Episode 143

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We live in the ratings and review economy. While our clients (and I suspect we are guilt of this too inside our agencies) are busy chasing after the new customer, the truth is – if we don’t create an amazing experience for our existing clients – we’re sunk. It’s tough to attract new business when your current customers are giving you mediocre reviews or rushing to social media to share your customer service blunder with their connections.

Never forget that 70% of your net new revenue should come from existing clients. Odds are your clients are in the same boat. In today’s world of commoditization, the experience we create is often our point of difference. And let’s face it – you’re probably not on the front lines with your agency’s clients. Your team is.

That’s why I was eager to speak with my guest Stan Phelps – an expert in customer experience and employee engagement. Among the many things on his plate, Stan runs purplegoldfish.com where he digs deep into these topics in his best-selling book series and on stages across the globe.

I wanted to ask Stan about the links between customer experience, embracing weirdness, employee engagement, and above all – purpose in an organization – how they are all tied to one another; how they are often the difference between surviving (or not) and thriving as a company.

Stan Phelps is an IBM Futurist, TEDx Speaker, and Forbes Contributor. He has spoken at over 250 events on every inhabited continent, in over a dozen countries for Fortune 100 brands such as IBM, Target, ESPN, UPS, GlaxoSmithKline, and Citi.

Prior to focusing on writing and speaking, Stan held leadership positions at IMG, Adidas, and the PGA. He also spent seven years as Chief Solutions Officer at Synergy, an award-winning marketing agency. At Synergy, he helped create larger than life brand experiences for brands such as KFC, M&M’s, Walmart and Starbucks.

Stan received his BS in Marketing and Human Resources from Marist College, a JD/MBA from Villanova University and a certificate for Achieving Breakthrough Service from Harvard Business School. He is a faculty member on ANA’s School of Marketing and also serves as an adjunct instructor at Rutgers Business School.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How exceptional customer experience means current customers will be eager to bring you, new customers
  • What the concept of lagniappe (pronounced, “LAN-yap”) – a tradition in New Orleans – is all about and how you can use it to go that extra mile for your clients
  • The bottom line importance of warmth and competence
  • Making your best clients aware of your full range of services
  • How to embrace weirdness as a business development strategy
  • The 5 things that impact the growth and health of a goldfish – and what that means for your business
  • The correlation between the first 4 months of your business and its overall health to this day
  • How to put purpose at the bullseye of everything you do
  • The law of worthy intentions

The Golden Nuggets:

“Providing a great experience means you don't have to focus so much on the prospect. Your existing customer will actually bring you the new customers you want.” @StanPhelpsPG Share on X “You have to go above and beyond just the transaction. A lot of times it's the zero-sum game of ‘you give me x, I give you y,’ and there's nowhere to go.” @StanPhelpsPG Share on X “How do you do the little things when you're delivering that service to show that you care? That’s how you show warmth and competence, and rise above the rest.” @StanPhelpsPG Share on X “Smart companies embrace their weirdness as an organization and even amplify their weaknesses.” @StanPhelpsPG Share on X “How easy do you make it to do business with you? Make it easy.” @StanPhelpsPG Share on X “There's a word, lagniappe (pronounced LAN-yap) that comes from New Orleans and epitomizes the idea of doing a little more or a little something extra as part of the experience.” @StanPhelpsPG Share on X

 

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Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits, too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by HubSpot. We’ll show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey gang, welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. Really excited to chat with you today and to bring you a guest who I suspect you’re familiar with. But if not, you are going to be running out and buying his books as soon as you’re done listening to the podcast. Let me tell you a little bit about him and why I invited him to the show.

Stan Phelps is, today, the founder of Purplegoldfish.com, which is a think tank of customer experience employee engagement experts based at the Frontier and Research Triangle Park. He’s a TedX speaker, he is an IBM Futurist, he travels all over the globe speaking at keynotes, he does workshops. He’s constantly traveling. One of the fascinating things about Stan is that he always, wherever he goes, the very guys meal he eats in any country is McDonald’s so we’ll dig into that a little bit. We’re social media friends so I’m always seeing, “Ah, Singapore French fries.”

Anyway, prior to focusing on speaking, Stan lived in our world. He had leadership positions at IMG, Adidas and the PGA of America. He also spent seven years as the chief solutions officer at Synergy, which was an award-winning experiential marketing agency. While he was there, he created larger than life brand experiences for brands like KFC, and M&Ms and Starbucks, and other organizations like NASCAR and USTA. So Stan comes from the agency life, so we’re going to talk about lots of things. How things are shifting in the agency world, I really want to dig into his journey in defining and carving out this niche around thought leadership, and much more.

Without no further ado, Stan, welcome to the podcast.

Stan Phelps:

Drew, thank you for having me. Great to be here.

Drew McLellan:

Let’s talk a little bit about the shift for you. You were at an agency for a long time, and in some ways not a huge shift because you were at an experiential agency. At what point did the idea that client or customer experience and how critical that was going to be for brands, when did that really come front-and-center for you?

Stan Phelps:

Well, I probably have to back up one step. The genesis, when I was at this agency, I was the number two at this small, boutique agency, responsible for a lot of the development work. I found that a lot of the great connections and business development happened around events. And, that you were seen in a much different light if you were a speaker at the event as opposed to just an attendee.

Drew McLellan:

Right, absolutely.

Stan Phelps:

Which was really the genesis for me, “I need to start writing, I need to have a point of view on experiential marketing.” That caused me … I spent one year, Drew, and I wrote across the board, every different aspect of marketing. Looking for, across that year, I wanted to find the one thing that I thought really could be a difference maker and that I wanted to go deep on.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Stan Phelps:

It really came down to, whether you call it the customer experience or the client experience, it was how do you actually do a better job of providing a great experience, so much so that you don’t have to focus so much on the prospect, your customers actually bring you the customers you want.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Stan Phelps:

That became a real laser focus for me.

Drew McLellan:

Out of that realization came the first book, Purple Goldfish, right?

Stan Phelps:

Purple Goldfish, right.

Drew McLellan:

Can you explain? The books, folks, if you have not read Stan’s work, it starts with Purple Goldfish, and then it goes to Green Goldfish, and then Golden Goldfish, and Blue Goldfish. And then, Purple Goldfish Service Edition. And then, Red Goldfish. Clearly, there’s a story there.

Stan Phelps:

There’s a theme behind each color. The purple one was the one that was really focused on customer experience and client experience.

The background on the colors, Drew, comes from actually Mardi Gras, of all places. The three official colors of Mardi Gras are purple, green and gold.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Stan Phelps:

The reason why New Orleans or Mardi Gras is a focus is that there’s a word that comes from New Orleans that really epitomizes this idea of doing a little more, or a little something extra, as part of the experience.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Stan Phelps:

That word is called lagniappe.

Drew McLellan:

It’s not spelled that way, but that’s how you say it.

Stan Phelps:

Lagniappe, yeah. Phonetically, it would be L-A-N-Y-A-P. It’s hard to say, it’s even more difficult to spell.

Drew McLellan:

It’s got 75 other letters in it.

Stan Phelps:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

You guys will see it in the show notes and know what it is.

Stan Phelps:

Yeah. That was the focus of the first one. I went down the path, Drew, of actually collecting over 1000 examples.

Drew McLellan:

Right. I was going to say the structure of the book is also interesting. Tell folks about that.

Stan Phelps:

Yeah. I really wanted to reach out and see if people in their lives really thought of brands that went above and beyond just the transaction.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Stan Phelps:

Which I think is so critical here, is a lot of times it’s the zero-sum game of just, “You give me X, I give you Y,” and there’s nowhere to go.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Those customers are satisfied and brands think that’s good enough.

Stan Phelps:

The research will bear out that that’s nowhere near good enough. That customers that say they’re either satisfied or very satisfied, the number can range between 60 to 80 percent of that’s what they feel right at the point of when they defect to go to somebody else.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Stan Phelps:

It took a little over two years, it was while I was still working full-time. But, I was able to see through that, that there were these patterns that developed of how you did that little something extra. Those patterns, each of the 12 patterns, very simply became a chapter in the book. I was able to select the best examples to put forth. That’s how Purple Goldfish came about.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. What’s interesting about that book, and actually all the other books, is … I’m hoping that you guys are listening to this through two lenses. One, this is all very applicable to your agency and how you serve your clients. But two, as you recognize that the work you do, the stuff you make is becoming commoditized, and it’s harder and harder to sell someone a website, or a PPC program, or whatever it is you sell, at a price that you feel good about, because somebody out there does it cheaper.

It is the understanding of what Stan is talking about that I think is one of the magics that you can bring to your clients, that a freelancer, or logosfor99dollars.com cannot deliver. Which is helping them really understand and dig deep into what turns their customer or client and makes them go from satisfied to, “I can’t stop talking about these people because they’re so awesome.” Which is I think what you’re talking about, right, Stan?

Stan Phelps:

Yeah. It’s essentially how do you do the little things when you’re delivering that service to show that you care, to show both what we call warmth and competence.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Stan Phelps:

I’ll give you an example from my agency days. We used to do these experiential marketing programs and events. One of the things that I did, Drew, because I was more on the development and creative side in the beginning. The account management side would take that, and I would then show up, maybe at the activation or the event.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Stan Phelps:

One of the little things that I would do is just take … Back in the days it was Flip video camera, if you remember the Flip.

Drew McLellan:

I do.

Stan Phelps:

I would just some behind-the-scenes of the event. And right when the event was over, I would go to the nearest coffee shop, and I would download the footage and some stills. I would put together just a quick recap. I was always sure to find a little bit of behind-the-scenes featuring the client and I would send it to them.

I remember the first one I did was for a P&G client. Our true client was actually a PR agency and I sent it to them to thank them. They said, “Would you mind if we sent this on to P&G?” I said, “Mind? I would love for you to be able to share that.” But, it was that little thing that they didn’t expect-

Drew McLellan:

And by the way, you weren’t charging them extra for.

Stan Phelps:

Wasn’t charging them extra, that I gave them just to show hey, I wanted something that was for them that was a little something extra. And, the response and feedback from that was tremendous.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. One of the things that agencies struggle with, and you probably remember this from your agency days, is constant biz dev churn. I think their clients suffer from it, too. It’s constantly chasing after the new win, all of the time.

I think one of the core teachings that you have is, not that you don’t ever do that, but that we spend so much time chasing after the new that we neglect the ones who we brought to the dance, or that brought us to the dance. And, that there’s A, riches in returning to that relationship, and B, risk in continuing to ignore it. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Stan Phelps:

Yeah, absolutely. I think that there needs to be a lot more focus on the customers you have as opposed to chasing the ones that you don’t. I’ll share a stat, Drew, that really drove this to home.

Of 100% of the services that we offer, what do you think the clients that we actually serve know of the entire 100%? What would be your guess of, everything that you do, what percentage do you think your clients that you already serve know that you can provide for them?

Drew McLellan:

I’m betting it’s 30% or less.

Stan Phelps:

It’s 20%.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Stan Phelps:

Think about it, 100% of what you can do. A lot of times, I think there’s a lot of opportunity just to make sure that you’re making them aware of the other things that you do. But, we think about sampling as something that we do for a prospect.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Stan Phelps:

We give a prospect a little taste. Well, that’s one of the core tenets of Purple Goldfish.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Stan Phelps:

How do you actually take that mindset and actually do it with the clients that you have, that already know, like and trust you, and give them a little bit of a taste.

Drew McLellan:

Because we assume that they already know we do that, and they really don’t.

Stan Phelps:

They don’t.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Stan Phelps:

Yeah. A large majority of what you do, they have no comprehension of what you could potentially do for them.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. You know, I think one of the core tenets in your books, too, is one of the things that I always take away from all of the stories you tell in all of your books is that … I don’t know a nice way to say this, but the businesses aren’t ordinary. There’s something about them that’s a little quirky, or a little interesting, that those are the ones that really stand out and that really have something to embrace because they’re aren’t vanilla. I think it’s hard to do something unique that’s that little extra if you look just like everybody else.

Stan Phelps:

Sure, sure.

Drew McLellan:

I think one of the things that certainly agency clients struggle with, but I think agencies struggle with it too, is it’s a little like being in high school where you kind of want to be like everybody else and you don’t want to stand out, you don’t want to be the weird kid. But actually, your books would suggest that there’s literally monetary value in being a little weird.

Stan Phelps:

Yeah. I’m actually working right now on the Pink Goldfish, which is going back to the roots of Purple. That’s all about how do you embrace weirdness within your organization. And believe it or not, how do you amplify weakness.

Drew McLellan:

Tell us more about that.

Stan Phelps:

Most companies try to push down weakness.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Stan Phelps:

Or, play it down or try to be something that they’re not. If you’re small, flaunt the fact that you’re small and own it. If you don’t provide X, Y and Z, don’t gloss over that. Say, “Look, we don’t do that stuff because we’re ultra focused on A, B and C.”

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Stan Phelps:

“We’re not trying to be everything to everyone.” Because every weakness, Drew, has a corresponding strength.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Stan Phelps:

The smart companies are the ones that actually don’t try to push it down, they actually shine a light on it and actually amplify that.

I’ll give you a great example that we’re in the process of writing about. There’s a cough syrup from Australia, it’s called Buckley’s. This cough syrup, according to their advertising, tastes like trash bag leakage and sweaty gym socks. They say it “tastes horrible because it works.”

Drew McLellan:

Right, right. It’s medicine.

Stan Phelps:

Right. They don’t try to say, “All right, it’s cherry flavored.” They actually own it.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Stan Phelps:

Another example, when Mini came to the US 15 years ago, that’s another one. They actually told you, “It’s smaller than you actually think it is.”

Drew McLellan:

Right, right.

Stan Phelps:

It’s this idea of how do you actually encourage a little bit of weirdness, how do you embrace what makes you weak.

I’ll give you just a quick … We touched on the colors, Drew, and each of them have a different reasoning.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Stan Phelps:

I want to touch on the goldfish portion. The goldfish, I picked because it was really small. The entire through line is that little things that you can do can truly make the biggest difference. But, this is what I learned, Drew. The average goldfish is three inches in length.

Do you want to fathom a guess what the world’s largest, just garden variety goldfish, how big do you think? How long?

Drew McLellan:

Not a koi fish or anything?

Stan Phelps:

No, just the average goldfish. It’s in Holland, almost 20 inches.

Drew McLellan:

Wow!

Stan Phelps:

It flipped my head.

Drew McLellan:

That’s a ridiculously large goldfish.

Stan Phelps:

Think about it, that would be like, Drew, you walking out of the hotel you’re in right now and bumping into somebody who’s three stories tall.

Drew McLellan:

Right, right. Which I’m hoping not to do.

Stan Phelps:

How is that even possible?

Drew McLellan:

Right, right.

Stan Phelps:

Well, it turns out a goldfish will grow based on five different reasons. I would argue those same five reasons apply to everyone that’s here on this podcast right now.

The first one we’ve all heard of, Drew. The bigger the bowl or the bigger the pond that you’re in, the more that goldfish will grow.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Stan Phelps:

I’ll put you on the spot. What do you think the size of the bowl or the pond equates to, in business?

Drew McLellan:

I would think the marketplace in which you work.

Stan Phelps:

The market, right. The bigger the market that you’re in, the more room that’s going to be to grow. If you’re in a smaller market …

The second one is simple. The growth of that goldfish is also determined by the amount of other goldfish that are in the bowl or the pond. That’s a layup, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right, sure.

Stan Phelps:

That’s your competition.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, right.

Stan Phelps:

Here’s the third thing. Their growth is also affected by the quality of the water. Think about the amount of nutrients that are in the water.

Drew McLellan:

Sure.

Stan Phelps:

The cloudiness of the water. This one’s a little bit more macro. But, what do you think the quality of the water would equate to, the nutrients or the cloudiness?

Drew McLellan:

Internal environment. Culture.

Stan Phelps:

I would say yes, but I’m looking for something more macro and that’s simply the economy.

Drew McLellan:

Okay.

Stan Phelps:

Think about nutrients could be the ability to get capital to grow your business.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Stan Phelps:

The cloudiness could be things like consumer confidence, people’s willingness-

Drew McLellan:

Or inflation, or whatever. Right.

Stan Phelps:

Right. The fourth one is how a goldfish does in its first four months of life will determine how big it will get.

Drew McLellan:

Okay.

Stan Phelps:

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