Published on December 1, 2014
Help.com recently got to sit down and talk with Headsets.com CEO Mike Faith about his entrepreneurial adventure. Mike started off selling laminated zip code maps, moved into headsets, and become tremendously successful by putting the customer first. Check out part one of our interview if you haven’t seen it already and enjoy part two here.
Mike Faith Interview (Part 2 of 2):
Graham: I love that you are the CEO of a company with millions in revenue and yet you can still tell me who is working remote, why they’re working remote, and how long they’ve been with the company. That’s really awesome.
Mike: It’s good to know everyone. Part of my job now is to make sure that team members are comfortable as well as customers.
Graham: Customer service goes both ways, in many respects your employees are your customers.
Mike: I agree.
Graham: We were discussing the training and interviewing you do earlier. What is a trait, or series of traits, that you find that customer service reps for Headsets.com have?
Mike: I would have to say patience. I couldn’t do the phone job. Intellectually I get it, but I’m a very impatient person. I could do it for a few hours one day but after that I’d want to get up and wander around.
Patience is one of the things we definitely look for.
There are other traits as well, we want people who can listen to and relate to people. We try to feel out in the interview process if they can relate to people, if they can listen and understand what’s going on. We really want listeners, not talkers.
Graham: Listening is such an interesting skill. Is there a way you train listening? Of course people can come in and be good listeners but I notice that in your interviews you do very well with listening. Someone mentions something in an interview and then you bring it up later and it makes them feel good. Do you train that or is that a natural thing that you were born with and you find that your reps just have that skill?
Mike: You’re so kind. We can do interviews every day *laughs*. I think it’s part natural skill and part learned habits. We can always improve. Ken Welsh works with us on that. Not just with the words, but with the tone. He teaches us to look for the hidden meaning so we can help customers with what they really want in addition to what they think they want. I think we have naturally good listeners in the company but they improve on that skill with us.
Graham: It’s been fifteen years since you started evangelizing your customer focused method to running a business. Is there any innovation you’d like to see in customer service?
Mike: I’m not big on technology. We’ve got a phone system that has great voice trees but we took the voice trees out. We don’t want people to have to press buttons to get places. I view customer service as a relationship. It’s more psychological innovation than technological innovation. How do we get better at listening, relating with, and communicating to the customer? That’s what matters to me most.
Graham: That’s an unusual perspective. Speaking of unusual, you’re a big fan of advertising via paper mail. It’s highly effective for you but not the norm. Is there anything you do with customer service that’s not the norm?
Mike: We give nearly everyone instant credit. We want you to try it and if you don’t like it, send it back. We’re the easiest people to buy from. You don’t usually need a credit card to buy from us if you’re a business, we just send the headset to you.
We sometimes tell people they don’t need to buy a new headset. We help them reset it or send them a new battery or what have you. It’s little things like that that aren’t huge but that make a huge difference in genuinely serving and connecting with the customer.
Graham: You’re very open about borrowing ideas from people. Is there anything you’ve borrowed recently that you’ve liked or haven’t liked?
Mike: One of the things I’ve borrowed is upgrading people. You usually think of flights or rental cars as being upgraded, but now we’re doing it with headsets. It’s not upselling, we do do that, but that’s a different thing. If we can though, we’ll give someone a headset that will better suit their needs for a lower price, people really enjoy that.
Graham: Speaking of upgrades, I looked at your customer rewards program and nearly fell out of my chair. Can you talk a little bit about that and tell us what the highest tier anyone has ever reached is?
Mike: We put in a customer love rewards program. Buy more headsets, get more rewards. We wanted to have some fun so at some point you get the Hawaiian holiday, the mansion, the yacht etc.
Graham: At tier 9, which is 100 million points you’re offering a trip to Europe for eight people in a private jet, or a house.
Mike: I hope that people are taking that as tongue and cheek, but for the first customer that does that we’ll make it work.
Graham: What’s the highest tier a customer has ever gotten to?
Mike: You know what, I don’t know. I’ll have to go look at that and get back to you.
Graham: Do you have any numbers on how customer service has impacted your business? Also, are there any customer service metrics that you do track?
Mike: The big one we track is customer satisfaction. It’s not how well we did, it’s how well the customer thinks we did. We send out surveys to check on that.
Graham: Is it NPS or CEB?
Mike: It’s very similar, we use our own system. We’re looking for “Excellent.” Anything less than excellent isn’t good enough.
That’s far more important to us than measuring the ROI on it. You can’t measure the ROI on a customer who might not come back for three years or who might mention the service six weeks later at a cocktail party. I know we’re getting an ROI on it and I know it’s right, but you can’t measure it. We just keep doing it and it keeps working.
Graham: Do you have a system for tracking referrals?
Mike: We know that 24-25% of our business is referrals and that grows every year. We don’t track individually that X was referred by Y but we do note it and right now it’s about 25%.
Graham: Do you find that being so customer service oriented impacts your day to day life?
Mike: Yes. I get really upset at bad customer service. Of course I have to contain it because sometimes there’s no way to do it right but it does impact my day to day lif. I prefer to go to the coffee shop where someone smiles at me rather than where someone snarls “whatya want” at me and then throws the order at me. Those preferences drive a lot of my own purchases. I’m a big tipper for really good service and I’m a mean tipper for mediocre service.
Graham: Positive and negative reinforcement *laughs*. I’ve never asked anyone this question, and to be honest it just occurred to me. You travel a lot, you’ve been all over the world, is there a city that jumps out to you that has people who provide really good “customer service?” A friendly, warm city that you can recommend to people.
Mike: *laughs* We’ve got offices in Nashville. The people sound so good, people love those accents, and they’re so sweet to everyone. I also want to defend New York. I’m a big New York traveler and I don’t think they’re as rude as people think. I think they’re actually very sweet people. They’ve just got a different delivery.
The other city that comes to mind is Copenhagen. The Danes are terrific and that’s a great city to go to where people are really sweet and nice. I’m no expert on world wide customer service, I only have my own bubble that I’ve traveled in.
Graham: In terms of your day to day life, what companies have earned your business with their service?
Mike: One of my favorites is Schwab. I always get someone who knows what they’re doing, they’re helpful, they’ll call back. That’s influenced me to stay with Schwab over the years and now we use them for our company plan.
United is another one that I think has really improved in the last few years. I fly United a lot. It’s tough to get it right on an airline but they’ve made some big improvements.
Graham: Your customer love stuff made me think of Southwest, do you ever fly them?
Mike: Yeah, I don’t fly them often but I love Southwest. I love their whackiness. One of the tenets of our company is “Do something whacky” or “Stay whacky.”
Graham: I’m going to wrap up the interview with this last question: If you were going to recommend one resource, what would you recommend for someone looking to accelerate their learning about customer service?
Mike: I’m not sure it’s as easy as a single resource. Customer service starts at the top. The CEO has to get it right all the way down. Given that, I might start with “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” which talks about getting things right at the core so they’re right at touch points for the customer.
I think more important than a book, it’s got to be in the hearts and minds of the management team at a company. I think if you don’t do that you begin to view it as a cost center rather than an investment. I think that is the most important thing.
Graham: That’s a good answer. I’m going to wrap it up. For those of you who didn’t hear it at the beginning, Mike Faith is the CEO of Headsets.com. He is also the founder of ReserveDinners.com where you can eat with a celebrity for their favorite cause. I notice that I have two minutes left so I’m going to ask you to explain this last one, but Mike is also an avid player of Segway polo.
Mike: *laughs* Yes, I saw a Segway once and thought it looked fun, so I went and bought one and started playing Segway polo. I’ve had some fun with that over the years though I don’t play as much any more.
Graham: You got to play with someone pretty interesting right?
Mike: Yeah I got to play with Steve Wozniak who was on one of the early teams in the Bay Area so that was a lot of fun. He’s an incredibly nice guy.
Graham: Mike, thank you so much for coming on.
Mike: Graham, thanks for having me. Best of luck to you and Help.com, keep up the good work.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Questions about the interview? Let us know in the comments below or @helpdotcom.