent hard work, and stop focusing only on ‘winning,’ the results will come. Simply put, reverse-engineer the equation. Look at the outcome you want to achieve, and do the work needed to get there, while learning from your mistakes along the way.

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 read a book early in my career called The Very Satisfied Customer. One of the major learnings was the difference between a “satisfied customer” and a “very satisfied customer.” This was a precursor to Net Promoter Scores businesses use today. The takeaway I’ve found to be true in my decades of sales, is the significant difference that lies between these two cohorts. The “satisfied customers” operate much differently and have specific characteristics.

The “Satisfied Customer”

  • Is much more willing to entertain competitors to your product or services.
  • Is typically more price sensitive and transaction focused.

The “Very Satisfied Customer”

  • Appreciates the business relationship that extends beyond being one of many vendors because of their view of the value delivered in the relationship.
  • Is more willing to be strong advocates across their company and outside the organization.
  • Is investing in the benefits of a long-term strategic relationship.

“Very satisfied customers” are more profitable, loyal and represent the core of your business.

This is much different than a typical client-satisfaction view that high-risk customers are only those which are neutral or negative on the company and actively complaining. Many “satisfied customers” are at risk of being acquired by your competitors, particularly in today’s environment where brand loyalty is so in flux. The more you can do to elevate relationships to a strategic level, the healthier, more profitable and sustainable your business will be. I’m always amazed when businesses are so focused on acquisition and they don’t prioritize nurturing, retaining, and growing their existing customer relationships.

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 believe many companies do make a good customer experience (CX) a priority, but often, the stories of bad experiences get more media attention, or go viral and can destroy brand reputation in minutes. This is a reality in a world where the customer rules and has more influence than ever. One thing to realize is any brand will screw up and a customer might have a bad experience. The difference lies in the brands that address issues proactively and authentically. Brands which do well don’t just fix the problem, rather they acknowledge where they went wrong, how it impacted the customer and outline a path to a better future. Any strong brand knows mistakes will be made, but also understands it’s often the bad experience that is the best opportunity to create customers who aren’t just loyal, but also advocate for your brand.

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?

From a market standpoint, there’s a lot more pressure on brands because the barrier to entry is lower with advances in technology and an ability for entrepreneurs to go DTC from the outset. Both inside and outside of your market, the consumer is defining best-in-class client experience, regardless of the category. If a consumer has a great experience with their favorite brand of outdoor equipment, they will have those same expectations across category. Expectations don’t stagger by niche. Great customer experience is becoming the expectation across all industries. This is why many brands are working to build subscription models, not only to drive acquisition, loyalty and trust, but also create streams of recurring revenue.

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

In times of great distress, customers truly appreciate you valuing the long-term relationship versus a short-term deal, or in-year profits. Since the onset of the pandemic, at Affinity Solutions, we’ve focused on restructuring contracts for struggling businesses, and know our clients appreciate this approach and consideration. This was a necessary departure from business as usual for today’s highly difficult and unusual times.

This goes back to the ‘satisfied’ versus ‘very satisfied’ customer. Who would you rather work with long-term? A partner or brand that invests in your future and understands your challenges or one which is solely focused on themselves? It’s an easy answer, and I can point to many times in my career when faced with this choice. Simply put, it’s the long-game that matters, and that’s true in any relationship, not just business.

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

At Affinity Solutions, our pivot with customers during the pandemic has engendered a stronger commitment to the partnership and solutions we can deliver to drive their business forward. Not just in highly difficult times, but as business begins to normalize and retain momentum. Our customers understand how Affinity Solutions has helped them navigate through these challenges, and will work to drive even greater value going forward.

I’d also like to share a WOW CX that’s personal and a bit unorthodox in terms of how we think and talk about CX: When I was newly living in Park Slope, Brooklyn with my then fiancé (now wife) I was traveling by car from home to my Manhattan office. I had my briefcase and a suitcase with wheels to bring to the office for an overnight trip to Boston that evening. En-route to Manhattan I received a call from a police officer from our neighborhood informing me he found my briefcase on our corner sidewalk after a neighbor alerted them of it. He asked if I could come by the precinct to pick it up, but I was already in Manhattan at this point, so he asked if anyone was home to pick it up for me. I gave him my wife’s number to arrange for her to get it, and to both our surprise he offered to deliver it instead. This is a gesture from an officer in the largest city in the U.S.

This is to say WOW customer experiences, no matter who you are, or what you do, are all about one thing: going the extra mile and showing a person that they matter. Those are the things people remember and what brands should be focusing on today, in a world where convenience trumps loyalty, and emotional engagement and trust has never been more vital.

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.

It starts with culture. You need to be authentic in your drive to create a differentiated and valued CX, share the mission with the company, and hire the people who are passionate about the mission and believe they can contribute to delivering on it. Build the experience into your product or service. A WOW CX should be by design across all solutions and delivered across all channels of engagement. For example, if you have an eCommerce channel, everything from the user interface, the path to purchase and customer service experience must be consistent in communicating the brand’s values. Always be communicating with your customers on how they feel about your product and brand. This goes back to the ‘satisfied’ versus ‘very satisfied’ customer. Only through thoughtful and intentional communication and openness and interest in feedback can you truly have ‘very satisfied’ customers.

Any weak link in your product or service will undermine the customer experience you’re focused on delivering. You must walk the talk, and that starts at the top. If you’re not consistent in modeling the behaviors true to your stated mission and culture, it falls apart.

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?

A company must have a culture that encourages the sharing of these WOW experiences, then have a process for capturing and promoting them across their clients, partners, and the industry. Finally, you must recognize and reward those who bring these stories to the company and industry to encourage it company-wide. If you’re struggling to find advocates for your brand, then you need to take a step back to examine the services and products you’re delivering, and the strength of the relationships. One of the benefits of focusing on creating ‘very satisfied’ customers is they’re inclined towards advocating for your brand both across their company and the industry.

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. 🙂

I believe many companies and their employees are very interested in how they can help support efforts to address inequities within our society. For example, I’ve been involved with the National Academy Foundation’s (NAF) NYC chapter for over a decade, currently serving as the co-chair. We’re focused on college and career readiness, and internships and mentoring programs for predominately minority and underprivileged high school students. This is a great time for companies to step up their efforts to provide life-changing internship and mentoring opportunities to help these kids develop valuable skill-sets and open their minds and imagination to careers and opportunities they might not have thought possible.

If you’d like to get involved with NAF you can contact me at [email protected] and visit www.nycacadamies.org to learn more .

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/phil-lore-8854624/

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


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