This week on the Voices of CX Podcast we hosted Hank Ebeling, founder and owner of H4 Training gyms, and in a refreshing change of pace, the first small-business entrepreneur we’ve hosted on this podcast! But as you might expect, CX is no less important to small businesses just because it’s easier to manage. In fact, it’s even more important when you’re face to face with the people you serve.
About Hank Ebeling
Hank Ebeling is a sought-after speaker and small-business entrepreneur and the founder and owner of H4 Training gyms. He’s built his career on a passion for customer service and customer experience, and today helps other small business owners transform their customer service. Hank hosts his popular Success Trails Podcast which focuses on small business owners and their success. Hank recently authored the book Crushing the Competition with Service, which is available on Amazon.
Connect with Hank Ebeling
Follow Hank on LinkedIn
Follow Hank on Facebook: @hankebelingiv
Follow Hank on Instagram: @hankebeling
Get Hank’s Book: Crushing The Competition With Service
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About Voices of CX Podcast
The Voices of CX Podcast is a podcast that covers all things business strategies, customer decision insight, empathetic leadership practices, and tips for sustainable profitability. With a little bit of geeking out on behavioral science, A.I. and other innovation sprinkled in here and there. The guests span multiple industries, but all of them have years of experience to bring to the table.
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Hello to our listeners and viewers. Welcome back for one more episode of Voices of Customer Experience podcast, we are on season nine. Today I am joined by Hank Ebeling. Say hi Hank.
What’s up, everybody?
Hank is joining me today from, where are you at?
Outside of Chicago, just the lovely suburbs of Chicago, Illinois.
Wonderful. And I’m going to let Hank introduce himself and tell y’all a little bit about himself, what he does, what he’s passionate about, and why the customer is such an important topic for him. Take it away.
Yeah. Thanks, Mary. You know, for myself, I’m all about customer service, being customer centric. That’s how I built my business as an independent trainer. That’s how I built my business when I got to working for a corporate chain, and then ten years ago, almost ten years ago, when I opened my own small business boutique gym, that was the foundation of my business, was service first.
Everything else after that. And that grew to another location. And people started to take notice. I had clients that were business owners who would say, you know, how do you carry on this level of service as you’ve grown, as you now have multiple locations, as you’ve had different people working for you, how do you do this? How do you maintain that?
And that led to just helping some of them, because I had the relationship with them since they were clients. It led me to write a book on the topic, Crushing the Competition With Service, geared towards the small business owner. And it’s just led to speaking on the topic and is helping other small business owners because it is the competitive advantage.
And for me personally, I think it’s the most important thing in business, is taking care of the customer.
The Small Business Customer Service Mindset
Yeah, that’s awesome. Well, you know, I’m actually quite excited about the fact that you are our first guest that really focuses on small businesses because most of the time we’re either talking about huge enterprise organizations with hundreds of thousands or even millions of customers, or we’re talking to thought leaders and authors that are kind of going at customer-centric concepts from a macro level.
So getting nitty-gritty, getting down to somebody who is in the trenches, who’s a small business owner and practices what he preaches every day, I think this is going to be great. So let’s start off this topic of the customer based on some of your personal experiences. When you were starting your business, did you immediately succeed with this customer service mentality, or was it kind of a trial and error process for you?
Yeah, I think with any business starting, there’s a lot of trial and error, but I think I knew from the start, you have to have a foundation, you have to have standards, and you have to build a culture, even when you’re one, as if you were many. To me it was, yes, I might be the only one in the business right now, but that’s not the long-term goal.
So I need to almost forecast and create everything, what it’s going to look like in the future when there’s multiple team members and there’s multiple locations. How can I create a culture now that will sustain and grow as my business grows? So there’s some trial-and-error testing, systematic approaches to everything, and you add, subtract, but it starts with the culture, and that’s what you cultivate at the beginning, and that’s what you always go back to.
Type of entrepreneur and business model
Now, what sort of an entrepreneur do you consider yourself to be? The one that wants to stay small and stay local and just kind of mesh into the local community? Or do you have the vision to grow your business on a large scale? Kind of the sky’s the limit eventually become a Lifetime Fitness or an Equinox or something like that. That’s all over the country.
That’s a great question. I mean, I think the goal is always for growth, but I don’t want to see us turn into a franchise where you kind of lose the relationships and you lose that feel, that family feel. And it’s very difficult. As you know, businesses, especially gyms, grow to maintain that. So I would want to see us grow and have future locations, but not to the point of thousands of locations.
And we’re franchised and no longer can keep that pulse on the business. If you will. So for sure, growth, but to an extent.
So you believe that part of what your business model is, is to never lose that one-on-one connection with your customers.
Yes, no matter how much we’re growing, that has to be the center focus, we have to have that one-on-one feel, that relationship-driven appeal, if you will.
Challenges in the customer-centric processes
Now, let’s talk about something really important, because I believe that one of the biggest issues that entrepreneurs and founders and business owners face is OK when it’s them, when they’ve got the boots on the ground or they’re working the front desk and they’re involved in like the operations, the daily operations of the business, and they’re the ones interacting with the customer.
It becomes easy to have to practice customer-centric processes, operation systems, et cetera. But once you start growing and you need to bring on more people to help you with the business that starts getting lost because many business owners struggle in replicating or creating a replicable model for maintaining customer centricity. So I imagine that this is something that you have dealt with.
What are some tips when it comes to not only recruiting but also onboarding and training individuals to kind of give continuity to your vision and your goal of customer centricity?
Yeah, I think it starts with going back to that keyword, the culture word, which is you have set a culture and you have set standards. We talk about our service standards. For us, it’s 13 service points. Other businesses I’ve worked with, it could be as little as five or six, but you have these standards and as you go and grow and look to hire, everything is based on, are they a culture fit and are they going to uphold these standards?
It doesn’t matter, the technical side – let’s face it, there are certain industries, doctor, attorneys, you’ve got to have certain technical skills to get the job done. But so many businesses, a lot of the technical skills can be taught. Let’s make sure that this individual is going to fit our culture first and foremost. The technical side of things is easy.
But if they’re not going to be a culture fit, if they don’t care about people, you’re not going to be able to teach them to care about people. So that has to be number one, have your standards, have your culture set and match and align individuals as they come on to that culture and to those standards. And then from there, it’s just prioritizing.
Is customer service, is the customer experience the priority throughout the initial onboard, throughout all individual meetings, team meetings, monthly emails, discussions, whatever the case may be, continued education, it’s priority. And I think that’s where a lot of business owners fail, is it might start as a priority and eventually it just starts to get pushed down because of things like profits, which of course are important and other things that come along, you know, marketing, especially now running ads, and it just keeps getting pushed down the ladder and that’s where you run into trouble. I think just keeping it a priority as you grow is so important.
Customer Experience: Know your customers
Yeah, absolutely. Now, would you attribute a lot of your success with your customers to the fact that possibly, I’m just guessing here, possibly you are your target audience? You know what it feels like to be in your customers’ shoes and you tailor the experience that you provide your customers to something that you could relate to and you could appreciate.
Actually, in a way I want to say no, but as a fitness fanatic, yes and no. But here’s the thing; our average customer is about 50 (years old) and 60%, 65% females so they’re actually a different demographic than myself. And they have different, needs, they have different things going on in their life.
A big key, and this is true with any business, is being empathetic and understanding where that individual’s coming from, what could be facing them on a daily basis. Having that understanding and making it more about them and where they’re coming from does help, more so than, you know, I’m in fitness and I love fitness, but actually most of our clients are not me, if you will.
Well, that’s interesting and surprising for me. I know very little about your business, so I imagined that you were probably targeting individuals that are as passionate about fitness as you are, have a similar age range, similar demographic. So how is it that you do create this empathy with your target audience? How do you, since you are not them, how do you go about understanding them?
This kind of goes into, who is that avatar that you’re looking to serve? And this might sound just maybe humorous to people but when I opened the gym, I said, you know, I want this place to be somewhere that my own mother would be comfortable working out at. I would want her to not be intimidated. I would want her to feel cared for.
I’d want her to feel like this is a clean space. The experience is high-end things that she might be used to. So if I could create that environment for her, it would be a great environment for other women in that 50, 60 age range, which a bulk of our clients are. And so it always comes back to mom.
That’s kind of where I set the mindset and I say it really, really helps.
Best practices: creativity and empathy
Yeah. And what would you recommend to other business owners that, perhaps their moms wouldn’t fit into their demographic and they’d have to get a little bit more creative with creating that empathy within themselves?
Yeah, I think it says don’t be selfish. The business that you are creating is not for you, right? Don’t make all your decisions based on you. It’s sometimes hard right? Because we all have egos as business owners, people in general, and you tend to make a lot of decisions based on what you like, what you want, what you see.
So that’s not the case. Try to figure out, get in that customer’s head, talk to them as much as you can. Maybe go within your network and identify those people that match that demographic and ask them questions, do your due diligence and see exactly what those individuals need and want.
Now what are some of the practices that you implemented at the very beginning? Preparing for growth, that you think are still true till today, and it’s your go-to best practice recommendation for people that you are helping with their business?
Yeah, I think first and foremost is those service standards, I mentioned those earlier, we created 13 of them. It’s essentially how we train every new team member on these standards. It’s what we hold them accountable to when we have our one-on-one meetings and we’re looking to set promotions, things like that. Are they adhering to these standards?
And for us, some example standards are things like ‘beat the greed’, ‘treat every client like a VIP’. Those are just a couple. Treat people how they want to be treated versus how you want to be treated. So just a couple of things along those lines, that was very important to have those standards because that’s how we base our hiring, that’s how we base firing, if you will, and onboarding and everything.
So that was very, very important. And then just a simple tactic they use, and my manager used at our other location is a 3-2-1 method just to sustain relationships. Now, I get for larger businesses, you’d have to adjust this, but essentially, it’s every week – you could do every other week. We need to hit three of our clients via email.
We need to hit two of our clients via either a handwritten card a text, some form like that, and we need to hit one of our clients via a good old-fashioned phone call. And these touchpoints are all about relationships and nothing about selling. So it’s checking in with people following up, just seeing how they’re doing, what their experience is like.
This could be someone that’s brand new, that’s been with us for five, six years, and so we use that three to one method is just a way to sustain relationships and kind of always have that pulse on our client. And that’s something that we still continue to do. Now, that I started with from day one.
Voice of Customer: How are small businesses listening to their customers?
Yeah, that’s a great one because one thing we talk about a lot on this podcast, and the name of the podcast really comes from this, which is the idea of listening to the voice of your customer, right? So in big giant organizations, this requires technology, it requires platforms, it requires huge databases and CRMs, but when it comes to a smaller level, just because you’re small, it doesn’t mean that you get away with not listening to your customer.
It’s actually much more important and a bit more practical because you can have a one-on-one interaction, which is perhaps the best type of interaction that one can have. Right? So here at Worthix, we talk about how empathy comes from one-on-one conversations, because you can look into people’s eyes, you can see their expression changing.
You could pay attention to their body movement, to their gestures. You can hear the slight change in tone of voice when they talk about this topic or the other. And most importantly, you can do something that most big VOC technology platforms aren’t able to do, which is listen. So how much of what you do is listening and how do you implement or take action on the feedback that your clients give you during these touchpoints?
Yeah, I think you always have to have that ear to the ground. Even if you’re smaller and you’re around your business more, you just you have to be putting yourself where your customers are and whatever business you have. Sometimes that means getting out of an office. That means you might be going to multiple locations, might be making calls, might be checking social media.
So just getting out there and listening to actual human beings and what they’re saying and then sifting through the information and seeing, OK, is there a trend everybody’s talking and giving us feedback about X way more than everything else? So this is something we should probably focus on. Does it make sense? Does it seem like it’ll bring value to the business and most importantly to the customer?
So I think it’s getting that information and then sifting through it to find what is going to have the biggest impact on the customer. And for your business.
Yeah. Do you ever call up clients who have maybe churned or left your business somehow to try to get a feel of what went wrong and how to possibly address that to stop it from happening in the future?
Yeah, actually, if anybody leaves us at any point, that’s the first thing I always ask, Is there anything that we could have done? Did we fail on any level of the experience that you expected, the service you expected? Because that’ll make my skin crawl if I know somebody left our business due to a failure. And one of those instances, if they found some new shiny gym they want to get into yoga, and we don’t offer that, more power to them.
But if somebody is going to leave because we failed from an experience, from a service standpoint, that’s something I want to know and take very, very personally. So we make sure to ask every single person that leaves that question.
Yeah. And how do you keep track of all of this data over time? Do you use a spreadsheet? Do you use some sort of system, some software?
For us, it’s just simple Google Docs. It’s easy. We can share with each other, lets us organize everything and not too complicated for everyone to use. So pretty simple. But it gets the job done.
CX: Interactions and motivations
Yeah, that’s great. That’s the beauty of still being able to have that one-on-one interaction. It’s easier to store, it’s easier to share. And really, it becomes so clear that if you’re not doing that, you’re really missing out on such a precious aspect of having a small business right now. Is there something in you that makes you feel passionate about running a business, about working with other individuals that have small businesses?
What is it about this particular industry that gets you really excited and motivate, gets you up in bed, out of bed in the morning?
Yeah. I mean, America’s built on small businesses. You see these big corporations and everything, but America literally is built on small business. That’s the driving force, we need our small businesses and especially after COVID, so many of them lost their businesses and it was a terrible thing. And so to me, I’m a small business owner.
I know many small business owners, understanding it’s the lifeblood of America and so many places, I don’t want to see small business owners fail. And so to me, it’s almost like a personal, I don’t want to say crusade, but to help the fellow small business owner. And, you know, we all can succeed, there’s plenty of money to go around for all of our businesses, even the competitors within the area.
But we all need to help each other. So to me, that’s what it comes down to.
And how is this camaraderie, let’s say, how does the community of small businesses how do you help each other? Is is that something that is really energizing as well? And I’m asking because I don’t really know the space so well, but I’m interested how much of what fuels you comes from the community.
It comes from the local community, comes from nowadays you can have networks, right? Facebook groups, different communities of individual URLs across the entire U.S., the world, and you can share ideas. It’s easier now than ever to share ideas to help each other in tough times, and I think that’s what a lot of people did over the last two years.
And it just kept that bond and created that community even more, especially small business owners like, hey, we got to help each other out. Let’s share ideas. So, yes, you get that energy off of each other and you can share breakthroughs and great ideas. And yeah, that energizes you for sure.
Social Media: How valuable is this tool for small businesses?
Yeah, that’s awesome. Now, one thing that we talked about in our pre-call was about tapping into perhaps what is considered unstructured feedback. So that’s reviews, it’s what’s on social media, that kind of thing. How do you use that and what sort of a tool is this? How valuable is this tool for small businesses?
Huge. And yeah, we did mention earlier about just putting your ear to the ground and social media now is such a big part of the game. So many businesses just don’t keep up with what’s being said about them on social media, right? They almost ignore it unless it’s a major issue or a very big negative against them. So watching to see what’s going on, on social media, who’s talking about you, who’s posting about your business, what kind of comments are being said and spending time, whether that’s you or another individual within your business looking at that and then just like you would person to person feedback, take action upon it.
So I think you really have to pay attention to social media now. And there’s so many platforms, right? You got Instagram and Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter and you name it. So it can be overwhelming, but go to where your customers are and listen and take action.
How to scale empathy in small businesses?
How do you plan to do this as you scale, as you grow? Right now it’s still possible. You can still have these interactions. You can reach out one on one, you can you know, perhaps step in and close the loop with an individual that could have had an issue with your organization. But how do you plan on doing this as you get bigger and bigger?
So as your hundreds of clients go to thousands and perhaps, I don’t know, hundreds of thousands, who knows? What is your plan to scale this empathy?
For us at our individual locations, we’re not going to really exceed over the 200-client mark because we’re such a small business model and our price point is a higher price point. So because we can keep our numbers small, we can kind of control that environment, whoever is managing that role. So it’s not going to be too hard.
Now as you’re getting more and more locations, it’s more about the accountability and the oversight on those individual ways to make sure they’re doing all the right things. And when you look at it, it’s I would say it’s this, not just simple, but it kind of is when you first start in any business, you have certain things that you’re doing and it’s easy.
There’s not many people involved. And then as there gets to be more team members involved, more customers, clients involved, it becomes more and more challenging. But the same principles and methodologies essentially still are the same. You just have to continue to scale them and create more levels of accountability. So to me, it’s just always making sure there’s a level of accountability over whoever is in charge.
So if it’s my manager or my other location, making sure she has somebody over her checking in, is she doing all these processes, building relationships, using our surprise and delight budget, all those type things?
Yeah. Now that has a lot to do also with training people and then empowering them to go out and act perhaps on behalf of the whole organization, right? So I mean, you can’t clone Hank, so it’s about finding maybe like-minded people who have received this training and these elements that are so crucial to you when it comes to taking care of your clients, and then giving them the power to go in and act without requiring permission or without requiring or approval. Are there systems that you’ve put into place? Are there processes that you’ve organized along the way from day one, perhaps?
What we did was, at the beginning there was no team, it was just myself. What I essentially did was create what I called an ideal team member for every role in a perfect scenario, which, you know, there’s no such thing. This is exactly the type of person I would love for this role.
This is their characteristics, their qualities, this would be the expectations for them. And then as we would go and interview, we would look for as close to that individual as possible. And then as we grew and we got team members, now let’s identify who’s our top player, what are their qualities and attributes, let’s create a new profile around that type of person.
So now when we go and hire, we’re looking for somebody as close to this person as we can find. Not going to find a clone. There’s no two people alike, but at least we have a model to kind of understand what we’re looking for versus just kind of throwing darts blindly at a dartboard and having no idea.
So that’s a big part of it. And then going back to that c-word, the culture and the standards has really helped. So identifying what you’re looking for and then making sure they align with that culture.
Book: Crushing the competition with Service
That’s great. Well, this has been really, really great, Hank. And you talked about a book that you wrote earlier, so how can people get a hold of this book? What are some of the ways to buy it? Which direction can you point them in?
So it’s called, Crushing the Competition With Service, can be found on Amazon e-book or a good old paperback. It’s short and simple. We have busy lives. I don’t want to be in a 300-page book. Most people don’t have the time, so it’s under 100 pages. It’s colorful. It’s kind of got a comic book theme. It’s the anti-normal business book, which I think is refreshing for a lot of people, and it’s just simple and straight to the point.
So, Crushing the Competition With Service, find it on Amazon. Super easy read and you can start implementing it right away.
Awesome. And lastly, if anyone of our listeners or viewers wants to get in touch with you was to perhaps continue the conversation or even invite you to help them out with their business, how can they reach you?
Yeah, you can find me on pretty much all social platforms, but mainly Instagram at Hank Ebling and on LinkedIn at Hank Ebling. Those are the two easiest platforms that you can find me most.
That’s great. Well, thank you so much, Hank, for coming on here today. To our listeners and viewers, thank you for joining us once again. And stay tuned for the next episode of Voices of CX podcast.
All right. Thanks for having me.