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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Sergio Frias joins Gabe Larsen to discuss the Be NICE platform; a process that companies can use to improve their customer experience. Sergio is an engineer and has spent the last 20 years in the construction, tobacco, and aerospace industries. He worked at Supply Chain for a while, and that’s where his passion for CX started. The company was ranked #13 out of 13 on a customer support survey, and his boss gave him the challenge of rising to the top. By creating the Be NICE program, they became number one. After a brief amount of time away from the industry, he returned knowing that it was where he wanted to spend his time, and he continues to share his passion for the CX industry today. Listen to the full podcast episode below.
What is the NICE Program and What it Stands For
The NICE Program was created by Sergio Frias in order to help give companies the tools they need to have better customer service. It is also an acronym for Nurturing Insights about Customer’s Expectations. Sergio explains, “The whole idea behind that is that for you to deliver a customer enchantments, which is more than satisfaction, which is the wow factor, you have to deliver something that the customer is not expecting. And for you to be able to do that they’re not going to tell you what a wow moment is for them. You have to figure that out. So you have to have an insight.” Customers want to be blown away with quality service and that requires insight. The NICE program helps businesses find these insights and act on them.
The Eight Steps of NICE to Drive CX
To help give companies clear direction, the eight step process was outlined for improving CX. The first step is context, or getting the background information so companies know where they are at and where they want to go. Next is benchmarking. Benchmarking is comparing the customer service tactics of other companies. They do not have to be companies in the same industry, they just need to have good tactics to learn from. Third is the ever important customer journey map. The importance of going through the experience of the customer and mapping it out cannot be forgotten either. And fourth is a step called the “essence of NICE.” Sergio explains, “the idea is that you have to grow the performance from what you are delivering, actually delivering, to what you promised. And then you have to go beyond that because customers are not satisfied by getting what they paid for. … So we have to figure out ways to understand what are the processes that we have to change or make flexible enough so that we can go around them to deliver what the customers are expecting without bankrupting our company.”
The fifth step is about evaluating which processes of the organization or company need to change. It is about not being afraid to take a hard look at a company and figuring out what alterations need to be made and creating a plan to execute those. Step six is called knowledge sharing or making sure that the important information isn’t kept a secret. When knowledge is shared, change can happen. Step seven is making sure that the right employees are in the right places and that they are taken care of. Happy employees help have happy customers. The last step is all about service. To explain this, Sergio comments on the incorrect understanding some people have of what service is. He shares, “So if I serve you, it’s because you’re better than me, which I believe is exactly the opposite because the people who can actually serve the ones that are capable of sacrificing themselves to the benefits of others, those are very special people. … And then we have to make sure that the organization understands that so that the people that will be serving the customers, they will serve thinking that what they’re doing is not just another work like any other work.”
Expert Insights on Where to Start When Improving Customer Experience
To finish up his time with Gabe, Sergio shares some last insights about attitudes and practices companies should have when they start the NICE program. Companies need to have an open mind to new practices and know their brand inside and out. Also, knowing the impact a company has on those around them. Once organizations really know themselves, they will be ready to do the heavy lifting and start making the necessary changes. Another important point he makes is the following; “do not assume that you know what is best for your customers. You have to make sure that they tell you one way or another. You have to deliver something that is aligned with their expectations. What you think is great, really doesn’t matter. What matters for them is what is great for them. So you have to understand what is valued from your customer perspective.” Powerful and positive CX experiences lie ahead for the organizations that learn to apply these principles.
To learn more about the NICE program and Sergio Frias check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.
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Full Episode Transcript:
Be NICE | How to Drive the Customer Experience with Sergio Frias
Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.
Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
All right. Welcome everybody to today’s episode, we’re excited to get going. We’re going to be talking about how to drive the customer experience using a really interesting framework that was brought to my attention not too long ago. And so we brought on Sergio Frias. He wears multiple hats, actually. He’s currently the President and CEO of the Federation of Canadian-Brazilian Business, as well as he’s also the chief customer experience officer at the Chartered Institute of Marketing Management of Ontario. So Sergio, thanks so much for joining and how are you?
Sergio Frias: (00:44)
I’m fine. Thank you very much for having me. It’s really a great opportunity to be here. Thank you.
Gabe Larsen: (00:50)
Well, I think you bring a lot of wealth of experience in this, obviously in the CX space and I think in the customer space in general. Before we jump into the topic, can you just do a double click real quick? Tell us a little bit more about who you are and what you do?
Sergio Frias: (01:05)
Yeah. Well, I’m an engineer. I worked for construction industry, tobacco industry and aerospace industry for the last 20 plus years. I’m in the aerospace industry. I worked on multiple fronts in Supply Chain in customer support operations, sales, contracts and most recently I decided to change paths in my career and become this CX guide that I am today.
Gabe Larsen: (01:37)
Well, let’s let’s then go further into that. I mean, what was the, what was the thing that made you flip? How’d you become a CX expert?
Sergio Frias: (01:44)
That’s a great question. Actually, for many years, since I joined the aerospace industry, I was being exposed to customer experience all the time. So I had a lot of functions that were to support customers one way or another. So when I was in Supply Chain, I was asked to be the supplier, the purchasing guy for spare parts to provide to customers. Nobody wanted to do that job, but I was asked to do it, I said, “you know what? Nobody wants it, it may be a good opportunity.” I went there, but I was always trying to go back to my usual life. Then at some point the President of the Services Business Units in the company I was working for, he came to me and said, “you know what? I have a problem. We are number 13 out of 13 companies in a survey about good quality service in terms of customer support. We need to be number one. And for that, we need to deliver great customer experience.” And he said, “if you want, the job is yours, you’re going to be the owner of this business. So you buy, you sell, you do everything, all the logistics, distribution, everything.” That was a great opportunity for my career. I was not really thinking about CX, but the more I got into that I realized that I knew how to do it because of the many years working with customers and always being concerned about how to get the customers what they needed. I realized that was an amazing thing, especially when you could deliver and the customers were happy and they — you could see the results right in front of your eyes. And it was a great opportunity because the size of the problem was so big that I had to create something. And I created the NICE Program, which was very successful. Unfortunately, two years down the road, the business unit that I was working for was terminated. And I had to break my organization into three to have a piece of each, each one of these pieces within the other business units in the company. Then I moved to be a sales guy, selling business aircraft. Then I moved to be a sales guy for commercial aircraft, then services to airlines, but I was never the same. After that, my heart was with CX and I was always thinking of ways to get the experience of the customer, either on the sales process or the contracting process or in the delivery process or the aftermarket process, always trying to make it better. And then that’s when I realized that, look, I’m getting old, my friend, if I want to jump on this dream, it has to be now. And that’s what I did. A few months ago I left the aerospace industry. I became an independent guy, and I was invited by the CMO, the Chartered Institute of Marketing Management of Ontario to do exactly what I always wanted; to write my book about the NICE Program and to share the knowledge that I accumulated over many, many years working with customer experience. And I’m still excited about that.
Gabe Larsen: (04:37)
I love it. I love it. I think we share some of that. I also did a lot of selling in my background, but did taste the flavors of CX. And once you go CX, it’s hard to go back. I can relate to that. So, well, let’s dive into this NICE program a little bit. I mean, it sounds — I think the thing that’s always great to come across is when there is a little more structure to delivering customer service, sometimes it gets soft. I’ve talked about that on this podcast before. It’s just feeling. The more you can get strategies and process and structure, I think it all helps us deliver a better customer experience. So start with the why, what is the why of this program?
Sergio Frias: (05:16)
Yeah, if you remember, I just mentioned my boss, he wanted to be number one. And the only way to do that was by delivering great customer experience. So that was the why. The problem is that’s not enough. You have to go lower into how you’re going to actually deliver that. So we came to the how and how we would do that. So we basically had to transform operations, centric organization, or focused organizations into customer centric organizations. That was the only way because the whole organization was focused on running the processes regardless of what the end result was. And we had to convert that. So by basically training people and getting them to be nice on the phone, that was not enough. We had to change the entire organization because otherwise the people with all the good intentions, they would never be able to deliver a great customer experience if the systems behind them, the processes and the tools and everything, they’re not all aligned with the same purpose. So the thought management has to be aligned the processes, the tools, everything has to be aligned. And that brought us to the what, so what we would do. So we basically had to develop the people and we had to upgrade the tools, we had to review the processes and we had to change the culture. So this is what the program is all about, right? So it’s a people and organizational development program, which purpose is to deliver those four things that will actually make the — or materialize the transformation that will end up delivering great customer experience, which let me tell you, at the end of the story already, we became the number one, right? So from number 13, out of 13, we became number one from 13. So that, that’s what it is.
Gabe Larsen: (07:10)
Wow. Do you — I love the alignment when — because you’re right. Sometimes we focus too much on the people side or the process side or the technology side, and you really want to get those threaded together. So they’re all working together. I like that you’ve brought them all kind of in one underlying framework. I’ve got to ask, what does NICE stand for? I mean, is that an acronym? You’ve got to be nice to people as part of this program now.
Sergio Frias: (07:35)
Yeah. Well you do have to be nice to people because that’s the key, right? NICE is actually an acronym. It comes from Nurturing Insights about Customer’s Expectations. The whole idea behind that is that for you to deliver a customer enchantments, which is more than satisfaction, which is the wow factor, you have to deliver something that the customer is not expecting. And for you to be able to do that they’re not going to tell you what a wow moment is for them. You have to figure that out. So you have to have an insight. And for that it’s not magic, right? It’s not fairy dust and suddenly you know everything. It’s a process. You have to build that. And you have to build that through all the interfaces you have with your customer. And in terms of all the customer experiences that they have, that they experienced with your business, starting from the very beginning with what your brand promises, what your marketing says, what your sales process is, how the contracting works, how the delivery works and the aftermarket, and always remember; that if you have customer services, basically because the customer experience failed somewhere before that, right? So the idea is to understand all that, those aspects and how your brand, your company is exposed to the customer, providing experiences, even if you’re not seeing that. And that’s — when you truly understand that, then it’s much easier to be able to take action, prioritize things, and deliver the great experience through all those channels.
Gabe Larsen: (09:12)
I love that. I love that. I think that’s a fun acronym. That’s good to know what that is and again, I liked that you’ve brought them all kind of under one umbrella. Let’s get into some of the components that you find really important as part of this NICE program. How do you break it out? Is it one, phase one, phase two, three pillars, five? How do you think about the NICE overall framework or strategy?
Sergio Frias: (09:38)
Yeah, we basically — it’s a program with eight modules. Yeah. And it’s on purpose because we want to make sure that people understand each one of the phases and each one of the things that have to be done to deliver that great customer experience. The first one is what we call the context. So, for you to be able to go from one point to another, you need to know where you are and where you want to be, where you have to be. And that’s when, when you’re trying to deliver a great customer experience, you need to understand how good is your experience today and how good it has to be based on the strategy of your business. So this is the context. You have to understand exactly what is going to be the trip from where you want to go to where you have to go.
Sergio Frias: (10:22)
Right? The second part is the benchmarking. The second module is the benchmarking. Why? Because there’s a lot of companies out there that are currently, that are delivering an experience as we speak and our customers, they are being exposed to that. So we need to understand who are those companies that are defining our customer’s expectations so that we can have a chance to figure out how to deliver to that expectation. Right? So the benchmarking is a module where we try to understand who are those companies, those companies may or may not be from our industry. Right? So when I was doing this in the aerospace industry, uh, one of the main companies we were looking into was a retailer. The other one was, I guess I can mention the name, it’s McDonald’s right? So McDonald’s, don’t sell spare parts for airplanes, right? I don’t remember to have seen a Mack landing gear, but the fact is those guys, they know very well how to standardize processes and part of our business needed that. So we use them as a reference, as a benchmark, the same with the retailer, they were really good at customer experience. So we did that. And then once we mapped and figured out which companies we could invite to join us in this journey to deliver a great customer experience, we developed a partnership with them and we brought them in to help us to grow, to help us to deliver. Right? The next one is the CX mapping or the customer experience mapping because —
Gabe Larsen: (11:52)
We’ve got context, benchmarking and mapping. Right. Did I get those and [inaudible]?
Sergio Frias: (11:56)
Gabe Larsen: (11:58)
Alright keep going.
Sergio Frias: (11:58)
Yeah, and the mapping, as I mentioned before, the experience doesn’t start when you actually have a customer on the phone complaining because the product they bought is not working. It starts way before. It starts when, for example, if I say the word Porsche, it defines an expectation already. It has to be something fast, something with great performance and sexy, right? Your brand is already telling a story and your customers are already expecting something out of that brand. And then there’s all the marketing that you do around this name, around this brand. And then you create more expectations and then you start to sell and then you’ll deliver. And then there’s after markets, all the supports after sales, and even the disposition sometimes like you buy a car and when the car is, you can sell it to anybody, you can get rid of it. This is a bad experience. And companies typically don’t see that. So the purpose of this module, you have to map all the expectations that are being created by your organization, your brand, your process, whatever, that you have to figure out a way to deliver to that. Right?
Gabe Larsen: (13:05)
Sergio Frias: (13:06)
And then we have the next module, which we call the essence of NICE. The essence of nice is the following. We, typically the companies that need to do something, it’s because they are delivering a performance that is less than what they sold to their customers. And then the idea is that you have to grow the performance from what you are delivering, actually delivering, to what you promised. And then you have to go beyond that because customers are not satisfied by getting what they paid for. Remember, every time we buy something, we always choose the cheapest one expecting that it will perform like the top of line of that product, right? So customers only are satisfied when they get what they expect. So we have to figure out ways to understand what are the processes that we have to change or make flexible enough so that we can go around them to deliver what the customers are expecting without bankrupting our company. We have to preserve the financial results, but we can do things that are simple, that can deliver satisfaction without breaking the company. And that’s what this is all about. But there’s another level of performance that is the dream of the customer, because some customers — you’re so far from the dream that they’ll not even tell you what the dream is because they don’t think it’s worth, right? So, well, “why would I do that? They’re not even performing the minimum necessary.”
Gabe Larsen: (14:25)
Sergio Frias: (14:25)
So the idea is to develop your people to a point that they can read in between the lines, they can understand or figure out what has not been verbalized by the customer. So they have to understand what the customers will see as a wow moment, or will see as the magic or see as something spectacular. And when you are able to figure that out and deliver that with those flexible systems, with those flexible processes in your company, you will be delivering great customer experience. So this is the essence of NICE. The next one is a triple away organization. Triple away organization is basically you have to evaluate your entire organization, figure out what are the things that you have to change? What are the processes you have to make flexible? What are the tools you have to improve and everything you have to do to be able to have the entire organization focused on that delivery. And then of course, execute, you know, have plans in place, make those changes and transform your organization.
Gabe Larsen: (15:28)
Okay. So there’s a lot to this, but I think there’s a lot to customer experience. So we’ve got context. We’ve got benchmarking, knowing where you are, where you’re not, I love the mapping, knowing those moments of truth. This essence of nice was different, but I liked those different service levels you talked about. Okay. I think I got that triple organization was number five. What were the last ones? Give me the last three real quick.
Sergio Frias: (15:53)
Yeah. Knowledge sharing because it’s the next one because there’s a lot of knowledge inside of your organization. And you have to make sure that you use that knowledge before you start spending money to get training to 300, 5,000 people. The next one is the right people at the right place. You have mapped the profile of your people and understand what would make them happy. Because as Richard Branson says, “if you treat your employees well, they will treat your customers well.” So you’ve got to make sure that they are happy, because if they’re happy, they produce more, the productivity is higher, the quality is higher, the customers are happier and you make more money. So you’ve got to figure out a way to get them happy. And in this program, we help people to understand how to map those profiles and move people around the organization so that you put them at the right place.
Gabe Larsen: (16:45)
Got it, got it.
Sergio Frias: (16:46)
And the last one is the true meaning of service. This is very important because, particularly in countries like Brazil, where I come from, we come from — we were the last country to abolish slavery. So the whole culture of the country makes people feel like service is something, menial something, subaltern something’s slavish, right? So if I serve you, it’s because you’re better than me, which I believe is exactly the opposite because the people who can actually serve the ones that are capable of sacrificing themselves to the benefits of others, those are very special people. Look at the people that go to the military and go fight a war overseas. Those guys are serving their country. Nelson Mandela, he was serving a cause. A father, a mother that decides to give up the career to stay home and take care of the family they’re serving their families. So those are very special people who —
Gabe Larsen: (17:44)
[inaudible] — cause sometimes.
Sergio Frias: (17:46)
And then we have to make sure that the organization understands that so that the people that will be serving the customers, they will serve thinking that what they’re doing is not just another work like any other work. It’s something really special. And once people realize that they have self fulfillment when they do it, when they succeed and the customers are very happy. And of course the company makes a lot of money. So it’s good for everybody. So that is a very important part of the process.
Gabe Larsen: (18:14)
Oh, I love it. Well, that is a very comprehensive — and I know there’s, as we were talking pre show Sergio, I think you could go on this for hours, but each of those modules, I assume you can go layers deep. But I like that it’s holistic. I liked that it brings people process technology, kind of brings all of those together. As you think about a framework like this and knowing you’ve been a customer experience leader, and you’ve talked to some of those, what would be your kind of tip or advice for people who are trying to start this journey tackling all eight might be difficult [inaudible].
Sergio Frias: (18:50)
Well, first thing is for them not to limit their understanding of customer experience as that moment of truth, the moment you are in front of the customer. You have to look at the overall thing. You have to understand the impact of your brand, of your services, of your products. You have to look at the overall thing, not just one piece. The second would be, you have to change not only the people, but you have to change the organization. If you change either one or the other, I can guarantee you that you’re going to waste time and money. It’s not going to work. You have to change both. The other one would be to not underestimate the power of your organization, the power of the knowledge you have in your organization and the power to make, to promote change. You have to choose the right people to have around you so that the change can actually happen. The next one was do not assume that you know what is best for your customers. You have to make sure that they tell you one way or another. You have to deliver something that is aligned with their expectations. What you think is great, really doesn’t matter. What matters for them is what is great for them. So you have to understand what is valued from your customer perspective. And what I would suggest particularly now is that you understand that improving our processes or trying to find more efficiencies or optimize the way you do things. These days, when people have a lot of capacity, idle, it’s not the best thing to recover from COVID pandemic crisis. Customer experience is probably the best way because that’s when you’re going to bring your customers together, you’re going to be closer to them and you’re going to incentivize the demand to come back. So if I would bet at this point in something to recover, I would bet on customer experience because this is what is going to make the biggest difference over the last few years, I would say.
Gabe Larsen: (20:52)
I love it.
Sergio Frias: (20:52)
That’s what I would say. Yeah.
Gabe Larsen: (20:54)
I mean, times are still challenging for many of us and I think customer service can be that difference, needs to be that difference and I think you outlined a good way for everybody to think through that. So Sergio, really appreciate you jumping on today. If someone wanted to learn a little bit more about you or get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do that?
Sergio Frias: (21:11)
Well, you can find me via my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can find me on LinkedIn, my profile, just look for Sergio Frias. It’s me and you can reach me there and we can connect and I can try to help. It will be definitely a pleasure.
Gabe Larsen : (21:33)
Appreciate it. Well, definitely a lot of information gathered today. Hopefully helpful for the audience. Sergio, thanks for joining and for the audience, have a fantastic day.
Sergio Frias: (21:43)
Thank you very much. For you too and thank you for the opportunity. Bye bye.
Exit Voice: (21:53)
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