On this episode of The Atlanta Small Business Show Jim Fitzpatrick interviews Mike Wittenstein, the owner of StoryMiners. StoryMiners is a customer experience design agency that focuses on management consulting, strategy, and the customer experience. Mike talks about how his company shows businesses how they can discover exactly what their customers want and then helps them to craft that experience. Check out the interview above to learn more.
JIM: Hello everyone, and welcome back to another edition of The Atlanta Small Business Show. Today we have the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Mike Wittenstein who is the owner of StoryMiners, a customer experience design agency. Mike, thanks for joining us on The Atlanta Small Business Show.
MIKE: Thanks Jim, it’s great to be here in your first year.
JIM: Yeah. Sure. So tell, for the people that are watching, tell us what StoryMiners is all about, and what services you specialize in.
MIKE: Sure. Started the company in 2002. We’ve had about 500 clients, and done 700 projects. [crosstalk 00:00:31].
JIM: Oh my gosh. Sounds like a lot.
MIKE: Yeah it is, it is.
MIKE: Most of the time people come to us and they ask us two questions. “Where too?” And, “How do I get there?” Everybody wants to know where the future is, so that puts us in management consulting and the future. But the thing that we do really differently, ’cause we work on strategy, customer experience and story, is we take the customer’s point of view and we show them how their business looks to their customers. Sometimes we do that with observations and mystery shopping. Sometimes it’s just a conversation or some interviews. But basically a lot of times companies have a blind spot about what their customers want from them. We basically show them what it is customers want and how they can be best at delivering that.
MIKE: ‘Cause that’s the sweet spot for both.
JIM: All companies, I would imagine, need this kind of consultation, right? Whether you’re a company that’s got five or six employees and you’re trying to figure out where we’re headed and what we need to do to get there, as well a company that has 100 employees that’s been in business for 20 years that says, “All right, how do we get to the next level?” To take an outside source like you and say, “Hey, help us with this.” Is that a fair statement?
MIKE: I think that’s dead on. I think it also works for politics and larger things that go on in the world, but we all kind of develop a frame of how we see the world. When that frame no longer serves you, you need to kind of adjust it. You need to kind of zoom in, or you need to zoom out and see some other things, create a new contact. Going through that exercise at each key stage in your growth, or each change of your heart, or each time the world changes is something that we have to do all the time. Because when you’re aligned in your … With your promises and how you keep them your customers are happy. When you create more value for them your business does better too.
JIM: That’s exactly right. Yeah. So why should small business owners care about their story?
MIKE: Because if they don’t somebody else will. They’ll take control of it. Your story is your biggest brand asset. Basically it’s your reputation. Where does the story come from? It comes from … Well, let me go back for a second. It’s not so much where the story comes from, it’s whose story is it. A lot of people when they think story, specially business owners, they think this is the story that I wanna tell to the world.
MIKE: That story doesn’t matter. Nobody cares. Sorry. [crosstalk 00:02:47] Nobody cares. What does matter is the story that your customers tell about you.
MIKE: That’s your reputation. That’s the one you earn every day. That story is born from the experience that your business gives them.
JIM: That makes sense.
MIKE: So go back to the very beginning, what am I in business for, what’s the promise my brand makes and then how well does my business keep that promise. If those are aligned you have a winner of a brand.
JIM: What’s behind a good story?
MIKE: Behind a good story is a good experience.
MIKE: You’ve gotta treat your customers wonderfully. What does that mean? Getting down to the details of that is one of the things we do in Story Workout, which we’ll talk about in a minute.
MIKE: But each company has it’s own signature experience. The way people are treated, the what others expect of the business. You’ve all heard the story at Ritz Carlton, “It’s my pleasure.” Chick-fil-A borrows the same thing.
JIM: That’s right.
MIKE: Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen is the internal watch word at Ritz Carlton. So whatever your focus is, and you can only have one, you can’t have a bunch of ’em ’cause then you [crosstalk 00:03:51]
JIM: Be diluted?
MIKE: – difficult to … Hard to understand.
MIKE: That’s what attracts folks.
JIM: Okay. So how would a business owner involve their staff in the process?
MIKE: That’s a great question and it’s also a great prescriptive. You should involve your staff in the process. You shouldn’t do things to them ’cause that sets the precedent that they should do things to the customers. You wanna treat them with a great experience so they’re ready to give one to their customers. Use your staff to do mystery shopping of your own business and of your competitors. Have them bring back some of their findings. Two things will happen. You’ll learn things you never knew about what your customers thought about you and you’ll find out what your competition is up to as well ’cause it’s right out there. The other thing that happens is your employees start taking an interest, an ownership of making things better.
JIM: It makes sense.
MIKE: So the motivation is there. They’re thumbprint is right on that new experience and you can’t buy that kind of energy.
JIM: I know for the people that are watching today they may say, “Well, to have a company like Mike’s come in and give us this kind of consultation, this expertise in this area, maybe that’s something that we’re not ready for yet. Maybe we can’t afford it. Maybe it’s a luxury we just can’t afford.” What do you say to those business owners that are out there have … May be in their first year, second year of operation.
MIKE: Well, you shouldn’t not do it. That’s a double negative, but I mean what I said. You’ve gotta do something like that. It’s not a luxury it’s a necessity.
MIKE: When it comes to budget, we’re not immune from market forces either. We’ve been going through some change ourselves at StoryMiners.
MIKE: One of the things that we’ve found is that customers are looking for answers and results and things to do and outcomes that matter. They don’t wanna waste a lot of time or money. Everyone’s value conscious. That doesn’t mean buying the cheapest, it means giving the thing that’s gonna create the most value. We engineered this new offering called Story Workout.
JIM: Yeah, tell me about that.
MIKE: It’s a micro engagement.
MIKE: There’s a little bit of prep work, we basically have a call and I give the client some homework. We do a session, we set it up in their office, in their factory floor, anywhere and we shoot everything with video so there’s a really good deliverable.
JIM: Yeah, very good.
MIKE: Yeah. We go through some very tough questions and answers. We pose a lot of different scenarios. We ask everybody what do you think? What do you think? Try to create that alignment.
MIKE: Usually what happens, back to that frame idea, is a slight change in the size of the frame gives everybody a new perspective. Here’s the cool part, you don’t have to change your values. That’s what people are the most afraid of.
MIKE: They don’t wanna change who they are in their heart or why they started their business.
MIKE: But you can use those values to create new kinds of value. Things that customers will pay for.
JIM: How do you make a shorter engagement more fulfilling?
MIKE: Well, you remember that it’s not just an engagement or a transaction or a service, it’s an experience. So you need to perform it. You need to remember it whenever you, no matter what size business you are, are working with your clients they’re getting an experience, not just getting their oil changed or their dry cleaning done or architectural plans for their garden.
MIKE: You are giving them an experience. The key difference between a transaction and an experience is the emotion. It’s how people feel. People value emotional content. When you go to the movies you basically pay your $10 or $15 ticket to have your emotions transformed.
JIM: That’s right.
MIKE: Yeah. It’s no different with the business. Once you can get a lock on how you’re helping your customers to feel you’re finding new ways that you can deliver value. Usually those things don’t cost anything at all.
MIKE: It’s simple stuff like –
JIM: Isn’t that something?
JIM: Yeah, yeah. That’s amazing. Many stores rely on their websites to begin the sales process, as you know. With perspective clients and consumers how can a business owner make the online transaction as human as possible?
MIKE: Well the first thing is to use real human language.
MIKE: Don’t talk to people as if they’re a thing. Don’t make them do your process. Never let your company’s processes dictate the customer experience.
MIKE: So be friendly, use human language. If you’re in an on going relationship with a client, personalize the interaction. If you know who they are when they come to the website get rid of everything that’s not related to what they need. If they’re doing a service order they don’t need the sales stuff.
JIM: That’s a good point.
MIKE: Just keep it focused. Every time people online make a click they’re giving you a gift. They’re giving you information about what they need, where they are, where they wanna go.
MIKE: Use those analytics to craft an ever better experience. Now let me ask you a question.
MIKE: How many homepages does Amazon have?
JIM: Ah, oh my gosh. One, right?
MIKE: No. As many as they have customers. They have over 100 million.
JIM: Do they really?
MIKE: They do. Nobody gets the same home page. It’s the ultimate personalization.
JIM: I didn’t realize that.
JIM: Wow, that’s pretty cool.
MIKE: Now small business with a thousand SKUs can’t afford to do that.
MIKE: But wait a minute, maybe they can ’cause there’s some very clever software out there now. But just being open to the idea of personalizing one to one.
MIKE: Just thinking about that will open up new opportunities.
JIM: Something as small as acknowledging their name at the top of the website when they do return, right?
MIKE: Mm-hmm (affirmative). The best thing of all, Jim, is to know the promise that your brand makes your customers and when they’re online as early as possible and as frequently as possible give evidence that you’re keeping that promise. Show them that why they hired you is what you’re doing and you’ll have them for life.
JIM: Sure. Sounds great. I love this kind of insight … And I know that the viewers will … There’s a lot of take aways here and it gets the wheels rolling. So Mike Wittenstein, thank you once again from StoryMiners. We appreciate you here on The Atlanta Small Business Show.
MIKE: Glad to be here, thank you, Jim.