- Eli's Newsletter
- How I got here - first newsie! 🤗
How I got here - first newsie! 🤗
Turning my passion into a career 🚀
It’s been less than 72 hours since I’ve had the idea to release a newsletter, and here I am, already writing this thing. It’s been a wild week, and I feel blessed beyond belief.
So much has brought me to this day. First things first, my community of people who love CX and retention and love focusing on “the customer” as much as I do. Your support means the world. Second, I’m really grateful to Jess, Brian, and the Wonderment team for sponsoring this newsletter. I’ll definitely share more about Wonderment in the weeks to come and why it’s become one of my all-time favorite apps in the CX/Retention hemisphere, but let’s ease into it.
Here’s what you can expect from this newsletter:
Instead of just teaching tactics, I’ll be sharing the way I think about CX and Retention, as well as give you all the frameworks on how to build a customer-focused brand. Something something teach a man to fish something something a lifetime? 😏
I’ll be sharing what I have learned over the last 7+ years building and operating CX and Retention teams at brands like Simulate, OLIPOP, Jones Road, etc.
Thinking about hosting office hours quarterly to chat all things CX (Is that exciting? Please shoot me a reply letting me know if you are interested!)
Let’s take a step back. Who am I? How did I even get here? Why am I known as the CX guy? (the last one may be a little exaggerated)
Well, some of you have heard about my work, but few of you know how I got here. Here goes …I grew up in New Jersey in the Orthodox Jewish world, #2 of 10 children. My upbringing was far from regular. I studied Talmud through high school instead of math and science, and for the most part, nobody in the community went to college.
As a curious teenager, I learned about the world on Reddit, the best and worst place to learn about the universe (anything?). I was intrigued by the science of humans, but I was most definitely an introvert. I’d spend hours a day reading “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie and “Influence” by Robert Cialdini. I was enamored by the similarities all us humans have. We like feeling cared for, heard, and understood.
I was (and still am) a difficult customer. When I spend my hard-earned money on something, I get incredibly frustrated when I have an issue and get a canned response from the other side of the world. I think I can say that bad customer service has always been a pet peeve of mine. However, I never thought it would be something I did for a living.
At the age of 18, I moved to NYC to go to a Talmudical Academy. While most were studying, I was learning about the world of points and miles. People traveling the world for free with credit card points sounded so absurd to me, but nevertheless sounded like something I needed to get in on.
In 2013, I walked into a Chase Bank in Washington Heights and asked the branch manager if he can teach me everything I need to know. His response: “that’s pretty weird, but sure thing, dude”. Fast forward one year and I had 1.2m credit card miles. I was off to the races.
I told my parents I was going to study in Israel but had an entirely different plan for the next two years. When most kids my age were in college, I was traveling the world with points and miles. First-class flights and luxury hotels, all with less than $500 to my name.
When I got back to Israel in 2016, I was in my 20’s with no high-school or college education, no work experience, and definitely zero clue what I wanted to do for a living. But hey, I guess I had life experience?
Here was my plan: Startups value grit and merit vs solely a resume, and Israel had a first-rate startup scene. However, they did not have too many English-speaking employees. That was going to be my way in.
I found a Kickstarter luggage brand that was looking to hire for a Customer Service role through a friend of a friend. I leveraged a connection to get past HR and secure an interview. It was Wednesday evening, and I was told to come in the next morning. I then hopped onto LinkedIn and learned that every person on the team was educated and experienced. I had nothing. I decided I was going to go all in. Come out swinging.
I spent the next 8 hours going through Kickstarter comments, Google reviews, Reddit reviews, etc. I combed the internet for everything negative I could find out about this brand. There was quite a bit. 🙃They had launched in 2014 and spent all the $600k in Kickstarter funds on R&D and the product was delayed big time.
They were raising money from institutional VC’s to get to the finish line with a plan to bring it to the mass market thereafter. The kicker? They had been telling customers that the product “is on the way” for over a year and all 1,500 customers in 64 countries wanted a refund. This was the mess I was walking into. With no experience. Oh, and here was the luggage 👇
I put together a deck filled with customer insights and a big old dose of audacity. I figured an Israeli would appreciate it. I put my favorite slide below. Take a gander.
Reading through the deck, I saw his face go from curiosity to confusion, and then to sheer horror. What came next was shocking. “When can you start?,” he asked. “I’ll see you on Monday, I replied.“Deal,” he said.I was in. But now what?
So here was my day 1 hypothesis, with zero professional experience: All customers want to be heard, validated, and properly updated, but even more so with Kickstarter customers. Kickstarter customers back an idea from the start, and they want to be treated like cofounders. No, they don’t expect the product immediately, but they definitely expect frequent and authentic updates. The idea: if we can be overly transparent and explain what really was going on, we can apologize and rally the backers to the finish line. With not many other options, luggage company management was in on my idea.
We did a FB live and a Kickstarter update with the CEO explaining the story and where we were at truthfully. We apologized for all the misleading updates. We begged them to hang with us for a few months so we can bring the product to market. After completing that project successfully, we ended up launching a version 2 based on the feedback of these customers, and 93% of the folks from the first project hopped in. I was truly flabbergasted at how simple this felt. I was over the moon.
I spent the next 4 years doing everything at that brand. I owned the ops and logistics process (4 warehouses to ship to 64 countries), launched the brand on Amazon, and did all copywriting, website management, investor relations, trade shows, and of course, customer support. I was baffled that this simple and easy customer-focused approach to a crisis transformed the company.
When I took a look at the startup scene in 2016, I was fascinated that Zappos and Chewy were famous for being super customer-centric, yet everyone else had their face up to the Facebook ads dashboard. While Zappos and Chewy pioneered leveraging CX as a brand-building channel and hired in-house reps stateside to send personalized cards and talk on the phone for hours, everyone else outsourced support for $3 an hour and dug deeper into growth.Hell yeah, 2016 was a wild time for growth guys and gals. Media buying was efficient, and businesses were built on the FB ads arbitrage.
As it tuned out, however, building a business on borrowed ground was like building on quicksand. As Facebook started turning the dial, brands flocked to Snap, and Youtube, yet so few were focused on the hard thing—building a brand. I’d look at businesses growing incredibly quickly, belatedly noticing there was a leaking bucket, and then hiring “retention” people rapidly. The ridiculous thing about these typical Retention folks was that they were just spamming customers who had already left, instead of working on keeping them happy when they first expressed frustration.
In 2016, Customer Support was on the bottom of the barrel both pay-wise and importance-wise. I made $33,500 (!) at my first role. Most Customer Support folks were getting about the same, and were given an old laptop to use as a fire extinguisher when customers howled “WHERE IS MY SHIT.”
I looked across the aisle at the SaaS world, and they were hiring Customer Success Managers for $100k+ to do what I felt great Customer Support people should be doing—proactively making sure customers are getting what was promised before they bring up any issues. I felt strongly that the CPG world would get there eventually. But first, Facebook had to squeeze ad buyers a bit more, and iOS 15 had to happen.
In the 4 years I was at the luggage brand, I’d spend hours a day on DTC twitter, scrolling through and learning about all things growth and acquisition. All the hacks. All the tricks. I remember watching Bonobos thrive as a digitally native brand with a staunch focus on CX, and I remember reading “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh and thinking about the possibilities in a world where CX is used as a tool to build a brand.
I remember taking out a napkin after lunch one day and jotting down the difference between Customer Service and Customer Experience:
Customer Service: Reactive, a problem solver, a cost center.
Customer Experience: Proactive, an evangelist creator, a brand builder.
This stuck with me. In a sea of career possibilities, I decided I would do whatever it took to make CX my career. It was my passion, and I would figure out how to make it work.
Then came 2020. Covid took the world by a storm, and luggage was the last thing people were thinking about. The luggage company was shutting down, and I needed a job. All my experience would definitely get me somewhere, right? RIGHT? No. Hahaha. Nope.
I spent weeks applying to 85 roles and heard nothing back. I took a step back and started applying to CX associate roles. HR folks still hated me because I had no “cool” startups on my resume, nor did I have a college degree. I needed to get in front of hiring managers and leaders. Twitter helped me do that. I landed a role at NUGGS (Simulate) and was excited to hop right in.
From there I landed at OLIPOP, which was paradise for someone like me. I had these unique ideas about surprise and delight, how to build and motivate teams, how to properly collect and pass along feedback, and how CX can be the voice of the customer in all conversations.
I’ve learned so damn much in my time at OLIPOP that I have brought along to my role here at Jones Road and to all the consulting I have done, but most of all, I learned about myself. I learned to trust myself to do things differently, to wear my heart on my sleeve, and that putting the customer first actually makes financial sense.
That’s a bit about me, how I got here, and why I love CX. In next week’s issue, I’ll be diving into:
Building out a CX team for Small and Medium businesses
How to Motivate your CX team and keep them engaged
Tools I Love and have (had) in my CX tech stack
Thanks for tuning in to the first edition!P.S. if you liked this, please drop me a note + share with a friend :)https://eli.beehiiv.com/subscribe