Old-School Methods and Cutting-Edge Tech in Business With Mike Hutzel

John Corcoran 10:38

So after your master’s degree, you move into consulting. What type of consulting did you do at that point?

Mike Hutzel 10:46

Yeah, so what we decided to do was, there were a bunch of, you know, I had the good fortune of having a great cohort in grad school. But I also had, you know, relationships, I guess, a lot of folks that I was still friends with from high school, who went on to college and got into business of their own right, different, different verticals, etc. So the idea was that we were pulling talent back then, and trying to make an entrepreneurial Ronna providing value, right, bringing whatever assets you have, and then and then bringing people to the table. So we had all kinds of projects. I mean, I can remember a project that for a few years that we had with a real estate auction company, where we were helping them not only on site with some of their auctions, but some of the ways that they were helping their clients get funded. 

You know, there was a lot that we did a lot of stuff in the payment processing world for a while, because there were opportunities there, the banking sector, and so during that evolution, I got exposed to a lot of verticals. So I, we never want to fall into the trap of being everything to all people. But what it taught me was that different verticals really aren’t altogether that different, that some of the needs are similar, some of the people are similar, some of the some of the challenges they face as businesses are similar, even though they’re selling a different product or service. And so what we found really quickly was a lot of the things that we were building were all about systems, about, you know, consistency, and discipline and things like that. And so those were applicable projects to project vertically. 

And, you know, if you look at kind of how agnostic we are now, with the service divisions, you can kind of point back to that and go, Oh, that’s why your portfolio is client agnostic. You know, that’s why the services are so there’s such a breadth of services is because those are, those are all things in our world. Now. They all fit under the realm of marketing. But at the end of the day, it’s a pretty diverse group of services, that services a pretty diverse group of people. 

John Corcoran 12:47

And I mean, frankly, I mean, just reflect on it. It makes sense for that scrappy kid who grew up around bases that was looking to please dad, it was looking to maybe put a few extra bucks in his pocket or in the family’s pocket.

Mike Hutzel 13:01

Yeah, well, yeah. And it was about you know, it’s about identifying the need, right. So if you think about something as simple as painting numbers on it, that was dad’s idea, by the way, I mean, I’d love to sit here and go, I was a bright intrapreneur at age seven, or whatever, but but, you know, there was like, Well, look, if you want money, go earn it, we don’t have any extra. So go, go figure it out. And he goes, Oh, what about this, he goes, you know, and he gave me the idea that for, you know, whatever the can of spray paint, and those little those go number bars we had, it didn’t take long, we were able to charge like a buck or something, whatever it was, and at the time, for 15 minutes of your time, that was big money for you know, an eight year old or a nine year old, whatever. And so it was about identifying the need, or at least recognizing it. And so that translated well later into that consulting stuff. 

John Corcoran 13:49

Funny thing about that is that I saw a young 16 year old guy a while back named Blake who was advertising that local nextdoor.com internet site recently, that exact thing painting numbers on curbs, and I saw a post it and I thought, Oh, that’s so cute that he’s doing that and I messaged him privately, just like give him a little advice thinking oh, here I am this entrepreneur, give him some advice. Did he school me? He messaged me back and politely said, Oh, because I was like, you know, here’s like charging like 15 or 20 bucks. You’re not going to make that much money. You know, you should try and do something more scalable. Well, it turns out he would just get a toehold through these postings. One person would say, oh, come to my curb. 

And then he’d go knock on every door in the neighborhood. Say I’m doing your neighbor down the block and he gets a bunch of them then he goes through and spray paints them all at once and he makes hundreds of dollars. And here I thought he was like giving 15 or 20 bucks a pop. So I thought it was so cool to see that. So anyways, it’s good to know that that one service is continuing on. But I want to ask you about you know, with consulting sometimes the challenge with consulting is to go from you performing a service to then building a team getting yourself Out of actually doing the work. And you had an interesting approach to this, you ended up forming a consortium of consultants called the Templar group. So talk a little bit about that next evolution of the business.

Mike Hutzel 15:11

Yeah, well, what I realized pretty quickly was being a consultant, it also meant being vulnerable. And I mean that on two sides of the coin, John, so it was vulnerable, on my end, knowing that most likely any project I took on was going to be finite. So I had to not only bring value, but then I had to recognize that value, eventually I had to hand the baton over to the business owner or whatever. The other side of it was, I recognized pretty clearly that the business owner had to be vulnerable to me. In other words, they had to, they had to admit, at some point along our conversation to become a client that they, they didn’t have it all figured out, right. And so what you know, and this is, this is this is back to my military roots is you just say who you are, and who you’re not kind of saying you there’s no reason to, you know, there’s no faking it till you make it? Well, I knew what my background was, I knew I was good at things like cleaning up collateral and verbiage for manuals, and all my English background, right, and all that kind of stuff. 

But what I wasn’t necessarily good at was, you know, financial records or tax implications, or whatever else it could be. So, my thought, you know, in forming the temple, our group was, look, let’s get some like minded people with this primary thing that it started with their value system. Right? It wasn’t so much about what they did or who they did it for. It was: Do they, as a professional, do their values align with mine? Are they transparent, and honest and candid, and all the things that mattered to me internally, because it matters at the end of the day to the client. And so that was kind of my judgment call . You know, in retrospect, it was slightly naive. I probably turned down some talent that probably could have benefited some of the clients we were working with, if I’d have just kind of gotten over myself maybe a little bit. But at the end of the day, I don’t regret it. 

Because we never had any projects that went foul. I never had to second guess somebody’s intentions, if they made a recommendation for a client that was beyond my scope of knowledge, I could trust it. And so it was still a lot of fun. We still work on projects together. It’s like an old fraternity. Now, I guess, in some ways, it’s not as it’s not as front and center as it once was back in the early 2000s. But it’s certainly alive and well.

John Corcoran 17:30

And you end up spinning out Eagle One group into one hub, one umbrella talking a little bit about the decision to why you did that. That was about 10 years ago.

Mike Hutzel 17:40

Yeah, yeah. So 2014, we were already doing a lot of consulting and then banned, or let’s call it partnership sourcing in some of these areas. And so we were getting more and more expertise and in the patterns just started to come up for us, at least that, you know, and we haven’t even talked about my business partner, Diane and her background, but but the reality was, is that we wanted more and more control for the clients, and less and less reliance upon systems that were beyond our control. And so the decision was made to spin out Eagle One with the idea that we could control, you know, really the quality of the service delivery from soup to nuts. And you know, so it was easy for us to do that, because we already had a client portfolio, we already had a working awareness of a lot of the services that we provide now and how they work. And we knew that it was a combination of technology and good people. And so we made the decision to own it. And we said, we took the leap off the ledge that way, and we we built it and here we are, you know, 10 plus years later.

John Corcoran 18:47

And you mentioned your business partner, Diane is actually your mom, how did you end up starting the business together?

Mike Hutzel 18:52

Yeah. So Diane, it’s been a great marriage from a partnership perspective, in this regard. Not only does she have all the same values, and I mean, she, she, raised five boys, right, she was a military spouse . She lived everything I live plus some rights plus all the responsibilities of being a parent. But her expertise is operations. Right? And she comes from a long, long 30 plus year history in the call center space. And so it only made sense for her to be involved in this because she could bring those decades of experience to the CX division that we have and the lead generation division. 

And so and those those were, you know, those really were our foundational divisions and we were able to put the our digital marketing on top and then fences are our latest greatest thing but but at the end of the day, it was that foundation, that operational experience that I could I could trust and so the partnership works so well because even though we make collective decisions, I’m all things relationships and our franchisees and you know our partnerships and strategic alliances, she’s all things operations. And so we’re in our own lane for the most part. And you know, I mean, there’s a real blessing in working with family now we fight like family sometimes. But at the end of the day, you know, you don’t have to worry about what her motives lie. And what our endgame is..

John Corcoran 20:17

And how I’m curious how, with raising five kids moving around so many different times, moving to areas which wouldn’t necessarily have a call center, how did she manage to, you know, keep her career in spite of all those things that are happening in, in one industry.

Mike Hutzel 20:37

So, Mom, this is also part of where I learned to find opportunity where it knocks, mom was a lot of a lot of things when she was being a mom. So she, she worked near the base of sometimes she worked in retail, this is a this back in the 70s and 80s. Now she was finding employment where there was employment to help while you know, as she could as a military spouse. When that ended, she was able to really catapult her career. So her background is actually in quantitative and qualitative analysis in the market research area. And so she was really able to catapult her career in the late 80s. And early 90s, when the family moved back to Cincinnati. And that’s when she really took off with what she was doing.

John Corcoran 21:25

Got it. And obviously, technology has changed a lot over the years. You talk about equal one being a technology enabled company, what are some ways that technology is being used as we record this, and we’re, you know, we’re heading into the second quarter of 2020. For now. So what are some technologies that are really effective for the, you know, customer experience and lead generation digital marketing these days?

Mike Hutzel 21:51

Yeah, so there’s a lot of great platforms. I mean, I was kind of breaking my heart a little bit. But like with, with the CX division, for example, we plug into the Genesis platform, which is one of the Cadillac platforms for call centers. The way I’ve always explained it to clients, John is, you know, at the end of the day, the technology is great. But it empowers the people, it empowers the strategy, right? So it’s really a combination, that’s the reason we kind of put it that way on our website, the technology enabled company, right? So it empowers our people to be better, smarter, faster. You know, things like AI and I know that’s a hot topic. Now, that’s really enabled us to really drill down on some of our strategic messaging, things like email campaigns, some of the scripts we write for our CX clients when we’re engaged in the first place. So it really, it also helps. 

I mean, I think a lot of our clients come to us because they’re looking for not only best practices and subject matter expertise, but they’re looking for visibility. And I think the technology in a lot of ways helps us provide that visibility, even something as simple as a telephony platform like Genesis. And the smarter that the technology gets, the more transparency we can give our clients about their user’s experience. And it allows them to make appropriate adjustments on how they’re servicing their customers. So it’s a real value add for customer and for our clients anyway, so big because they’re able to really look at data now and go, Oh, this is here’s a trend or here’s a pattern, or here’s a response that maybe is out of the blue that we didn’t expect about a product or service. So it really helps us leverage that technology on behalf of our clients to serve their own customers better. 

John Corcoran 23:39

And, you know, as hiring practices have changed, and the workforce has really opened up and is kind of a global workforce. Now have you? Have you zeroed in on a few countries like people traditionally do in the call centers? Base? Or, you know, are you hiring people all over the globe? Where are you sourcing your team members from?

Mike Hutzel 23:59

Yeah, so all of our team members are our United States base. So we’re a domestic organization. There’s a couple of reasons for that. And that doesn’t mean there’s bad options offshore or nearshore. There are great options, right? For us, it’s a cultural thing. For us. It’s if we’re going to say we’re a military family based, faith based organization. That’s part but part of it is some of our clients sort of expect that from us, right? They’ve tried the alternatives. And they want now the beauty of where we are today versus prior to COVID.

 In the heyday of the call center world in the States, it was always about how many butts in seats was a common phrase, how many butts do you have in seats? And can I come kick the tires in your call centers? And we’ve lived through those days, right. COVID has really reshaped everybody’s mindset around the idea that it’s perfectly fine to work from home. Now. We started experimenting, working from home long before we in fact we were doing it in our consulting Days way back like, oh 809 using people that were remote. A lot of them were active duty spouses and veterans. 

John Corcoran 25:09

Right and yeah. And that opens up not just the talent pool for you, but really like work opportunities for those spouses you know, they can do remotely. Yeah, yeah,

Mike Hutzel 25:19

No. And so our population today is pretty and I want Dianne to quote the actual number, but I have a significant portion of our call center staff, that’s active duty spouses for that very reason. By the way, they’re great employees, right? I mean, they’re disciplined and diligent, they show they’re appreciative of the fact that they can go from location to location like we did when dad was in the service and not lose their job. They bring real talent, they even bring supervisors and you know, Team Lead kind of talent.

John Corcoran 25:51

By the way, how do you find them? Is there like a I’ve seen job boards for moms, but I haven’t seen a job board. For military spouses. Maybe there is one out there,

Mike Hutzel 26:01

There are several, actually, I’ll send you a list. I don’t want to get too far down the rabbit hole. But there’s there’s some great organizations that focus on nothing but veterans and spouses.

John Corcoran 26:13

Yeah, that’s great. We should put that in the show notes

Mike Hutzel 26:16

Yeah, yeah, I would love to send those to you. Because these are organizations we’ve been affiliated with for a very long time. We still do a lot in the veteran owned business space from a client perspective as well. Why? Because it’s near and dear to our heart, right. It’s who we are. It’s what we know. We know that we know how to speak, they know that kind of thing. But they’re the active duty spouses, you’d be amazed at just how traditionally appreciative they are in general, of being able to have good gainful employment. 

And you think about the kind of employment we’re offering. Not only is it safe to stay at home. But it’s white collar work. It’s not it’s not go out and manage grocery, and I don’t I’m not belittling any job in any stretch, but it’s, it’s not the more acceptable near the base kind of activity that they might find if it if they landed, they’re new and needed to go out and get a job. 

John Corcoran 27:07

Yeah, yeah. And you find that they’re motivated, that helps motivate them, you know, the old school thinking was, you needed a pack a room for conference rooms with all these different phone lines and people working next to each other, whether it’s outbound or inbound, or whatever. So instead, it’s kind of a model of they’re at home, they’re not surrounded by a bunch of other colleagues. And they’re either placing phone calls or receiving incoming phone calls from their home. 

Mike Hutzel 27:33

That’s right. Well, and remember, they’re now back to technology, there is a little bit of camaraderie and fellowship with technology. So the platform like Genesis, for example, allows them to communicate in a like a, like a Slack type environment. That really, and they do form teams. I mean, we do try to build one of the things that eagle ones have always been really, I mean, this and this stems from our history, I guess, but we call the Eagle One family. And I’ll tell anyone who will listen John that I endearingly call us the Island of Misfit Toys. 

And that’s that old Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, you know, referenced there, but, but I say that in a very endearing way, because we can accept all sorts of folks, right, and they’re judged on their talent. They’re judged on how they treat their colleagues, how they treat our clients, and the work that they do. And it’s so you’d be amazed at the different EQ collective group of people we can attract. Because they do have the perk from working from home. They and that allows them to have a different kind of lifestyle, right? The commute has the top floor to the bottom floor. If they have to have their kid at home that day, or whatever, you know, whatever life brings their way. They’re allowed to do that as well and still form a camaraderie and fellowship. 

John Corcoran 28:54

Yeah, we’re the same way actually, I think we’re majority female, maybe even majority mom. And I love it when I see a baby pop up in the zoom window. Yeah, yeah. And you Oh, I was gonna ask you about you know, AI obviously, it’s a hot topic these days. You know, a lot of people say that it’ll replace a lot of workers. I went through a Starbucks drive thru a couple of weeks ago, and after I, you know, place my order and we’re going to the next window. I was like, That seemed like it was an AI or something. 

And my, my son who’s 13 was like, oh, yeah, Dad, I’ve seen videos on YouTube, you know, McDonald’s and Starbucks and stuff are using these API’s for just the order placing you know, not obviously, there’s a man who handed me the, the order when we got up to the window, but I think the first portion of it was actually AI. So do you see AI having a big impact on your industry? And if so, how are you studying it? How are you monitoring it right now?

Mike Hutzel 29:48

Well, we certainly keep an eye on when we use it. There’s a couple of platforms we use. Now. I don’t mean, I’m, I’m briefed on the idea but the team talks about it quite a bit. There’s real value to it. I don’t know that, to us in the call center world at least. Right now, it’s sort of an equal comparison to something like a standard issue IVR. Right. So every consumer at this point is used to calling any organization just about and getting an automated press one, press two, press three hands. So it really hasn’t inundated the call center space from starting to take away people. Now, there are certain organizations like we have, again, we’re client agnostic. 

So like our EECOM, clients are moving more and more quickly to that sort of self-serve model and less and less human interaction. But ironically, people still buy from people’s jobs. So I, there’s still a very real asset, I mean, real aspect of I want a human voice, I want a human, at least chat or email exchange or something, right. And so, and we’re still big believers that people buy from people, I’ve always liked it. We’ve long since embraced technology. We will do that with AI as well, so long as it is empowering our people.

John Corcoran 31:12

And, you know, certainly digital marketing is one area that you also focus on, and that has traditionally embraced technology, and now is embracing AI as well. So you probably have more of it in that area.

Mike Hutzel 31:25

Yeah, it’s our fastest moving division, or let me say differently, fastest changing division. I mean, I have one frustration with the whole concept of digital marketing, even though we have that whole division. And it’s as soon as we master something, something else is out there, right? So we master Facebook, then there’s Twitter, we master Twitter, then there’s YouTube, we master. And so it’s, it’s now a good challenge, right? Because it’s keeping us on our toes, it’s helping us understand what the next generation is expecting. And by the way, if you think about how we’re structured, what that digital marketing division, that pace that it keeps, it really actually ends up trickling back to our lead generation division in our CX division. 

Why? Well, because it’s telling us what the next generation of decision makers are about, like, an easy example would be, you know, if you think about the old smile and dial days of call centers, right, it was it was about how big your list was, how many agents you could put on it? And how many people get to say no, before you get somebody to say Yes, right? Well, there was an old adage of about three to five touches on a person and you would get a yes or no, okay, now we’re touching people 12 to 15 times, especially when it’s a sophisticated business purchase, right. And we’re not just touching them along the phone, we’re touching them over LinkedIn, we’re touching them in email, a lot of times we’re trying to solicit and have them self identify as being in the market for that before we market to them at all, for our clients. 

Because decision makers even on the business side of the world are very, very persnickety. They’re very sophisticated, and the younger they get, the more digitized they are. So they’re expecting the technology, they’re expecting to be able to vet our clients in a way that involves technology of some kind long before they’re willing to have a buying discussion.

John Corcoran 33:19

Now let’s talk about your newest division, which is your friends division, which actually took you seven or eight years of R&D on this to talk a little bit about the concept and what it is. 

Mike Hutzel 33:30

Yeah, so my partner in that division is a brother from another mother, Bill Testa. I’ve known Bill half a lifetime. He is kind of one of those. It’s a fun story. He came to me seven years ago or so. And it was literally the idea on the back of a napkin. And he goes, Mike, what do you think I said, Bill, it’s brilliant. Let’s do it. Let’s do it. Now I had no idea it was gonna take this long. And I had no idea that the patenting process was so long, painful and expensive. But we want to do it right. And then, you know, we’re not gonna be able to cover it all today. But effectively, we have created our own new marketplace. So the way I tell it from a high level is once upon a time, Twitter or Facebook or YouTube didn’t exist. Once Upon a Time prints didn’t exist. We believe in the next 24 months, it will be a household name. 

They will be an app on every iPhone or Android. And it’s a combination, John of patented technology, patented process and first party data extrapolation. We’ve created a marketplace in which we control who gets in from a consumer perspective, an advertiser perspective and a client perspective. And it’s a it’s the first time in my career that I we it’s a it’s a business unicorn, it’s not a it’s not a commodity. I’m used to selling commodities and the other divisions. Everybody, if I say Call Center Service, everybody knows what that means. If I say friends, they go but I And so we, we launched it last year, very quietly, just like you would any new product or service, we didn’t really start telling the world until last fall. Last fall, we were invited to be the featured platform at Adweek in New York City. Then we were invited to the visual first summit in San Francisco, which is Google’s photo Summit. And then we were invited to the AMA Summit. And so those three events for us were a sort of the telling of the world approach. And since then, it’s been, you know, as you might expect, lights out.

John Corcoran 35:38

So explain to the layman what it is, because it’s free prints you get in the mail, right?

Mike Hutzel 35:44

It is free prints. If you know what, I’ll give you a job. I’ll send you a link to a what we call packet presentation for your show notes. So your users can, or your audience can listen or look at it. But effectively Think of it this way consumers get the opportunity to get all of their photos for free delivered to their home. Okay, yeah, advertisers get what’s unheard of in the direct mail world, they get 100% open rate. 

John Corcoran 36:12

And people will open, you’re guaranteed to open the prints.

Mike Hutzel 36:15

Yeah, the packet looks, I don’t know, if we’re gonna be able to see the picture. It’s like this, okay, except it is branded from our packet sponsors. So the reason we get 100% open rate and 100% Visibility rate is because the consumers when they order their photos, they’re waiting on them. And as you can see here, from this photo, the advertiser is attached right to the photo, right? So it’s they, when they all and all the consumer has to do something like this and break off the photo, and the advertisers as seen from every photo, right? So in the traditional direct mail world, as you might already know, they expect a one to 3% efficacy rate, we’re getting 100%, right? 

With the packet sponsors that we have, these are logos that, you know, we can talk about another time. But these guys, they are able to monetize their consumer population, they’re able to grow their advertiser and or vendor population. And the the real, the real sort of gem, or piece of resistance, if you will, is the fact that the our patented technology, the data extrapolation from the photo, we’re able to extract every data point from every photo, so people oftentimes say a picture’s worth 1000 words, we say a picture’s worth 10,000 attributes. 

John Corcoran 37:36

So if we have a picture of themselves in front of their new Ford Mustang, then he pulls that out now.

Mike Hutzel 37:41

Well, and here’s what’s really cool about it, with it, the new rules around cookies, and these kinds of things where they’re pulling that away. Even if cookies were still in their heyday. Cookies are a tendency based approach to marketing. If I click on a bourbon ad, I might also be interested in a cigar at miton. When you look at a photo and you extract data, that’s a fact. Right? I’ve already bought the bourbon, I’ve already bought the cigar, I’m already on the beach, whatever the scenario is, we give that data to our packet sponsors and our clients, okay. And effectively, we’re enabling them to know things about their client population that they didn’t know before, their partnership was really

John Corcoran 38:24

interesting. So like it again, to use the car analogy, if someone’s just bought a brand new Ford Mustang, then maybe someone who sells you know, Mustang seat covers might want to market to that person because they might be in the market for buying seat covers to go with.

Mike Hutzel 38:38

Exactly exactly intended, the brilliance is we’re not selling PII. So what I mean is, we can’t get personal identifiable information. Okay. So if you think about compliance based industries, like the banking sector, or the healthcare sector, or even folks who are just having great brand champions, right, they didn’t. I don’t want to sacrifice my consumer data. Well, they’re not. Okay, what we’re doing is we’re allowing, or we’re giving them their updated intel from the photos. But an advertiser only gets a new customer if the consumer chooses to be an advertiser or to act upon that ad. And what the advertisers really like is we give them the demographics, right? 

So we give them the stats, demographics, geographic psychographics, and they can make an educated business decision on whether or not they want to advertise to that particular group or not. And it is diverse, right? If you say, you know, I always kind of joke when I’m talking with packet sponsors about what would a Hutzel family packet look like? Well, if my wife ordered the photos from a vacation, here’s what you would see. You would see us on the beach, you would see our Labradoodle Paco, you would see my boys and I on a charter fishing boat. You would see me with a cigar and a bourbon. You know, you would see us at some eclectic restaurant. Well, if I’m a chewy customer, for example, chewy might not And then each of those 10 things about me.

John Corcoran 40:02

But now, yeah, something interesting opens up.

Mike Hutzel 40:05

The world of what’s a legitimate add worth to that consumer? Right? We already know about them.

John Corcoran 40:11

It’s a really interesting idea. I’m mindful of o’clock. We’re almost out of time. So I want to wrap up with my last question, which is I’m a big fan of gratitude, especially expressing gratitude to those peers, contemporaries, mentors who’ve helped you in your journey, who would you want to acknowledge and thank? 

Mike Hutzel 40:25

Yeah, I’ll do it really quickly. I will start with my spiritual mentor who I lost in 2020, Jerry Sasson, he was with me for nine years, dear friend. He was part dad, part uncle, and park business mentor, for sure. He’s a lot of the reason why we have so many intangibles here at EagleONE. I’d also attribute our board Anthony beater guys who you mentioned in the beginning, Dave Cook, Kathy Blackwell, Aaron Bach and Rick Grossman and Mark McClellan, all legitimate experts in their own expertise, who all come from different worlds who keep dying an eye on our toes. And lastly, I would say, you know, Diane, my mom, has had a huge impact on me personally, my whole life, obviously. But a lot of the hardcore lessons that I learned growing up, has helped us build EagleONE to what it is today. 

John Corcoran 41:17

My husband is great. Where can people go to learn more about you and EagleONEin France?

Mike Hutzel 41:21

Yeah, just go to eagle1group.com. That’s Eagle common spelling, the number one numeric one group common spelling.com. And it’s all right there.

John Corcoran 41:31

All right, Mike. Thanks so much, John. Thank you.

Chad Franzen 41:37

Thanks for listening to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast. We’ll see you again next time and be sure to click Subscribe to get future episodes.