Although some waste management companies may lag in the digital marketing space, at GFL Environmental, James Mitchener is pushing the company forward.
In his role as marketing manager, Mitchener oversees the organization’s combined marketing group across Canada and the U.S. He manages GFL Environmental’s customer-facing marketing platform and works to build tools that maximize the company’s revenue growth, primarily in the digital space.
Mitchener started his waste management career a few years ago at Waste Industries, and the company was acquired by GFL Environmental in the past year. GFL is a full-service environmental solution provider with services that include solid waste management, solar remediation and liquid waste management.
Mitchener, who was named as a Waste360 2019 40 Under 40 award winner, discusses his efforts to bring innovative digital marketing practices to his work in the waste industry.
Waste360: What are some things that you feel have made you successful in your role as GFL’s marketing manager?
James Mitchener: My original background was in digital marketing. That was one of the first jobs that I had out of school, and I learned a lot on the digital side as my initial marketing career blossomed. When I moved to the waste side with Waste Industries, I was here to just do website redesign. I was on a contract, and I’ve been expanding that role over time.
I noticed early on that the waste industry as a whole is significantly lacking in terms of the digital footprint and how we engage customers on a digital level. We put together this strategy for an e-commerce portal, which would essentially take, for lack of a better word, the Amazon business model, which is the sheer convenience of being able to do everything from your desktop or your phone, and fully close a sale without having to ever actually talk to a person in a location.
I worked with our GIS [geographic information systems] department, our customer service team and our development group, all internally. We crafted this tool that would essentially allow a customer to go online, enter their address and get that address verified. Then, we can provide an exact pricing model for that footprint based on where we service and where we don't service—down to literally the street—and send that data back [to the customer] as a “yes” or “no” and give the pricing.
Waste360: Could you expand on other ways you have helped your company be more innovative with its marketing?
James Mitchener: We started by actually creating more of a digital footprint and roping social media into our customer service process. So many people nowadays are not even bothering to pick up the phone; they’re going to send out a tweet, or they’re going to put something on Facebook.
We work in conjunction with our customer service groups internally to develop processes and procedures that would allow us to interact whenever anything is mentioned about our company. If it’s a problem, we can get it solved before it even becomes a phone call. Essentially, it’s proactive responsibility. We’re trying to catch the problem before it becomes a real problem. It's just a little complaint here. If it continues to be an issue, well, we don't want it to get to that point.
We also incorporated a chat system onto our website. We now have a team of people in the Raleigh, N.C., office who exclusively handle chat queries from customers. We wrote that into our customer service process so they can do everything that anybody picking up the phone would be able to do. We just handle it through the chat client.
Waste360: When you came to Waste Industries [now GFL Environmental], was that your first experience in the waste management field?
James Mitchener: It was my first personal experience. My father has been in the industry forever. I was exposed to it very heavily, but I had never actually worked in the field. Waste Industries would be the first time I directly worked with the industry.
Waste360: Have you used your past experience in training staff around digital marketing to get your team up to speed on innovative practices?
James Mitchener: Most definitely. The rule that I live by is most people don't want to talk to you. If they don't want to talk to you, how do you engage them in a way that makes them feel like they are being treated a) like a human and b) like they are getting the exact result that they want?
Especially in this industry, at the end of the day, most people are only calling you because they have a problem. They don't want to think about their trash. They don't want to worry about it. They don't want to be concerned by it. If they’re reaching out to you, it’s because they have a reason to. How do you make it a simple process that they don't have to think about, because they don't want to?
A lot of our plans that are coming up in the next couple of years are all built around this idea that people probably don’t want to talk to us in the first place and that this isn't a glamorous industry. This is waste. Let’s make all of the positives really positive, make them happy that they're working with us, make them proud of the good that we’re doing in the community and the industry and then allow them to forget about the fact that we're picking up their waste every week because as long as it is gone, they’re perfectly happy.
Waste360: Why would you recommend the waste management industry as a field with opportunity to another young person?
James Mitchener: Well, as a general industry, it is one of the most incredibly supportive communities of people that I've ever experienced. Even from across the company plane, people who may be competitors can still sit around a table and laugh, joke and have a great time and be incredibly supportive. You can see that at WasteExpo every single year. It's absolutely fascinating the camaraderie that comes alongside this.
From a marketing perspective, when I first went into this, I did not think it was going to be that fun. I am very happy to say that I don’t want to work anywhere else now. This industry is amazing, and it is incredibly fun from a marketing side to try and get people to think about what you’re doing when they don’t want to think about what you're doing.
From marketing, it’s been an absolute blast because you’re always having to come up with really creative ways to engage your customer base. Then, when you get something, it's awesome. The engagement that you get out of people is amazing.
For example, we created the Full Circle project about four or five years ago, which is our customer-facing charity campaign. That thing has just exploded with participation, and communities get really involved in the process and really excited about it. It's just been super rewarding to be a part of.
Waste360: What is on the horizon for your organization?
James Mitchener: On the horizon, our goals will continue to be to try and engage customers in new and unique ways and make them excited about all of the stuff we’re doing. We’ve got a few plans for next year that hopefully will take us another step even further beyond what we’ve done so far. So, I’m excited for what 2020 is going to bring.