As consumers themselves, entrepreneurs know the good stuff from the bad. They’ve been in their customers’ shoes and know the struggles they’re going through. For Jason Chan, understanding the customer has always come naturally. He picks up on what’s out there, sees the opportunities, and goes for it. Jason is Rakuten Super Logistics’ VP of Sales and Marketing where he directs the company’s sales & marketing functions to grow its market share and drive revenue. On today’s podcast, he joins Betsy Westhafer and Tony Bodoh to share the top three things he looks for to really know his customer. They also dive into being an extension of a brand, testing the user experience, and much more.
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What It Means To Be An Extension Of Your Customer’s Brand With Jason Chan
The Business Of Customer Service & Human Relations
I’m excited that we’ve got Jason Chan. He has been an entrepreneur for much of his career. He’s moved into a new role and that’s exactly what we want to talk about, that path from entrepreneurship to this new role and what he’s doing in that role.
I’m excited about this conversation. When we had a prep call with Jason, we got some good insights on how they work with their customers. Jason, we’re happy to have you here. Let’s get this conversation going. I’ll start by saying that you are the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Rakuten Super Logistics. Why don’t you walk us through how you got to this point in your career, then we’ll talk a little bit more about the company that you’re with.
I’ll try to give you as much of the CliffNotes as possible. I’m in this group on Facebook, it’s the Asian Hustle Network. As much as I enjoy the people, I joined half of it for the name. I know we have our phones on silent but if you called me, my ring tone is Every day I’m Hustlin’. It’s not what you expect. I’m in boardrooms if we were in COVID 90% of the time. They were like, “That’s your ringtone, not the standard or something?” No, it’s different. I march to a different jam. Whether the deal is big or small, it’s philosophical to me. It will always be hustling. Despite the thousands and millions of dollars I’ve made, I still pick up pennies. The reason why is most people don’t do it. It’s not that a penny materially changes my net worth, but it’s a constant reminder to me of thinking and doing differently.
It goes back to high school. I hustled candy, but I realized that candy can only make a couple of dollars. At that time before Y2K and computer networking, all of a sudden people didn’t know how to network. Once you got your computer talking to your printer, you wanted two computers talking to one printer. That’s networking. To be able to share that internet connection as a high school kid, you’re making $50 to $100 an hour. You’re like, “Wow.”
As long as you have a skill that other people don’t have, they’re willing to pay for it and you can almost name your price. I’ll never forget in high school, 21-inch monitors were all the rage and we’re not talking thin 21-inch. It’s those big, heavy 100-pound ones. That time they were about $1,500 apiece. I’ve found them at auction. I bought them for $300 apiece. I was so excited and delivered a palette to the driveway of my parents’ house. They said, “What are these?” I was like, “We’re about to make a fortune.” I plugged one in and they’re black and white. I was like, “What are we going to do with all these black and white monitors?” No problem. You’ve got to hustle. You’ve got to realize you’ve got to pivot. I ended up selling those to a security company. We added a tuner card and they turned into black and white monitors. No harm, no foul, but it’s those little life lessons that then snowball into what has your life become.
When I graduated from college, that’s when the real estate boom was happening and it made sense to go into real estate. As a young student, it was time to start trying to make some money. I’m seeing people all of a sudden go from rags to riches and I said, “Let’s do it.” I hooked up with a developer from Chicago that did his first project in Vegas. He bought the project for something like $200 million and ended up selling for $700 million. It seemed like everything is so easy business and it was incredible. There I am knowing nothing about real estate, but we’re selling in our last month, 41 condos in a month.
As the market then downturn, I’m looking at it like, “To sell real estate, you might have to show them ten houses and they may not buy. That sounds like a waste of gas and time. That sounds hard.” Whereas during the boom-boom time, you show one house and there are 100 offers on it. If they don’t buy this one, they’re buying the next one. It was a frenzy. I realized I didn’t want to cart families around trying to do real estate. There are other people that are well-versed and had a passion for it. What’s the next hot thing? At that time, it was energy drinks. I had a friend that was doing very well in the energy drink space. I said, “I’d love to join your company.” He said, “I’ve got enough partners but I’ve got the distribution infrastructure. I can make and manufacture a drink. If you go raise your own money and you do your own sales and marketing, we’ll be your manufacturing and distribution partner.” I said, “Why not?”
Not knowing much about energy drinks but a lot of passion and a lot of good business contacts, 30 days later, we had raised the money to do it. Me and four other partners created this company, ALL IN energy drink. Very shortly thereafter, being based in Las Vegas, I was born here, it’s the all-in vibe and a poker theme. We’ve had friends that are at the Caesar’s and the MGM of the world. In a world of Red Bull and Coke, how do you differentiate yourself? We figured that Poker was hot at the time and energy drinks were hot. People were working their own normal 9:00 to 5:00 and then going to play Poker in their after-hours. We said, “That means you need a great energy drink to do it.”
We said, “How are we going to be able to brand this?” We went to the Caesar’s who owns the trademark in the total event for the World Series of Poker. We quickly struck a deal. We’re not a national brand. We’re a homegrown brand at this point but we told them we’ve got great promise. We’ve got great branding and the drink was amazing, especially in a world full of caffeine, sugar, etc. We had no sugar at 80 milligrams of caffeine. What’s important about that is parents would come to us and say, “What if little Timmy drinks four of them?” We’d say, “He’s going to have to urinate. That’s what’s going to happen.” As long as you have your water and nutrients, you’re going to feel pretty good.
When you have a product that tastes good and that the market likes, it’s relatively easy to sell. We had a good run and we were all over ESPN. We ended up doing a NASCAR deal. You saw the ALL IN car and unfortunately, the recession then came. Through the recession, I was still selling the drink. People were signing up for it left and right. The problem was people couldn’t pay for it. I learned quickly about cashflow. Despite the incredible sales and momentum we had, we were a casualty of the recession. At that point, I had a couple of coins in my pocket. I went into real estate investing. TV shows were talking about flipping houses. My wife and I have flipped 50 or so houses at this point, we’ve lost count.
Around then, I had my first son. At that point, my dad had worked hard in his life. Unfortunately, as a result of his travels, he wasn’t around all the time. It was very important to me from a lifestyle perspective to be home, especially when my kids were young. I tried being home all the time and I’ll be honest, the stay-at-home moms and my wife included, they’re my heroes. I couldn’t do it. I had to tap out. I said, “Let me go to an office. Let me do something because I can’t do all of this.” I didn’t have my next good idea.
I had a friend that was running CenturyLink at that time. He said, “You’ve done great in small business. Why don’t you come to try to work for a big company and see what you can do there?” A few years ago, I joined CenturyLink as a mid-level manager. I ran the marketing in the Las Vegas market and soon was promoted to a regional marketing manager. I had a great run there. I launched the 1-Gig internet with CenturyLink. That’s my claim to fame. I made the first pitch to get a $20 million investment. They weren’t sure but the CEO finally said, “You’re crazy. Let’s take a shot on it.” They do it and now they funded it. I can’t even count how many billions of dollars they’ve spent in the network to bring 1-Gig to people’s homes.
If you’re on that 1-Gig connection, you’ll love me. You’ll love your internet connection even more because you could stream 500 streams in Netflix at a time, full HD video conferencing, etc. As much as I enjoyed my time at CenturyLink, I got very good that it almost became a day-in, day-out thing. It almost became too routine. I realized that entrepreneurial spirit was still ticking within me. I still didn’t have my next big idea. I’m still looking. At the same time, I had another friend that was the VP of Ops over at this company, Rakuten Super Logistics. She said this company is going to explode. When I hear explode, I say opportunity. When there’s an opportunity, as long as you have the right talent, the right luck, the right mix of things, you can make incredible things happen. I like to be in the middle of making incredible things happen.
She’s a better salesperson than me, even as the VP of Ops. She brought me in as the VP of Sales and Marketing. I’ve been here for a few years and we are exploding. Even pre-COVID, we were doing very well. We’re on a growth plan. This originally started as a small mom and pop business. Rakuten bought it about a few years ago and has now scaled it. We went from 4 warehouses to 15 warehouses within a matter of a couple of years. Had the COVID not happened and as a result of COVID, we were going to continue to grow, but COVID has been an impetus because people are shopping online more. We’re going to continue growing the business. We’re now looking at more sites on which to place locations that were inevitably closer to that end user. When you click buy, everyone wants that instant gratification of my new socks, my new swimsuit, my new pills or whatever they are. We want to make sure that we’re able to deliver those as quickly as possible to you.
I have fun and I look at eCommerce products daily. I solve our client’s needs to make sure that whatever headaches they have, we try to alleviate those for them and do it at a fair price. Even though I am an employee of a much larger company, the way this company has grown is we run like a small business. My only boss and the person I need to answer to is the CEO of this company. Otherwise, as long as I’m able to deliver the numbers, I run the business, my teams and our pricing. I like the flexibility but I also like the benefits, which is why when we were originally talking, I took a PTO day and was in a national park.
Beforehand, it was my own company and no cell service. That’s scary. You’ll never know. There could be a new client calling or there could be an issue, and you’re almost taking a chance. You’re walking on eggshells. Whereas the beauty working in a company, I’ve got a full team that as soon as my phone goes off, it either rolls over to somebody else or there’s a chain of command. I love the spirit of entrepreneurs. I love the business for entrepreneurs. I made a lifestyle choice with my young kids and I’m in a good spot working for the company. Don’t be surprised if you’ve got a great idea in another big opportunity, let’s go make it happen.
What a journey and that’s so exciting. Hats off to you for prioritizing your family when you have many opportunities to go to different directions. I always love to hear even when you’ve got an incredible hustle in your spirit and entrepreneurial spirit, making sure you don’t lose sight of the family life. It’s good to hear that. Tell us quickly a little bit about Rakuten Super Logistics. They’re known as the Amazon of Japan, is that correct?
Yeah. Let me start with Rakuten as a whole is more known as that Amazon of Japan, but they’re in 70 businesses. I’m not just saying interest. I’m saying they operate, run and make these businesses happen. In the States, they’re most well-known as Ebates. That’s a cashback site with millions of users. Even with some of the passive investments we’ve done in ride-sharing. Our CEO, Mickey Mikitani, met with Uber and Lyft, decided to make a big investment with Lyft, and it’s paid off as Lyft has grown. Outside of the big-name successes, we even have other things that are startups. We’re creating a brand-new mobile network in Japan. There’s Rakuten Medical that’s working on cancer drugs. There’s an Airbnb type service in Japan.
It’s service after service. You’re like, “That’s hospitality, medical, Fintech and eCommerce.” You name an industry and there’s a large chance in it that we’re in it as a company. My business specifically is logistics. What that means to us is we’re in third-party logistics. We do the pick, pack and shipping of eCommerce goods that are shipped across the country. If you’re a merchant selling something that needs to be shipped, we should be talking. The reasons why people choose to do business with us are we have the brand’s strength. We’re not shutting down tomorrow or a few years. We’re going to be here today, tomorrow and long into the future.
We need to give credit where credit is due. Amazon, especially when they introduced Prime many years ago, everyone all of a sudden got used to two-day free shipping. If you were not with Amazon, you’re like, “How do I do that?” If I’m at TonysTShirts.com and I’m going to ship that out of my garage and I’m based in New York, it’s going to take me 5 to 8 days to get over to LA. There’s no way I’m competing with Amazon. The way that Tony is able to do that is by partnering with a company like us because I’ve got warehouses in New York, Texas, LA, Pennsylvania, you name it. Meaning that you ship your goods to me and I’ll have them. As the order comes in through whatever marketplace, whether your own website, through Amazon or any other marketplace, it will flow into my system. We’ll see the order and we’ll ship it on your behalf.
You’re using my labor, my resources and my technology to smartly route that order as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Because I usually ship more than you, I have better pricing than you. We pass along those shipping savings to you. You add in the US-based customer service, the brand strength, the number of locations and you could get a birthday card and a hello from me. We’ve got a very strong sales proposition to the market.
Tying it all the way back to your story as an entrepreneur and even in high school, what I love about this is you’re always looking for what’s going to grow next and what’s going to take off in that. Understanding that customer almost sounds like it’s something that comes naturally to you. You pick up on what’s there and you see the opportunities and you go for it. Something that we try to do on the show is to break it down to what are some of those core principles that you look for when you’re moving from company to company or opportunity to opportunity like that. We’ve talked to a lot of different CEOs in a lot of different industries. What would you say are three of the top things that you’re looking for to know about your customers? Here at Rakuten Super Logistics, but then also beyond that. You as an individual, what do you look for to see that this is going to explode, is going to take off or do I want to be part of this?
I buy a lot of products, so I’m a consumer myself. I know there’s good stuff and bad stuff like we all do. Inevitably, you try to get better so you don’t buy as much junk. You look at your last garage sale and you’re like, “Why did I buy all this stuff?” They have good marketing but horrible products. Part of it is if you look at me versus years ago, I bought more stuff. You have that beauty of hindsight. The second part of it is being in their shoes. I’m always trying to know what struggles they’re going through, not only from an empathetic standpoint but if I’m their consumer or if I’m them. I’m constantly evaluating as you go around this radius of different roles and positions. What are you portraying? What are they seeing? What experience are you trying to deliver? Do I have the tools that will either alleviate or help that?
We do discovery like anybody else, but we take it to the nth degree. We’re loving to know how do you do it now? If you’re happy with what you’re doing now, can I do it better? Is what you’re doing good and can I save you money one way or another? In pre-COVID, that meant we’d fly to your facility. If you’re with a competitor, I’m always happy to look at that. If you’re doing it by yourself, we help a lot of people that have gotten in the logistics, not by choice but because they had to. You’re selling a bracelet and all of a sudden, it ends up on LA and now you’re selling a million a month. How do you handle that? There’s no textbook on that and eCommerce has been around less than twenty years in any fashion.
What people do is they find their friend that’s a real estate person. They get a warehouse. They find some software if they have software at all. They might be doing paper and pen. We run into that a lot and they make the best of it. Usually, if you’re in that hustle, you don’t go find logistics professionally. You say, “Mom, dad, friend or whatever.” You do what you have to and you hustle. As a result of that, you don’t have time because you’re continuing to sell and market your product to take a step back and say, “Is this the best way to do it?”
The beauty I have in hindsight is I do this day-in and day-out. Whether 1 package, 10,000 packages or 1 million packages, it’s another day to me. I also have the beauty of looking at how other people do it, to be able to say, “Here’s the best practice.” If you have a special way or if you like to kiss each box, that may mean something to you. Once it’s then thrown into UPS truck or USPS or anybody, the client doesn’t know. Make sure that whatever effort you’re putting in and whatever costs you go in is creating a result that’s valuable. We do this a lot and even though I’m not in the packaging material business, I’m in the eCommerce consulting business.
I had one client that use six different types of paper to do their box. I didn’t even know there were that many types of paper, but now I know silk paper, crinkle paper, wrapping paper, craft paper. They were doing all of these things because they felt it was such a personalized touch. I suggested to them that no other client is doing this. You’re either the most genius to have gone with the most special packaging ever or you’re wasting your time and money. The way you should find that is to talk to the customers and see if they talk about it. Is Instagram giving you extra props because of this amazing packaging experience? We look through it and it takes ten seconds. The beauty of social media is it’s not quite instant but it’s close to either instant gratification or instant negative feedback on what you’re doing.
As we scrolled through that, we realized that no one’s talking about your packaging. They’re talking about a great product. Whether we put it in a brown bag versus a sparkly, mirrored and with glitter, they were wasting money. We’re not only able to help them save money from a shipping scale and being able to offload that process to us, but we were also able to consult them and say, “Here’s what we’re seeing in our business. Make sure it’s a best practice.” We’ll always give you advice. You as the owner of the company can always make that decision. My team and I try to be knowledgeable experts, whether that’s attending conferences or talking to peers, we talked to, I was about to say enemies, but they’re always frenemies.
The way the business goes is we did an acquisition of a company called FirstMile. You’re constantly looking for what are those moves that will make the business better and deliver a better experience for that client. As a result of that, if you’re in tune with the industry, you’re going to know either what’s coming, what’s good, what’s not good. That’s what’s going to save you the time that you as an entrepreneur don’t have time to do because you’re selling and marketing your product as you should be. Let you be the expert on your product and let us be the expert in the shipping and logistics. It goes back to that first point of, what are you good at? What shoes are you in and what do you know and outsource what you’re not good at.
As much as I love my job in being logistics, when I talked to my sons at 6 and 8 years old, they’re not like, “I can’t wait to go into logistics.” “I want to be an astronaut. I want to be a fireman.” One of them wants to be a fisherman. We have a new campaign coming out for Christmas in July where we’re the 3PL-elves. We’re elves of the background. People don’t think about us, but it’s a necessary part of your business as you’re shipping goods online. We take that very seriously not only from helping you with the bottom line but knowing that we’re an extension of your brand. Because we’re working in the background, your customers see that end package however they get it. However, they unbox it is their last feeling for your brand.
Just like your website design is the first impression they get, we’re their last impression. Unfortunately, it’s the bad last impression that they remember. We take that very seriously. We aim and strive to deliver good experiences daily. There’s a very slim off chance, if there’s an issue, we’ve got US-based customer service. We’re a phone call or email away and we take care of that stuff. We want to be in business. We know we want to support your business and it’s hard getting new customers. We all can recognize that if you had been doing business whether it’s a day or 100 days or 100 million years, it’s hard getting new customers. It’s so much easier to take care of the customers you already have. We treat them like gold and want to make sure that we deliver an experience that not only I’d be proud that my CEO would be proud of. Mickey Mikitani, who’s the CEO of Rakuten, has got 70 business interests. I know that if at any point he wanted to check in on this one, it will be thumbs up. No problems for taking care of business.
I love the point about how you’re an extension of their brand. If you don’t mind, let’s get a little bit tactical. As the leader of your part of the organization, how do you teach your team to feel that they are an extension of the brand for the customers?
What’s interesting is if you look at traveling expense budgets, everyone usually has money for airplane tickets, hotels and food. That’s standard. What’s interesting about my business is I can go buy stuff. I’ll point out my desk. I have LED strip lights and a ring light. I’ve got different kinds of samples that we’re constantly buying stuff to see what’s that end user’s experience. Was it hard to open the package? Was the package busted? If I ordered it, I’m expecting the website said two days. We put on calendar appointments to check the two days. If it becomes three, we’re like, “Hey,” but if it becomes a week, that’s a golden opportunity because you’re selling a certain experience.
It’s not even the product. We’re talking about the expectation of when I’m going to get the product. People become married to that, especially in COVID because not that you have nothing to look forward to, but you have less to look forward to. That package on your doorstep means something. If you’re expecting it on a Tuesday, you want it Tuesday. Americans don’t mince word, “I want it Tuesday.” It’s not Wednesday or if it gets here Thursday, those days are over. We want it Tuesday. If you can tell me by 3:00, that’s even better.
The starting point is starting out as consumers. They need to understand what they feel as consumers and we’ve all done that, everyone, whether it’s brick and mortar store or online experience. Why do people generally like brick and mortar more? One, convenience and two, personal touch. If you can get that through online, whether that’s a follow-up email or a follow-up phone call, that’s even better. We try to channel that to how do you want to be treated? It’s the golden rule. There’s nothing crazy about that. Then trying to know our customers. Are they in a growth phase? What are their struggles? I point out the packaging but we’re not in the packaging business. I don’t help you source boxes. I’ll use whatever material you want. If you want it glittery, sparkly and with your brand handwritten by a 31-year-old calligrapher, I’m sure we could find it, but I’m not going to be your cheapest source for that.
We want to be well-read. We want to be at those conferences. We want to know the industry, so that if you need a referral to a partner, that usually we’ve got a good source for X, Y or Z. It’s not our core business but it’s being of service. The other thing is that our team needs to know that even though we’re in sales, we’re in the business of customer service. We’re trying to deliver a good experience that customers will buy but they’ll enjoy. I had an issue with my power bill. I was dreading calling in because I’m having to explain what’s happening or who knows who’s going to be on the call? How long am I going to have to wait? I haven’t even picked up the phone and I know it’s going to be a negative experience.
Heaven forbid, they’re calling me. I’m already ready gunned up going, “What took you so long?” or X, Y and Z. It’s important for my reps that I try to teach them that it’s not just about the business. If you talk about the business, they’re going to section you and only talk about the business. I like to know your birthdays. I like to know whether you have kids. I like to know if you like snow versus a beach or snow and beach, or if you have a vacation home or what you buy. Is that what sells anybody? No. It’s not some sales trick that you’re trying to put the CRM to be like, “I know Tony likes purple shirts, so I’m going to wear the purple shirt so Tony likes me.” No, this is human relations.
One of the quickest things I do to judge whether I want to do business with someone or not, forget about what you sell, forget about what it is. Do we want to have lunch together? Is that going to be something I dread or is that something I look forward to? If it’s something to look forward to, we’ll get the numbers right. We’ll get the business right. Even if we have an issue, we’re going to go to lunch and figure it out one way or another because we like each other and we want to do business. That’s easy and when business is easy, that’s when the hours don’t matter. A lot of things don’t matter because you like the people.
If you’re having a negative experience and you dread it, you’re going to notice, “That coffee date was 37 minutes. I’ve met with him two times.” Once you start quantifying like, “I’ve met with you two times within 48 hours, and there have been 15% errors based on this,” your relationship is wrong because now it’s become the product instead of the relationship. That’s something that my sales team and I pride ourselves on. I wouldn’t have hired them if I didn’t enjoy going to lunch with them. I don’t care how much they could have sold or how much they would have sold somewhere else. If we don’t have that camaraderie and we don’t enjoy doing business together, I know later on, somewhere down the line it’s going to hurt me no matter how much the short-term gain will be.
That’s what I talk about being in Rakuten. I don’t have a stock price that I’m trying to dictate. We are listed on the Japanese Stock Exchange, but I’m one of 70 units. Mickey has told us, “Grow the business.” Not, “Grow the business this quarter or this year,” it’s, “Grow the business,” which means that there are clients that sometimes aren’t the right fit. Could we make money if we were judged quarterly? We are judged on a quarterly basis. We want to move the sales numbers forward, but I don’t have the breathing down my neck to take the bad deal because you need to get a deal done. The deals we make are good business, not only financially but I know that we’ve got a good personality fit. I’m the VP of Sales and Marketing but I have a peer in VP of IT, VP of Operations, etc.
I don’t want to bring in a client that’s going to be a pain in the butt for one of the other departments. If you’re unnecessarily needy, there’s a certain norm of what interactions are. If you want to call me and talk about sports game or the weather, that’s fine. You’re a friendly person, but if you’re like “red versus blue, red versus blue, red versus blue,” I’m like, “This is annoying. This isn’t going to work out.” You get that feeling and part of it is I’ve got a pretty experienced sales team that sees their goal. When you ask them what their job is, even though they’re technically sales account executives, they’re going to say they’re eCommerce consultant. They take to heart that word consultant because they’re consulting people on a solution for whatever their issues are.
It’s always funny because they always fight me on the title. I’m like, “I have to fit it in the system. Can I call you this?” They’re like, “No, I’d like the business card to say, eCommerce consultant.” If you look at their cards, that’s what it says. You’ll notice that it doesn’t say fulfillment, shipping or logistics. It’s about eCommerce because if we understand your business, we can find out where we can plug ourselves and there might be a software partner. There might be some other partners that might be able to aid you. We’d like to be that one-stop-shop. Come to us. We’re knowledgeable. We have expertise. We have facilities. We have the technology to make sure that we’re going to be able to take care of you. That’s the confidence that we’re able to give into and that’s the confidence that my team has when they talk to everyone.
We know that if it’s the right solution when we go to sell, we’re going to get the deal. Our close rate is incredible. It’s only improved with COVID but pre-COVID, we are an amazing sales team. The other thing when I talk about going to lunch, we’re talking about when the COVID is over, I’m ready to go to Disneyland. Forget about lunch. Let’s take the whole team, a bunch of middle-aged people that will probably hurt themselves and complain about being tired and hot. We’re going to do it. We’re going to eat Mickey’s ears, get the balloons and all that. Why? It creates a memory. The same thing you want to do with your family is what we do. You often spend more time with your coworkers than your family. Why wouldn’t you want to enjoy that time to treat them as well as your family? That experience altogether time and time again has worked throughout my career, whether real estate to energy drinks to eCommerce now. Forget about the vertical. This is people and as long as you’re enjoying what you’re doing and you offer a good product, it’s easy to be successful.
It’s interesting because one of the things I’m hearing you say, you didn’t say this specifically but I’m putting words in your mouth here. It seems like shipping has gone from being another vendor in the whole chain of events to now you’re a very strategic partner. I had to laugh there because you were talking about how people want their packages on Tuesday at 3:00 PM. One of the companies that used to work with one of my clients had a strategic partner that was in the flower business. It wasn’t this company but it’s like 1-800-Flowers, that type of delivery service. When on Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, the flowers weren’t delivered that day but the next day, they could not understand why the customers were so angry. It was one of those things where we evaluate a lot of strategic relationships at that point. It wasn’t like nowadays. That was a few years ago. Anything eCommerce needs that level of strategic relationship where if we’re going to promise Tuesday, it’s there Tuesday. It can’t be there Wednesday. Maybe Monday, but if I’m expecting it Tuesday and it rains on Monday and my package is destroyed. You’ve got to meet that expectation.
It’s fascinating to me to see how the industry has shifted. On top of that, the culture that you have there about being that brand extension. You’ve got hundreds or thousands of clients that you’re working with and you’ve got to be the brand extension for all of them. That’s got to take quite the effort to know exactly what to do there and to have that level of caring among the employees that want to be part of the brand. Give us a little bit more insight with that if you could.
The beauty of it is the one with the microphone speaking here, it’s not me. Thank goodness, I’m not having to handle all those billions of packages. We’ve got an army. We’ve got the East Coast team and the West Coast team that handle our full business hours, whether they’re on either coast. It’s hard work. If everything was cost, we could outsource to the Philippines and India, and it would be much cheaper but to have the level of care and the camaraderie. We’re testing ourselves for remote work because those types of call center response teams were always together. It’s not just some hourly job to just come in to. We salary those positions and they’re bonused positions. That’s an extension not only from our management offices to our mid staff, all the way down to the warehouses.
We try not to use temp labor outside of the holiday. Holiday, you’ve got that flux but the rest of the time, Rakuten stands behind our employees. We want to have that network and that camaraderie. Why? There’s a specialty you get to it. Once you get the 10,000-hour rule, it’s true. The more you do something, you get better at it. You know how to handle a certain product. You know how to deal with the client. Being in the shoes of the consumer or the client in this case, calling up and not knowing who you’re talking to each time, and feeling like you’re having to re-explain yourself, that’s frustrating. Whereas if you’re calling, “Tony, that issue from Tuesday, are we okay?” “Yes.” I always think of those as green lights. It’s not to say that you will run into a red light or a yellow light, but the more green lights in a row, the more ramp and trust you have in that relationship the more the little hiccups don’t matter. Whereas, if I have no rapport with you, then all of a sudden everything is going to be a 911 fire and that’s frustrating.
Part of the reason why we’re able to do this and have that level of care is literally bodies. I was taught in business school that you can pay 5 people to do 5 jobs. If you want to save money, you could pay 3 people to do 5 jobs. Rakuten is good at doing almost 5 if not 6 people to do the jobs because we want to do it right. Rakuten altogether is over twenty years old. Mickey is very big on the client aspect and not so much the finance. We’ve learned that finances come as long as you deliver a good product and good experience. That’s where we’re focused on. You had asked me two questions in it. I muddied myself up.
I’m not even sure where the questions went to now. You covered a lot of the ground, so we’re good there. It’s all good. I’m fascinated with where we’re going with this because what people don’t often think about is that backend. It’s the company culture, the individuals, and knowing the customer means you’ve got to pass all that information. It can’t just be sitting in the sales department. You’ve got to pass it on to the teams to do the work. They’re in the warehouses around the country. You covered that pretty well. I like where you went with that.
I remember the other question now. You were talking about commodity. Shipping is a commodity. Anyone can go to a UPS store and ship something for all intents and purposes. It’s not that we’re necessarily so much faster. We’re faster especially on big volume than you are. I’ve got conveyor belts and scalable labor that you may not have had. My goal in the process is trying to make us as little of a commodity as possible and what could be pretty much a commodity. That is why we stress so much on not only the customer service that we have that’s US-based, as well as my sales team and the relationships you have there. Me as a consumer versus me as a salesperson is different.
The power company, I wish they had a chat button but they don’t. If they did, I’d rather be hands-off and not have to confront with someone. Yet I know in the business world when you want big business to happen, it’s done like this. I’ve got to see the whites in your eyes. I’ve got to pick up the phone. I’ve got to have a feeling for you because if it’s over chat and email, the technology has progressed so much that for all I know, you’re on a hill of mud in the middle of nowhere. That’s why local, as amazing as technology is to be able to connect us all across the world, there’s still such value in building that relationship no matter where you are. It’s not saying that you have to be side by side.
A lot of our clients are based in different countries. That also means that my staff, even though we’re all based in the US, is a global staff. What does that mean? We speak multiple languages. We also are willing to accommodate you on your timeframe. I’ve taken 3:00 AM calls and the other companies don’t. That’s the difference. We’re willing to take that extra step. We’re willing to understand the cultural differences. If it’s a Kwanzaa or Chinese New Year, you name it, we are celebrating because we try to celebrate everything. We’re in sales and I’ve got a gong over here. Turn on the news and you can hear a negative story. Trying to find that good news, you want to celebrate wins and deals, but we’ll celebrate a good lead. We’ll celebrate anything, walking straight and smiling, “I had a good meal. I had a great lunch today.”
Lifestyle is the biggest story that I’ve got to get across to people. If you’re not happy in your life and you’re not happy with whatever is going on here, you trying to sell whatever you have, it comes across. It’s funny how our bodies work or how our communication comes across but it does, it spills over. Not to be too self-help guru-ish, but you’ve got to be good here, then that shines everywhere. That gets the people to want to have lunch with you. If you’re this gray cloud, nobody wants to be by the gray cloud. They want to be where the party is at, where there’s fun happening, where there’s a good conversation happening and connections being made.
Jason, you have such great energy that I’m sure comes through to your team, and that flows through to your clients and customers. I appreciate that energy so much. It feels like to me that you’re a relationship company that happens to do logistics versus the other way around.
That’s the key. I love logistics and I love what we do, but find switches into selling widget A, B and C, and now we can do it all over again. The other thing beyond personality, I am big not only on recruitment but recognition and trying to be out of the box. When I talked about Disneyland, and I’m not talking as soon as they opened the gates but when it’s safe, then we’re going to do that. We’re going to take pictures, videos and it’s going to be on our social. That’s going to become not only a recruitment tool, but the reps that we have are going to build loyalty because they’re going like, “I love this. It is fun being a part of this team.” Even though the reps all want their commissions and what not to do well, we’re a team. They see that my success does not take away from your success. We want both of our success to go up equally together.
I’ve been in other sales organizations where there’s the backstabbing, the cutthroat, this and that. We don’t have them. I don’t tolerate it. I didn’t like it when I was in it. If you don’t like it, why be a part of it? I am running the organization not that it was there but if it were to start bubbling up, there’s no tolerance for it. I tried to do something different. My hobby is points and miles. I’ve figured out how the Etihad suites, the shower suites pre-COVID, but they’re not even flying private now that COVID happened. One of the things we did was I took my top salespeople at the end of one of the quarters to lunch in LA. The only way we could get to LA and be back on the same day is if we’d take a private jet. We took a private jet, we went to lunch and you better believe they remembered it.
Instead of just doing that, I noticed we had a couple of extra seats on the plane. We brought some of the newer reps to give them a taste of it. They hadn’t quite deserved it yet but I told them they’re going to be deserving it if they’re on the right path. I’ve got a rep now that’s been in the business one year. I’ve told you the 10,000-hour rule. In one year, you should not be an expert. She is an expert because beyond her 8:00 to 5:00, she lives, breathes and sleeps this. She’s talking to many customers. She’s on the phone constantly talking about it. She’ll be at the grocery store talking about eCommerce fulfillment, “Do you know what it is?” People at the grocery store are like, “Why is she talking to me?” She’s the nicest chatterbox talking about it. The funny thing is 99% of the people she talks about, could they be customers? No, but they know someone that is. As she continues to build that network, she has these inbound leads that come in. As she sells, those people become her biggest referral source. We all know word of mouth is powerful. She kills it in the word of mouth that once she signed 1, it becomes 3, and 3 becomes 5.
If I was to pat myself on the back, I recognized that talent way back when and gave her a taste of the good life. I don’t have to give her anything. She’s creating her own destiny and her own life. There’s another story there. She’s in the first year for this job, but she’s not fresh out of college. This is not her first job. She had a full career already. This is a new chapter in her life. She said, “I don’t know anything about it. I’d like to make some money. You look like you have a good team. I’ve heard good things.” I said, “You stick with us, learn the process, love your customers and you’re going to make money.” That’s not even a question in my mind but, “Will you stick to the process and do it?” It sounds like that self-help guru and all these sales, especially the 100% commission hard sell thing, “The opportunity is there. You can make six figures.” We’re not that. We want you to have a good lifestyle.
My salespeople are salaried. We don’t want them having to worry about, “Do I need to close the sale to be able to pay our power bill?” Their power bills are covered, house, car, whatever, you’ve got that. Go and create an amazing experience for the client, help grow the company and we’ll continue to take care of you. It sounds simple. It is that simple because this isn’t just something we print on a poster. This is what we live, what we do and what we say. For my team from the high to low, they know that we’ve got our marching orders and that’s clear. Get ready. We’re going to continue to grow. If you’re not familiar with us, continue to watch. You might have seen us. We sponsored the Golden State Warriors, the Barcelona soccer team and beyond that, you’ve got me.
This is great and I love the commitment to your people. That speaks volumes about how business should be done. I had a client say to me one time, “A lot of people think it’s customers first and employees second. I think it’s the other way around. If your employees are good, your customers are going to be good.” Thank you for sharing that. One of the things we like to do on our show is to give you an opportunity to shine a spotlight on a nonprofit or community organization, somebody that’s doing good work out in the world. Is there anybody that you can tell us about that it would be good for everybody else to know about as well?
It’s the Three Square Food Bank here in Las Vegas. Especially at my last company, CenturyLink is a Fortune 200 company, so it’s a different scale. I’ve raised over $4 million for food banks on the West Coast. We’re fortunate, I even mentioned my lunch on this show, but I eat every day, usually three times a day, if not four. I’m lucky, I don’t worry about, “Am I going to eat?” It’s, “What am I going to eat?” I think of all the people and especially the kids that don’t know when their next meal is, especially with the summers if they don’t have that school lunch or where’s that next meal coming from. That’s a cause that’s touched my heart. Not only Three Square Food Bank but food banks all across the country do amazing work. That’s where I always like to put not only my dollars but my time.
One of the things that I do is we do a kickoff every quarter to make sure everyone is refocused, set the new goals for my sales team. We always bring in a volunteering event if we’re not in COVID. We’ve tried to share the love. As much as I love food banks, we’ve been to everything from the United Way to women’s shelters to Nevada Partnership For Homeless Youth. We tried to switch it up quarter by quarter. By knowing that, even though my team instinctively already knows it, I like us to make sure that we use our hands, our bodies, our minds and volunteer together to remember that this is our community. This is where we live, work and play. We have an ownership stake within that community and we should do our part to do it.
We do that quarterly as an organized fashion but also supportive as a boss that as they need time. Rakuten dictates, we have two volunteering days paid by the company already. Behind that, they wink at us and say, “Volunteer more.” In the system to check that box, we do put that in. My boss and his boss, we realized that we’re a pillar and a steward in the community and we want to do our part. I did not do this. I didn’t put this background for this talk but it’s because we’re in this together. Rakuten has got your back.
For the audience, the background that Jason has says, “We’re in this together.” That applies not to just getting through COVID or your community involvement, but also with your customers, which is what this show is all about. You’re a prime example of what it means to really know your customers. Tony, any last-minute thoughts?
I’ve been blown away by everything you’ve shared, Jason. I absolutely love this and I know in the wrap up we’re going to have some takeaways that I want to share at that point. Jason, thank you so much for being on the show.
I appreciate it. Thanks so much for the opportunity.
Jason, what’s the best way for our audience to get hold of you?
I’ll take some email from you,Jason.Chan@Rakuten.com. I’m happy to answer email all day. Don’t be surprised if you see a 2:00 AM response. I’m nocturnal and I’ve trained myself to work early in the morning too. I work and I have young kids, so I’m up a lot.
Jason, thank you so much for being here. I know that our audience gained a ton of value from this conversation. We appreciate you being here.
Thank you, Betsy and Tony. You guys have a good day.
I absolutely love this episode, Betsy. What Jason clearly points out in it by example in his career is how important it is to really know the customer from the days he was in high school and selling candy to everything he’s done since and where he is now. I don’t think there could be a better fit. As he’s talking, I’m remembering these things like, why I used to cut lawns when I was in grade school and did this and that. The other thing I’m like, “That entrepreneurial spirit moves with you.” At that level, he’s the VP of Sales and Marketing but he runs that as his organization. He has that C-level perspective that we often look for in this show.
His passion around the customer comes through so clearly. I can’t imagine anything stopping him from giving his team carte blanche to do whatever it takes for the customers. That’s such an awesome thing to bring as a leader of a sales and marketing organization.
A couple of things that stand out. Number one, he recognizes the importance of getting the right people on his team. Not everyone’s right for his team, but they get the right people on his team. They pay them so they don’t have anything to worry about by doing the salary. That is very interesting from my perspective. The other piece that I thought was interesting is he acknowledged that there are customers that are not the right customers. We’ve heard that in a couple of our other shows, but I love when people bring that up because it’s this recognition that the customer is not always right. That’s the importance of the reason you have to know your customers.
We had a previous conversation with some colleagues of ours and we were talking about how the ideal customer is the one that you can help succeed. I love that sentiment. We’re not going to be able to make everybody succeed. Let’s focus on those that we can. This was such high energy and awesome conversation and I can’t wait. I hope we get some feedback from our audience on what their takeaways were in this episode. Speaking of that, if you are enjoying our show, we would greatly appreciate your review on whatever platform you’re reading this. Thanks again for being here. We appreciate our loyal audience. We hope you’re getting a lot of value from tuning in to the show. We will see you next time.
- Jason Chan – LinkedIn
- Rakuten Super Logistics
- Three Square Food Bank
- United Way of Southern Nevada
- Nevada Partnership For Homeless Youth
- ProphetAbility: The Revealing Story of Why Companies Succeed, Fail and Bounce Back
- The Congruity Group
- Tony Bodoh International
- ProphetAbility Membership
- ProphetAbility for Teams
About Jason Chan
Jason Chan is Rakuten Super Logistics’ VP of Sales and Marketing. In this role, Chan directs the company’s sales/marketing functions to grow RSL’s market share and drive revenue. In addition, he manages major client accounts, coordinates public affairs and community outreach, and implements sales and marketing goals.
Prior to joining the team at Rakuten Super Logistics, Chan ran CenturyLink’s Las Vegas marketing and nurtured his entrepreneurial spirit, owning several businesses including car washes and an energy drink company.