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Today’s interview is with Carey Smith, founder & CEO (Chief Big Ass), and Dave Waltz, Customer Advocate, of Big Ass Fans, a manufacturer of high-volume low-speed fans for industrial, agricultural, commercial and residential use.
Carey and Dave join me today to talk about how their customer service strategy has been central to growing the business from $34 million in revenue in 2009 to a projected $175 million in 2014, what they are doing that’s different, silent complaints, why they hired a full-time customer advocate and what that person (Dave and his team) does and what they are responsible for.
This interview follows on from my recent interview: Moving from the era of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) to the era of CMR (Customer Managed Relationships) – Interview with Geraldine McBride of MyWave – and is number 122 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, helping businesses innovate, become more social and deliver better service.
Highlights of my interview with Carey and Dave:
- The business was started 15 years ago. It started with 6 employees and they sold 140 fans in their first year. Now, they have 650 employees and are set to sell some where in the region of 100,000 fans this year that will generate receipts of close to $175mln.
- Their customer service strategy, they believe, is at the heart of that growth.
- A lot of their growth is driven by the fact that they sell most of their fans direct to their industrial, agricultural, commercial and residential customers. This results in them having direct relationships with nearly all of their customers.
- They believe it is, therefore, imperative that they have a very honest relationship with their customers. Part of that is to make sure that their products offer more than their customers expect.
- That’s where Dave comes in as he, and his team, will talk directly to all of their customers to make sure that everything has gone as well as expected and to make sure that they are happy.
- What Dave is looking for is not a ‘pat on the back’ but glitches or flaws in the process or product so that he can fix them and then feed that information back into the company so that they can learn and improve.
- Dave’s role is to proactively follow up with customers.
- To make this more effective, he identifies himself as the Customer Advocacy Manager at Big Ass Fans as that means that customers take his call seriously and open up more as opposed to being called by a sales person.
- In his follow up he asks a set of very simple questions:
- 1. Did you receive the product?
- 2. Do you have any questions?
- 3. Is everything ok?
- Their primary objective in every customer transaction is that the customer is satisfied, over and above the profitability of the transaction.
- In their mind, the customer can never be wrong.
- Their approach is about finding and fixing any and all of the problems that their customers may have.
- This has lead them to do many things differently from how they design their packaging to their blister packs for the nuts and bolts that come with the fans to their pictoral instructions for the set up and operation of their fans.
- Their focus is on making everything easy.
- Much of their insight and the improvements that they have made have come from conversations that Dave has had with customers.
- If nobody is complaining then assuming everything is ok is cheating. Silent complaints do exist and it is our job to discover them.
- However, Carey also believes it is incumbent on customers to tell companies when something is wrong too.
- ‘We get all sorts of information from our customers. They tell us what to do’.
- Their golden rule: Just be open and honest and look for the truth.
- Many companies don’t have the courage to do this as they are scared about what they might find out.
- Too many companies rely on surveys for feedback, send them out and hope they get something back.
- Big Ass Fans send out surveys too but they don’t rely on them and rely more on proactively speaking to their customers.
- When Carey and Dave first had a conversation about the Customer Advocate position, Carey told Dave that although Big Ass Fans were paying his salary his role was to always be on the side of the customer and look at everything from their perspective – you work for the customer, we just happen to be paying your salary.
- Big Ass Fans have recently branch into lighting, Big Ass Light, based largely on feedback from their customers.
About Carey and Dave
Carey Smith started working at age 9 and never stopped, gaining a tireless work ethic as he sold shoes and Christmas cards, changed bedpans and newspaper type, and washed shirts and floors. His professional life began in insurance, but, dissatisfied with that work, he later started his own company. Carey is now focused on how Big Ass Fans, which he founded in 1999, can become a 200-year company that acts always in the long-term interests of its customers, employees and suppliers.
Dave Waltz has a background in sales, customer service and product management. He joined Big Ass Fans in 2010 as a customer service manager. About three years ago, Dave became the company’s first customer advocate. His sole responsibility is following up with customers to ensure they are satisfied. Dave likes to say that although Big Ass Fans signs his paycheck, he really works for its customers.