You have to sit next to a customer to be able to really understand their pain – Interview with Ben Velker of Edgenet

Working together

Today’s interview is with Ben Velker who is Senior Vice President of Growth at Edgenet, a Nashville-based software-as-a-service company that provides industry-leading retailers, distributors, websites and suppliers with the ability to manage and improve their product content. Ben joins me today to talk about how Edgenet has turned around it’s customer service over the last two years, what they have done, how they have done it, why they didn’t go done the ‘more tech’ route and what that has meant for their business and their clients.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – Zappos: Customer experience, employee experience, culture and holocracy – Interview with Rob Siefker of Zappos and Zappos Insights – and is number 186 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to their customers.

Here’s the highlights of my interview with Ben:

  • Edgenet synchronise product data for retailers.
  • Retailers are always asking more and better data from their suppliers about their products as a way of differentiating themselves.
  • Product suppliers don’t always get this so Edgenet has to spend a lot of time explaining the ‘why’ to product suppliers and that data quality is of paramount importance.
  • As a result, Edgenet scores product suppliers on the quality of their data to give them a better understanding of how they rank relative to the demands of retailers.
  • However, Edgenet has learned about customer service hard way. After assuming new leadership in 2014, the company realised its customer service was in bad shape.
  • But, rather than throwing ‘more tech’ at the problem which would be a normal approach for a technology company, they set up Edgenet Academy in Nashville, which is a face to face, hands on training ‘best practice’ course/centre.
  • This also allows them to strengthen relationships, build empathy and understanding with their customers and offer face to face time with Edgenet specialists so they can the best out of their use of the technology.
  • Edgenet are willing to spend almost any amount of time and resources to help their customers use their tool and thrive as they know that when that happens their future customer support costs will go down.
  • Each course involves a number of retailers and product suppliers so that they all network and learn from each other.
  • They have put two ‘warring’ factions together (retailers and product suppliers) and, in doing so, have helped them establish better working relationships and understanding and that, ultimately, they both want the same thing.
  • They are helping both sides get to value faster.
  • On the back of these face to face encounters the suppliers and suppliers are creating their own smaller support communities.
  • That is one of the next big challenges for Edgenet ……how they can support those community initiatives through technology.
  • When establishing Edgenet Academy they put all of their sales efforts on hold to make sure that that everyone ‘got’ what they were trying to do.
  • In fact, they also believed that by getting all of their people, including their sales people, involved it would make them better sales people.
  • In terms of the impact on their business, their data quality scores are now much, much higher and suppliers are willing to work harder once they have met a retailer.
  • In addition, their customer churn rate has dropped by 50%.
  • Now that they have invested heavily in ‘face time’ they are now looking to invest in technology that can support and scale the gains they have made through the face to face investment. However, they would only recommend doing it this way round as the relationships, understanding and empathy are the things that are really driving the success of their approach.
  • You can’t do this slowly. You have to sit next to someone to be able to understand their ‘pain’.
  • Ben begs everyone to really, really imagine what it is like to be a customer.
  • Your most valuable employee who best understands the customer should be the person answering the phone and not a lower-paid and lesser-skilled employee who doesn’t understand the customer. This is counter to the way that most companies do it where they have lower skilled/lower understanding employees answer the phones first.
  • Wow service is all about empathy.
  • Ben wanted to shamelessly plug Gainsight’s Pulse conference in the US and in Europe. Check it out as they and the folks that run the conference have helped Edgenet tremendously.

About Ben

Ben VelkerBen Velker is Senior Vice President of Growth at Edgenet, a Nashville-based software-as-a-service company that provides industry-leading retailers, distributors, websites and suppliers with the ability to manage and improve their product content. Edgenet’s Product Content Cloud and m2o solutions help manufacturers, brands and retailers sell easier and sell more across all channels, anywhere, on any device, at any time.

Check out what Edgenet is up to on their site (, say Hi to them on Twitter @edgenet and connect with Ben on LinkedIn here.

Photo Credit: luebke_ via Compfight cc

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