Why This CEO Still Spends Hours Every Day Doing Customer Support

Why This CEO Still Spends Hours Every Day Doing Customer Support
ergo dox on shopify masters

Customer service is one of the first areas of an ecommerce business that many entrepreneurs hand off or outsource.

But when you let go of it, you also let go of a direct line to your customers.

In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn why one CEO still does customer support himself, despite having the resources to scale it, and how he uses this channel to inspire loyal customers—the kind that rushed to his defense when his brand came under fire.

Erez Zukerman is the co-founder of ErgoDox EZ: the maker of the world’s most powerful mechanical ergonomic keyboard.

People don’t often get that sort of treatment when they think of buying something. Maybe when they think of buying something super expensive, maybe if it’s a car, but not for a keyboard.

Tune in to learn

  • How to provide customer service that will wow your customers
  • How to handle an angry customer
  • How to explain your pricing to customers, especially if your products are more expensive than your competitors'

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    Show Notes

    Transcript

    Felix: Hey, my name is Felix. I’m the host of Shopify Masters. Each week, we learn the keys to success from eCommerce experts and entrepreneurs like you. In this episode, you’ll learn how to provide customer service that will wow your customers, how to handle an angry customer, and how to explain your pricing to customers, especially if it’s a higher price than your competitors.

    Today I’m joined by Erez Zukerman from ZSA Technologies Labs, which are the creators and the makers of the world’s most powerful mechanical ergonomic keyboard. And it was started in 2015 and based out of Kitchener-Waterloo. Welcome, Erez.

    Erez: Thank you, happy to be here.

    Felix: Yeah, excited to have you on. So for anyone out there that doesn’t know about the kind of products that you produce, can you tell us a little bit more about what are mechanical ergonomic keyboards?

    Erez: For sure. So, let’s unpack that, because that’s a bit of a mouthful. First, let’s get to the mechanical. Most keyboards you see today, either on a laptop or conventional desktop keyboards, are … use technologies like scissor switches, or membranes, and so with laptop keyboards the idea is to give you the most compact board you can get, because you gotta fit it all in there. And with traditional keyboards you find in the store, Logitech, whatnot, usually you want the keyboard that’s, well, cheap. Right? As inexpensive as can be made and still function as a keyboard.

    A mechanical keyboard is different because each and every key has an individual key switch under it. It has a kind of an assembly with a spring under it. And there’s many kinds of these key switches and they vary in feel and sound. And so you get a very, you know, you can have a clicky keyboard. You can have a very silent one with stiff keys, with keys that are very easy to press, and so on. So, a wide range. And, not to mention the key travel itself. When you strike the key, it really goes down quite deep. So that’s the mechanical part. It’s a whole world of keyboards. Gamers tend to like mechanical keyboards but so do software developers.

    The next part there is ergonomic. So what is ergonomic, right? Ergonomic basically means it works with your body. It’s a whole subset of technology, be it chairs or mice or keyboards that, with the idea being, let’s adapt the tool to the person using it, and not vice versa. And so, you know, basically to me what ergonomic means here is just that.

    And what I’m saying is, you often see keyboards like, for example, the Microsoft Natural 4000, which is a lovely ergonomic keyboard, but it’s still one size fits all. You get this keyboard, and it is what it is. It’s curvy. It’s curvy and, you know, it probably fits nicer in the hand. It’s a lovely keyboard, it fits nicer in the hand than your regular board-style keyboard, but you get what you get.

    But we’re not all the same. Right? People are different. They vary, you know, hand sizes vary, typing habits vary, and even the applications we use vary from job to job and person to person. And so, to be truly ergonomic, in my opinion, a product has to be very customizable. You have to be able to fit it to your needs.

    So, in a nutshell, what we make is a keyboard which is mechanical. It’s built out of two separate halves so you can … they’re connected with a cable, and you can have them as far apart, you know, you can have them shoulder width apart. The cable itself is detachable, so some people swap it in for a longer cable and really mount it on a chair. And the keyboard itself is programmable, so you can change what each and every key does. And you can even assign dual function keys so that, for example, you have one key that, when you tap it, it sends the letter ‘Z’, and when you hold it down, it functions as a control key, for example. So you don’t have to reach for the control key. And, yeah, basically people who use it tend to report much lower levels of RSI. If they already have RSI or suffer all sorts of, you know, keyboard fatigue-related conditions, they report that it helps. And it’s just, it’s pleasant to use, really, on an extended basis.

    Felix: Got it. Makes sense. So you mention that the typical customers, or the customers that are typically buying this product are gamers and then also software developers. When you have to produce a product like this, do you find that they are similar markets? Or similar demographics to market to? Or do you have to change up the way you message or present the product for the two, you know, the gamers and the software developers?

    Erez: That’s a great question. So, I have to clarify that. So really our main, the main people who tend to buy the keyboard are software developers, primarily, really. We do have a niche of gamers. Recently, there was a very, a lovely review on MMORPG.com, for example, about the keyboard. And gamers do like it, but it doesn’t quite have the visual bling that gamers go for, you know, backlit keys with RGB and whatnot. So, I don’t know.

    I’m a software developer myself, and I think maybe our marketing, or maybe the copy on the website has a certain bias, possibly, towards developers. I’m not sure. Maybe just because I wrote the copy and I happen to be one. And so, really, we get a lot of interest from software developers. And over there, the marketing … marketing, you know, I read a lot of Seth Godin, and he’s great in my opinion. And one of the things Seth Godin says is, “You wanna make a product that’s remarkable.” In the most literal sense of the wording, people will remark on your product. And that’s our marketing. Meaning, I think things are very loud, with banners, and even all social media and all that. It’s very loud. Like, so many companies vying for our attention.

    And so I took a little bit of a different tack and I said, “Hey, what if I just delivered exceptional service? Like, what if I really surprised people with the level of service and support they get when they buy one of my keyboards? Or even when they ask me about the keyboard?” And I say, “Mine, ask me” because I took this to the level where I personally reply to, basically, all incoming emails. It’s a big part of my own job, rather than, you know, hire some customer service person.

    I actually sit down for hours and reply to people, which is maybe an odd thing for me to do while running the company, on the surface, but really it isn’t. Because it gives me such a good connection with the people who actually buy the product. And I understand, on a very basic level, day in, day out, what they want, what they need, what they’re looking for. That really informs R&D. And it informs copy. It informs everything we do. This very tight connection with the people who buy the keyboard. And that’s our marketing too. Because I respond to people, I clearly care. I’m clearly invested. And they get a level of service, not to mention, any possible warranty issues, you know.

    Like when I was … Years ago I bought a keyboard for 200 bucks. We sell ours for $350 and I clearly remember $200 was extremely expensive for me at the time. It was crazy for me to spend 200 bucks on a keyboard. And so I’m, I really carried that memory with me. And so when I sell our keyboard, it’s crucial to me to offer the same level of service that I would have wanted back then from that company that I got the keyboard from. And, inadvertently, it ends up working as marketing because if you look at our Facebook page, if you look at our reviews, if you look at what people say about us on Reddit and whatnot, it works, not because I said, “Hey, let’s, let’s let’s, you know, let’s do this so people get the keyboard.” I said, “Let’s do this because it’s the right thing to do.” You know?

    Felix: Right. So I like this statement about how you want to create a product, a brand, that is remarkable. And when you describe what that means to you, you talk about this, going beyond just … actually you didn’t talk about the product at all, really. You talked about the service that comes along with the product when you purchase it. And you mentioned that you want to wow them with customer service. Well, what’s involved here? You know, is surprising people with customer service, does it, is there a lot involved here? Or do you think that there’s just so much lack of customer service that people are exposed to that there’s not much effort? What are some examples that you can give that are ways that you have been able to provide customer service that does wow your customers?

    Erez: So, usually when I have a problem, any sort of problem, let’s say, I recently got a laptop. A nice little Chromebook. And I broke the keyboard. All I needed was a single keycap. That’s all I needed to fix that keyboard. I didn’t actually, you know, break any electronics. It was just I broke a key. There was nobody to talk to. Nobody. I had to send the laptop in. I had to pay $200 or 300 bucks, I think, to have it repaired. This was a brand new laptop. And it came back to me with the original keyboard, basically, undoing all of my changes and kind of like almost a slap on the wrist of like, how dare you try to, you know, make our laptop more ergonomic. But without so much human contact. It was a very, very cold and frustrating experience. And that is the norm. That’s the norm.

    And so, you know, I gotta say, like most companies set the bar pretty low, first of all. Like, most big businesses tend to set the bar pretty low. Maybe it’s a function of scale.

    We are small. And that smallness is a huge advantage, really. Because, again, I sit down and I reply to each and every email myself these days and I’m able to do everything else I gotta do. And when I reply, again I treat people like I would like to be treated. So, somebody writes in with a complicated question, you know, some people, you know, again, it’s a lot of money to spend on a keyboard, so people really research and take their time, just as I would. And somebody, you know, writes in a three-page email, and you scroll and you scroll. And, you know that I actually sit down with a cup of tea and I read every word and I take the time to reply, at length, multiple times, because I care. And people don’t often get that sort of treatment when they think of buying something. Maybe when they think of buying something super expensive, maybe if it’s a car, but not for a keyboard.

    And then after the person buys, I continue, even more so. And that goes, you know, for … RMAs, for example, I don’t want to say … RMAs are essentially broken keyboards, right? Warranty issues. Let’s say one of the keys stops working. So, the way we … Let’s say your keyboard stops working. What most companies would do, they would say, “Well, okay, ship the keyboard to us, at your expense, wait, pay for the repair, then pay us to ship it back to you, we’ll ship it back to you, and then you’ll have a working keyboard.” And, again, that is not how I would like to be treated.

    So, if there’s a problem with a keyboard, first of all, I ship you a new one. I just send you a new keyboard from Taiwan. I just send you the keyboard. You know, here’s the new keyboard. First, you know, just have a new keyboard. Let me know when it works. You know, you make sure it works and everything, and then you ship the old keyboard … and that’s a surprising thing for most people. You know, when I get back to them that they’ll … okay, let me send you a new keyboard. You know, without dragging them through filling out forms and trying to, I don’t know what, you know, like to, all those painful things bigger businesses make people do. All the red tape. And people are taken aback when they do that.

    And the thing is, the funny thing to me is, I think most businesses get people through this whole rigamarole of, like the warranty process, because they make this assumption that people are gonna try to game the system, that people are gonna try to cheat or get stuff for free or whatnot. And this has not at all been my experience in thousands and thousands of keyboards. I’ve found that, you know, my operating assumption is that people are decent and that they’re gonna treat me kindly and the business kind being that they won’t take advantage of, you know, of this level of service. And so far, it has really been proving out. Like, people are just wonderful to deal with. Same with email. You know, it’s funny because I’ve heard it said that customer service is very high friction, you know, burnout-inducing type of job, right? And I do customer service for hours every day. And there is very few days where I feel burnt out. Like it’s just, people are so nice and so thoughtful.

    Felix: I think because you come into it with the mindset that the customer is not going to try to cheat you, essentially, right? I think a lot of times people, when they think about customer service, they think about sitting down and doing customer service, they think that it’s them versus the customer, to try to, essentially, fight over the money, right? The money that they have to, that the customer has paid, or that they might have to shell out to do returns or exchanges or things like that. But you’re approaching it with the mindset that people are decent and that, by coming into it with that mindset, I think that that will reduce some of that kind of tension, that burnout that you, that the other customer service, people that do customer service may face because their expectation is that it’s going to be a bad experience.

    Yeah. Now you mention that you’re running the business of course, and then also spending a lot of your time, I think you said hours, doing customer service every day. How do you, how does your day structure? How do you break up your day so that you can do, you know, run the rest of the business and then also do customer service efficiently?

    Erez: So, my routine, like … Customer service is what I start with. I start my day, we use Front, for email, which is a lovely email product. It lets you, you know, share multiple inboxes with a whole team of people, feed Twitter and Facebook, and it’s a lovely product, Front. And so I start my day in Front. And I just sit down and address any and all email that came in during the night. And once that’s done, and only once it’s done, I move on for, you know, move into anything else I wanna do. Usually deep work, so to speak, you know, work where I don’t have pings or anything like that, alerts for emails. I don’t believe in that. So, it’s once per day, I do everything, and then I move on.

    Felix: So you don’t take the approach where, I think also a lot of other entrepreneurs will do this where they will answer emails as they come in, you’d handle it all in a batch.

    Erez: Absolutely. And the same goes, people ask me, you know, every now and then, why is there no chat? Why is there no chat, either on the website or like a Slack for ErgoDox EZ users and so on. Because I just don’t have the bandwidth. Chat might be nice but someone has to moderate. And, you know, that’s not something I’m gonna get into at this point. So, batching out email like this is, to me, a great way because then I get into this mindset and I just really deal with things in a very, in a very intentional way.

    Felix: Right. And there is this idea of switching costs involved, right? Where when you’re switching from one context where you’re working on designing products for the site and all of the sudden you’re jumping to emails and you’re answering customer service. It’s not a free exchange of attention, right? It’s gonna cost you some downtime to stop what you’re doing and start something up and then going back and forth, will not only waste time but also can burn you out too, right? It tires you out when you have to constantly change the context that you’re working in.

    So I think that that’s a great idea that you do things in batches and it provides you to get really deep into the flow of whatever it is that you’re working on, whether it be customer service or, once you’ve done that, moving on to another part of your business. So then, you mentioned that most of your experiences with customers and your customer service have been pleasant experiences, so when you do have the occasional unhappy, or maybe even angry customer, I’m not sure if you have these, but maybe even an upset customer, what’s your approach? Like, how do you approach them to make sure everyone’s happy at the end of the day?

    Erez: I surprise them. Because what I find is that when there is an upset customer, nearly each and every time, they tell themselves a story in their mind, and in their story they already know how this interaction is gonna pan out. They know that they’re just about to get screwed by some terrible customer service experience. They are preemptively frustrated because this, you know, they’ve been here, and this very expensive thing that they bought isn’t doing what they thought it would do, or whatever, right? And I just completely surprise them.

    I do whatever it was that they wanted to be done. And they’re taken aback. And they’re, they’re often, you know, it’s funny because almost every time, the second email thread that started upset is apologetic. And I understand that because, you know, it’s a lot of money, again, and it’s a product that, it’s a very high contact product. A product they use every day, right? And so if something goes wonky, it’s gonna affect your entire work. And so, you know, there’s a lot of emotion tied there. But yeah, that’s really what I do. I don’t even get into the emotion. I [inaudible 00:19:31] help people. And when you help people … And that goes to the burnout factor also because I think one of the things that’s kind of frustrating about having a customer service job is that, for some reason, customer service tends to be utterly powerless in a given organization. Like, you know, you call customer service and there isn’t really all that much they can do to help you. They’re like bound up by so many regulations and whatnot and they’re not allowed to exercise [inaudible 00:20:00].

    Felix: Are there other businesses that maybe other entrepreneurs may have heard of that, whose customer service you admire and you try to replicate?

    Erez: Absolutely. So, number one in my mind, Mad Mimi. Mad Mimi is an email marketing company. I’m one of the developers to this day. And, they’ve been acquired by GoDaddy but they really kept their spirit and they actually brought that spirit over to GoDaddy. And one of the key differentiators for Mad Mimi is their customer service. It offers an exceptional level of customer service. So, a lot of the impact I kind of got to see firsthand there with Mad Mimi’s support department, basically.

    Felix: What’s your stance on when customers are unhappy in a public forum, where it’s like, in reviews or in discussion forums or online where, like in blog comments, where people are publicly unhappy? How is your approach there?

    Erez: You know, it’s kind of crazy. It’s hard for me to answer because that would be in theory. Like, there’s a lot of stuff about us online. There’s reviews. There’s YouTube videos. There is people in Reddit, you know, and I honestly struggle to find something that is very negative because people first and foremost, you know, they do tend to write.

    I mean, I have this one guy, actually, a single story comes to mind in all my years of running the business. This one guy on Reddit, he apparently works for a large company, and we are not actually focused on B2B in large companies but this guy works at a large company in their insurance department [inaudible 00:21:55] and whatnot, they a department which says, okay, we review so and so ergonomic equipment and that, if employees are having ergonomic issues, the company will sponsor this limited list of, you know, of equipment vendors, right?

    So this guy, who is not even a customer, reviewed the keyboard, so to speak, never contacted me with any questions, and published this scathing and false and anonymous review on Reddit saying, “Oh, those guys missed out on a huge contract.” And like, as if I would care. Again, we’re consumer-based. But “They missed out on this huge contract because blah, blah, blah, blah”, and like a whole bunch of things which were inaccurate. And a very interesting thing happened, which is that people on the forum, it’s the mechanical keyboards Reddit, which, you know, so people are kind of obsessed and people know the ErgoDox EZ. They stepped in to correct the guy.

    You know, I did reply, politely reply that, you know, and added a few things and then I actually engaged him personally and I sent him an email saying, “Hey, uh, you know” … a very polite, in my opinion, a very pleasant email saying, “Hey, like, let’s open a dialog here and see what we can address.” And he never actually replied. And that was an interesting … That was one of the very few cases where somebody actually said something that wasn’t nice.

    And at the end of the day, it was not about me. This turned out to be an individual who was trying to appear very knowledgeable and kind of improve their own standing in that community, because Reddit is very much, you know, karma-based and whatnot, so, he was, you know, “Oh, I’m, you know, I know so much about mechanical keyboards. This very wealthy, very well-regarded product is actually not so good because A-B-C-D.” But, you know, people stepped in. Random people whom I don’t even know stepped in and said, “Well, no. That that’s not actually the case.” and kind of set him straight.

    So it’s interesting because, to me, I really believe that whatever we emphasize, whatever we give our mental energy to, that’s often what we end up having. And so, if I would obsess about negative reviews, and about, oh my gosh, will somebody say something bad? Or, or if somebody did say something bad and now I have to … You know, if someone is wrong on the internet … You remember that comic … That’s the wrong thing to obsess about.

    I’d rather, you know, I’d rather make people happy. And look at all the many, many people who write in with interested, educated questions and support requests. And actually, spontaneously, and this happens multiple times per week, spontaneously writing to say, “Hey, listen, I’m just writing to say this keyboard is amazing.” And I post those on Facebook with permission every now and then. Just share actual emails, random emails I get from people asking nothing, just writing in to say, “Hey, thanks. This keyboard is awesome.” So, I just focus on that and that’s been really proving out well.

    Felix: Now when you do, because you get so much of an opportunity to listen to your customers when they’re reaching out to you, how do you make sure the rest of the team, the rest of your team, gets access to this, you know, vital information about the customers’ feedback? And, of course, also the positive and critical feedback that they might be providing?

    Erez: I, well, so, first thing there is Front, as I mentioned, which is open. You know, we can make accounts to team, for team members. But I also actively forward emails, be it sometimes, you know, there is maybe an issue that’s come up from a number of people, and so I, you know, forward those emails. But often, again, I find myself actually forwarding positive emails. Like saying, hey guys, just look at the impact of what you’re doing because, you know, those are people … We make each keyboard to order.

    And, you know, we have a great partner in Taiwan. And I say partner because the boss of that company owns half my company. We are really partners. Not some OEM. And it’s an amazing team who makes this keyboard day in, day out, really craftspeople. And I share the emails with them. And I show them, hey, look at the impact you’re having on people. And I think that’s very empowering for all involved.

    Felix: Got it. So you … This sounds like a lot of … the customer listening, customer feedback comes through email, through customer service. Are there other places where you think that entrepreneurs should tap into to listen to customers? Any other places online that you’ve found to be a great resource that might not have been the first place that other entrepreneurs might go to?

    Erez: Well, there is the obvious. You know, there is, we have a Facebook page. We have a Twitter feed. And we have actually a subreddit, which might not be super obvious, but we do have our own subreddit just as a, you know, potential place for people to write. And that’s about it. I’m not, again, like I said, I’m not very obsessed with social media. I actually did, I closed out my own Facebook account in, I think, 2012 or something and I recently had to reopen it because I needed a Facebook account for the business, so I had to reopen my own. But I’m just not a huge fan of … Well, not Facebook, not Twitter, for many reasons. Not for, you know, not for personal use. And not so much for business either.

    I think that there is a misconception that small business owners, which I consider myself, not, less of a startup, my mindset is a small business owner, and I say that proudly because, well, we can get into that later. There is this misconception that you have to be super, super responsive in terms of time. Like Facebook is gonna put on this badge on your profile if you respond to people in less than an hour or all that kind of, really, push to be almost reflexive. I don’t want to say responsive, it’s uber-responsive, right? And that’s wrong.

    That’s really bad because if you are busy doing that, you are losing sight of the big picture. And so, you know, social media is fine. If you’re gonna, you know, say something on Facebook, I might see it. You know, but I might even see it two weeks later. And I know that’s blasphemy, but I might see what you wrote two weeks later. If you write it on Twitter, I’ll see it maybe the next day, and maybe I’ll reply, maybe I won’t. Same for Reddit.

    Felix: Yeah, that’s a good point about how Facebook will try to incentivize you to be as responsive as possible. But that’s really just to the benefit of Facebook, right? They want people to come to their platform to reach out to businesses. So they want to incentivize and maybe even threaten, right? To get the businesses to respond as quickly as possible, otherwise you won’t receive this ultra-rare badge of responsiveness. But it’s not always in your best interest, like you were saying.

    You can’t always be distracted by being constantly, being tugged one way or the other, responding to everything all the time. And, back to the earlier point about how it might be, it actually probably is better for you, your use of your time, and probably overall, your, better use for your customers for you to be focused on the bigger picture and batching your work so that you can then focus on building the business, providing better products, and just providing, building a better business, essentially, over time.

    So when you are interacting with your customers, one thing that I’ve heard, one thing that I’ve seen is that it’s one of the harder demographics to, essentially, sell to are people that are more tech-literate, or especially software developers, are typically seen as a harder demographics to sell to. Do you find that there are facets of working with and selling to software developers or people that are, you know, techies, I guess you can call them, that are maybe more difficult than possibly other industries?

    Erez: I must say I don’t. And I think there’s two reasons why. One is, I am one. I am actually a software developer and so, you know, that’s what I do and these are my people, right? And the other aspect here is that we are not for everyone. It is absolutely fine if you look at my keyboard, you go to the website, you look at this thing and you say, “What is this? I don’t like it. I’m never gonna buy this thing.” Okay. Thank you for looking. I appreciate you taking a look. And that’s not a problem. There are many other people who look at this keyboard and fall in love. And I don’t have to make them fall in love.

    I don’t have, I’ve found that I don’t have to work to sell. I have to simply say, “Hello, world. I made this thing. It looks like this. And this is what it does. And here’s why I think it’s gonna change your life.” Some people are gonna look at that and shrug. Other people are gonna look at that and say, “Wow. That is what I need on my desk right now.” And, and, that’s good enough, you know? It’s not a keyboard for everyone. It’s a keyboard for the people who understand why it is for them.

    Felix: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And that’s really important because of the price point that we were talking about earlier, you know. These are not cheap keyboards, right? They are $300+ keyboards. Can you talk a little about the decision making behind the price point? How you arrived at the price point of the product?

    Erez: Yeah. For sure. That’s actually an important part of the story, I guess. So, I mentioned the people making the keyboard. And how do we make this thing? So this thing is made by a company in Taiwan that I am intensely proud to be associated with. The company’s name is Tibbo. That’s T-I-B-B-O. Tibbo.com.

    And I used to work with them. I actually, I used to work with them years and years ago and then, you know, I went on my way but we remained friends. And when I had the idea for the keyboard, I knew who I wanted to make this hardware with me. And that’s Tibbo.

    And we make the keyboard in an office building in Taipei. And it’s made by employees; not contractors. And they’re fairly paid. They get time off. They get benefits. They get, you know, everything. And this is not a bunch of, like, you know, basically, and, you know, how do I say this? Well, I’ll say it like it is. Most people, when they have an idea, they end up with an OEM factory in China, which means, you know, you go to this factory, and this factory tell you, “Well, okay, if you buy 50,000 widgets, we’re gonna make this widget for you at this price.” And that’s it. And you have no idea, usually, unless you’re very big, you have no idea who is actually making this widget for you, how do they treat the employees, how do, you know? And most often, maybe you don’t even care all that much. I don’t know.

    But, you know, it’s the factory’s game, and your game is a race to the bottom. You want these widgets to spec and for the absolute least amount of money that you can possibly get them for. And that means that whoever makes them gets, you know, that’s what they get, right? And I don’t like that because I kind of think that people should be treated with respect for what they do.

    And so we, the bottom line here is that this keyboard is expensive because it is crazy, crazy expensive to make. We pay the employees, you know, decent wages and we use keycaps that are made in the US by Signature Plastics, extremely high quality keycaps, and everything around this keyboard is just made with such care that it costs a lot of money to make.

    And that’s also why I don’t have resellers. And I don’t have, you know, people ask me, hey, you know, people routinely write and say, hey, can I sell your stuff, can I sell your stuff in Switzerland and wherever, right? Can we establish a relationship? I say, well, no, I don’t have the margin. We are built in a way that really allow … Why aren’t you on Amazon? Same thing. Amazon, you know, is gonna take their share, and it’s not gonna work out because so much of this, like, I don’t want to give a number, but a ridiculous amount of the $325 that you’re paying for a keyboard actually goes to the people who make the keyboard, which is as it should be, in my opinion. But that’s how we got to the price. It’s just crazy expensive to make.

    Felix: Yeah, so those are certainly very valid reasons for the pricing. Now how do you explain this pricing to customers? Or do they care? Like, how do you make sure that they understand why the keyboard is the price it is?

    Erez: So that’s a funny story. First of all, let me just answer the point, how do we explain it? Just like this. What I just told you is what I tell people. Because I’m very proud of it. I think it’s the right thing to do.

    And even more, you know, okay, here’s another example. Chinese New Year. We’ve just had Chinese New Year. It’s, the year of the dog just started. And that’s a huge deal in Taiwan and in mainland China. And, you know, people get time off. And so, our team gets paid time off. Everyone gets paid time off. We’re not gonna keep people in the factory, in the building, over Chinese New Year. We’re just not gonna do that.

    So we posted a message on the website saying, hey, it’s Chinese New Year, and the team is gonna get some time off, and the lead time is gonna be extended right now. And we had a big red banner at the top of the website, letting people know. And people get that, you know? Yeah, sales dipped. Of course they dipped. But people still kept buying because they do appreciate other people being treated decently, especially in manufacturing industry, especially in hardware. So, yeah, that’s, I guess that’s the simple answer.

    Felix: Got it. Now you said this all goes back to what you were saying earlier about how your manufacturer is your partner. And I think that you said that they own 50% of the business?

    Erez: Yeah.

    Felix: That’s cool. So this is definitely the first time I’m hearing about a structure like this. Can you go a little into more details about how this was, I guess, set up, for anyone else out there that wants to, essentially, bring on an actual partner, like you were saying. Like a real partner. Someone that has skin in the game for your success. How do you make sure that you can structure something like this up so that you guys both can be successful?

    Erez: That’s a great question. And, you know, they often speak about an unfair advantage. And this is kind of my unfair advantage. This is kind of the ace up my sleeve. And this guy’s name is, his name is [Dmitri Slepov 00:37:42]. And [Deema 00:37:47]. And we’ve been friends … well, he was my boss, actually, way back when … I think it was 2004, something like that. And I worked from Israel for Taiwan, you know, and I met this guy at some convention in Germany and we hit it off. We had a good chemistry. He said, “Why don’t you come work for me?” And so I worked for a number of years. And then I went on my merry way.

    And, like I mentioned, when I had this idea I was like, hey, I should make this keyboard. Because the keyboard was available in kit form. And I said, no. I don’t want a kit. I want a keyboard, right? And I’m sure I’m not the only one. So I immediately wrote Deema. And so he said, you know, he liked the idea. He said, “Okay, let’s make a company together. Let’s make something together.” And so, we’re actually three partners. And that’s the Z-S-A in ZSA, so that’s me, Zuckerman, [Slipov 00:38:41], which is Deema, and [Aiken 00:38:43], which is the third partner and he is a wonderful, first of all, friend and intellectual property owner from the US. And that is a killer combo.

    And it’s a really great structure having the manufacturer be an actual partner. So, just to clarify, it’s not that Tibbo owns half my company. Deema, himself, personally, owns half my company. And that’s amazing because it completely upends this OEM dynamic. You know, the traditional OEM dynamic has a very, has a conflict of interest built into it because the OEM wants to make money, and, you know, and give you the least possible for, you know, to try to make the most, right? But then when our fates are intertwined like this, that dynamic stops working, and we’re all suddenly in line. And we’re all, you know, gunning to do the right thing for the customer. And that’s how we’re growing.

    Felix: So I do actually want to talk about the website a bit. So, yeah, it’s a really cool design, the website. And the part that you’re talking about, that really did stick out to me too, when I went through it, was the create a keyboard, I guess, page, which is very similar, like you said, to a wizard on how to design or to pick the parts that go into your keyboard. Can you say a little bit about how this was built? I can see that it was designed by [Mario 00:40:12], the designer, but was there any technology? What kind of technology is behind how to actually create something like this if any other business owners out there want to do something similar?

    Erez: For sure. So this is a great example because it’s not actually our final destination. This is what we have now, because we had a set starting point that many other Shopify users have, and that’s a theme. You know, when I first started, I looked around and got a Shopify theme that looked reasonable. And, you know, ran with it, right?

    And so when Mario, you know, got into things, he kind of inherited this theme, and so, today, had we started from scratch, I would go with a fully React app and use Shopify in pure API mode and all that, but that’s not the case.

    So what we have there, what you see on the page, basically, the way it’s put together, is, those are SVGs. And what’s nice about SVGs is that you can style them. You can use CSS and you can use JavaScript to, basically, change the graphics on the screen. The vector graphics. SVG is an acronym for Scalable Vector Graphics, and it’s a picture that stays tack sharp, no matter how much you zoom it in. So those are not like JPEGs or photos that are gonna get blurry on you. Those are actually vector graphics.

    And we have, honestly, a bunch of jQuery, rocking it like it’s, you know, 2003 right now. It’s a bunch of jQuery that swaps out the images in the background according to what you pick. And we integrated that into the Shopify API. So we put out an API call, we pull back in a collection of products and SKUs. We know, the SKUs, you know, are very carefully chosen internally so that we know what’s the SKU for a keyboard that’s black, without keycaps, and has a strip of LEDs, you know? That SKU can be programmatically derived. And so, when you pick out those options, we essentially construct the SKU. This part, I wrote like the, you know, the matching logic there.

    And Mario put together, basically, everything else. All the interaction, and everything, how it works together. And then we know, okay, this is the SKU this person, you know, picked. And then we, because we pulled in a JSON from the API, we have all the prices for everything, we update the price live on the screen, and we factor in the shipping costs also. By the way, that’s important. We show the same price, all throughout the process. And then you hit the cart, and we send in an API call for add to cart with a product ID, which we got, you know, again, in the initial call for the JSON, adds it to the cart, and off you go to checkout.

    Felix: Got it. So necessarily not something that you can do natively with the Shopify setup. It will require, certainly, some coding, or I’d say lots of it, based on what you’re saying. And one other thing I noticed about the site that I liked was the Buy Now button, where, when I go to it, it gives me options. It doesn’t just allow me to buy something immediately. It says, get a keyboard, get accessories, give it as a gift. And this is really cool. I’ve never seen someone do this before. What was the intention behind that? How did you guys come up with the idea to add this?

    Erez: Basically, I felt, this is relatively new, actually. I must say, this is a few weeks old, this change. And before, it was just the classic Buy Now and you go to the main page. And I felt we were doing the accessories a bit of a disservice because we sell things that can be useful even for people who did not actually buy the keyboard. For example, we sell very high quality mechanical key switches. You could just buy key switches. And that’s because our keyboard is one of the few keyboards on the market that lets you swap out your own key switches. You can literally, like pulling a tooth, right? You can literally pull a key switch out of the keyboard and pop a new one in.

    And so when we introduced this feature, we wanted to also offer key switches. But this is an industry standard part. And maybe people want to buy them for other things. So I kind of wanted to surface those things a bit better. And the same with the gifts. You know, I’ve often had people write in and say, hey, this is actually a pretty popular gift. You know, it’s a graduation gift sometimes. Or it’s a new job gift. Or it’s, you know, even a nice Christmas gift. And people would write in and ask, okay, so how do I buy this thing? You know, it’s such a complicated thing to buy if you’re buying it for somebody else. And you’re not a techie who’s super passionate about Cherry MX Red key switches, you know? And so we enabled this option as well, and, you know, Mario put together a lovely page for it. And so we kind of surfaced that.

    Felix: And one other thing when it comes to buying is that, it says here, right on top of the Buy Now button, is that you also accept BitCoin. And this is another element of your site that I haven’t seen in too many other sites just yet. How has this been? How has it been to accept cryptocurrency for purchase?

    Erez: It works. I mean, we use BitPay, which is the integration Shopify offers. So, first of all, I guess I want to say that it was easy to set up. And that people do use it. People do purchase keyboards over BitCoin. It’s one of those items that makes sense to sell over BitCoin because it’s not a microtransaction, and one of the issues with BitCoin specifically is, escalating transaction costs. Sometimes a single transaction can cost as much as 20 bucks, which is insane. It’s supply and demand based, so often it’s as low as 3 bucks but sometimes it’s way more. So, you don’t want to sell something for 10 bucks, you know, over BitCoin. That does not make sense. But if it’s a $300 keyboard, that might make more sense. And it’s been working. I started doing it because, it’s funny but it’s kind of a counter-reaction to BitCoin. It’s a game. It’s, honestly, it’s gambling. It’s speculation. It’s, you know, even more so today with algorithmic trading, if you see BitCoin fluctuations, a lot of what you see is bots responding to other bots. So, you know, there’s like this ripple effect that suddenly BitCoin plummets down like crazy and all that.

    Felix: Why is that?

    Erez: You know, the technology obviously works. This is an actual form of currency, right? The blockchain is a real thing and it’s an amazing breakthrough. Why does it behave so erratically? That’s because it has too little tangible value. You know, it’s imaginary money. It’s monopoly money, right? And I wanted to mellow it out a little bit in my own small way and balance it out and kind of, you know, put my, again, put my money where my mouth is, and say, “Hey, okay. It’s actual currency? Let’s treat it as such. Here, I’ll sell you a real thing. A real high-end consumer product for this new form of currency. Let’s, let’s start treating BitCoin as money, and not as, you know, a crazy money-printing machine or, you know, whatever people think it may be.” And I think if enough people do, you know, do the same thing, it would eventually stabilize and we would have a viable form of currency there which can solve many problems.

    Felix: Got it. So, it sounds like it was easy to set up. And it is helping you advance, or at least helping you play your part in advancing the BitCoin into actually being a currency rather than just like gambling, I guess, is how you’re describing it. So, other than these kind of cool things you’ve got at your site which have been, obviously, beneficial to your site, any other applications that you use on the site itself that have been helpful?

    Erez: Yes. So, there’s Order Printer Templates, which has been quite handy. And this, what this does, basically, is, you know, Shopify lets you print orders, right? If you fulfill from home. But for my purposes, people sometimes ask for an invoice or something like that, beyond the shipping invoice we obviously include with the product, and I wanted to give them something nice. And this app is lovely because I think it’s a one-time payment, if I’m not mistaken. And you basically get a nice liquid and CSS template. And you can, you know, make a PDF of an invoice that looks presentable. So I do use that quite often.

    And we also have our own homebrew. One nice thing about Shopify apps is that you can write your own. Again, you know, if you’re so inclined, Shopify has a lovely API and that’s a big benefit. And so we have our own homebrew app that we use for fulfillment.

    And, I guess one thing I want to say here that’s not an app that’s been a revelation for me, because I don’t use an app for it and there are so many apps for it, is abandoned cart emails. And, you know, you can find many apps that are gonna email people a coupon after they abandon the cart, or, you know, super well-designed emails to elicit, you know, maybe they’re gonna come back and then, and, you know, and get your thing if you give them a discount. And I didn’t want to do that. Again, because I just don’t have the margin to do it, right? But I was actually genuinely curious about why do people abandon the cart, right? You go in, you spec out this keyboard just the way you like it, you add it to your cart, you put in your shipping address, and you go. Why? And so I put together a very basic email asking just that. I go like, okay, so you almost have an ErgoDox EZ, what happened? And, just a couple lines of text. Hey, you know, just, do you want to tell me, like, why did you almost get a keyboard? Thanks. Bye. Literally, like a one-liner, I think.

    And I’ve been sending those out as an abandoned cart email with the idea being I genuinely wanted to learn and get to know these people. I wasn’t trying to sell. And now here’s the funny thing. You know what is the cart recovery rate? Meaning, the rate of people who get this email and then go on and complete their purchase? It’s 14%, which is double the industry average.

    Felix: Yeah, certainly worth the time to do that then.

    Erez: It’s hilarious because, yeah, I mean, all I did there, and, you know, they respond to the email and they engage. And again I utilize this very quirky maybe that I do, which is I reply to all emails myself. And that’s why I have the confidence to send out this simple email and sign it with my own name because I know that I’m not lying and I’m not pretending. That if this person takes the time to reply to the email, and people write sometimes and say, oh, this is an automated message. And I go, oh, yeah, sure, it’s automated by actually reading each and every reply. And here I am, and I’m the same guy. You know? And that’s super powerful. So, I guess what I’m saying here is that apps are good. Same thing for social media, right? Apps are fine. But really, they’re not a substitute for being authentic and for putting in emotional labor.

    Felix: Right. Great way to end this then. So, thank you so much, Erez. ErgoDox-EZ.com. E-R-G-O-D-O-X-E-Z.com. Great lessons here. I think that you said a lot of great things about how to perform customer service. And how to treat your customers like humans and not just, you know, people that are giving you money. So, I certainly appreciate you coming on. What are the other big goals? What kind of plans you guys have for the remainder of this year?

    Erez: To make really, really, good computer keyboards.

    Felix: So, new products, is that what you’re saying? Or improvements on the current product?

    Erez: Everything. I mean, we’re in tech. We can’t stand still, so we’re constantly iterating and introducing new things. And I’m pretty excited about what’s to come, and well, that’s all I’m gonna say about that.

    Felix: Okay. Well, folks will have to check out this site and stay tuned. Again, thank you so much for your time.

    Erez: Thank you.

    Felix: Here’s a sneak peak for what’s in store the next Shopify Masters episode.

    Speaker 3: Everything that we create, in terms of content, or in terms of our products, it needs to be authoritative. It needs to be helpful. And it needs to be interesting.

    Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the eCommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit Shopify.com/masters to claim your extended 30-day free trial. Also, for this episode’s show notes, head over to Shopify.com/blog.

     


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    About the Author

    Felix Thea is the host of the Shopify Masters podcast, the ecommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. Got something to share with Shopify Masters listeners? You can submit your story for consideration.

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