Business in Vancouver’s “How I Did It” feature asks business leaders to explain in their own words how they achieved a business goal in the face of significant entrepreneurial challenges. In this week’s issue, Syed Hasan, founder and CEO of Vancouver-based ResponseTek, explains how the recession helped establish his company as a global player in customer feedback, analysis and retention.
“I was a corporate strategy consultant in San Francisco. I’d go into large corporations and analyze their businesses to identify where they had room for improvement.
“I would call customers who had left and ask them why they had left. What I found at the board table was CEOs were far more interested in these stories of customers who left than they were in $30 million cost improvements. In 1999, the only time a CEO would hear about actual customer experiences was in the cab drive from downtown Manhattan to the airport. I saw that as an opportunity.
“There was a gap between the customer having a negative experience and the organization being aware of it and doing something about it. By 1999, technology had moved forward enough to allow someone to build a solution that connected these dots. We came up with a solution that moved that from being a 120-day cycle of improvement to one that is a single day.
“What we’re doing is identifying customers who, because of their responses or the words they used, are at risk of leaving. We give our clients a lot of detailed diagnostics about what drives happiness.
“The first five, six, seven years, it was very much a visionary sell. We would find executives in organizations that truly believed in connecting with their customers. WestJet’s a great example. It’s a company that, from day one, said, ‘We believe in the customers.’ Conversely, we’ve never sold to Air Canada.
“If you talked to a telecom company in 1999, they had a 22% customer churn rate. The opportunity was to identify the customers that were going to churn before they churned. But this proposition of looking after your customers so they didn’t leave didn’t resonate particularly well.
“Between 2000 and 2005, companies were still able to sell more to new customers and were less concerned about customers they lost.
“Really, 2008 was when ResponseTek’s proposition started to synch up with the market. The financial crisis hit.
“Acquiring new customers became far more problematic for most telecoms, financial services, hospitality organizations. That’s when customer experience got on the radar.
“We developed a solution for text messaging that was pretty smart in 2008. That is what changed our model. Smartphones were starting to pick up, and we decided to focus on telecoms.
“Our solution is now used daily by many thousands of call centre agents and frontline workers. We grew our revenue by 100% last year, we’re over $10 million in terms of revenue and we’ve just started our latest office in Australia.”