Steve Hartert - Winning with customer experience
Steve Hartert has over 30 years of marketing management experience and he is currently the Vice President of Enterprise Operations at the online form builder Jotform.
In this episode, we talk about customer experience and the changes it has undergone since the beginning of the Covid pandemic. We discuss the key roles of data and the company culture in providing a good experience to customers, and Steve shares some of the best examples of customer experience wins that he's seen throughout his career.
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“Honestly, without customers, companies don't exist. And I think a lot of companies have forgotten that. If the cash register is not ringing and you're not making any cash, doesn't matter how many shareholders you have or investors, you’ve got to sell product.”
Welcome to the Agile Digital Transformation podcast, where we explore different aspects of digital transformation and digital experience with your host, Tim Butara, content and community manager at Agiledrop.
Tim Butara: Hello, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. I'm joined today by Steve Hartert, vice president of enterprise operations at Jotform, who has over 30 years of experience in marketing management with a number of renowned companies and organizations. In today's episode, we'll take a deep dive into customer experience and all the new considerations for succeeding with it in our constantly evolving, highly digitalized world.
Welcome, Steve. It's both a pleasure and an honor having you with us today. Would you like to add anything before we begin?
Steve Hartert: No, thank you. Thank you for inviting me to be a part of this and looking forward to our conversation.
Tim Butara: Awesome. Same here. So obviously, because we're talking about customer experience in the current context, we have to ask ourselves and we have to start with this, how has customer experience evolved since the pre-Covid times, so, before 2020 basically?
Steve Hartert: I think for a lot of us, but I know particularly at Jotform, I mean, we've always been in online digital world, so we don't really have a lot of face-to-face customer, like, traditional, think of like retail or sending sales people out to talk to people face to face. So for us, that has not really changed on our front. For a lot of companies, obviously, the face-to-face and in-person types of activities and other– like, brick and mortar, those kinds of things have changed, obviously, dramatically. Some of them have completely gone away. Others had to make huge transitions for protection, plexiglass, face masks, gloves, that kind of thing. So that part of it obviously has made a drastic change.
But I think where the change really happened and this is where it impacted us tremendously is when suddenly there wasn't the opportunity to have that face-to-face type of action. People suddenly had to scramble and look for alternative ways to communicate with their customers. How are they going to deal with their customer? And so they turn to companies much like Jotform, because they needed to still interact with their customers. They still needed to somehow collect data, whether it's sales data, we're selling you widgets or we want to get you on a newsletter or whatever that would be.
They needed some kind of an online component because now they had to suddenly move to this digital world that they probably were going to do anyway, but it really obviously accelerated their timeline. For us, we look at it and go, it really kind of pulled demand forward about five years for a lot of companies. And so again, people were just thrown into this situation, and they really didn't know what to do and where to turn to and what they were going to do with it when they got there.
But fortunately, we were able to help people out and help make their transitions a lot smoother. So I think that's been really the biggest thing is having to go to a pure digital type of an environment for a lot of companies that they just either weren't prepared to do or just had not really committed that highly to it.
Tim Butara: Yeah. And then on top of that, once the new digital environment has been established, then customer and consumer habits and expectations and trends start changing as well. And suddenly it's not just something that it's nice to have, but suddenly it becomes a must have.
Steve Hartert: Oh, absolutely. And again, I'll speak on behalf of Jotform on this one. It became part of the lifeblood of their workflow, of how these customers were now going to– this is the only way their customers, in some respects, could actually interact now with these companies. Again, stores were closed. They couldn't send the sales teams out. So they needed some way to be able to communicate. And what we have found is the stickiness factor has increased for us. Because companies, again, this is that demand forward, they realized not only how well this is working for them, but how many other applications they can use it for internally in their own companies.
So when we talk kind of about a customer base, there's their customers, there's consumers, but then there's also their internal employee workforce that suddenly this radically changed for them. And I think that's a big deal because the key to it has always been, how do you get that data from out in the field, whether it's a storefront or you're out doing surveys in the field or however you're collecting your data, getting that information out into your workflow system where it can be actioned. Right. Somebody's going to take something and do something with that data.
I'll give you an example. There's a county that's just north here in San Francisco called County of Marin. Just before Covid started they wanted to test Jotform out. They wanted to see if they could make it work for certain applications within the city or within the county, they wanted to do some different things with. Literally within a month, Covid struck, and suddenly they were thrust and they went, oh, my God, what are we going to do here? And they had to use it for signing up people for Covid screening. They had to use it for all these different types of applications, really, in the Department of Health.
And so by virtue of our features, they were able to have people using it on phones and tablets, so they could have somebody out in the field filling out that citizen information – my name, my address, my phone number, Covid screening results, et cetera. That data then could then be taken and pushed right into their workflow. So whatever database they were using on their side to capture that data, then report it back to the Department of Health, was seamless.
So rather than having these pieces of paper that they used to have, and clipboards, now the data was coming through in real time so they could update it faster and they could react quicker to hotspots or wherever customer demand was and things like that. That was a real game changer for them because suddenly– again, their response rate was much quicker, now they had happier citizens. They weren't like, what's the delay? Why is it taking three days now? They can get it within a couple of hours. They could get results back.
But then what ended up happening is other departments within the county said, this is really interesting. What are you guys doing over there? So what is this Jotform thing you guys have? And then it just started to snowball throughout the rest of the organization; it’s being used in their planning department. It's being used when people want to fill up for wedding license applications, all sorts of different ideas that this thing suddenly just started rolling because people– they didn’t realize they had a problem until it was presented right under their nose. And then they went, oh, my God, now we've got to find a solution. Well, I've got one right here. And it just kind of took off from there.
And we've seen that time and time again in a whole lot of different kinds of companies and industries across the globe, not just located only in the United States, but internationally, because Covid was just an international game changer for kind of like civilization and how businesses operate. So for any kind of an organization, whether it's a small mom and pop or a large organization, something like a Disney or an Apple or something like that, they still needed to acclimate themselves to getting customer information in a very seamless way and then put it into that workflow, and that's where we're able to step in and help fill that void for them.
Tim Butara: That's an excellent point, because the way I see it, good data management has been, I mean, was essential to successful customer experience initiatives, even pre-Covid. But now, ever since Covid hit, ever since we've been in this crisis, you just can't make it work successfully sustainably if you don't have good data management, I guess.
Steve Hartert: Oh, absolutely. Data has always kind of been a lifeblood of any organization and companies, some and some were not, awash in data and some didn't know how they were going to work with the data that they received. But the key to it is make it work into your workflow system. Whatever applications you're using, if you're using something like Asana, or you might be using Slack or using Google Sheets, Excel, something like that, to capture data, or Salesforce, HubSpot, if you're going to go into the CRM world – that data is going to get from that customer into your system, so now your people can work against that data and do what they need to do with it.
And again, this is where the benefit for us has been helpful for them because our system works with hundreds of different kinds of applications like that. And so that data now can be put in and there's no delay in it being pushed into their systems. So if there's something popping up 2 hours ago, it's going to start to show in their workflow. They're going to say, wait a second, we have kind of a hot spot over here that we need to need to wrestle with, whether it's a lot of customer data coming in that they're selling something or you've got a lot of health screenings or you've got people making reservations for something or whatever business you're in.
That information then becomes something that a company can react to and they can react to it fast because sometimes you don't get that second chance for it. And that's really where I think our benefit is, our benefit to those customers, our customers, has been.
Tim Butara: Yeah, I can see why they would want to use Jotform if it enables probably near real-time reaction, near real time engagement. That's what you want nowadays because that's what customers want.
Steve Hartert: Right. I think people expect that. I was guilty of this myself. It's like you would be online with somebody and they'd be going, let me check out your computer. And they say, well, the data won't operate, won't update for another hour or so. Well, because their systems would sync every hour, on the hour or something like that. But now technology has allowed us to suddenly have the data syncing in real time. So then they can actually look at that report or look at that data and go, yeah, we've got you straight down, we got your information here. This is what we're going to do for you. And that's been a big key because again, it's just the technology is kind of finally caught up with what people expect it to do.
Tim Butara: I mentioned in the intro that you've had quite an impressive career. You're very experienced in the field. So I'm really interested in learning what are the biggest customer experience wins that you've seen during all this time, throughout your work?
Steve Hartert: There's a lot, there's an awful lot of really good companies that are out there. I could talk for hours on that. But there's a couple that really stand out to me. And I think companies that put the customer at the center of the experience and say, how is this going to behave, are the ones that succeed.
The ones that stand out for me that I always notice and it's built into their core is, one is Nordstrom, it’s a retail chain here in the United States, and then Apple. And Nordstrom, for example, it's more of a higher end, I would say a luxury store. They sell clothing and shoes and purses, things like that, men's, women's, children's clothing. But part of their processes. One, when you go to buy something, they make it very easy to find something, find people to help bring you up, check you out, get you out.
But the other side of it is if you have to make a return for whatever reason, they make that easy. It's like almost no questions asked. Bring it in. Almost, they don't care if it's two years ago, two years old, three years old. Sometimes if you have the receipt, sometimes if you don't have the receipt, they're just like, hey, we want to make the customer happy, bring it back. And they do that. And people just can't say enough good things about Nordstrom as a result of that.
So that's one of the things that they do that I think has won them really dedicated fans all over the world, because that has always been a pain point, because sometimes when you go to return something, you feel like you're being interrogated. Why are you bringing this back? What's wrong with it? I'm not a criminal. I just– it doesn't fit. I don't have my receipt. I just want it back. I mean, it's not a big deal. But Nordstrom is like, don’t like it? Great, here you go. We'll take it off your hands.
There's another chain store here. It's a big box store in the United States. It's called Costco. I know they have some stores around the world, but they have a very similar way of doing refunds. In fact, there's a famous story that circulates around here. Again, they'll take it back– because you have to have a membership card. So they can always scan your purchases and say, oh, yeah, you did buy this on, you bought this June of last year. No problem. We'll take it back.
There's a story and it's absolutely true. A woman bought a Christmas tree from Costco in December. I think it was in February she returned it, said it was dead, my tree died. Costco gladly refunded her money. I mean, they just went, okay, no problem. Here's your money back. Now, is that open itself up to abuse? Probably. I'm sure there's a lot of people that abuse these privileges of these very liberal kinds of return policies.
But I think the amount of goodwill that it builds completely dwarfs the other stuff. Right? I mean, I think people just– people will buy because they know if I ever have to have this problem, I don't have to worry about returning it. But again, in those situations where somebody is abusing it, it's a very small percentage of overall sales. But in a way, it's worth the PR because Costco got a lot of PR– Twitter lit up about this. And people were like, well, Costco did this for me, Costco did that. So there were all these great stories about customer service that started coming out about Costco as a result of that.
Now you can flip it around and look at like something like Apple. Again, I'm not talking about the return policy. I'm talking about their sales policy. You can go in there and you can say, I'm not sure what kind of computer I need or what kind of phone I need, or tablet. Their sales team is not incentivized through commissions or whatever. They're looking for the best solution for that customer. So when that customer comes in and you have questions, they're very focused on who that customer is and what their needs are.
That is a very big deal because there's nothing worse than going in some place. And they're always trying to upsell you. Because you know that salesperson, that guy must be working on commission. So he's just going to sell me the most expensive thing. Apple is more like, let's get this person, let's get them what they need rather than what we think, what's best for me, what's best for the customer. So they have a very customer-centric kind of an organization when it comes to sales.
And that's a very big deal because again, some people don't understand technology. Some people are intimidated by it. They don't know what they need. And so they go to the store where the experts are at, and they ask them the questions. And then actually those experts, the salespeople at Apple, ask a lot more questions because they're really trying to narrow down what it is that you really need and what you're trying to do with it and things like that.
I've actually witnessed when I've been in the store, somebody says they wanted to buy a top of the line Mac Pro, and those are, basically buying a house. They're expensive pieces of equipment. But then they end up saying you really don't need that. What you probably can get away with is an iPad.
And so they've talked them way down from a very expensive item down to something several hundred dollars in price. But it's a big gap in what that cost would be because they realized – you don't need all that firepower. You're just using it for a consumption device because you want to read the websites, you want to look, you want to send a few emails, things like that. You want something very simple to use. You don't need something that's overkill.
So now they've got a very happy customer. Apple's made a sale. Now they've got a loyal customer probably on top of that. So those are things that I think are very important. But some of that, again, is face to face. When you move this into the digital world, how do you replicate that same kind of an environment now online?
And so companies that make it easy to get a hold of customer support or customer service. There's a big button on the front page of the website – returns, help, those kinds of things. And then how do you collect that data? How do you make it easy for someone to come back in there and want to communicate with you? Those are big deals. To me, there's nothing worse than a company that when you go in there, you can see they treat you as just dollar signs.
You have to watch a bunch of pre-rolled ads or you keep getting pop ups or something. They look at you as dollars and cents, and they're trying to milk as much of it out of you as they possibly can before they have to do anything else with you. That's a bad customer experience, and a lot of companies do that, unfortunately. But that's just their mode, right, because that's what they want to do. But if companies can come in there and now just– you have a problem, how can we solve it for you? You need something from us? What can we do for you? If that's what the companies focus on, put that customer at the middle, put that customer experience at the center of everything, they will be very successful as a result.
Tim Butara: Yes, that's an excellent point. And actually, it ties right into my next question, because you did just speak about Apple and you did just speak about having to make this commitment, organization-wide commitment to kind of putting the customer first. And I'm guessing that the company culture and the company's values also have an important role to play in kind of determining this. Can we talk a little bit more about this?
Steve Hartert: Oh, absolutely. And it starts at the top. Companies, they talk about mission statements and things like that. It comes back down to – how are they going to treat the customer? What is really your role? And honestly, without customers, companies don't exist. And I think a lot of companies have forgotten that – if the cash register is not ringing, you're not making any cash. It doesn't matter how many shareholders you have or investors – you've got to sell product.
So the more you can identify who that customer is and you understand what their wants and needs are, and you put them at the center of that whole equation. So if you're going to have an event, let's say you're going to have a fun run or something like that, you're going to have a 10K run for charity. What's the sign up process look like? How easy is it? Somebody wants to put in my previous times or this is the type of size of shirt that I want to buy, or these are the kinds of colors that I want to get. This is my credit card to purchase it. How easy do you make that person to register for your event?
And then following up with – how much information do you provide that person after, post registration, leading up to that event? Do you make it easy for them, that, here's where you can park. Here's where you sign, here's where you come in and register on the pre day or pre registration process. This is where you are going to line up. This is what's going to happen during the race. This is where water stations are at. This is where first date is at. This is where your family can watch you. This is where the finish line is. What happens post, how we're going to rank your times.
You can do all of that. And it doesn't take a whole lot of money to do that. It's very straightforward. But how do you build on that customer experience where somebody is going to want to do something and want to participate in it, and those are very simple things to do. And then companies again fall down on that because they think, oh, when they get there, they'll figure it out.
Well, no, signage is important at a location, what’s that post sale communication. So I've registered for your 10K run. Now, what happens? Do I not hear from you again until the day before the run and say, don't forget you start at– be there at 6 o’clock in the morning? No. You should have all of this information presented in a very simple, easy way for someone to find it and then remind them of it. Right.
Whether you send it to their phone, text messages, whatever process you want them to have, you just make it very simple for that person to get that information that you're trying to communicate to them in a fashion that they want to have. Maybe it's text messages, maybe it's emails, maybe they want to just log into your website every so often, look at their account and see where things are at. How do you do that? Right. It's very straightforward, but customer’s at the center of it all. And maybe there's abilities in there for you to customize for those individual preferences.
Tim Butara: And I assume that you have to be equally empathetic towards your employees. Right. Because they're the ones that ultimately are interacting with customers and are making stuff that interacts with them. I assume that you kind of have to instill those values into your employees as well if you want them to perform up to the standards of your organization.
Steve Hartert: Absolutely. Because that's part of– you do that when you're hiring somebody. Right. So the screening process of bringing somebody on board, during the interview process, you want to make sure that that person is going to be a fit culturally. And I always say you can teach a skill, but you can't teach a personality. So part of what you want to do is you want to pick some of this up during that interview process. Does this person seem empathetic? Does this person seem excited to want to do this? Give us your story.
And you can train somebody to go, how to fill something out or how to do a task. You can train somebody. But you can't train somebody out to be nice. That's the other thing. That's part one. Part two is, your company should have an orientation for new employees, and that orientation can be a couple of hours in the morning or it can be a week, depending on the scale of your organization. But part of it is instilling those customer values, the company values for the customer. So you explain why this is how it is. This is why the company does it, and this is the way we do it.
And then you constantly reiterate that because your employees or your team will see through it in a moment if they realize that it's just lip service for the CEO or the C suite or your boss or whoever, if they get one whiff of that game over, they're just going to realize it's just words on paper and no one really cares.
But if you have somebody out there that's actually pushing these values and lives these values on a day-to-day basis, this customer does this, and this is how we're helping our customers. That helps, one, inspire the team, and it also helps the team know what they need to do and what's expected of them.
So a lot of it is just expectations are never kind of set. So no one really knows what they need to do. But if you explain to them what to do in certain situations and how you handle these kind of events, good and bad, that's how you build that team. And that's how you bake it into that company culture, that when somebody comes in, if new employees or if you're doing fund runs or you're an Apple or Nordstrom or a Costco, this is how things are done. And you see it's happening with your coworkers. You see it happening with your supervisors and things like that, and it just becomes part of the expectation of your day to day.
And that spills over to the customer base, because if the customers understand that this is how this company operates, you're not going to have somebody breathing fire at you saying, why aren't you muckety mucks doing what you said you were going to do and all this kind of stuff. You guys told me this and I came in here and you didn't do it for me. That causes problems. And now you've been unhappy customers. So to me, it starts at the top and goes all the way down to the bottom, and everything in between has to fulfill that obligation to the customer.
Tim Butara: Some really good points here, Steve. I think that we just highlighted in a very clear but very strong way how closely correlated different departments are. Right now we talked basically about the strong correlation and the strong impact that HR has on customer experience, basically. And it's not that intuitive, right? If you thought about it, those wouldn't be the first two departments that you would connect. You'd probably connect customer experience more indirectly with something like IT, with something like marketing more directly. But probably HR would be kind of at the bottom of that list.
Steve Hartert: Yeah. And that's an unfortunate part. I mean, HR plays a big key role in this, but they're also kind of at the mercy of those departments. If you're working in marketing and you say, we need to hire someone to, let's say I need a research assistant or I need a writer or whatever that role would be in the marketing department, you need to be very clear on how you communicate what your needs are to the HR people. We want these kind of, this kind of background. But we're also looking for someone with this kind of a personality.
And make sure that that's what you're getting into, because again, it comes back to teaching a skill versus teaching the personality type of situation, because I've been at companies where you get that wrong personality in there and, boy, it just sinks– it can just kill a morale in a heartbeat.
And so HR needs to have clear instructions on what you're looking for because they don't really know. I mean, you know, marketers know marketing, accountants know accounting, operations know operations better than anybody else. You know what you need for that role.
And so, again, the tip of the spear is sitting in HR now, you need to make sure that they really understand what it is you're looking for as far as that kind of an individual for that role.
So that's part of it. But then again, once that person is brought on board, how do those people then get integrated into your system? Right. So it's good to sit with other departments and talk about how marketing works with operations and how it works with finance, how it works with IT, how each department is, in one respect, its own separate entity, but how they're also a gear in the machine that feeds back and forth into itself.
Because none of these exist in a silo by themselves. They're all interrelated. And that's really how this whole thing has to be– kind of function people. And a lot of companies forget that, and that's a shame. And those that forget that wonder why they have problems all of a sudden.
Tim Butara: Yeah. Well, now in this final part of the episode, Steve, we've covered a lot of the– so far, we've covered a lot of the important changes, a lot of the current and kind of evolving trends. And in this final section, I’d like to learn more about your views on how the field of customer experience will continue to evolve, what your main predictions for the future are. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Steve Hartert: Covid has done a seismic shift in how companies operate. That's the first part of it. So a lot of it's now moved to online. A lot of it's more remote. And I'm just talking about the interaction between customer and company. So you have to make it seamless and easy for companies to figure out how those customers need to talk to the company and the company needs to talk to the customer. That's the first part of it. So how are we going to do that?
So sending somebody to your website, how do you make it easy for someone to navigate to where you want to send them? That's part one, right? So you got to have a good design, a good UX on that front-end system to get people in. The second part of it is when they want to communicate with you in some way, shape or form, whether it's a form, an email, or anything like that. Again, how seamless can you make that? How easy is it? So they can really address your problem.
There's nothing worse than going to some customer service portal and you have to select a dropdown and your problem does not fit in any of those things. And you have to click the other. And then you don't even know if anybody's really going to read that. So there's those things, right? While a lot of problems are the same, there are a lot of them that are individual at the same time. And so that's the other part of it.
The other one is – when you tell someone you're going to get back to them, you need to get back to them. If you say you're going to get back to them in an hour, don't do it in an hour and ten minutes, because they will remember that. If you get back to them within an hour, if you get back to them in 45 minutes, they're going to say, wow, that was great, because you got back to me quicker than I thought. So you guys are wonderful. So that's part of it, right? So you need to set the expectation and then meet it or surpass it. That's the other thing.
And then answer that question for that customer, whether it's selling something or a return or just a simple question they’ve got for you. So companies are going to have to be able to work with customers in a much more efficient way because you're one mouse click away from sending that customer off to someplace else. I mean, you don't have to sit there and get in your car anymore and drive to another shopping mall to go find your product. I can sit at my desk and just click away and find exactly what I want. if you don't answer my question, I'll jettison you out and get somebody in here who will. And that happens all the time because it's convenient. And what makes that loyalty from that customer to the company? How responsive are you and how honest are you with that response?
If you say we don't have it here, we'll put you on a waiting list. We expect these items to be in two weeks from now. You better be honest with those people. Not just, we’ll take your money and maybe we'll get it to you in six months and who cares. But if it's something else, you're signing up for a wedding license. All right, here's what you need to have. Tell people what they have to have when they come into the, before they even start. So they're not scrambling looking for documents and things like that.
When they submit all that information. Now what happens? Right. So what's my response? Here's what you do when you come in. You got to come to the courthouse to pick this up or to the hall of records, park here, go in here and pick this up or digitally, we send it to you. This is when you're going to receive all this. It takes this much time.
So it's having that customer know what's going to happen and deliver it. Over-deliver any promise you make to that customer. But you've got to make it easy for them to figure out how you're going to do it. Right. So most of them are going to do it online. So you've got to make it very simple to figure out how to do returns, how to ask questions, how to shop, how to do whatever it is you're going to have something to do on your website, make it very simple to do it.
And it's got to work desktop, tablet, mobile, because that's how people are. You can't sit there and say, well, I don't want to do it on my phone. Well, that's all we have is phone. Well, maybe they like to do things on their computer. Great. You have an option to do it on your computer. And the technology is there. There's just some companies are lazy and don't want to do it.
Tim Butara: Steve, I just like to say before we wrap up, this has been a great conversation. I really enjoyed speaking with you today. Before we finish the call, if our listeners would like to reach out to you, learn more about you or learn more about Jotform, where can they do all that?
Steve Hartert: The best place to find me is going to be on LinkedIn. That's the best place for me. If they want to learn more about Jotform, please go to our website. Jotform. Jotform.com. Again, we have customers all over the world, so there's very few countries we do not serve. So if you have a need for– it doesn't matter again, if you're a startup, an individual selling out of your garage, we can help you out, again, because we handle everything from Disney and Apple on down. And so if we can fulfill their obligations, I'm sure we can help yours.
Tim Butara: Awesome. Thanks again for joining me today. As I said, it's been a great conversation.
Steve Hartert: It’s been awesome. Thank you very much.
Tim Butara: It's been my pleasure. Have a great day, Steve.
Steve Hartert: Thank you.
Tim Butara: And to our listeners; that's all for this episode. Have a great day, everyone, and stay safe.
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