You’d be hard-pressed to find any situation where the Golden Rule doesn’t apply. Whether it’s in life in general or something as specific as building a brand, you have to treat others the way you want to be treated. This is the message that Stephanie Markese brings into this conversation with Eric Sims and Jon Juliano. Stephanie is from NextPath Career Partners, one of the leading staffing firms in the United States. She has a very interesting take on the industry and all things that are brand-specific. In this episode, you will hear about her unique perspectives on business, client relations, and brand protection. She also shares the times when she helped brands prevent brand-slaughter through her services. Plus, stick to the end as Eric and Jon discuss some of the things that companies need to consider in terms of brand protection and business growth. Tune in for all of these and more!
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The Golden Rule With Stephanie Markese
We’re excited about this episode. We have a fantastic guest. We have Stephanie Markese who is from NextPath Career Partners, one of the leading staffing firms in the United States. She has a very interesting take on the industry and all things that are brand-specific. She’s also the co-host of Live Bold & Boss Up, a successful podcast. We’re excited to have her on the show and get things started. Let’s go to the show.
Welcome to the show, Stephanie. Thank you for joining us. It’s great to have you.
Thank you for having me.
We’re excited to have you on. One of the things that we thought about starting with was having you share a little bit about who you are as a founding partner of NextPath and as a co-host of your cool podcast, which is Live Bold & Boss Up. You’ve got some pretty unique perspectives on business, client relations and brand protection. First, introduce yourself. Tell us who you are, where you’re from and what you’re about because you’ve got a little bit of an interesting background. You’re not just an executive. You’ve got a lot more going on in your life than that. That’s interesting.
Thank you, Eric. I’m one of the founders of NextPath Career Partners. We started in 2018. I come from a large corporate staffing company. We started NextPath to create that small company feeling and build a culture and relationships. That’s why we started it. It’s all about people and relationships. During COVID, my partner Ashley and I started Live Bold & Boss Up, which is our podcast, to reach out to the masses and help them with tips on their resumes and how to find a job because so many people were navigating this world that was new to everyone. We’re helping people navigate through that. It has evolved. That’s why we created it. I was born and raised in Tampa Bay and St. Pete. I have two little boys. We’re heavily involved in sports. That’s pretty much my life outside of work. Thanks for having me on.
We’re glad to have you. She’s very modest with the way she describes what they have done but I’ve had a front-row seat for most of the part of the time they have had NextPath. When I met you, it was at the beginning. It has been that long. You were kicking things off. You’ve been around for a little bit. You’ve been in the industry a long time but NextPath was new. One of the things that were intriguing to me in getting to know you over the last few years is your hands-on approach.
In this show, we are talking brandslaughter and companies that do dumb shit that messes their brand up. Most of the time, we find that’s unintentional. It’s why we coined the phrase brandslaughter. It’s unintentional activities, exercises or efforts that silently kill your brand. We call it the number one silent killer of brands out there.
With a lot of the stuff you did, what struck me is the hands-on approach to the personal relationship that you develop with people because it’s not just, “Send me your resume. We will see if we can find you a job.” When I’ve talked to other members of your team like Kelly, Ashley, Dan or whomever it may be, people take a real interest in the people you work with, whether that’s a client or a placement for somebody you’re trying to play. Can you talk to us a little bit about your DNA? How did you come up with that? It’s not the norm.
Thank you. That’s why we created NextPath in the first place. It was to create a culture and a brand that was different from all the other staffing firms out there. As a company gets larger, it’s natural to lose that culture and that great brand that it initially started at. We are very protective of it. The number one part of your brand is your people. If you love what you do and you’re passionate about what you do, it’s going to come out and be apparent whenever you meet people and whenever you’re creating your company.The number one part of your brand is your people. Click To Tweet
It’s the same with you. If you have true interest and love for what you do, it comes naturally and then other people can see it. It’s not like we try to market NextPath and do all this crazy stuff. During COVID, a lot of companies weren’t hiring. It’s your true interest in people and caring about them. We would have conversations daily, not making any money, “How can we help?” I feel people saw that. If you give to people, you’re going to get it back in the long run.
You’ve spent a lot of time in Corporate America in the past and worked for large recruiting firms. What did you notice was missing from the corporate side? What did you do to change it with NextPath?
The biggest thing was you felt like a number. You don’t feel like you can truly make a difference whereas, at NextPath, we’re all about focusing on the people. If you have a certain career path that you want to take, we help people take that and try to coach and focus on what’s important to people. It’s feeling like a number in a big company and then truly caring and focusing on your people in a smaller company where it’s easy to do that. You can build your brand and then they’re your spokespeople. That’s how you build that culture and the brand that you want to make.
I hear people say it. This is out there. When I hear people say it’s just a number, it always makes me think of an inmate 678275 type of thing. That’s how a lot of people feel in prison. You’ve caused that type of environment. On the front end, you’re wondering, “Why are we not getting the results we want? Why are our people treating our other customers the way they are? Why are our employees treating each other the way we are? Why are we getting the damage?” It comes down and starts with how you are treating the people within your business. Are you treating them like an inmate? Are you treating them as Larry Smith? He’s a person. It’s simple but to your point, the bigger you get, the harder that’s become.
You have multiple locations. You are in different areas. You aren’t just in Tampa. You’re in Dallas. You’re in Orlando and maybe even more than that since I’ve seen you growing so fast. I can’t keep up. Are there specific things you do with your DNA when you’re opening a new territory or a new office? That’s where it starts getting hard, “How do we duplicate what we have done here in Tampa, Orlando, Dallas and all these things?” How do you do that?
It is very difficult to keep that culture once you start expanding outside of where your core offices are. The only time we have ever hired people that weren’t here or started new offices that aren’t here is if we know the people beforehand or if they are proven entities. Maybe they were referred to us. We know all the people that we hired that don’t sit here or in Orlando. They have proven success. We know their personalities. They truly care about what they do. It’s all about the person. It’s all about who they are, not about what they can do.
You invest on the front end and say, “We’re going to bring people on with the idea of saying that we’re going to be here for a moment but as we expand, we have to have internal resources that we can give new opportunities to that already understand our DNA. We’re not bringing them in cold,” which is great. It may be a challenge for some businesses. To your point, they’re growing fast. You may not have enough people to do that. You have to go outside but then understand your DNA. If there’s anybody that may be even a referral that maybe wasn’t with you, then you are able to at least match them up and say, “This person is a good fit. They’re going to blend in well with who we are and how we operate.”
We have hired people from our old company. We knew that they were great culture fits. Maybe they weren’t here. They were in another office from our old company but we know that they’re good people. We hire them. They may not necessarily be from NextPath but we know them from previous lives. We know that they care.
They’re on point with what you are doing. We talked about this before we started the show. We always look at brand protection or brandslaughter in three buckets. There’s talent, techniques or best practices and technology. Still in our world where everything is not automated and in many industries very little is, you have to have the right talent in place. Jon, do you have any questions for her about anything else with NextPath?
I had a chance to do some quick research on NextPath before we got into the show. One thing I saw on your website that stood out was saying goodbye to the big staffing firms that don’t listen to you or something to that effect. In my opinion and my experience, I’ve worked with several of the large players in the past. That’s spot on. We have gone to them and said, “We need 50 individuals who match these specific criteria. We will throw bodies at the wall and hope that they stick. Here we are.”
In my eyes, that was the definition of brandslaughter. I refused to work with them since that incident took place. I went to another larger staffing firm and the same thing happened again. After it happened repeatedly within that industry, I had the preconceived notion, “That’s the industry. Regardless of what company I work with, this is what I expect.” How do you overcome that? I’m sure other individuals like me are out there that have that opinion.
Unfortunately, it’s those recruiting firms out there that give every recruiting firm a bad rap. We’re not all like that but unfortunately, those are the companies that blow everybody up and get all these calls every day on jobs that aren’t fit because we have companies that aren’t reflecting well on the whole. That can be any industry. We try to change that notion by having conversations with people and proving to them that we are different through the conversations that we have and showing them that we care.
Eventually, we get to know these people, their families and what’s truly important to them as opposed to making one call to them, sending them to a job and then them never hearing from us again. It’s all about building that relationship. It’s all about proof. We have to show that we’re different, not just say that we’re different. That’s something that takes time.We have to show that we're different, not just say that we're different. That's something that takes time. Click To Tweet
I’ll give you an example of what Stephanie did when I first met her that I thought was cool. It was before we started LEC. I was shopping for jobs. That’s how I met Stephanie through one of her coworkers. I had an interview and she showed up at the interview to make sure that I was there and if I needed anything. I had never not only experienced that myself. I’ve never even seen that in companies where we had staffing people or recruiting people coming in. They only showed up when they wanted to sell you something like to get your business and then you almost never saw them again.
That was cool that someone from the team, and it didn’t have to be her, was calling me, checking in, making sure it went okay and it was a good experience. I don’t know if a lot of them think of it this way but they didn’t want me as a person being recruited to be put into a bad experience. They wanted it to be a good experience for me. I thought that was cool and unique to testify to what she was saying about what’s different about that. They do a great job with executing on that and scaling that. I see who the people are. I have a little closer view than most people.
Thank you, Eric. This is cool. Something that we started doing is once we place somebody in a job, we send them a handwritten letter from their recruiter and the account manager saying, “Congratulations. Please let us know if you need anything.” In that letter, we’re also sending them a QR code where they can go. We will donate to the charity of their choice. We also plant a tree for each person placed. We don’t have to do that but we’re giving back. They can see that we truly care. It sets us apart from other recruiting firms that don’t even follow up with their candidates once they place them. They never receive another call again. I thought that was something.
I got another question for you about the industry and where you are different. I already know the answers. These are leading questions. This is a trial or something to be like, “You’re leading.” I’ve had experience with them coming in and trying to get our services at LEC and other call centers when I was working there. There’s a place where a lot of them commit brandslaughter. They try to be everything to everyone. They try to come in.
Even if they’ve got no experience, they have never done a project like this before and they have never hired or recruited employees like this before, they say yes. Don’t get me wrong. In a lot of businesses, you have to at the beginning when you’re getting started but I know you have honed that in a little bit. Can you chat with us a little bit about where you specialize and why? You do a great job of narrowing that target area for you.
That’s a great point because you’re setting yourself up for failure whenever you take on these jobs that you can’t follow through with and show up for. As a startup, you pretty much take on anything and everything that comes your way. I remember I was getting jobs that were for a salesperson for a shade store and hanging blinds. Now, we would never take on anything like that because that’s out of our specialty. We focus on sales, marketing, technology, anything technology-focused, SaaS sales, tech sales, digital marketing and all that.
Focus and stay in your lane. Do what you’re good at because if you’re working on these other roles that aren’t within your field or your specialty, then you’re going to be wasting your time. You’re going to set yourself up for failure. They’re going to see NextPath in this light and tell their friends that have the right opportunity that would be a good fit for you but you ruined that because you didn’t show up for something that wasn’t in your space, to begin with.
We have experienced that in our industry too. There are a lot of companies out there that say that they can service a certain niche or brand, over-promise and under-deliver. All of a sudden, their reputation goes to hell in a handbasket.
People will appreciate it more if you tell them, “I want you to be successful. That’s not something that I can help you with.” Maybe refer them to someone who can help. They’re going to appreciate that more.
That bleeds back into a lot of parts of your business too. Once you identify who you are, what you’re about and what you service or do, it’s your identity. You start not only attracting customers and clients that need that. You also attract employees that understand that, appreciate that and love that aspect of it. If you don’t do staffing a certain way and you don’t do it for whatever industry like roofing or whatever it may be, that’s okay but you’re not getting people plugged in.
That’s their passion. They’re sitting in your office and wishing they were doing something else. They’re plugged into something that they’re in love with. Building that culture bleeds through the front of your brand, which is important in any business. We talk about this all the time. Customer experience, brand loyalty and brand recognition are probably the highest commodity that’s out there. It’s the biggest value your business has. Making sure you’re doing those things to protect that along the way is extremely important.
I want to save time to talk about Live Bold & Boss Up too if that’s okay because it’s part of who you are and what you do as well. It ties back into NextPath. It does all those things too as our business and our show do as well. It’s a cool story because you and Ashley go way back. You’re not just co-hosts. It’s safe to say you’re best friends. You live life together for the most part. You do quite a bit together. It bleeds to your show. What’s the show about? What do you do? What’s the goal?
Ash and I have known each other for close to fifteen years. We used to live together. When we started NextPath, I was like, “I have this girl. She would be great culturally. She has a great wealth of knowledge as well that she could bring from a different perspective.” I brought her in. We sit right next to each other every single day. During COVID, we wanted to be able to reach out to the masses and help people with more than one phone call at a time. That’s why we created the podcast. We’re like, “This will be so much fun. We will get to sit down, talk every day, have coffee and produce this podcast.”
It started like that with us two and has evolved into interviewing business leaders, entrepreneurs and community leaders and having them share their stories and successes. We have met so many amazing people along the way. It’s focused primarily on professional and business development. If you want to be better and do better at your job or home, we try to touch base. It’s something that we’re passionate about. We help people do that in their lives as well. That’s a little bit about it. We’re probably at 120 episodes.
It has been a long road but we have fun. It seems like it has flown by. We have met so many great people.
Who’s the most interesting guest you’ve had on the show?
Do you see how quick she is with the leading questions?
That’s not true. I watched some of the shows and there are people far more interesting than me on there.
We have had so many. One of the biggest and most well-known guests that we have had is Cathie Wood. If you’re not in the industry or you’re maybe in the area and you don’t know who she is, she’s with ARK Investment. She’s a big deal around here in her world. She moved her company down here. We had her on a podcast. She met with us in person, which was great. She’s also the mayor of Tampa.
We talked to her non-politically. She’s sharing her story of where she got to where she is and how she became the mayor and police chief. She has an amazing story about how she got to where she is. That was cool. There are so many. I could go on and on. They each have their story, whether or not they’re a big CEO of a company or someone who has a story of being a working mom. Everyone has their story that people can gain from.Whether they're a CEO of a big company or a working mom, everyone has a story that people can gain from. Click To Tweet
It has been a very diverse group you have on. That’s one of the things that’s interesting about it. You are so popular in Tampa that you connect with everybody. I’m not kissing her ass because she’s on the show. They do a great job of getting out, meeting people and connecting with people. Most of the time, if I don’t know somebody or I need to find out who somebody is, I’ll text Steph because she either knows them, has played golf with them and has been in their tournament or at their event or is eating lunch with them at the moment.
This is true. We have fun doing that. That’s what we like doing. It doesn’t feel like work whenever you’re having fun. We’re out there playing golf or having lunch with someone.
Jumping back to the topic of brandslaughter and brand protection, I’m not expecting you to name any companies that you’ve worked with. I don’t want to do that to you. Jon and I joke all the time. We see and have done dumb stuff. Don’t get me wrong. We’re not perfect. We don’t sit here and point the finger at everybody else like, “We have never done dumb shit.” We do it constantly. We do less of it than we used to. We try not to make the same mistakes twice but in our industry, we try to prevent people from making mistakes.
In the staffing world, I’m sure you do the same. People come to you and you try to coach them a little bit like, “You’re looking at it through this lens but can I give you another perspective?” Do you have any examples of times you may have prevented brandslaughter by saving a company and saying, “Can you think this through a little bit differently?” Maybe you shoved somebody a little differently and got them to change their opinion or something like that.
There have been quite a few of those times because the biggest component of your brand is the people that you hire. I deal with that every day. There have been a few examples where a company wanted to hire someone and I knew it was a good fit. They would have hired someone but then they wouldn’t have worked out in the long run. That would have looked bad on me and the candidate. It wouldn’t have been a good situation but there has been a time when I told a company, “I don’t think that this is the right hire for you. They’re great on paper but it might be bad for the company and not a great situation.”
It’s having those difficult conversations where I would have made some money right then and there but it wouldn’t have been a good solution long-term in steering them a different way and finding a better candidate for them because sometimes it may not be the right fit. All your employees are going to be the examples of what your company is getting and your representatives out there.
Jon and I were having a conversation about the conversation of a short game or a long game. Which way are you looking at this? Especially in the market we have been in, people are extremely shortsighted at times because of the fear of the economic situation. We’re having to do a lot more of that type of tough conversation, “Are you looking at this and calculating it for the long haul?” Don’t me wrong. There are times when it has to be a quick fix. It’s a Band-Aid situation.
If that’s what it is and you’ve identified that as what you’re trying to do and understand that going into it sometimes as business owners, we have to make Band-Aid situations happen but if you’re not, you can’t expect them to be the same thing either. If you’re not looking for a Band-Aid and you’re looking for a solidified salve or enhancement, then you have to peel back and take a bigger long-term picture at that. We see that quite a bit. Are you seeing more of that? Has it stayed the same from the standpoint of the talent area?
2022 was a ton of hiring. People were needing to get people in. They would pull the trigger quickly. It was more reactive rather than proactive. They were making decisions without thinking them through. Maybe it was that Band-Aid fix but I am seeing more in 2023 that they are making more calculated decisions because they learned from the decisions that they made in the past.
They’re moving a little bit slower and being more careful with the decisions that they’re making with hiring at least because they saw these very large companies do a ton of hiring and they’re doing layoffs because they moved too quickly and didn’t think everything through necessarily. It all depends on the company’s situation and the time that they’re going through. Maybe it was that Band-Aid fix but I am seeing more of that cautious and calculated decision-making.
I’m interested because our business is evaluated differently at different seasons. When you think about it, do they wait, pay and experience? Maybe performance DNA breaks into those three components. Ideally, you want to match it all up. It’s not easy to do, “There’s this much money available. We need this type of person optimally. The market is provisioning these opportunities. These are the people that are out there available.” What’s the heaviest-weighted piece of that? Is it financial, experiential or something else?
It’s more experience especially because a lot of people are working remotely. Salaries have gone up in the past couple of years. Companies are swallowing that and knowing that they do have to pay more. They’re focusing on the skills. You can have a person come in that’s not qualified and they’re sitting remotely. They’re harder to gauge whether or not they’re doing their job.
They’re looking at their technical aptitude and skills and weighing that a little bit more heavily than what they’re paying them. That’s still important. They’re looking at the skills and what they can bring to the table. What I’ve been seeing is that culture and that piece of it being a good culture fit is even weighing heavier than the skills piece of it because one person can hurt your brand.Being a good culture fit weighs heavier than having the skills because one person can hurt your brand. Click To Tweet
It doesn’t take a lot. People are quick to slam you. It’s the old review thing. You look at people’s reviews. People are very fast to write a bad review. They’re very hesitant to write a good one because they don’t think of it. It doesn’t take a lot to damage or destroy your brand identity and it takes a lot to regain it if it has been damaged. Jon, do you have anything?
Years ago, let’s be honest here, brandslaughter was still around but it took far longer to tarnish your brand. With the lack of social media, the internet and everything else, you relegated word of mouth. Nowadays, if you make one poor decision or wrong decision, whether it be hiring the wrong person or maybe bringing on your case the wrong client to provide staffing services, that word of mouth travels a heck of a lot faster with social media and everything else on top of it. It does take a lot longer to bring that back to a positive light.
I’m sure you’ve had like us experiences where maybe you’ve onboarded the wrong client, thought it was a good fit and then found out it wasn’t a good fit halfway through. Have you had that experience? What adjustments have you made to the risk of putting the wrong person in the wrong seat or bringing the wrong company into your environment?
Being upfront and communicative about the situation so everyone is on the same page is the way to go. I have learned that from experience working with a client that’s not the best fit. As soon as you recognize it, put it out there, “I would love to work together. I’m glad we gave it a try but I don’t think it’s a good match for no other reason other than there’s probably someone out there better.” It’s acknowledging the situation upfront rather than ignoring it or shoving it under the rug. Everyone is being adults and upfront with one another. That way, you get it out there in the beginning. There are no feelings hurt and then they’re not bad-mouthing you later on. Communication and being upfront are key.
Even if they’re not a good fit for your brand, it’s your fault in their eyes. Being able to mitigate that and say, “Time out. This is not a good fit. We’re not going to be able to service this account the way you need it,” is in your best interest versus later where they’re pissed off, even if they’re the ones that are the most difficult to work with. We have had that. It’s like, “This isn’t a good fit. If we were to have a heart-to-heart talk, you’re the problem but you don’t see it. I’m never going to convince you that you’re the problem because that’s not my job.”
It’s difficult to get anybody that does have that type of awareness. They don’t realize it. Bowing out of situations that aren’t healthy for your company and healthy for you to solve and aren’t going to allow you to be there is a good practice to put in place. It’s hard when you’re a startup. I remember the first time when we turned down a business. We barely had any business. What we turned down was probably twice as big as what we had.
A lot of people were like, “You’re an idiot.” My business coach was like, “I can’t believe you did this.” I felt this big when I talked to him but I felt passionate. Jon felt passionate. We can’t service these guys. We’re not going to be able to make them happy. They’re not a good fit for us. It’s a disaster going through the onboarding process. “We’re not even to the point where we’re working for you yet and we all already don’t like each other.”
It’s hard to step away from money. Let’s be honest. When you see the dollars and stuff, I don’t care what business you’re in. “There’s this shiny object over here. Maybe we can make it work.” Being aware enough of who you are and what you’re about and you do a great job of that enables you to make those decisions to protect your brand because, at the end of the day, that’s a short-sighted dollar but it’s going to damage you like, “It could cost me three clients down the road that are 3, 4, 5 or 6 times the size of the one I’m looking at turning down.”
You could revisit it down the road when the timing is right or maybe the timing wasn’t right, to begin with.
One of the things that’s interesting about your approach to business that I wanted to point out on the show is most companies have all these huge departmental types of positions. You’ve got IT, HR, sales, customer service and finance. Every company is made up of these core positions. You’ve got other stuff depending on what you do that is even different from that. Recruiting teams internally are typically small. They’re not massive recruiting teams. They typically hold one kind of expertise because that’s the core of their business. They hire for this because that’s what they started doing. That’s where they’re at.
Where you come to the table as brand protection is when you get ready to hire these specialty spots of IT software development, finance and things like that, a reputable partner like NextPath becomes a brand protection effort. “I’m going to going to invest in finding the right person for these positions to protect my business, even if it’s a behind-the-scenes type of person that’s not even interacting with a customer on the front end.” That’s something you do great at.
I wanted to point that out again because a lot of people out there, to Jon’s point earlier, think of staffing like, “It’s some type of commoditized thing. They shove people over at us. We interview them. If we like them, it’s great. It’s going to cost us more money or it’s not.” They don’t think of it as a strategic approach to protecting their brand that they would want to invest in. They wouldn’t want to put stupid artwork or digital ads out on their digital media. You don’t want to hire somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing there. It’s the same thing when you’re looking at these other positions.
As a company as you grow, you have to be able and willing to change, grow and be nimble because whenever we started, we were all doing everything. We were doing sales, marketing, accounting, finance and pretty much anything that we would do but as we have grown, we’re doing technology. We separated our technology team. That’s all they focus on. We have a sales and marketing team. That’s all that they focus on because it’s not going to be beneficial to have someone working on sales and marketing jobs also doing these architect-level highly technical roles. We have had to split it. I’m sure over time, we’re going to add more. You have to be nimble and willing to change and grow to be able to service your clients better and provide a better service.As you grow as a company, you have to be able and willing to change, grow, and be nimble so you can provide a better service for your clients. Click To Tweet
Be open to change as you grow. The mentality is a healthy one for businesses to take on. That is not a statement of saying, “I’m going to be everything to everyone.” It means, “I’m going to lean into what we’re good at but I’m also going to keep my ears open to opportunities that we may need to evolve into.” Do you have any last thoughts? There are a couple of things I wanted to leave time for too. From a personal standpoint, can you suggest advice, mottos in life or whatever it may be that Stephanie lives by that she would want to share with the audience about how to lead successfully?
It’s all about the people and truly caring for people. If you treat others as you want to be treated, then they’re going to see that and then hopefully pass it on. That’s how you build a good company and a culture. It’s by truly caring about your people and what you do and giving back. It’s all about that. You may not make money off something right away but it’s going to come back to you in the long run. It’s about truly caring and then giving.
We’re finishing up here with Stephanie Markese of NextPath Career Partners and Live Bold & Boss Up. Steph, how does anybody get ahold of you if anybody wants to get in touch with you?
You can go to our NextPath website, which is NextPathCP.com. On our website, this is a new thing that we added. There’s a Podcast tab at the top that you can click on and go directly to our podcast. We have a YouTube channel. All of our videos are up there. You can nominate people there. Everything can be accessed through that website.
Thank you for coming on. I always love talking to you. Sometimes it’s nice to hear your voice again. It has been great to have you on the show. Jon, do you have any last parting thoughts for anybody?
Stephanie, it has been great meeting you. I’ve heard nothing but great things. It’s fantastic to put a face to a name.
Thank you so much. This has been a pleasure as well. It has been a lot of fun. There’s a lot of great information that we talked about. Thank you.
We hope the episode has been helpful to give you a little bit different insight on how to protect your brand from that number one silent killer of most brands, brandslaughter. Tune in next time for our next episode. We appreciate you reading.
That was a good conversation. I enjoyed having Stephanie on the show. She’s a longtime friend. She’s very successful in numerous markets. It was cool that you finally got to meet her.
She was fantastic.
One of the things that came up on the show that I thought was an interesting topic that you and I have even kicked around quite a bit is long-term or short-term, “Are you being shortsighted? Are you playing the long game?” It’s specifically what we’re seeing around customer experience when people are modeling things out and looking at talent, techniques and technologies.
Let’s be straight. Everybody does this because they’re trying to protect their brand and service their customers. There’s no company that’s trying to provision something that says, “Our goal this year is to create a model that shits all over our customers, treats them like crap and pisses them off.” There’s nobody that goes out with that intention. What we see a lot of times, as a result, is if you didn’t do it on purpose, you sure did a damn good job of doing it.
That’s the definition of brandslaughter. You had no intention of destroying or tarnishing your brand but unfortunately, the actions and the steps that you took led you down the path to where we are. There are so many companies out there that look at customer experience as a center, “We know we need it because somebody has to serve our clients but how can we do it in a budget-friendly way and still get people’s calls answered and chats answered? Maybe it’s not at the service or the quality that we had before. We want to pay a little bit less.”
What companies don’t understand is when you cut that cost, the lifetime value of your customer is going to dwindle at some point because if I as a customer over the course of my life am going to spend $10,000 on your service or your product, the sales team or the marketing team did a fantastic job of bringing me in. I’m sold and bought on the brand. Inevitably, I’m going to need service, whether that be checking on my order, the product came in damaged or the services aren’t what I expected them to be.
I’m going to engage with a customer experience specialist. If that specialist does not represent the brand the way that I see the brand, which is fantastic, great, shiny or whatever it may be from the marketing team and if they don’t represent that brand the same way or if you go with a more budget-friendly or cheap airline and I don’t feel that love, my business is gone as a consumer. I will find the competition. It puts additional pressure back to the marketing team and the sales team to bring more individuals back into that funnel.
Pressure means expense too. I used to have to convert my new business at 18%. It’s a random number. Percent is our standard conversion to grow our business as we want to and sustain our business as we need to. I’ve made this change so I’ve raised the percentage of people who are not staying with me and also lower the amount of money they’re spending with me over the same amount of time if they don’t leave. My front-end sales team has to sell it 25% or whatever that delta is to make up for that churn on the back end to tread water. That’s not even growth.
Your marketing team has to come up with a whole new strategy to diffuse what’s going on social media, Discord or wherever that’s talking negatively about your brand. You’ve got additional marketing spend on top of the additional sales fund.
It may not work because if anybody knows anything about marketing, you’ve got your psalm and song. You’ve got your attainable market space that’s out there. You’re only going to be able to soak up so much of that. If I’ve opened up the back door, no matter how good my marketing is, I may not be able to make up the delta on the front end. I may be able to make up some of it, none of it or all of it. I don’t know but there are a lot of businesses that say, “We’re already doing everything we can from a marketing standpoint. Just because we spend more on marketing does not mean we’re going to get more business. It means we’re going to spend more on marketing.”
As you continue to run this thing out, that spend becomes more because the experience becomes shoddier, which speeds up your churn, which is going to cause you to make faster adjustments, which may not be the right adjustments, let’s be honest here, which is going to cost you more money down the road. If you have a great experience team in place, that experience team is your foundation. It’s their job to keep your customer base intact.
If you’re bringing in 1,000 customers a month, a round number, it’s their job to make sure that 1,000-customer base stays in place. Your sales team and marketing team build upon that. When you have a weak experience team, it’s like an earthquake has come and shaken your foundation up. You can have a $10 million house sitting on a cracked foundation. What’s going to happen to that house?
It’s going to fall apart. Within that existing client base, there is new spend potential, existing spend potential and reoccurring spend potential. You’ve created an ecosystem that will damage that. I look at our industry. That’s what we’re in. We could label it as a remote call center or a US-based call center nearshore or offshore but the reality is what type of work are they able to handle? I’m not knocking anything because there’s a place for all of it or it wouldn’t be there.
The short-sided answer is, “We’re spending X on our outsourcing servicing or our existing call center here. We need it to be cheaper. Let’s move it to Y.” I understand the math. Anybody could. My fourth-grader could figure that out. This is less than this but where the unintentional brandslaughter-ish moment is that the undercurrent thought that nobody is saying out loud is, “My expectation is that this cheaper solution is going to serve the same as this one.”
I’ll be honest. I may hurt a lot of people’s feelings on this and I don’t care. You’re never going to convince me ever that statistically over time and holistically that an Indian call center or a Filipino call center is going to take voice interactions on customer care and sales and do as high a quality a job overall as a US-based call center.Statistically, an Indian or Filipino call center is never going to take voice interactions on customer care and sales and do as high a quality a job overall as a US-based call center. Click To Tweet
I’m not saying there are not some that do a good job because there are some but statistically and holistically, it’s not going to happen. That’s the expectation on the short side of the piece. We have seen this happen for decades. They run over here. It sucks. They come back when the economy changes. They have to rebuild. The amount of money you spend over a 1-year, 2-year or 5-year tenure is far larger than what you would invest keeping it where the hell it is for a year until the economy changes.
Let’s be honest here. Every company looks at a US call center and sees $38, $40 or $50 an hour for customer experience. That’s what they assume in their mind. That’s what the spend is going to be because that’s what they’re currently spending. When they find a call center nearshore, offshore or whatever it may be and everybody has their place, for $30 less an hour, they’re not calculating what their losses are going to be. They may save that $20, $30 or whatever it may be but how much is it going to cost your business in the long term?
Without doing that calculation and taking that into consideration, it’s an irresponsible move when there are other US call centers out there that are not charging $38 to $40 to $50 and aren’t saying, “You have to come to us with 100 seats or we’re not servicing you.” There are companies out there like us. I’m not saying it’s just us. There are other companies out there in the US that will service your brand, be a flagship inside of their organization and service it over the top for not $50 or not even the $30 range.
We know tons of them like my buddy Tom Laird, the guys over at Five Star, John Coulter and those guys. We could run down a laundry list of people that are not the big boys but they do a great job. They’re good people. They’re reasonably priced. You’re going to get a far better experience and servicing for your customers. You’re still going to find some savings from what you’re paying with somebody else but you’re not going to jeopardize and risk it. Everybody wants to talk about risks. You’re not going to risk what you would by putting it elsewhere.
The big organizations that are out there or the Fortune 500s that want to go to the big boys in the call center space are conditioned to spend $40, $50, high $30 or whatever that price point is. When budget constraints happen, it goes, “I can’t buy the Maserati anymore so I have to shop for a Pinto.” There’s a nice vehicle in between that.
Get a Camry. I love the car metaphors and analogies. They always make sense to me because I was in the car business. It’s finding the best vehicle at what you can afford. That’s typically how you want to buy your cars. I want to get a car that’s the nicest vehicle I can afford for the spend that I have. It’s going to do what I need it to do. There may be a moment when I have to buy the cheapest car on the planet but I can’t expect that vehicle to do what a Mercedes does.
That’s the disconnect for me when I’m talking to people. I understand that you’re saying you’re moving over here but your expectation is that you’re still going to have the Mercedes-Benz experience and service on your 1978 Yugo or whatever it is that you bought that’s got three wheels on it. It has been sitting under a pile of dirt and iron for the last six years.
It doesn’t make sense to me. That’s the part I go, “Zoom out a little bit. Use some different math. Empower yourself to go back to the owners of the company who are asking you to save money.” Rightfully, business is business. You have to stay within a financial model instead of being your little robot, taking an order, going down the line and doing something that we all know is not going to work. We have watched this movie 9,000 times. It doesn’t work. It’s Groundhog Day.
Do you know what is disgusting? It’s when I talk to organizations who are with the big boys spending the $40 to $50 price point and who are getting worse experience than I’ve seen in over two decades of being in this industry. I’m spending X amount of dollars. I’m the client expecting this white-glove high-end experience. I’m seeing 200% attrition rates annualized. I’m seeing SLAs that have not been met since the contract has been executed. I don’t have a dedicated resource to reach out to. I don’t have the things that I need to drive my business forward but I’m spending $40 or whatever it is an hour and I’m not even getting half the attention that I need or half the results that I need to drive my business forward.
They’re still getting damaged anyway.
Your budget is out of whack.
Maybe that’s the piece of it too. They’re like, “Screw it. We’re already not getting what we want. If we’re not going to get what we want, we might as well not pay for it either.” There is a group out there that’s probably throwing in the towel and saying, “It is what it is.” I don’t think any business out there sitting in a meeting where they’re all going, “Let’s do whatever we have to do. We don’t care if the customer experience is there.” Most of them do. There’s a step back that says you have to look through a lens. Is there potentially a different way, a different service provider or a different lens to look through and say, “Traditionally, these are our requirements for a call center?”
Maybe we change those a little bit. I don’t know what there are. Everybody has them. “Are our requirements not allowing us to see the actual solution that we need because our requirements were written in 1995 and it’s 2023? We need to update our requirements.” I see that quite a bit. I see stuff come through on RFPs. I don’t even understand why anybody is asking this question anymore. It’s so irrelevant and outdated that it should be removed. There are five new questions you should be asking instead that would be far more powerful and protective of your brand.
I would be shocked if any organization admittingly made the statement, “We don’t care about customer experience. We’re going to stick it on the corner and hope it goes away. Let’s spend X amount of dollars less an hour. Who cares what happens?” I’ll be shocked and disheartened all at once but the point that we want to get to is some organizations are not paying attention to the evolution of the customer. Let’s go back to the mid-’90s. The customer was relegated to a voice. That’s all you have. In 2023, there are multiple channels and avenues for customers to go down.
I’m not saying you need to offer every single channel known to man but you need to offer the primary channels. We all know who I’m about to go down the road with. For companies to take away one of the primary channels to say, “We’re listening to our customer. We’re going to take the voice away from you because you don’t want the voice,” when there are customers all over social media and the major news outlets screaming at the top of their lungs and saying, “I can’t get any damn answers from this airline,” that’s irresponsible.
Don’t go out and say, “We’re listening to the customers. That’s why we’re taking the voice away.” Be honest and say, “We can’t afford to give you a voice.” If that’s the case, be honest and transparent with the customer base because the customer is a shit ton smarter now than what we were back in the ’90s. We have immediate access to know what’s going on, these are the internet social or what have you. Back in the ’90s, you had your neighbors, coworkers and news outlets and that was it. Those days are long gone.
They may be better off with those airlines creating membership subscriptions. If I’m an American Airlines person and I want to fly American a lot and I’m not saying it’s them but it probably is, I pay X number of dollars a year to be a member. That gives me the voice and white-glove customer service versus John Q. Public who doesn’t. They only get certain types of service. It pays for itself.
I’m spitballing but there are ways around it versus holistically saying, “I’m throwing in the towel. I’m ripping off the Band-Aid or whatever we’re doing.” The customers are feeling it. The companies and the employees are feeling it. That’s the other part that people don’t see. This servicing model that we think is saving us money is causing higher attrition, which is causing us another amount of money over here.
We’ve got loss of sales, reoccurring revenue, dollars for recruiting and attrition, dollars for unemployment, lawsuits potentially or whatever it may be. To me, that’s the part where you have to go in and go, “If we need to move to this model, let’s calculate all that, not just the hourly rate or whatever it may be if we’re closing a building, not just the building rent. What does this do holistically to the business?” I can make an educated guess.
As a business leader, what these guys should be doing internally is saying, “Jonny Owner, Jonny Boss or whomever you are that came up with the idea of doing this, I’m not saying no. I’ve explored both options. This one will save us this money here but cost us this money here. This one will cost us here and save us here. The overall side-by-side apples-to-apples comparison is that this model saves us money over the course of 14 months, 18 months, 12 months or whatever that is and doesn’t tarnish the brand to a point where we can’t recover.”
Let’s be honest. If one company is doing it, there are a million companies that are operating that way.
It’s the best practice.
That’s a whole other rabbit hole. If you do the right thing, all of a sudden, you’re not impacting your cost model as much. Your foundation is solid but let your competition keep tripping over themselves. Let them keep fumbling because as you keep doing the right thing and offering a good experience and the word of mouth goes out on social and all the media networks that you’re doing the right things, you’re going to start acquiring their customers free of charge because they’re paying for your new customer base or competition.
There may be other areas you can find savings in versus that. That’s a great point too. You’ve got customer acquisition. If the industry as a whole is doing this, then your chances of acquiring customers because you’re doing it differently become greater. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get them all because there may be some restrictions in that but you’re going to enhance that customer acquisition piece.
Instead of this being a moment where everybody is trying to mitigate loss, you’ve turned it into a growth opportunity because you’ve looked at the situation through a different lens than the rest of the people in your industry. That’s how big businesses and empires are built. Guys like Jeff Bezos and Mark Cuban look at the industry. When everybody sees a tragedy, they see an opportunity for triumph. They move forward at a time when everybody else is retreating and gaining all this ground. When it levels out, they’ve got the master acquisition piece of the market space. That’s a great point, Jon.
You have to look at it through a different lens. It doesn’t mean you can do it. You may do the exercise and come to the conclusion that this is our only option or you may come to the conclusion that we’ve got two more options than we thought. There are also blended options of stuff. We can do part of this and then part of this. It mitigates some of the risk and damage there. We’re not expecting it to be exactly as it was but we’re also not creating our tragedy at the same time. It’s good stuff.
Since it has been measured, there have been eleven economic downturns since the Depression. What happens after every downturn? You see a peak and a great climb. If you do the right things during the bad times, the great times become easy. It’s common sense stuff. Don’t let the fear of the boogeyman stop you or pause your progress.If you do the right things during the bad times, the great times become easy. It's common sense stuff. Don't let the fear of the boogeyman stop you or pause your progress. Click To Tweet
Don’t make it allow you to make decisions that silently kill your brand. The point of our conversations is hopefully to put a little light on it, maybe some humor and things like that. That’s the passion that you and I have. That’s how we started LEC. Let’s look at things differently and try things differently. I don’t think what we do is all that revolutionary. It’s different. It’s revolutionary in some ways but it’s progressive in the sense that we’re not married to, “This is the way we have always done it. This is the way we do it.” I would rather try to solve new problems than keep trying to solve the same old ones that everybody already knows you can’t solve.
It’s a good chat. It’s a good show. If anybody needs to reach out to Jon or me, you can find us on the site or reach us on the contact form at www.LEC4You.com. Go to the Contact page. You can reach out to us and chat with us there. You can find us on our social media stuff on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and stuff like that. We hope you enjoyed the show. We appreciate you reading. We will talk to you next time.
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About Stephanie Markese
Stephanie has over 10 years in staffing and has a passion for building relationships. She is currently the VP of Strategic Partnerships and Co-Owner at NextPath Career Partners, a women & minority owned full-service recruitment firm servicing both local and national clients to hire outstanding people in Information Technology, Sales, Marketing, Finance & Accounting, Customer Success, and Executive Search. She is also co-creator of the podcast Live Bold & Boss Up, a podcast aimed at coaching business professionals & entrepreneurs by having meaningful conversations with business leaders to educate and elevate while having fun doing it!
Her passion for helping others and giving back to the community led her to become involved with many non-profit organizations. She is currently an Executive Board Member and Tampa Bay Tech, Board Member at Tampa Connection, Board Member at Think Big for Kids, and involved with Tampa Bay WAVE. Stephanie was born & raised in Tampa Bay and believes there is no better place to live in the world! She is an alumni Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleader and a mom to two rascally boys.
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