Max Eliscu has spent more than 30 years in the financing and payments industries developing working capital and payment solutions for middle-market organizations. Throughout his career, his focus on ensuring that service excellence and customer satisfaction were integral aspects of his companies' solutions has led to market differentiation and customer delight.

What advice do you have for other middle-market executives seeking to improve their service excellence, or better, turn it into a competitive advantage?

Sustainable and scalable service excellence isn’t born of exceptional employees committed to meeting your customers’ every need. Rather, its genesis lies in identifying the top five or six things your customers value most and deliberately de-prioritizing (choosing to be bad at) most of them. That last part is both essential and ironic — choosing to be bad in service of exceptionality. 

We have all heard service platitudes like the customer is always right or always greet customers with a smile. For avoidance of doubt, hiring superstar employees and expecting them to base their decisions on these clichés won't lead to differentiated service. Superstars are hard to find, expensive, and difficult to retain. Beyond that, unless every employee is a superstar, in which case you better charge 3X what your competitors charge, service will be inconsistent and mediocre at best.

To deliver exceptional service at scale, you must take the time to understand your customers’ top priorities in order of importance. Then, you must abandon trying to be great at everything outside the top three. If you try to meet all their needs you will find yourself being average at most, and mediocrity does not produce raving fans! Competitively advantaged service excellence requires tradeoffs and design. This strategy is easily understood by looking at how it has been implemented by large brands we all know, but it is equally important for middle-market companies.

For instance, as measured by employees per square foot, Walmart has always had some of the lowest ratios in the industry. Good luck finding a Walmart employee to help you locate a product. This is by design. Walmart customers prioritize selection and low cost above all else, and they are willing to sacrifice in-store customer support to get them. Amazon customers prioritize breadth of choice, speed of delivery, and ease of return, and they are willing to sacrifice price to get them. Amazon unabashedly acknowledges that it is not the low-cost provider, and the extra margin it extracts from its customers allows it to deliver what its customers care about most. Budget airline shoppers want low-cost and, ideally, on-time departures, and they will give up convenience for those benefits. Historically, Southwest Airlines met those needs better than anyone. However, over the past five years, the company’s desire to meet Wall Street growth expectations has led them to abandon some of the design that helped it earn the love and wallet share of an intensely loyal customer base. Cartier, Hermes, and Ferrari shoppers prioritize exclusivity and exceptional interpersonal interactions with associates, and these customers are willing to pay significantly more than others for that experience.

In each case, these businesses designed their operations and processes to prioritize what is most important to their customers. For example, Southwest used to have only one type of plane, which meant it had to maintain a far smaller parts inventory than other airlines, and it saved money on its team and training. Beyond that, the company knew that airplane inventory massively impacted costs, and the faster it turned around planes, the fewer planes it would need. So it reduced ground time by convincing its employees’ unions to allow workers to perform multiple duties, so pilots and flight attendants could begin helping to clean planes to get them in the air faster. In addition, it abandoned meal service and eliminated seat assignments, which sped up plane prep and passenger boarding times. Each, in the interest of increasing reliability and lowering cost because that is what their customers prioritized.

Don't misunderstand. The Southwest flyer also wants to pick their seats, be served meals, and fly first class, but these are less important than cost and reliability. Therefore, Southwest chose to be bad at those things to be exceptional at what its customers found most important.

If you succeed in designing your business to deliver exceptional service, you will simultaneously create barriers to entry and a sustainable competitive advantage. As proof, it took decades for others to follow Southwest, and Walmart continues to struggle to adapt to Amazon, now worth nearly 2.5X Walmart. The mother of service excellence is Frances Frie, a Harvard Business School professor who has written scores of case studies on the subject and an excellent book called Uncommon Service. If you want to know more about the subject, I encourage you to read everything she has written. She is amazing.

As every entrepreneur knows, starting and leading a company is not for the faint of heart or risk-averse, and success is never a straight line. Ultimately, success is a function of identifying a problem that a large population of people cares about (are willing to pay to solve) and then developing a high-margin solution that is competitively advantaged (hard to copy or replace). The critical factors in most entrepreneurial organizations' success aren't team IQ, location, and access to capital. Culture, product market fit, communication skills, empathy, and resiliency will take you further in the long term.

Background: Max Eliscu and Viewpost

In 1996, Viewpost CEO, Max Eliscu, founded LSQ to address a systemic working capital financing gap for small enterprises. The company is now a leader in the invoice and supply chain finance industries, having processed more than $30 billion for businesses nationwide. Immersed in the inefficient and largely paper-based methods businesses use to send and receive payments, Max launched Viewpost to build a solution that would simplify the B2B payment experience. Working with leading payment and technology partners, Viewpost created an innovative payment solution that makes it simple to address the long tail of B2B check payments that persist across corporate America. 

Viewpost is growing at more than 100% a year and accelerating. The business has built a strongly differentiated payment solution that delivers remarkable benefits throughout its value chain. As a result, everyone from large customers to the vendors they pay, their banks, the card networks, accounting platform providers, and technology partners are all aligned and helping drive growth.

Read more about Viewpost in their NCMM Company Spotlight here.