Updated: Nov 14, 2020
We are excited to continue our Featured Startupers series with Erna Liousas. The series is a glimpse into the amazing speakers joining us for Startup Boston Week 2020. Read on for a view into the conversation at our Startup Boston Week 2020 event: Starting (and Staying!) on the Right Foot: How to Build Customer Relationships that Last. Erna is the Founder and CEO of U*Realized, her digital consultancy. As an advisor to the C-suite, start-up founders, and executive teams, Erna uses her expertise to guide clients in strategy, marketing, branding, social media, internal communications, and corporate communications.
I first met Erna during Startups Boston’s Marketing on a Budget Bootcamp—read a recap from one of the events here! Erna is a great thought leader in customer experience and digital transformation. Her love and passion for what she does is a great inspiration and I was very excited to introduce her to our community. I kicked off the interview by asking Erna why she is so passionate about customer experience and digital transformation, and what in the field has inspired her lately.
Erna Liousas (guest): I have always been interested in technology. I enjoyed working on computers, which was new at the time, since I was in elementary school. Over the past years I have just evolved my knowledge as my appreciation for technology has grown. I have been fortunate to have roles within different companies where I have gotten the chance to use different technologies to help address challenges. Not only from the customers perspective by creating services and products that help consumers, but, also internally by creating different mechanisms to either bring ideas together or communicate with one another. It’s just a treat for me to be able to combine the best technologies alongside human know-how to realize a digital transformation.
Alicia: About a year ago you founded your company, U*Realized, could you tell me a little about it and how the company was founded?
Erna: My company had had an earlier iteration, while I was working in NY working for American Express. This iteration came about because we had just gone through the great financial crisis of ‘08-’09. Around that time, I was exposed to a lot of small businesses who were really struggling as a result of the financial downturn. I started U*Realized just as a means to extend a branch to small businesses who were not recognizing the power of digital. That is basically the origin story. Fast forward a few years and U*Realized came back stronger last year because I recognized that there is a bigger need to help companies of all sizes humanize their brand experiences. There is definitely a gap between what people think customers or prospects want to hear versus what they actually want to hear. My company is all about helping companies explore their intentions and the pressure testing those intentions with thoughtful strategies that meet customer challenges on their own terms. Alicia: My next question is a little more on the personal side—what are some of your passions outside of work? Erna: I love reading mostly fiction and non-fiction. I'm currently reading two great books right now that I highly recommend. One is The Edge by Laura Huang and and the other is It’s About Damn Time by Arlan Hamilton.
Aside from reading, I am also in the process of developing a healthcare platform to support caregivers in my spare time. Being a caregiver to my mom for 22 years. I wanted to use the knowledge and experiences I have gained throughout time caring for her. Alicia: Switching gears a little to the event, what will be some key topics you'll be discussing during your event at SBW 2020? Erna: My goal is to focus on aspects of the CX that leads to improved use of a product, adoption, and upsell, through the lens of the customer. Alicia: What should startups look at to know whether their efforts to be customer-centered have been effective? What are some vital things to have in your strategy? Erna: I’m a big fan of recognizing that strategizing is all about planning what you do but also about planning what you don’t do. The first thing when it comes to customer-centric or customer-obsessed is making sure you align on what that means.
You need to define what it means for the company and then what it means as a function for each employee at the company because there is a huge disconnect in that area. Happy employees lead to happy customers therefore, keeping the line of communication open is greatly important. Putting together frameworks of what the customers actions are, what enhancements make the most sense for them going forward can all be part of a co-creation program. Ultimately, it's all about humanizing products and experiences overall.
Alicia: What are some mistakes you've seen startups make when trying to build customer relationships?
Erna: I think startups tend to fall in two types of camps if you will. Some startups over-index, meaning they don’t realize that their customers are more than just revenue or they get so fixated on that large customer that they are reinventing products to support a large customer instead of something more scale-appropriate. Aligning with what customer centric means—that should be your startup's North Star. Understand what drives customers and how that relates to what you are offering. Remember who you are and remember what your purpose is. Connect with why you exist and what your value is, continuously.
Want to hear more from Erna? Check out her full event at Startup Boston Week 2020, Starting (and Staying!) on the Right Foot: How to Build Customer Relationships that Last, right here.