Steve Levely brings decades of experience in software, telecommunications, and marketing to his job as CEO of Ackroo. The company is a loyalty and rewards platform catering to businesses and merchants in the United States and Canada.
Before becoming CEO of Ackroo, Steve Levely served as the company’s Executive Vice President of Sales & Marketing. With his position as EVP, Steve played a pivotal part in creating, designing, and implementing the company’s sales and marketing strategy. The skills, knowledge, and techniques he had learned from that job propelled him to his current executive position.
Steve Levely also used to work at Maritz Canada, where he headed the company’s “strategic business development division.” At the same company, he supported its signature “Sales Channel Enablement, Engagement Marketing and Consumer Loyalty” strategies.
Prior to that Maritz post, Steve also spent eight years at Pitney Bowes. While at the company, he held several senior management positions in both the company’s North American offices. With over 20 years of experience as a successful senior leader and experienced business developer in various industries, Steve Levely is poised to take Ackroo to the next level.
Currently, Steve Levely heads Ackroo’s corporate strategy. The company offers its clients a platform that is affordable and easy to use, which gives them 24-hour access to tools, reports, and data that will help lighten their management load.
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Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Steve Levely: I think we have shown operational excellence for quite some time. We have not only managed our business through difficult times like cash flow etc., we have now acquired 9 different companies over the last 6 years where operational efficiency is critical to integrate and better operate. We have been “better operators” for quite some time and now we are working hard to also be the “better technologists” in the space by taking a unified and simplified approach to our industry.
Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Steve Levely: Everyone needs to feel success if they expect to endure. You can’t simply set a goal and work at it for years to finally feel success. You need to have small successes along the way in order to keep that internal fire alive. So my advice is to make sure you are not just chasing your long-term goals, but make sure you have short-term goals that you can and do achieve. That you win early and often and have lots of moments of success. I was taught years ago how important it is to help your new sales person get their first sale so they can taste success, so they know what it feels like and keep wanting more of it. The same goes for running a business. You need to feel that quick win and keep feeling it if you expect to achieve that BIG success.
Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Steve Levely: Team is everything. You are only as strong as the people around you and I have been blessed over the years to be surrounded by many smart and successful people. It’s a part of why I obsess over the hiring at Ackroo and want to be a part of that process as much as I can.
I don’t want to call out one particular person in my business career, however what I can say is that I have fortunately had many people who have helped me over the years who had no direct reward for doing so. Yes I have had great leaders and colleagues over the years, but it has actually been those that have taken the time to give me feedback and advice who didn’t directly benefit from it that has had the most impact. Ex-colleagues that have moved on and have stayed in touch to talk about their successes and failures. Friends and family that have had plenty of current and past experiences to share and ideas to give. I have learned just as much from my network “outside” of my business than “in” the businesses I have been a part of and I think that has really helped me along the way.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
Steve Levely: Ackroo’s client base today is made up of brick and mortar businesses that have some e-commerce, not e-commerce businesses that have some brick and mortar. So for our clients what the Pandemic has done has had all of them put even greater focus on the e-commerce aspect of their business more now than ever before. The first thing we saw was a massive adoption of digital gift carding from our client base. Before the pandemic less then 10% of our customers were actively using and promoting the digital gift card aspect of our technology and over the last 6 months that number has already doubled and with the holiday season in front of us we think that trend will continue. There has also now been a push for online redemption of rewards allowing customers to not only redeem instore but online as well. The third big mover for us has also been with digital marketing. Our clients are seeing the need to communicate with their clients even more and so leveraging our marketing communication tools has also been key. Whether it’s because their clients aren’t coming into the business as much or just to differentiate from the many other options online, communication and engagement has been a critical path to success for our clients.
Jerome Knyszewski: Amazon, and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
Steve Levely: I believe if your business is built in price you will struggle to survive. Being the low-cost provider is far from easy, especially with what you are describing here with China. To me it becomes even more important than ever to differentiate by making the customer experience better. People will pay more to get more, so being obsessed with the customer experience and adapting frequently based on the voice of the customer you are getting is key. Find more ways to engage, listen and reward your customers and don’t be afraid to pivot when you need to would be my main advice.
Jerome Knyszewski: What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Steve Levely: They try to do too much out of the gates. There is a saying “walk, crawl, run,” and I think that is very important in all aspects of business. The more complicated they try to make things in order to stand out, the more they struggle. Simplicity is key both for their customers and themselves, so I always suggest simplicity to start and then complexity over time.
Jerome Knyszewski: In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Steve Levely: One of the great things about our clients is that they are in store brands first, e-commerce second and so the controls and systems you have in place in store ideally need to be translated online. So how can you make the online experience feel similar to the instore experience? Your customers have chosen your business in store for a reason and they will most likely choose you online for similar ones.
Jerome Knyszewski: One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?
Steve Levely: I believe all feedback is good feedback. Whether it be constructive or negative, there is always something to learn from it. I would spend less time defending or deleting bad reviews and more time talking and showing the things you are doing to address those concerns. In time the reviews will change and the old negative ones will be forgotten.
Jerome Knyszewski: You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Steve Levely: There are a few movements that come to mind, however one that stands out for me is really about the demand for more SUCCESSFUL business people in politics. The government is the largest employer in the country with many citizens as their employees and ALL citizens as their customers. I strongly believe if the government was lead by successful business leaders that had to show their success in the private world first and get the respect of all citizens for how they achieved success before being able to go into politics, our country would be a much different place. Not just economically, but in all facets of our lives.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Steve Levely: You can find me on:
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!