Podcast #6

Trust is vital for a
well functioning customer
service department

Michael George
Customer Support Director – Crema

About this podcast

We interviewed Michael George, Customer Support Director, from Crema. 

Michael talks about how their organization works hard on being earnest, patient, and sincere with their customers since customer support contributes to the heartbeat of their organization. 

He gives tips on how to have a well-functioning customer service department.



Explore the power of AI and NLP
for your customers and agents

Interview Transcript

Andrea Palten
Today, we have Michael George, customer support director from crema. Thanks so much for being here. Michael, can you tell us a little bit more about what Crema does and what you do for Crema?

Michael George
Yeah, you bet. Andrea, very nice to meet you. Thanks for having me on. Crema.co –We’re an online coffee marketplace, where you can be in complete control, really, there’s a lot of different coffee subscription businesses out there, Crema Co gives you the most ability to customize your experience. And we feature dozens of roasters from around the country where you can place an order, have it roasted, prepared, within a couple of days, and it’s sent your way you’re getting it fresh and, and getting a great coffee. One of the aspects of Crema is that we really value the relationships with not just the roasters, but with the partners that they have the farmers that they’re trading with, around the world. So my role with Crema is as customer support director, and I’ve been doing that since 2016. We’re a small team, about five to 10 people. And we work hard, though, and we’re spread around. But we really have a great relationship with one another. And yeah, it’s been a good experience. That sounds really good.

Andrea Palten
Is your team in charge of support for both the roasters and the customers buying? Or is this just customers buying?

Michael George
It’s for a little bit of both, I handle most of the customers who are buying the coffee. I also oversee some of the roaster communications, we do have someone that handles most of the roaster correspondence. And she does an awesome job. And she also fulfills some of the samples that are ordered through Crema as well, we have different coffee flights. And so they’re kind of organized, you know, you can get a flight of blended coffees, see which ones you like, or flight of espresso roasts or flight of light roast, all sorts of different kinds. 

Andrea Palten
And I want to hear something that we talked about offline before we came on. And I think you know what I’m talking about. So this question is about customer service. So what have you done to promote great customer service in your organization? And where did you get some of those ideas from?

Michael George
Sure. And that’s a really, really good question. And, you know, truthfully, I think that’s one that could really be asked on a daily basis throughout an organization. Because customer support, whether it’s directly or indirectly, it contributes largely to the heartbeat of any organization, big or small. And really nearly any position at the organization, whether you know, its CEO, or the custodial staff or customer support director. So for me, to promote some great customer service. I’ve tried to stress the importance of being earnest, being patient, and being sincere, in my approach. Truly, truly valuing the person and not the user, the customer or the name on the screen, remembering that there’s a human being on the other side of that, and, you know, they’re a valuable person, and I need to treat them respectfully and within with that value that I believe they have, and so it can’t be an act, people are going to see through that. So I’ve also worked really hard to develop another important component, and that’s trust. Trust is such a vital foundation for a strong relationship. And that’s what we’re trying to really foster mutually beneficial relationships across organizations. I’ve focused on that whenever I correspond with the people on our team. And when I believe when trust is really woven into the fabric of your culture, and upheld, of course, it often naturally will carry over as a value in external communications with customers. So, for example, sometimes in customer support, you have to deliver bad news to a customer. And that’s not fun, nobody really, wants to do that can be a little awkward. And if you have established a culture of trust, and if you approach them earnestly, and with sincerity and with an attitude of, “Hey, you know, I might be wrong here”, sometimes that happens to they’re going to be much more receptive to that bad news because I’m truly trying to communicate with them. And so just keeping that type of stuff, in my mind, has been really important to establish a good, good culture of customer support within our organization.

Andrea Palten
And you were mentioning earlier, before we got on about your travels, and how you learned some of that stuff. Can you talk a little bit about that, because that’s so interesting to me.

Michael George
Most definitely. So I was in the Navy for six and a half years. And for my final three years, I was stationed in Japan, I lived just south of Tokyo. And I was in a unique position while on shore duty on this tour, because I got to work with not just American military personnel, but also with federal government, civilian employees, also Japanese citizens, and Japanese military personnel. So that was quite a combination of people. And workers, you know, coming from just about every background that you can imagine. And so what I would get a lot was people coming in needing customer support in a lot of different capacities. And in some cases speaking even a different language. And that would get tricky too. But I remember one of the elements of being there in Japan that really left a big impression on me was interacting with people there that that were sincere, that were earnest that were really were giving it their all and, and you go if you would go to somewhere like even a McDonald’s, you could order just a single menu item off the dollar menu or something. And you would get a receipt and a bow and a thank you. And it really made you feel valued as a customer. Or you know, we went to some places that remember what we ate, we ate at the New York grill one time I believe in New York Plaza Hotel. It’s from the movie lost in translation. We ate at the dining room up there, it was it was a great meal. Real extravagant was very nice, a great experience, and they treated us fantastic there as you might imagine. But really, it was a consistent customer service experience, even when you go to like a $7 menu at McDonald’s. So you know, it was so that that really left a big impression on me. You know, I try to carry that over to my experience here. I think I shared a story of when we were out in Tokyo and we were a little bit lost. Trying to find the right train station. I stopped someone while we were looking around trying to figure out where in the world we were and I did my best spoken my best rudimentary Japanese trying to ask him where the closest train station was. And he walked out of his way for blocks to show us exactly where we were looking to go. And that was one of those experiences where I thought, okay, if I was in his shoes, that’s what I need to do. And so, you know, we were mentioned over here in America might not get that same experience every time. But I wanted to make sure that you knew that somebody would get that experience that they asked me. And so I tried to try to make that a part of my approach to customer support.

Andrea Palten
I love that. I I don’t know that much about the Japanese culture. But as much as I do know, from TV documentaries, reading, just that honor and the trust and just that extra mile that they go, it’s just it makes total sense. Like everybody should study in Japan for a little bit before they go to customer service. It just makes so much sense. I love that story, too. So let me go back to something that you said at the beginning, you said that you have a smaller team. So my assumption is that you guys might have limited resources, like most companies do, especially now doing COVID. If you do have lack of resources, or lack of time, perhaps, how do you guys deal with that?

Michael George
Sure. That’s a good question. Constant communication is definitely one of the most important ways that we deal with this. Yeah, we’re a small team, we’re spread across the world, I’m located physically in Ohio, we have a couple of people at the headquarters over in Portland, Oregon area, our owner gets around a good bit between East and West Coast, but he’s currently been in the New York area. And then we’ve got developers in London, and in Australia. And so that’s a wide range of people all over the place. But we need one of the one of the aspects of working with Crema that I’ve really, really enjoyed, is where we can freely share our collective knowledge or experience, and our expertise. I’ve really enjoyed that. Because if we weren’t doing so, if we were trying to, you know, keep some of that to ourselves in order to work better, or do you know, look better or something like that? We wouldn’t function quite as well. If that question calls to mind, there’s a CS Lewis quote, he said, “it’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.” I think even though we’re a small team, having an attitude of, we can still do big things. And not being afraid of discomfort is really something that’s important as well, not being afraid to work hard, not looking for the easy way out, saying, Okay, I need to roll up my sleeves. And I really need to focus on what this customer needs reading into the way that they are corresponding with you. the little things when you do so many customer support tickets, over the years, you really pick up pretty quickly the tone of someone’s correspondence with you. And it’s, it’s really important to take good note of that in your response back to them. Now that gets a little trickier when you’ve got a bigger organization that you’re working with. But when you have a small team, you really have to focus on that quality, if you want to grow. And so fortunately, with Crema, we’ve been doing that 2020 has been a good year. Boy, that sounds weird to say. 

Andrea Palten
I love that you’re saying that.

Michael George
Yeah, I don’t know if I want quoted on that or not.

Andrea Palten
No, that’s good. We all need that sentence because that sentence is not said enough this year.

Michael George
You can do it people, we can do it.

Andrea Palten
So tell me then having a smaller team. What metrics do you guys measure? What and how often do you measure metrics?

Michael George
Yeah, that’s a great question, especially for those of us out there that really value and look for an absolute truth instead of just what we want to be true. And what I mean, I want to really know, if I’m doing a great job, how to measure that is kind of tricky. You know, you can, there’s a short answer to that I mean, we utilize the software for managing our customer support tickets, once an issue is resolved, the customer will get an option to provide some feedback, you know, rating scale, things like that, and that’s useful data, for sure. And it, but it’s important also to keep in mind that, you know, perception is reality, you know, the customer might not always comprehend all of the things that are going on behind the scenes to lead to giving that rating or a, but it can be useful to indicate some issues that might need more attention. You know, but I just don’t, I don’t always want to hang my hat, it’s just so very difficult to measure quality. And, and I know, that’s something that businesses really want to be able to measure that it’s a tough goal to reach. But, you know, it makes me think of a story of when I was when I was in the Navy. So my, my first tour of duty, I was stationed on a ship. And those are, those are very long days, and very, you work really hard. I probably aged 10 years, in the three years that I was there it’s extremely hard work. And I remember working so hard, and at times thinking to myself, gosh, I’m not really getting recognized for anything I’m doing here, maybe a little bit here, there, whatever. But I thought, Gosh, I’m really working hard here. And it just seems to just all wash down the river. And then when I got to Japan, and I was stationed there on a short tour there, my very first year there, I was awarded the sailor of the Year award. And that was a really nice feather in my cap, I was happy about that. It wasn’t actively pursuing it, but it was, it was a real honor. But I remember thinking to myself, I’ve worked just as hard. I’ve worked just as hard here, as I did on the ship. And, maybe that goes more towards awards, but really it made me think, you know, am I working? You know, what am I working for who and if it’s for awards, or recognition, then that can come up empty, and your hard work isn’t always going to be reflected in what you get out of it.

Michael George
On those I guess material type of rewards, but more so it’s going to really be something internal, I need to know. I’ve done the best possible work that I can for me personally for me, my faith plays a huge role in this and in my approach. If I know I gave a half hearted effort to a customer. Like I said they’re they’re valuable and I want to value them as people not just as the user not just as the customer and so that’s that’s really for me in in internally that’s that’s how I carry myself and try to know what you did a good job this is was this was quality work here and it yeah it and because really, you can’t always control the outside and the external. So, you know, for what I can control, I want to leave no stone unturned that I did the best job that I could for this person.

Andrea Palten
Yeah. And with your calming presence, too, it’s very, like, I could just see you as an escalated call and how you can calm the person down, because you have this really good nature about you, you can calm the person down, and you can put them at ease that yes, you’re there for them, and you’re going to help them and you understand you actually empathize with them. I mean, that whole level of agitation will get taken down immediately. So you have that nice presence. 

Michael George
Thank you very much for that, I appreciate it. I think one of the reasons that I’ve been successful in that is that it comes from a genuine place. And people can see through a lot. Sometimes people just need to be listened to. And, you know, oftentimes in customer support, they’re not coming to you because they’re excited or pleased or happy, you know that when they do that’s nice, it’s great. We got a ticket, or, yeah, some correspondence today from someone that said, you know, this is some of the best coffee I’ve ever had. And I’m a huge coffee snob and so that’s great. I love it when we get stuff like that. But quite often, they’re writing to you when the experience doesn’t go the way that they had planned. And quite honestly, a lot of those times, it didn’t go the way we had planned either, you know. And so, like, that’s kind of that’s one of the things that I I tried to convey, is it I know, it didn’t work out as well, as you had hoped it did this, because of that it didn’t work out the way we had hoped either. So let’s work together and let’s get a solution.

Andrea Palten
Yeah. Oh, that’s so great. Okay, let’s switch tracks a little bit. I wanted to know from you, what do you think artificial intelligence will do to customer service and a good or a bad way? What do you think is going to happen with artificial intelligence when it comes to customer support?

Michael George
So it’s definitely going to have an effect, it’s definitely changing it. I’ve experienced some of it as a customer, before with my mobile phone carrier, with my bank, or things like that. And that, I think by now, many most people probably have at one point or another. And with mixed results, I’ve had some where I’ve been, where I thought, wow, okay, you know, this really took care of business. I was in and out. I’m good. You know, but then there are some others where it’s been a bit clunky and frustrating too. So it’s definitely changing and having an effect on the customer service world. So, for better or worse, it just can depend on the customers, the business, etc. I remember in the Navy, one phrase that they often put out there a lot, even from boot camp days was work smarter, not harder. And, you know, I’m, for me, working in customer support. I’m always open to that. But it needs to be done to me, it needs to be done in a responsible way. That doesn’t entirely dehumanize the experience. And, and so if finding that perfect mix, that perfect cocktail is a little tricky, of course, that’s what a lot of great companies, like Inbenta are striving to do. I know with Crema we lean mostly on those personal responses, but you know, we do see some repetitive issues that come up every once in a while. And so again, it just depends on the nature of the need for the request. And so there’s I love sports, there’s a sports podcast that I listened to and the host loves to fly drones and stuff like that. And he’ll talk about, I got this drone, this, you know, that drone? There really? And any he always points out these are the worst drones that we’re ever going to have moving forward. And so I think, gosh, you know, it is the AI might be where it’s at right now. But you know, moving forward, it’s only gonna, it’s only going to grow. I think it’ll improve and a lot of ways, my hope is that it’ll just be done responsibly. And for whatever extent I can have an influence on that. You know, that’s, that would be my chief goal to keep in mind.

Andrea Palten
I definitely agree with that. And we strive for that, too, we do natural language processing, which means like, if you type in slang, or you miss type something, we’re still gonna write back and we’re not gonna sound like a robot. But you can always ask for customer service as well, if that’s what you have set up. But I like that you guys are doing it, the human touch. But when you grow, and you get so big, then having something like a natural language processing AI, you know, helps with still giving you that pseudo human touch. But I do like that it’s gonna be, it’s never going to be as bad as it’s now, it’s always going to get better. That’s a really good quote. I like that.

Andrea Palten
So I have one more question for you, Michael. It’s my last question. What is the number one advice that you have for customer service departments?

Michael George
Yeah, so for the number one piece of advice, I would say, if you can focus on communication, teach ability, and trust, and also garnish a lot of humility in there too, that’s really going to go a long way towards creating that culture, that approach to customer support, that’s gonna, they can’t help but overflow to the customers as well. So creating that within your organization is really vital. And once that has been done in an earnest way, in a sincere way, in a genuine way. And it pulsates through whether you’re working, you know all in the same building, if you’re allowed to work in a building right now, but or if you’re spread across the globe, establishing those core values, communication, teachability, trust, humility, they won’t be able to contain it from come spreading over into the customer. As a customer, myself, we’re all customers at some point. I love that and I recognize it when I’m, when I’m, you know, in that position.

Andrea Palten
That’s awesome advice. Thank you so much for that for the whole interview. And for your time. I really appreciate it.

Michael George
Absolutely. You’re welcome. I’m happy to do so anytime. Thanks again and you have a great day.

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