Interview with Gary Vaynerchuk: Customer Service as an Offense

Nick Francis | March 13, 2013
“I think of customer service as an offense and not a defense”
— Gary Vaynerchuk

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Gary Vaynerchuk, a digital marketing superhero and an early supporter of our business at Help Scout. He wrote a great book on customer loyalty, called The Thank You Economy. We loved it so much that we sent signed first editions to a lot of our early customers.

Needless to say, I think Gary's thoughts about customer loyalty and great service are right on. In this roughly 10-minute interview, we got to cover some great topics:

  • Justifying customer service ROI in your company
  • Using customer service as an offense
  • The importance of mobile over the next few years
  • What he's learned since writing The Thank You Economy

HUGE thanks to Gary for taking time to talk with us as part of his #1aDayQandA interview series.

Here is the audio file of the interview and a transcript can be read below.

For those that aren't familiar with your approach, you get asked a lot about ROI ... be it social media, customer service, etc. What would you say to a CEO that won't invest in great human customer service because they can't connect the dots to ROI?

I'd ask them to show me the ROI of everything else they do before I answered that question. And the reason I do that is because some things are engrained in that you just do them even though they don't know what the ROI is.

I have a lot of clients who don't know the ROI of their outdoor media, but they do it. Or they don't know the ROI of a newspaper ad but they do it. They don't know the ROI of their PR company, but they do it. They don't know the ROI of most of the things they do, but they do them. I'm all for ROI. Listen, I'm an ecommerce, digital marketer. I believe in ROI and I actually believe most of the digital stuff we do today has dramatically more obvious ROI metrics. But I think for us to leave out what I call the "EQ", the Emotional Equity, the emotional ROI out of things would be a mistake.

You can buy banner retargeted ads and understand the conversion funnel. You can see what the depletions are through a study of your television. But the truth of the matter is marketing has a little bit of "ju-ju" juice. A little bit of sprinkles. There needs to be some creativity.

Do you think Zappos knows what the ROI is of putting their logos and their ads inside all those airport containers? The answer's no! They know how many airport containers they did, they know how many times conceivably somebody saw it, but they DON'T know the exact 100% ROI. If I see that Zappos thing in my tray, then take out my iPhone and buy a pair of Nike Air Force 1's, they're not COMPLETELY positive that it came from that. And so, nothing is 100% ROI proof.

I would answer to the best of my ability if I could tell you how many impressions you get on Facebook or Twitter. I could show you click-throughs and I could show you conversions through a status update. What's the ROI of the testimonial that I gave your company? You can kind of know the impact. You know that people heard about it because of me, or you leveraged my klout, or equity, or micro-internet celebrity. But there's no exact number. What if because of my video somebody decided to sign up, then used it, then told two friends who became your two biggest clients? Do I get the ROI value for all three of those people? Is it only one? I think it's a mystical thing.

I'm giving you a very deep answer because I want this deep answer put out on a blog. Thats why I'm doing the interview series ... to get deeper. And that's just the truth. All of that stuff is real and that's that. So my answer is, ask them what the ROI of every dollar they spend. Not because you're trying to be a dick, but because you're trying to understand how massively quan-driven they are, or are they just half quan-driven, which is what most people are. And then you've got to really debate the ROI of old media and old maneuvering vs. new.



Okay, so I've heard you talk about companies and how they should “stop hunting and start farming” ... you've mentioned that before when you've talked. Why do you think companies are so obsessed with growth today, yet nobody's really talking about lifetime value and building relationships?

Because that's the world we live in today. Divorce is at 50%! People would rather give up and start again than work on something they already have. Period. It's the evolution of man. That's why.



At Wine Library, you guys created a dedicated Thank You department, separate from customer service which has produced some pretty incredible stories. Why did you do it and what have you learned so far?

I did it because I was writing a book called the Thank You Department and thought it would be a good idea. The other reason I did it was I just thought there'd be a lot of value to it.

I think of customer service as an offense and not a defense. This interview series actually is intrenched in it. I have a lot of things to do right now. Right this minute, I have 150 emails of very defense-oriented things. Emails asking me to do interviews for bigger publications, emails from my clients, emails from WineLibrary, emails from friends and relatives, emails from investment opportunities ... other things that on paper have a better ROI for my next 15 minutes than this interview. However, I really want to continue to eat my dog food and I know that people get value out of leveraging my name and my interviews to help build up their properties.

I just believe that giving is always the right thing and so that's why I'm doing it.

Same thing with the Thank You department. Saying thank you and putting a piece of chocolate in a bottle of wine shipment, writing a hand-written letter, replying to people on Twitter and Facebook, doing data research on people that are great customers that we haven't said hello to in a while and just calling them and saying thank you for no reason whatsoever. Those things add up and I think they really matter.



Awesome. You do a lot of consulting with fortune 500 companies, you kind of mentioned that. But I know your competitive side loves taking them on from a business standpoint. What advantage does a small business have when they're surrounded by competition with more people, more money and more resources?

They are more scared, hungrier, have less to lose, more to gain, they're faster, more nimble, and ultimately they can scale effort more than the big companies can. They're not drudged in academia and they're willing to work more hours.



In listening to a few of your recent interviews, I've heard you talk about entrepreneurs (yourself included) planning 36 months out. What are some of the intangible things you think online businesses should be thinking about now that are going to make an impact 3 years from now?

Number 1 is mobile commerce. If you're selling shit on the internet and you're not figuring out how you're going to do that through the screen that is a mobile device, I think you're making a humongous humongous mistake. So I think that's number one. Hands down mobile, mobile, mobile, mobile. Every trend, every data point, just living in the universe and paying attention to what people do, makes me believe that...

If you don't know how to story-tell on mobile, you're dead.

After that, I haven't really thought about a whole lot of things, nothing's really struck me other than not being romantic about how to communicate. Meaning, the English language is dead, we're writing in short form and text. To me its all about conveying your story.

Conveying your story in 2016 is going to be about light-weight, sharable, micro content done through social networks and mobile devices because people's eyes and ears are being pushed further and further on a daily basis to those platforms.

I just go where the fish are and I just figure out what worms they're interested in eating. That's why mobile to me is the whole game. I haven't thought a whole lot about a lot of things. Its social and mobile, social and mobile to me. Ya know, the other stuff is commodity. You know how to do SEO and SEM, and banner ads and print and radio ... all those industries are mature and figured out. To me the fertile grounds are mobile and social.



Okay, last question, Gary. You've always had really strong opinions about great service ... you wrote a book a lot about that. Recently, is there anything specific that's been on your mind, any observations since you wrote the Thank You Economy that you'd like to share?

That's a great question, that's why it's fun to do this series. The truth of the matter is that it's a laughable cause. People are just not doing it, they don't want to do it, it's hard and they don't understand, they still don't understand. You know, in my world, big company, non-working media vs media is a big thing. Non-working media is the creative, the work, the content. Working media is the ads and people always want to put things into working media. I think they need to start thinking more about owning than renting.

Just the mentality of understanding why 300 employees doing customer service at let's call it 15MM is better than 15MM in TV money. Ya know?

I'm obsessed with scaling the unscalable. I'm obsessed with giving effort. I'm obsessed with giving back.

And, I've talked a lot about it and this interview series is another way that I can show people about it ... I just don't know what else to do.


About the author: Nick Francis is a co-founder at Help Scout.