Middleby's CEO Offers Advice on Building a Successful Company

In the following video interview, Motley Fool CEO Tom Gardner speaks with Middleby CEO Selim Bassoul. Since becoming CEO in 2000, Bassoul has led a remarkable transformation at Middleby, the cooking equipment maker, turning the stock into a nearly 50-bagger over that time. In the video, Bassoul discusses the importance of customer service to Middleby's success.

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Tom Gardner: That's a great answer. "I'm 25 years old. I'm currently working in the customer service sector, in addition to owning a small business with my father. Customer service is our bread and butter, both in my career and in my small business. As someone who looks to invest in companies that provide top-tier customer service, I would like to know," Joe asks, "how big of a role did your customer service model play in your success, and what advice do you have for someone who's still getting their feet wet in the world of entrepreneurship investing and customer service?

Selim Bassoul: Well, customer service is very, very important to us in a way that is literally more important than salespeople.

Gardner: Customer service is easier when you have a no-quibble warranty. Your customer calls up and is upset; you can return the product if you don't like it. That makes customer service a little easier.

Bassoul: Yes, but I can tell you, it makes it even more complicated. Why? Because ultimately nobody buys a product to return it. At the same time, customer service is not only about returning products. People usually try to ask specific questions about which oven I need to buy. We haven't even started with the warranty. People coming back and saying, OK, I am a small pizza store. I deliver 200 pizzas on a Friday. Which oven should I need to do? So they need to be trained. Customer service also is about most probably having somebody being able to talk to somebody at the end of the line.

The key for us, and I've had so many bad experiences -- I don't know if you have ever tried to get to AT&T if you had an issue at your home. You're on the phone for an hour. Try to get on an airline, try to change a ticket and talk to an airline representative. You're 20, 25 minutes. And the worst is I hate those systems that say, "Your wait is 27 minutes," and you have that music. Twenty-seven minutes does not help me. I need somebody to respond. So what we've done -- we've basically found out that three things we've done. We've, one, made sure to return to our customers in hours in terms of getting back to them answers.

Number two, we've used an app. If you go on to the app on your iPad, we have a Middleby app. It's a free Middleby app, and in there we basically do a lot of things. We provide answers on sizing your oven, on energy saving, costing, what is the warranty, where to find parts, who to call, locally and everywhere around the world -- so you map wherever you are, you put your ZIP code, you find out. If there are rebates issued by the company, you put your code. You say is there a rebate, and in my backyard, where I can go get it.

We have basically used our information technology to help people not always get on the phone. But customer service is critical. Customer service is also critical in making sure that they say no. That's the power we give customer service. If we don't have the right product, we don't want to oversell you something that doesn't make sense.

One of the things that there is a tendency in companies is to upsell. I want to sell you a stronger BTU. Instead of selling you a medium-duty range, we are selling you a heavy-duty range. Or the opposite comes even more true. In order to not lose a sale, somebody needs to have a heavier-duty range. ... We'll sell them a cheaper one just to get the sales and finally six months down the road, we find out that, or a year down the road, we find out that that piece of equipment did not meet the needs, so it's very important for us to match the need honestly. So we have very high integrity and empowerment of customer service to override a sale.


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