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Building lasting customer relationships has many benefits, including increased revenue, positive word-of-mouth recommendations, and saving on acquisition costs. But how does one build customer relationships that truly last? In this interview series, we’re speaking with CROs and other RevOps professionals who can share their “Top Five Tips For Building Lasting Customer Relationships.” As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Rostyk Wynnyckyj.

Rostyk Wynnyckyj

Rostyk Wynnyckyj

Rostyk Wynnyckyj is a Co-Owner and Technical Sales Engineer of LAVA Computer MFG Inc., a family-run Ukrainian-Canadian company, which originally focused on serial and parallel cards and adapters for the personal computer market. Since then, the tech innovator pivoted to mobile technology and became a leader in connectivity solutions and battery protection for PCs and mobile devices. With 14 full-time employees and more than 2 million products sold in 53 countries, LAVA’s success can largely be attributed to its personalized and in-house customer service.

Thank you for doing this with us! Before we begin, can you share a bit of your "backstory" and what brought you to this career path?

Thank you for having me! To answer straight away–frankly, I was born into it. My dad is the founder and President of LAVA Computer Manufacturing Inc. His entrepreneurial journey began with a bold venture to create the "Orange Peel" computer as a competitor to Apple. The computer was the first to have an independently loadable operating system—a feature every PC now has. Although the endeavor did not quite work out, my dad remained undeterred and discovered new opportunities, leading to several technological breakthroughs and the development of innovative products for LAVA.

While I wasn’t there when LAVA was founded, I had the privilege of turning LAVA’s office space into a personal playground—first in the literal sense and then over the years in a more professional sense. Growing up in a manufacturing hub allows for all sorts of curiosities to be explored and realized. It was second nature for me to ask my dad and his employees “what’s that?” and “how does that work?” Their openness to explaining ideas and concepts that might have been a bit too complex for my brain capacity at the time is what pushed me further to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering and now a second degree in psychology. With this background, I found myself engulfed by the conversations held with our customers.

Explaining what LAVA does, how we do it, and why we do it is what led to the title of “Technical Sales Engineer.” I prefer it much more over “Co-owner”–less stuffy and more reflective of my day-to-day life.

Can you share an interesting or amusing story that has occurred to you in your career so far? What was the lesson or takeaway? 

One of the most amusing moments that occurred so far in my career happened in 2021. Early that year, I managed to strike up a customer relationship with one of the teams that were set to compete in the 36th America’s Cup yacht race. It is one of the premier sailboat racing series with the latest yachts running incredibly advanced technologies–and, here amongst all that, were our SimulCharge tablet adapters. 

When preparing for the race in New Zealand, the team had to register their LAVA adapters with the race's governing body. Given the highly advanced nature of the sport, all yacht components had to undergo thorough inspection by the governing body to ensure fair competition. During the registration process, an unexpected question arose: the team was asked to provide a name for the adapter they were registering for use on their yacht. Caught off guard and unable to recall the officially advertised name of the adapter, the team made a spontaneous decision to name it after the person who had sold them the adapter—yours truly.

So, in 2021 one of the teams competing at the America’s Cup had a whole set of “Rostyk Adapters” onboard. I can definitely say that I was not expecting to be immortalized, by name, in the sport of high end sailing—though it is definitely not something I will live down anytime soon. And before you ask, yes we are definitely hoping to get our adapters onto the yachts for the 37th America’s Cup—but this time on all of the teams’ yachts.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? Tell us about it!

This answer might come as a bit of a surprise, but... cardboard display stands and furniture. Hear me out! Earlier this year, the team at LAVA astounded attendees of a large-scale tradeshow in the U.K. with a show stand made entirely of repurposed cardboard. 

If you’ve ever taken part in a trade show, you have been faced with the exorbitant cost of transporting or renting traditional display stands and materials for your booth. Having that costly experience, we decided to think outside the box, quite literally, and turned to the packaging made of cardboard we receive with every shipment of materials. It’s often used as a cushion inside the package to ensure the materials don’t rub and scratch. Leveraging this lightweight and readily available material, we crafted a stand using laser-cut pieces that fit together like a puzzle. The cut-outs were designed to be flat-packed, transported all the way from Canada to the U.K., assembled into tables and displays at the trade show, and later disassembled for recycling.

Initially at the show, these unique structures went unnoticed, but once they caught the attention of those passing by, they elicited raised eyebrows. The surprise turned into admiration when booth visitors discovered the remarkable sturdiness of these cardboard creations. This solution exceeded expectations and will undoubtedly be utilized at future trade shows attended by LAVA. After all, we do build technology products for a living so why not spin-off and build our own trade show materials and furniture (and have some fun while we’re at it)?

What is your experience with building lasting customer relationships?

LAVA's sales processes are built on the foundation of customer check-ins or follow-ups, which play a crucial role in nurturing relationships. While many companies acknowledge the importance of checking in with customers, regardless of recent purchases, they often overlook the "how" of these interactions. This is where LAVA stands out, leveraging our experience in customer relationships to excel.

Merely sending an email is insufficient for us. We believe in initiating contact with a personal touch through a phone call. By making a call, you also gain the advantage of hearing your customer's tone of voice, which can reveal valuable insights about their satisfaction with your product, their recollection of previous interactions, and any issues they may be facing. Tone is difficult to discern or can be misinterpreted over email, yet it is a vital aspect of building relationships. If you sense that the customer is content, you can build upon that satisfaction to strengthen the relationship. Conversely, if you detect any signs of dissatisfaction, you can utilize the opportunity to address and resolve the problem, thereby strengthening the bond.

For instance, during a check-in call with a Las Vegas-based company that uses our Ethernet adapters for their casino royalty rewards system, I noticed a subtle unease in the owner's tone when discussing a potential new order. Although nothing was explicitly stated, he kept circling back to it throughout our conversation, interspersed with unrelated topics like the weather in Nevada compared to Toronto. Acting on my intuition, I inquired further and discovered that they were concerned about potential delays in receiving their large order, and they needed some units urgently. Through this phone call, we promptly shipped a partial quantity of available units the next day, and we scheduled the remaining order to be delivered in stages that aligned with their commitments and mitigated risks. This proactive response, made possible by a simple phone call, fostered an incredibly positive relationship with the owner that wouldn't have developed through email alone, unless explicitly requested.

Another significant benefit of phone calls is their fluid nature, allowing conversations to transition from one subject to another. This flexibility enables you to share or gather personal details about your customers, fostering connections on a more personal level beyond business. After all, nobody enjoys being constantly sold to. However, when a salesperson takes the time to learn and remember something as simple as your preference for summer because it means you can go canoeing with friends or family on weekends, it conveys the message that you are not merely an account number. The feeling of being acknowledged and treated as a human, which phone calls facilitate, goes a long way in nurturing personal relationships.

In today's fast-paced and constantly evolving landscape, what strategies do you employ to maintain a strong connection with your customers and anticipate their changing needs?

Personalization is super important when it comes to understanding our customers' unique needs and preferences, even in the B2B space. We really take the time to get to know our customers so that we can offer them tailored answers to their projects that make them happy. We're all about going the extra mile and anticipating what our customers might need, so we can provide proactive support throughout their entire journey with us. This starts with getting to know every customer and their needs through an initial call. This way we ensure they are getting the optimal product and we see if we can offer any additional support.

Oh, and here's something cool: at LAVA, we actually encourage the "let me check and follow up/get back to you" approach. We don't want to be pushy salespeople who are only interested in making a quick sale. If we can’t provide the service they seek, we try to offer suggestions on where to look. We get that every customer is unique, and that's why we build personal relationships with them. It's all about fostering loyalty and keeping them excited to keep working with us. And hey, even though our hardware products are all top-notch quality, it's the personal touch we offer that really make the difference in our customer relationships.

Can you discuss the strategies that companies can employ to strike a balance between driving revenue and profitability, and focusing on building customer relationships and loyalty?

First off, by reaching out to our customers directly before shipping their orders, we also make sure they're getting exactly what they need for their project. It's all about avoiding any miscommunication or sub-optimal use of our products. Plus, having that phone connection (alongside email) lets us take a more personal approach while standing out from the bunch in a world where email and text is king amongst our competitors. It's all about building that trust and making our customers feel valued.

Secondly, we're not about that "one and done" mentality when it comes to our customers. For us, a relationship goes way beyond just making a sale. It's an ongoing process that continues long after the initial transaction. Instead, we believe in following up and staying connected with our customers. We give them a call to see how the solution is behaving and if they have any questions or need for additional technical support. We offer help, walk them through any processes, and troubleshoot if needed. That's when the real relationship starts to bloom.

Rapid Fire Question Round

Rapid Fire Question Round

What quality is most important in a leader? The ability to find the right people.

What bad work habit should cease to exist? Bad communication.

What other company are you admiring right now? Esper Bionics, they are a Ukrainian company that builds prosthetics that enable fine motor control.

What are you reading right now? Ukraine’s Maidan, Russia’s War: A Chronicle and Analysis of the Revolution of Dignity

What is the most valuable software in your tech stack? Excel spreadsheets

Could you describe the metrics and measures you use to evaluate the success of your customer relationship-building efforts, and how you identify areas for improvement?

We evaluate our customer relationship building efforts through a series of formal and informal metrics. An informal metric that we use, and admittedly lean on the least, is the feedback we receive from our sales and support staff—their overall impressions as to the quality of relationships that they have with their customers.

More formal metrics that we use is customer return rate meaning how many customers that have been identified as having medium to strong potential to return with more projects (determined as part of the standard sales qualification and closing practices) actually return to us with these projects. Additionally we look at customer reviews and feedback, whether that be ones we receive over the phone, email, website chat system or any other forms of communication that we have.

Finally we look at our customer support interactions and see how quickly we respond to issues and how many of those issues and support tickets we close and how well we close them—specifically could we solve their complete problem and if not did we point them in the right direction or supplier who can help solve the remainder of the issue that we can’t.

Regarding customer-facing teams, what steps do you take to ensure they can deliver personalized, proactive, and efficient support, tailored to the needs of each individual customer?

As a Technical Sales Engineer, I get to chat with customers every single day. I act as the bridge between our awesome engineering team and our customer service squad. That means I'm right in the middle, soaking up all the insights and info from both sides.

Being in this role gives me a firsthand look into the concerns and challenges that everyday users and companies face. It's like being in the trenches, you know? I get to see it all and understand the real-life issues they're dealing with. But here's the best part: my desk is just a stone's throw away from the rest of our team. So you know what that means? Lots of water cooler talk! We have these productive and friendly discussions where we share insights about our customers. It's like friendly gossip with a purpose! This way, our whole team stays in the loop in real time and we can all serve our customers better.

What tips do you have for responding to negative feedback from customers, and how can you turn those experiences into positive outcomes?

We're all about that honest feedback. We want our customers to be honest with us, even if it stings a little. We can take it, trust me. In fact, we encourage it because it's the only way we can grow and improve. And hey, here's the thing: we're not afraid to admit when we goof up. We're human, after all. If we make a mistake, we own up to it without any hesitation. No finger-pointing or playing the blame game. It's all about rolling up our sleeves and working hard to fix things and rebuild that trust.

That's where the power of collaborative problem-solving comes in. We join forces with our customers, listen to their concerns, and brainstorm solutions together. It's like a superhero team-up, but for tackling challenges and finding innovative ways to make things right. And you know what? It's in these moments of teamwork and problem-solving that some of our best ideas and innovations are born.

How do you use technology or AI to enhance your customer relationships, and what tools have you found to be most effective in building and maintaining them?

First off, we have a super knowledgeable team that's always ready to provide accurate and personalized answers to any customer inquiries. That human touch is really important to us because it shows that we genuinely care and want to help our customers in the best way possible.

But here's where technology comes in to take things up a notch. We have an awesome newsletter sent out regularly. It's not just any ordinary newsletter, though. It's a powerhouse of information that keeps our customers in the loop with all the latest news, insights, updates, and contact information. Think of it as our secret weapon for building and maintaining those customer relationships. Through our newsletter, we're able to highlight exciting company news, showcase our products, and even share industry highlights. We make sure to showcase the qualifications and knowledge of our team members, which not only instills confidence in our customers but also demonstrates the top-notch quality of service they can expect from us.

As for AI—we’re not ashamed to admit that it is becoming a large component of our editorial team. Not for the purposes of writing from scratch, but definitely for the purposes of editing pieces discussing matters we breathe and sleep (aka things that might get repetitive and mistakes slip through).

Based on your experience, what are five key components of building lasting customer relationships?

  1. Be available: Communication is key to building lasting customer relationships. Whether it's over the phone, via email, or in person, making yourself available to answer questions and provide support can go a long way in building trust and establishing a strong rapport with your customers. At LAVA, we have a rule—the phone should never ring more than once and if a call is missed, it will be returned the same day. We cannot keep the customer waiting.
  1. Personalize customer service: Understanding the distinct requirements and preferences of our customers is of utmost importance when it comes to personalization. By dedicating time to familiarize ourselves with our customers, we can offer customized solutions that align with the specifications of our products, thereby enhancing customer satisfaction and fostering loyalty. At LAVA, we not only welcome but also promote the practice of checking and following up with customers. This approach helps dispel the notion that our sales efforts are solely driven by the desire to make a sale. Instead, it demonstrates our genuine concern and commitment to providing the most suitable solution that we recommend to our customers. We acknowledge that although our hardware products are uniformly constructed to ensure high quality, every personal relationship is unique and deserves individual attention.
  1. Streamline your customer service team: By having our engineering, communications, and sales teams in one location, we can provide customers with accurate and personalized answers to their questions. Hopping over from one desk to another or maybe into the manufacturing space of our building allows for better creative thinking and knowledgeable answers. 
  1. Be proactive in your communications: By calling customers directly before shipping their orders, our team ensures that they receive exactly what they need for their project, which can prevent any miscommunication or sub-optimal use of our products. This connection over the phone (in addition to email) goes back to our second tip as it allows for a more personal approach. We also believe that a relationship starts when the sale ends. We do not believe that relationships are to be cultivated in order to accomplish a sale and then move on, or that the act of “just checking in” on customers is to lead to another sale. We believe that it’s important to follow up, call the customer, ask how the system is working, offer help, walk through the process and troubleshoot if needed. This is where the real relationship starts.
  1. Ask for feedback: Nurturing a robust bond with our customers by actively seeking their feedback and engaging in collaborative problem-solving frequently sparks fresh ideas and innovations for our engineering team. We encourage our customers to be forthright in their feedback, even if it may not always be positive. Rest assured, our team is open to acknowledging and rectifying any mistakes we may have made. We are committed to diligently resolving issues and rebuilding trust with our customers.

How do you ensure that these ideas are implemented throughout the customer journey?

As a co-owner of a small tech company, I can say that LAVA is not just a day job for me, but a passion that extends into my after-hours projects and more. As a family-run business, our workday typically commences before breakfast and concludes over chocolate chip ice cream at the kitchen counter where we bounce ideas off of one-another for the next day.

Our employees, on the other hand, fulfill their expectations and go beyond those expectations only in cases where they feel passionate about their work. We have a unique dynamic where we operate as a family business, but we don't expect our employees to see us as an extension of their family. We recognize and respect that our employees have their own families outside of work.

Teamwork, collaboration, extensive discussions, and long hours of brainstorming, designing, testing, and iterating—these are the fundamental elements that form the backbone of LAVA's operations. Many of the ideas that shape our company have originated during late-night epiphanies or through engaging conversations, be it over a business lunch, a family dinner, or at the office alongside the team. Every individual who joins and works with LAVA contributes a unique perspective and has the ability to identify potential obstacles that might otherwise lead us astray. I actively encourage our employees to challenge my thinking constructively and provide alternative solutions. The collaborative efforts are what truly bring the ideas and products to fruition.

Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be?

Local tech: I’d love to see more companies across North America and the world embrace the idea of “local manufacturing.” While global cooperation is essential for the world’s success, I think we can definitely get better at thinking through the logistics and sustainability of our working ways by reevaluating where we manufacture and how we manufacture.

For example, instead of having to ship any parts we use to build our production on a container from overseas, our biggest supplier, S&P Flex Inc., provides printed circuit boards (PCBs) from just a short drive away. This allows LAVA to have better control over its supply chain, a smaller impact on the environment and also provides peace of mind as S&P Flex adheres to the same strict health and safety regulations as LAVA.

How can our readers further follow your work online? 

There are a few ways, including LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, but most insightful is our monthly newsletter! We invite all to subscribe and reach out directly with any questions or feedback.

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Phil Gray
By Phil Gray

Philip Gray is the COO of Black and White Zebra and Founding Editor of The RevOps Team. A business renaissance man with his hands in many departmental pies, he is an advocate of centralized data management, holistic planning, and process automation. It's this love for data and all things revenue operations landed him the role as resident big brain for The RevOps Team.

With 10+ years of experience in leadership and operations in industries that include biotechnology, healthcare, logistics, and SaaS, he applies a considerable broad scope of experience in business that lets him see the big picture. An unapologetic buzzword apologist, you can often find him double clicking, drilling down, and unpacking all the things.