I’ve been involved with Voalte since the beginning—actually, even before it began. I taught Voalte’s founders, Trey Lauderdale and Oscar Callejas, in the Entrepreneurship program at the University of Florida. I was their faculty advisor, and later, after they graduated, when they first got the idea for what became Voalte, they reached out to me. (I am a very accessible teacher; most of my students have my cellphone number.)
At the time, Trey was one of the top salespeople for the middleware company Emergin (which was soon to be acquired by Philips). One night, I was at home, sitting on my dock, and my phone rang. It was Trey. He said, “Professor, I have an idea I want to talk with you about. I need to see if it has any merit.” And he went on to describe what he was seeing in hospitals on his sales calls: noise from overhead paging, inefficiencies in communication and how alarms are actioned. He saw an opportunity to do something about it. He talked about iPhones, about putting one in the hands of everyone in the hospital who comes in contact with patients.
I have taught thousands of students over the years, and hundreds have reached out to me with ideas. I don’t impress easily. But this time, I said, “Trey, that is potentially an enormous opportunity. It’s a problem that needs to be solved. And the way you plan to solve it is truly elegant, a thing of beauty.” And with that, Trey and Oscar were off and running.
At the recent Voalte User Experience conference, VUE18, I was asked to talk about innovation for the first day’s keynote address. A key element of innovation is creating and nurturing a robust, complete customer experience. I believe that it’s not what you do, but why you do what you do and how you do what you do, that creates the experience for a customer—something that is unexpected. Something that causes them to think, Wow!
There are a few really great companies out there, and a lot that are not so great. You would think that the great companies do things just a little differently. But what I’ve found in studying business, is that great companies are diametrically different: 180 degrees opposite from the less-great companies in what they think, say and do. One familiar example of a great company is Apple. If Apple were like its competitors, it would talk about how good its computers are. But instead what you hear is, “We challenge the status quo, every day. And we do that by making our products beautifully designed, easy to use, customer friendly.” The result is a robust customer experience—and Apple’s almost cult-like customer base.
Another example: Several years ago I was the Director of Investor Relations for a Fortune 100 company, and I had a lunch meeting in New York with a security analyst. My flight was late landing, but after a harrowing high-speed cab ride from La Guardia airport, I leapt out in front of the midtown hotel where my meeting was scheduled (and where I would be staying), overtipped the driver and turned around to find that the doorman already had my bag in hand. He greeted me by name: “Mr. Rossi,” he said, “Just go to the front desk after your meeting. Your bag will be in your room.” And indeed it was.
I had never stayed at that particular hotel before, so it later occurred to me to wonder how the doorman had known who I was. When I checked out a few days later, the same doorman was on duty, and I asked him about it. “Well, sir,” he smiled, “Road warriors like you use their business card as a luggage tag. I looked for your card and found it, and that’s how I called you by name.”
That little, unexpected something extra created a customer experience that had me returning to that hotel every time I visited New York. Now, what that hotel does is sell hotel rooms. How they do what they do is what created an experience for me.
In the pink
At Voalte, everything is about the customer experience. Take the Voalte team members who visit hospitals wearing pink scrub pants. That idea came out of an early advisory board meeting, where we were discussing how to create a customer experience. During a break, one of the board members mentioned a trip he’d made to the grocery store over the weekend. Not knowing his way around, he asked a fellow who was arranging cans of Campbell’s Soup where to find what he was looking for. “I don’t work here,” the man said, “I work for Campbell’s.” He was what’s called a merchandizer; his job was to make sure his company’s products looked appealing.
“We need a merchandizer!” was our immediate, unanimous conclusion. And the merchandizer needed to be distinguishable. And that’s how the pink scrubs came about. Voalte team members go into hospitals, distinguishable in their pink pants, bring donuts to the nurses station, check out all the Voalte smartphones, put the phones in the charging stations, make everything look nice. They create value for the nurses, and that value is unexpected. And those folks—they have to earn those pink scrubs. Not just anyone gets them.
The key thing for all of us—wherever we work and whatever we do—is this: Any time you come into contact with anything that has to do with the customer, think about how to create a robust customer experience. The wow! is in the details.
Dr. William Rossi is a Professor Emeritus of Entrepreneurship at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business, where he taught for 15 years and was the recipient of numerous teaching awards, including the Distinguished Professor of the Year. Prior to teaching, Bill held several senior-level positions with Ford, Goodrich and Picker International. After relocating to Florida in 1986, Bill worked in executive management positions in smaller entrepreneurial companies, and was a principal in several.