How do you change someone’s mind? The question has long baffled philosophers, educators, researchers, and leaders of all kinds—not to mention salespeople and customer service professionals. 

If you’ve ever dealt with someone who had a misguided assumption, irrational objection, or unsubstantiated complaint about your business, you know how challenging it is to talk them out of it. One reason we say “the customer is always right” is that it’s so dang hard to convince them they’re wrong.

But sometimes, the customer is wrong. Very wrong. And it’s in your—and their—best interest to change their mind. Maybe they’ve left a scathing, baseless review online that threatens your company’s reputation. Perhaps they’re dragging their feet about making a purchase decision due to an ill-informed belief about the value of your business. 

Whatever the case, here are a few tips for doing the impossible and persuading someone to change their mind.

Take time to listen.

Not every heated exchange is an argument or debate. At its core, the conversation might actually be an expression of emotions. Maybe the other person is upset because they feel they’ve been treated unfairly. Maybe their anger is rooted in an altogether different feeling, such as fear (e.g. fear of paying too much money) or confusion (confusion about what your business does, about how your products or services will make their life easier).

Let go of assumptions and meet the other person where they’re at, intellectually and emotionally. Only by taking the time to listen can you determine the real nature of the exchange and the issue at hand. Fortunately, listening is pretty easy—and it doesn’t need to be totally passive. You don’t have to sit there in silence while the other person rants at you. Ask open-ended questions. Look for opportunities to establish trust. Practice empathy. 

These sorts of active listening behaviors help dismantle hostility and transform the conversation into a collaborative one. Don’t think of it as changing someone’s mind (even if that’s exactly what you’re doing), but working with them through difficult emotions and reaching a mutual understanding.

Learn 5 ways to improve your active listening skills.

Let them talk.

Listening can also help you overcome arguments without much effort. Frustrating as it can be to sit back and allow someone to blather on when you know they’re ignorant or wrong, sometimes the best strategy you have is to let them talk—so they can hear themselves talk, and hear how little they know.

It’s called the “unread library effect.” Here’s how Eric Barker, author of Barking Up the Wrong Tree, explains it:

“Leveraging the unread library effect means you encourage the other person to talk and by politely asking them questions, allow them to see their own ignorance. Instead of you battering them with facts, they lead themselves into doubt. Socrates would be proud. At the very least it often serves to moderate extreme beliefs because it’s humbling to realize you can’t really explain what your beliefs are based on. And it reduces hostility because you don’t have to throw those backfiring facts at them; you just ask sincere questions.”

In other words, as much you’re genuinely listening to the other person, you’re also quietly challenging their beliefs by putting them on the spot. 

Sneaky? Sure. Effective? You bet—just ask the top law schools.

Share your perspective—mindfully.

Ever tried couples therapy? Even if you haven’t, I bet you’re familiar with some of the following. Relationship counselors often advise their clients to do things like…

  • use “I” statements such as “I feel…” and “I believe…”
  • avoid blaming and using generalizing statements such as “you never…” or “you’re so…”
  • communicate their needs directly (“I need help with…”, “Would you be willing to…”)
  • stay aware of and respectful of the other person
  • pay attention to non-verbal cues such as eye contact, lip-biting, or fidgeting

The same suggestions apply to any kind of relationship, be it with a spouse, friend, parent, child, employee, customer, or prospect. When it’s time for you to talk, be honest and kind, and keep your thoughts centered on the person and conversation in front of you. 

For examples of this kind of approach in action, check out Reddit’s r/ChangeMyView forum—one of the few places on the internet where people engage in non-polarized conversation, and the subject of a Cornell University research study titled “Winning Arguments: Interaction Dynamics and Persuasion Strategies in Good-faith Online Discussions” (PDF). 

An article in Psychology Today discusses some of the study’s main findings, which anyone can learn from to improve conversations (emphasis added):

“By analyzing the forum, researchers found specific attributes that made it more likely original posters would change their minds. Participants who used different words compared to the original poster—a sign of introducing a new point of view—were most likely to change someone’s mind. Arguments using specific examples were also more likely to change someone’s mind.

Researchers found word choice to be an important factor. People who posted their original opinion using the word ‘I,’ signaling a personal belief, were more likely to change their minds compared to people who used the word ‘we’ in their posts, which signaled a broader viewpoint. People who responded by qualifying their arguments—using words such as ‘it may be the case’—were more persuasive than those who posted staunch opinions.”

The point is that there’s a right way and an—ahem—maybe not-so-productive? way to express thoughts that controvert another person’s beliefs. As with so many things in life, it comes down to the Golden Rule:

Communicate how you’d want to be communicated with.

Be flexible.

Keep in mind that convincing someone to change their mind is no easy feat. It takes time, patience, and mental fortitude—and it’s never a sure thing. To boost their mind-changing capacity, business leaders need to use not just one approach, but a multitude of angles and tactics for different conversations.

That’s according to Laura Huang, associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and author of Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage. Together with research assistant Ryan Yu, Haung examined the conversational habits of dozens of executives, politicians, entrepreneurs, and other leaders. Huang and Yu discovered that turning a “no” into a “yes” starts with a thorough assessment of the situation, followed by a strategy shaped for the specific context and audience.

They write, in a recent Harvard Business Review article:

“[W]e observed, and then interviewed, more than 60 leaders who were trying to convince business associates and other constituents to change their minds on a course of action that they initially disagreed with. The leaders who were most successful in overcoming others’ skepticism were those who diagnosed the root of the fundamental disagreement before trying to persuade. They first asked themselves, ‘What’s driving my detractor’s resistance?’ These leaders often pinpointed which aspects of their arguments elicited the most pushback and the most emotional reactions. Then, depending on the answer, they approached the situation with one of the following three targeted strategies.”

The first strategy Huang and Yu identify is “the Cognitive Conversation,” where the leader uses objective reasoning and facts to change the mind of a detractor.

The second strategy is “the Champion Conversation,” through which someone convinces another person by “invest[ing] time in personally learning about and building rapport with them.”

The third strategy is called “the Credible Colleague Approach” and involves bringing in a trustworthy “peer or superior” whose presence “forces the detractor to disentangle who you are from what your argument might be and evaluate the idea based on its objective merits.”

These certainly aren’t the only tactics that work. The more ways you can think of to approach a conversation, the better-equipped you’ll be when difficulties and disagreements arise. And arise they will—conflicts with customers are a fact of doing business, especially online.

That said, you don’t have to spend your time and energy trying to change your customers’ minds. Let Ruby handle the challenging conversations for you. We’re experts at creating connections over the phone and online, via live chat. Our unique approach to customer service translates into happier customers, improved brand loyalty, and—ultimately—better business. I think we can all agree that’s a good thing.

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Live chat: the good and the bad.

Reading time:

Outstanding customer service shines through the details. The chime when a visitor opens the front door, the number of rings before the phone gets answered, the words an agent uses to greet someone, the penmanship of a handwritten thank-you note—these are the kinds of small touches customer-centric companies obsess over. (How do I know? Because we’ve had long conversations about all of the above here at Ruby.)

As customer service moves further into online channels, the details matter more than ever. A funny tweet, a thoughtful response to a Yelp review, or a half-second shaved off your website’s loading time can boost your business significantly. Every element of your online presence makes a difference.

Especially chat. 

Does your website offer live chat? If not, you’re missing out on valuable opportunities to convert prospects into customers and reach existing customers. 

Not having a live chat function on your website is like not having a front desk in your physical office space. 

That’s a pretty big detail to overlook, if you ask me.

But as with a front desk, it’s not enough to merely have a chat window on your site. There needs to be a friendly, responsive representative at that desk or on the other side of the chat exchange to capably welcome visitors, answer questions, and provide a great experience. Here again, the details matter. The chat operator who responds, how quickly they respond, the kind of assistance they offer, and the words they use (and don’t use) all impact customer service success.

What this means is that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do live chat. Do it right and you’ll delight visitors and win more business online. Do it wrong and you could frustrate and alienate the people you’re hoping to serve. 

What does effective live chat look like? Let’s dig into some positive examples and a few less-positive ones.

The good: when chat makes life easier for customers.

Did you know that chat is many people’s preferred communication channel? 

According to one survey, which assessed thousands of customer service interactions, 73% of consumers were satisfied with their experiences on live chat—the highest level of any channel in the study. For contrast, 61% of the same group were satisfied with email communication and only 44% got what they wanted from phone calls. 

People in the survey rated chat highly because it helped them get their questions answered immediately, access information faster, and multitask while having a customer service conversation.

Learn more eye-opening statistics about live chat.

The bad: when chat makes life more difficult.

Unfortunately, not every live chat solution helps customers save time or get what they need easier. When improperly designed or implemented, chat can create its own problems and headaches.

Consider this example from Reddit user /u/ecpnw, who took to social media to complain about their experience trying to cancel a subscription. According to the user, the company in question allows them to “manage all aspects of my account online without assistance… except canceling my subscription.” Instead of simply clicking a button to cancel, their only option was to start a chat—and once they did, they learned that 400 people were ahead of them.

Definitely not convenient, fast, or user-friendly.

The good: when personal connections via chat increase revenue.

This one comes directly from one of our customers. Kellam Mechanical has been using Ruby’s live chat for years, and has sustained high rates of service bookings online as a result. The secret is Ruby’s ability to create personal, meaningful connections with every customer.

According to office manager and marketing director Sarah Kellam (emphasis added): “Our closing rate has been 75% higher with Ruby compared to when we were using another company that only offered a chatbot.” 

Read the full case study.

The bad: when chatbots fail.

Oh, chatbots. While automated answering can be an effective component of a chat setup (we make use of it at Ruby), it’s clear that bots aren’t ready to fully replace human agents any time soon.

The internet is full of examples of chatbot screwups—bots glitching out and repeating themselves, bots refusing to follow basic instructions, bots that aren’t built for human interaction, and so on and so on

Here’s one of my “favorite” examples, via augmented reality and virtual reality company Jasoren:

That’s right—this chatbot doesn’t understand the word “do.” It does not.

The good: when chat helps businesses make better decisions.

Here’s another example from a Ruby customer. Prero Orthodontics has leveraged our live chat services to not just boost business but also better understand their customers—allowing the company to make smarter, data-driven decisions.

“As soon as we started using [Ruby’s live chat], we started getting referrals,” said Dr. Dovi Prero. “We got the actual transcript of every chat, showing us exactly what people were concerned about or what their questions were. The transcript would also give us a visitor’s IP address and the link they clicked on to find our website. We could see if they were coming from Instagram, Google, Yelp, and so on. That has been very helpful in honing in on where our marketing resources go.”

Download the case study.

The bad: when chat specialists don’t do their job.

Business Insider has the story of a customer who used a major retail company’s chat function hoping he could talk through a possible case of identity theft. Rather than helping him, however, the chat specialist only exacerbated the customer’s frustration:

Williams told Hacker News he spent nearly an hour with “Farah,” trying to explain the problem. At no point did “Farah” show any understanding of what Williams wanted: She variously suggested deleting his own email account, resetting his password, and offering to delete his account for him. At one point “Farah” began addressing Williams as “maam,” even though he is a man.”

Here’s an excerpt from the conversation:

You can read the full story here.

The huh?!

One more example from Reddit, just because it made me laugh. This one isn’t good, but I’m not sure it falls into the “bad” category either:

Must be a busy minute.

The good: live chat with Ruby.

Convert your website visitors into customers with the leading live chat service on the market. Businesses love Ruby’s chat services because we embed value, personality, and humanity in every last detail. 

We act as an extension of your team, building connections and ensuring your customers receive the service they deserve—while saving you time and providing you with the information you need to make better decisions about your online presence.

Download

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Ruby, the premier provider of live virtual receptionist and chat services for small businesses, has been recognized by Oregon’s business community and the Portland Business Journal for the fifth consecutive year as a Most Admired Company in the Technology and Technology Manufacturing category. 

“2020 has shown the importance and value of human connections, and this cornerstone of Ruby’s service and culture has been tested in ways we never imagined this year,” said Ruby CEO, Kate Winkler. “Being honored by our peers this year, let alone for the fifth year in a row, is a tremendous achievement and celebrates the hard work of our frontline Rubys.” 

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Gartner predicted that 89% of companies would compete mostly on customer experience this year. The customer journey starts with their first introduction to your brand, which will most likely be your website.

Even the most successful brands are in a process of figuring out how to improve customer communication. Bain & Company found that while 80% of companies believe that they deliver superior customer experiences, only 8% of customers agree. 

Here are some ways that we’ve found effective.

Go off script.

Refrain from using acronyms, buzzwords or industry terms. Remember that language familiar to you and your team may not be easily understood by potential customers. Keep it simple and forget the jargon. 

This also means talking to customers in a natural voice, rather than pre-packaged phrases. Use your personality to build that connection and draw people into what you’re all about. Supply your receptionist with key talking points and FAQs, but train them so they can provide answers in their conversational way.

Perfect your site’s navigation flow.

Your website might make sense to you, but the overall flow may be costing you customers. Analyze how visitors navigate your site with a simple test. UsabilityHub offers online navigation testing with real people to find glitches and points of confusion.

Provide answers instantly.

People want answers and they expect them promptly, so you need to make it easy for them to get that. This means making customer agents accessible whenever (and however) customers prefer. You should be set up to answer questions 24/7/365.

Of course, your in-house staff can’t be waiting by the phone all day every day. Virtual receptionists help fill in the gaps, and live chat makes it even easier to engage every visitor at any time.  Recent studies show that nearly ⅔ of customers prefer messaging channels over the phone, and 90% of customers prefer their questions answered by a live human rather than bots.

Make calling easy (and delightful).

The popularity of live chat is certainly growing, especially with younger demographics, but lots of people still prefer to pick up the phone. Make sure your phone number is clearly visible on your website. Add click-to-call options to your Google profile. 

When folks call, make them glad that they did. Be welcoming, be professional, be proactive. If possible, provide receptionists with CRM systems to access client records and call histories. The more knowledgeable a receptionist is, the better suited they are to keep customers coming back.

Improve internal communication.

Responding to incoming web chat requests or support tickets from website visitors requires compassion and precision. If your internal communication is broken, it may impact your ability to quickly resolve customer questions. Strengthen internal communication with tools like Slack, so everyone is on the same page and can effectively communicate externally.

Follow up with customers and leads.

Following up with customers after every exchange is a simple way to keep the engagement warm and show you care. Make it part of your workflow for every interaction. Even a simple ‘Thank you’ email can go a long way.

In the spirit of continual improvement (and friendly brand management), invite your visitors to provide feedback about their experience. Surveys can easily follow live chat exchanges. Automated emails work too.  If you’ve built up a newsletter list you can also send out surveys asking subscribers for details about what would be most valuable.

Conclusion

The perfect communication plan might seem daunting at first. After all, customers are looking for instant, accessible, reliable, and friendly communication at all hours of the day and night. 

The key is to set yourself and your team up for success. Take the time to improve your internal communication. Set up the technology necessary to improve your reception capabilities while actually lessening the time obligation for your staff. At the end of the day, it’s about treating everyone as well as possible – customers and employees alike.

Looking for more tips on creating better customer experiences? Download our Customer Service Audit Checklist and start strengthening your cx offering today!

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A Letter to Our Customers

Reading time:

Dear small business owner, 

Where to begin? Putting a year into perspective is never simple, but this year…  

It’s safe to say the last several months will go down as one of the most turbulent periods in modern history. I’d like to imagine that 2020 will become a yardstick to measure challenging experiences. We’ll say, “Hey, at least it’s not as bad as 2020,” or “Watch out—it’s a real 2020 in there!” 

Of course, 2020 isn’t quite over yet. And the challenges that defined this year won’t instantly evaporate on January 1st. From ending the COVID pandemic to overcoming racial disparities and political divisions, there’s still plenty of work to be done in the days, weeks, and months to come. 

But whatever the future holds, one thing is certain: you can handle it. All year, you’ve proved you have the strength, the courage, and the creativity to weather unimaginable adversity. You’ve found ways to continue serving your customers and community during a global health crisis. You’ve adopted new protocols and new methods of doing business. You’ve stayed afloat in a profoundly uncertain economic environment. 

Take a deep breath and allow yourself a moment of recognition. As a small business owner, you have the most demanding job in the world—and you’ve done that job throughout one of the most challenging years in the 21st century. No doubt you’ve had to endure difficulties and make sacrifices of your own, all while remaining dedicated to your passion and your purpose. 

With that in mind, I’ll share two words you don’t hear often enough: 

Thank you. 

Thank you, thank you, thank you—for all you’ve done, endured, and sacrificed in 2020.  

Words alone cannot express the admiration and respect we feel for you here at Ruby. All year, we’ve been proud to support extraordinary people like you, to be the voice and ears of thousands of small businesses across the United States.  

Ruby’s receptionists and chat specialists love their jobs because they love working for small businesses like yours. Many of our customers serve on the pandemic’s frontlines: providing people with healthcare and education, solving legal and financial challenges, cleaning homes, installing ventilation systems—the list goes on. We love sharing in your successes and being a part of your life-saving, life-improving work. 

I want to thank you not only for keeping us going this year but for inspiring us with your superhuman skills and resolve. Thank you again for doing what you do. You and your company truly make the world a better place. 

As we look ahead to 2021, I’d like to take this moment to renew our commitment to you. Ruby’s mission has always been rooted in the needs of businesses like yours. We answer your phone calls and chat messages to give you more time in your day. We create meaningful human connections to build trust among the people you serve. We capture leads we know are so critical to your survival and make sure you have the chance to turn those into customers. 

We foster happiness at every opportunity—not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s what is best for our customers as well as their customers and communities. 

None of that will change any time soon, or ever. And while we remain steadfast in our commitment to our customers and our values, it’s important to acknowledge how Ruby has changed in 2020.  

We’ve learned a lot over this past year. We’ve become more agile, flexible, and intuitive as an organization. We’ve learned not to presume what our customers need but to stop and ask and make sure our actions align with shifting priorities and realities. 

We’ve also gained a deeper awareness of how to navigate difficult conversations. Our team members have always been able to handle tough moments with grace, but 2020 was the ultimate crash course in de-escalation. We further developed our skills in acknowledging the frustration, making room for complicated emotions, and managing stress—our callers’ and our own. 

At the same time, customer expectations have evolved. People may be stuck at home, but their needs haven’t gone away, and they aren’t limited to one device or channel. Your customers want to access services and support wherever and whenever it’s most convenient for them. Chat is preferable to a call, for example, when you’re sharing a home office with your spouse or helping your kids stay focused on school. And although customers don’t demand perfection—are any of us even close to perfect right now?—they expect someone responsive, friendly, and empathetic on the other end. 

All of this means it’s time to embrace new technologies and new ways of serving customers. Human connections don’t take only one form or happen in a single channel. For that reason, we’re developing new industry solutions. Look out for more services from Ruby in addition to phone and chat answering in the next few months. 

How about you—how have you changed in 2020? What do you hope to achieve in 2021?  

No matter where you’ve been and where you’re going, I’d like to offer a recommendation: 

  1. Double down on your purpose. 
  1. Reinvest in your passion. 
  1. Get yourself financed (one upshot of the COVID pandemic is that our banking industry is actually paying attention to small businesses). 
  1. Build your online presence. 
  1. Get your brand and mission out there. 

Rather than waiting for your customers to find you, meet them where they are—with humanity, authenticity, and integrity.  

You don’t have to do it alone, of course. Ruby will give you every possible at-bat with your customers and make sure you never miss a call, chat, or opportunity to create a meaningful connection. 

Your passion and purpose got you this far. Be bold and dream big. You made it through 2020, after all. Nothing can stop you now. 

With love and gratitude, 

Kate

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Adapting to the new business context

Reading time:

Raise your hand if, in the past year, you have…
…moved to an all-remote workplace…
…experienced shifts in consumer expectations…
…pivoted your product or service…

Is your hand still up? Ours too. 

Ruby’s CMO, Rebecca Grimes, joined host Samantha Stone on the Unleashed Possible podcast to share how a global pandemic has affected not only businesses but the customers they serve and the importance of building empathy into decision-making.

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Business Unusual: Sustainable Models

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In this third and final installment of our vital interview with Shauntrice Martin, Founder of Feed the West and Black Market KY, she speaks about the drawbacks of non-profit structure and why she chose to establish her business as a for-profit model as a social enterprise, ensuring a sustainable living wage and a beneficial establishment for her community as a whole.

(Please note: this was recorded while Shauntrice was in transit, during her only available window of time. We recognize the sound quality is less than perfect, but felt her work and words were too important not to share. We did our best to clean up the sound so that everybody could benefit from her wisdom and vision!)

Read the Interview

Michelle Winnett: So thank you for joining us, my name is Michelle Winnet, Vice President of Partner’s in Strategic Marketing at Ruby. I am so delighted to be talking this afternoon with Shauntrice from Feed the West in Louisville, Kentucky. Could you introduce yourself and maybe share a little bit about how Feed the West got started?

Shauntrice Martin:
Absolutely. So I’m Shauntrice and I’ve been a volunteer with Change Today, Change Tomorrow for almost a year, and that’s kind of how Feed the West started.

Michelle Winnett:
You explained that Feed the West is kind of the nonprofit part but Black Market is going to be partly … Or going to be profitable in an effort to maybe support well-paying jobs for the community. Can you speak a bit about that structure and different functions of the local market while maintaining grocery donation and delivery? Are they completely separate entities?

Shauntrice Martin:
Yeah. I’m happy to talk about that. Black Market, initially we thought about making it a nonprofit, like another program within Change Today, Change Tomorrow but what we found when we did research on sustainability and all the historical analysis of past small black grocery stores that used to exist, is that a lot of them did. Even on paper they were for-profit, they operated as a nonprofit. So largely on donations and having super low prices, which is good in theory but it means that you have to depend on a foundation or community donations. We don’t want to do that. We want to make this something that is truly sustainable, and that allows us to pay our workers a living wage instead of just minimum wage, which here is about $7. And that in turn will allow us to open another store in the future or just franchise it out, not for money but to tell people, “Hey, this is how we did it.”

Shauntrice Martin:
So for us, the for-profit model as a social enterprise, was the most appealing option and within our operations, we ensure that I as the owner, Shauntrice will always be the lowest paid employee, so that’s within our operations. So if I ever do take a salary, which I don’t plan to do for at least the first year, it is within our organization at Black Market, that I will always be the lowest-paid employee. We also include childcare and transportation for free for employees for the first month that you work and we’re working on making sure we have the funds to do that for longer. That’s for most full-time, part-time employees, whoever works there, making sure that everyone makes a living wage [inaudible 00:02:44] and then I mentioned transportation which can be barriers, but oftentimes people will see in that patient not apply, They don’t think they have the skills and the hiring managers in the past and for some [inaudible 00:02:57].

Shauntrice Martin:
And yeah, so we for sure are going to cover the first month of both childcare and transportation for all employees, no matter if you’re part-time or full-time, and we’re hoping to be able to continue that. But at the very minimum, we want to commit to that for the first month, because a lot of times when you start start a job there are so many costs associated with starting a job and it can feel very expensive to set it up. And so in recognition of that, we want to cover some of the barriers that folks have to starting a new job. We’ll also be providing clothes. So we’re not sure yet if we’ll have uniforms for example, but if folks need professional clothes or they need non-stick shoes or non-slip shoes, we’ll provide those things too, because we don’t want anything to hold folks back from their potential.

Shauntrice Martin:
And ideally the folks who work as part-time or work as cashier will want to own the grocery store one day. So those are the sorts of things we keep in mind in order to have a thriving business, there can’t just be a, “What are we going to do today?” There has to be a, “What are we going to do in six months, a year, five years, in perpetuity? And so we want the employees to be part of that conversation because they’re the ones on the ground. And I think what happens often when companies are successful, they stop listening to the folks who are really on the ground doing the work. And we don’t want to make that mistake, which is again, why I will always be the lowest-paid employee, no matter what. And I have a great advisory board, that’s going to hold me accountable for that. And so, like I said, I feel very blessed and privileged to provide this opportunity, and I’m hoping it’s a catalyst for other businesses that come into the West End and beyond.

Michelle Winnett:
Well, what you’ve described is inspiring and visionary and a fantastic blueprint for other businesses. What do you think? Is there anything else other project managers or directors would need to embrace in order to build an equitable business like you’re describing?

Shauntrice Martin:
Yeah. I mean, they have to get comfortable with not making that much money. So during Feed the West, I had two jobs. I was a loan officer and I was a community organizer for KFTC. And so I never really depended on Feed the West as my moneymaker. Like I said, I’m a volunteer there. In Black Market, I consider myself the owner but also an investor. And if I’m investing in the long-term stability of this company I can’t, in good conscience, take a salary because I need to make sure that folks are taken care of, that this is a good company, that this is a solid company. And so I need to be willing to sacrifice a potential salary. And I know that’s not the norm, but my suggestion for folks who have the privilege to not take a salary, I suggest that they don’t. And if they want to still make money, come up with other ways outside of the pool of money that pays your employees and pays your vendors because we’re paying a living wage. I don’t think it makes sense for me to take a salary, at least, in the first year.

Shauntrice Martin:
And I don’t think that’s something that folks in this industry want to hear. I don’t think that CEOs are very excited about not making money. That’s not why they got in the game. The Kroger CEO makes $11.7 million and I’m sure … I mean, I’ve asked him to give up his salary, but I’m sure if someone that he respected more was like, “Hey, how would you feel about giving that money away and not having it?” I don’t think he would be very open to the idea and that’s how CEOs generally are. That’s how folks in C-suite level executive positions are, they are there to make money, even if they believe in the business or the idea. And so by no means am I saying no one should [inaudible 00:06:42] at least part of their salary to make sure that folks can have a living wage, folks can have a job that is secure.

Michelle Winnett:
Absolutely. You mentioned a lot of collaborations and partnerships being important both from a networking perspective and from resources and donations. How do you hope to increase partnerships? Or do you have a strategy around that kind of outreach?

Shauntrice Martin:
Yeah, so we actually just secured a few more MOUs with some of our local black-owned businesses. For me, it’s really about getting out into the community and it can be challenging because of COVID to do that, but what we found is even networking online or over the phone has been a tremendous way to support each other and to network. So for instance, I was originally going to go to an event last week, but as this hunger strike has developed, I haven’t been driving around much but I looked at all the people who were on the list who were supposed to speak, who were involved, even the sponsors. And I looked them up on LinkedIn. For some of them, I find their numbers on their company websites. And so through that, I just called people like, “Hey, I saw this article about you. Hey, I was supposed to be on this call that you were on Zoom and I really like what you’re doing. Could we have a conversation about how to partner? Here’s what I’m doing.” That has been really successful.

Shauntrice Martin:
One of the companies that we reached out to recently, we worked on an MOU on the phone on that first phone call. So it’s been really good to kind of do it old school, just pick up the phone and call someone. And so for us, the goal is to have at least 60% of our vendors and employees be black and, or from the West End. And it’s really easy in a lot of businesses here in the West End, just to pick up the phone and call someone and say, “Hey, this is what I’m doing. By no means, am I an expert, but this is how I see us possibly working together. What do you think?” Sometimes they’re like, “Yes.” Sometimes they’re like, “No.” Sometimes they’re like, “Oh I’m not sure.”

Michelle Winnett:
Which is, if people want to learn more about your work, support it, where can they go? How can they they get involved?

Shauntrice Martin:
Yeah. So if you want to get involved with Feed the West, the best thing to do is go to our Facebook page, which is at Change Today, Change Tomorrow. You’ll find all our latest updates. We have a website as well but Facebook is the best place to get up-to-date info. So if you want to donate food, if you want to volunteer, if you need groceries, the best place to go is our Facebook Page at Change Today, Change Tomorrow. You can also visit our website just to find out more about what we do. It’s change-today.org and you can follow us all around social media.

Shauntrice Martin:
And if folks want to get involved with the Black Market, you will find us at Black Market KY all over the internet, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, even LinkedIn. And if you contact us through Black Market, even though I say we it’s me, so I’m pretty accessible. If you’re interested in just learning more, figuring out how you can do that in your own community. I’m also happy to talk about that because I really just want more people to get access to good food.

Michelle Winnett:
Thank you so much Shauntrice.

Shauntrice Martin:
Thank you so much. I’m so excited.

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It takes a true visionary to witness need and step up to implement beneficial change with minimal resources starting out. In part two of our incredible interview with Shauntrice Martin, we spoke about collaboration, creating innovative change during crisis, and utilizing community partnerships to benefit the many.

(Please note: this was recorded while Shauntrice was in transit, during her only available window of time. We recognize the sound quality is less than perfect, but felt her work and words were too important not to share. We did our best to clean up the sound so that everybody could benefit from her wisdom and vision!)

Read the Interview

Michelle Winnett: So Feed the West was born out of a need during a crisis. And it isn’t every business person who naturally embraces helping others during uncertainty. Can you speak about the importance of giving and serving when a shifting landscape can make it feel counterintuitive to try to do it right now?

Shauntrice Martin:
Yeah, it definitely when I first talked about the idea to folks, they were like, “That’s terrible. It’s like good in theory, but how are you going to do it? How are you going to distribute stuff? It’s COVID. How are you going to make sure it’s safe? People aren’t going to trust you to just show up to their doors and bring food. They don’t know you.”

Shauntrice Martin:
And the really beautiful thing to see was we had like 900 volunteers sign up in that first day. We had hundreds of people asking for food and not one of them was like, “Oh no, but like, I don’t want a stranger to come. I’m just going to come get it myself.” Like, it’s COVID. People appreciated us having the delivery system. And the other thing we saw is type of like, we don’t consider ourselves a business accelerator by any means, but we also got to connect with businesses.

Shauntrice Martin:
Some of them, like the convenience stores and the small food marts that are in our neighborhoods in the West End, they also weren’t able to get certain supplies or they couldn’t buy in as big of bulk because they weren’t sure if they would be able to sell those products with folks being quarantined.

Shauntrice Martin:
So what we were able to do was work with a couple of those small black owned convenience stores and figure out what’s their inventory, because as a nonprofit we have access to buying in bulk despite the coronavirus pandemic. So we were able to buy some of the inventory for these convenience stores to help them stay afloat. We were able to pay small black businesses that were caterers or restaurants that were struggling to make sure that they had business during the pandemic.

Shauntrice Martin:
We’ve had dozens of black owned restaurants that we’ve worked with over the last few months. And we’re also able to say, “Hey, corporate sponsor, yes, you gave us this grant, and that’s great. But also, for any of your events, here are some black businesses that could really use your support, that could really use your dollars.”

Shauntrice Martin:
And the same thing with our PoC owned businesses. There’s one I want to shout out, Dragon King’s Daughter, which we sent a lot of people to. We love working with her. And then we have black businesses like Queen of Sheba and Shamita’s Little Store. I mean, I can name a bunch, but these businesses have been amazing. And some of them may not have the means to pay for social media ads. They don’t have necessarily the background like they are chefs. So they’re great at cooking the food and presenting the food, but they may not have the capacity or the staff to amplify their message.

Shauntrice Martin:
So we’ve been very blessed to be able to do that for folks, because we don’t want to jump into the restaurant game by any means, but what we can do is help those folks, make sure their businesses stay afloat during the pandemic and beyond. So we’ve been very proud to be able to do that in a small way.

Shauntrice Martin:
And so, as a person who has started businesses, who has worked with startups, it’s not just food. It’s connected to so much more. And a person who is struggling to have their business get off the ground, but they’re also struggling with food, clothes, and shelter, if you can give them some free groceries a few times, that means that they can, “Okay, now I can pay for my website because I don’t have that bill. Now I can make sure the lights are on.” It connects to so many other things, and it just helps folks to blossom professionally and personally. So it brings me so much joy to just be able to connect with folks and see how their businesses grow.

Shauntrice Martin:
I just spoke with … I picked my son up actually from an organization that didn’t really have the opportunity to flourish before the pandemic, because there was so many posts competing with them and they couldn’t really get the word out about their program. And so it’s been really good to have that opportunity to make sure that these businesses that would otherwise kind of sink get to flourish. So Real Kids Playcare is a black owned business that not a lot of people knew about, but now we were able to pay for a bulk of hours. So parents can just drop in and say, “Hey, I’m with Change Today Change Tomorrow and they said I could have two hours today, or I can have eight hours today.” And it’s been great because then those parents can work on their business plan while their children are being taken care of in a COVID-safe environment and a healthy … emotionally and otherwise healthy environment.

Shauntrice Martin:
So we are very proud of that. And part of the reason we’ve been able to do that more in the last few months is because people trust us from Feed the West. I know I’m like talking your head off with that. One thing I’m really proud about is just those connections.

Michelle Winnett:
It’s fascinating. Absolutely. And Feed the West’s growth in such a short time has also been amazing. So what has happened in a few months time and what is the trajectory look like from here?

Shauntrice Martin:
Yeah. So we actually just hit 17,000 people getting food from us in the last three months. It’s almost three months. It’s almost our three month anniversary next week. So we’ve been able to give groceries to 17,000 people in the West End. Each person gets at least $85 worth of groceries. Now, some weeks we may have a lot more donations or we might have a grant that month. And so we’re able to give more. But at a base we give at least $85 worth of groceries, and it has been amazing.

Shauntrice Martin:
And in addition to the groceries, we’ve also run Clothe the West through Rebecca Ward at Black Lives Matter Louisville. And she’s been able to work with hundreds of people and it’s just, it has flourished. And it’s just, it’s really exciting to see folks start businesses and start initiatives from doing Feed the West or volunteering with us.

Shauntrice Martin:
We’ve had some folks who, when they started with us, they had zero non-profit and development experience and now they’re able to consult for other organizations. Now they’re able to add this on their resume, that they helped us raise money for a program or helped us coordinate a program. And Feed the West has again, turned into something else.

Shauntrice Martin:
We also have Black Market Kentucky, which is going to be a grocery store in the West End, small grocery store focused on primarily black owned vendors. So having food in the store that was produced and created by black folks, specifically black farmers like Kentucky Greens, Cleave Family Market, Barber Farms because a lot of times those farmers through historical injustices and share cropping have not gotten the opportunity to be in major stores. So we’re super excited about that.

Shauntrice Martin:
And it’s allowed us to have an ecosystem of success. So not just the food from where we’re getting our flyers printed, by the way, it’s the Mattel Group, which is also black owned. I know I’m shouting out a lot of people here, but it’s enabled us to do something we’re passionate about while also being able to sustain our own families.

Shauntrice Martin:
In this time a lot of people are struggling. A lot of people don’t have an opportunity like we do. And we’re trying to share the wealth. And while I’m still a volunteer, so I don’t get paid for Feed the West at all, I’ve been able to connect with people who have been able to join executive boards where I’m making connections with folks. So even though I don’t get paid as a Feed the West volunteer, I do get in touch with people who want to pay for my services, which is amazing. Because I don’t know if I would have this robust of an opportunity, pre-Feed the West. So I’m very close to all our residents who trusted us enough to let us come to their homes and bring them a bunch of food. It’s been a crazy ride and it’s been amazing to see.

Michelle Winnett:
That’s awesome. Just a few more questions if you have a little bit more time. How has technology helped you to meet your own goals and vision for Feed the West? Which like apps and tools are you using to kind of get the word out there and to try to cultivate those partnerships?

Shauntrice Martin:
Yeah. So for us in the beginning, technology was great on the volunteer side. Like folks can sign up on. We use When I Work now. We also use Google forms of course. We use SurveyMonkey. And then our tech person has been Seun of Grid Principles. She’s helped us with a lot of systems, again, Nigerian, black owned business, graphic design, and web stuff.

Shauntrice Martin:
So that has been great on the volunteer side. But what we found on the resident side are folks getting groceries from us is that technology can often be a barrier because a lot of people don’t have a computer or don’t have internet access, especially with COVID. You can’t go to the library or McDonald’s to get the Wi-Fi.

Shauntrice Martin:
And so what we’ve been doing is using technology to help us get the materials that we need for those folks. So we use technology on our volunteer app so that we can say, “Hey, we need at least 20 flyers in this place at this time because it looks like a lot of residents in this area based on our surveys don’t have internet access. So they’re going to need printed flyers. They’re going to need a phone number to call.” So being able to set up those things so that we are not making the mistake of a lot of organizations, which is relying too much on social media.

Shauntrice Martin:
So we’ve been able to segment our communication for our residents. We focus a lot on in-person stuff, canvassing, being places where they already are like a LG&E or like a water company, the post office, grocery stores, obviously so we can hand out a physical flier in a COVID safe way. But technology has been able to supplement those efforts and it’s been really great.

Shauntrice Martin:
I’m working with a couple techies from my days in Silicon Valley to develop some more robust systems for when the grocery store opens. But it’s been really good to see folks reach out who are willing to help us push this forward. And I’ll shout out to, even though it’s not necessarily a tech company per se, but Canva has been amazing. We use it for our graphics and we do not have the time and capacity to do as much as we want to do. But having Canva has been great because it allows us to make a quick graphic that still looks professional and nice, and is in the right colors and everything. But it also means that we’re able to teach our interns and our youth volunteers some skills with graphic design and promotion through Canva because they can make a free account.

Shauntrice Martin:
I mean, we have a paid account as an organization, but it’s something. It’s a transferable skill. It’s a portable skill that in other internships, they’re just expected to get coffee. But with Change Today Change Tomorrow they’re doing things that are going to make them excellent entrepreneurs in the future or non-profit leaders. So it’s been good to leverage technology in that way.

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Shauntrice Martin is a visionary business owner, leading progressive change in her community and in the business world. Director and founder of #FeedTheWest, a food justice program sponsored by Black Lives Matter Louisville and Change Today, Change Tomorrow, Shauntrice studied food apartheid in Belize, Iceland, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago, and across the United States.

Recently, she started Black Market KY to address food insecurity. Shauntrice has earned numerous awards including 2019 Louisville Forty Under 40, The Coalition of Black Excellence Impact Award, and Silicon Valley Business Journal 2017 Woman of Influence. Check out the first of this incredible three part interview with Shauntrice!

(Please note: this was recorded while Shauntrice was in transit, during her only available window of time. We recognize the sound quality is less than perfect, but felt her work and words were too important not to share. We did our best to clean up the sound so that everybody could benefit from her wisdom and vision!)

Read the Interview

Thank you for joining us. My name is Michelle Winnett, Vice President of Partners and Strategic Marketing at Ruby. I’m so delighted to be talking this afternoon with Shauntrice Feed the West in Louisville, Kentucky. Could you introduce yourself and maybe share a little bit about how Feed the West got started?

Shauntrice Martin:
Absolutely. I’m Shauntrice, I am the mom of one very amazing seven-year-old. I’ve been a volunteer with Change Today Change Tomorrow for almost a year, and that’s kind of how Feed the West started. We were passing out free food, as we usually do, to protestors, unhoused folks, single parents, elders in our community. While we were doing that at the beginning of June, essentially the Kroger closed in response to folks peacefully protesting the killing of David McAfee and the police leaving his body out in the streets. We saw Kroger close, they said they were closing indefinitely. Some of our elders had taken the city bus there or public transportation and without notice they didn’t have a way to get food, so we decided to start Feed the West just as a two-day emergency response program so that we could give folks food who needed. It’s a completely free program.

Shauntrice Martin:
Yeah, it definitely hasn’t just been two days. It’s been almost three months. The reason we kept it going is because a lot of people were asking us for more access to food. Through Feed the West, we also make sure that there are healthy options, there are vegan and organic options, because the local Kroger and many other food marts in the area, in the West end, which is predominantly Black, they don’t have the fresh food option, they don’t have fresh produce.

Shauntrice Martin:
That’s how we started it, and like I said, it went from being a two-day emergency response program to being this three-month initiative that has really allowed us to connect more with community members and it has allowed us to make partnerships outside of just food, so we connect to housing through organizations, we connect to making sure folks have clothes and good education and supplies and things like that. It’s been a whirlwind for sure.

Michelle Winnett:
That’s amazing. Place is obviously incredibly important to your work, and I know you’ve traveled a lot, lived all over, but chose to settle back in Louisville. Can you speak about the importance of place to your work and vision?

Shauntrice Martin:
Yeah, I was born and raised in Louisville and I didn’t leave for good until after college. I got a job working as an intern in Trinidad and Tobago. It was great to be on an island, to be with other people. It was an amazing cultural exchange. I got to work on a project that centered around poverty and feminism, so that was really great. Then I got to work in DC at one of the juvenile detention facilities. I also got to lecture at Georgetown Law on my work at the juvenile detention facility, through one of my great friends, Elizabeth Jones, Dr. Elizabeth Jones, because she just got that PhD. From there, I ended up going to Baltimore and then to California, and I got to work in Iceland last year, which was amazing, as well as some other countries, but doing some similar work.

Shauntrice Martin:
When I was in Iceland, I thought about what do I want to do? It’s great to travel, I’ve been able to bring my son on a lot of these work trips, but what do I really want to do? I thought about what I needed the most when I was younger, which was access to food, access to clean water, those sorts of things, and I thought how can I be a person who supports that? Instead of just starting an organization, what I did initially was I decided I would take a year where I would just do a bunch of different things, like volunteer, have different jobs, consult.

Shauntrice Martin:
But yeah, after just searching around, it became clear to me that food was the thing I was most passionate about, so I connected with Cassia Herron and joined the Louisville grocery co-ops board, which has been wonderful. Again, I volunteered with Taylor. She was one of the organizations I first connected with through Change Today Change Tomorrow. I saw what she was doing with food and I was like, “Yes, this is exactly where I want to be. You’re all about food justice, you’re about equity, and you’re centering around what the community wants,” because a lot of nonprofits tend to just come up with an idea and go implement it instead of asking the community what they want or what projects they’re already working on and how we can amplify those. I was very inspired by Taylor and her vision for the organization, and of course, our children play together, which is a bonus.

Shauntrice Martin:
Being in Louisville was really important to me, one, because my family’s here, but two, because all my experiences and other countries and other states showed me ways things can go really right and ways things can go really wrong. I wanted to take that expertise and bring it back home because a lot of folks here are struggling and they’re parallel struggles to the ones I’ve seen in Oakland, in East Palo Alto and other places. I’m really passionate about making sure folks who look like me and folks who have been impoverished have an opportunity to utilize their skills and not just be whatever they need to be to pay the bills, but really to focus on their potential. I think one barrier to that can be food. Food insecurity is a serious barrier, so I’m passionate about making sure beyond just Feed the West that we have viable sustainable food options for folks in the West End.

Michelle Winnett:
That’s amazing. I personally have also thought a lot about sustainable food and sourcing and just I choose to eat vegan a lot of the time, and I’ve felt like it’s really expensive to do that. To eat healthy is way … To get a bag of apples is more expensive than 10 things of Kraft macaroni and cheese or something like that. It’s just infuriating.

Shauntrice Martin:
Right. I’ll say too, for us, in addition to, like you said, the price difference when you’re going between something organic or not organic, or even just going between, like you said, something unhealthy and something healthy, what we’ve also seen is just a lack of choices. I created the Bok Choy Project, and it just shows the disparities between Kroger locations in predominantly Black neighborhoods and predominantly white neighborhoods, here in Louisville specifically. We saw that there are some children who’ve never seen certain vegetables. They’ve never seen fresh okra or never seen bok choy or these other vegetables that for me, after living in California, is like, “Yeah, I know what that is.” Even living in Maryland, I helped run a grocery co-op there called The Glut, and so I got to see a rainbow of vegetables, both organic and conventional. My son has been able to grow up seeing all these different types of fruits. Jackfruit is something that has never been available in the Western grocery stores, but it’s available in others and I’ve been privileged to see and eat so many different things in different countries.

Shauntrice Martin:
We really want to make sure that folks, no matter if you’re poor or you’re wealthy, that you get more options. I think that’s a big barrier to health. In the West End, we have a lot of negative indicators for health disparities, and having access to a bigger variety of healthy foods can address that.

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