Al Hopper Show Notes
Al Hopper was getting beat physically and mentally. His entire team was down in the dirt. That’s when Al learned about the power and magic of words. When you need to rally the troops and things are going the way you don’t want them to, what do you do?
Al was born in St. Petersburg, Florida. Born as an Army Brat in an enlisted family, Al mostly grew up in Europe and Georgia.
When Al’s family moved he had to learn to adapt to new places and people. Learning how to move between social groups eventually became second nature. His wife, who he met in high school in Germany, still doesn’t understand how Al can walk into a room full of strangers and walk out with new best friends.
After high school, Al went straight to college, like you’re supposed to. Only, he found out he wasn’t ready to be left on his own with his family stationed half the world away. So Al decided to do what he knew best. He went into the Army.
After serving four years in the Army, Al worked at a small business selling and installing pool tables in Augusta, Georgia. Then Al and his wife decided to move to San Antonio, Texas, where he tried selling cars. It didn’t take too long for him to figure out that wasn’t a good fit for my personality.
Al then joined Citibank’s contact center’s inbound personal banking team where he piloted several initiatives before moving to help start a fraud prevention unit. From there Al progressed on to Citibank’s live chat and messaging team and then their social media team. While there Al became a cohost of the weekly #custserv Twitter chat with Marsha Collier, Roy Atkinson, and Greg Ortbach.
In the spring of 2015 Al finished his MBA at American Military University. Through his networking, he met Shaun Williams and became a cofounder of Social Path Solutions in May 2015.
Al is currently Chief Operating Officer of SocialPath Solutions. A digital agency with a focus on social media engagement. There Al is able to leverage his career in Customer service, education in business and marketing, and passion for social media to build a business he’s extremely proud of. Al is grateful to always be learning about himself, his team, their clients, and their customers.
Al still resides in San Antonio, Texas and is happily married to his high school sweetheart, Ursula. They started dating in 1996 and got married in 2001. They have 2 daughters, Ilyana and Anneliese, who are 13 and 10.
Tweetable Quotes and Mentions
“The ultimate goal is to build customer service for customers.” -Al Hopper Click to Tweet
“Customer service is marketing.” -Al Hopper Click to Tweet
“The better you treat your customers the more they’ll want stuff from you.” -Al Hopper Click to Tweet
“Businesses haven’t been prepared to use social media as a customer care channel.” -Al Hopper Click to Tweet
“Leadership in places now don’t understand how to use social media.” -Al Hopper Click to Tweet
“Leadership in most companies forget that people are running the brand.” -Al Hopper Click to Tweet
“People in customer service are most loyal; they feel the closest to the brand and customer at the same time.” -Al Hopper Click to Tweet
“Too many executives don’t start in customer care.” -Al Hopper Click to Tweet
“Sometimes you just have to shut up and do it.” -Al Hopper Click to Tweet
“Have a plan, get punched in the mouth, refocus, get another plan and keep moving.” -Al Hopper Click to Tweet
“Just remember, everyone in the room is a person.” -Al Hopper Click to Tweet
“When things start getting rough, remind people that everyone’s insight is important.” -Al Hopper Click to Tweet
“Just do what you got to do because that’s the mission at hand.” -Al Hopper Click to Tweet
“There’s no way I could ever know everything, but my team can.” -Al Hopper Click to Tweet
Hump to Get Over
Al Hopper was getting beat physically and mentally. His entire team was down in the dirt. That’s when Al learned about the power and magic of words. When you need to rally the troops and things are going the way you don’t want them to, what do you do?
Advice for others
Create a plan, move forward with that plan and don’t be afraid of making mistakes with that plan.
Holding him back from being an even better leader
Confidence in making the right decision and then knowing if it is the wrong decisions that I can recover from it.
Best Leadership Advice Received
Shut up and soldier because it’s the mission at hand.
Secret to Success
I surround myself with the best people possible. I don’t know everything, but my team can.
Best tools that helps in Business or Life
Being able to talk to people as a person.
Resources and Show Mentions
54 Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Competencies List: Emotional Intelligence has proven to be the right kind of intelligence to have if you want to move onward and upward faster. Get your free list today.
Show Transcript:Click to access edited transcript
Intro: Welcome to the Fast Leader Podcast, where we uncover the leadership like hat that help you to experience, break out performance faster and rocket to success. And now here’s your host, customer and employee engagement expert and certified emotional intelligence practitioner, Jim Rembach.
Need a powerful and entertaining way to ignite your next conference, retreat or team-building session? My keynote don’t include magic but they do have the power to help your attendees take a leap forward by putting emotional intelligence into their employee engagement, customer engagement and customer centric leadership practices. So bring the infotainment creativity the Fast Leader show to your next event and I’ll help your attendees get over the hump now. Go to beyondmorale.com/speaking to learn more.
Jim Rembach: Okay, Fast Leader Legion, today I’m excited about the guest that I have on the show today because he’s one of those folks that just always seems jolly. Al Hopper was born in St. Petersburg, Florida born as an Army brat in an unlisted family. Al mostly grew up in Europe and Georgia. When Al’s family had to move he had to learn and adapt to new places and people learning how to move between social groups eventually became second nature. His wife who we met in high school in Germany still doesn’t understand how Al can walk into a room full of strangers and walk out with new best friends.
After high school, Al went straight to college like he’s supposed to only he found out that he wasn’t ready to be left on his own with his family station half a world away, so Al decided to do what he knew best, he went into the army. After serving four years in the arming Al worked at a small business selling and installing pool table in Augusta, Georgia then Al and his wife decided to move to San Antonio Texas where he tray selling cars didn’t take too long for him to figure out that wasn’t a good fit for his personality. Al then join Citibank contact centers inbound baking team where he piloted several initiatives before moving to help start a fraud protection unit.
After there, Al progressed on to Citibank’s live chat messaging team and then their social media team. While there Al became a co-host of the weekly #custserv Twitter chat with Marsha Collier, Roy Atkinson and Greg Ortbach. In the spring of 2015, Al finishes his MBA at American Military University. Through his networking he met Shawn Williams and became a co-founder of Social Path Solutions in May 2015. Al is currently Chief Operating Officer of SocialPath Solutions, a digital agency with a focus on social media engagement. There Al is able to leverage his career in customer service, education and business and marketing and a passion for social media to build a business he’s extremely proud of. Al is grateful to always be learning about himself, his team, their clients and their customers. Al still resides in San Antonio, Texas and is happily married to his high school sweetheart, Ursula. They have two daughters, Ilyana and Anneliese, who are 13 and 10. Al Hopper, are you ready to help us get over the hump?
Al Hopper: I’m ready let’s do this.
Jim Rembach: Al, I’m glad to have you today. I’ve given our listeners a little bit about you, but can you tell us what your current passion is so that we can get to know you even better?
Al Hopper: Sure. So, my passion really is customer service and to social media being able to bring the two worlds together. One of the things I’ve really been enjoying over the last couple of years is meeting up and tweeting up with a lot of other people in the industry at different conferences and just in general. I just have conversations to see how we can do better for customers, that’s the ultimate goal, is to build customer service for customers.
Jim Rembach: You’re right it is but there’s also different approaches that people take and you seem like one of those folks that come from a place of abundance, where did that come from?
Al Hopper: I’ve just always been a servant leader and I think that that’s really kind of driven my need and want to really help customers get what they want, actually that really helps businesses get what they want to. Because as you can help your customer’s grow and get more results from your products, your business is going to grow. And so, the new toy, the new (3:46 inaudible)is customer service is marketing, and I really kind of believe that, the better you treat your customers the more they’re going to want stuff from you.
Jim Rembach: Now, we had talked off mic, and you had mentioned how starting SocialPath Solutions, of course it was a natural fit because it had your backgrounds and things in place, you have mentioned to that it has been amazing just in a short period of time how much need there is for what I call social customer care and that is there’s this whole new different channel out there and definitely multitudes of different platforms when you start thinking about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snap chat, we could go on and on but companies really just had a hard time consuming, understanding and navigating all of that, where do you think most of it there or I should say, where is the biggest point of pain that you’re helping solve?
Al Hopper: It’s really just having a plan on how to respond. For years social media has been the realm of marketing and PR and brand protection and if someone says something bad about your brand if you can’t bury it then you just kind of ignore it. But that’s not the way it’s really evolving, customers are reaching out on social media sometimes it’s because they just can’t get what they want from the phones and they feel it’s something that they need to be asked, lay it out to the public. But as new generation comes on people are now digital natives, kids were born with phones in their hands and so the fastest thing that they can do is to type text something whether it’s text a tweet, text on Facebook any other apps that are out there and it’s an on demand service.
I can tell you that I have a problem right now in the middle my problem and then I have to wait for you Mr. business to respond back to me and so businesses haven’t been prepared to be able to use social media as a social customer care channel, as a main channel, it’s always been an escalation channel and where really trying to help change that mindset.
Jim Rembach: You bring up some really interesting points about all of this. I was just reading some statistics associated with SnapChat and its explosive growth for the past 12 months and the age groups that are primarily part of SnapChat and how—they’re really consumers. And when you start looking at most businesses that are being run these are their kids and sometimes their grandkids and they don’t have that real social connection and understanding of their world. So, when you sit down with a particular client, where do you see the biggest barriers are for you to be able to do your work?
Al Hopper: Just like you said it’s just the leadership in place, and now just don’t understand what social media is and they don’t understand how to use it. They don’t use it personally and since they don’t use it personally they have no clue how to use it for their own business.
Jim Rembach: So, if you were to give organizations out there that are struggling with this whole social service/customer service thing, what’s one piece of advice that you would give them in order to help them move forward?
Al Hopper: Create a plan. Move forward with that plan and don’t be afraid of making mistakes with that plan.
Jim Rembach: So, if you talk about the mistakes that cause people to fall down and maybe not a move forward as quickly as they want to, where do you see those common pitfalls?
Al Hopper: It comes from wanting to be perfect. And I think leadership in most companies they look at it as the brand cannot make a mistake, the brand is perfect, and the brand is spotless. They forget that there are people running the brand and people are not perfect people make mistakes. And at the same time I think it comes to the idea that social media’s been run by marketing and marketers are typically more compensated than customer service, don’t ask me why it’s just the way it’s always been. And there’s a seeming lack of trust with handing over the keys to the castle to the lowest paid organization in the company.
It doesn’t make any sense to me your letting these people talk on behalf of your company on the phone or chat or e-mail but you don’t want to let them do the same thing on social media because it’s in the public’s view, so were phone calls. How many times have you heard now people recording phone calls of cable companies and then playing them back and they go viral? If you would actually take more care of the people that are your brand, then they’re going to be the ones that are the most loyal, no one wants to work in customer service because it’s the lowest paid for any company but they’re the most loyal because they’re the one that feel the closest to brand and the customer at the same time.
Jim Rembach: You bring up an interesting point ‘cause you started getting into the characteristics of people who are in customer care. And I have found through the course of my 20+ years of being in it that they are some of the most passionate and caring people that you’d ever meet. And I have found and spoke to many executives in organizations who will say things like, “I just don’t understand those people over.”
Al Hopper: Yeah, and I think it’s because too many executives don’t start there and I think that’s really the problem. I love seeing stories of startups where everyone does everything at the beginning and as the company grows the executives and the leadership, they sometimes forget where they were and they have to go back. The smaller companies don’t have this problem because, like mine—myself and my co-founders we take shifts doing the job that everyone does and so were very close and intimately link to what our front-line team does. As you get a larger organization and it becomes divisions and different levels of the pyramid, the farther up the pyramid you get the farther away you get from the day-to-day part of the job and you forget about it. And then if you think how, sometimes a revolving door of executives at the very top of these large organizations, they didn’t even start with the company they were brought into be the executive of the company they have no clue where the company’s then. And I think that’s where you’re seeing that kind of conversation where, I don’t know how people can answer the phone three hours a day I don’t want to take a single phone call, they’re not just not trained to do it it’s not part of your lifestyle.
Jim Rembach: That’s a good point. We’ve also talked off mic about this whole connection with the company and being able to provide services in regards to interacting with customers and knowing what the product and building some of that intimacy with your clients that oftentimes I think as you just mentioned executives don’t have. And you talked about a process that you have, can you kind of quickly walk us through what that is?
Al Hopper: Sure. We’ve developed something we call the path to social because we do social customer service and were really helping our client companies on their journey through social media. They may have started social media and kind of send out messages and they’ve engage with the marketing company but now their customers are starting to talk back to them and marketing companies aren’t ready to deal with that, that’s not what they do. And so companies are starting to feel the pain there and what we do is we just kind of have that conversation with them, we learn about their company culture, we learn about their client and customer culture, and then we help define how you would respond in a clear way. It’s not about being robotic it’s about having a goal.
So, let’s say we start working with a financial organization that has ATM’s. One of the common things would be, “Hey, bank X, the ATM on Fifth Street isn’t working.” Well, if bank X doesn’t have a plan on how to respond to that then they just ignore it and just pretend it never happened. So now you got a customer that’s asking for help, might be a pretty simple solution could be as simple as, “Thanks for letting us know, we’ll restart the machine” or “Yeah, we know about that one, can you go to this other over here a block away.” You have to create that plan and really understand what the pain is they’re trying to solve and have a protocol for responding.
Jim Rembach: And that’s a great point. There’s a very simple explanation on something that people probably connect with. When you start thinking about the whole tradition of social media being on the marketing side, a marketing person would have access to any of that information.
Al Hopper: Right, absolutely.
Jim Rembach: When we’re talking about social media, when we’re talking about just customer care in general, customer experience it could be loaded with a lot of passion. And one of the things that we love on the show is to talk about favorite quotes of folks, because they can do just that and they can provide that passion. Is there a quote or two that you can share?
Al Hopper: Sure. One of my favorite quotes of all time is, Soldier, shut up and soldier. I first read it in Starship Troopers written by Robert Highline in 1954. One of my favorite books I read it quarterly. My dad used it on me one time when he was getting ready to retire and I was starting my career. We’re talking about some of the things that lower enlisted soldiers have to do that just aren’t really fun, it’s not really what you signed up to do. He just said, sometimes you’ve got to shut up and do it, it’s a job you’re getting paid and it’s not glorious. So I looked at that and I’ve used that through my customer service journey over the years. Sometimes it’s really just not fun to sit on the phone for eight hours a day listening to people yelling and screaming and calling you names personally for something you have no control over that your brand can’t fix and sometimes you just suck it up buttercup and do it.
Jim Rembach: I love that quote, and you’re right. Sometimes we just have a little bit stiffer neck and buckle down and just keep going on and focus on to the next thing and do the best that you can, and it’s a good quote for resilience and perseverance, and thanks for sharing it. And I also, looking at your bio and I’ve had the opportunity to also interview several folks who come from a military family background and they just always have a very unique perspective about different cultures and the what you’re talking about getting used to and connecting to folks rather quickly because you had to otherwise you are always alone. But there’s humps that we have to go through in that process. And when you start talking about going to the university and realizing that, “I’m not ready for that” those are humps. So is there a story that you can share that will help us all?
Al Hopper: Yeah, that’s a great question and I’ve had so many humps in my career. I think the biggest one was really early on when I was still in high school. I was a captain of a football team largely because we only had 40 kids on the team and we were a small school and we’re in Germany so it wasn’t like trying to play football in Texas otherwise I don’t think I would’ve been riding the bench rather than being captain of the team. But we are faced with having to play, some of us had to play both ways play offense and defense some of us even had to play special teams so we would not come up field for 60 minutes. We were getting beaten really bad by this really big school and it was just one of those moments where you see in the movies, we had our huddle in between plays and it was just like everyone’s down in the dirt and we’re getting beaten physically, we’re getting beaten mentally and it was just one of those (16:14 inaudible) moments where you just have to step up and say some magic words and I don’t even recall what of those magic words were but it was like all of a sudden everyone just took a jolt and do something and we are ready to go again. And I’ve always kept that as something special that I’ve been able to do is really rally the troops on anything that I’m doing, whether it’s a phone team, a social media team, my new team at SociaPath Solutions. When things get rough and things start going the way that we didn’t think it was going to go I’ve always really been able to just kind of rally everyone together re-focus them and really just kind of go back to the basics, why are we here? What are we doing? Alright now let’s do that. Another leadership quote, “Everyone has a plan until they get punch in the mouth.” And that’s really been kind of my leadership style and just being able to do that, just have a plan, get punch in the mouth, re-focus and get another plan and keep moving.
Jim Rembach: You know I think that’s a really interesting thing and thanks for sharing that. I had a conversation yesterday with a potential client and one of the folks that’s on my team and it started going sideways and so there was a whole lot of “we could’s” that started coming in to the conversation. When you have creative folks that are having communications with one another and talking about a way forward you could spend an entire week talking about what if scenarios and for me I let it go on for a little while and then when I found my opportunity to reel it back in and today I got a note from one of those folks saying, thank you.
Al Hopper: Yeah, you’re right. You get passionate, people in the room and they’re saying either the same things in different ways and they’re just skipping off each other or they’ve come to just an in pass they just can’t get pass whatever it is they’re talking about and it sometimes takes a cooler mind to say, “Okay, guys let’s just put it on the table for now let’s re-focus what do we really having this meeting for and let’s do that.
Jim Rembach: You know, I think for me, in my younger years, I would just cut it off. However I’ve learned that what I had to do is show my appreciation for the conversation and the information that we had shared at that point and then also showed and told them that it was valuable because it helped us really understand on what we needed to do next. So, I try to be really careful of appreciating their contribution, their efforts and even the time that I could’ve easily said, “Hey, we’re just wasting time here let’s move on” and that’s what I did when I didn’t know any better in my younger years but I made sure that I address them personally before we pitted in or redirect it. What is one particular thing or tip or tactic that you use that you could share with our listeners?
Al Hopper: Actually, you just said exactly what I was going to suggest. Just remember that everyone in the room is a person they have feelings, they have desires, they have their own set of expertise and when things start getting rough and head start getting banged together you do have to step back and remind everyone that everyone’s insight is important because not everyone sees everything the same way. We had a very similar meeting recently where we’re trying to refocus and try to understand the change that the firm wants to make and one of our employees very passionate about something just kept going and kept going and kept going and he had a great point of what he was trying to present but it was one of those things where the meeting just couldn’t keep going forward we’re going to lose all the momentum we had at that point. So, just like you said make sure that you recognize everyone as a person. And make sure that you recognize them, yes you have a great point, yes were going to listen to you, write it down, share with us later, right this moment it’s not the right time. And it just solved so many problems in this meeting, we were able to move forward and after the meeting I was able to huddle up with my team mates and he said exactly that, thank you for recognizing that I have a problem or I have a solution to a problem. And your right, we couldn’t keep going the way we are going because we are just turning into a shouting match. And so absolutely the best advice I could suggest is treat everyone as a person and remember that everyone has an idea that may or may not be the right one but they’re going to be passionate about their ideas just recognize that passion.
Jim Rembach: So you and I had the opportunity to talk off mic about some of the things that you’re working on. I haven’t had the opportunity because the timing to dump in or jump in to the cus-serve Twitter chat, but Marsha’s going to be on the show, Roy’s been on the show and being on the same communities that you have been for quite a while we just haven’t connected, so I’m really glad you’re here, but I know you have a lot of things going on and if you could just kind of give me an idea of what would be one of your biggest goals.
Al Hopper: Wow, biggest goals. The biggest goal of course is to of course to continue growing the business and try to understand where that’s going to go because that’s affecting not only myself but right now 20 different families internally and that’s not counting all of the businesses and their families and all the customers when it’s just an exponential growth pattern of how many people that we are affecting via this little project we call SocialPath Solutions. So, right now that’s really the biggest thing on my horizon. I think right up there with that is being able to spend more time with my family. My oldest daughter Iliana, she is the orchestra and also participating in Cyber Patriot, which is a really cool programs that has been started to teach young kids cyber defense skills and try to see if that’s a career path that they want to take, she’s really taken to that.
I really want to try to get involved with their team and her school, it’s amazing she’s been doing it since sixth grade and they do things like anti-hacking maneuvers in Windows 7 and Linux and all these things, I’m blown away. When I was in college I made a small living programming websites but that was 20 years ago and it’s so different now and the things that she’s learning. We grow the business large enough and strong enough that I can step back and spend some more time with the kids.
Jim Rembach: And the Fast Leader legion wishes you the very best. Now before we move on let’s get a quick word from our sponsor.
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Jim Rembach: Alright here we go Fast Leader legion, it’s time for the Hump Day Hoedown. Okay, Al the Hump Day Hoedown is the part of our show where you give us good insights fast. So, I’m going to ask you several questions and your job is to give us robust yet rapid responses that are going to move us onward and upward faster now. Al Hopper are you ready to hoedown?
Al Hopper: Let’s do it.
Jim Rembach: Alright. What do you think is holding you back from being even better today?
Al Hopper: Confidence. Confidence in making the right decision and then that if it is the wrong decision that is not going to be something I can’t recover from.
Jim Rembach: What is the best leadership advice you had ever received?
Al Hopper: We kind of talk about it earlier. Soldier shut up and soldier. Just do what you’re going to do because that’s the mission at hand.
Jim Rembach: What is one of secrets that you believe contributes to your success?
Al Hopper: I surround myself with the best people possible. I don’t know everything, there’s no way I can know everything but my team can.
Jim Rembach: What you feel is one of your best tools that helps you lead in business or life?
Al Hopper: Just being able to talk to people as a person and not forgetting that that’s what is behind business and behind customer service, people.
Jim Rembach: What would be one book, and it could be from any genre, that you’d recommend to our legion?
Al Hopper: I definitely would have to say, Starship Troopers.
Jim Rembach: Okay, Fast Leader listeners you can find links to that and other bonus information from today’s show by going to fastleader.net/Al Hopper. Okay, Al this is my last Hump Day Hoedown question: Imagine you were given the opportunity to go back to the age of 25 and you have been given the opportunity to take the knowledge and skills that you have now back with you but you can’t take everything back you can only choose one, what skill or piece of knowledge would you take back with you and why?
Al Hopper: I’m going to take the cheap way out of this one and I’m not going to take back with me the winning lottery numbers for when I was 26.
Jim Rembach: That is a cheap way. So, what would that do for you Al?
Al Hopper: I would be able to hopefully give me the money to be able to all projects I want to do so I wouldn’t have to worry about bootstrapping in your company. I would be able to put my family in the place where they wouldn’t have to worry about wanting for money. And I think that through having that luxury I would be able to accomplish so much more than what I’ve been able to accomplish so far.
Jim Rembach: Well, I hope that you can still get lottery number. I have to share that you kind of also queued that we’re going to have on the future episode the author of the book called The Lottery Curse so we’ll see how that turns out.
Al Hopper: I’m listening for that one.
Jim Rembach: There you go. It was an honor to spend time with you today, can you please share with the Fast Leader Legion how they can connect with you?
Al Hopper: Sure. The best way to reach out to me is on Twitter, @alhopper_, please do not forget the underscore because you’ll end up tweeting with someone who doesn’t tweet back and it’s not my fault. And also you can reach out to me on LinkedIn, just Al Hopper. And we also have our website socialpathsolutions.com, we have live chat there as well.
Jim Rembach: Al Hopper, thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom the Fast Leader Legion honors you and thanks you for helping us get over the hump. Woot! Woot!
Thank you for joining me on the Fast Leader show today. For recaps, links from every show, special offers and access to download and subscribe, if you haven’t already, head on over the fastleader.net so we can help you move onward and upward faster.
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