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From Unconventional Experiences to the King of Customer Experience, with Eli Weiss, Director of Customer Experience at OLIPOP

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To say that Eli Weiss has taken an untraditional path to where he is today would be an understatement. Currently, Eli is the Director of Customer Experience at OLIPOP, but his roots are in a traditional orthodox Jewish household, his education does not include a college degree, and his first job in the industry came as a result of him doing a powerpoint presentation to the folks at an emerging luggage brand about why they were failing. Yeah, not what you’d expect. But Eli’s whole career is about going above and beyond expectations — consumer expectations. From that luggage brand to NUGGS Vegan Chicken Nuggets, and now with OLIPOP, Eli has become a master of building out the ultimate customer experience, and he took us behind the scenes on this episode of Up Next in Commerce. Plus, he told us about the job board he set up to help people like him — with skills but untraditional backgrounds — so that more awesome folks can work their magic in the CPG space. This was seriously one of my favorite interviews, so I hope you enjoy it!

Main Takeaways:

  • The Road Less Traveled: Oftentimes, those with untraditional backgrounds or different levels of educational and career experiences get overlooked for jobs they are more than qualified for. Companies need to be willing to look outside the box and invest in people who can prove they have the skills needed to do a job, even if their past experiences don’t line up with who you normally would hire.
  • Promises Kept: It seems simple, but one of the biggest things companies overlook when it comes to customer experience is whether or not they are delivering on the promises they make. Take a look at your ad copy, your website, your social channels and product pages and determine if what you are selling to customers is what they actually get. 
  • More Than a Customer, A Friend: When brands interact with customers, most of the time the entire interaction is focused on a sale. But the best kind of customer experience comes when a brand treats a customer like a human being, and when addressing them, the brand thinks, ‘what would my friend want or need in this situation?’ Even if someone is canceling a subscription, find out the backstory on why they are cancelling their subscription, maybe there is a deeper reasonthan what you expect and there is something you can do to reach out not to sell, but to show you care. 

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

 

“While most people my age were in college, I was traveling. I finished this whole travel extravaganza and was like, do I hop into college and start a couple years late and spend a lot of money on it or do I figure out a way in the same way I figured out with travel and a bunch of other things growing up? Startups, that’s the only place where you can get in based on what you tell them you can do. And if you prove it, you have some leeway.” So that’s pretty much been my entrance into CPG was just like, ‘Give me a chance.’”

“I actually applied to 85 different jobs at some of these like D2C, CPG darling brands in 2020, and heard back from about four of them. And most of them didn’t even give me the time of day to chat with them because I didn’t have that super cool Airbnb or Uber or whatever else experience. And what was frustrating to me is, the skillset I had was super valuable at certain companies, but I couldn’t quite bridge the gap. What I’ve started a couple weeks ago is a CPG job board for that exact reason, it’s like people have very specific wants and needs for their next role, but they don’t have the ability to specifically search for those wants and needs.”

“On day one, let’s look at expectations across the entire customer journey and see, are we delivering on what we’re promising? So what that looks like on a very practical and tactical level is looking at ad copy, is the ad copy you’re pitching, is that actually what you’re delivering when customers click place order? And then thinking through, what’s the next stage? When they click on that ad copy, get onto your site, is your website experience seamless and easy? Are people getting the information they need or do they have to reach out and ask questions by email? And then the next thing is shipping and delivery. What we’ve seen is brands we’ll charge $150 for a t-shirt and then ship it with USPS and it can take three weeks. Piecing those two together, if this is a luxury product, you should get luxury treatment on shipping and delivery. Then obviously product, like there’s just a lot of trauma around people ordering something that gets drop shipped from across the world, so making sure that they get at what they expected it to look like. And then obviously customer service and return. So making sure that if we promise that we have great 24 hour response time and it takes three days to respond, we’re already missing it.”

“Most brands they start off and they’re like, ‘Well, let’s invest and hire a bunch of marketing people and get a bunch of agencies all figured out. Let’s outsource customer experience.’ It grinds my gears because the first six months of any product launch is the most important time to keep that feedback coming into your email. And if you’re outsourcing your customer voice in the first six months of the business, how will you ever know it’s fixed?”

“The biggest hurdle for customer experience is that for the last 50 years, it’s just been the bottom of the barrel, these people get paid the least, get listened to the least, put out everybody’s fires, have no control. And I think it’s going to take a lot more than just myself and a few others to change that. But seeing that the customer experience has been glorified over the last two years and listened to is a fantastic step in the right direction.”

“When you think about post purchase, that is when a consumer, right after they place a purchase, probably has a little bit of regret of like, ‘Oh, should I have spent this kind of money on a soda?’ Or, ‘Should I have spent this kind of money on a bag?’ Or whatever it is. And that’s the moment of regret. And I think that most brands in the zero to 30 days after purchase focus on, how can I upsell, cross sell, resell and every other selling mechanism in the books? Less focus on, how do I make you feel a good way about the purchase you made, whether it’s sharing brand story, sharing the story of the founders, sharing what success using this product looks like. And then I think the second purchase and the third purchase comes naturally when you have those expectations met, instead of focusing on how do I squeeze more money out of the customer, which is a lot of what growth marketing has been transitioning to.”

“What’s been super exciting for us is the ability to be human again in commerce.”

“We’d rather find people that are at an interesting time in their life, whether it’s a great time or a not so great time and really showing them we care as humans. [A story] that comes to mind recently is, we had a customer or that canceled their subscription and said “Hey, I’m canceling this because we have massive flooding in the area.” And my team just quick thinking, ‘What would a friend do? What would a family member do?’ When we sent them dinner from OLIPOP and obviously cancel their subscription, we were able to be there at that time.” 

“I think that the biggest misconception around customer experience is it’s for people that love talking to people, and ironically, it’s not at all that because people that are talking to are generally super angry and it takes a lot of empathy, a lot of EQ, a whole bunch of reading between the lines and creative thinking to be able to resolve and tactfully walk through these issues and help customers out. So I think when I’m hiring, I’m looking for people that are so obsessed with making things right and turning a frown into a smile.”

Bio

Eli Weiss is the Director of Customer Experience at OLIPOP. He has spent the last 7+ years building and operating early-stage startups. He is particularly known for his work around customer experience and retention in DTC brands.


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Transcript:

Stephanie:

Hello and welcome back to Up Next in Commerce. I’m your host, Stephanie Postles, CEO at Mission.org. Today on the show, we have Eli Weiss, who’s a director of customer experience at OLIPOP. Eli, welcome.

Eli:

Thank you so much for having me, Stephanie.

Stephanie:

So excited. I’m a big OLIPOP fan, I’m a big fan of you. So I feel like this is going to be a really fun interview, and I can’t wait to dive into it. So I want to get into your background of how you even got into the old of D2C. Obviously, working at OLIPOP now, you’ve worked at NUGGS. So I want to hear a bit about your background and how you got involved in this world. How’d you get pulled in?

Eli:

Yeah. I got into startups in 2016. I was traveling for a little while, and was in Israel at the time and found this luggage company that was selling on Kickstarter. And when I joined in 2016, they were actually two full years late on the product. And when I joined, they were hiring a native English speaker as the sole external relations person. So the role was starting in customer service, but eventually, everything from marketing to investor relations, to trade shows, strategy, etc, etc. And when I started, my hypothesis was that the reason why people were super frustrated had nothing to do with the fact that they didn’t get the product, rather, it was that they had this idea of backing up companies they can feel involved and they weren’t getting any information as to feel part of it.

Eli:

Essentially, the hypothesis then was, “We didn’t have much to lose, let’s just go full on transparency mode.” And we got the CEO to hop on a Facebook live and share like, “Hey, I’ve been dishonest, here’s what really has happened. We’ve raised a lot of money, we’ve spent it all on R&D and production, we just need some time to get this product to you.” And we essentially turned the business around. Fast forward a couple of months later, we shipped the product, and then a year and a half or two years later, we ended up launching a V2 based on feedback from V1. And all these customers even come right back.

Eli:

So that was my first stab at startups and customer experience, and was there for a couple of years. I started again in 2016. By the time 2020 came around, I pretty much had done every role at that company other than like design and finance. And then COVID hit. So obviously, luggage was definitely not a hot commodity in the middle of 2020. The one thing I swore to myself was I’d never touch food and beverage just because my family has been in food and beverage for, I think almost 50 years now. But I was in New York and came across NUGGS, which was a super cool vegan chicken nugget alternative, and hopped in there, and then hopped into OLIPOP. And what I’ve seen is just people getting super excited about customer experience, and that’s been amazing.

Stephanie:

Cool. I find it interesting that you dove into a company that was back ordered like that, that is very brave. And also hearing about like your family being in CPG for 50 years. Tell me a bit about your childhood. I know we were talking about those a bit non-traditional growing up and schooling, so I want to dive into that to get to know you a bit more.

Eli:

Yeah. This is a fun one, and one that I don’t share very often. But I grew up in an ultra Orthodox Jewish world, number two of 10 children, very nontraditional childhood, kind of in a box. Didn’t have a traditional high school experience. I was always a great kid, but at the age of 14, 15, I wasn’t a super happy child, I’d say. And my entrance to the outside world was actually Reddit.com, which is the best and the worst place to learn about the world as a 14-year-old boy. And hopped in there. And what I learned back then was, people were traveling and people were traveling for free.

Eli:

And I got super excited about seeing the world and seeing other places. When I was 15, I went with my older brother. We did a road trip in the summer, we drove from New Jersey to LA and we went across all these things. I never had left New Jersey prior to that. Super excited to be able to see the country, and I was obsessed with people. I’m an introvert, but for some reason was enthralled by people, watching and seeing how humans are the same in different places. I essentially moved to New York at the age of 18, and had seen that people were consistently flying with points of miles.

Eli:

And I walked into a Chase Bank in Washington Heights and I spoke to the manager and said, “Can you teach me everything you know about credit?” And he was like, “Well, this is pretty weird, but sure.” Fast forward a year and a half later, I had 1.2 million airline miles, which is a story in and of itself. I told my parents, I was going to Israel to study, which as Orthodox Jewish parents, they were super proud of. I went there and started traveling. I had a couple hundred dollars in my bank account, but a bunch of miles and saw 34 countries in the next year and a half without spending any dollars.

Eli:

So while most people, my age were in college, I was traveling. I finished this whole travel extravaganza and was like, “Do I hop into college and start a couple years late and spend a lot of money on it or do I figure out a way in the same way I figured out with travel and a bunch of other things growing up? Startups, that’s the only place where you can get in based on what you tell them you can do. And if you prove it, you have some leeway.” So that’s pretty much been my entrance into CPG was just like, “Give me a chance.”

Eli:

And obviously, as somebody begging for a chance, you don’t get to pick, so you take what you’re offered, and customer service was the first thing. And I was like, “As a customer, I love a great experience.” But there’s something about it, how the bar’s so low. It’s like Zappos and Chewy are famous for deeply, deeply caring, but everyone else is just like, “This is a cost, let’s push it out.” So that’s my entry into CPG.

Stephanie:

That’s amazing. So when you were trying to get your foot in the door, choosing startups, what was it like trying to actually get in? What struggles did you encounter? At that point, you didn’t have a college degree, did you have a high school degree? What kind of things were being asked of you where you were like, “Okay, I don’t have that”?

Eli:

I think it’s been interesting now thinking back over the last couple of years of how far I’ve come, thankfully. When I started, I finished my high school GED, diploma equivalent a couple of months before. So no formal education, was super passionate about customer service, who thought that most brands don’t do it well. I’m the guy that hops on a call with somebody and they tell me, “Well, here’s the problem.” And I was like, “Well, here’s what I want you to tell me. If you tell me this, I’ll be happy. Can you just say it to me?” I’ll tell them like, “This is how you can do this.”

Eli:

And this might be helpful for other people. And it was so weird, but there was something about great experiences that just got me so excited, and I ended up loving the brand so much more. So when I came to pitch this, and this is another story I’ve never shared, is, I had heard about this company, I got introed from a friend. I hopped on LinkedIn and saw all the people that worked there had master’s degrees and 10 years of experience, and I was like, “I need to figure something out because just going in with my resume won’t get me very far.” I spent about seven or eight hours researching everything about the company, went through all the comments on Kickstarter, all the comments on their Facebook ads, and learnt everything about what was going wrong.

Eli:

And I actually came with a two-slide PowerPoint presentation. And because in the Middle East, in Israel in general, they really enjoy chutzpah, somebody that has that audacity. And the guy was looking at me like, “Oh my God.” And then he was like, “Okay, you’re in. You start tomorrow.” So I took a very risky approach, but back then it was like, I just had to try something different, new and novel to get a job. But I think what I’ve seen over the course of that time, I spent four years there, came to the US and then was looking for a job.

Eli:

I actually applied to 85 different jobs at some of these like D2C, CPG darling brands in 2020, and heard back from about four of them. And most of them didn’t even give me the time of day to chat with them because I didn’t have that super cool Airbnb or Uber or whatever else experience. And what was frustrating to me is, the skillset I had was super valuable at certain companies, but I couldn’t quite bridge the gap. What I’ve started a couple weeks ago is a CPG job board for that exact reason, is like people have very specific wants and needs for their next role, but they don’t have the ability to specifically search for those wants and needs. That’s been something I’m extremely passionate about, is matching great companies that deeply care about their employees to great employees that deeply care about customers.

Stephanie:

Wow. That’s amazing. Basically, you started your own job board to solve a problem that you’ve had and that the industry is having right now in general. What kind of results are you seeing from maybe feedback from the candidates and what are the companies saying who are using this?

Eli:

Yeah, it’s been amazing to get in front of companies that I’ve known and loved and had an eye on. And so many brands that I was like, “If I needed a job, these are the companies I’d apply to.” And I think what we’ve seen is, there are a lot of companies that have grown very fast, but don’t necessarily have great employee culture or aren’t necessarily safe places for employees to be in. And what we’ve seen is Glassdoor is generally… the angry people are the super happy people. There’s no real normalcy in the reviews there. So I think knowing that somebody that deeply cares is vetting those roles and then putting them up on a board and getting people that are already into it, so people that follow me on Twitter and are already love growth retention, customer experience, and getting qualified people talk to one another.

Eli:

The first couple weeks have just been amazing hearing from people that are looking for roles that like, “Oh, wow, these are the exact roles I’d look for and would never be able to find.” And hearing from brands where it’s like, “We’re actually getting really, really great candidates into the pipeline because of this.” Again, like you said, I started this because of the need that I had and it’s some of the most meaningful work I’m doing right now.

Stephanie:

Wow. That’s cool. So for anyone who’s looking for a job, go to Eli’s job board, he’s got you. The hook. That’s amazing. So I want to fast forward. Actually, no, we’re rewinding back to the world of NUGGS, because I want to get into the customer experience aspect of this. When you were at NUGGS, you were known for raising the CES score from like 73 to 97 within like the first 10 days of employment. And I think you raised LTV by more than like 30% and a bunch of other stats to show you’re amazing. So I want to dive into like, if you’re approaching a new company, maybe when you came to OLIPOP or if you were to go to a new company today, how do you view day one of looking at the customer journey and experience and unpacking that to figure out how to improve it?

Eli:

Yeah. I think that’s an awesome question. To zoom out just a little bit, I think giving a full understanding of what customer experience when done well really is is probably important. I think the important thing about customer service or customer experience, or whatever you want to call it, in the past has been like, when there’s a fire, here’s how you put it out. And I think that’s been very, very effective for 1.0, of like, “Here’s how you make sure customers aren’t unhappy.” But what we’ve seen in the past is, as acquisition costs go up, we’re more focused on like, how do we build brand promoters, not in the way of like we wait until people are excited and then say, “Here, can you promote us?” But rather proactively look across the entire the customer journey and make sure people are having their expectations met.

Eli:

I think on day one, let’s look at expectations across the entire customer journey and see, are we delivering on what we’re promising? So what that looks like on a very practical and tactical level is looking at ad copy, is the ad copy you’re pitching, is that actually what you’re delivering when customers click place order? And then thinking through, what’s the next stage? When they click on that ad copy, get onto your site, is your website experience seamless and easy? Are people getting the information they need or do they have to reach out and ask questions by email?

Eli:

And then the next thing is shipping and delivery. What we’ve seen is brands we’ll charge $150 for a t-shirt and then ship it with USPS and it can take three weeks. Piecing those two together, if this is a luxury product, you should get luxury treatment on shipping and delivery. Then obviously product, like there’s just a lot of trauma around people ordering something that gets drop shipped from across the world, so making sure that they get at what they expected it to look like. And then obviously customer service and return. So making sure that if we promise that we have great 24 hour response time and it takes three days to respond, we’re already missing it.

Eli:

So I think day one, it’s what I’ve done at NUGGS and it’s what I’ve done at OLIPOP, is day one is looking across customer journey and seeing, “What are we promising and are we delivering?” And resetting expectations where we have to, or making sure we can beat them when possible.

Stephanie:

Okay, cool. So when thinking about core elements though, that you’re really like, “When I came into OLIPOP, the data that I looked at was this, I was ensuring it worked the way it did at NUGGS,” or the way that you set it up. What kind of data do you come in and dissect first? Are you really going through all the customer feedback and looking at the website and seeing interactions? What are just the first couple that you would look at? Because that felt like a lot where I’m like, “As a brand, well, how do I do all that in my first week or month or whatever?”

Eli:

Yeah. I think that’s a fair point. So there’s there’s the macro and the micro. I think on a macro level, over a certain period of time, you want to see everything. On a micro level, I think some of the most important things is just looking at feedback from customers, whether you’re running a CES score or an NPS score, any kind of scoring that you’re running from customers, you generally get a pretty good gist of how customers are feeling. So CES is essentially customer effort score, which is like how easy and seamless was it for you to get your issue resolved? And that’s generally the biggest indicator of, are customers getting the resolution to the question they ask without jumping through many hoops?

Eli:

I think that’s probably the most important thing I’d be looking for is like, “Let’s look through the feedback and seeing… ” It’s inevitable there are going to be issues, I can’t solve that on day one, but I can deeply understand what derails a customer experience and what are the big wins or low-hanging fruit to jump in and hit right off the bat.

Stephanie:

Are there anything when you’re watching brands today, because there’s so many D2C brands popping up and I feel like many of them are like looking at other playbooks and mimicking that. Are there any things that you consistently see brands doing right now where you’re like, “Oh, you guys keep doing this and it’s completely wrong”?

Eli:

Yeah. I think there are quite a few, and I don’t want to drag any brands, but I think the two things that I think about consistently are over promising on shipping. We’ve seen brands say like, “Hey, we offer two-day shipping.” And then you’re you order it and you’re like, “Is it?” Because it’s been two days and doesn’t come, and you reach out and they’re like, “Well, it’s two-day shipping, but then we have processing time and due to COVID.” And you’re like, “I hear all of that, but why did you promise that?” You promised to get me across the finish line, and now I’ll never come back again.”

Eli:

The second thing I’ve seen is, most brands they start off and they’re like, “Well, let’s invest and hire a bunch of marketing people and get a bunch of agencies all figured out. Let’s outsource customer experience.” It grinds my gears because the first six months of any product launch is the most important time to keep that feedback coming into your email. And if you’re outsourcing your customer voice in the first six months of the business, how will you ever know it’s fixed? So I think those are the two big things that come up for me that I’m like, “Can you not outsource your customer experience on day one, please?”

Stephanie:

Okay, yeah. That’s great. Leading the CX team, where do you guys fit within the org? Where is it best positioned to have that team?

Eli:

Us as a team, we’re part of the marketing team, which is what I’ve been begging for the last five years, is like just put them… They are marketing, if done right, you’re building brand promoters. The other part of the business that I think is a great place to put customer services under all ops. If customer service/experience can be directly reporting any issues directly within ops, I think that’s also a great place. I find that the focus for me is less on where they’re reporting to or what they’re part of. I think the bigger thing for me is like, are you actually listening?

Eli:

Because I think the biggest hurdle for customer experience is that for the last 50 years, it’s just been the bottom of the barrel, these people get paid the least, get listened to the least, put out everybody’s fires, have no control. And I think it’s going to take a lot more than just myself and a few others to change that. But seeing that the customer experience has been glorified over the last two years and listened to is a fantastic step in the right direction.

Stephanie:

And I think that there’s a lot of powerful moments that exist, and even the most unhappy customer or the ones that are maybe unsubscribing from their subscription programs or writing negative feedback. Sometimes those are the customers who actually can be the most engaged long term and turn into the highest LTV compared to anyone else. Because if you just take the time to spend with them and listen to them, not many companies I can think of right now do you actually go to and feel like, “Oh, I actually feel heard now. And they know my exact problem and they fixed it, and now I want to come back.” Because that’s the bar that still needs to be met by a lot of new companies popping up right now.

Eli:

I think that’s a fair point. And it’s funny because when you think about the fact that… There are a couple of easy wins that I think is important to share. What I’ve seen, 90% of brands you reach out to saying you have an issue, the first thing they do is deflect. It’s like, “We are so sorry for, well, COVID and UPS and USPS and FedEx.” From a customer’s perspective, if I spend my hard-earned money on your brand, you could take it on a carrier pigeon or in a helicopter if you’re trying to get it from your warehouse to me, regardless of whatever else is going on. And if there is a lot going on, I have empathy when you share what’s going on proactively and not wait for me to reach out.

Eli:

So I think that’s been like the most annoying part of this, is, A, the bar is so low because if you look at the space, some big ones are famous for quite literally having a customer service line that they pick up the phone and is not outsourced.

Stephanie:

How sad is that, people are like, “Hey, I get a person on this call.”

Eli:

That’s crazy, but then the flip side, to your point, is when you have an issue and you reach out to Zappos or Chewy or Wayfair, anyone that invest in this, you are 10 times more loyal once you resolve the issue, which is what you just brought up. And that’s the future of CPG is building brand promoters, not through doing cool activations on Instagram, but through deeply, deeply caring about how consumers are treated with purchase experience with the brands.

Stephanie:

Yep. I also think that there is so many moments in the purchasing journey that are missed that you could capitalize on. And I know that you’ve mentioned this before that there’s some underutilized moments that you should definitely be connecting with your customer that most brands don’t even think about, maybe connecting and communicating with during that time frame. So I want you touch on that a bit of what is the most underutilized moment, if you still think it’s the same one that maybe you had back in May when you were discussing this?

Eli:

Yeah. I think the most underutilized time is shockingly overutilized on the sales side. When you think about post purchase, that is when a consumer, right after they place purchase, probably have a little bit of regret of like, “Oh, should I have spent this kind of money on a soda?” Or, “Should I have spent this kind of money on a bag?” Or whatever it is. And that’s the moment of regret. And I think that most brands in the zero to 30 days after purchase focus on, how can I upsell, cross sell, resell and every other selling mechanism in the books? Less focus on, how do I make you feel a good way about the purchase you made, whether it’s sharing brand story, sharing the story of the founders, sharing what success using this product looks like.

Eli:

And then I think the second purchase and the third purchase comes naturally when you have those expectations met, instead of focusing on, how do I squeeze more money out of the customer, which is a lot of what growth marketing has been transitioned to is like, “We spend so much money on acquisition, how can I squeeze and squeeze and squeeze?” Instead, focus on, “How can I make this person feel better about their purchase and feel more integrated with the brand?” And that will turn into money without you having to beg that person to purchase again.

Stephanie:

Yep. That’s great. I think of so many subscription programs, even around Hulu and Netflix, how many people are like, “I’m just going to get that HBO or Hulu subscription, 14 days later, I’m going to cancel.” And the moments in between, so much the companies could be doing to convince that person to stay around of like, “Hey, look at all the cool stuff on this platform. We have more stuff here than what you can even watch in 14 days, I sure hope you stay around at day 15.” There’s so much that can be done there that seems like a huge missed opportunity, which I love that you touched on that point.

Eli:

I think what’s interesting about that is that the previous subscriptions were the second you sign on, they never spoke to you again and hope that you forgot. And it’s now we’re seeing technology shift towards, there are a million and a half tools that can actually tell you like, “Hey, you have a subscription, do you want to cancel it?” And they’ll automatically cancel it for you. And brands are this whole set of forget a thing, bringing people into the funnel and then just making believe they don’t exist anymore is not helpful at all.

Eli:

And to your point, if you got a message within seven days like, “Hey, you’re seven days through your subscription,” you only watch one out of the 875 shows that we have on here, what’s next? That’s genius. And I think most brands are thinking like, “How can we just get people in this funnel and then just hope they stick around?” And I think subscription broadly has been… We’ve seen D2C brands, you hop on the website and it defaults to subscription. So instead of a one-time order, you’re automatically auto selected subscription, you’re like, “Amazon is a zillion dollar business, they’re not doing that.”

Eli:

Do you think they never thought of that? It’s when a customer decides that this is a good product and they love it, or they decide “Hey, did discount super important to me,” they know where to find your subscription. So it’s I think it’s a reset on subscriptions in general, which I think is super overdue.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I agree. I want to hear more about some of the cool things that OLIPOP is doing to create some special moments, whether it’s after purchase or even longer term, weeks or months or years, how are you guys thinking about the, because I saw that you guys were sending live plants to people, which to me I’m like, “I would be a forever fan if I got a live plant,” because I love plants even if I can’t keep them alive, I still love them. So I want to hear more about those moments and what kind of uplift did that bring after doing those kind of campaigns?

Eli:

Yeah. I think what’s been super exciting for us is the ability to be human again in commerce. And a couple of different things that I think it’s worth touching on is when we think about creating expectations, I think that’s the most important thing. So when anyone signs up for a subscription, they get a plain text email from me explaining like, “This is what you’ll be getting out of this subscription. This is what you can come to expect.” To set the scene very early on I was “This is what an OLIPOP subscription looks like. Here’s where you can reach out if you have any problems and get expedited support. Here’s the perks and benefits of signing up for a subscription,” just so we don’t have any disappointment. That’s number one.

Eli:

Number two, I think what most brands have yet to do and something that we’re working on at the moment is thinking, what does three months on OLIPOP look like? What does six months on OLIPOP look like? So we’re a healthier alternative soda that’s actually been clinically studied by Baylor and Purdue University. And we’re like, the body actually is affected when you add a bunch of fiber to your daily diet. So your microbiome is better. So what does your microbiome on OLIPOP look like after three months, six months, nine months?

Eli:

And just setting the framework of getting those messages over a longer period of time instead of the standard like, “You signed up, you’re listening, let’s send you five messages in five days.” So that’s been an interesting switch on that. To hop on to your second question around the gifting and creating these moments, what we’ve learned is the second anything becomes super scalable, it just feels blur. Customers know when you did something special for them, or when you did it for 700 other people, and nobody for a second thinks, say, they ordered two cases of soda and they’re getting a plant that costs more than the soda does.

Eli:

So it’s creating these moments of showing customers that we deeply, deeply care. What we’ve transitioned to in the last couple of months is instead of sending to 50, 60 people, we’d rather find people that are at an interesting time in their life, whether it’s a great time or a not so great time and really showing them we care as humans. Two stories that come to mind recently is, we had a customer or that canceled their subscription and said “Hey, I’m canceling this because we have massive flooding in the area.” And my team just quick thinking, “What would a friend do? What would a family member do?”

Eli:

When we sent them dinner from OLIPOP and obviously cancel their subscription, we were able to be there at that time. And the other more somber moment is we’ve had somebody that canceled their subscription, they said the reason why they’re doing is because they were ordering it for their mom who was in hospice care and wasn’t able to eat a lot of the foods that she was eating, but the Root Beer she had every day brought so much joy into her life. And when we think about selling a soda, those aren’t the moments that you’re prepared for. And we got a message that her mom passed away and joined to cancel their subscription.

Eli:

And that touched us so deeply, both on the amount of joy that a product like this can bring to people, but also the fact that she reached out with such a meaningful story and shared it, and we sent over a gorgeous bouquet of flowers, and we were able to stay close to that customer for the last couple of months since then. And that’s just doing these non-scalable moments that are so special. And I think what most brands are like, “Oh, how do I do it if I’m getting too big?” And I think it’s definitely not the execution or creativity or ideation, it’s more like the corporate structure and all that other stuff that actually affects doing special things.

Eli:

And my team it’s like, if you have an opportunity to create a moment that costs under two, $300, just do it and ask questions later.

Stephanie:

Wow. Well, it gives me goosebumps. I love that story. Are you going through maybe the customer reviews or the reasons of why they might be unsubscribing? Is that how you’re finding those moments of happiness or maybe sadness in life and then teaching your team, “Here’s the kind of moment that maybe we can support”? Or how do you go about training your team, especially if you start scaling and getting so big where you get so many of them, how do you train the team to pick out the best moments to capitalize on?

Eli:

Yeah. That’s a good question. A couple of things. On the actual finding these moments, I think we’ve created an ecosystem where customers feel more inclined to chat with us than most do. I think we’re a brand that when you chat with us, we chat back and we’re not automated, and we’re not just sending you canned responses. So I think a plenty of people will cancel our subscription, we won’t hear a thing about it. Some of the people that are reaching out, they’ve chat with us in the past and we have a really relationship with them, and those are where those stories come in.

Eli:

As far as training, I think that the biggest misconception around customer experience is it’s for people that love talking to people, and ironically, it’s not at all that because people that are talking to are generally super angry and it takes a lot of empathy, a lot of EQ, a whole bunch of reading between the lines and creative thinking to be able to resolve and tactfully walk through these issues and help customers out. So I think when I’m hiring, I’m looking for people that are so obsessed with making things right and turning a frown into a smile that I’m pre-selecting before they even hop in.

Eli:

So the people I hire are genuinely excited to do that, I don’t have to tell them twice. So I’ll do it, I’ll model I’ll model that behavior and then they’ll be like, “Well, that seems pretty easy.” And then they they’ll already do it on their own. So I’m at a point where my team has far exceeded anything that I’ve done in terms of creating these special moments. And it’s been, honestly, some of the most meaningful part of my career is just watching us blossom into an organization that puts consumer first every day.

Stephanie:

That’s great. The importance of key hires is always better if you find the right people. Who knew? When thinking about acquiring new customers, you guys grew quick, very popular, how do you think about bringing in new customers now? Because when you think about competitors, some people are comparing you to Coke and very unhealthy brands, which to me I’m like, “I don’t even get how that’s a comparison.” But are you looking at those current customers maybe and pulling them over to you guys, or are you going after a whole new audience base that would be interested in just a healthier alternative?

Eli:

Yeah. We’re definitely going after people that drink legacy soda. I think the interesting thing is what we’ve seen is when we do these soda style ads with gorgeous pour shots over ice, it’s actually a cheap way to acquire customers because it gives you the same cues and nostalgia that you’ve had watching the other ads. The problem long term is the people that hop in are thinking that this is more expensive, so it’s obviously going to be double or triple as good. What we’re missing is we’re seeing cheap acquisition, but then we’re diving deep into data with tools like Source Medium and seeing that the LTV on those customers is actually not optimal at all.

Eli:

And we’d rather in our case, add a little bit more friction into their journey by adding more educational content, which is the weirdest thing to add friction to a customer journey, but it actually makes sense because people do a little bit more resource, then they get it, they’re like, “This is crazy that I’m getting slippery elm bark, Kudzu root and so many others, plus nine grams of fiber in every can, that’s clinically studied to improve my microbiome and it’s only $2.5.” So I think it’s that shift, that shift in mindset has been super impactful.

Eli:

The other thing is we’ve grown, I think 600X last year, and we’re on track to double that this year, which is bonkers, but I think what’s interesting is that with the pace of B2C moving towards a certain direction and startups being in a great place, we’ve actually been able to get OLIPOP within arm’s reach of every consumer across the country in three years, something that took legacy soda brands years or decades. So I think it’s been interesting to see that shift towards people really caring about the things they put in their body, people willing to read a label and understand what’s in it. So all that’s been beneficial.

Stephanie:

Well, that’s so interesting talking about adding friction, I think my customer journey definitely haven’t heard that, which is why now I’m going to focus on that a bit more. How long are you running that campaign to figure out the LTV to see like, “Okay, at this point we actually need to add a little bit more friction to make sure we’re getting a good customer who’s not going to cancel after day one.” How long are you looking at that data to really figure out if a brand should implement a little bit harder of a journey before purchasing?

Eli:

It’s a tricky question because some of the times we’re actually looking at this in hindsight where we’re saying like, “Hey, this is an interesting little cohort of customers that are actually CAC was super low,” but then we dive a little deeper and we’re like, “How’s the LTV been?” And we’re seeing that it’s pretty low as well. So I think a lot of it is looking back and consistently learning. The other side is as we continue to grow, we’re just uncovering new data sets, we’re seeing that people join a subscription after order number two or three are actually much more likely to stick around for a longer period of time.

Eli:

And that’s very contrary to D2C ideology of like, “Let’s push as many people into subscription and then make believe that they won’t get annoyed when they learn that they’re in a subscription.” We’ve flipped that on its side and been like, “If somebody decides that they love the product, we’ll create a subscription program that’s a no-brainer.” It’s like, “It’s 15% off on every order, you have the ability to swap, skip, cancel via text.” We’ll remove all the friction to make it a no-brainer, but we’re not going to push people into it.

Eli:

And then obviously we can take a look at audiences that hop into a subscription, markets towards them. But I think broadly, we’ve seen that the better we set people up from the beginning to understand the depths of what our product can do for you, the better chance we have for people to purchase more than once or twice.

Stephanie:

That’s great. You guys are definitely flipping everything on its head of what a lot of D2C brands are doing right now and choosing the opposite, which I love. The one thing I wanted touch on too was around retails. I think in the earlier days, you guys were heavy in retail, the majority of your revenue was from there. And then I think it’s probably up to maybe 40, 50%, maybe more is D2C revenue now, correct me if I’m wrong, I’m winging it with the numbers, but what does that shift look like? You went from so heavy retail focus to now so heavy D2C.

Eli:

Yeah. I think we’re about 30 or 35% D2C, so it’s pretty close to the number shared. But I think the difficult part is, and this is a billion dollar solution that’s in the waiting, but on a retail shelf, we’re just the can, our can be prettier. There’s a lot that we can play with and we can put nice shelf wobbler and things on the floor and on the side and all that stuff, but at the end of the day, the power of having a D2C brand that you can be in control of every single part of the customer journey, aside from all the data you’re getting, you’re seeing brands go straight to Amazon and lose all their data, but it’s easy.

Eli:

But on our end, it’s aside from all the data you’re bringing, you can actually fully control every part of, we think that this needs optimization and that needs optimization. The interesting part about being on both D2C and retail is that we’re also able to see that flywheel, people will purchase us on D2C and then leave their subscription, we’ll ask them why and they’ll say, “I started buying you at Sprouts.” Or, “I started buying you at Whole Foods.” And we have vice versa of people who will purchase online and when we ask them, “How did you hear about us?” They said, “We bought you in retail.”

Eli:

So I think that that’s been interesting to dip on both sides and seeing that flywheel’s been fascinating, but I think as a brand, I think it’s so imperative to have a direct-to-consumer channel, to be able to, A, gain those insights, and B, being able to deeply connect with these customers. The amount of buzz we can create on our D2C from great experiences, those people end up telling all their friends, and then they walk into Whole Foods, they’re like, “OLIPOP, that’s a brand we heard about.” And it’s been phenomenal to be able to watch those both sides grow the business.

Stephanie:

Oh, that’s cool. It seems so tricky to be in retail with so many competitors around you. I’m sure packaging is a crucial part to explain to people very quickly of why you’re different in sparkling water than another soda brand that’s popping up. How are you guys thinking about building packaging that pops if you’re in a Sprouts to where someone’s like, “Oh yeah, I definitely want this one,” without having to read into the details and the ingredients to see all the cool things that are in it?

Eli:

I think we struck a chord with our packaging. I think it just fits an aesthetic that was super in when we started. I think at this point, we’re large enough as a brand to people, there’s brand recognition around the label. I think when you start, it’s super tricky because you can create this label that pops out and looks like a crazy can. It doesn’t mean that somebody’s going to purchase it. Some people are attracted to those wild labels, other people are looking at the nutritional values.

Eli:

So I think it’s tricky to kind predict like, “Oh, this is the can that’ll definitely sell.” And the flip side of that is it’s also important to realize that selling once is easy, anyone can get a customer to purchase once, it’s the repeat that’s difficult, and that’s where the money is. And that’s also where you can create a funnel on D2C, you can bring a million customers in, if they don’t repurchase, you’re just barreling towards a super quick exit. And the flip side of that is that worked five years ago, now investors and strategic private equity, they’re all looking at LTV as well.

Eli:

So I think we’re in a tricky situation where all those fake until you make it brands of like, “Let’s just turn up the spend and get a zillion customers in the funnel,” is actually not working anymore. And it’s an interesting time of reckoning for D2C brands of this whole quick build pump and dump is not as effective as it once was at all.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I think that’s why when you look at the world of investing right now, all these new brands are coming out and they’re like, “Oh, I can’t get anyone to invest.” And I think it’s because initial investors were burned on that model and now they’re taking a step back and they’re like, “I don’t even know if I want to invest in CPG right now because it’s wild out there.”

Eli:

I’ve seen a brand that went public and in reading their S1, I learned that they’re paying $130 to acquire a customer, their AOV on order number one is $37. That means that you need at least four to five orders to even break even. So we’re entering crazy time. I think investors are like, “This whole model worked when acquisition costs were pennies.” But now you’re seeing Facebook turn to dial, TikTok is next, Snapchat’s next, they’re all turning to dial. And our businesses in order to sustain, you have to either keep iterating.

Eli:

The other option is create a model that gets people coming back. And that’s not just product, you can have a kick ass product and still provide trash experience. And that’s why roles like customer experience when I started in 2016, I was like, “He’s a customer service agent.” And now it’s becoming glamorized because people realize it’s one of the hardest jobs at a company, but it can also transition a company from being nothing to being cool. So I think we’re witnessing a shift on a bunch of different parts.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I agree. So what are you most excited right now around OLIPOP and maybe the customer experience stuff that you’re working on, what are you most bullish on or excited about with the company?

Eli:

I think OLIPOP as a brand has been super authentic which I think has been exciting to work with a team that is not looking for shortcuts to greatness. We’re obsessing about every single part of the experience, willing to do things differently, we’re growing super-fast. It’s been humbling to work with a team of really kick ass people. I think we often talk about three, four, five-year vision, I don’t really have one, but I have a 30-year vision. My long term vision is I want to create companies that obsess about consumer, whether it’s building or working with.

Eli:

And seeing that Chewy and Zappos paved the way 10, 15 years ago, but now every brand is looking towards that direction, makes me really, really excited about the future. The bar is so low, so it’s super easy to flow expectations out of the water, but seeing people actually stop and listen and think about that on day one has been so exciting for me. And now that I shared my story of me getting into CPG and getting into startups, doing this role, it feels like a full circle.

Stephanie:

I love that. I’m so excited to see where you and OLIPOP go and just watch the growth and success, and probably leading the way where everyone’s going to start following your practices, which will also be fun to watch.

Eli:

I appreciate that. It’s an exciting time for sure.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Let’s move over to the Lightning Round. Lightning Round is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. This is where I ask you a question and you have 30 seconds or less to answer. Are you ready, Eli?

Eli:

Oh God, yes.

Stephanie:

Okay. First up, what’s a brand that you watch that’s like integration for CX and why?

Eli:

That’s an easy one, Chewy. I think any brand that hires hundreds of people to write handwritten card, I’m bullish about that.

Stephanie:

Yep. Love that. What books or reading materials are you diving into right now to stay on top of the industry?

Eli:

I think How to Win Friends and Influence People is a classic, I read that at least once a year. The Effortless Experience is the book I constantly reread about customer experience, and then Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, another classic.

Stephanie:

I love that. What is one thing that you are secretly curious about?

Eli:

I’ve never worked at a super large brand I’m always curious, you hear so much about corporate structure, I’m curious to see what a meeting with a 5,000 play brand looks like.

Stephanie:

That would be interesting. I can get recording on that for you.

Eli:

Yes.

Stephanie:

What’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for you? It can be personal or work related, whatever direction you want to go.

Eli:

I think that something that might sound pretty juvenile but it’s super important is pretty early on in my career, I reached out to some people in the direct consumer and CPG space, having people that were way further ahead of me take time out of their day to talk to me and learn about my aspirations and career goals has been so inspiring and something I still try to do as much as they can, but I think way back then I was like, “Why would this person want to talk to me?” And seeing that so many people are so kind and friendly has been amazing.

Stephanie:

That’s cool. And now the people on Twitter are going to you for just that. I see your popularity on there.

Eli:

I’ll RP my DMs.

Stephanie:

I know. Good thing we got to slide in there before you did that because you’re on the show. Cool. Well, Eli, this has been a really fun interview. I know our audience is going to love it. I love that we got to dive deep into CX. We haven’t really done that on many of the other episodes, so thank you for that. And until next time, where can people find out more about you and OLIPOP?

Eli:

Thank you so much for having me, Stephanie. OLIPOP is drinkolipop.com, @drinkolipop on all socials. You can find me on LinkedIn, Eli Weiss, but better if you find me on Twitter, it’s @eliweiss with an extra S, so it’s E-L-I-W-E-I-S-S.

Stephanie:

Cool. But don’t DM him because they’ll be closed. Thank you, Eli.

Eli:

Thank you so much. This has been awesome.

Episode 156