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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 Tom Coburn.

Tom Coburn

Tom Coburn

Tom Coburn, named one of Forbes 30 Under 30 and an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of The Year 2022® New England, is the co-founder and CEO of Jebbit, the world’s leading zero-party data and customer experience platform that enables anyone – from top global retail clients like L’Oreal and Procter & Gamble to innovative DTCs like Vegamour and Jill Razor – to quickly build beautiful interactive experiences that capture zero-party data utilizing simple lead forms or surveys and more robust experiences like product matches and personality quizzes, lightboxes, and more. Under Tom’s leadership, Jebbit has been named one of the Top 25 Most Promising Companies in the World by CNBC and has raised more than $92 million in capital. Coburn also co-founded the non-profit Enjoy Life Education which provides a summer leadership academy to high school students and the seed-stage venture capital firm SSC Ventures which invests in Boston College alumni and student entrepreneurs.

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

I actually started out as a biology and theology double-major on the pre-med track when I dropped out of Boston College three months before graduation to work full time on the marketing tech company I had started, Jebbit. 

Jebbit started as an idea between myself and co-founder during our sophomore year. We decided to participate in Boston College’s business plan competition and the original idea was formulated when I was sitting in an airport watching a show on Hulu. A video ad popped up on the screen and I immediately closed out of the ad, annoyed that it had interrupted my show.

I remember thinking: “I can’t believe that brand just spent real dollars serving me this video ad that I took action to dis-engage with it…what a waste of money.” Which then led to: “I wonder if there is a way that brands could work together with consumers to create a better experience around purchase intentions so that both the brand and the consumer find the experience a value exchange from the data collected.”

That turned into Jebbit 1.0: building a better experience for consumers by helping brands deliver personalized digital experiences that collect data that is willingly and intentionally shared by a consumer (“zero-party data”), resulting in a true value exchange for both that drives deep insights, engagement, relationships, and long-term loyalty.

Now, Jebbit is on an even larger mission to build data trust and transparency between brands and the consumers they serve. The marketing industry is at an important day of reckoning due to the proliferation and misuse of consumer data that has resulted in consumer data privacy legislation in almost every country and platforms like Apple and Google implementing tracking prevention.

Jebbit stands to be on the right side of marketing history by helping brands build direct relationships with consumers through mutual value exchanges and only asking what is needed to improve the relevancy and experience at every touchpoint.

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

My mom named our company. We were months away from the launch of our first product in 2011 (it was a website that enabled college students to earn money interacting with brands) when our lawyers let us know we could not use our original planned name because of trademark issues.

I was working on the business at the time with my college roommates and we started devoting all of our time to frantically coming up with a new name and trying to secure the domain name. After weeks of striking out, I was telling my mom about our struggles when she, without even thinking, said “what if you named the company ‘Jebbit’ and you mailed your users ‘Jebbit cards’ instead of ‘Debit cards.” 

At the time we’d been exploring a partnership with a bank where we’d mail all their users a debit card as a way for them to use the money they earned on our platform (we never did this and ended up using a digital platform instead). One of my college roommates who was building the company with me is named Jeb. Leave it to my mom to put those two things together!

I initially told my mom I didn’t think that name was a good idea, but after a few more weeks with nothing better, I searched it and found the domain was available! The rest is history!

My takeaway? Sometimes when you’re stuck you just need to ask your mom for help! 

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

We just announced our new AI-powered Experience Generator and Language Translation capabilities, which will help brands build better consumer experiences for consumers faster than ever before. The features allow marketers to build personalized interactive quizzes, trivia and surveys in seconds, then translate them into multiple languages with the click of a button, enabling brands to quickly scale worldwide.

As with disruptive consumer data privacy regulations in the past, and industry-shifting technology like AI, Jebbit always strives to remain on the right side of marketing; that is, prioritizing consumer trust and experience. Jebbit’s new AI-powered experiences strategically balance intelligent technology with human judgment to edit, analyze and personalize data in a way that improves online experiences, while improving speed-to-market. In contrast, many companies leverage AI in data targeting small population sizes and then extrapolate that to the masses without deeper insights. 

We’re continuing to do extensive beta testing with customers and volunteers on upcoming AI capabilities. One such capability, AI-Assist, coming soon across the Jebbit platform, will equip users with AI-powered assistance in creating content such as informed product recommendations, question generation, guidance on rephrasing questions, and the ability to automatically leverage design elements from a website (text, colors, images). 

Our suite of AI-powered capabilities will help to further our commitment to delivering innovation and growth for brands while continuing to create personalized and engaging experiences that maintain data privacy and ultimately earn consumer trust. 

What has your experience been with building lasting customer relationships?

First, it all starts with a genuine value exchange between the brand and the consumer.  How are you helping, guiding, teaching, entertaining the consumer to earn their time and attention. We’ve learned that this is way more impactful for driving lasting relationships than just pushing “buy now” or “shop now” messaging at them all day.

Brands spend so much time and money to acquire new customers but as the old saying goes “it’s easier (and less costly) to keep an existing customer than to acquire a new one.” The brands that are driving the most value for their business are the ones that are turning key moments in their lifecycle from one way communication to two way experiences that offer discovery, inspiration and education along the way.

For example, our client at Express has driven millions of incremental dollars by engaging their loyalty members with a shop style quiz each month. It’s fun for the customer and it helps Express better learn their style preferences so that they can provide more relevant recommendations.

The other key learning is that it’s “small data” not “big data” that matters most for driving lasting relationships. It’s not about knowing everything, it’s about the few data points that you can use to really drive a better experience for that consumer and demonstrate that you are listening to their wants and needs.

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?

We are constantly evolving our platform based on customer feedback.  We conduct quarterly business reviews with all of them to make sure that not only are we helping them succeed with Jebbit but that we are also getting the feedback on what we can be doing better, where they want to see us improve or evolve based on their needs.

We also have a customer advisory board as well as “hands of keyboard” advisory boards to ensure that the actual users of our platform all the way to their CMO’s have an opportunity to share their views and insights with us.

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?

Again, for us it goes back to creating a genuine value exchange with your consumers while learning a thing or two about them. Our clients have proven that if you focus on helping vs. selling, the dollars will come. On average our clients see a 30% increase in average order value when guiding them to the right purchases through our experiences.

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?

For us, it all starts with us having a very high internal standard for what type of experience we want our customers to have when working with us, coupled with rigorous tracking of every possible metric that could matter. We have an in-house proprietary Customer Health Scoring System that our engineering team built. 

This system takes into account dozens of different data points we track on our customers, everything from their usage in our platform to how frequently they talk to our team or reach out to our in-platform support team. Over the years we’ve continued to refine the model as we learn more about what actually impacts customer health and the value they are getting out of working with us.

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

I personally get on the phone with almost all of our customers when they’ve had a negative experience.  Even if it has been resolved by our team, I am passionate about hearing their own words and providing that reassurance that I truly do care and we are listening. Some of our best work has come from those conversations. We have a philosophy at Jebbit about being 1% better every day and we fully embrace it.

Lastly, 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?

We’re building AI into our platform. We recently released our AI powered experience generator which automatically builds a quiz for you based on the prompt you give our platform. For example, you could say "Build me a quiz to match my site visitors to the right snowboard for them. Make it funny, but educational, and keep it to 5 questions or less" and watch our platform do the rest!

What used to take an average user 30-45 minutes is now done in seconds!

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

1 . Be a Force for Good: No matter your industry, always advocate for what is right. Customers will recognize that and stand by for the long-haul. The marketing industry is at an important day of reckoning due to the proliferation and misuse of consumer data that has resulted in consumer data privacy legislation in almost every country and platforms like Apple and Google implementing tracking prevention. Jebbit stands to be on the right side of marketing history by helping brands build direct relationships with consumers through mutual value exchanges and only asking what is needed to improve the relevancy and experience at every touchpoint. With a cookieless economy in the near future, brands will have to collect their own data - how they collect and use that data will determine the winners and losers of consumers’ trust and therefore the ability to build deep relationships that lead to longevity and loyalty.

2 . Zero-Party Data (ZPD): ZPD is consumer data that is willingly and explicitly volunteered by consumers. ZPD is generated by a direct interaction between the consumer and the brand rather than purchased from or accessed through a third party. It is one of the most reliable and inexpensive options to efficiently gather data, and also has the biggest ROI. ZPD goes beyond just gathering “hard data” – demographics, or identifying data like a consumer’s age, gender, location, etc. –  that marketers may have access to from other sources, but it can also capture “soft” attributes, like intentions, motivations, interests, preferences, or aspirations—things that, without explicitly asking the consumer about them, marketers can otherwise only make informed guesses about. In this age of consumer empowerment, understanding and responding to customer wants, needs and intent with 1:1 contextual relevance is key to creating the type of personalized and highly targeted experiences that drive brand loyalty and retention.

3 . BESPOKE is the new personalization: For today’s consumers, emails personalized with their names within or subject lines based on a few discrete data points will no longer cut it. Now, they want BESPOKE experiences - product recommendations, content, educational information, etc. specifically tailored to their wants, needs, interests, preferences and intent. Third-party, transactional data and standard recommendations may enable personalization, but they don’t offer the bespoke consumer communications that build deep, long-lasting relationships. For ex, if shopping data shows that a female consumer between the ages of 24-36 purchased baby clothes, then a recommendation engine might start populating any and all products related to babies. While this may seem personalized, this isn’t bespoke and doesn’t capture purchase intent or deeper insights. The consumer could have purchased the clothes as a gift, and even though she herself does not have children, she will begin to see advertisements that are simply not relevant, and become creeped out/annoyed by the brand’s disingenuous data grab and purchase herding. 

4 . Provide True Value-exchange: Marketers should always deliver genuine value to their customers and prospects: Save them time, give them a personalized recommendation, give them bespoke brand experiences/communications, and educate them – these are all examples of genuine value exchange. Be judicious about what data you collect, prioritizing information you know you can use to deliver value to the consumer. Finally, always bring the value exchange out into the open, making clear to the consumer how they will benefit from sharing their information with the brand. All healthy relationships are built upon an even, honest balance of “give-and-take.”

5 . Don’t be Boring - make it fun: Let’s be honest - of course we love our friends for listening, their support, loyalty, etc., but we also love them because we have fun together! Gamification isn’t just a strategy to make marketing more exciting - it's also a powerful tool for boosting engagement and loyalty by creating a sense of ownership and community within the brand, offering exclusive rewards or benefits, and motivating consumers to continue building deeper communications that help brands retain customers over time and increase the lifetime value of each consumer. 80% of American homes own at least one gaming device, and gamified learning is expected to be valued at $25.7B by 2025. In a world where it's more challenging than ever to capture your consumers' attention, gamification is the next forefront for marketer innovation.

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

We are in an amazing position where our platform truly enables all five of these ideals, so we try to use our own tool in our customer experience as much as possible. I hear all the time from clients that their time in our platform is the most fun they have all day. It lets their creative and analytical brains come together to build something exceptional for their customers.

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

I’d encourage more people to go on a multi-day silent retreat in nature! No technology! 

How can our readers further follow your work online? 

You can follow and connect with me on LinkedIn.

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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.