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It’s the little things

Release Date: October 13, 2020 • Episode #137

A driving factor for any business to be successful is the ability to differentiate – setting your company apart from the competition by creating great experiences for your customers. Three ways to do that is with personalization, ease, and speed – and its the first of these three that our guest is going to talk about today. Host Steve Walker welcomes Marcus Hall, president and partner at California Closets, for a discussion about not only personalizing the product, but the experience as well.

Marcus Hall

Marcus Hall
California Closets
Connect with Marcus

Highlights

The value of peronsalization:

Marcus Hall: “…personalization for us is really about every customer, every employee, every situation being unique, much like our product. We say [the] customer is our standard. Every customer, every home, every office, every space is unique in and of itself. The the walls are different. The flooring is different. Everything is unique in construction and the built environment. And so it behooves us to match our custom product with the customer experience. And we do that through a great deal of trying to listen from the very first conversation and interaction with customers and collecting what we call connecting those dots that ultimately tell a story, that hopefully plays out in this theater of of an experience.”

Leading the team:

Marcus Hall: “…my leadership team and myself have realized that if we can deliver creative experiences for our internal customers — our employees — their ability to go out and deliver that in the field goes up exponentially. We do the same things we do for customers, which is that we ask questions. We’re listening. We’re gathering information. We’re getting data points. We certainly run those broad, generalized surveys, but we look for opportunities to lean in every week. We have a leadership team meeting and we talk about the the moments for the week. What are the moments that we should focus on across our fifty six employees? What are the opportunities that we can lean into some kind of event, something that’s happening in the employees life where we can support them or their family and just create some excitement or again, support in that challenging time?”

Transcript

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Steve:
Here's a little thought experiment: two companies both alike in product, but one company decides to personalize the way you experience their product and service. Which one do you choose?

Marcus:
It's almost this culture of a healthy one-upmanship of who can come back with the most incredible client experience, where we went above and beyond and delivered for someone well outside the scope of our project.

Steve:
Personalizing the customer experience to help set your company apart from the competition on this episode of… The CX Leader Podcast.

Announcer:
The CX Leader Podcast with Steve Walker is produced by Walker, an experience management firm that helps our clients accelerate their XM success. You can find out more at Walkerinfo.com.

Steve:
Hello, everyone. I'm Steve Walker, host of The CX Leader Podcast and thank you for listening. On The CX Leader Podcast we explore topics and themes to help leaders like you leverage all the benefits of your customer experience and help your customers and prospects want to do more business with you. One of the continuing themes we really drive home here on The CX Leader Podcast is the need to differentiate: setting your company apart from the competition by creating great experiences for your customers. Three ways to do that is with personalization, ease, and speed. And it's the first of these three that our guest is going to talk about today. Marcus Hall is president and partner at California Closets, a custom furniture and storage firm with offices and located throughout Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky. And he's going to talk about not only personalizing the product, but the experience as well. So, Marcus, welcome to The CX Leader Podcast.

Marcus:
Hey, Steve, thanks for having me on. Honored to be here.

Steve:
Hey, it's a pleasure to have you on. Now, we've never met in person, have we?

Marcus:
I don't think so. Now, your name and the brand Walker precedes you, but very familiar from a distance.

Steve:
Well, yeah. And actually, you're somebody that I kind of had been trolling a little bit on social media because you've got some really unique content out there from a customer experience standpoint. And then I've always been kind of fascinated with your business where you go in and help people organize their personal lives, because I feel like my business is a lot about organizing companies data closets, if you will. But why don't you just give us a little bit of background, how you got into the business at California Closets and just give us a little bit of context for our discussion today.

Marcus:
Yeah, sure. I'd be happy to. It's probably a conversation for a different day because it won't make a ton of sense on paper or if you follow the progression on LinkedIn. But, a Ball State grad, to professional sports, to the software rocket ship at ExactTarget, to now custom storage. It… There are a lot of connection points that maybe will make sense. But at the end of the day, it's been a real honor to work with some incredible people. And my two business partners today were longtime friends and mentors. And as I was exiting software looking to buy or build something, it was a really natural fit, given my passion for organization, for customer experience and really the opportunity to build something.

Steve:
Yeah, obviously, customer experience is something that's really personal and meaningful to you. And I always find it interesting how people get to where they're at because most of us didn't go to school to be a customer experience pro. But what is it about the customer experience field or what is it about this philosophy of business that that attracted you or you gravitated to throughout your various experiences?

Marcus:
It's a great question, Steve. I think there's been a lot that I've experienced, certainly as a consumer, but as an employee of some really interesting organizations at the Pacers Sports and Entertainment Organization where I spent several years, I watched how there was a lot of emotion, there was a lot of experience tied up into their product and then transitioned into software at ExactTarget. And that employee experience was unlike anything I had ever really read about or personally experienced. And now a California Closets where we spend an inordinate amount of time reading consumer feedback, talking to customers and going to some unimaginable lengths to make sure we do what we say we're going to do and deliver.

Steve:
Well, before we get into the customer experience of California closets, why don't you just give our listeners again, just a little perspective. I'm been impressed with what California Closets is all about, but just kind of the scope and scale of your business and kind of who your typical customer are. And then we'll talk about how you make that a differentiated experience.

Marcus:
So our product is a is a custom storage solution, as you mentioned, Steve. And it's really one size fits all in the sense that custom is our standard. There is no off the shelf product and we pride ourselves on both delivering a unique product and experience to go along with that. So what starts as either a virtual or in-person free consultative experience with one of our design experts kind of transitions over a number of weeks into a finished product being built in your home. We manufacture everything here locally on the Near East Side of Indianapolis, and then we send it out across the states that we operate in.

Steve:
And how many customers would you work with in a year? How many how many employees you have?

Marcus:
Yeah, we'll do about three thousand custom storage spaces over the course of a year. And that spans everything from garages to closets to pantries. And certainly with the work from home movement, some offices and customers, it it'd be over a thousand customers every year with with a high number of repeat customers, which goes directly into this whole topic of customer experience.

Steve:
Yeah, and you were mentioned to me before we started the podcast that given the current environment and people doing more work from home businesses, business is pretty good for you guys, right?

Marcus:
Yeah, we are busy. And that's changed a lot from several months ago, which we're super grateful for and just making the most of it.

Steve:
Well, we like to have the feel good stories here and on The CX Leader Podcast. About, I don't know, I want to say about seven or eight years ago, we did a study, here at Walker, on the future of customer experience. And we really boiled it down to three factors that were going to drive that. And they were ease, speed, and personalization. And we really said, if you want to try to simplify what you're trying to accomplish with your customer experience, those are three areas, kind of macro areas where you could start to think about what you're doing and how you might be doing things differently. But you mentioned it like you have one size fits all and it's always custom. So what is customization mean to you guys?

Marcus:
It's a challenge. I think, you know, as we work to scale a business, as we work to scale something that's personalized, that's probably one of the biggest hurdles or opportunities. But personalization for us is really about every customer, every employee, every situation being unique, much like our product. Right. We say customer is our standard. Every customer, every home, every office, every space is unique in and of itself. The the walls are different. The flooring is different. Everything is unique in construction and the built environment. And so it behooves us to match our custom product with the custom experience. And we do that through a great deal of trying to listen from the very first conversation and interaction with customers and collecting what we call collecting those dots that ultimately tell a story that we hopefully plays out in this theater of of an experience.

Steve:
You know, one of the examples I've used throughout my career is that it really doesn't get any more intimate than someone's home. You want to talk about stuff that customers are going to be particular about. And then if they're building a custom home with custom finishes and they're paying a premium price, they probably get even more particular. So I always admire folks like you that are in these kind of spaces because I don't think I've ever seen people that are more particular about, you know, the finished product than people that are doing a custom home or some sort of home improvement. But I think you've got sort of a three pronged approach to how you look at how do you make it personalized. And I thought our listeners would enjoy sharing that.

Marcus:
Yeah, for sure. I think there's a couple that we look at and they're probably shifting a little bit over time. But we look at the data we're collecting in the information we're compiling, we talk about enablement. So what are we doing with that information and how are we supporting the team to deliver? And then one that's changing for us a little bit is this idea of follow through in the actual execution. You nailed it, Steve. We're in one of the most intimate spaces of someone's life, and that's their home. And it forces us to be on our toes and really deliver at a high clip on the first to acknowledge we don't always get it right. But it's also a point of pride when we run a ninety one, ninety two NPS on an annual basis. So it's a real opportunity for us to really focus on those couple key things.

Steve:
And you've already made a couple references to data, which I love. And and for those of us in the business, I mean, you don't get 90 percent NPS by accident. So how does this whole thing started at your organization? Like, how do you start creating this culture where the customer is just always the first thing out of the blocks? Because you mentioned because it's all custom, there's not a lot of standard operating procedure. You probably can do some of it in process, but a lot of it is just culture and and attitude and an ability to respond properly, isn't it?

Marcus:
Yeah, yeah. I'm smiling here, although you can't see me. I think if someone at Walker who scaled a business, you can probably think about the challenges that would ensue with trying to scale something that is custom one of a kind every time. But it is. It's founded on data. It's founded on listening. It's founded on information that people tell us on a daily basis. And I think there's this idea of the team focuses on what we as the leader continue to focus on. The drum that I beat really echoes throughout the organization. And I play the role of chief reminding officer as it relates to NPS and customer feedback. We read customer feedback and NPS commentary daily. We actually get three different flavors of NPS from someone who chose us, from someone who did not choose us, and from someone who's in the middle of choosing us. And I think we also wrestle with a little bit of this survey fatigue and are we doing too much, too little? But we talk about it often and we review the feedback and we remind ourselves and I remind myself that feedback is a gift. And there's always an opportunity to grow within what we're hearing from customers and then trying to apply that each and every time.

Steve:
And do you have good response rates with the three pronged approach?

Marcus:
I did my homework, assuming you might ask me that. So we're about fifty three percent response on our core customer completed project survey and the other two I don't have in front of me, but I mean, I'm pretty pleased with our response rate. There's no dilution to what we're hearing.

Steve:
My guest on the podcast today is Marcus Hall, he's the president and partner California Closets, custom furniture and storage firm here in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky. And we're having a fascinating discussion about really unique culture that Marcus has built in a business that customers are very particular about, and that's custom design, storage spaces and closets in their homes. You obviously have a lot of employees that are working directly with the customers. Is there ways that you have found to use this data with the front line, the customer facing employees? And have they been able to utilize the data to help them enhance the experiences and maybe even enhance your own processes and in training and programs and so forth?

Marcus:
Yeah, I think trying to enable the teammates that are at the end of the sort of experience actually delivering something in front of a customer, we kind of refer to it again as theater. Right. This thing is unfolding and building something in your home and you're watching it transpire. After nine weeks ago, you dreamt this up with a designer on your kitchen table. So there's a lot that happens. Actually, one of the challenges is how do we pull that back into other parts of the business that don't get to experience that? You know, the customer walking into the room and saying, oh, my gosh, I'm blown away or some kind of expletive laced tirade, that's in a positive sense. So we actually try to figure out ways to pull that back into the other side of the business. But we've tried to create a culture of just communication at the front lines. So we have a talented team we hire to this sort of this culture. They attract teammates that love focusing on customer experiences. And it's almost this culture of a healthy one upmanship of who can come back with the most incredible client experience where we went above and beyond and to deliver it for someone well outside the scope of our project. Some of the best examples are these are incredible craftsmen and craftswomen in the field creating things and oftentimes they'll complete the project and someone at their home, if you're like me, I'm unfortunately very not handy. They might ask that that technician to do other things in the home or ask for a favor while they there. And they do it with a smile and they do it with the same approach they did to complete the project.

Steve:
So your folks actually go out and install these things, too. Is that different from the people that design it? I mean, how do you kind of organize your work from a departmental function?

Marcus:
Yeah, that's a great question, Steve. And I think one of the points we're trying to continually reduce the friction as the data comes in to the designer has that experience with you and your home or your office. And they're creating the space. And there's a lot of those little dots we're collecting something that's really important to you. Maybe it's a piece of memorabilia or something you want to focus on as the design centers around that. So when we worked with the design team, they have forms that they're completing. So when they complete those forms and they push a project through the middle of the business, they add those those little nuggets, those little dots of information that help tell the story to the install team, which then armed that team with information data to then deliver on specific components. We had an example this week where a client, very sad and tragic scenario, wanted a space to be transformed before the the wife passed away due to a terminal illness. And that information flowed all the way through my teams calling me in the field because there's some things they wanted to do to go above and beyond. And I think it's just that culture of collecting the information, making sure it goes all the way through. So the team that's delivering it on the end can actually make it super actionable.

Steve:
So in some ways, this is a tough business, too, from an employee standpoint, because it's custom, it's deadline oriented, it's the customers are particular. What's your strategy around your employee experience?

Marcus:
I think this one Steve's been been a very humbling journey for me. We started doing employee surveys about two years ago as well, and lots of growth and lots of opportunity as a leader, growing the team, leading a team. But my leadership team and myself have realized that if we can deliver create experiences for our internal customers, our employees, their ability to go out and deliver that in the field goes up exponentially. We do the same things we do for customers, which is that we ask questions. We're listening. We're gathering information. We're getting data points. We certainly run those broad, generalized surveys, but we look for opportunities to lean in every week. We have a leadership team meeting and we talk about the the moments for the week. What are the moments that we should focus on across our fifty six employees? What are the opportunities that we can lean into some kind of event, something that's happening in the employees life where we can support them or their family and just create some excitement or again, support in that challenging time.

Steve:
I've got to tell you, Marcus, you've got a really sophisticated approach here. And I admire people that are willing to go to these lengths to actually take this kind of information in and build off of it. And I think that's how you build a great organization today. Because, you know, everybody enjoys and wants a good experience and probably deserves one, and I think that's where the market forces are taking us to. You mentioned earlier that your team kind of tries to one up each other on on their experiences. And you mentioned that the sort of sad situation with the spouse that was passing. But can you share any other memorable, fantastic customer experiences from your team or where you think we're doing some really neat work here?

Marcus:
Yeah, there's a lot to choose from. And every time someone asks me, I think about, gosh, we've got to create a better catalog. We've got to find a better way to capture this data and some of these stories. But, you know, there's two that come to mind. There was an employee, a designer who had a project with a customer who had a couple of young children who were hanging around during the design process. So you can imagine how productive or drawn out that that engagement was. And so they made sure the designer made sure to to flag those things. Hey, young children around the home who want to be super engaged. So when our installer shows up on site, as you can imagine, with all the tools and all the tool boxes, he has two branded little plastic toolboxes for the children. And sure enough, those children got to partake in the install. And you can't replace the emotion, the smile, like, you know, ear to ear that mom and dad had. The children are having a blast and you have to install took a little longer. But, you know, you talk about customer for life or customer experience. There's you know, that is priceless. When we look at those kind of things.

Steve:
I can picture that. I mean, kids love to imitate. And like you, I'm not very handy. So I always get fascinated with watching people who can actually build stuff. So I guess there's a little kid in me still left. But Was that idea, was that the team or the installer or the designer?

Marcus:
Yeah, I think that's one of the most exciting things about this whole approach, Steve, is that I'm learning from our team. It's certainly I have a passion to create moments and experiences for employees and customers, and that's the pursuit. But our team teaches me every week they're asking for something that I never thought about. They're pushing us from the front lines on up the chain internally. So these are all things that have manifested themselves throughout the organization. I think it's our job as leaders to kind of grease the skids and accelerate and make it easier to support that financially because the team continues to come up with new and exciting opportunities to do that, both for customers and for each other.

Steve:
What's the future hold for you? I mean, where… You've obviously done a lot of things right, but what are some of the things that you're still working on or what are the things that keep you up at night in terms of what you're trying to build in your business?

Marcus:
Yes, Steve, I think for us it's staying focused on the things that have got us here that'll help us as we continue to experience some exciting growth. And that's stay true to some values, like being smart, hungry and humble. And for us, this pursuit of employee experience or customer experience, we're sort of in this phase of progress over perfection. We know that this is probably a place we'll never land. It's never really done. And I acknowledge that we probably missed something today or I'll miss something tomorrow. And but it's our pursuit of that world class experience, that Google review, that viral moment that drives us, and that that's the North Star for us. Constant improvement, realizing perfection probably isn't isn't right around the corner.

Steve:
Ok, Marcus Hall, we've reached that part of The CX Leader Podcast where I always ask our guests to give their take home value, their best tip. And it's designed to help our CX pros go back into the office today or tomorrow and improve what they're doing. So Marcus Hall, what is your best tip as a customer experience devotee?

Marcus:
What I would recommend that you listen or read the book Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath. I'm a voracious reader by hobby and unfortunately, by necessity, since I'm never the smartest guy in the room and always playing catch up. But this book, Steve, has been transformational for me. Now my leadership team and our company, I referenced it. We hold a 90 minute leadership meeting. We spend ten minutes talking about moments. And the thing I love about the book is it talks about all the organic things happening in life that just get underappreciated or under celebrated. And we've done some of the most mundane things, but it's meant the world to employees and customers. So read that book or listen to that book. It's been a game changer for me.

Steve:
You know what? I'm going to do it. So thank you for mentioning that. Marcus Hall is the president, partner, California Closets, a custom furniture and storage firm in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky. Thank you, Marcus, for being a guest on The CX Leader Podcast is a real pleasure to interview you, so…

Marcus:
Thank you, Steve. We appreciate the opportunity.

Steve:
And just in case any of our listeners would want to try to continue the conversation or reference anything, you want to give a website or LinkedIn profile or something like that if people want to try to connect with you?

Marcus:
Yeah, absolutely. You can find us online at californiaclosets.com or you can find me on LinkedIn, "Marcus Hall."

Steve:
Yeah, and I would encourage our listeners to check out his LinkedIn page. Marcus is a little bit too humble, but he's actually been a speaker at organizations that are trying to get better customer focus. And he's got some good content out there on LinkedIn. And if you want to talk about anything you heard on the podcast or about how Walker can help your business customer experience, feel free to email me at a podcast@walkerinfo.com and be sure to check out our website, cxleaderpodcast.com, to subscribe to the show and find all our previous episodes, podcast, series and contact information. And you can drop us a note there. Tell us how we're doing or give us an idea for a future program. The CX Leader Podcast is a production of Walker with an experience management firm that helps companies accelerate their XM success. You can read more about us at Walkerinfo.com. Thanks for listening and we'll see you again next time.

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