Leadership + People: Episode 50 - Jana Francis - Part 2 of 2

In this episode Jana Francis, the cofounder of steals.com, shares heartwarming experiences she has had with customers, demonstrating what it means to put the customer first and how to actually go beyond the lip service

Show Notes

  • How the unpredictability of media prepared her for the life of an entrepreneur [00:45]
  • A company culture that led to customer relationships that go far beyond transactions [05:40]
  • No scripts, just treating the customer how you would want to be treated [07:26]
  • A phone call from the CEO takes an angry customer and turns her into a lifelong company advocate and personal friend [09:48]
  • Personal touches and true service in Canada [13:00]
  • How in 10 minutes a day, Jana has personally touched customers across the continent and strengthened customer loyalty [14:38]

Show Audio




This episode of Leadership and People was originally released on: September 11th, 2018

Show Transcript

[BEGINS] 00:00

Welcome to Leadership and People. This is a series that pulls back the curtain on leadership by interviewing CEOs, Senior Executives and Entrepreneurs who had large exits. We ask these experts about how they built trusted networks to rapidly grow their companies.  And what advice they wish they knew if they could do it all again.

JL: Today on the show we’ve got Jana Francis.

JANA FRANCIS “Half of the questions you get in ecommerce are the exact same questions everyday. So of course you know the majority of the answers could be the same. But you have to put yourself in their shoes. And if they’re frustrated, you have to act like you’re frustrated too. And what would you want the person to say back to you.”  

00:45 JL: Jana’s founder and president of Steals.com. Bootstrapped business run for ten years. If you didn’t catch part one of the interview, it would be great to go back and listen to that.  Jana, you think about the ups and down and all the changes in the ecommerce business the last ten years doing almost 100 million dollars of business from bootstrapped business you started in your basement. Coming out of the world of media and into entrepreneurship where do you feel like some of the advantages were for you?

Media to Ecommerce

JANA FRANCIS: You know, I think that where, you know… In media one of the things I learned a lot, obviously is even though I wasn’t a part of the production and the entertainment because I was on the backend in the sales and marketing and advertising world, but having worked at a company that has to reinvent itself every single day, right. The content on television, radio, and on KSL.com or just any media outlet itself, you have to reinvent yourself every single day. There is something new. And it changes. One day you may plan. And have the best plan because you’re going to do this at this time and this at this time And then breaking news happens or something else completely changes. And then the entire day is completely wiped out. And you have to rally and focus and get it done. And execute. And I think that’s really helped me in my entrepreneurship being so used to that environment. Because that was eight years of my life. Seeing just, everyday was entirely different and very very fast paced. And moving that into my entrepreneurship obviously helped a lot because entrepreneurship has been no different than that. And the other element is, my company really you know, it changes… My website changes every single day. There is something new every single day. And sometimes half way through the day you have to rally and change something up. It just depends. And so you know, planning is great, but it can also create paralysis. And you just have to execute every single day. And so that’s one of the lessons I think that I learned. Not really a lesson but sort of an environment I got completely used to that is just part of my personality nowadays because you get so used to it. And the other element I think that came with me was; I was fortunate enough, you know, I was in the local sales manager of KSL radio and the other music radio stations that we owned for a while, as well as the director of interactive content and sales for KSL.com. And I was fortunate enough to be able to sit across the table from the best marketers in Utah. And getting to know so many different businesses locally. And understanding their advertising and marketing goals and how we could fit, you know, what we had at KSL radio Tv and .com to support their marketing efforts. And eight years of doing that’s a long time. And you really get to understand what works in advertising and marketing. And you know the last several years being digital primarily as far as dotcom. You know it was a great intro into my future of digital marketing. But what learned over those eight years as well is just again being able to sit across from so many brilliant minds in marketing, and seeing what works and what doesn’t. And being able in a way, to kind of use and puppeteer their ad spending to figure out what is going to make the best for them and the best results for them, was an amazing opportunity to really know as you go into your own business and have your own money, okay now where am I really going to put this, you know, this ad budget. And I kind of already knew what was going to work and what wasn’t for my business without ever having to try. So…

04:52 JL: What an invaluable skill set. You know I want to talk about this… In the first episode you talked about intentionally hiring staff from your customer base because they would have so much empathy for your customers having been them. They would just get them. You talk about the way you approach you know, helping advertisers make decisions about what’s going to be best for them. Can you talk about this approach. It sounds like you have a methodology that is very interested in what’s really going on for people. And that maybe you’ve got a little bit of an extra passion for figuring out what’s going on inside of them. Instead of just showing up and trying to get them to buy what we want to sell them?

JANA FRANCIS: Yeah. Totally.

05:40 JL: Can you talk about… A… Well let’s talk about this for a second. When you have new staff. When you have new folks that you want to grow leaders within Steals.com. And you recognize maybe they don’t have enough experience with that. What are your thoughts about helping your team become more like that?

Hiring for Customer Understanding

JANA FRANCIS: Yeah. You know. A lot of that was, and now that I look back and your comments are so interesting because it just kind of made me realize that real similarity through my career. But… Or that theme through my personality and career. I think since I was so involved with everything on the day to day. You know, spoke to everyone daily for the most part. I think a lot of that was very innate in them. Just because of the way… The company culture. I definitely admit to putting people in positions that they weren’t ready for, because the passion was there. People grew their careers pretty quickly at Steals. Because we couldn’t lose for a while there. Everyone was just, you know, having a great time. We were working really really hard, but we just focused so highly on our customers and our suppliers that we just kind of became one with them, if that even makes sense. We were just so dialed into who they were. And it was really energizing for the staff.

07:11 JL: Can we stop there. People… That’s so easy to say and people love to talk about stuff like that. And your results would indicate that you actually do it.


07:20 JL: Can you give us specifics about talking a good game and…  


07:26 JL: … like a real story or real example of maybe going that extra mile besides putting a poster on the wall about ‘we care about our customers’.

The Golden Rule in Customer Service

JANA FRANCIS: Yeah. So a couple of examples just popped into my head really quickly. There was one specific customer at one point, that was super upset that we accidentally misshipped a shoe by color. So I think, I believe she ordered hot pink and we sent pink. And so she was pretty upset. And because I… Apparently the shoes were for easter and the shoe needed to be just right. And a lot of companies like… I don’t even want to name names. But they would look at that like a sheer transaction, like do you want your money back or not? And we turned it into, I mean she was really mad. And so the suggestion was why don’t you call her. And a lot of people would think, well that’s ridiculous. Why in the world would you have the president of a company call a customer because you misshipped a shoe? That just seems so trivial to some. But to a mom that planned, like the perfect easter photos and there wasn’t enough time to fix it before Easter. And you’ve got other kids. And you don’t have to time to go drive all around to every single store to try and find the right shoe. It’s a big deal. Right?  And you just have to put… And that’s sort of what always told our customer service agents. My thing is, you have to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. No pun intended. You have to pretend that, that’s you writing in. How would you want to be treated? What would you want them to say. And I was very specific about there are no scripts. There are no… I mean we have typical similar responses… Half of the questions you get in ecommerce are the exact same questions everyday. So of course you know the majority of the answers could be the same. But you have to put yourself in their shoes. And if they’re frustrated, you have to act like you’re frustrated too. And what would you want the person to say back to you. Right? And so, it was like, you’ve got to mirror the problem. You have to validate why they are upset. And then you need to come up with a solution that works for them. Immediately it takes people off. It takes the edge off immediately when you just mirror what they said. ‘I hear that you’re saying that Easter is ruined. And I totally understand that we misshipped you the wrong color. And for that I feel terrible. And here is what we want to do for it.’ And it immediately takes them off the defensive because they know that you heard what it is that they have to say.  

09:48 JL: So did you end up calling this woman?

Angry to Life Long Customer and Friend

JANA FRANCIS: Yeah. And so what happened there is I ended up calling her. And she’s a darling girl out of Idaho Falls, which ironically she is one of my really good friends now. So I call her out of the blue. And she knew who I was. And she’s like, ‘Wait. Oh my gosh I feel so petty that I was so upset. And you’re calling me.’ And I’m like, ‘No, no, no. I just want to let you know that I feel really bad. If we had the right color to ship you. I mean we are sold out. I literally have no way to fix the problem other than to apologize. And you can either ship the shoe back and we can give you your money back or whatever.’ We talked through the general issue. And then just kept talking and talking.  Fast forward, she really started becoming very very active on our social media because of it. Like commenting on our facebook pages and stuff. ‘Oh you guys are great.’ Or really connecting with me and the team from then on. She was so upset and then now she’s… Even to this day. I mean she bought something two weeks ago. She’s an advocate of our company eight years later. I think this happened like a year or two in. What ended up happening was she messaged me about a month later that… I knew she was pregnant. But that she had to fly to… actually I think to… Anyway somebody messaged and said ‘ I know that you know jess bauman and she actually was sent to Primary Children’s [hospital] in Utah because she had problems with the pregnancy and they feel like they cant help her in Idaho falls. And that just broke my heart. And they said they’re just not sure if the baby’s going to make it. And that just made me… I just couldn’t believe it. So me and another staff member actually went to visit her at Primary Children’s. And fast forward unfortunately 44 days later, her baby was born. And unfortunately her baby did end up passing away from a heart defect. And her family at the time didn’t have the money to buy a headstone. And it was really important to them that they had one. And I knew that just from… I don’t know, paying attention to her facebook and having become friends. And just seeing things in passing. This sounds like a lot of work, but really in retrospect it’s not. So we rallied a lot of our customers together to actually surprise her. We did a little bit of donation through some of our customers and we were able to raise I think it was like $5,800 dollars. Which was a little more than they needed, to help their family through a hard time. And to this day they take a picture every signe anniversary of his passing at his headstone. And write a thank you not again over and over to all of our customers who were a part of that situation. So I mean that’s kind of an extreme example. I don’t know that that’s totally scalable to go to that degree for every customer. But what it did though in connecting with her and really being real people that care and not just the automatic machine that refunds and those kinds of things. It created a life long relationship. It created a life long customer. And a lot of other lifelong customers that were really a part of that experience and feel like they gave back at the same time. And it wasn’t planned. It’s certainly not a part of our marketing plan. It’s just simply caring. And again treating people the way you want to be treated. And that’s a little extreme. But really just connecting with your customer. And finding ways to serve them in ways that are different than other ecommerce companies. I can guarantee there’s not a story that extreme. And it is a little different. Another quick example. Canada really… A lot of women in canada took a deep liking to our business. And that was something that was very unexpected. But it got to the point where we… They were very fanatical about Steals.com. And at one point, and I could go into the story another time… At one point we ended up doing a tour of Western Canada. And hand delivered orders to customers’ doors. And it kind of spurred from some customers got together and decided they were going to do a Steals meet up at one of their houses at Vancouver. And I thought how fun would that be to actually crash it myself, and show up. And there were like prizes and, I don’t know, geeky stuff like that. And then we took it a step further to think; well how cool would it be to hand deliver things that they delivered to their door. Well anyways, that’s a long interesting story that I have on Youtube. It’s things like that. When you meet someone in person, forget it. I mean they are going to shop with you forever. People buy from people they know and trust. And so that is what it is.

14:38 JL: I love it. Totally didn’t expect this story. Trying to be manly here and totally trying not to cry on this side.  You know it’s interesting that personal touch right when it’s so easy to feel too busy. And you think about like, the edicts that come down from on high. Folks in leadership, we come up with all these great ideas on how we want everyone else to be. And we all read the leadership books that say example’s the most important thing. It’s so easy to feel too busy. Any advice for the rest of us who maybe we want to take that extra time even when we feel busy to set that example for the team. Or that kind of, get over the hump and actually do it.

10 Unplanned Minutes

JANA FRANCIS: Interesting. I think that prioritising is number one. But two; I would always set aside time every single day to do something that was completely and totally unplanned. And then I would kind of make the decision accordingly, right? You know another time a whole city in Alberta, Canada, was on fire, the Fort Mcmurray fires like two years ago about this time. And we had several of our customers’ homes burn down. And so it was like; ok. With the chunk of time I set aside today to do something creative and something that, you know, unplanned, I’m going to go and i’m going to look up their order history and figure what sizes they recently purchased. And we’re going to go through some of our inventory and send up some care packages. You know, they lost everything. And so it’s really setting… It’s the intention of setting aside a little bit of time to do it. And it can be ten minutes a day. Ten minutes a day you can accomplish a lot. You can pick up the phone and call your best customer and have a lovely chat, right? It’s not hard to do. It’s just a matter of really setting aside, and it’s the intention and it’s setting aside the time. And putting it as a priority. Because again I’m just really very spontaneous. Even though I am very detailed and I’m planned out. I also really thrive on just going with the flow of what’s happening that day and doing something cool with it. But you have to set aside enough time to do. There were days, plenty of days, trust me, that a lot of fires happening and a lot of, you know, meetings and you know presentations and you name it. And you do get busy. But you have to acknowledge at the end of the week did I really get to do somethings that were totally different. And that wasn’t planned. And if not then you have to set more time to do it later. And I’m just really cognizant of that. To this day. I mean yesterday my day got a little bit derailed on another really cool story. So you just have to make it a priority. And I could go on for, my word! I should just probably start my own podcast on crazy things I’ve done over the years that have impacted the business in a positive way. They weren’t in the yearly marketing plan. They weren’t in the budget. And a lot of them didn’t cost anything. Other than your time. Like I said picking up the phone and calling. Or we would set the intention in our customer service team to regularly send handwritten letters to our top customers. And sometimes even new customers. And sometimes like I don’t know like ‘ok I’m just super busy today. I’ve got it, but I have to do something’. I would walk down to the warehouse and sign a few packing slips. ‘Hey this is Jana. I’m the founder of Steals. And I just wanted to thank you for being a customer. XOXO.’ I try to do that a couple of times a day. And all of a sudden somebody gets that package. And for whatever reason they think that’s cool. And then they post it on social media. ‘Oh my gosh! The founder of Steals signed my packing slip!’ Some may think that’s the dumbest thing ever.

18:36 JL: [laugh]

JANA FRANCIS: But people think it’s cool. And I think it’s cool. I mean the other day I got a little  order in the mail. And the person I ordered it from wrote a handwritten note. And i was like thats the coolest thing. And i had to realize wait a minute I’ve done that myself so many times. But to have that come back to me even though it’s not that big of a deal I thought that this is so cool. What a nice personal touch. Wait a minute lady you do that all the time. Any way. You minimize… Sometimes I minimize the impact of it. The little things can add up to a lot.

19:11 JL: I love it. Well, besides coming to the website to see what the steal of the day is at steals.com where’s the best place to connect on social to see what you guys are up to.


JANA FRANCIS: Yeah. So. Well for me personally, linkedin or Twitter is a great place. You know, you can find me on linkedin pretty easy. For steals.com, probably the best places are instagrams. We are most active on instagram I’d say than facebook. We are kind of broken up by niche. So we’ve got babysteals and kidsteals and shesteals. You can find steals.com on facebook but that’s probably our smallest page because like I said we’re kind of broken up by niche there.

19:50 JL: Great. Well thanks again for coming on the show.

JANA FRANCIS: Yeah. Thanks for having me.

19:59 JL: Great. We’ll end there.

Hi. My name is Logan Wilkes and I’m the CEO of Corporate Alliance.  A few years ago I moved to San Diego to build a new market for us there. The biggest deterrent I had to success was I didn’t know a soul. I often thought to myself, if I just had a thriving network or influence this would go 100x faster. To be honest with you I had never felt so alone in my line. Because a) I didn’t have an influence and b) I didn’t know anyone who was going through the same thing I was. If you have ever felt like this and you were looking to grow your influence join us at one of our upcoming events. You can check us out at corporatealliance.net And you can request an invite to one of our upcoming experiences.

[END] 20:49