How to Create a Rockstar Customer Experience with James Dodkins

How to Create a Rockstar Customer Experience with James Dodkins TW

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe Larsen is joined by James Dodkins to explore a new way of creating a powerful customer experience. With a unique background, James has made himself into a prominent figure in the customer service world. James started his career as a professional rockstar. At the end of his music career, he decided to go into insurance and explore more conventional jobs. Eventually, he found that he could combine principles from performance and showmanship to customer service. Motivated by the quote by Jerry Garcia, “Don’t be the best in the world at what you do, be the only person in the world that does what you do,” he has helped others create a rockstar customer experience. Incorporating music into his keynote speeches, he inspires people all over the world and shares some of his valuable insights with Gabe. Listen to the full podcast episode below.

4 Step Framework to Proactive Experience Recovery

Proactive experience recovery, or PXR, is the practice of fixing a problem during the crisis or before it happens. Noticing issues and making changes before a complaint comes in is essential because, as James shares, only 4% of dissatisfied customers will complain. When it comes to having a rockstar experience, waiting for a complaint isn’t good enough. To counteract this, James shares a four-step framework for having good PXR. He states, “So the four-step framework … is identify, monitor, communicate, compensate.” Identify the problem, monitor the problem during the experience, communicate to the customers that you know something is wrong even if they aren’t aware, and compensate for errors. James also states that most companies only do the first two steps. To have a significant edge when it comes to PXR, companies need to accomplish all 4 steps.

The Role of Compensation in PXR

The principle of compensation or the need to compensate for errors in business is something that isn’t always executed correctly. As mentioned above, a lot of unhappy customers don’t say anything to the company. Because of this, companies that compensate for errors before being asked have a significant edge upon competitors. James quotes, “And it doesn’t have to be a monetary compensation, but some sort of gesture goes a long way towards changing how a person feels about a particular situation, only when they don’t have to ask for it. It’s when it’s a voluntary gesture.” The only way that compensation becomes a proactive gesture is if businesses are on top of the data and experiences that their customers are having.

Old Philosophies and the Need to Evolve

The way that businesses are organized also poses a problem to rockstar customer experience. James quotes Adam Smith, an important historical philosopher, and his work, The Wealth of Nations, to illustrate how businesses are organized. Adam Smith brought about the division of labor and the idea of the assembly line. Businesses were organized according to skill instead of focusing on the overall outcome. James notes that companies today are still being influenced by ideas from 1776. He states, “People started doing that and in the manufacturing world, when they were making stuff, it worked really, really well. But of course, things have evolved. Things are different. We are now more of a service economy than a manufacturing economy. When you try and apply a manufacturing mindset to service experiences, it just doesn’t really work.”

There is a drastic need to change business organization ideology to more of a service experience mindset. James also suggests that in order to bring about this change, team structure needs to evolve to be more like a soccer team. The goal is to win the game, not highlight certain players. Instead of paying people based on high performance in a specific skill, businesses need to put the successful customer experience first. James states, “We need to understand who the customer is, what their successful outcome is, how are we going to measure the delivery of it, and then put teams together, different skills and different core competencies who are best suited to deliver that success. Don’t organize by skill set, organized by ability to deliver customer success.” If businesses start to evolve how their teams are organized, a rockstar experience and an edge on competitors will shortly follow.

To learn more about creating a rockstar customer experience, 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:

How to Create a Rockstar Customer Experience with James Dodkins

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 show. Today, we’re going to be talking about rockstar customer experience. I think this will be an interesting one. To do that, we brought on James Dodkins. James has got an interesting background. Now, he actually was a legitimate, real life award winning rock star playing heavy metal, released albums, jumped on stages and he uses all of this unique experience to really energize and power drive that customer experience in this idea of customer experience rockstar for his clients. So, he currently runs his own show. It’s called Founder and Customer Experience Rockstar CX. So James, really appreciate you jumping on and how are you?

James Dodkins: (00:55)
I’m very good. Thank you. Thank you for having me.Thank you for inviting me on.

Gabe Larsen: (00:57)
Yeah. As we were talking pre-show, customer experience sometimes can have, I don’t want to say it’s fluffy, but it can be a little boring at times. Certainly, I think you bring a slightly different perspective to it. And so I’m excited to get into that today. Can you fill in any blanks? Tell us a little about yourself and kind of maybe your background from what I missed.

James Dodkins: (01:22)
Well, I mean, you kind of covered it all, but yes, I used to be an actual real life, legitimate award winning rockstar, but now I’m not. Now I just pretend to be a rockstar. So I released albums, toured the world, had videos on TV, was in magazines. And when that all came to an end, I did the next logical thing after being an international rock god and I joined an insurance company. And I never used to tell anybody that I had a music career because it came with baggage and I thought people would have preconceived notion. I mean, they would be probably correct preconceived notions, but I just didn’t want them to have it. So I wear my way through my corporate career, no one knowing that I used to be a rock god, but then I got really bored because I was having to pretend to be someone that I wasn’t, you know, suit and tie, briefcase, being really careful what I said, to who I said, and how I said it and how I behaved and how I presented myself. And essentially I’d created this corporate version of myself. It just wasn’t me. And it was making me miserable. Lots of things sort of converged and it hit me all at once. There was a quote from a guy called Jerry Garcia from Grateful Dead. You heard of it?

Gabe Larsen: (02:33)
Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, I can’t say I’m a huge fan, but I know the band. Absolutely.

James Dodkins: (02:39)
Well, nor am I. I think that music’s kind of crap but the quote is good and it’s one that’s changed my life and who knows, maybe it may change some of your listeners’ lives too. And the quote is “Don’t be the best in the world at what you do, be the only person in the world that does what you do.” And I was like, woah. I realized all of a sudden, I’ve got this really cool past that when people did find out about it, they were fascinated by it. They wanted to know more, they thought it was really cool. I’m trying to do this thing in the world where I’m trying to increase the knowledge of customer experience and the effectiveness of customer experience and trying to spread it around the world. Why not see if I can put these two things together to help amplify, for want of a better word, that message and spread it out there. And I’m quite embarrassed. I didn’t realize it earlier, but there are so many parallels between putting on a good show to your fans and delivering a good customer experience to your customers. And literally from that point forward, I haven’t looked back. And the nice thing is about it is I don’t have to pretend to be anybody other than who I am. I’m just me being my authentic self. The dumb thing is as well, I said to my wife, I’ve got this idea, I’m going to change the company. I’m going to take us into the 21st century, I’m going to revolutionize what we’re doing. She’s like, “Oh this is exciting, Tell me.” I was like, “I’m just going to be myself.” She was like, “Eh, I don’t really like you being yourself around the house. I don’t think people are going to give you money for that.” But she was wrong.

James Dodkins: (04:14)
And here we are today.

Gabe Larsen: (04:16)
No kidding. Big change.

James Dodkins: (04:19)
So, I hit the road. I wrote a musical keynote talk, which is called “Rules for Rockstars,” which works in any industry because any industry can improve by delivering rockstar customer experiences, I play guitar in the talk, there’s tour stories and musical examples, and people seem to like it. So I’m having a great time right now.

Gabe Larsen: (04:39)
I love it and I know there’s other content that you do out there, but the live rock star keynote sounds like that might be fun to check out. So, let’s get into this idea of rockstar customer experience. Maybe you can elaborate a little bit on some of the key principles that you’ve found to really drive that “rockstar experience” that you’re talking about. Maybe start at the top.

James Dodkins: (05:02)
Well, I mean, there is no top really because for every company and in every unique situation, there would be a first place to start. But there’s various concepts that people — we try and explain and try and get people to think about when it comes to delivering a rockstar customer experience. And one of them, which we were talking about beforehand, which is proactive experience recovery or PXR. And this is the idea and practice of not waiting for complaints. It’s the practice of fixing an experience in the experience. So if I — let me give you the old sort of — I don’t know if it’s an analogy or a simile or it’s essentially a story that will put this into perspective. Let’s say that you’re in a bar, you’re walking through the bar and you walk past the person and they’re carrying four bottles of beer and you bump into them and they spill the beers. Okay. That’s the scenario. There are four ways in which you can go about dealing with that situation. And number one, which is what most companies would do in this situation is they would run away to the other side of the bar and hope that the person never comes after them.

Gabe Larsen: (06:15)
Yeah. Yeah.

James Dodkins: (06:15)
So they’d run off and hope they never have to deal with that conversation.

Gabe Larsen: (06:19)
True, true.

James Dodkins: (06:19)
The problem is the majority of the time, the person won’t come after them. And then the person’s in the corner of the bar going “I got away with it.” The problem is that person’s now telling everyone else in the bar what jerk you are. So that really does start to affect first impressions. And remember that one customer’s bad experience can quickly become thousands of potential customers, bad first impression. And number two, you run away. But that person does come after you and that person taps you on the shoulder, but then you turn around and go; “Actually, when you entered the bar, you agreed to a set of terms and conditions whereby if the bar was over an 80% occupancy rate, bear spillage was a possibility. And either way, you were carrying over the recommended load limit of beers, therefore any drink replacement liability falls on your shoulders. Thank you, bye.”

Gabe Larsen: (07:05)
That’s totally true.

James Dodkins: (07:09)
So you basically read them the terms and conditions.

Gabe Larsen: (07:10)
Yeah aw man. I’ve heard those terms and conditions before. Screw you, right?

James Dodkins: (07:16)
Well, now the guy really thinks you’re a jerk and might threaten to punch you in the face. Number three, after the guy has threatened to punch you in the face, you turn around and go, “Yeah, sorry. I was only — Yeah, of course. Of course. I’ll replace the beers. Of course I’ll replace the beers.” And he still thinks you’re a jerk because you didn’t offer to do it in the first place and he had to threaten to punch you in the face to do it. Now, that is what most companies get to when the customer kicks up enough of a fuss that you think are the business equivalent of being punched in the face. You go, “Oh, okay. Right. We’ll put it right. We’ll give you a gift basket or a voucher or something just please go away and stop talking to us.”

James Dodkins: (07:53)
Or, number four, the way we would all most likely act in real life but least slightly acting in the business world is we would immediately turn around, we would immediately apologize and we would immediately offer to replace the beers without the person having to ask. I think we need to take that mindset in business a lot more. We need to be understanding the things that cause dissatisfaction in our experiences. We need to be monitoring the experiences to notice when these things happen. We need to be communicating to the customers when these things happen that we know something has gone wrong and then we need to be putting it right. So there’s a little framework for that. Do you want to hear the little framework?

Gabe Larsen: (08:27)
Please, please, because I think this setup is awesome. Right? It kind of — that’s something, you’re right, we can all relate to. Right? We spill a drink, we’re in a bar. It’s funny, sometimes those things make so much more sense, but when we put it in business, it’s like, we just can’t replicate it. So yeah. Give us the framework of how you can think through that.

James Dodkins: (08:44)
Yeah. Well, I mean, that’s a bit of a side. That is the large majority of the work I do is coming up with stupid stories that highlight business things that make you go, “Ah!” Because in the scientific world, I’m what’s known as an idiot. So in order to understand quite complex concepts, you sometimes need to distill them down into like the simplest method of understanding possible and use stories. So, in my quest for trying to, in a vain attempt to understand these complex business issues, I’ve managed to come up with some cool little stories that help other people understand it too. But anyway, so the four step framework for only four steps, only four, is identify, monitor, communicate, compensate. You want to spend some time to identify the things in your experiences that cause dissatisfaction. You probably already got the data for this. You probably don’t really need to do very much legwork with that. So identify the things that essentially piss your customers off. Then monitor the experience in the experience, while it’s happening, during the experience. Not afterwards, but during the experience to notice when these things happen.

Gabe Larsen: (10:01)
Okay. Okay.

James Dodkins: (10:02)
When you’ve noticed something has happened, it’s not good enough just to go, ” Oh, we’ve noticed something has happened.” You need to actually act on it. You need to proactively communicate to the customer to let them know that you know something has gone wrong. And many times this will be before the customer even knows something has gone wrong.

Gabe Larsen: (10:18)
Yeah. Yeah.

James Dodkins: (10:20)
Sometimes you’re letting them know something has gone wrong that maybe they wouldn’t have even noticed who knows, but you’re doing the right thing. So you are proactively communicating to them, saying, “look, this thing has gone wrong. We know it has gone wrong and we’re running and we’re fixing.” And then, compensate. So put it right. And it doesn’t have to be a monetary compensation, but some sort of gesture goes a long way towards changing how a person feels about a particular situation, only when they don’t have to ask for it. It’s when it’s a voluntary gesture. When you’re saying, “Hey, look, I know this thing has happened. We’ve noticed this thing has happened. Don’t worry about it. We’re on it and as an apology, we’ve credited your account with X.” The deal with this is, joking aside, only 4% of dissatisfied customers will complain. And the larger majority of the rest will vote with their feet. They’ll just leave and go somewhere else. If you are only fixing problems for the 4% of people that complain you are missing a massive opportunity. So that is the essential concept of PXR, proactive experience.

Gabe Larsen: (11:23)
I like the four steps. Where do you feel like people go — I mean, you’ve talked to people a lot. Is it the identify? Is it the compensate? Where do they typically go awry on this? Is there certain places or is it just all the steps are a little difficult for companies to kind of jump onto?

James Dodkins: (11:40)
So the first two, a lot of companies already do. Okay. But it’s for the wrong reason. And they don’t take that next step. A Telco company will see that they’re not getting any coverage in a certain place, or a train company will know that their trains are going to be late or an airline will know they’re going to land late. So they monitor it and they know it’s happened. Some will communicate, but some will just sit on it. They’ll just kind of wait for the complaint. They’re like, “Well, look, if people don’t complain, then we’ll have no problem.” And that’s shortsighted at the end of the day, because like understanding that 96% of people that are dissatisfied, won’t actually complain; only taking the 4% that do complain as everyone that’s dissatisfied because surely if they were dissatisfied, they would complain. That’s a stupid way to look at it. And so a lot of companies they’ll know something has gone wrong, but they don’t want to reach out whether it’s, they’re scared of the backlash, whether they don’t want to spend the money, whether — there’s various reasons. The first two, a lot of companies already do. It’s the last two where people stumble.

Gabe Larsen: (12:56)
Yeah. Fascinating. It’s probably right. Right? I mean, a lot of people that can fix the — they can find the problem, but actually doing something about it gets a little more difficult. Okay. So I like this idea of proactive experience recovery. Got it. Four steps, PXR. Another thing you and I talked a little bit about was this idea of this team structure, like teams are not often aligned or able to — they’re not in a structure that actually enables them to be successful. Can you elaborate a little bit on that? What, what does that mean and how do you kind of go about that?

James Dodkins: (13:24)
Yeah I do. Well, I mean, this is quite a — we’re going to get deep now. So if you think of any organization in the 21st century and you think of that org chart or the fancy word OrganiGram. What shape is it?

Gabe Larsen: (13:41)
It’s always, well let’s see. It’s usually diagram. It’s higher — It’s, what is it? It’s top down.

James Dodkins: (13:47)
The CEO at the top.

Gabe Larsen: (13:49)
Top down, kind of scrolls down. What shape is that? Some sort of a top down diagram.

James Dodkins: (13:56)
It’s a triangle, essentially.

Gabe Larsen: (13:57)
That’s right. It’s a triangle. Yeah. Fair point. Yep. You got it.

James Dodkins: (14:00)
So you’ve got the CEO at the top all the way down to the lowly minions at the bottom.

Gabe Larsen: (14:05)
Yeah the losers at the bottom.

James Dodkins: (14:06)
The losers. We organize our businesses around that, that’s what we use. That’s our blueprint for how we run our business. Now, where that came from, that’s an interesting story. So there’s a guy called Adam Smith. He’s actually on the back of our British 20 pound notes. He went into a pin factory in Scotland. And when I say pin factory, that literally is what they made. They made pins for tailoring. And he was looking at what they would — he was, he was an economist. He was a social economist. And he was looking at how they did work. And he realized that their output was largely dependent on who was working on any given day and how skilled those particular individuals were. So one day you get loads of really good pin makers in. They made loads of pins. Other days you get some really crappy pin makers and you’d make hardly any pins. And he thought, wouldn’t it be a really cool idea rather than doing it this way, we actually split up the process of making the pin, train people very well to just do one part of that process and then they just get very good at doing that and see what that does. And that was the division of labor. And he wrote about it in a book called Wealth of Nations. So supposedly he increased output by 24000% by doing that. By getting a person to say, “look, your only job now is sharpening pins. Your only job now is packaging pins. Your only job now is a wire extruder”. I don’t really know all the steps of making the pins.

Gabe Larsen: (15:35)
You fooled me.

James Dodkins: (15:39)
Well, thank you. Trained everybody up just to do one specific part of the process really, really well. Don’t ask any questions about anything else you don’t need to know about anything else. All you need to do is do this one thing over and over and over again, really, really well. This was a massive departure away from traditional craftsmanship where let’s say, I don’t know, you’re making a chair that the woodsmen, the carpenter would find a tree, cut down the tree, take the tree back to the workshop, do all the things you need to do to a tree to turn it into a chair, sell the chair, service it. They would do everything. They would own the process and the experience from start to finish. And this was like the opposite of that. This was a case of the person that was sharpening the pin had no idea what else was going on because they didn’t need to. And then of course you had departments form around this. And then you had the CEO at the top. It was like the chief pin maker, the person who knew the most about making pins and they made all the really important decisions. And that essentially created the organigram, the business chart that we use today, that pyramid.

Gabe Larsen: (16:44)

James Dodkins: (16:44)
But the thing is he wrote about it in Wealth of Nations. Do you know when that was published? It’s a long shot. You probably don’t.

Gabe Larsen: (16:51)

James Dodkins: (16:55)

Gabe Larsen: (16:55)
Was it?

James Dodkins: (16:57)
Yeah, so I’m not a mathematician, but that’s a long time ago. And we are still modeling our businesses today on a pin factory from Scotland back in the day. And supposedly, it was even mentioned in the declaration of independence as cited as their model for economic growth because he did pretty well. People started doing that and in the manufacturing world, when they were making stuff, it worked really, really well. But of course, things have evolved. Things are different. We are now more of a service economy than a manufacturing economy. When you try and apply a manufacturing mindset to service experiences, it just doesn’t really work. So the problem with this is it’s created an environment and a culture where the majority of people think that the customer is not their job because they look at this chart and they say, “Well, I’m nowhere near the customer.” I mean, the customer is not even on the chart, which is, that’s another conversation for another day. But they say, “Well, I’m nowhere near customer services or any customer facing things. The customer’s not my job.” We’ve created this. The thing is this chart doesn’t exist. It’s not real. It’s just a drawing on a piece of paper. It’s a collective hallucination. We’re all just agreeing it exists, but it doesn’t. If we start thinking about it, it wouldn’t exist. So every single piece of work you’ve ever done, every single software you’ve ever used, every single project you’ve ever run, every single solution you’ve ever implemented has been based on a blueprint that doesn’t exist. That’s not real. This is like the red pill moment in the matrix. I should have warned you, but it doesn’t exist. The only reason we think that way is because of the way we draw the charts. I think we need to draw the chart in a different way. I think we need to think more like a soccer team or if you want to use the correct word football. So I’m talking about, you know, the football you play with your feet.

Gabe Larsen: (18:49)
Right, right, right, right.

James Dodkins: (18:50)
So I think we need to think like a football team. And so there’s three basic questions you’ve got to ask when you start thinking like that. Who is the customer? So for a football team, soccer team, who is the customer?

Gabe Larsen: (19:03)
It’s probably the fans right? I mean, it’s the fans, isn’t it?

James Dodkins: (19:07)
Yeah the fans. So they come and watch the team play. So the experience of watching the team play, what is their successful outcome from that experience?

Gabe Larsen: (19:16)
Okay. Okay.

James Dodkins: (19:17)
See the team win.

Gabe Larsen: (19:18)
Yeah. Okay.

James Dodkins: (19:19)
So win the game. And then the next question is, well, what do we need to measure to know whether we’ve delivered that success or not? And it’s simple, the score. So you understand, okay, this is who my customer is, this is a successful outcome, and this is how we’re going to measure the delivery of that successful outcome. Now, as a bit of an aside, you can measure many things in a football game. You can measure how many passes, how many tackles, how many yards run, how many corners, how many throw ins, anything, all right. But no analysis of that data would ever tell you whether you’ve delivered that customer success or not. The only thing that would tell you whether you’ve delivered customer successes is in the analysis of the score. It’s like a lot less when it comes to metrics, but it’s a lot more meaningful. But anyway, so, okay, we understand this now. We understand this is what we need to achieve. It’s the manager’s job in a football team to put a team together with different skills and different core competencies; strikers, midfielders, defenders, who are best suited to deliver that success, who are best suited to win the game. We don’t do that in business. We don’t say who’s the customer, what’s the successful outcome. How are we going to measure it? Okay. Let’s put a team together with different skills and different core competencies who are best to deliver that successful outcome, who are best to deliver this experience. We put all of the defenders out. We put all of the goalkeepers out. We put all of the strikers out. If you were watching a soccer game and the manager put just 11 defenders on the field, you’d be like, “hang on a second. What? That doesn’t even make any sense.” But that’s what we do in business because we’re not focusing on the successful customer outcome. We’re focusing on charts. We’re focusing on what’s easiest for us to manage rather than what is most successful for the customer.

James Dodkins: (21:07)
And the thing is we will then target people for the success of their departments rather than for the success of the customer. So imagine, right, in a football team, their target is to win the game. Yes, they have lots of other things that they have to do, and they have different skills and different core competencies. But overall, they work together as a team to win the game. But imagine if I said, okay, defenders, you’re going to get paid based on how many tackles you make. Chances are what they would do is pass the ball to the opposition strikers, to give them the best chance of getting more tackles. Well, that’s not aligned towards delivery of success. If I said to the midfielders, you’re going to get paid for how many passes you make. They’d just stand in a circle and pass to each other.

James Dodkins: (21:47)
Well, that’s not aligned to the customer’s success. Strikers, if we said to the strikers, “Hey guys, you’re going to get paid on how many shots you take.” No matter where they were on the field, as soon as they got the ball, they’d take a shot. That’s not aligned towards that delivery of customer success. What we do is we get these people together and say “Yes, there are different things you have to do, but the ultimate goal is to win the game.” We need to do that in business. We need to understand who the customer is, what their successful outcome is, how are we going to measure the delivery of it, and then put teams together, different skills and different core competencies who are best suited to deliver that success. Don’t organize by skill set, organized by ability to deliver customer success. Sorry I ranted for a little there but [inaudible].

Gabe Larsen: (22:28)
No, you’re fine. I mean, I think that’s, I think you hit a couple of real powerful points, right? I mean, the Adam Smith thing is fascinating. But whatever it is, I mean, ultimately we’ve been focusing on stuff that is not customer driven. It’s skills driven or cost driven or structure driven. And then we question why that structure doesn’t deliver the outcomes we want. Well, we didn’t organize it that way. We didn’t define the outcomes and then build around that. And so, wow. That one may take, to really build and design a function around customer experience rather than traditional concepts of structure and org charts and things like that. I don’t think we’re ready for that, man. I mean, that would take some time. I mean, there’s some modern companies who have really, I think, built their whole company around the customer experience. There’s some older companies like Disney, it’s all about that journey. But, you’re right a lot of us are probably still operating in 1776. Interesting. Well, James, it sounds like there’s probably another thousand things we could talk about, but let’s wrap for the moment we might have to bring you back on. In summary as you think about “rockstar experience,” what would you leave for the group as people try to kind of up-level themselves and get a little bit more proud, a little better in what they do as far as delivering that type of quote unquote “rockstar experience?”

James Dodkins: (23:56)
Well, again, I’d just say step back from what you’re doing, try and understand who your customers are at a psychographic level not a demographic level. Care more about who someone is than what someone is, understand what their successful outcome is, understand how you’re going to measure the delivery of it, and then align everything you’re doing towards the delivery of these successful outcomes for your customers at a simple level. If you can start doing that, you’re going to be miles ahead of your competitors.

Gabe Larsen: (24:20)
Yeah. Yeah. Amen man. Amen. If someone wants to get a hold of you, learn a little bit more about rockstar customer experience, where do they go?

James Dodkins: (24:27)
Go to J-A-M-E-S That’s weird, I never usually have to spell my first name. It’s usually, like when you’re on the phone, like signing up for something, you gotta spell your last name. I don’t usually have to spell my first —

Gabe Larsen: (24:45)
Yeah, James Dodkins.

James Dodkins: (24:46)
[inaudible] J A M E S D O D K I N Go there, you can find out some information about my musical keynote. If you’ve got an event coming up that you would like to be unforgettable, then hit me up.

Gabe Larsen: (24:58)
I love it and we’ll make sure we put that in the show notes. So James, thanks again for joining. For the audience, I hope you have a fantastic day.

James Dodkins: (25:06)
You too, my dude. Thank you for having me.

Gabe Larsen: (25:09)

Exit Voice: (25:18)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.


The Power of Tiered Customer Service with Al Hopper

The Power of Tiered Customer Service with Al Hopper TW

Listen and subscribe to our podcast:

In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe Larsen is joined by Al Hopper, the principle consultant at Nagurra Networks. Al has had a variety of work experience in his career. He started as a team builder and then acquired different positions while working at Citi for 12 years. After Citi, he started his own company focusing on social media customer service and he is now the only consultant for Nagurra Networks. Al has a particular expertise in helping businesses grow and he applies those kinds of principles into helping others understand tiered customer service. Al and Gabe discuss what tiered customer is, when it should be applied, and common application challenges. Listen to the full podcast below.

Defining Tiered Customer Service

Tiered customer service is the practice of having different customer experiences based on different groups of customers. This can be reflected in subscription memberships or areas where people pay more to get greater benefits. Al mentions that Amazon Prime is an example of tiered customer service that most people are familiar with. To help us better understand the definition of tiered customer service, he relates the following experience from his time at Citi:

“And even at the bank we had … we call the Citiblue Customers and Citigold Customers. The Citigold Customers just were larger depositors, larger spenders, and you’ve got to treat them a little differently. Their social aspect is a little different and so they require a different level of service. It doesn’t mean that your base service has to be wrong or has to be bad. It’s really just understanding that you’re going to take a little better care of the people spending a little bit more money.”

Which Types of Businesses Should Have Tiered Service Experiences

While tiered customer service works well for banks, Al states clearly that it is not always necessary. “You definitely don’t need to have it for everybody. When you think about going to a restaurant, do you pay more to sit somewhere special? Do you pay more to get the same food? Absolutely not.” All businesses are going to have elements of customer service to help maintain their customers, but not all businesses types require tiered customer service to do that. Software companies and e-commerce businesses such as Amazon and banks are great examples of companies that would benefit from tiered customer service.

Where Businesses Often Misstep and Other Challenges

One way that companies often misstep when creating tiered customer service is in the people that they hire. It is essential to hire and train employees to handle different levels of customer service without making the base level a sub-quality experience for the customer. Al states, “You might want to hire a higher educated or better spoken individual for your higher level customer support because you’re going to be talking to higher educated, higher levels of customer base.” That simple example will guarantee that not only the base level customers get quality agents and quality servants, but also the higher tiered customers are getting the level of service they are paying for.

A challenge for businesses with tiered experience is maintaining the understanding that even the base customer is a human being and that their experience is valued by the company. “Even the little guy pays the bills,” Al states. Too often businesses walk all over their base customers or brush their needs to the side just because they aren’t the highest paying customers. We need to remember that every customer matters to the company and they deserve quality service, regardless of how much they are paying and the product benefits they may be receiving.

To learn more about the evolution of the customer support experience and how that affects businesses, 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:

The Power of Tiered Customer Service with Al Hopper

Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Welcome everybody to the podcast. Today we’re going to be talking about tiered customer service, how it works, how you should think about it, why you should be thinking about it. And to do that we brought on Al Hopper. He’s, right now, principal consultant at Nagurra Networks. Al, thanks for joining man. I know you’re kind of in some, doing some moves and things like that, but appreciate you jumping on and how are you?

Al Hopper: (00:32)
Yeah, man, I’m doing great. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

Gabe Larsen: (00:35)
Yeah. Yeah. I think this will be a fun talk track. So I introduced you just a little bit, but you got a fun background. Can you tell us about some of the things you’ve done in customer experience and a little more about yourself?

Al Hopper: (00:45)
Yeah sure. I’m a team builder by trade, spent 12 years in a variety of roles at Citi, left there to start a company that focused on social media customer service. Really fun opportunity there. Had to take some personal time off to work through some things with my kids. You know, family’s super important for me.

Gabe Larsen: (01:11)
Yeah I know all about that man. I’ve got a couple myself.

Al Hopper: (01:12)
Yeah. Yeah. So, from there, I just kind of moving in between things as I try to figure out my own personal brand with Nagurra Networks as a consulting agency of one. So kind of a solopreneur and building out teams, upscaled teams pretty well and pretty quick. Some of my other roles, we scaled a customer service campaign for a BPO from 30 people in January to 200 people in September.

Gabe Larsen: (01:46)
Wow. Wow.

Al Hopper: (01:47)
And that was with hiring obviously then also promoting from within trying to keep that balance of promoting successful agents to team leads, QA and even created a subject matter expert team is kind of that middle layer and career progression.

Gabe Larsen: (02:05)
Wow. Yeah, we might have to bring you back on to talk about scaling a team like that from zero to a thousand or whatever that number was.

Al Hopper: (02:11)
Yeah. It’s a fun challenge and you’ve got to have the right people, the right thought process in place, you know? And then, I did some time with Black Rifle Coffee, then I’m going to call them out by logo. They just, they’re a great brand. I’ve been a big fan of theirs for years. Another organization that is scaling wildly. So yeah, it’s been fun. I love building teams, building processes, and really focusing on that.

Gabe Larsen: (02:42)
That’s so exciting, man. Well, that’s a lot of experience. Again, I love the scale conversation. Maybe, we should’ve went down that path, but again, maybe we’ll do it at a different time. Wanted to talk a little about tiered customer service. I think this is an interesting one. Just big picture for people like myself or maybe a little more rookie-ish, define it. How do you think about tiered customer service? What is it?

Al Hopper: (03:03)
Yeah, so there’s a couple of different ways that I look at tiered customer service. I don’t always look at it as a bad thing. but sometimes you do have to pay more to get more. And when you’re talking, especially as a service software, as a service like Kustomer, you’ve got sometimes a freemium model or a real base model to get entry people in. Got a certain population that needs your product, but doesn’t need all the bells and whistles.

Gabe Larsen: (03:32)

Al Hopper: (03:32)
And then you’ve got other larger customers that want to spend more, to get more. And even at the bank we had that, we had what we call the Citiblue Customers and Citigold Customers. The Citi Gold Customers just were larger depositors, larger spenders, and you’ve got to treat them a little differently. Their social aspect is a little different and so they require a different level of service. It doesn’t mean that your base service has to be wrong or has to be bad. It’s really just understanding that you’re going to take a little better care of the people spending a little bit more money.

Gabe Larsen: (04:12)
Yeah. Does this mean that — sometimes I think people say that well, does that mean my basic customer service is bad, or — and now I’ve got this kind of expert experience or I’ve got this expert service. So maybe just one click down on this with a simple question, should everybody have tiered customer service?

Al Hopper: (04:38)
No, you definitely don’t need to have it for everybody. When you think about going to a restaurant, do you pay more to sit somewhere special? Do you pay more to get the same food? Absolutely not. Right now, as a repeat customer, you might tip a little bit better over time. The waitstaff are going to start fighting to have you in their section because they know that they’re going to take care of you. You’re going to take care of them. Right. But at its base level, you walk into Chili’s, you’re going to get regular seats, just like anybody else, regardless of who you are.

Gabe Larsen: (05:12)
What? Not me man. When I go into Chili’s I’m like a regular there.

Al Hopper: (05:16)
Well, you’re the reason I’m talking about —

Gabe Larsen: (05:22)
I do like Chili’s actually.

Al Hopper: (05:24)
Think about it that way, you go to the gas station, are you really getting any premium service just because you might be buying the premium gas? No, not really. You probably still have to pump it by yourself unless you live in New Jersey.

Gabe Larsen: (05:36)
Right. Which I do.

Al Hopper: (05:38)
I still can’t believe that they still have folks out pumping gas.

Gabe Larsen: (05:41)
Oh man. I totally forget. You know, it’s funny because I’ve spent some time in New York, maybe 15, 20 years ago. And I didn’t come out to New Jersey I don’t think very often. And I went to get gas and I was like, just like in the movies. I know this is like not having anything to do with what we’re talking about, but well, it does a little bit it’s customer service, but honestly this guy comes up to my truck, up to my car and I’m like, I’m new in the area. And I’m like, what’s this guy doing.

Gabe Larsen: (06:09)
And he’s like, Hi, can I help you? I’m like you can back away from the vehicle, sir.

Al Hopper: (06:16)
In your traditional New York accent.

Gabe Larsen: (06:21)
No, but it was — that’s funny you brought that up because that literally happened to me within the last 48 hours and I was a little taken back, so they do do it in case you’re wondering. Yeah, they definitely —

Al Hopper: (06:32)
One of the last vestiges of freemium service.

Gabe Larsen: (06:35)
Tying it back into the talk track. I didn’t, I wasn’t a repeat guy, so I didn’t get anything special, but they did pump my gas. So good for them.

Al Hopper: (06:44)
Yeah. And I mean, and that’s again, an example of “Is tier customer service for everybody?” Absolutely not. You think of a bookstore. You’re not going to get tiered customer service, except maybe when you check out if you’re a member of their club, because then you might get a discount on a book, but otherwise, you need to ask someone where in a bookstore it is, they’re going to help you regardless because they’re just trying to sell you product.

Gabe Larsen: (07:12)
So, then on the flip side, what, I mean, having done this multiple times and played around with this, is there certain aspects of a business that you would say, Gabe, if you’re a company like this or if you’re kind of doing this or, I would encourage you to think about a tiered even if you have — who is it right for then?

Al Hopper: (07:31)
So obviously anything as a service that does a tiered product rollout. It’s something that you have to kind of bake into the costs. If you’re — and I bought software a lot over the last couple of years as I’ve scaled different organizations and you want to try to get the best bang for your buck. And so you’re looking at, maybe I get like the mid level software package because that’s what I need, but I really need someone as a product specialist to come in and build out my instance for me. So do I upgrade with the platform to get that, or do I buy the middle part of the platform and go with one of their preferred partners to do it where I still end up spending about the same amount of money, but maybe the partnered service is a little bit better than the baked-in premium service. So that’s an opportunity for definitely tiered service coming into play. Subscription models, I think are a big win there too, right? Having worked with, again Black Rifle Coffee, amazing product, very tribal with their organization and their fan base.

Gabe Larsen: (08:45)
And they have a cult-like following, a culture.

Al Hopper: (08:49)
Exactly right.

Gabe Larsen: (08:50)
A positive. That’s meant to be positive.

Al Hopper: (08:52)
I think any company that can aspire to that. It’s huge.

Gabe Larsen: (08:57)
I love that. Somebody said it was, I think Russell Brunson, he’s an internet marketer, but he used the word cult-ure, cult-like following. So I think of that as a positive word, but yeah, you’re right these guys, they definitely got something going on.

Al Hopper: (09:11)
So, I mean, when you think about a subscription model for coffee, for Amazon Prime; that’s a subscription model and you get a little bit more for paying a little more. You pay a small nominal fee for the year. Right. And it gives you access to all these other things, free upgraded shipping, you get your free video. Those are things that are tiered customer service. You don’t get if you don’t subscribe.

Gabe Larsen: (09:39)
Yeah. That makes sense. That makes sense. How do you — I want to get into some of the, maybe some of the benefits of tiered in just a second and maybe some challenges. But, having done this before, what are some of the tactical things you’ve done or found that need to be done in order to have a successful tiered model? Anything come to mind on the structure of the process, the technology, the people, anything in those areas?

Al Hopper: (10:07)
Yeah. Well, you definitely have to have a software, a CRM platform in place that can identify [inaudible]. Whether it’s as simple as tagging a customer account, I’ve seen that happen, or providing a special toll free number that kind of routes to the head of the line. There’s a couple of different tactics in place. You have to — one is identify what it is you’re trying to provide at that extra level. What’s the extra benefit? Someone that’s a preferred customer should get preferential dial ins, go to the head of the line for service. Does that mean 24 hour support? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on what you’re doing. Most internet companies, I think most e-commerce companies need to be 24 hours at some point at some level because that’s why you’re on the internet, not surrounded by regular business hours.

Gabe Larsen: (11:16)
But I mean, that’s where we are, right? This is getting, it’s also a little bit of a rabbit hole, but yeah, it’s just customer expectations. I mean, that’s a little bit of a generic statement to say they’re changing, but yeah, everything — 24 hour, you need to be available when I’m available.

Al Hopper: (11:33)
And you set expectations, you have the autoresponders that say we’ll get back to you in regular business hours or between these hours or call back between these hours, whatever. That’s okay to start. But you really have to have a plan on how to, I think, get better. Now, if you are a grocery store that’s only open from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM, you don’t need 24 hour service.

Gabe Larsen: (11:59)

Al Hopper: (11:59)
It doesn’t matter if someone’s milk expired before they got home at midnight. Right. So it really doesn’t matter. But if you are a software company that’s supporting other companies —

Gabe Larsen: (12:11)
Or international, yeah. You got to kind of find that balance. What do you do on the agent side? I love the process. You kind of tag it, maybe get a different phone number. Do you often find that you will give your best agents to kind of those gold, blue ribbon, 4 star–?

Al Hopper: (12:28)
It depends on what the business is. So, you can innately train and hire for that senior level support if you’ve got a basic business and I’m gonna go back to my time at the bank. Banking is banking, pluses and minuses, debits, credits, earned interest.

Gabe Larsen: (12:54)
I worked at a bank. I can vouch for that.

Al Hopper: (12:56)
It doesn’t matter if it’s a dollar or a hundred dollars other than scale. So you can hire, certainly, for a concierge person there because once that person has that basic understanding of the product, then you’re good to go. What the difference there might be is, you might be hiring for a different level of empathy or different level of communication skills. You might want to hire a higher educated or better spoken individual for your higher level customer support because you’re going to be talking to higher educated, higher levels of customer base. Now if you are a service organization offering a variety of different complex services, let’s say even like video surveillance, you’re going to be talking to different levels of companies that are spending different types of money with you. And so you’re going to probably, at that point, want to assemble your team of Avengers and bring in the best of the best. Similar to when I was building out and supporting the social media team for the bank, we brought in some of the best from other departments, from all the different departments within retail because social media is a level of tiered service, whether it’s innate or by design.

Al Hopper: (14:21)
So you want to have that group of masters that you don’t have to spend time and reach out to the deposit team or the money laundering team or the mortgage team. You want to have someone there that knows all these things that can respond immediately.

Gabe Larsen: (14:37)
Got it, got it.

Al Hopper: (14:39)
And so it really depends on what it is that you’re trying to get at. You can train, obviously your product knowledge is huge but, think about what it is that you’re doing like software as a service, right? As a platform, you’re building out, you’re giving your customers the tools basically. And a lot of times, you as a customer have to build your own tools. So here’s your toolbox. And then you figure out which apps you want to put on it, you figure out how you want to sign it, right? Now at a low level, here’s your toolbox go away, right? Just give me a little bit of money and have access to my toolbox. I mean, that’s business. That’s really what it is, right? You’re not paying me a lot. You’re just paying me for access. Now, you need some more support. You need someone to build your toolbox for you or put the right tools in there. You’re getting into pay a little bit more, a bigger toolbox, more seats. You’re going to need a little bit — more resources.

Gabe Larsen: (15:40)
Where do you find people go wrong in building a tiered structure? I mean, you give us some of the things you need to look — probably best practices. There are certain areas where like, Gabe, I’ve seen this five times, the place where people go wrong or the challenges people run into are here.

Al Hopper: (15:58)
Yeah. The biggest challenge is I think forgetting that you are a service organization to begin with and they start focusing on the tiered customer service, get away with everything. Just because I’m daddy Warbucks and I’ve got a million dollars in your bank, doesn’t mean I can just walk in there and start slapping people around. You can’t just start cussing out the little guy on the other end of the phone because you think you have a little bit of money. I think also, missing the point, you know, and I look at SaaS companies this way, right? You are providing the bones and you are providing the platform, but you aren’t providing that higher level of support that maybe someone needs and you just haven’t identified.

Gabe Larsen: (16:46)
That’s, it’s a fair point. Especially in SaaS, we run into that problem often. I think you’re better in the consumer brands. They’ve found a way to match the level, or tiered structure a lot better. I’m not sure exactly why that is. Maybe we’re just a little behind the game.

Al Hopper: (17:03)
Well I think it just goes back to what your base competency is. Your base competency is building an amazing platform. And it’s, you kind of show it off a little bit when you’re doing the sales, you kind of do webinars, you kind of do podcasts, but you’re not really spending the time to teach anybody anything. And I think that’s where the sticky services become part of that tiered service. If you, as a software, as a service company, SaaS, if you were to just slow down and go, “Okay, if I spend an extra $2,000 here on this customer that just signed an annual contract, to teach them how to do what they need to do,” then that’s a higher level of service than someone who just signed a month to month contract for $300 a month that may or may not be here six months from now.

Al Hopper: (18:03)
But at the same time, the opposite could be said, going back to your challenges. And this is where my customer service background starts clashing a little bit with the concept of tiered customer service. Even the little guy pays the bills.

Gabe Larsen: (18:15)
That’s right.

Al Hopper: (18:16)
And so, how much money are you spending, marketing, bringing on that customer that is going to be month to month, that is going to be buying that small package, and then supporting them by giving them access to email support, but not chat support. Or, maybe you get chat support but you don’t get account management.

Gabe Larsen: (18:35)
Yeah. You start to, It starts to get a little, a little dicey there. Interesting talk track Al. It sounds like you’ve been around the block a few times on this. Now I want to shift and go into a little bit of that scale again. We might have to bring you back some other time. If someone wants to get in touch with you or learn a little bit more about your thoughts on tiered service models, what’s the best way to do that?

Al Hopper: (19:00)
Right now it’s probably on LinkedIn. So LinkedIn/in/thealhopper I think is what the premium link is. Twitter is good as well. I’m hitting one of those tiers of relevancy. Yes. And so that’d be @Alhopper_ just please make sure you keep the underscore. The guy that beat me to my name gets really angry when people tweet him instead of me.

Gabe Larsen: (19:35)
Hey man, it’s all about customer experience and you’re not delivering a very good customer experience Al.

Al Hopper: (19:40)
Well, you know, that’s what happens when you’re late to the show.

Gabe Larsen: (19:42)
That’s right. Well, no man, I appreciate you jumping on. It’s a fun talk track. I think it’s very important, very relative as we try to find different ways to differentiate our customer service, customer experience. This tiered model I think is probably more relevant for more companies than I think people think. Sometimes it’s like this isn’t for me, I think that was the point you’d probably want to double check that as it might actually be for you. So again, Al thanks so much for joining and for the audience, I hope you have a fantastic day.

Al Hopper: (20:10)
You got it my friend. Thanks. Have a great one yourself.

Exit Voice: (20:20)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.


The 6 Steps of Customer Journey Mapping with Annette Franz

The 6 Steps of Customer Journey Mapping with Annette Franz TW

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Annette Franz, CEO of CX Journey Inc. joins Gabe Larsen to continue exploring customer journey mapping and how to do it effectively. With over 25 years of experience, Annette started her career at JD Power and Associates and then moved to found her company, CX Journey Inc, about 4 years ago. She has witnessed the evolution of customer experience and is very authoritative on the subject. Along with her business, she is Chairwoman of the CXPA Board of Directors and an official member of the Forbes Coaches Council. She also published a book in 2019 titled, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business). For valuable customer journey mapping secrets you don’t want to miss, listen to the full episode below.

Customer journey mapping is a way of capturing the thoughts, feelings, and actions of the customer. As an essential process in any business, Annette describes 6 key steps to creating journey maps. Prior to sharing these steps, Annette mentions an important creative principle. She states, “You’ve got to have the right people in the room and the right people are your customers. And the map has to be created from the customer’s perspective.” Having the right team of people in the room when going through the experience of the customer will be an essential element in creating a functional journey map.

The 6 “must-have” steps that Annette mentions are number one, planning personas, goals, outcomes, etc. Step two is doing the “actual mapping workshop.” Three, identifying — but in two different parts. First, the map has to be translated into a digital format and then “identify the moments of truth, those make or break moments. … Do some root cause analysis, really dig deep and dig into what is at the heart of the matter.” This can be done by assigning people, or owners, to different steps of the journey. Step four involves getting stakeholders and owners in the same room to start working together to fix the problems that they find. Step five is then finalizing the plan and finalizing the methods that will be used to fix the problems. The sixth step is implementation.

What Data to Use When Crafting a Customer Journey Map

Since the journey mapping process can get complicated, Annette discusses the data that companies should use to help simplify and focus their efforts. Traditional “voice of the customer” feedback is the top data to pay attention to, but Annette mentions other data that will make a big difference as well. She states:

You can bring in things like call volume and whole time and time to resolve and the number of transfers and the channels used and those kinds of things to really make the analysis much more robust. … I like to bring in costs to fix, time to fix, effort to fix, impact on the customer, impact on the business, those kinds of things that we can use later on as we’re trying to prioritize what we’re going to do first.

Diversifying the type of data used in the analysis will help ensure a quality customer journey map.

When to Reevaluate the Journey

Because people are subject to change and journey mapping revolves wholly around a person’s experience, it is a very fluid process. So, creating these maps and using them effectively in a business is a continual process with a constant need for evaluation. At the end of her discussion with Gabe, Annette answers the important question of when a customer journey map needs to be updated. She recalls:

Anytime that you’ve got product changes, anytime you’re making an acquisition and you’ve got new customer types coming on board … or there’s something that changes the way we do business and changes the way that our customers will ultimately interact with us. … But the first thing that’s going to tell you that you really need to revisit that map is your customers are going to tell you.

Customers will be the first people to raise a red flag and let you know that the journey map needs to be updated. Listening to their voice, above all, is the ultimate “must-have” when journey mapping.

To learn more about journey mapping strategies and tactics, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.


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Listen to “Six Must Have Steps for Customer Journey Mapping | Annette Franz” on Spreaker.

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Full Episode Transcript:

The 6 Steps of Customer Journey Mapping with Annette Franz

Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Alright, welcome everybody. We’re excited to get going today. We’re going to be talking about this idea of journey mapping and some of the best practices in the space; the why, the what and the how and to do that we have Annette Franz. Multitalented, multi experienced, right now she is the founder and CEO of CX Journey Inc. She is also an author and sits on the chair, a board chair on the CXPA, which if I’m not mistaken, you’ve got a fun event coming up. Is that right Annette?

Annette Franz: (00:42)
That is correct. First of all, thank you so much for having me. And yes, we have our annual — this year is our first global insight exchange happening April 27th through the 29th in Orlando, Florida. Yeah.

Gabe Larsen: (00:54)
Awesome. We’ll make sure we get that out and about, but yeah, thanks for taking the time. I tried to do a little bit of an intro, but anything you’d fill in or a little more about your background and what you do over there at CX Journey.

Annette Franz: (01:07)
Oh gosh. Here’s a funny little tidbit that I like to share because I started in this customer experience space back in the early nineties at JD Power and Associates, and it’s really been fun or interesting or whatever word you want to use for it, to watch how this thing called “customer experience” has, first of all, how it’s come about and how has it evolved over time. Because back in the early nineties, we didn’t even call it customer experience. We talked about satisfaction and loyalty. So yeah, it’s been a fun ride and I’m really enjoying it. This is almost jumping into my fourth year out of my own under CX Journey, Inc. And yeah, working on some fun client projects and client engagements and really enjoying the things that I’m doing right now.

Gabe Larsen: (01:53)
Got it. And then just for my understanding as well, are there certain areas that you specialize in or that are more core to what you like to talk about or who you are, projects, et cetera.

Annette Franz: (02:04)
Most of my engagements, either coaching brand new chief customer officers or folks who are new in that type of position, head of CX, and really working on soup to nuts CX strategy, really talking about what needed to be done and how to get there. Right? So, but, a lot of people know me for — and I know we’re going to be talking a little bit about this today — a lot of people know me for my expertise in journey mapping, but that’s not all I do. Most of my work actually is sort of soup to nuts CX strategy.

Gabe Larsen: (02:36)
Okay. Oh, that’s interesting. Well, we might have to have you back on to talk big picture strategy and some of the things you do there.

Annette Franz: (02:42)
Awesome, I’d love to.

Gabe Larsen: (02:42)
Well, let’s start with the big picture. We were talking, pre-show, just a little bit about journey mapping. Sounds like there are some right ways to do it and some wrong ways to do it, but high level. What is it and why is it important?

Annette Franz: (02:55)
Yeah, that’s actually a great place to start because I think a lot of people confuse it and I’ll share a little story about how I know this happens other than what I read or what I see when I’m seeing the work that some folks are doing. But journey mapping is really a way for us to walk in our customer’s shoes to experience the experience that they’re having as they’re trying to interact or transact with the organization. And it’s really, it’s a step by step, I would say from point A to point B; from the moment that there was that need to do something, for example, calling customer service or making a purchase. Or, what were the steps that the customer took to get from that thought, from that need to when it actually transpired.

Annette Franz: (03:41)
And so when we do journey maps, what we capture is what the customer’s doing, thinking, and feeling. And that’s just so important to ultimately [inaudible] the understanding and then ultimately to be able to fix what’s broken. And it’s really important because of that, right? Because it is — we want everything to, we want to understand our customers and we want everything that we do — in terms of the business and how we design our products and our services and our processes and everything — to be with the customer in mind. And if we don’t take the time to understand what the experience is today and designing a better experience for tomorrow is going to be just as bad because we’re not taking the customer into account.

Gabe Larsen: (04:22)
I love it. I love it. So, that’s a big picture of what it is, some of the things that revolve around it. As you think about customer journey maps, and I’m playing the new card here a little bit, but is this something that every organization should do? Is it a must? Is everybody doing it? How predominant is this in the market?

Annette Franz: (04:45)
So, two part question, right? Is everybody doing it and how is it, why is it important or how is it important to the organization? So a lot of people are doing it or think they’re doing it, but, and I just alluded to this as I answered the previous question, but they’re really not. They are either creating lifecycle maps, which is really the stages of the need awareness, consideration, selection, et cetera, et cetera. And thinking that that’s going to get them to some kind of understanding of the customer experience when it really isn’t. Or, they’re doing touchpoint maps, which are taking those lifecycle stages and then inventorying the touchpoints. But that’s not detailed enough for us either. We need more details so we can understand the experience. Or, they’re all sitting around in a room and creating what we call an assumptive map. And it’s sitting around the room saying, Hey, we think this is what the experience is like. And then they create maps from that. And ultimately it often devolves into a process map and it’s all internal anyways so.

Gabe Larsen: (05:49)
Yeah. Do you, I mean, out of some of those, those seem like obviously maybe not best practice. What is the big challenge that is hindering people from making it effective? Is it the idea that we, I love that word, like an assumptive map that they don’t get detailed enough? They don’t involve people or is it they’re using the wrong tools or; what’s kind of the big barrier that you’re like, Oh man, if people could do this, they’d be so much further along?

Annette Franz: (06:13)
Yeah. That’s a great question. And I think it’s two fold, right? Number one is yes, you’ve got to have the right people in the room and the right people are your customers. And the map has to be created from the customer’s perspective. Right? So, those two things are really key, really critical. The other part of it is, once you’ve done that, you’ve also got to bring in — you’ve got tons of voice of the customer data. You’ve got tons of other data, operational data that you can bring into the maps as well to really; A, go from sort of a qualitative to a quantitative, but then also to really, boost up the power of the maps themselves, by using all of that data to identify the moments of truth. And moments of truth are those make or break moments where a customer says I’m going to move forward with this, or I’m not. And so customers in the room, mapping from the customer perspective and bringing that either voice the customer data or operational data into the map to really enhance the customer viewpoint.

Gabe Larsen: (07:15)
That resonates a lot with me. On the data perspective though, I guess I would probably have a follow up. Bringing the customer, that assumption, you get some people in the room you’re throwing sticky notes up and my guess versus your guess, but actually walking through the shoes of your customer, seeing the customer actually walk you through it. I can see how that adds a lot of value. When you say like operational data, voice of the customer data, okay, I kind of see, but what other data sources are important to bring in to really supplement that map so it does get more media.

Annette Franz: (07:46)
Yeah. That’s a great question. There are a lot of other different kinds of data that you can bring in. So you can bring in not just the voice of the customer feedback in all of its formats, right? So, there’s emotional data, there’s the metrics, the NPS or C-SAT or whatever your metric is. You can bring in other types of data as well. And by that, I mean, things like, let’s go back to the example that I gave with somebody calling customer service, you can bring in things like call volume and whole time and time to resolve and the number of transfers and the channels used and those kinds of things to really make the analysis much more robust. And I also say that you’ve got to bring in what I call, I call it business data for lack of a better thing. But I like to bring in cost to fix, time to fix, effort to fix, impact on the customer, impact on the business, those kinds of things that we can use later on as we’re trying to prioritize what we’re going to do first. Right? So any kind of data like that, that helps us, again, analyze and bring the maps to life.

Gabe Larsen: (08:57)
Yeah. It just makes it more meaty. That’s helpful. I appreciate that. Do you — I am having a hard time how you actually bring it together. Is it, and maybe that’s a technology question or, I’ve gathered this info, I’ve got great interviews, I’ve done stakeholder interviews, I’ve got notes on that. I’ve done maybe some post it notes, maybe you like, or don’t like the post it notes, but I’ve often seen people kind of do the personal example. How does it translate into something real? I mean, are people using PowerPoint? Is it a technology thing? How does it get to a place where you’re like, here is my journey map?

Annette Franz: (09:38)
I love that sound effect because that’s what I use for journey maps too. Oh, it’s just such a aha moment most of the time. But it’s a great question. So yes, most people often start with the butcher paper and the post it notes, and I love to start that way because it is a creative process. And when we have customers in the room, it gets them up and out of their chairs and thinking and talking and Hey, what’s next. And you know, all that. But once you’re done with that, you then need to take it and transfer it into a digital platform so that you can bring that data along. Right? And there are several journey mapping platforms out there that are specifically made for that very purpose. Right? The purpose built to take your dream outs from the analog to the digital. The one thing that I would say is; it’s less about creating that pretty picture and making it look good and stuff. And it’s more about, really is more about A, putting it together, butchering paper and posting notes and then B, being able to bring that data into it. And like I said, you would do that through a digital platform.

Gabe Larsen: (10:48)
I see. I see. And then once the map is created, but before I go there, I do want to get to that in a minute, but other best practices or tips or tricks in that execution or creation part of it? I love bringing in some of the different sources, even the creative, make sure you manage the creative process with maybe some of those types of things, like butcher paper, post it notes. Other best practices you’ve found and kind of getting the ideas out and down and that execution part?

Annette Franz: (11:19)
Yeah. Well, there’s a lot of best practices around creating the maps and then around doing it right. So that once you do have the map created that it is something that you can execute on, right? So there’s a couple of different things, but I wanted to just mention that when I do journey mapping, I have a process to it, right? I look at journey mapping as both a tool, the map itself, and then the process. And the process involves three key things that you have to do in order to get to the sixth step. The sixth step is implementation. But there are three key maps that you have to create. The first one is your journey map. That’s your current state map. The second one is a service blueprint. That service blueprint is an inside look, what’s happening behind the scenes, people, tools, system, processes, policies, all of that, that supports and facilitates the experience that the customer just had and then creates a future state map as well. Because the future state map is where you then design the new experience that you’re now going to go and in step number six, implement. Right? So, those are key components because we can’t fix what’s happening on the outside if we don’t fix what’s happening on the inside. And I think that’s a step that a lot of companies miss is that they try to just identify things in the current state map and go and fix them, but they don’t get at the root of the problem, which is something happening internally.

Gabe Larsen: (12:49)
Got it, got it. And then that — so I liked the idea of the future state. It seems like we would get caught up at times. You just get a current state, you fix some problems. You’re like, I’m done with this. You don’t actually get to that [inaudible] state. So that’s fascinating. The other points you kind of mentioned there, the internal policy thing. Can you double click there? And I don’t know if I quite got that. So you’re saying, how do you bring the internal policies there?

Annette Franz: (13:20)
So, when you create the service blueprint, you basically take — Oh yeah, it’s coming from the service blueprint. In that service blueprint, you’re going to identify the tools and the systems, the people, the processes, and the policies. So if the policies are broken and an employee is trying to do something for a customer and they can’t because the policy is bad or outdated or broken or whatever, we’ll be able to identify that in the service blueprint, because the customer has now identified a pain point in the journey map and the corresponding service blueprint for that journey. We’ll dig deep. We’ll go, well, why is that part broken there? And services, customer service is a great example, you know, right? Because you call customer service and the agent is following a script, and that’s not always the best solution, right? To follow the script. Sometimes it’s better to think about the human on the other end of the phone and do the right thing based on that particular scenario. And so what we can do with those service blueprints is make that connection and say, Oh, okay, something broke here and let’s see why. And so we’ll dig in and go, well, is it a policy? Is this a process with a person who wasn’t trained or whatever it was.

Gabe Larsen: (14:32)
Yeah, no, I love that. That makes more sense. Okay. And then once that map’s created, it seems like oftentimes you go through all this work to gather, you finally visualize it in some digital or analog format. It seems like — I could see how companies may get stuck there or maybe there is a conversation or one session about it, but then it kind of dies. Like it’s not a living [inaudible] document. Walk us through how you would say would be optimal. Like it’s created, okay. Now that it’s created, now what? What do we do to make this work better?

Annette Franz: (15:10)
Yep, exactly. So, I mentioned the six step process, right? So the third step in the process is what I call identify and identify is all about taking what you just learned in that journey map. So, step one is all the planning, the personas you’re gonna map for what the journey is, the objectives and the scope and the goals and the outcomes and all of those things. Step number two is the actual during mapping workshop, step number three, once you’ve completed that map, the next thing you’re going to do is identify and identify is, what happens in that step is that’s where you convert the map to a digital format. You bring the data in, and all of that. This is where you’re going to identify the moments of truth, those make or break moments.

Annette Franz: (15:56)
And you’re going to also identify what’s happening there. Do some root cause analysis, really dig deep and dig into what is at the heart of the matter. What’s at the heart of the matter, right? And then in this phase, you’re also going to — one of the things that I like to do when I journey map is assign owners to each step of the customer’s journey. And in this third step, as we go through that, we take those owners. This is, I call them the throat to choke, right. That’s why they’re there. And that one throat to choke — if that’s a pain point for our customers, who do we go to, who owns that step in the customer journey and needs to really do the work and identify what’s causing that step in the journey to break. And so we go through root cause analysis workshops.

Annette Franz: (16:43)
We go through other workshops where we start to do some action planning and put together, okay, we found the problem. We know what the problem is, here’s what we’re going to do, here’s our project plan for doing it, here’s who owns it. So it’s a — and you have to handhold folks through this, right? And that’s the fun or not so fun part of it. You have to handhold folks through this and then get it done that way. But yeah, there’s a whole next step after the mapping that you’ve got to get the stakeholders in the room and the owners of those steps in the room and start to dig in and then create your plan for how you’re going to fix it.

Gabe Larsen: (17:18)
And that makes sense, right? I mean, you kind of get the — I like the action planning, kind of the strategic sessions and holding people accountable. I mean, that’s kinda your project. From that point it’s probably more project management, so to say, 101. But even that last piece then, so you — and maybe I’m getting kind of to the end here, but you get, you’ve done that action planning session, you’re holding people accountable, you’re getting it through. Is it wise then to revisit that map once a year and go through another exercise? How do you make it so that it — and maybe you don’t. Maybe, well, that can’t be right actually. You probably don’t want to just [inaudible] exercise right?

Annette Franz: (17:56)
It’s a good question. And you’re right. It might be —

Gabe Larsen: (18:02)
Debating myself in my head.

Annette Franz: (18:08)
It’s okay. It’s okay. This is the Gabe podcast. He’s interviewing himself right now folks.

Gabe Larsen: (18:15)
Sorry for that.

Annette Franz: (18:15)
No, you’re fine. No, you’re fine. No, but it is a good question. It really is. And the question is really more around how often do you have to refresh those maps, right? And when should you go back and revisit them? And it’s a fair question. And it’s hard to actually put a timestamp on them because, for a couple of reasons. Number one, how quickly can you go through that process? How quickly can you service blueprint the future state design, because you’ve got to design the future state, and then go and implement that future state.

Annette Franz: (18:52)
So, once that new experience is implemented, now you’ve got to train your employees and you’ve got to let your customers know and set expectations on what the new experience is going to be, et cetera, et cetera. But any time that you get feedback from customers going forward after that, anytime you get feedback from customers that something’s not right, or you’re starting to see sort of these — you’re tracking the experience, right? So anytime you start to see where there’s leakage points, where people are falling out of the experience, they’re abandoning their shopping carts, whatever it is. Anytime that you’ve got product changes, anytime you’re making an acquisition and you’ve got new customer types coming on board, or there’s a lot of things that happen in businesses every day that are an evolution or they’re a change, or there’s something that changes the way we do business and changes the way that our customers will ultimately interact with us. So we need to consider all of those and take a look at those. But the first thing that’s going to tell you that you really need to revisit that map is your customers are going to tell you, Hey, this is not working. I’m not happy. And this could come in many different forms.

Gabe Larsen: (20:04)
I like that. Right? The qualitative or quantitative feedback, I’m starting to see that something’s broken basically. So maybe [inaudible]. That’s probably the best answer. That’s fine. I’ve often wondered, how do you make this more alive? And should you put it on a quarterly, put it in a quarterly review or QBR or whatever you want to call that. But you’re right. You’ll, if you’re honest, you’ll watch kind of the end outcome, which is ultimately your customer feedback in some form or fashion. If that starts to dip or there’s a problem, then obviously maybe something in the background is broken. I love it. Good. That’s helpful. Yeah. Am I an expert? What am I missing? What am I not asking? That’s what I should’ve asked.

Annette Franz: (20:46)
We hit the tip of the iceberg there, but yeah, you did good. We can dive in — again, as we talked about before we started recording, I wrote a book on journey mapping and how to do it. And so there’s that, there’s a lot to it. But no, I think we’ve hit — we’ve touched on a lot of points and any of those points, we could dive into much deeper, but that’s probably for another day.

Gabe Larsen: (21:16)
I got the cliff note version. Okay. I should have — I’m a cliff note.

Annette Franz: (21:21)
Yes that’s a good way to put it.

Gabe Larsen: (21:21)
Awesome. Well, I really appreciate taking the time. I love the talk track mostly because it feels — the best thing about journey mapping, and sometimes I feel like in this service experience space we talk about delighting and you get into those examples of the, you know the tire is being brought back to Nordstrom or stuff that’s sometimes a little harder. It doesn’t feel as tangible. The thing I love about journey mapping, it just feels so real. You’re action planning about real problems and moments of truth. And it’s like, ah, this is tangible. I can do something with it. It’s not “make people happy.” So, thank you for the talk track. I like that it’s practical. I like that it’s tactical. If someone wants to learn a little more about you dive into this, the book, where would you kind of direct them to, to take that next step?

Annette Franz: (22:05)
Yeah. Thank you. I appreciate that. Of course. The best place to find all things about me and information about the book and everything would be my website, which is So thank you for that. I appreciate it.

Gabe Larsen: (22:18)
Absolutely. Absolutely. We’ll make sure we get that in the notes here so that people can find it and see it. Again, appreciate the time, like the talk track. For the audience, hope you have a fantastic day.

Exit Voice: (22:38)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.


How to Do Research-Based Customer Journey Mapping with Bob Thompson from CustomerThink

How to Do Research-Based Customer Journey Mapping with Bob Thompson from CustomerThink TW

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe Larsen is joined by Bob Thompson from CustomerThink to discuss his recent research on customer experience. Bob is the CEO and founder of CustomerThink and has published a book titled, Hooked on Customers. His career and company are built upon the idea of customer centricity and other customer service management principles. His company has over 60,000 pieces of published content on customer service. In addition to writing authoritative content, Bob conducts primary customer service research. In the newest episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Bob reveals the findings of his most recent study. Listen to the full episode below.

How Journey Mapping Exemplifies Customer Centricity

Journey mapping is a CX principle that used to be unique, but has become a necessary and common practice for all companies. Although most companies practice journey mapping, Bob Thompson reports that only about a third are doing it successfully. Essentially, journey mapping is the process of going through the thoughts of the customer so that they can have a tailored experience. Bob provides a visual representation of this by stating, “think of journey mapping as walking in your customer’s shoes and then take pictures as you go and read their mind.” An effective journey map is one of the best ways to focus on the customer and ensure that your business is putting the needs, thoughts, and feelings of the customer first.

Key Principles to Customer Journey Mapping

Because effective journey mapping can help differentiate between mediocre customer service and quality customer service, Bob suggests two principles to help companies build useful journey maps. First, building them around personas. He states, “different people experience a brand in different ways. And so one of the top factors we found… is to develop personas for each of the customers, with each of the key customer segments and then build journey maps around each of these personas.” Separating customers into personas to customize their experience is a smart way to maintain customer centricity.

The second principle of successful journey mapping is to be specific and create a full journey map. Rather than segmenting the process, laying out the entire map allows for an uninterrupted flow from beginning to end. This also helps customer service experts better understand the long term goals and expectations of the businesses/people they serve. Bob mentions, “So if it’s a business, what is it they’re trying to get done? I think this is absolutely critical. What are — in the end — they trying to accomplish with this experience?” Customers have their own long term goals so going through the entire journey of the customer helps them feel understood.

The “Future State” of Customer Service

As a final observation, Bob talks about the importance of the “future state” in the customer experience. Most of the time, CX experts focus on fixing the problem at hand instead of honing in on designing a future experience for customers. When trying to create this experience, customer service representatives tend to forget that the CX journey begins long before the customer calls customer service. When sales expectations aren’t met by a product or there is a problem with the product, people call customer service as if they were the problem. Bob explains this concept and the need for companies to create a future experience by stating: “So, CX is about figuring out where we’re screwing up, and let’s go fix that. And you know, that’s fine. Everybody has room for improvement. …We want to drive towards a planned or designed experience as opposed to fixing the mess that we already have.”

To learn more about customer experience strategies, 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:

How to Do Research-Based Customer Journey Mapping with Bob Thompson from CustomerThink

Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Alright welcome everybody to today’s podcast. We’re going to be talking about journey mapping; how important it is, why you should do it, how you can be thinking about doing it. And to do that, we brought on the guests today Bob Thompson. He is the founder and CEO of CustomerThink. He also wrote a book called Hooked On Customers, but really an expert in the idea of customer centricity, bringing brands together, how they should manage their business more appropriately. So, excited to get into the talk track today. This is one that journey mapping has been asked a lot about. I think some of the research and the findings that Bob will bring will be very interesting. So Bob, thanks for joining. How are you?

Bob Thompson: (00:51)
I’m great. Thanks for having me, Gabe.

Gabe Larsen: (00:53)
Yeah, yeah. I always appreciate you taking the time. It’s fun to kind of do the podcast and meet a lot of leaders, thought leaders like yourself. So thank you for jumping on. Talk just a little bit about anything you’d add or get into your background, more about some of the things you’ve done or what CustomerThink does, just so the audience has that kind of pillar?

Bob Thompson: (01:11)
Yeah, absolutely. So CustomerThink is an online community. It’s free. People can visit or they can join and get our newsletter. We’ve been around for two decades and the core idea is customer centricity. How do we treat our customers better and create a better business as a result of doing that. So that’s the online community. I run that. We’ve published a lot of content, several thousand posts a year. We have, I think, close to 60,000 pieces of content. It’s been over 3000 authors. So it’s a big community covering customer experience, customer service. If it’s related to customers, we cover it. In addition to that, I also do research, I do primary research. And I usually do two or three studies a year and I’ll be sharing some of my findings from a study we did recently on over 200 customer experience initiatives. So, I do a lot of research and do some public speaking as well.

Gabe Larsen: (02:11)
I love it. I love it. Well, we’ll get into that. So let’s maybe start — appreciate the overview on your background. This was a topic that was asked about a lot from the audience, customer journey mapping or process flows. Big picture — maybe just for those that don’t know, tell us just a little bit about what it is and maybe why a company should be thinking about this.

Bob Thompson: (02:33)
Yeah, that’s a, that’s a great question. It’s become kind of the go-to thing that if you’re doing a customer experience program, you’re probably doing two things. One, you’re collecting feedback. And number two, you’re doing a journey mapping project. Now it’s not a hundred percent, but it’s a very high percentage. Those are sort of the two activities that are associated with doing customer experience. Now there’s a lot more to it than that, but those are two that came up in our study. And so in terms of journey mapping, the idea is you’ve probably heard this expression walk in your customer’s shoes, right?

Gabe Larsen: (03:12)

Bob Thompson: (03:13)
And so when you think of journey mapping is walking in your customer’s shoes and then take pictures as you go and read their mind. So you’re trying to understand it and create a visual depiction of what your customer is literally experiencing, what they’re thinking, feeling, what sort of interactions they are having as they interact with your company. So it could be in marketing or using your product or service, customer service. So, ideally it should be everything and use that as a diagnostic tool.

Gabe Larsen: (03:45)
I love it. I love it. Do you feel like — how proficient or how extensive is this idea? I mean, having done some research does every organization do it? Is this a new idea for most people? What’s the penetration of this into organizations would you say? It’s pretty high. I’d say the penetration of doing it well is not that high. Maybe, maybe a third. I mean, but this is typical. Not every company starts out being an expert in anything. I know I didn’t. So, it’s not a knock, it’s just to say that if you look at new programs, they’re learning a lot of different things about how to collect feedback, how to do analytics, how to do journey mapping and to say, well, they’re, you know, they’re not doing very well because they’re not an expert at journey mapping. That’s not really fair. Having said that, I think that there is a lack of skill and completeness that we found in our study that the more successful CX initiatives did journey mapping more thoroughly and more effectively. I talk about what that means. We’re only talking about maybe one out of four that I would say are doing a pretty respectable job of it.

Gabe Larsen: (04:57)
I like that. So one out of four. So definitely room for improvement when it comes to this area. So let’s get into some of the findings. I mean big picture, any kind of big takeaways before you get into tactical of how to do it? Any surprises in the data that you saw?

Bob Thompson: (05:14)
I think one thing that surprised me is that I did a study I think three years ago and what we found — and this was very, this was specific to customer service by the way. What we found is that just doing a journey mapping project was a success indicator. In other words, it was one of the factors and more successful companies are able to increase customer satisfaction. Just doing it, not how well did you do it, but did you do one? It was a plus, right?

Gabe Larsen: (05:44)
Just going through the exercise. Yeah, I could see that. I can see that.

Bob Thompson: (05:50)
What changed is that’s no longer true. It was a differentiator maybe three years ago or so, but you know, attempting one– I mean there are definitely benefits to doing a journey mapping project. You bring people together, you understand your customer better and doing one versus not doing one when you’re at a relatively immature status is fine.

Gabe Larsen: (06:14)

Bob Thompson: (06:14)
But now, customer experience is not a new idea. There’s lots of programs out there that have been out two, three, four, 10 years and so we have a much better base to look at what is it about the actual process of journey mapping. And we didn’t find just doing one was a success indicator anymore. You have to do it more effectively. And we came up with a number of different elements of what makes an effective journey mapping project and we have data to back that up.

Gabe Larsen: (06:44)
I love it. I love it. Well let’s get into some of those cause I do think the big ask was, you’re right. People seem to know the concept. I think the effectiveness, how to make it impactful, how to do it the right way. Maybe walk us through some of those findings or recommendations on how people should be thinking about doing it again, well.

Bob Thompson: (07:02)
Well, what I’ll start by saying, if you — again, this concept of walking in your customer’s shoes, and the question that I think everyone should ask is which customer? Not some generic customer or what we think the customer is, but to actually have key customer segments or often called personas. So you can say, Hey, we’re going to create a journey mapping for our senior executive that’s making a technology purchase. Maybe it’s a different persona for somebody that’s a user using the product– maybe using customer service. Different people experience a brand in different ways. And so one of the top, factors we found, again, we have analytics behind this and a lot of experts to back this up, is to develop personas for each of the customers — with each of the key customer segments — and then build journey maps around each of these personas.

Gabe Larsen: (07:55)
Hmm. Hmm. And is that, when you think about personas — it’s really just about the types of customers that you obviously interact with. Do you go, how deep down in that persona do you go? Is it, try to keep it a little more high level or do you get very specific about industry, title, function, company size? What’s too granular versus too high?

Bob Thompson: (08:22)
Yeah, that’s a really good question. I mean, you can get lost in the weeds here. And you know, never get your head out after developing personas. But, I would say that they need to be developed at a fairly granular level. So you’d want, what job title are we talking about? What is the size of the company? So some of the standard demographics, there would be, what are their goals? So if it’s a business, what is it they’re trying to get done? I think this is absolutely critical. What are — in the end — they trying to accomplish with this experience because that turns out to be one of the five things that it came out as a differentiator is that being — understanding the outcomes and defining them in the journey map is really critical because it’s not just about how easy it was. It’s like, well, did it actually help accomplish their — what they had in mind?

Gabe Larsen: (09:17)
That makes a big difference. Do you, maybe just one clarification for me. As you identify those personas, how important is it to do, and maybe I’m jumping ahead, but how important is it to do kind of the whole journey or is it better to kind of bite size it and say, let’s just talk about the pre-buying experience or the post purchase experience. How do you think about the actual journey?

Bob Thompson: (09:43)
Yeah, that is an absolutely critical question and there isn’t one right answer. I’ll tell you that from our research, what we found is that more successful CX programs overall tended to do the end to end journey. But, everybody has to start somewhere and part of the challenge with CX is that it becomes a boiling the ocean problem. There are so many things you could do, where do you start? And so, it’s definitely feasible to start and say customer service. You know, you can get your feet wet and learn some things about what the service experience looks like because that has some complexity. But the danger of starting in any one part of the journey and staying there is that you lose sight of the handoffs. And so what happens when you go from marketing to sales to service? There’s a set of problems that have to do with the handoffs and the sales and then there were problems within a particular function and in the end they both need to be addressed.

Gabe Larsen: (10:54)
That’s right. That the hand offs, it’s like they’re, I mean, I don’t — I’m not the expert in journey mapping, just having run sales and marketing. The old sales and marketing debate, that is a problem. Whenever you have two people in a room, it’s always a little harder than having just one. So, you’re right. Anytime there’s a hand off, you have challenges and if you don’t manage that or think about it, you’re probably losing a little bit of that [inaudible].

Bob Thompson: (11:23)
I think for customer service managers, which I understand is our key audience here, I mean, let’s face it; they can be the dumping ground for problems that happen elsewhere in the company. Sorry to be blunt, but it’s true, right? You know the product didn’t work, so they call customer service and they’re angry at customer service. Is it customer service’s fault that the product was bad or is it the customer service fault that sales made a promise —

Gabe Larsen: (11:48)
How could the sales promise [inaudible]. It’s always the salespeople who are causing problems but —

Bob Thompson: (11:57)
But, rather than blame, it’s not about blaming but say, but these problems tend to happen somewhere else. And so, if you start in customer service, which is a very common starting point for CX programs, then you want to expand and say, all right, so here’s a set of problems that, why is the customer calling because they’re confused. Where did that confusion start? Maybe it started in a marketing message or a sales promise or somewhere else. And work on those root cause problems rather than saying, well let’s hammer customer service and make sure they fix those problems. They can’t fix them all.

Gabe Larsen: (12:32)
You’re right, you’re right. You really need to probably look at that holistic. But you know, you’ve also got to start where you can and do what you can. So, okay, so one is persona. I like this conversation about chunking it or potentially looking at the whole journey. What else works; some of the findings or best practices as you look at this exercise?

Bob Thompson: (12:51)
Yeah, I’ll talk about a couple of others together because they’re related. What is the information or the data that you use to build a journey map? And it’s relatively easy, maybe not easy, but relatively easy to get a bunch of employees in a room and say, all right, what do we think the journey looks like? So you can get posted notes and start outlining the steps and what you think is going on. And, that’s not a bad way to start. It might help you find some of your colleagues elsewhere in the company, but, it’s not a good practice if you stop there. The best practice is to get customers directly involved in this problem. You have some key customers you bring in, maybe some of them representing these personas. It can help you do a reality check on what’s going on. And you can use data, which is the other thing, which is from customer feedback or maybe you have analytics which will just show you where some points of friction or problems and so on. And so when you build a journey map, it’s not just, here’s an internal view of what’s going on, but here’s a view informed by research, by feedback, by customers, and then you’ve got a solid foundation to build upon.

Gabe Larsen: (14:08)
I love that. I love that. Is that something that you feel like people get tripped up on that? I mean often times they do just rely on the internal resource. That’s kind of a challenge people often face.

Bob Thompson: (14:20)
It is, and it’s difficult to get customers involved but [inaudible] CX programs, figure out a way to do it, and they do it. And they use data that they already have. You don’t necessarily have to go out and do another research project, but if you say, look, we want to understand what’s happening in the buying experience, well, you have a website, you have analytics, you have some surveys that we get feedback and you can get some indication without doing flush research about where the problems are. So, make it a habit and you at least start with a better journey map.

Gabe Larsen: (15:00)
I love it. So, data, internal and external is going to give you more of a holistic view. Okay. That’s fair. Got it. Okay. What’s next?

Bob Thompson: (15:11)
Here’s one that I think is a more advanced process, but it definitely popped up as a differentiator. When I say differentiator, I mean that we saw a statistical difference, but the things I’m talking about here, we saw a statistically different level of effectiveness of CX programs that were successful and those that were not. And by successful I mean able to show some business value. So there’s some real data behind these recommendations, but the one that I think tends to get forgotten the most is looking to the future; and so often called a future state journey map. So, and I think this one I want to probably end on this one because I think it points to one of the biggest problems I see in the CX industry, which is it has what I call a find and fix paradigm.

Gabe Larsen: (16:10)

Bob Thompson: (16:11)
So, CX is about figuring out where we’re screwing up, and let’s go fix that. And you know, that’s fine. Everybody has room for improvement. Well, what leaders, CX leaders do as they’re thinking about how to innovate. How can we — we want to get so close to the customer, we understand what they’re trying to accomplish, how fast you want to accomplish and we’re going to create a future experience that’s dramatically different and better. These future state maps then become a planning tool so you can say, Hey, while we’re fixing what’s broken in customer service or the product or whatever it is, these things people are complaining about, can we get a real edge on our competitors? That’s the future state and we want to drive towards a planned or designed experience as opposed to fixing the mess that we already have.

Gabe Larsen: (17:08)
I love that. Yeah. It’s like the current state. It’s so easy because you find some of these problems and you quickly fix them and you’re feeling good, but you don’t actually take that time to say in a year or two years from now, what does optimal look like? What are we building towards? I can see tons of people stopping on the current state. That’s a — I’ve done that. I’ve done that. One tactical question for you, what do people normally, as you get building this, is it they sketch it on a piece of paper, they use it like a charting tool, like a lucid chart. Is there any recommendations that you’ve found that makes this a little easier to do when you’re actually trying to visualize it? You’ve got past maybe the post it notes and you’re trying to put pen to paper.

Bob Thompson: (17:55)
Well, I would say that the more advanced you get, the less likely you’re going to be using PowerPoint or some flowcharting tool. These journey maps can be quite big. I’ve seen some that literally you could put them up on the wall and when they are up on the wall, they’re 20 feet long and it can be daunting. So, there are some specialized tools out there. I am not an expert on all those tools and I have not found any one sort of —

Gabe Larsen: (18:25)
I wondered if there was a magical one out there.

Bob Thompson: (18:27)
I think post-its, you can’t get simpler than that and it is an excellent way of getting started. But I want to stop short of trying to give a recommendation on what to do from there.

Gabe Larsen: (18:41)
You’re right, I appreciate the honesty because I’ve wondered if there is one tool that rules them all, but it sounds like you’ve got to kind of find where you are. There’s some simple, maybe some more complex and find what works and make it happen. I think the exercise is probably more important than tools. So that’s going to hear. Okay. Well Bob, really appreciate the time. Very interesting findings on customer journey mapping, mapping the whole experience end to end. If someone wants to learn a little bit more about CustomerThink or dive even deeper into this topic, is there a quick summary or recommendations you’d point them to?

Bob Thompson: (19:17)
Yeah, I mean if you come to one of our topic areas is the customer journey. Okay. So you can come into — there’s a big tab on the top named customer experience and there’s one on customer journey map below that. If somebody comes and clicks on that they’re going to get dozens of excellent articles and blog posts from many of the leading experts in the industry as well as myself on this topic. So, that’s a really good option. And then you can go into Google and you asked about techniques for actually presenting a journey map, and the reason I say I don’t know what to recommend is that I’ve seen lots of different ways of doing it that all work. So do the search on Google under customer journey map and then click on images and you will get probably a hundred different ways of doing it. Also, I think there are some experts in the industry, many of the CX professionals get into the details of actually doing those through some vendors that provide tools. There’s a lot of resources out there to help people. And I honestly, I think most companies would be advised to get some help because this is such a key diagnostic and planning tool, but you don’t want to screw it up. Do it right. It’s going to help you make better decisions on how to make customer experience better.

Gabe Larsen: (20:40)
I think that’s great. Yeah. Sometimes you do, you think you can knock this out, but it does take a real expertise there are people out there who can help. So Bob, again, really appreciate you taking the time. I know you’re a busy person. You know many things going on at CustomerThink, so can’t thank you enough for the advice and some of the recommendations as well as takeaways for customer journey mappings. So thanks again for joining for the audience. Hope you have a fantastic day.

Exit Voice: (21:13)
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Making Customer Service Faster and Smarter With AI with Omar Pera

Making Customer Service Faster and Smarter With AI with Omar Pera TW

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Omar Pera, CEO at Reply AI, joins Gabe Larsen to discuss how to use artificial intelligence to make customer service faster and smarter. Omar’s background is in solar engineering. His first job in customer service was at CERN, a physics lab in Switzerland, where he deployed the internal customer service tool for 2000 employees. Later on, Omar moved to New York to work with Big Civil, a tech startup. On nights and weekends Omar worked with his brother, Pablo Pera, developing some indie apps that became really successful with more than 50 million downloads in different markets. Fast forward to 2015, Omar wanted to know the penalty fee for a flight change, and after a terrible customer experience Reply AI was born as an easy way to automate conversations. Omar has extensive knowledge in the technology sphere and provides valuable insights on how technology and artificial intelligence can help create an exceptional customer service experience. Listen to the full podcast episode below.

Instantaneous is the Expectation of the Customer

Every customer service team knows that the customer wants their issues resolved, quickly. Customer experience is becoming more important than price and product when it comes to loyalty. Businesses who prioritize customer experience are the ones succeeding and the ones with more engaged customers. Omar shared a story about being on hold for 45 minutes and waiting 7 days for an email just to find the answer to his question about a flight change fee. This experience motivated him to build a platform that would help automate the most common question businesses receive. Customers want instantaneous solutions to their problems and they want to do it themselves. Omar states, “67% of customers prefer self-service over talking to an agent. … I believe that companies should be focusing on self-serve.” Intelligent automation as part of the customer service strategy not only keeps your customers happier, it also improves the efficiency of your agents.

Chatbots and Other Efficient AI Applications

Chatbots are typically the first platform thought of when it comes to customer service, and for good reason. Almost every business uses charbots to reduce unnecessary engagements with agents. Simple problems and questions can be answered much faster with chatbots. However, Omar points out that there are some other good examples of how to use AI in customer service: agent assistants, automatic categorization of tickets, smart routing or deflection. Omar summarizes:

“Everyone thinks that chatbots can solve everything. Not at all. Really, you can use a chatbot just to gather information and then hand over to an agent. That’s already helping your agents to be more efficient and the customer doesn’t need to wait for that initial “hello” from the agent to start solving their issue. Or, going a little further, you can do some API calls, integrate with your backend, and fully resolve issues”

There are so many different ways to use AI that companies are missing out on because they are only focusing on using chatbots to answer questions. The positive customer experience of the future has AI integrated into several stages of the customer journey.

How to Start Integrating AI into Your Company

Starting the AI journey is no easy task. There are so many things that can be automated, which is intimidating. Omar understands how hard it is and shares, “Start with one, one automation at a time. Focus only on that one… If you have live chat for example, why not understand which topic has the most volume and start gathering information about that today. Maybe a chatbot that answers “Where is my order?”. Ask the customer what is their order number and then hand it over to an agent. Once you control that, move to the next step: integrate with your backend so that later we can give them the tracking code… Start small. Start today.” After doing an audit of your company and the processes that should be automated, pick one, and get started. It will be a gradual process but Omar assures that it will be well worth it in the end. Good customer experience should revolve around making sure the customers get their answers with little friction and in a timely manner.

To learn more about AI and automation in customer service and how to integrate it into your company, 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:

Making Customer Service Faster and Smarter With AI with Omar Pera

Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:10)
Alright, welcome everybody. We’re excited to get going today. We’re going to be talking about artificial intelligence. We’re going to be talking about some recent news that happened here at Kustomer. We acquired a company called and they bring a wealth of information in the bot deflection and artificial intelligence category. And so we brought on Omar Pera, who’s currently the CEO and founder of and is taking on a Director of Product Position at Kustomer. And we want to dive into this idea of chat bots, AI, and how companies are using these different tools to be more efficient and more effective. So Omar, I appreciate you joining. How are you?

Omar Pera: (00:56)
Thanks for having me.

Gabe Larsen: (00:58)
Yeah, I think this will be exciting and congratulations on the big announcement.

Omar Pera: (01:03)
Thanks so much. This being the most exciting two days of pretty much my life except my wedding, so it’s been pretty good.

Gabe Larsen: (01:11)
I love it. Well, yeah, tell us just real quick. I mean, it’s obviously been a busy couple of weeks. Well, we probably better start a little higher. I wanted to jump right in the announcement, but maybe let’s start with just a little bit about you and Reply. Can you tell us a little bit about what Reply does and a little bit about your background?

Omar Pera: (01:31)
Yeah. So, my background is in solar engineering actually. I started my career in bioinformatics, then moved to CERN, which is a very famous physics lab in Switzerland. And actually my first job in customer service was at CERN. It was a physics lab that I deployed the internal customer service tool for 2000 employees there. And then after that I moved to New York, to work in a tech startup. And then on the nights and weekends, Pablo Pera, which is my brother too and co-founder of Reply, myself and a small team, we created some indie apps that got very successful in the markets. And then after that I jumped, diving into Reply.

Gabe Larsen: (02:15)
I love it. What was the reason to move to New York? Was it just wanting to — I mean, obviously, originally, Spain is home, correct?

Omar Pera: (02:24)
Well it is home today. I’ve been around eight years outside Spain. I went to first UK, then Germany, then Switzerland for CERN, and then I moved to New York–

Gabe Larsen: (02:38)
Oh yeah because CERN would’ve been in Switzerland. Yeah that’s right

Omar Pera: (02:38)
And then I moved to New York, to be working with Big Civil, which is a company that got acquired for a bunch of dollars. It was a pretty exciting moment there. Then later that’s when I started Reply.

Gabe Larsen: (02:58)
Okay so that makes more sense. So you’ve bounced there, so you’re quite the international traveler, it sounds like.

Omar Pera: (03:03)
I am. But I still have a funny accent. I cannot deal with that.

Gabe Larsen: (03:08)
It just depends on where you are if the accent is funny or not. You know, I lived a couple of years in the Middle East, a couple of years in Germany and my accent was weird to them there as well. So, no harm, no foul. It sounded like you did when you mentioned you had successful Indie apps, it was very successful. I mean to the tune of millions of downloads, is that correct?

Omar Pera: (03:29)
Yeah. We deployed around 10 or 12 apps to the markets, on many different verticals. It was just our own ideas and some of them actually got into the order of millions to a total of 50 million downloads.

Gabe Larsen: (03:44)
Oh wow. Wow. Hopefully you were charging a couple bucks per download on those.

Omar Pera: (03:47)
No, I know. I wish. I wish, but no, it was a combination of advertising and other things.

Gabe Larsen: (03:55)
If it was, we probably wouldn’t be talking right now. Right. If you’re doing five dollar– So I’m glad you didn’t. I’m glad you didn’t do that. Well let’s get into Reply then. I mean you kind of walked us through the background and then you ended saying, we then started Reply. So what was the story behind that? How did it start? Why Reply?

Omar Pera: (04:16)
Yeah, so it was funny because one of the apps, [inaudible]. So from five emails, we got into 50 emails and then 100 emails per day. So we could not keep up. We actually hired on a freelancer or other services there, some contractors, but really we could not keep that momentum. And then actually one day, this was 2015 one day I wanted to know the price of the penalty for a flight change. So I called an airline, and waited on hold for 45 minutes and then the phone disconnected and it was super annoying. And then I sent an email and waited for seven days to respond. So I really knew that that was a bad experience.

Gabe Larsen: (05:01)
It was seven days, huh?

Omar Pera: (05:03)
Seven days to respond just to understand it was 70 bucks of the penalty fee. So we really knew that that was a very bad customer experience. We also knew that from being a customer. So we hate to wait, like everyone hates to wait. So we had a look at the market and said I don’t think there is a platform out there today that makes it very easy to automate conversations. So that was the beginning of Reply. We now are a customer service automation platform now integrating to Kustomer. We help companies to resolve their most common questions without any agent in the region.

Gabe Larsen: (05:42)
Oh my goodness. So important. I just feel like — it’s funny because I’ve often debated this kind of bot versus, deflection bot versus human interaction. That’s been a conversation for a while. But man, in the last couple of months, the amount of energy and the amount of focus that companies are putting on doing more with less kind of to use your line to eliminate that agent. It just seems like it got — it was important, don’t get me wrong, but now it’s like, wow, it’s really important. Right? It’s just kind of the times have changed. So, one more followup to that. I think you’ve kind of hit on this, but I want to just double click it and that is, what then really was the core thing you were trying to solve for Reply?

Omar Pera: (06:35)
Yeah. So we experienced both sides of the problem, right? As a company, as business owners and as myself as a customer. So these gave us unique insights, how to fix the problem because first, for any company of the planet who is growing, it’s very, very hard to scale customer service. That’s pretty much a fact. So we sit down to set ourselves to solve that problem. And the ultimate goal is pretty much to have a great customer experience and make customer service faster and smarter. That’s what we really want to do. So we started doing that on Reply by providing a do it yourself tabled platform. And then we quickly realized that there was more than just chat. So we’ve expanded our offering to provide self-serve on all channels, including chat, email and your contact form. And I think to date, which I believe is going to be around 1 million and a half consumers have gotten any answer from us without waiting.

Gabe Larsen: (07:41)
Wow. Wow. Okay. So those are the number of answers or deflections or self service inquiries that have been solved.

Omar Pera: (07:47)
Yeah, the number of customers who have been touched with our automation and being helped.

Gabe Larsen: (07:53)
So over a million is where you’re currently standing. And the great thing is it isn’t just, that last point you mentioned, it isn’t just the bot, it’s actually email you said and what was the last one?

Omar Pera: (08:05)
So we can replace the contact form by using your FAQ. So the FAQ is usually the most creative piece of self-serve that any company has. So we try to make use of it so that whenever you are submitting a contact form, we provide you with suggestions for that contact form. So they don’t need to wait.

Gabe Larsen: (08:25)
Fascinating. And again, just so timely and maybe I’ll follow that up with that. I mean, why do you think it is so timely? Why is it so important now that people start to think about these types of tools, these types of technologies?

Omar Pera: (08:41)
Well, COVID is one of the causes, which is very sad, but at the same time, it has caused that customer service is totally overwhelmed. And the reality is that people still expect that you solve the issues fast.

Gabe Larsen: (08:57)

Omar Pera: (08:57)
They are used to one day delivery. So maybe now with a three day delivery, they’re going to find that not with a one week delivery. Right. So I will say that today for even any business consumer company, if you have a contact form or an email and you have three to seven days response time, you know that you have a problem. Right? So I think it is — every company has learned to do social very well, but usually customer service has been a call center right in the background of every company. So I think now more than ever, customer service is also part of your brand and the only, not the only, there are many solutions out there, but, AI and better self serve can really help get your company in a very good position to have a good customer experience.

Gabe Larsen: (09:48)
Hmm. Interesting. I mean, it does seem like there was some good — and maybe you have those off the top of your head, but there’s some good stats out there that really highlight the need for this new age world, which is people do want answers more quickly. They expect it. To your point, it’s a little more part of your brand. You have a couple of those off the top of your head.

Omar Pera: (10:11)
I have one which is the most funny one is that consumers would rather go to the dentist than contacting a company by phone. That is hilarious. And then you mix that with I think it’s 67% customers prefer self-serve over talking to an agent. So I think you put those two together and you have everything that every company is struggling to maintain that level of productivity. I believe that companies should be focusing on self-serve.

Gabe Larsen: (10:47)
Wow. Yeah. That idea that 67% of consumers would prefer to do self service. Why do you think that? I mean, truthfully, I believe that. I’m a consumer, we’re all consumers ourselves. And I think I have my own reasons. But what was the why behind that? Just in your own opinion, why do you think people want that?

Omar Pera: (11:09)
So I believe today we are very impatient and we want answers as fast as possible. Even the rise of messaging. Everyone is texting, is doing texts these days, right? With WhatsApp or Telegram, all those messaging apps that are popping up, they have even more traffic than social today. So I think that instantaneous communication, you want that translated into the brands that you love.

Gabe Larsen: (11:43)
Yeah, yeah. I mean we all — that instant, I love that word. It’s instant gratification. Sometimes it’s used in a negative context, but truthfully, I want it, I want it now and some of the current environment I don’t think has helped that. So let’s see if we can get into a couple examples here. I love the idea — I mean, you’ve got a strong background in artificial intelligence, machine learning. AI is definitely a big talk track in customer service today. Obviously it fits into some of the things we’ve talked about doing more with less. What are a few examples of using AI in customer service? Let’s see if we can click down there.

Omar Pera: (12:21)
Yeah. So today when you say AI in customer service, everyone is thinking about chatbots correct? But I think we should not end there and maybe we should not even start there. So we will have that. But they believe that there are many, many good examples of AI including chatbots that you can apply to your company. So one of them could be like agent assistant, right? You have an assistant who is helping your agents to be more efficient by suggesting answers on real time and it can even learn from past behaviors. So it’s really helping you out. Another one, very simple is to categorize your tickets automatically. Like how many companies do have one or two people categorizing those tickets in order to get to the right person or even later for insights. The most typical one today who has been a big one in the phone space has been smart routing, who to direct this issue to based on what you know. That is a big one.

Omar Pera: (13:33)
So we’ve already gone through three and then the fourth is usually chat bots. Correct. Everyone thinks of chatbots as a chatbot that can solve everything. Not at all. Really, you can use a chatbot just to gather information and then hand over to an agent. That’s already helping your agents to be more efficient and the customer actually to not need to wait for that initial hello from the agent or you can actually go a little bit further and do some API calls, integrate with your backend and fully resolve issues. I think the last piece, which I believe is the one where on Reply, we’ve been focusing the latest, which is deflection with your FAQ. Everyone has an FAQ today and you can really provide recommended suggested articles in a very smart way and try to really provide that paragraph that really works and resonates with the customer asking a question so that they can get resolved that issue faster.

Gabe Larsen: (14:32)
Got it. Okay. So we got agent assists, we’ve got, categorization of conversations, routing, chatbots and some of the deflection I think is what you talked about. Couple of follow ups on that. One is, that is a lot. So if you were going to start, if you were going to recommend for someone to start somewhere on their AI journey, which one of those initiatives would you maybe start them on?

Omar Pera: (14:55)
So I will say that usually the biggest problem is that you have too much volume, right? So the simplest way to set up something is usually deflection because you already have an FAQ, right? So that’s usually the first step that I will suggest. And then if we move into — if you have live chat, that usually depends on the channels. If you have live chat, why not understand which is your one topic that you have more volume on and start gathering information for that topic today. Just a little chat bot that says, Hey, maybe it is “Where is my order?” questions are your top one. So let’s just do a chatbot that’s only that. Ask the customer what is their order number and then hand it over to an agent. You can do that in a day, today. Later, okay, let’s integrate with your backend so that later we can give them the tracking code. Okay, good. Next step, we can get the tracking code, we can call the shipping provider and we can get them the exact day that it’s going to be delivered. So it’s an iterative process and there is no risk. So I think that’s important. But the biggest piece of advice that I usually give to every single company is to start very small and start today.

Gabe Larsen: (16:19)
I liked that iterative process, right? Because I don’t know if there is a way you can just — I think truthfully that’s maybe one of the mistakes I did when I first was playing around. I’ll use the chat bot just as an example. I thought, you know what, I can just throw it up on my website and be done. That was a mistake. You kind of needed to go through what you were talking about; build, measure, repeat. I learned that the hard way, but I think that’s a great principle to live by. Let’s see if we can continue down that journey. So as we think about getting AI into CX, I love your iterative process, but you were also saying, Gabe, as we’ve worked with companies, I like this idea of starting small and starting today. I want to continue down that journey. What are some, what do you mean by that?

Omar Pera: (17:03)
So this means that for someone, one of our customers, you saw a large marketplace and they have many, many different types of issues. From, where’s my order to scheduling issues, to refunds, change orders. So there is a lot. So what we need is just to start with one, start with one, one automation at a time. Focus on that one. Don’t focus on any other topic. You can focus on two or three. Okay. But it is even better to just do one and then — but the most important part is if you do one you do that very well and everything else reduces that friction to the customer. So that’s very important. For example, when I mean they could start today and start small; do you have an FAQ contact form? Okay. Start today with an FAQ deflection. What are you waiting for? You can remove even 40% of your questions with that. Or do you have live chat?

Gabe Larsen: (17:58)
40% of your questions? Oh, so they wouldn’t put them in the form, they could just get answers via the deflection.

Omar Pera: (18:04)
Suggested articles. Yeah. If you have a good knowledge base, you can get suggested articles and usually customers are not browsing anymore a lot of knowledge spaces because usually they are tired of searching and not finding anything. Right. So if you bring AI to bring the answer to the question at the right moment, they are going to pay attention.

Gabe Larsen: (18:24)
Hmm. Got it. Got it. Okay. So start small. Start today. I love some of those examples, whether it’s contact form or live chat, you can get something that resolves your order or deflect something. Okay. Where do you go next? What’s kind of — after you start small, start today, what’s your next principle to get people up and going here?

Omar Pera: (18:40)
So the concept I would say is pretty simple. Make it very easy to find answers. Make it very easy. That means that you have a knowledge base, open it, very visible, not in the footer.

Omar Pera: (18:55)
Their knowledge base. They write all these great articles. No one ever uses it, right?

Omar Pera: (18:59)
Correct. And they have the contact us page on one side and their knowledge base on the other like put your contact page, inside your knowledge base. Make your articles short and sweet. Simplify it. Cutting to short sentences. This is not marketing, this is more about really going to the point to solve that question and I think it’s very important. These are common mistakes where I see like the knowledge base is a structure from the point of view of the company. I think flip that. Flip the navigation of your knowledge base into the point of view of the customer and the common problems that they are going to have.

Gabe Larsen: (19:33)
Yes. Yeah, it is interesting. It does feel like — you’ve mentioned a few other things but it does seem like often the knowledge base is hidden. It’s kind of back in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes I have a hard time figuring out where the knowledge base is and the thing that I love that you guys do or that you’ve talked to me a little about is just bringing that knowledge base to the customer. That may mean some of the deflection capabilities, but you know now I don’t have to go search. I may be chatting with a bot and the bot is actually bringing that knowledge base from the back to the front to me rather than having me go find it. I love that idea. I just think that’s so easy. It’s to your point, it’s getting answers easy and reducing friction. Okay, so we’ve got one, two, three. What is, what’s the next one? Where do you go next when you coach people on this journey?

Omar Pera: (20:17)
So I believe this one could also be one of the most important parts if you don’t want to damage your brand, which is don’t frustrate your customers. This is such a simple idea. And everyone usually will say that they are not trying, but if you do any automation, you need to be not careful. You need to have a good process. If you do any automation today, like dude, never pretend that you’re a human ever.

Gabe Larsen: (20:45)
Oh, interesting.

Omar Pera: (20:46)
Yeah, that’s, that’s my point of view. There are many others who believe in a different way, but I have a strong point of view on that. Another strong point of view which I’ve also seen in the market quite a lot is the, “Sorry, I don’t understand” message right? Chatbots have been a little bit controversial in the past few years going in ups and downs because I believe it is not about the technology was not there, not like if you improve it has improved a lot, the technology. But I think the process is very important. So the process to create a nice conversation design brings that maybe you don’t need that “Sorry, I don’t understand” message. Forget that. Get out of the way. Automation, get out of the way very fast. Go to an agent directly. If you don’t understand a question, reduce the friction. So I think that is very important. And then just to put a concrete example, remember the chatbot about “Where is my order?” that I mentioned before? If the customer says absolutely anything that is not related to “Where is my order?” you go to an agent directly without waiting, without doing anything, without rephrasing, just go to an agent. Maybe ask their name and email and go for it right away.

Gabe Larsen: (22:03)
Wow. Yeah. So you are, don’t mess with the bot, get to the agent faster. Don’t mess with it so much is what I’m hearing you say there. Wow. All right, well, last question before I let you go and then I would love to hear maybe a quick summary. But, again, congratulations on the news. I’ve never had a company acquired. I’m sure you’re kind of on cloud nine. Can you give us, from your perspective, it’s been a busy couple of weeks the last two weeks, but how did it all kind of go down and, are you excited about the result? Are you excited about the next step and joining Kustomer? Give us kind of your quick take on the last couple of weeks here.

Omar Pera: (22:49)
Yeah, so I actually told my brother last year in a Slack message that I just saw a demo with Kustomer and I was so amazed, so amazed about the product that I believe that they will pretty much eat the whole market share of digital customer service with a powerful CRM. So, I’m actually — I think most interpreters usually say that you are going to feel kind of sad in a way. It feels sad. But I think I have more excitement about the future. So I believe now it’s like I’m in this new adventure. It’s like starting on day one with the same excitement as if I started Reply on day one. So I am very, very, very happy of this.

Gabe Larsen: (23:39)
Good man. Well again, congratulations. I know everybody here at the Kustomer Crew is excited to have you join. So talked about a lot; the acquisition, best practices with using AI, a lot about bots and different AI capabilities. Summarize kind of the conversation for us as we think about customer service leaders trying to win and take today’s challenging times.

Omar Pera: (24:01)
So I would say any customer service leader knows that it’s very hard to keep satisfaction high while you are growing. That is very hard. So I would say make self-serve a priority in your company. Start very small, make it very easy to find answers and that, you bring that together with a customer service tool that is very good. Put in the context of a contact in the same screen such as Kustomer. I believe it’s actually the key to success. So my last point will be, really the technology is there. There’s no need for one year plans. You just need to start a small start today and really don’t wait, just implement these broadly and the benefits will come over time.

Gabe Larsen: (24:45)
Yeah. Yeah. By small and simple things great things come to pass, a wise man once told me that. So Omar, really appreciate your time. If someone wants to get in touch with you or learn a little bit more about some of the things you’re doing, what’s the best way to do that? Like LinkedIn maybe or?

Omar Pera: (25:00)
Well,, Twitter. I am Omar Pera on LinkedIn. Any time, I have DMS open on Twitter. So I really liked talking to people. So yeah, look me up on any channel.

Gabe Larsen: (25:20)
All right, well it sounds like you got a couple options there. So Omar, thanks so much for joining and for the audience. Have a fantastic day.

Exit Voice: (25:35)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.


Elevating the Voice of the Customer with Hillary Curran

Elevating the Voice of the Customer with Hillary Curran TW

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe Larsen is joined by Hillary Curran to discuss customer experience and business operational strategies to make sure that the voice of the customer is heard. Hillary is currently the Director of Customer Service at Guru. She has been there for the last three years but initially started her career in nonprofits and technological development and support. She has helped develop and roll out software to aid those who want to help others. She is passionate about people; both coworkers and customers. In her interview with Gabe, she shared valuable insights about how to boost your customer experience and make the process easier for the company. Listen to the full episode below.

The Importance of Data Collection Both Internally and Externally

Having the right data at the right time is essential for the customer service industry. In order to ensure that customers are having a good experience, there has to be a way for them to leave feedback and make their voices heard. There are several things Hillary suggests companies should do to ensure customer data is recorded and acknowledged. For instance, Guru is a customer of their own service. Hillary states, “our whole company is also a customer, we use our own product internally. We want to make sure that we’re giving feedback about the product and what we are updating it accordingly.” Doing this has allowed Guru to get feedback in a myriad of ways and allows for employees to have complete empathy for the customer.

In addition to using your own product, Hillary notes that Slack channels are a great way to collect and share customer-gathered data with members of the whole company. This is a great tool that maximizes the amount of feedback received. Hillary mentions, “So a lot of data it’s being logged in different ways, but we try to make sure that it’s pushed to a channel on Slack so that most anyone across the company, even engineers or developers, can look through that and kind of learn as they go as well and potentially comment if they have ideas.” Doing this allows the voices of the customer to be heard throughout the company. Without internal data sharing, external feedback won’t ever be used to make a difference.

How to Share and Discuss Customer Feedback

After Hillary commented on the types of channels to use to communicate customer feedback, she describes the best way for that information to be shared. Sharing customer stories with all members of the company is a vital part of discussing customer feedback. Stories are powerful, motivating, and help all sectors of a company understand their customer better. Hillary suggests breaking down the company into pods with representatives from all departments is a great way to share the stories of the customers. These pods have engineers, designers, and members of the customer service team. Having Customer Service reps in the design process allows them to “bring those customer stories. Or, say ‘that actually looks like something that this one customer I’m working with may have an opinion about. I’d love to have you hop on a phone with them.’ And so just having a couple of people from customer experience in the design and engineering conversations can really help prevent a feature being built that maybe isn’t perfect yet or isn’t necessarily exactly what the customer wants.” Hillary continuously comments that weekly work meetings around discussing customer stories guarantees that something will be done in response to their feedback.

Why Closing the Communication Loop is Essential and How To Do It

Lastly, Hillary comments on what needs to be done after the data is collected, shared, evaluated, and acted upon. She points out that the next step for the company is to reach out to the customer thanking them for their feedback and letting them know what you have done with it. Hillary states, “every time we have a feature released that someone actually requested, we will pull out that report and send the customer a message letting them know that it’s being released at this time. … So yeah, we try to make sure that we’re always closing the loop on any feature requests that we get to make sure people understand that they’re not just like sending it to a black hole and that we actually are reading those and are taking them into account.” Whether it is through email or a phone call, communicating with customers who gave feedback is a great way to close the loop and ensure that the voice of the customer is heard.

To learn more about the voice of the customer and customer experience strategies, 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:

Elevating the Voice of the Customer with Hillary Curran

Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Alright, welcome everybody. We’re excited to get going. Today we’re going to be talking about how to elevate the voice of the customer in a fully remote world, which we all find ourselves in at the moment. To do that, we brought on Hillary Curran. She’s currently the director of customer experience at Guru. Hillary, thanks for joining. How are you?

Hillary Curran: (00:29)
I’m doing great Gabe, it’s great to be here.

Gabe Larsen: (00:31)
Yeah, it’s different circumstances. She’s in Philly. I’m in Jersey, but we’re probably actually not too far away from each other, but we’re definitely not going into the office. Our office is in New York, so we are living in the remote world. But I’m excited to jump into the topic. Can you tell us just a little bit about yourself and kind of what you guys do over there at Guru?

Hillary Curran: (00:51)
Of course. So yeah, as Gabe mentioned, I lead the customer experience team at Guru. At Guru, the customer experience makes up our support team as well as our customer success function. So we get to work with customers one-on-one as well as in a one-to-many capacity. So, whether that’s through like email or chat or ticketing, we do all of it. We’re really the voice of the customer throughout the whole company. My journey to Guru: I’ve been here almost three years, started actually my background is in nonprofits and more like technical support. So, I’ve done a lot of stuff, a lot of work with software, rolling out software, at different nonprofits to help optimize solutions and have always loved working with people. I found myself in a customer support role and now lead a customer experience team. So super excited to be able to use a lot of my experiences across different industries and sectors here at Guru.

Gabe Larsen: (01:46)
Yeah. That is fun to kind of be part of — you kind of work in the customer experience space obviously, but your company obviously does a lot around that, so that’s fun to be able to kind of have both pillars there. Well, let’s dive into this concept. Before we were starting, I love the framework, right? As you think about how you guys really amplify the customer’s voice in this fully remote environment, there’s kind of a framework you took me through. Can you kind of set the stage with that?

Hillary Curran: (02:17)
Totally. So, even early before we were a fully remote team as we are today, Guru had two offices, one in San Francisco and one in Philadelphia. And so we’ve had to make sure that most of our communication is not necessarily just in person, but also somehow equitably sourced across the team. So, it’s been really, it’s been a good challenge as we’ve grown to make sure that we have opportunities for people to give and share and collect feedback from their customers that they’re talking to or even prospects. So the three things that we try to do are collect it in a myriad of ways, create places for people to discuss and share the feedback that’s timely and not once every quarter. And then also close the loop with customers. So if we do release a feature or if something comes out that someone requested or had a really strong passionate feelings about, we want to let them know so that they understand that we’re actually listening and doing something about it.

Gabe Larsen: (03:15)
Yeah, no, I think that’s one of the ways you’ve got to kind of manage because the world is different. You guys sound like you had an advantage because you were a little bit remote to start and so you’ve already kind of gone down this path and were a little bit more prepared than some of us. But, whether we were ready or not, we now have to dive into that. So I want to hit some of these concepts; this idea of collect, discuss and kind of close the loop. I just think that’s a cool framework to start really making sure you do this the right way. Let’s start with collect. What do you mean by that and how does that kind of work?

Hillary Curran: (03:52)
So at Guru, we always, I mean — there’s a ton of feedback that comes from our customer experience team. So customer success managers are hearing information on phone calls or when they’re onsite or customer meetings. Our sales team is hearing information when they’re on the phone with prospects, even with customers currently. But, there’s also a ton of insights that we get from other folks on the team. So if marketing sends out something particular and they get certain replies, like anyone on the team can really contribute to collecting feedback. And it’s something also really great about Guru is that our whole company is also a customer. So we use our own product internally. And so we also want to make sure that we’re giving feedback about the product and what we want to see change. And so we try to make sure that there’s a place for anyone and everyone to share the stories that they’re hearing about customers or customer insights as well as share their own information or ideas that they have while they’re using Guru day to day and then their workflow.

Hillary Curran: (04:49)
So we have a myriad of Slack channels. One is product feedback, which is sort of like an all encompassing catch-all. And this is where if you forward a specific email to a specific email address, all of that feedback will get sent to this channel so people can read it and thread conversations about it. We have everyone who uses our — who is talking to our customers would also send emails this way. We also collect feedback in our customer support tool. So we tag conversations with feedback as well as the features or certain ideas so we can see trends based on tags. So we’re collecting it as many ways as we can. And then all of the feedback is pushed to a tool we use called product board, which then allows our product management team to categorize and organize that based on teams. So a lot of it’s being logged in different ways, but we try to make sure that it’s pushed to a channel on Slack so that most anyone across the company, even engineers or developers can look through that and kind of learn as they go as well and potentially comment if they have ideas.

Gabe Larsen: (05:48)
Got it. So Slack has been kind of the main way you’ve been able to start facilitating some of that feedback mechanism, the collecting aspect of it.

Hillary Curran: (05:57)

Gabe Larsen: (05:57)
And then a couple of different channels to think through that and do it in an appropriate way. Do you feel — has there been flaws or lessons learned from that or has it been — it sounds like you guys have a pretty good machine there working.

Hillary Curran: (06:13)
I think the collection is easy. Everyone can log things, whether it’s an email or in some form or fashion and some software. I think the hard part is elevating the stories and the trends and finding those that we have. We started to create a couple of other Slack channels to really highlight strategic customers or stories that we think are more relevant for the specific time. So, we created one a couple months ago called customer stories. That’s a little bit more storytelling oriented and talks about like direct quotes that we’ve had from customers that send us about like maybe how they’re dealing with their new work from home experiences to try and make sure that we’re elevating the stories that need to get shared, or that everyone needs to hear more broadly, and then also highlighting those. So we created a — now it’s a virtual meeting — but it’s a virtual meeting for the entire company to attend. And so the customer success team gathers all of those trends and tries to highlight those in that meeting, for everyone to get a quick snapshot of nine specific stories and trends that we’ve seen over the course of the last three or four weeks.

Gabe Larsen: (07:18)
Interesting. So that’s some of the internal stuff and then it sounds like there was some stuff you’ve done externally as well to get some of that customer involved as well, whether it was check-ins or– how have you worked that angle?

Hillary Curran: (07:31)
Totally. So, it’s been challenging now that we can’t go on-site or we can’t — and a lot of folks don’t want to –there’s a lot of other priorities right now. And so getting people on the phone, we want to make sure, as the customer experience team, that we’re giving people space to also adapt to this new environment and not try to bother people. At the same time we want to make sure that we’re being helpful. And so we’ve created a series of questions that we ask our customer experience team to sort of think on each week. And if they can incorporate those into a conversation they’re having, whether it’s in zoom or in an email or over chat, at least they can make sure that they’re digging in on one specific question. And then we can talk about the responses to that each week with the management team to sort of see trends and how is this information impacting your business, or have you seen an uptick in your usage of our product over the past three weeks? Like some sort of specific question that they can kind of grapple with versus how is everything going, which is so broad and sometimes hard to — for someone to respond to when there’s just a lot going on.

Gabe Larsen: (08:36)
Yeah. Well it is. It’s like when you get on these zoom meetings sometimes and you’re, “How’s the weather?” It’s like, “Well, how’s the weather where you are?” You know, I don’t want to talk about the weather. I have plenty to do. So getting a little more detailed, a little more into the person rather than keeping that so broad. So those have been some of the ways you’ve collected the data. Talk a little bit about the share and discuss.

Hillary Curran: (08:59)
Yeah. So like I mentioned, we do this sort of company wide meeting where the customer success team and support team and each talk about a very specific story or two stories that they’ve found really relevant. A lot of these will be backed with data around the number of people that have asked for a feature or had an issue potentially. And so we really like to highlight different customers. We’ll often sometimes share clips of customers so that anyone who’s listening can actually hear the customer on the phone. Which means it just goes so much further for an engineer to hear someone have an issue or really want a specific feature request when they can see it and hear it in their own words. So we try to use the “voice of the customers,” that we call it, every quarter and we just did our first fully remote one two weeks ago. And everyone reached out right after saying how great it was and refreshing, especially in this time to have some good stories and sort of feedback. We try to highlight both all the good things and also some of the negative things that we want to make sure people know about. But that’s been a really great way for the team to connect fully remote to just join for an hour and learn about all the things that our customers are saying.

Gabe Larsen: (10:06)
So it’s almost like the state of CX or, I mean it’s like what’s going on, some ups and downs, tickets, product requests; a little bit of everything.

Hillary Curran: (10:16)
Yeah. And then the other thing that we do more sort of as a structure of our company is our product teams are actually organized into pods, which are sort of miniature product development teams based on features. So we have product design engineers all assigned to different pods and typically these pods would meet every day and talk about what they’re going to work on, what they’re implementing, what they’re designing. What we’ve started with early on is we have two to three customer success and support reps also in these pods that joined for their standups to make sure that as they’re talking about what they’re going to build and what they’re working on, they can bring those customer stories. Or, say “that actually looks like something that this one customer I’m working with may have an opinion about. Like I’d love to have you hop on a phone with them.” And so just having a couple of people from customer experience in the design and engineering conversations can really help prevent a feature being built that maybe isn’t perfect yet or isn’t necessarily exactly what the customer wants. And also make sure that we can iterate more quickly with direct customer feedback because we have a ton of customers that want to talk to our engineering team all the time. It’s very rare that you get insights like that, so they’re always like, I’d love to talk to them.

Gabe Larsen: (11:31)
Got it, got it. And so the pod structure probably enables that actually a little bit more effectively than a non pod structure. I can see how that may work.

Hillary Curran: (11:40)
Yeah. We used to have like a company wide design meeting where we would walk through all the designs and it becomes one of those like too many cooks in the kitchen where everyone has ideas. And so we had to scale it back and say, how can we focus a little bit and allow everyone to have a little bit of a say and opinion. So, it’s been really cool to see and it allows like some younger, more junior folks on the team, to get experience and get exposed to other departments that they may not have ever really worked with directly.

Gabe Larsen: (12:10)
Hmm. And talk to us a little bit about this “glows grows” idea this — what’s that?

Hillary Curran: (12:16)
Yeah. So even internally on our customer experience team, what each meeting that we have on Mondays every week to kick off the week, we do a glow and a grow; which is what can we be proud about? What happened really great with a customer and whether it was like how they launched the product or maybe they revamped their instance, or something that we want to grow from and learn from. And so a lot of these stories are really helpful and when we try to share them in the Slack channels and we often have other team members come to our customer experience meetings on Mondays and they always say that this is like their favorite part of the meeting cause they get to hear those customer stories and hear what’s going on in the Zoom rooms all around the world.

Gabe Larsen: (13:00)
Yeah. You got it. I mean that type of check-in I think brings everybody on the same page and obviously sets you up for the week on the right foot. We’ll do that on Mondays, if I can. So you obviously have some great strategies. Oh, I did want to hear about this lab. So talk to me about the lab, what’s that?

Hillary Curran: (13:17)
So many things we’ve implemented. So the last one that we did recently, Guru actually didn’t have a pretty robust account management team until recently. And so our customer experience and account management team has really started to work much more closely together. And in doing so — the way that our teams are structured customer success as well as account managers work together with accounts so it’s not like the CSM owns the entire customer experience. So we really wanted to make sure there was a place for both of those teams to come together and share specifically challenges they have maybe around renewal or maybe the champion that they worked with last or went on maternity leave and they have no idea who to reach out to again. Whatever the issue is, just having a place for those teams to come together and share their experiences has been really helpful.

Hillary Curran: (14:03)
So isn’t necessarily a customer voice, it’s more of like sharing customer stories to help influence other outcomes. And so it’s been really cool to have like maybe one more senior person on the team say, I’ve heard this scenario, I’ve had this experience before. Let me explain to you how I dealt with it with this one customer. And so that’s been really cool and it’s allowed folks to sort of share experiences without having to have — like right now we don’t have the ability to walk by and talk with someone or overhear a conversation at the office. So, we’re trying to kind of clear the space for those types of things to happen.

Gabe Larsen: (14:37)
Interesting. Well let’s get into this close the loop idea and how you bring it to the end. How do you look at that and play that?

Hillary Curran: (14:46)
Totally. So more of a one-to-one version would be for all those pods that we have, if there’s a customer success manager in those pods that has a customer that has requested a very specific feature that is gonna get implemented or that they know a feature that their customer would really love to give feedback on, they can legitimately engage the customer and tell them what’s going on, play by play as we’re developing it, as we’re adjusting it, which is really cool for the customer to get to have that kind of connection with that specific feature or workflow that’s going to get developed. So that’s one way that we try to close the loop, by just keeping the customers like, “Hey, I know you wanted us to create a feature where you could use emojis and making something up. It’s coming out, we’re working on it. Actually they’d love to talk to you about this one thing that they’re thinking of.” So just making sure that they can stay in the loop. And then more sort of from a systematic like one to many version we, because we’re cataloging and logging all of these different requests, every time we have a feature that gets released that someone did request, we will pull that report and then send them a message letting them know that it’s being released on this time. We really appreciated why they — all the time. Maybe it was two years ago, they asked for this, but it’s going to finally come out and thanks for your patience. So yeah, we try to make sure that we’re always closing the loop on any feature requests that we get to make sure people understand that they’re not just like sending it to a black hole and that we actually are reading those and are taking them into account.

Gabe Larsen: (16:16)
And have you found that there’s certain ways to do that? I mean, is email typically the best way to do that? Do you have a system to kind of track those lists? Because oftentimes people, they want to close the loop, but they drop the ball, they forget. There’s not a great way sometimes. Have you found a good way to do that or technology?

Hillary Curran: (16:33)
Yeah. Well, in our support system, if people ask for a specific feature and we log it, it captures their email address. So that’s one way. And then, um, if someone has requested it and we send it to the product board, we’ll also capture their email address so we can pull like a legitimate list of emails. What we often do is send a mass, either through chat, bot, sort of pop up message or sometimes we’ll actually post. We have a product called Pendo as well, but is sort of a guide that walks you through goals and such. So sometimes we can also make up a custom list inside of that and then like highlights specific things that we may have released to specific groups of users. So that’s been kind of a newer way that we’ve done it. So what we try not to send too many emails; but, whether it’s a chat or even if you just tell someone on Zoom, if you’re having a call with them, “Hey, this is coming out, we wanted you to know. Thank you for all of your feedback the 5,000 times that you told us that this was a really important feature. So, we try to do it and not just email because sometimes I think those get buried. Yeah. Most people are really responsive.

Gabe Larsen: (17:38)
That’s the problem, email. Now in our inbox, we’ve got so many more emails coming in because some of the things are not working. Well Hillary, we really appreciate you taking the time. Love the idea of that process that you outlined. How do you really think about collecting the data that you need in order to make the right decisions? How do you discuss that and share it amongst the people in the right way and make sure you close that loop. As we’re in these challenging times and thinking about your job, what would be your recommendation or advice as we leave today to other directors of customer experience who are struggling trying to manage some of these different aspects of the business?

Hillary Curran: (18:19)
Totally. I would say try not to be in every Slack channel like me. It gets overwhelming. I think that’s one. I would say that despite all of these different tools and tactics that we have, I think the number one thing that’s really important is to have leadership, buy-in, and also support to make sure that this stuff happens and that people actually show up to all of these meetings and events. And so very fortunate for me, at Guru our CEO and really all of our leadership team has been super supportive of sharing customer stories and making sure that any sort of issue that we see is popping up more and more should be raised to the engineering team. Making sure that there’s buy-in from them. And if there isn’t, trying to use the data that you have from all the different places that you can to really make a case for yourself as to why this is important. So trying to use the data is also really helpful. But I think having buy-in from your leadership team, even just to try out one of these solutions is key.

Gabe Larsen: (19:19)
I mean, the data thing, it’s been so relevant to me lately. I feel like sometimes in the customer world we opened up a little bit with that. It’s a little bit of hearsay or you hear one thing and it’s man, if there is a way to bring the data in and strong leaders can do that I think it can make a big difference. So Hillary is so fun to have you. Certainly wish you the best. If someone wants to get to know you or learn a little bit more about some of the fun things you guys are doing, what’s the best way to do that?

Hillary Curran: (19:44)
Yeah, you can just find me on LinkedIn, just Hillary Curran, or send me an email. I think my email is probably on it. It’s just I’m happy to always connect and I love talking about customer experience and knowledge management and support and all those good things that people need.

Gabe Larsen: (20:03)
Yeah, I know we were chatting about some other topics, so you might have to be a regular, we might have to bring you back next quarter or something.

Hillary Curran: (20:09)
I’d love to. I’d love to. Maybe next time we can do it in person.

Gabe Larsen: (20:12)
That’s true. That’s true. We’re not too far from each other. So again, thanks for joining and for everybody else. Have a fantastic day.

Exit Voice: (20:26)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.


The Customer in the Future with Blake Morgan

The Customer in the Future with Blake Morgan TW

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Blake Morgan joins Gabe Larsen to discuss the importance of focusing on the customer and its role in attracting more customers. For the last 12 years, Blake has been in the customer service industry as either a practitioner or thought leader. She got her start as a customer service executive at Intel and for the past 5 years she has been a keynote speaker. Blake is dedicated to helping prepare businesses for the modern customer and helping them become the companies of the future. She is also the author of The Customer of the Future and hosts her own podcast titled “The Modern Customer.” Listen to the full episode below.

The Customer and Company of the Future

Times are changing very quickly and the customer service industry is not immune. The modern customers are in an interesting situation because they are being exposed to a variety of service experiences and not all of them are good. So what exactly should we expect from the company of the future? Blake states, “The company of the future has a soul. The company of the future is thoughtful. They’re thinking about more than just how much money they’re making the next quarter. They’re looking at the implications their behavior has on not just the customer, but the employee, the community, the environment. They’re thinking about innovation as a core piece of their competitive strategy.” If these are the characteristics of future companies, how does your company compare?

Why This Change is Slow

There is a very pressing need for change, but it is happening at a much slower pace than what is needed. Blake suggests that this is happening because of the nature of CEOs and their short time investments in companies along with the need to change culture. Changing a company’s culture and being willing to make a long term investment into customer experience isn’t always appealing and is not a quick fix. One of the elements of Blake’s philosophies is the psychological aspect of customer service. This involves the mindset and the culture. If CEOs were willing to invest more time, be more patient and persistent, psychological and cultural changes would occur in a company. Blake recalls, “Customer experience has to permeate through the culture of the company. It has to be in the fabric, in the mission, the values, the way people talk. We’ve got to have that humble, open culture. It’s not easy to simply replicate what somebody else does, especially for big companies that have toxic cultures or have cultures where things move very slowly and change is hard. I think it’s extremely difficult for these companies to change the culture, which is the biggest piece.” Making these changes is a slow process normally, but Blake is optimistic that it will speed up as companies apply the principles in her book and invest more fully in customer experience.

What it Takes for a Company to Stand Out

In the middle of their discussion, Gabe asked a simple, yet powerful question, “Why does CX matter?” Blake’s response is that in today’s world, there is so much product competition that simply having a good idea isn’t enough. She further explains that by excelling in the customer service and customer experience department, companies can manifest their value. It’s important for companies to take the time to care about people and recognize the humanity of the customer. As Blake so eloquently describes, “In a time where many of our products and services are the same, customer experience is the only way to stand out. Our products and services have become commodities or simply competing on price. And maybe that in the short term, but in the long term we want to be relevant. We have to compete on experience on how we make people feel… Thoughtfulness is truly a competitive advantage today.” Quality customer service and experience is essential for the companies of the future and the customers of the future demand nothing less.

To learn more about the customer and company of the future, 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:

The Customer in the Future with Blake Morgan

Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Hi, welcome everybody to today’s show. I’m excited to get going. We’re going to be talking about the future of the customer or the customer being the future. To do that, we brought on Blake Morgan. She is a customer experience expert. She does keynote speaking. She also happens to have a new book coming out called “The Customer of the Future.” It talks about 10 guiding principles that we’ll dive on to just a little bit today. So Blake, thanks for joining. How are you?

Blake Morgan: (00:39)
Hi. Good, thank you. Thanks for having me on your podcast. I love podcasting. I have my own podcasts, so —

Gabe Larsen: (00:46)
That’s right. Can you tell us, maybe add that in, but tell us a little more about you and some of the fun things you do in your day to day.

Blake Morgan: (00:57)
Well, what’s super fun now is I am 29 weeks pregnant, so I’m a mom.

Gabe Larsen: (01:05)
It’s your first?

Blake Morgan: (01:05)
It’s my second.

Gabe Larsen: (01:08)
Okay, congratulations.

Blake Morgan: (01:09)
Yeah. So you asked me what’s fun. So I guess that’s like fun. That’s fun news. I also have two dogs. They’re fun as well. And a husband. The one thing I do is I bring my message that if you focus on the customer, if you make people’s lives easier and better, you will always attract customers to you. And that’s the basic message that I bring all around the world, whether it’s on a stage, on my podcast “The Modern Customer,” on my Forbes column. It’s a simple human message that we’ve gotten too far away from treating people like wallets. And we have to be real about how we are building and designing experiences for other people and how do we make them feel?

Blake Morgan: (01:57)
And now feelings are a business metric. And that’s really exciting for people like me. For over 12 years I’ve been telling stories about why how you make people feel matters. And now, businesses are starting to draw the correlation between, oh gosh, we’re making people feel like junk. And I can see our market share shrinking. Oh, it makes sense. So it’s been a pleasure to be able to do this job and I’ve been doing it for about five years, completely focusing on thought leadership. And before that I was a practitioner as an executive at Intel, the chip maker. But I’ve been in the customer world for about 12 years whether as a customer service executive practitioner or on the thought leadership side producing content.

Gabe Larsen: (02:46)
I love it. I love it. Well, let’s dive in. That’s a great intro. I want to hear a little bit about the book, but the looming question– I always like to think about titles and you’ve got this kind of customer of the future. So maybe start there. Who is the customer of the future?

Blake Morgan: (03:00)
The customer of the future. She is already here and I recently heard a quote that “the future is here, It’s just not widely distributed.” And I love that because you know, in your life you’re getting some beautifully easy, seamless, zero friction, personalized customer experiences from companies like Spotify and Netflix and Amazon and Apple products. And depending on where you get your healthcare or your airline, I mean hopefully you’re with the best, but many of us are not. So you’re getting these wonderfully delicious experiences in some areas of your life. But like if we look at the five most hated industries, they are travel, especially air travel, insurance, cable, Telekom and wireless services and internet services. So basically many of these experiences are extremely broken. But then, when we say the future is not widely distributed, but it’s here, the customer is comparing those horrible experiences with the wonderful ones they get. So everyone today is being held to a different standard.

Gabe Larsen: (04:14)
Wow. Yeah. You nailed it with the industries. I’m thinking of my cable bill, my Telekom bill, and like yes, me, me, me. But you’re right, times definitely are changing. So how does that compare to the company of the future? Is that similar? Does it have to react differently with some of the different changes with the customer of the future.

Blake Morgan: (04:37)
Yeah. The company of the future has a soul. The company of the future is thoughtful. They’re thinking about more than just how much money they’re making the next quarter. They’re looking at the implications their behavior has on not just the customer, but the employee, the community, the environment. They’re thinking about innovation as a core piece of their competitive strategy. And that’s why you see — when I put out my lists on Forbes of the most customer centric companies, these are companies that do everything well. They’re good to their people, they have a huge innovation focus, they are good on customer service and they also are trying to look at ways to be more sustainable, to impact the community in a positive way. And so they do everything well. And that’s why when people ask me, Blake, what are the most customer focused companies in the world, I just point them to the great place to work list because we see that companies that are great places to work often have excellent customer experiences and their stock prices are going up as a result.

Gabe Larsen: (05:49)
Yeah, and that first thing you said; companies won’t just look kind of at the numbers, you know, they’ll have a soul. Well why is that so hard to make that transition? Is it that hard? Is it just something we got to kind of do? Because I feel like you still have leaders getting up there and yeah, it’s all the almighty dollar and that does matter. But if the customer is not happy the dollar doesn’t come. It’s like they’re not getting it. Why is that not happening? Or is it as simple — is it changing your mindset or what’s going on there?

Blake Morgan: (06:23)
Yeah, I think we have to look at what individual leaders are measured by and what their goals are. If you think of a CEO, they often come in, take over at a big company and their goal is to be there a few years, turn the company around, make it profitable and then move on to a better paying or more fancy, we’ll say, CEO job. And that’s a problem because for these customer experience programs, they required long term investments. They often require being misunderstood for long periods of time. And when founder CEOs, they focus on their businesses, it’s often the long term view because they aren’t held to the standards by the board. They don’t really care because they’ve built the company, it’s their baby. And they’re willing to be misunderstood. Yeah, like Reed Hastings of Netflix. So I think that’s one of the problems is that the performance metrics for these leaders are not in service of customer experience. They’re in service of the almighty dollar, quick turnarounds. And it’s really a conflict when we think about things like digital transformation that require at least five years or so of sometimes taking a loss in order to transform into a better company.

Gabe Larsen: (07:52)
Yeah, that’s so interesting looking at some of the different examples of like a turnaround CEO versus an original founder, right? That mindset of this is my family, or this is — there’s just such a different futuristic view on that. You mentioned the Netflix gentlemen as an example, you’re right, they kind of see things different. The CEO compensation, yeah that probably would change behavior, right? What are you actually here to do?

Blake Morgan: (08:22)
Right, exactly.

Gabe Larsen: (08:24)
So, in all of this going on in the world, we talked a little bit about the future of the company, the future of the customer. CX, a lot of people debate its importance. Why, why does it matter so much today?

Blake Morgan: (08:38)
So in a time where many of our products and services are the same, customer experience is the only way to stand out. Our products and services have become commodities or simply competing on price. And maybe that in the short term, but in the long term we want to be relevant. We have to compete on experience on how we make people feel. Um, and that’s why I think customer experience is the great leveling field of our time because any tiny company can build something that’s simply better where they take something that has been the way we do business for a long time that customers hate and just said, well, let’s make it better. Why does it have to be like this? And they simply win by creating something that people just love and can’t stop using. It often comes from frustration. There’s a company called Good Grips or Oxo Grips and the founder of Oxo Grips, which is a company that makes things that are like easy to handle.

Blake Morgan: (09:42)
Like in my shower, I have a window wipe, I guess you’d call it, or like a glass — I don’t even know what the name for this is. Basically, when your shower gets all streaky, it wipes the shower down and it has an amazing grip. And the reason this founder created this company, Oxo Grips was his wife had I believe Parkinson’s or her hands shook. She had a disease where her hands shook and she couldn’t hold things well. And so he created this company with products that were easy for people who had disabilities to be able to hold them. I think some of the best innovation just comes from frustration. Like why does it have to be like this? It can be better. And let’s just build it. And so you asked, why customer experience? Why now? It’s the great leveling field of our time. Experience matters. It is the only way to make a customer remember us and we can no longer simply rest on our laurels and ride our legacies into the future. It just won’t work anymore.

Gabe Larsen: (10:44)
Why, that is true, right? I mean, it’s like when you think you’ve got a cool product innovation and oftentimes, it can be knocked off. Whether it’s here or somewhere else. But yeah, that service level is one of those things that in particular about the customer. And there are multiple areas I think in the customer experience, but I like the service. What’d you say? What’d you call that? The great leveling field for — yeah, there’s something to that. That’s so bloody hard or whatever word you want to use. I’m not, not British, but it’s so hard to meet or knock off because that does require a culture and all these different, kind of, aspects where its products sometimes you can find the ingredients and you can do it quicker. So let’s dive quickly just into the book for a minute. Where is the book at the moment? It’s obviously — we can see it here on your LinkedIn profile, but give us some of the different topics in the book and some of the things you hit on there.

Blake Morgan: (11:46)
Yeah. The book is live, it’s been out since October. I’m really excited because it became a best seller on Amazon and Porchlight books, which is where the conference organizers buy books and the book is based on my 10 guiding principles. In my speeches, I bucket that into three categories and that includes the psychological, technical, and experiential aspects of a strategy. The psychological, the first piece, is the most overlooked piece of a customer experience strategy. And that’s mindset, culture, and leadership development because we don’t realize that the answers are often right in front of our nose and they’re free. But we don’t want to look at our culture. We don’t want to think about, well how do the executives walk around and talk about customers at our company. The second piece is the technical piece and that’s where I dive into digital transformation. Analytics.

Blake Morgan: (12:43)
What is customer experience technology? What does the market look like? And I talk about personalization. And then in the third piece we look at the experiential aspects of the strategy, which are more about marketing, which are more about data ethics and privacy. And lastly, experience design. And so the three pieces again in the book: psychological, technical and experiential aspects of strategy. You won’t find it bucketed like that in the book, you’ll find the 10 principles. But when I’m talking about it 10 is just too damn many for anybody to sit through me. It sounds like a laundry list. So for the sake of like keynotes or podcasts, I explain it in these three buckets, which I think people, it’s easier for them to get.

Gabe Larsen: (13:33)
Three is always a little easier than 10. Where do you feel are the best or the worst as you think about these three buckets? Or is there areas that you typically see we kind of are floundering the most or maybe have the biggest strengths?

Blake Morgan: (13:48)
Yeah, I think that the first is mindset. The biggest is mindset and culture. Because most companies, what they do– and I talk about this often because it’s like the biggest bruise in my industry– is they hire a chief customer officer or they hire an experienced group and that group or that person has no power, no influence, no one in the company really even knows who they are, or what they do. It’s just putting lipstick on a pig really. And even when I worked at a fortune 100 company, I remember asking my boss, because I was an executive in customer service and I said, we have a customer experience group. Well what do they do? And she said to me, Oh, I think they produce events. And I thought, what? That makes no sense. Customer experience has to permeate through the culture of the company. It has to be in the fabric, in the mission, the values, the way people talk. We’ve got to have that humble, open culture. It’s not easy to simply replicate what somebody else does, especially for big companies that have toxic cultures or have cultures where things move very slowly and change is hard. I think it’s extremely difficult for these companies to change the culture, which is the biggest piece. Instead of just hiring one person, like a chief experience officer and then just saying that, okay, we’ve done our job.

Gabe Larsen: (15:15)
Is there a leader or a company that you would highlight that kind of embraces some of these concepts? The customer experience, customer service in a way that is something that maybe you aspire to? Whether it’s the cultural aspect or one of these different ideas. Where would you go with that?

Blake Morgan: (15:35)
Yeah, I would say that from a culture perspective, Workday is one I really like. The founders are just good people and if you find inside the company, just the stories you hear are just human stories of leaders doing the right thing for employees. And they’re one of those companies that’s on the great place to work list. And they’re also known for customer experience. You can’t really talk about customer experience without talking about Amazon. They have changed the game for everyone. I went to Amazon because I wanted to know like, was there any magic or would I find bunnies being pulled out of hats at Amazon headquarters and when I did the tours and met with executives. What I found is that there was no secret sauce or magic that it’s simply a company that’s run extremely efficiently, focused on innovation, very hardworking, humble people. I met a head of logistics who would go driving with his delivery people at two in the morning just to see some of the hiccups or hindering blocks in their process to make more efficient operations for his employees. And I think most people in big companies just don’t have the stomach or the commitment to go through that to go on a 2:00 AM drive just to make something 10% more efficient.

Gabe Larsen: (17:02)
Yeah, that’s what it feels like they’ve been able to do. Right. It’s like that effortless experience. I know I’m stealing that word from others. But they seem like they have mapped that customer journey a billion times. They just know exactly where — they’ve just eliminated every, well, they’ve eliminated a lot of different headaches to make it so easy to do business with them that you’re like, I’d rather do that than go somewhere else. Well Blake, I really appreciate the time. It’s a fun talk track. I’m excited. Blake was a referral. I was talking to someone else and they said you’ve got to talk to Blake who’s got this new book.

Blake Morgan: (17:40)
Thanks Dan.

Gabe Larsen: (17:40)
So I quickly researched her. I wrote out to her, I ordered the book and it gets here in a couple of days. I’ll have to check that out. I’m trying to learn more about the whole customer experience and customer service. So I appreciate the talk track. In summary and then maybe for people who want to learn a little bit more about what you do Blake, how would you bring it to a close?

Blake Morgan: (18:02)
In summary, I think the best thing you can do for your business is hire sensitive, empathetic people who are interested in other people’s experiences. And these are the people that will build beautiful customer experiences because they’re very thoughtful and they really think about what it feels like to be on the receiving end of something. And that’s truly the number one thing is hire thoughtful people, whether they’re leaders, employees, customer focused agents. Thoughtfulness is truly a competitive advantage today. And if you want to learn more about me, I would love to connect with your listeners. Come to my website I’m launching a new podcast soon on entrepreneurship with my husband Jacob Morgan. So hopefully you’ll find that as well on my website and would love, any way I can help, anybody listening please reach out.

Gabe Larsen: (18:58)
Yeah, that’s so fun. As I was talking to Blake pre show it was like I honestly don’t know how to introduce you. You got all these different accolades and things you’re doing. So where should I start? So anyways, do check her out. I think that’s a great idea. We will make sure we put some of that in the show notes. So Blake, thanks for joining. For the audience, have a fantastic day.

Blake Morgan: (19:17)
Thank you so much. I enjoyed it.

Exit Voice: (19:20)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.


The Cult of the Customer with Shep Hyken

The Cult of the Customer with Shep Hyken TW

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe Larsen is joined by Shep Hyken to discuss his book, The Cult of the Customer and the different phases of customer experience. Shep Hyken is a customer service expert and has spent 37 years in the industry. He is passionate about customer loyalty, engagement, and management. He is a keynote speaker, a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author and is currently the CSP, CPAE, and CAO (Chief Amazement Officer) at Shepard Presentations. Shep is very knowledgeable and brings valuable insights to the table as he and Gabe discuss the five “cults” in his book. Listen to the full episode below.

Why Use the Word “Cult” with Customer Service?

Most of the time when people see the word cult, they automatically think of small groups of individuals with negative and radical beliefs. “Cult” does not typically have a positive connotation. However, by discussing the latin origins of the word, Shep explains that it actually means a group of people with common interests and a unified goal. In this sense, cults aren’t inherently bad and the word could reference a lot of different groups. Shep states, “It’s a group of people that have a common interest and in this case, the cult of the customer is all about people that are fanatical, if you will, about taking care of their customers, both internal and external…” Throughout his book, Shep uses this word not only to describe the overall commitment and passion to positive customer service, he uses the word “cult” to describe different phases of the experience.

The Five Cults, or Phases, for Customers and Employees

To better understand the experience of customers, Shep created these five cults. The first is uncertainty, meaning that the customer is lacking knowledge or experience with the company. After moving through uncertainty, the customer arrives at alignment. In this phase they better understand what the company actually does and the company’s mission. Third is experience: where the customer actually has personal experiences with the product or service. Fourth, take ownership. When a company takes ownership for any unfortunate mistakes or mishaps, they gain the customer’s trust. Fifth, amazement. Shep recalls, “Now if it is positive and it’s predictable and consistent, you’re actually operating into the ultimate cult, the cult of amazement.” Additionally, Shep relates these phases to employees as well as customers. For example, when a new employee joins a company they have uncertainty, then they learn and align, have experiences, take ownership, and then, hopefully, enter the amazed state.

Consistency and Amazement as a Realistic Goal

While reaching the amazement cult and staying there seems like an unattainable goal, Shep assures that it is possible. It may be a fluid experience but it is possible. To understand how it is possible, Shep defines amazement as being “consistently better than average.” By taking the time to understand customer expectations and then creating better than average standards, customer loyalty will spike as well as customer satisfaction. Consistency is the key to being in the amazement cult. To make this point clear, Shep states:

I’ve been talking about consistency since the 80s. No matter how good you are, if you’re one day good and the next day okay– even if you ever dropped below average– you’re still going to be seen as inconsistent . . . To be better than average means simply as Horst Schulze, the cofounder and first president of the Ritz Carlton Hotel Organization, said “If you want to create a world class brand and be recognized for amazing service, just be 10% better than average all the time.”

Finding the weaknesses or trouble spots in your company, reevaluating customer expectations, and creating goals of consistency is the way to help every customer have an “amazing experience.”

To learn more about The Cult of the Customer and its various applications in the customer experience realm, 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:

The Cult of the Customer | Shep Hyken

Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Hi, welcome everybody. Today we’re going to be talking about cult, the cult of the customer. I think it’ll be a fun dialogue. To do that, we brought in Shep Hyken, probably heard about him. I’ve been tracking him for six months. People have probably been doing it longer, but I’m newer to this space so that’s my excuse. He is a customer service and experience expert, New York Times bestselling, he’s got an author, keynote speaker, and he does run his own company. So, you’ll see him across multiple channels, very active on social, got a podcast. I think we’ll learn a lot today and I would definitely advise after, to make sure you follow some of his thought leadership content. So Shep, thanks for joining and how are you?

Shep Hyken: (00:54)
Hey, thanks for having me. Great to be here. Excited. And while you may have only been doing it six months, I’ve been doing this about 37 years. So, I don’t know if any — I guess I have had followers for 37 years because there are people, this is true. My very first contract I ever signed to do a speech was in 1983 with the company, Anheuser-Busch, or Budweiser. Yeah. And just about two months ago — I mean, I’ve worked with them, gosh a hundred times, maybe more over those years. Okay. But my most recent one was just a couple of months ago. So some of those people had been following me for a long time.

Gabe Larsen: (01:33)

Shep Hyken: (01:33)
And hiring me.

Gabe Larsen: (01:33)
You say 1983? Is that what you said?

Shep Hyken: (01:36)
Yeah. Yeah. Before you were born maybe?

Gabe Larsen: (01:38)
I don’t want to go into it, but it’s pretty close.

Shep Hyken: (01:41)
I know. I look young and I’ll tell you why. I cut my hair off. Just shave it all off. No, you can’t see — has he got gray hair? Well, unless I take my shirt off, you won’t know. Back hair could be gray, but hey, we’re not going to do that here. But seriously, old guys that are bald, they don’t look old until one day they do look old. But I’ve got about another 10 years before that happens.

Gabe Larsen: (02:05)
Yeah. Well I won’t make you share your age, but it sounds like 37– That’s a long…we’ll just go with that.

Shep Hyken: (02:10)
1983 I started my business. Yep.

Gabe Larsen: (02:12)
You are a seasoned professional. Wow. Well again, tons of information we’re going to try to dive into it today. Let’s start high level cause when I saw this book, I mean it is kind of a revised edition coming out, but this idea of cult. I mean most people see that and they’re like cult, that’s some weird people doing some weird stuff in some weird place.

Shep Hyken: (02:34)
It’s got the rep. It’s got the rap and the rap — got the reputation and a bad rap. Cult is actually, it’s an interesting word. And by the way, this is a completely updated, revised edition; new stats, facts. We took out a few of the case studies that weren’t relevant. We got rid of some names of people that are in jail now that we used as examples. They’re now, they’re no longer part of the book. True. That’s true. I won’t tell you who it is either. No, it’s true. There was a guy in there who’s in jail right now. He’s out of the book.

Shep Hyken: (03:05)
You never know what’s going to happen. Right?

Gabe Larsen: (03:08)
You don’t, you don’t.

Shep Hyken: (03:08)
So, the word cult. When I sent the book out, the first time the book came out, I actually sent it to a bunch of my clients. One client sent it back, a healthcare system that has a religious persuasion and said, the word cult disgusts me. You will never work for my company again.

Gabe Larsen: (03:28)
Whoa you’re kidding.

Shep Hyken: (03:28)
Whoa, Whoa. I apologize profusely. But, if you read the back cover of the book or the inside jacket, it says cult is not a dirty word. The word cult is really, first of all, it comes from the word cultus, the Latin word cultus, which means care and tending which is interesting. But beyond that, the actual definition of a cult is not about fanaticism. It’s about a group of people with common interests headed toward the same direction, doing the same thing.

Gabe Larsen: (03:59)
Is that right?

Shep Hyken: (03:59)
So, in effect, it could be a religious order, but it could also be a bunch of people who go out and it’s almost like religion. Every Sunday morning you see them running through the park, working out together. So it’s a group of people that have a common interest and in this case, the cult of the customer is all about people that are fanatical, if you will, about taking care of their customers, both internal and external; creating an environment that’s care and tending toward those people. And, ideally doing such a great job that these customers, especially the outside customers, become evangelists; which is why the subtitle is “Create an amazing customer experience that turns satisfied customers into customer evangelists.” People that will praise what you do and share and spread the word about how great you are.

Gabe Larsen: (04:50)
I love that. You know, I don’t — there was another gentleman, Russell Brunson, he’s kind of a marketing guru.

Shep Hyken: (04:56)
Yep I know Russell.

Gabe Larsen: (04:57)
Cult-ure. Like CULTure, culture. Like something that people are a little more intense about that they really care about and want to be a part of. You’re right. I like that the history shows that it’s not just a negative, kind of crazy people that we sometimes assume. But there is kind of a positive– just a group of people that are really dynamic in following the cause.

Shep Hyken: (05:19)
So here’s some trivia. I’ll give you trivia that I’ve never shared with anybody before. I don’t think I have anyway. So when this– I did not come up with this title. When I was approached by Wiley a dozen plus years ago to write this book, I had the idea that would be called “The Customer Focus,” which is after my training programs.

Gabe Larsen: (05:41)

Shep Hyken: (05:41)
And they said, we’ve got a different title. We would like you to consider, “The Cult of the Customer.” Whoa, that’s an interesting name: Cult. The “cult” caught my attention too. So ironically, that summer I saw a woman speak, she was wonderful. She’s the one that came up with the Aflac commercial. “Aflac.” So she talked about how it would be a polarizing commercial; that people would love this because it’s funny, people would hate it because it’s stupid, but everybody else would remember it no matter what because who’s going to forget Aflac. Right? And so, I asked her. I had a chance to ask her about the word cult in the title, and she says it will do the same thing that Aflac does in a sense. And that if people are walking through the bookstore and they see “The Cult of The Customer,” they may stop and look at that word cult because it jumps out at them.

Shep Hyken: (06:34)
And it may cause them to pick up the book and look at it. Some people, it’ll just like, “who would use that word in a title,” and others will go, “well that’s a really interesting way of putting it.” So in effect — but everybody remembers that word cult because it just stands out.

Gabe Larsen: (06:49)
Oh my heavens. When I first saw it, it did.I think you nailed it.

Shep Hyken: (06:54)
Thank you.

Gabe Larsen: (06:54)
It’s a little bit of a head turner. You walked by and probably some people are like, what? But other people are like — so whatever it is, good for you because it worked.

Shep Hyken: (07:04)
It worked. We sold a lot of books. When it first came out, it immediately, interesting. It was the number one book of all books sold on Amazon for just a real short time. But it was the number one book. It stayed number one in business for weeks and weeks. It also hit the Wall Street Journal list, the USA Today list. And I was surprised it didn’t hit the New York Times. The next one did. But this one still, it hit a bunch of good lists.

Gabe Larsen: (07:31)
Wow, well, congratulations on a bunch of books. Yeah, I’m sure the title had something to do it, but the content as well. So let’s hit the content. Can you talk about these five cults or phases customers go through? Maybe start there.

Shep Hyken: (07:45)
So, I started to look at — my goal in life is to simplify the complicated. And it’s not even that complicated. We want to create an experience that gets people to want to come back. Well, let’s talk about what people are thinking through their journey. And the first time a customer decides to do business with someone, no matter how good the reputation is, they can only hope that it’s going to be as good as what’s promised.

Shep Hyken: (08:11)
And I call that the cult of uncertainty. That’s a phase that customer’s in. The next is they’re going to get into alignment. So they get into this cult of alignment. They’re starting to understand what the company’s about. And by the way, B2B, B2C doesn’t matter. It’s, I want to understand who it is I’m dealing with, what they’re promising me. Okay, I get it. Now I need to experience it. And as I experience it, hopefully I’ll like it and it’s a good experience and I like that experience, but it’s not predictable yet. It only becomes predictable when it’s repeated, when I can count on it. So you go from uncertainty to alignment to experience, and then you go to ownership. That’s when it is predictable. People say things like, “they’re always so helpful, they always get back to me, they always are friendly.” Yeah, the word “always” followed by something good.

Shep Hyken: (08:57)
Now, if it is positive and it’s predictable and consistent, you’re actually operating into the ultimate cult, the cult of amazement. And that’s where, and by the way, amazement can be over the top, blow me away. But you can’t count on over the top experiences every time. Usually, you have to wait for a problem to fix it. Or maybe you overhear something and you can surprise someone. But if day in and day out, you’re just predictably above average and creating that positive experience where your customers go, “I love doing business with them.” And if you said, well, what do you like about them? They always get back to me so quickly. They’re always, like I said, knowledgeable, helpful, friendly. You can use all those. Even when there’s a problem, I know I can always count on them. Which by the way, when you’re in amazement and then there’s a problem, that customer immediately goes back to uncertainty. Immediately. And if you handle it right, they quickly jump back to amazement. And that’s when they’ll say, even when there’s a problem, I know I can, here’s that word, always count on them. So that word “always” followed by something positive.

Gabe Larsen: (10:01)
But that is scalabil– it’s consistent.

Shep Hyken: (10:06)
Consistency counts. I would say that as I do my speeches, I don’t know how many, I mean I’ve done thousands of them over the years, but, as I’ve been talking about consistency; I’ve been talking about consistency since the 80s. No matter how good you are, if you’re one day good and the next day, okay, even if you ever dropped below average, you’re still going to be seen as inconsistent. So if on a scale of one to five where one is bad and five is great, three is average or in the middle. To be better than average means simply that Horst Schulze, the cofounder and first president of the Ritz Carlton Hotel Organization said, if you want to create a world class brand recognized for amazing service, just be 10% better than average all the time. Because that “all the time” part that’s not easy to do.

Gabe Larsen: (10:57)
Yeah, but that’s interesting because we do — sometimes we celebrate the crazy stuff, right? The over the top, I think is the word you used. And those are nice, but it does require maybe a big blow up or a big problem. It’s that consistent, repeatable, scalable, whatever other word you want to throw in, that 10% above average. But it’s getting there. That ain’t that easy.

Shep Hyken: (11:20)
Well over the top is hard. I mean, you know, it’s like if you’re a server at a restaurant and you overhear a couple talking that it’s their year anniversary and you surprise them with a cake with a candle. That’s not really over the top, but that’s a surprise. Okay. But if the rest of the time you are inattentive and didn’t bring them their drinks fast and the food came out and it was sloppy the way it was, put–. See, you’ve got to always be — I want them to say, “you know what, that server was wonderful and that surprise was amazing.” And wonderful is attentive, friendly, nice, made suggestions. And that’s a very simple hospitality example. But again, B2B, it’s the same way. We’re a manufacturer. We’re selling to a company. You feel good about the order you place. I call you up and say, just want to let you know the order– or I email you– the order has shipped, here’s tracking information. I’m going to watch it too. I call you to let you know it arrived and, or I email you to let you know, and I’m on top of it. And you’re saying to yourself, wow, these people have it together. And when that happens again and again you go, “I can always count on them.”

Shep Hyken: (12:29)
That’s why people love Amazon. It’s because they send out these notices, your order is placed, your order has shipped, your order is received. Then on top of that, if there’s a problem, they have a pretty great system of management.

Gabe Larsen: (12:42)
I want to get through the rest of the phases, but just one more click on that because that’s like the Holy Grail. That consistency. It just seems like we can’t do it. Is it because we don’t have the technology, the wherewithal, the knowledge, that there’s just too many complications? How come we’re not there?

Shep Hyken: (12:59)
I believe that the majority of the problem with inconsistency, sure there are issues built into a process that can be fixed. But a lot of the problems have to do with people where they’re not paying attention to what’s going on in that moment. And I will tell you when I work with clients and one of the exercises we’ll do is say, I want to have the group sit down in small groups and talk about– come up with the three biggest problems you hear customers complain about all the time. And I love this because they come up with some great ones and I go, all right, let’s figure out what the most important one we want to deal with. So this happens all the time. Oh yeah, it happens every week, every day. I go, well, if it’s happening all the time, why haven’t you fixed it yet? Okay. And by the way, some things are not fixable. Jeff Bezos said, we don’t need a customer service department. We need to be that good that customers should never need to call us for anything. And that worked until the shipment went out of the warehouse and then UPS, FedEx, Post Office, whoever it is, picked it up and lost it on the way. Now, it wasn’t in Amazon’s hands. It isn’t even Amazon’s fault. By the way, every time a customer called and said, where’s my shipment? It didn’t get here. And they found out that it was lost by UPS, FedEx, or Post Office, whoever. Amazon always said, no problem. We’ll take care of you. Okay. And see, that’s the kind of thing that kind of started that consistency of ownership. And whenever there’s a problem, I always say, apologize, acknowledge or acknowledge and apologize, doesn’t matter. Fix it. That’s the third step. Acknowledge, apologize, fix it or discuss what you’re going to do. Take ownership of it. Don’t blame others, just get it done. And number five, do it fast. And when you do that, you’re going to restore confidence. Now, even though a shipment that’s lost isn’t Amazon’s fault, how quickly they say, we’re going to get one out to you right away.

Gabe Larsen: (14:52)
They take ownership and they recognize it. You know, it’s funny, I remember one time, just to be thinking of your example when you talked to your group. I started even new at this company, but it’s funny when you have fresh eyes on a perspective problem. I remember I joined this company right in the front door, there was this big orange cord that kind of went across the front of the office. And I remember walking in and thinking, guys, why is this orange cord here, this large orange cord? Every day we have this step over it. And you know, to a point, it’s like, well, it’s just always been there. [inaudible]. So sometimes we don’t even acknowledge it because it has become just what we deal with. The orange cord is in our way. It’s always there.

Shep Hyken: (15:39)
There’s an old story. Zig Ziglar, the famous motivational speaker who’s passed away, used to tell a story about — there’s a big family dinner and the little girl says, “mommy, why do you cut the end of the roast off before you put it in the oven?” And mom thought about it and she says, well, that’s what your grandma taught me. And so she went to grandma, “grandma, why do we cut the end off the roast before we put it in the oven?” And she goes, “well that’s actually, that’s a very good question. But when I learned how to cook a roast, that’s the way I was taught by your great grandma.” Great grandma, four generations is in the room. She goes over to this elderly woman, “great Grammy, why do you cut the end of the road off before you put it in the oven?” And she said, because those roasts are so big, you have to take the end off so it will fit in the oven.” But the oven has got bigger, but they still kept cutting the end of the roast off. And it’s like, because we always did it that way and sometimes we become so used to something that it just doesn’t phase us. So back to the original concept, when our clients say this happens all the time ago, why is it happening all the time? There’s got to be some way to eliminate or at least mitigate it. So anyway, we have digressed away from the five columns.

Gabe Larsen: (16:54)
I’m so sorry, that’s so fun.

Shep Hyken: (16:56)
Oh I love it. This is what happens.

Gabe Larsen: (17:00)
[inaudible]. Oh man, you’re right. Bless his soul because that was a lot of great quotes. So go ahead and finish the five. I did have one other question.

Shep Hyken: (17:06)
Those are the five. We’ve got uncertainty into alignment, into experience, ownership and then amazement. And by the way, you mentioned Gabe, as you walked into a new company, employees have the same exact experiences that customers have, the five phases or five calls. Because when you walked in to work with, you know, this new company Kustomer, which by the way, I love the way they spell it. Different. Okay. Because whoever said — there is truth to this, that spelling is no indication of intelligence. Okay.

Gabe Larsen: (17:41)
No comment.

Shep Hyken: (17:43)
Very smart people just don’t know how to spell. Okay. You spell by remembering, by feeling it and kinesiology. I don’t know. There’s all kinds of ways they talk about, anyway.

Gabe Larsen: (17:53)
He’s mocking because we spell it with a K. For those of you who don’t know Customer with a K.

Shep Hyken: (17:57)
Is the K backwards? No, it’s Customer with the K. So, here’s the thing. The employee comes in and they go, Oh, I’m looking forward to work. I hope I love this job. Hope. Hope is not a strategy as they say, but hope is also an indication of uncertainty. Now I’m in there, I’m being onboarded, I’m learning about the mission, the values, the vision. Now I’m getting into alignment. I’m understanding it. So now I’m going to go to work. I understand this is what we’re supposed to do, this is how we’re supposed to be, and now I’m experiencing this and hopefully I’m liking it. By the way, I’m assuming that I’m enjoying this experience. Can’t wait for tomorrow. Oh, more of the same, more of the same every day. Now I’m owning it. And when you say to me, how do you like your job when you come home and your partner, your spouse, your best friend says, how do you like your new job? And you say, I love working there. You’ve now moved that employee from hope or uncertainty into amazement.

Gabe Larsen: (18:56)
Wow. Yeah. So, the employee’s journey does follow those same things, those five phases or five cults. Got it. One thing I wanted to dive into on the five, you talked just a little about the employee side of it, but we were talking about consistency. Is it– how possible is it really? I mean, you’ve been doing this for 37 years Shep, so you can just tell me it’s not possible, but is it really possible to get to that amazing level? I mean, can you be that?

Shep Hyken: (19:22)
Yeah, that’s the whole point. That’s what I try to preach to my clients. And by the way, I have lost a couple of speeches and projects because my definition of amazement is better than average all the time. And, there was a client that said, we need to always be, we need to blow our clients away every time. We need to prove to them over and over again. I go, you prove it when you’re consistently better than average. And by the way, the client defines who and what average is, but you can get a pretty good idea after being in business for a while, what your clients basic expectations are, and then say, where can I make it better? Where can I exceed it? I don’t ever want my client — you could say this, or Kustomer, you can create standards. You could say our clients will never be on hold for more than 45 seconds and if they are on hold, they’ll be given the option, by technology, allowing us to tell the client, “your call really is important in spite of what other people say and we value your time. We unfortunately are overwhelmed today and your whole time will be about four minutes or we can call you back at whatever time is convenient.” And you know, there’s a system that allows them to just punch in the numbers on their keypad and that shows you appreciate their time and effort. I can’t stand calling and they say it’s very busy, please hold, forever. We don’t know how long it’s going to take. So anyway, there is an example.

Gabe Larsen: (20:50)
We almost don’t even put up with that anymore. Now that we know there’s a different option, right? So, I love that definition of amazing, by the way. It just makes it so much more obtainable. That that does makes me feel better.

Shep Hyken: (21:01)
Little better than average all the time. And that means, and you can set your standards and you could say you’ll always return a phone call within two hours. You’ll always return an email within whenever. And you create these standards and you know, these standards are not just acceptable, but they will impress your customers. And you do that by talking to your people about what they know impresses their customers both internally and externally. We do an exercise here, in our office — and we teach our clients all over the world to do this — where every week they have to bring in an example of a good experience that they’ve created either for an internal or external customer. Sometimes it’s just, give me a general customer service moment of magic, positive thing again or give me an example of when you did something very specific that we’re talking about and they have to look to find that example. And what will happen is they’ll make that example happen, which is great because now they’re service aware, they’re making an effort to make things happen, so it’s positive. By the way, the types of exercises we’re talking about are included in the book. At the end we have a whole workbook and these are the same exercises that our trainers from our company go out and deliver to companies all over the world, so it’s included as part of the book.

Gabe Larsen: (22:15)
Let’s get there. I mean we’ve hit on a couple of points. I love some of the action items. If someone wants to learn more about you — get into the book. We’re obviously recording it now. It will be hopefully releasing soon here in conjunction with this session. What would you recommend to take the next step and learn more about Shep Hyken and what he does?

Shep Hyken: (22:35)
Well, you can go to but if you want to learn more about the book,, and you can learn more or go straight to Amazon. By the way, if you buy the book, you need to go back to the website and there is, you’ll see it as you scroll down– I’m looking at it now– a big circle with a star in it says if you already pre-purchase a book, click here for your free gift. But you know what, we are going to modify the free gift just a little and let me tell you what we’re giving away. Anybody that clicks on that will get free access to one of my courses. We charge $49 for this course. It’s an online service course. Here’s what I want people to do. You can look at it as an individual. Print the workbook out, fine. If you’ve got a group of 25 people, print out 25 workbooks. It’s your paper at that point, and show it to everybody. You’ll have a great one hour with a group of people — have an hour long customer service workshop that you’ll be able to do with your group. No charge. Once you get it, you’ve got to use it because it’s not going to be there forever.

Gabe Larsen: (23:40)
Got it. Oh I love it.

Shep Hyken: (23:41)

Gabe Larsen: (23:43)
Cult of the Customer. Um, make sure we get that. Shep best of luck. Again, sounds like the book, the new version of the book, obviously it’s been out for a while, but new version with new stories, nobody from jail, et cetera.

Shep Hyken: (23:56)
It’s crazy. Yeah. And if I won’t tell you — if you read through the book you’ll go “Oh I know this is.”

Gabe Larsen: (24:02)
I probably don’t. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time. A great talk track on the Cult of the Customer. So again, appreciate you taking a minute for the audience. Have a fantastic day.

Shep Hyken: (24:14)
Thanks Gabe, thanks for having me. Bye bye.

Gabe Larsen: (24:16)
Bye bye. Alrighty and that is a wrap.

Exit Voice: (24:29)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.


The Standard for How to Treat Your Customers with Jeanne Bliss

The Standard for How to Treat Your Customers with Jeanne Bliss TW

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Jeanne Bliss, CEO and founder of Customer Bliss, joins Gabe Larsen to discuss her book and her four pillars of quality customer service. Jeanne Bliss wrote Would You Do That to Your Mother? in 2018 about the standards companies should have for treating their customers. She started her career at Lands’ End and has been in the industry for 25 years. Her theories have developed as a result of her personal experience of coaching around the world. In this podcast episode, Gabe and Jeanne discuss a lot of concepts that companies need to be more aware of to improve customer service. Listen to the full podcast episode below.

Enabling Employees and Asking Probing Business Questions

One of the first pillars in Jeanne’s book is the importance of enabling employees to rise up to be the “good guys” in terms of customer service. She states, “We do things inadvertently inside our business that gets in their way. We wire [employees] into policies that they have to constantly feel bad about enforcing. We don’t trust them to make the call.” By taking extra care in the hiring process and trusting employees to make important customer service calls, the quality of service will rise. She also mentions allowing employees to have a “congruence of heart and habit.” When you let employees live their values in the workplace and not just check boxes, they will be in a better position to thrive in their jobs and make customers feel more appreciated.

Another important pillar that Jeanne discusses is the importance of making it easy for customers to get help. She introduces this concept by asking questions that spark businesses to become more conscious of their practices. Some of these questions include: “Do we make it easy to get help? Are you getting old waiting on hold? Do we make our customers feel like a hot potato passing them around?” Employees and customers are people, and both need to be treated with respect. So, it may be necessary to make changes to ensure this kind of respect is implemented within the company. Whether that means enabling and trusting employees more, or revising the customer service process, it will be worth it.

Make Customers More Important Than the Process

Company policies and practices are often created for company efficiency rather than customer comfort. Companies truly need to make their people more important than processes and policies. Jeanne brings this up with the following question, “Do you walk customers out of trouble spots? When the power goes out, are you there immediately saying, ‘we know your power’s out and here’s what’s happening.’” Again, Jeanne reminds business owners that perspectives, ideologies, and processes need to change in order to best help those the company was created to serve.

The Benefits of Doing an “Audit” of Company Policies

At the beginning and end of the podcast, Jeanne talks about how bad customer service policies and perspectives often seep into companies; compromises are made as the company grows. That said, there is a need to look into businesses and do an audit to find the negative practices that have seeped in. Customer and employee trust is something that is essential and must be preserved. Trust will ensure that the company stays true to its vision and purpose. Jeanne shares the following advice and experience:

“Every relationship that’s created between a customer and a company comes because customers have to trust us. But are we trusting them in return? Read your fine print, do a trust audit. Is there anything in there that says we don’t trust you? Do you have any gotcha moments? The Columbus Public Library … got rid of late fees because their whole purpose is to help young minds read.”

The Columbus Public Library is just one example of an organization that did an audit of their policies and made changes to better serve their customers. Jeanne recommends that businesses do “trust audits” and take the time to change policies often. When they do so, they will be more successful and have more loyal customers.

To learn more about Jeanne’s four pillars and successful customer service tactics that positively affect businesses, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.


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Listen to “The Standard for How to Treat Your Customers w/Jeanne Bliss @Customer Bliss” on Spreaker.

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Full Episode Transcript:

Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Alright, welcome everybody to today’s podcast. We’re going to be talking about customer experience, how to do it, why to do it, some of the details around that. To do that, we brought on Jeanne Bliss. She is currently the CEO and founder of Customer Bliss. In addition, she is the five time Chief Customer Officer and what some people refer to as the “Godmother of Customer Experience.” I love that one. That was fun. That was really fun. Um, Jeanne, thanks for joining. How are you?

Jeanne Bliss: (00:41)
I’m great, how are you?

Gabe Larsen: (00:43)
Yeah, fantastic. I appreciate you coming on and we were talking pre-show, trying to learn all that I can about customer experience and I think Jeannie, obviously has a lot of background —

Jeanne Bliss: (00:51)
It’s Jean actually, if that’s okay with you. Yeah, that’s okay.

Gabe Larsen: (00:55)
Okay. I apologize.

Jeanne Bliss: (00:57)
No worries! It’s spelled Jeanne but I say Jean, just to confuse the heck out of everybody.

Gabe Larsen: (01:02)
I’ve got some of that going on. I’m Gabriel and I go by Gabe. Some people say Gabby, so I know the feeling.

Jeanne Bliss: (01:09)
Hey Gabby. There you go. Yeah.

Gabe Larsen: (01:10)
That actually happened yesterday in the taxi. He’s like Gabby, I’m like, whatever. I’ll just take it.

Jeanne Bliss: (01:15)
What’s on your Starbucks coffee cup?

Gabe Larsen: (01:18)
That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. So, anything you’d add kind of to your background? I mean, I did short and sweet. Anything you’d add for the audience, Jeanne?

Jeanne Bliss: (01:27)
Sure. I was a practitioner for 25 years before I started books and coaching leaders around the world. And so I’ve lived in reality and I think that’s what people gravitate toward: that my stuff is not pie in the sky, it’s not kumbaya, it’s been field tested, has to be real and that’s really also why I keep changing how I write about this work. So it’s accessible.

Gabe Larsen: (01:59)
Hmm. Yeah. I mean the practitioner always makes a difference rather than someone who just talked about it or consulted on it. So I think that gets into the talk track that I wanted to dive into today. We were talking a little bit about one of the books that you’ve written and this is, “Would You do That to Your Mother?” So, start big picture for us. Can you talk just a little bit about why the book, why you want to get it, what it’s a little bit about it, etc.

Jeanne Bliss: (02:24)
Absolutely. Yeah. So this is my fourth book and what’s happening with customer experience, like anything that becomes something that is in the conscience and everybody wants it or it’s in their top two things for their CEO is now, suddenly, we have a capacity to do two things. Overcomplicate the heck out of it or water it down so much that it means nothing. So it means either nothing or everything and we make it more and more complicated and or inaccessible. What’s happening with customer experience is that both of those things are happening and while we’re getting into journey mapping and all of these other things, which are fine, we’re also missing the basics of what’s still impacting each of us as human beings, as we try to get value from the companies who serve us. And so this is a fast track to identify those common things that affect our lives that either don’t show us honor or trust or don’t honor or trust our employees. And so it’s broken into four categories. You’ll recognize them as a human being, and a customer, and as our leader — leading service or support people and serving customers — you will recognize these are the four major areas that you have the opportunity to impact. And so that’s why I wrote it, to make it very accessible and fast track people into this world.

Gabe Larsen: (03:50)
And then, from a title perspective, I do have to ask, how did you — where’d that one come from? I mean it’s certainly unique.

Jeanne Bliss: (03:57)
So, originally the working title was “Why Oh Why?” Why oh why do companies charge $7 for a bottle of water? Why oh why, la la la. And at one point in time this, “would you do that your mother” jumped in because what’s happening is in a well-intended or not deliberate way, we’re letting things seep into our business that we wouldn’t do to the people that we care about in our lives. And so this is a conscience question. It goes all the way back to the beginning of my career when I went to Lands’ End and was training 2,000 phone operators. So, and back then, Gary Coleman, the founder of Lands’ End actually called me the conscience of the company. And so this is a conscience question and you can ask this question at every level. You can ask it personally as you’re interacting with the customer, maybe you’re not in charge of that policy.

Jeanne Bliss: (04:51)
But, would you deliver the know the way that you might consider delivering it to your mother or whatever it is. When you’re in the middle of an organization creating processes that put customers through 50,000 hoops, it kind of forces you to think about that. At a leadership level it gets you into those more strategic decisions about how you make the money in the business.

Gabe Larsen: (05:16)
I love it. I love it.

Jeanne Bliss: (05:16)
So, yeah, and again, back to my thing of simplifying. Whether you’ve got a major customer experience transformation effort on, or you’re leading a big part of the organization, we can start asking, would we do this — it doesn’t have to be your mother — somebody you love. Would you do this to your favorite aunt? Would you do this to your uncle? Would you do this to a friend or a neighbor —

Gabe Larsen: (05:38)
Keep it close, keep it personal.

Gabe Larsen: (05:38)
It’s just about to humanize. There’s this person at the end of every decision that we make. Full stop.

Gabe Larsen: (05:46)
Yeah. Yeah. So, okay, so that’s the title. That’s one of the reasons you bought the book, or you wrote the book. These pillars that you talked about. Let’s dive into those just a little bit and talk about how that can then be translated into changing the way we do customer service. Maybe start at the top.

Jeanne Bliss: (06:01)
Sure. You bet. So four categories or four pillars of the book. The first one is around enabling your employees to rise. We do things inadvertently inside our business that gets in their way. We wire them into policies that they have to constantly feel bad about enforcing. We don’t trust them to make the call —

Gabe Larsen: (06:23)
All true, all true.

Jeanne Bliss: (06:23)
We don’t trust them in the moment with data about customers. We don’t give them the opportunity to make a call or extend grace or exceptions without touching the desk or passing it on or escalating five times. The way we hire; we’re hiring perhaps for technical skills before we hire for care. We inadvertently put our people in the position of being survey score beggars. We’re coaching them to score versus coaching behaviors. On and on, giving them — and there’s this other thing around spirit in an organization. It’s what I call congruence of heart and habit. Are you letting people live their values at work? Are we letting them be memory makers or are we making them watch a clock and tick off boxes that there’s no way that they can go beyond checking boxes? Are we giving them the ability to put themselves in the moment and leave the customer with a memory that is, “Man, I want to deal with these people again.”

Gabe Larsen: (07:28)
Wow. Wow. I mean, as I hear that list, I’m just like, wow. That’s so many things that we can do right or do wrong. If you were coaching an organization, is there a place you typically say, this is where you should start on enabling employees? Like make sure you hire right or make sure you get this part first because it’s kind of the baby step to getting, enabling employees to really rise or thrive.

Jeanne Bliss: (07:54)
Yeah. A couple things. One is be really clear about who you’re hiring for. What kind of humans do you want in your organization and how do you want to show them, help them show up. The second one is around trust. You know, trust given is trust received. If we have — if we’re hiring the right people, then we should also be identifying the places where customers are constantly hitting their wall, hitting their head and asking for exceptions. Two things here: help your people identify stupid rules or policies and be open to that feedback. Reward people for bringing it up and then get rid of them. So that’s number one. And number two is trust your people. This is what I call leadership bravery. Trust your people in the moment to make the call. For example, um, you know, one of the things I say in the book is, “would you turn down your mom’s warranty claim three days out warranty?” Well, you don’t want to, but we force our people into these black and white things.

Jeanne Bliss: (09:02)
But what about if we were brave? So we hire them for the right reasons. We know they have these humanity plus technical skills and then we give them —

Gabe Larsen: (09:10)
Empower them a little bit.

Jeanne Bliss: (09:10)
— enough. It’s not blind trust. This isn’t about do what’s right, the customer’s always right. Everybody gets confused. This is about putting them in a position of growing the business by making the right call. You may be — if you’re turning down somebody’s warranty in three days out of warranty, it may be a 20 year five line of business customer. Goodbye Charlie and the customer’s gone, man, we’re dumb. The employee’s going, man, we’re dumb. And I didn’t want to do that, but I was forced to do that after I escalated it five times. So we’re doing two things here. What we have done is condition our customers — think about your own life — to do what I call service roulette. You ever call an airline more than once?

Gabe Larsen: (09:59)
No comment, no comment.

Jeanne Bliss: (09:59)
Okay, so you call it — I love the airlines but the poor airlines people are put through the ringer– call an airline more than once, you reach a policy cop, probably a nice smart person, but they’re just going to spout it off. And so what we do is we hang up and we dial again, hoping for somebody else every time we call. Every one of those calls, what does that do? That costs the company money.

Gabe Larsen: (10:24)
That costs tons. Yeah.

Jeanne Bliss: (10:26)
So service roulette is costing the company money. Not trusting our people is costing the company money, not only in customers who depart, but in employees whose spirit is diminished and don’t want to be a part of: A, a company that makes such dumb black and white rules that they’re forcing their best customers away, and a company that doesn’t trust them to make the call in the moment.

Gabe Larsen: (10:51)
Yeah. Wow. Wow. Interesting. I like that. You call it service roulette? Is that what you said?

Jeanne Bliss: (10:58)
Yeah. Service roulette.

Gabe Larsen: (10:58)
Boy do I play that. I was laughing because I, yeah, I do that too often. I didn’t know there was a name for it. I thought I was being sneaky.

Jeanne Bliss: (11:07)
I made that up. So in that — those were the top eight things. Do we honor the dignity of customer’s lives? Do we show up [inaudible] company? Do we trust the frontline to extend grace? Number two, do we hire people with the ability to care? Three, are we doing any survey score begging? Four — our people hate that — do we check our bias at the door? We’ve got built in biases. We have to coach people. Five, do we have any rules that inhibit people’s ability to serve? Six. Do we reward for congruence of heart and habit? Seven, and do we nurture memory makers?

Gabe Larsen: (11:42)
Wow. Wow. Interesting. Okay. So that’s all about enabling employees. You’ve got a whole eight kind of recipe process. So let’s go number two now. I want to see if we can get through a couple more. We may not get through all four pillars, but the next one was easy, right? Make it easy to do business with you. How do you think about that one?

Jeanne Bliss: (11:59)
I actually call that chapter, because this is a mom book, “Don’t Make Me Feed You Soap.”

Gabe Larsen: (12:05)
Now for someone who actually — I have this one memory, you’ll love this Jeanne. I have this one memory. I’m walking home from a church activity and someone did something and I swore at them and my mom happened to be right there and boy did she feed me soap. So I have eaten soap before.

Jeanne Bliss: (12:22)
I have eaten a lot of soap.

Gabe Larsen: (12:23)
It tastes terrible.

Jeanne Bliss: (12:25)
It’s terrible. Yeah. Okay, so this is all about those things that roll under the feet of the call center people. Now here is how you can solve this everybody out there; start keeping track of how many times you get this. Okay? Do you honor customer’s time in their clock, right? How often has an airline pushed away from the gate and caused an on time departure? Or are you waiting for a refrigerator repairman and waiting for half a day? Are you put in a queue? So are you building your business on customer time or your time? You take the monkey off the customer’s back and if you’ve ever tried to put in an insurance claim or lost your luggage and you call and instead of helping you, the company gives you homework.

Gabe Larsen: (13:14)
Sounds like you’ve been through this. I think we’ve all been through this before.

Jeanne Bliss: (13:16)
Do we let customers depart gracefully? You know? Remember that whole AOL thing a million years ago? Well, we won’t get into it, but a graceful departure can lead to an eventual return. But if you badger your customer, you penalize them for leaving early. You do all of this handcuffs stuff, the customer is going to say, well now of course I left ‘because they’re meanies.

Gabe Larsen: (13:44)
Yeah, boy, boy. It seems like a lot of people do that. That’s a bad one. That’s a big problem.

Jeanne Bliss: (13:50)
Do we make it easy to get help? Are you getting old waiting on hold? Do we make our customers feel like a hot potato passing them around? These are the things that affect all of our lives. Would you send your pile of paperwork to your mom?

Gabe Larsen: (14:10)
Yeah, I probably wouldn’t. I don’t know if she’d do it.

Jeanne Bliss: (14:13)
So those are some of the eight in that section.

Gabe Larsen: (14:16)
Yeah, I love that. So, number two is all about we gotta make sure we do — It’s easy, but I love that. Looking at it from the customer’s viewpoint, not just our own. Because we’re always like, well, this process is very efficient, but might be efficient for you. It’s not efficient for the customer. Okay.

Jeanne Bliss: (14:30)
In fact, I call this section, build your respect delivery machine. Are you respecting? Does the customer at every turn feel like you’re respecting them?

Gabe Larsen: (14:39)
Yeah. Yeah. That’s a great way to summarize it. Okay. That’s pillar two. Where do you go for pillar three?

Jeanne Bliss: (14:45)
Pillar three is around rebuilding your business from the customer standpoint. I call it put others before yourself.

Gabe Larsen: (14:53)

Gabe Larsen: (14:55)
Does your hello focus on people or process? Ever walk into a reservation center or a hospital? You’ve got somebody, eyes down, and they hand you a clipboard, right? Or a business room or whatever, or you call to put in a claim. Instead of saying, Hey, how are you? They say, what’s your policy number? Or order number, ticket number? What — the hello? That is the first impression of who you are as people. Do you allow for human error? If you return that rental car three minutes late, are you going to get dinged for half a day?

Gabe Larsen: (15:38)
Yeah. Do you put — I like that. Do you put people first or put people above process?

Jeanne Bliss: (15:46)
So it’s redesigning. Do we build for customer emotions? I have a story in there about the emotional and health impact of the hospital gown. People actually get sicker in hospitals wearing those crummy gowns where you can see your underpants. You know what I mean? Cause you’re cold. You’re cold and vulnerable and all this other stuff.

Gabe Larsen: (16:08)
It’s a terrible experience. It’s a terrible experience. You’re right.

Jeanne Bliss: (16:13)
Do you walk customers out of trouble spots? When the power goes out, are you there immediately saying, “we know your power’s out and here’s what’s happening.” So, it’s a bunch of prodding in this section to have you rethink what you, how you run your business.

Gabe Larsen: (16:29)
And that literally is, I mean, it’s examining almost the entire process beginning to end and seeing where you can put, not you first, but the customer first.

Jeanne Bliss: (16:38)
The starting point of the work is different.

Gabe Larsen: (16:40)
Yeah. Okay. Got it. Okay. Then number four, where do you go for number four? We’re cruising now.

Jeanne Bliss: (16:45)
We’re cruising. It’s called take the high road. It’s getting rid of the bad legacy practices that seep in. Again, we’re good people, but we let crummy things seep in. So for example, are we honoring customers as assets? Ever see your phone company give a better deal to a new customer then you spin around?

Gabe Larsen: (17:07)
TV. My TV company. Yeah.

Jeanne Bliss: (17:09)
I’m a multi million miler flyer of an airline and I lost my club card. You don’t need them anymore. But at the time I said, “could I have another club card?” And the woman looked me in the eye and said, “that’ll be $30 please.” We make the silliest decision. Does two way trust define our actions? Every relationship that’s created between a customer and a company comes because customers have to trust us. But are we trusting them in return? Read your fine print, do a trust audit. Is there anything in there that says we don’t trust you? Do you have any gotcha moments? The Columbus public library, metropolitan library got rid of late fees because their whole purpose is to help young minds read. But if you’ve gotta return a book before it’s ended because you’re worried about the late fee, we’re completely getting in the way.

Gabe Larsen: (18:05)
That goes against your whole policy. Yeah. Your whole vision.

Jeanne Bliss: (18:09)
Your whole reason for being — yeah. Or gullibility tax. You bring your car in to have the radiator looked at it and there’s now a $2,000 bill that’s presented to you because it’s an opportunity. And then a nickel and diming, you know, who loves cracking open a $7 bottle of water in the middle of the night, charging you what you can. And is your apology your finest hour. I know. It’s funny.

Gabe Larsen: (18:40)
The seven dollar bottle of water. Oh my goodness. I hate that experience.

Jeanne Bliss: (18:44)
The cool thing about this book is I actually hired a cartoonist. So there are cartoons for every single one of these.

Gabe Larsen: (18:50)
Well it’s, that’s so much. Yeah. I mean there’s a lot to take on and I appreciate you kind of running through in a fairly quick manner, the four pillars. As you take a step back and you think of the audience, you’ve got these customer service leaders trying to nail down some of these principles. Where — the baby steps or the place to start. Do you typically go to pillar one, two? How do you coach people? Guys, there’s a lot, but start simple. That’s why I loved your message. Start simple, start here. Where do you kind of go?

Jeanne Bliss: (19:17)
I would definitely do the start with the first chapter because I say what’s on the inside shows up on the outside and the chapters around employees and it’s called “be the person I raised you to be.” [inaudible] things around them, silly momisms. And there’s a quiz at the end of the book and if you want to, I will give you the first chapter and the quiz that you can put as a link that people–

Gabe Larsen: (19:40)
We’ll absolutely do that. Let’s get that after. And that probably answers my next question. So if someone wants to learn a little bit more about you and some of the things you do, the book, we’ll certainly put those notes in. Anywhere else you’d pushed them to take the next step in learning about Jeanne and what you do.

Jeanne Bliss: (19:55)
Sure. Definitely. I have a really simple website. I married a guy named Bliss, so my website is Customer Bliss, B L I S S I did not make that up. and there are all kinds of goodies and things. There’s a whole section called downloads. Many, many gifts for you to drive this work inside your business.

Gabe Larsen: (20:17)
Okay. All right, well Jeanne, really appreciate you taking the time for the audience. I’m sure you’d love that. Great information, high level, tactical, strategic. Hopefully you enjoyed it. Have a great day. Jeanne, thanks again for joining.

Jeanne Bliss: (20:30)
You’re welcome. Thanks. And Hey everybody, keep pushing that rock up the hill.

Gabe Larsen: (20:33)
Take care. Bye bye.

Exit Voice: (20:42)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.


What is Punk CX and Why Should You Care with Adrian Swinscoe

What is Punk CX and Why Should You Care with Adrian Swinscoe TW

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Adrian Swinscoe joins Gabe Larsen to discuss his philosophies and strategies for improving the customer service experience. For the last 25 years, Adrian has been consulting individuals and companies on their marketing and business development, customer insight, and customer service spaces. He has a passion for helping businesses create positive spaces for their customers and helping organizations simplify their strategies to make them more effective. Adrian is also the author of How to Wow and Punk CX, the latter being one of the subjects of discussion in this episode of the podcast. Listen to the full episode below.

What is Punk CX?

Punk CX is a new way of looking at customer service that Adrian thought of back in 2017. He was inspired by the emergence of punk music in stark contrast to the prog-rock era of the 1970s, at which time punk music became a statement to go against the norm. The creators of punk saw prog rock as becoming too measured and overly technical, and Adrian sees a lot of similarities in the customer experience space. Adrian believes that companies were getting too meticulous with their strategies. When instead, they needed to develop more of a punk mindset. Adrian describes this mindset by stating, “It was a very DIY, democratic, back to basics approach. It was more about mindset and daring to be different and being okay that not everybody would like it.” If companies can drop the technicalities and start committing to action-based solutions in their customer service, they will have a greater capacity to help their customers and grow their business.

Connecting Strategy with Business Objectives

To illustrate this point, Adrian shares an interesting story about the interviews he has had with business executives. First, when executives are asked what their customer service strategies are, they repeat all the typical buzzwords; such as omnichannel, effortless, digital, connected, etc. – all responding in similar ways. When asked follow up questions, their answers are even more vague. Adrian recalls, “the second question I say is . . . tell me how your strategy supports and enables the delivery of the overall business’s strategy and overall business’s objectives. And then you get some blank faces.” Overly technical customer service strategy does nothing for the business or the customer if they aren’t aligned with the business objectives. Too many organizations are draining resources on little details that aren’t connected to their business or customers. By simplifying strategies and connecting strategy and objectives, organizations will find their business growing and their customers happier and more satisfied.

How to Simplify and Amplify the Customer Service Experience

Most organizations aren’t listening to the feedback their customers give them and it’s hurting their business. Adrian quotes a study that states “only 20% of them [companies] have actually delivered and developed the resources, the content, the knowledge bases, the facilities and the tools to help customers help themselves.” While most companies know that their customers want to help themselves and don’t want to jump through the customer service hoops, they aren’t investing in finding solutions. Adrian’s recommendation for organizations to simplify and amplify the customer experience is to do the necessary research and start implementing it.

The next challenge for companies to develop punk CX is to keep evolving with their consumers. In a remarkable comment about the true nature of customer service and the need to have a punk attitude about it, Adrian explains:

“People’s queries and inquiries and problems and their questions, they change and evolve over time. So that content needs to be managed and maintained and upgraded on a consistent basis. And so, you need to make an ongoing investment in that if you want to keep ahead of that curve. Because absolutely guaranteed, your products, your services will evolve and therefore the problems or the questions or the queries that your customers will have will evolve as well.”

By researching and continually investing in the customer experience, companies will stay ahead of the curve and give the consumers exactly what they want, the means and tools to help themselves.

To learn more about punk customer experience strategies, 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:

What is Punk CX and Why Should You Care | Adrian Swinscoe

Into Voice (00:04):
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen (00:11):
Alight, welcome everybody to today’s podcast. We’re going to be talking about a little different perspective on how you should be looking at customer service. And to do that, we brought in Adrian Swinscoe. He’s actually the author of a couple books. One that I’ve come across is How to Wow and we’ll be talking a little bit about that today. Then, there is actually another one that came across; we were talking a little bit pre-show, it’s called Punk CX and we’re going to start with that one. He does run his own show at But I’m excited to have you on the show Adrian. How are you?

Adrian Swinscoe (00:49):
I’m great Gabe and nice to see you. Nice to speak to you. Nice to be on your show. Thanks for the invite.

Gabe Larsen (00:56):
Yeah, it’s been refreshing. Again, I did just kind of stumble across Adrian if I’m honest, and I liked some of his content, so I wanted to interview him for this podcast. But this “punk CX” thing definitely jumped out so I want to dive into it. But, before we do Adrian, can you tell us a little about yourself and kind of your background?

Adrian Swinscoe (01:15):
Okay. So quickly, I work in this service experience sort of space and have been in this sort of space for, crumbs, probably somewhere in the region of 11 or 12 years. I’ve been, I have a background as an economist, a teacher, I worked as a business developer in a corporate environment doing an innovation related sort of projects, worked as a general, sort of like a freelance, independent consultant. Nearly bought a steel company at one point. So I nearly became a steel magnet, which was a near miss. Unfortunately, I wanted to be able to wander around with a big hat and a cigar, but that’s obviously in a parallel universe. But right now, I am in this sort of space. My, I describe myself as a lover of simplicity and the human touch with a really useful bit of technology thrown in. And the thing that I really am interested in, and focus on, is how do we build organizations that deliver better outcomes for both their customers and their people.

Gabe Larsen (02:27):
Yeah, yeah. I love it. Great introduction. I’m sorry to hear about the steel mill. Maybe in a future life to your point you will be able to do that.

Adrian Swinscoe (02:36):
You’ll see me on a sidewalk somewhere kind of like smoking a big fat cigar.

Gabe Larsen (02:41):
I’m just not picturing it, but it’ll take me a little time. I’ll get there. So let’s dive into this. That was a great kind of intro of you. I was a little bit taken back as you were talking about this thing of “punk CX.” I was like, Whoa, that feels, truthfully different than I think a lot of people have framed it. Give me kind of the why, what, how. Why “punk CX,” and what does it mean?

Adrian Swinscoe (03:05):
So I’ll give you the short, I mean, I will try and make it as short as possible. About, back in December, 2017, you know, as is my one from time to time, I was in the pub with my friend O’Sheen drinking a couple of pints of Guinness and I was having a bit of a rant about the state of the experience and service and experience sort of space. And I was getting frustrated by the idea that we weren’t seeing really significant material kind of changes in the experience that one; companies were delivering, and two; that their customers were getting. And I was almost a bit like banging on the table, just, I wish some people would do something a bit more punk. And when I say punk I don’t mean the green hair and piercings and kind of like destruction and loud music and raging at people.

Gabe Larsen (03:58):
Right, right.

Adrian Swinscoe (03:59):
I mean, just doing something which dares to be different. It’s a little bit kind of stand out from the crowd, that’s a bit more experimental, that is a bit of a bit of a change. That idea sat with me for about six months and in the summer of 2018 I started to think about it, started to think about that a bit more deeply. And it made me think about where does, where did punk come from? Now punk came, exploded out of the back of prog-rock in the 1970s. Now prog-rock, for anybody that is a music fan, it was popular. It was also accused of being overly elaborate, somewhat self-indulgent, kind of overly technical. You almost needed a PhD in music to be able to be part of a prog-rock band. In some respects, and in danger of disappearing up its own arse — i.e. it was more interested than it was, maybe, in its fans.

Gabe Larsen (04:59):
I love it.

Adrian Swinscoe (05:00):
And then punk exploded out of the back of that with this idea of like going, well anybody can make music. And it was a very DIY democratic, back to basics approach. It was more about mindset and daring to be different and being okay that not everybody would like it. And I thought that’s cool, but then I thought, you know what’s funny, it’s like the service and experience space I think is starting to exhibit some of the same characteristics as prog-rock did in the 1970s — i.e. It’s becoming overly specialized, functionalized, measured, certified, professionalized, blah, blah blah, yada, yada, yada. All that sort of stuff.

Gabe Larsen (05:37):
It’s over complicated. Yeah, over complicated so many things. Got it.

Adrian Swinscoe (05:40):
And also get into the same point where it’s becoming more interested in itself then actually the people that are supposed to benefit from it — i.e. our customers. And that sort of explains a lot of the lack of real movement and improvement in this whole space, particularly for employees and customers.

Gabe Larsen (05:56):
Got it.

Adrian Swinscoe (05:58):
And I thought, well, if that’s true, then what would a punk version of CX look like? And I was a bit like, that’s cool. Well let me figure something out. And then, what it spoke to was this idea of like trying to inject a bit of urgency, a call to action into the experience space to say, stop over complicating things. Stop, get out from behind your desk and your spreadsheets and your dashboards and all these different sort of things and do stuff that really matters to your customers.

Gabe Larsen (06:34):

Adrian Swinscoe (06:34):
And so I wrote the book, it’s more like a fanzine or a manifesto. I call it a visual slap in the face for the customer experience industry because it’s not like any other business book in that it’s not 50,000 words of black ink on white paper. It’s like a full color, short pithy to the point. It’s almost designed like an album and that rather than having chapters, I talk about having a track listing. So you end up with this, here’s a title, here’s a few short words that kind of basically makes the point and then ask a couple of questions or maybe just makes a point that says, right, now crack on, get on with it. I’m more interested in better action that produces better results. That’s it.

Gabe Larsen (07:17):
Yeah, yeah. It does seem like I’m still newer to the space. Your point on just kind of a lot of talk, a lot of over complication and just this idea when you kind of deuce it to me, you know, let’s simplify, let’s focus on what matters most. And I mean, again, some of the other things on the outsider, they’re important, but they’re not as important as what the goal of this whole function is; that is obviously to make the customer’s life easier and better. So, as you’ve kind of taken that idea of “punk CX,” I assume you’ve probably seen this in different areas, you’ve consulted different companies. Let’s go into the, not necessarily the tactical, but how would you start thinking about some ways to clear that crap out and just simplify CX or the experience that customers are having with different brands?

Adrian Swinscoe (08:12):
So one of the things I would say, where I would really start, cause you can get a little tactical and you start fiddling around in different sort of things. I think the one thing I would say is that, I think we actually have to start fundamentally at a strategic kind of level. Okay. And the thing that strikes me, and this is where we’re, I think we’re getting caught, it’s creating a lot of problems, is that — I’ve met a bunch of people and particularly leaders, directors, managers in this sort of space. You turn around to them and go, right, fine. I want to ask you a couple of questions. And the first question is, what’s your experience strategy? And they go, right, okay. And they go, we want to create an effortless, digital, connected, omnichannel, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Gabe Larsen (09:02):
Buzzword, buzzword, buzzword,

Adrian Swinscoe (09:04):
Experience. And then it goes like, you’ve got a room of like 50 people and pretty much everybody’s saying the same thing, right? And you go, brilliant, okay, thank you for that. I’m not going to make you wrong just yet, but I will thank you for your answers. And then the second question I say is go, okay, now, tell me how your strategy supports and enables the delivery of the overall business’s strategy and overall business’s objectives. And then you get some blank faces.

Gabe Larsen (09:39):
You get some blanks. Yeah, I can see that.

Adrian Swinscoe (09:42):
And then you end up with this kind of thing with people, and then you’ve got blank faces and then you get some twinges of panic and nervous twitches and stuff going on because people know. Then they’re kind of like, oh, okay. It feels really obvious, but actually that’s the thing. If you’re not connected to what the business is going to really do, then — in time, and I think that time is actually starting, is coming right now, is that people start to challenge the worth of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Right? So that’s one of the big questions is because what we’ve seen is this proliferation of activity, whether it’s like this or that or the other; I don’t want to name and shame any particular areas.

Gabe Larsen (10:32):
Right, right.

Adrian Swinscoe (10:32):
But yet out of all this explosion of activity, you got to look at it and go, yeah, but none of it’s all connected. None of it makes sense. None of it is driving positive changes and outcomes that make a difference to the business and therefore make a difference to customers.

Gabe Larsen (10:48):
Yeah. So, one is that idea that we get so caught up in the minutia sometimes, we need to make sure that we are strategically aligning with what the business wants.

Adrian Swinscoe (10:59):

Gabe Larsen (11:03):
It’s simple but it’s true.

Adrian Swinscoe (11:04):
I know, completely. It’s a bit like, you have to be measured and considerate and everything that you can do because ultimately, it’s about delivering value for both the business and the customers.

Gabe Larsen (11:15):

Adrian Swinscoe (11:16):
It’s not about what you want to do. It’s about what is required.

Gabe Larsen (11:20):
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Adrian Swinscoe (11:22):
And right now we’ve got this elaborate, nest of things; many of which don’t make any sense. So it just feels an expensive mess if you’re an exec — a C level executive looking down at this and going, we’re spending all this money, what are we getting?

Gabe Larsen (11:36):
What are we actually getting?

Adrian Swinscoe (11:38):
And I am kind of getting letters and emails and tweets and all this stuff coming from customers going, what the? I’m spending all this money and I’m trying really hard and they’re still bombarding me with all this crap.

Gabe Larsen (11:54):
All this kind of nonsense. Right? Yeah. Because it just doesn’t work for the customer ultimately. Got it. Got it. So, one is strategy. The other thing I wanted you to kind of click into, you and I talked about this a little pre show, but there was some research you came across and it did feel like another one of those points that was like, duh! Why don’t we do the simple stuff versus making the complicated stuff you want to touch on that briefly?

Adrian Swinscoe (12:18):
Yeah. So, one of the big things that really, really frustrates me is this idea that we know that customers don’t really want to get in touch with us, they don’t really enjoy the idea of the prospect of having to phone and then navigate a phone tree, or send an email and wait for a response, to do all that sort of stuff. So, if you have a problem that you think is a reasonably simple problem, we like to help ourselves. Right? So even my mom and dad who are in their seventies will probably like to do some research and figure out how to do something, try to figure out how to do something first before we try and involve somebody else. Now, the interesting thing is that there’s some research that says that somewhere in the region of 60%, if not more, of all inquiries into help desk, support teams, contact centers, whatever, come about for two reasons. One is that your customers can’t find what they’re looking for on your website or you’ve just failed to answer their question the first time around and you sort of messed it up. So you’ve got this kind of 60% of your inbound demand for help can be solved either by you being better at solving things the first time around, or two, helping customers help themselves. Interestingly, Zendesk, who is one of your competitors, so asked for permission to talk about this beforehand, they produce a piece of research, which said something in the region like 50% of all companies, north of 50% of all companies know this, they understand this, yet only 20% of them have actually delivered and developed the resources, the content, the knowledge bases, the facilities and the tools to help customers help themselves.

Gabe Larsen (14:15):

Adrian Swinscoe (14:15):
And I’m going, my mind is exploding here. I’m like, good people. Listen to your customers, hear what they’re saying and do the bloody work.

Gabe Larsen (14:23):

Adrian Swinscoe (14:25):
Cause I’ll tell you what, it will make your life easier.

Gabe Larsen (14:28):
Yeah. Yeah. What do we — I mean I love the point because again, I think that’s kind of that, it’s just the simplicity of CX. We get caught up in all the things. Would you say — that 20% number, give or take, it’s very interesting. Well, why don’t we? This does drive back to this “punk CX” thing. We just, we get caught up in all the minutia and we lose that simplicity. That’s the whole point.

Adrian Swinscoe (14:53):
I think the thing that is, that’s part of it. I think there’s also the other part of it is that it requires us to do different things.

Gabe Larsen (15:00):

Adrian Swinscoe (15:01):
And the different things include being able to develop, manage, and maintain content that responds to our understanding of what customers want.

Gabe Larsen (15:18):

Adrian Swinscoe (15:19):
Naturally, an organization will look and go, well, developing content requires people with different skills. Whether it’s the data analysis and listening skills and then the producing of the content and the quality management and the digital uploading and thereof et cetera, et cetera. But, that requires people and that requires a cost.

Gabe Larsen (15:46):

Adrian Swinscoe (15:46):
Right. And what they’ve got to do is they’ve got to try and manage off. We’re making an investment here in terms of the development thereof of that content against how much we’re going to save on the inbound inquiries, right? And you’ve got to get that balance. Now, the trap that people fall into is they’ll go, Ooh, we’ll develop that content and then that demand is going to disappear. I’m like, no! Because here’s the thing, people’s queries and inquiries and problems and their questions, they change and evolve over time.

Gabe Larsen (16:20):
Right, right.

Adrian Swinscoe (16:20):
So that content needs to be managed and maintained and upgraded on a consistent basis. And so, you need to make an ongoing investment in that if you want to keep ahead of that curve. Because absolutely guaranteed, your products, your services will evolve and therefore the problems or the questions or the queries that your customers will have will evolve as well.

Gabe Larsen (16:48):
I love it.

Adrian Swinscoe (16:48):
And so if you’re not developing that knowledge consistently, this demand here, this inbound query demand may go down a little bit, but it may spring back up again as you do a new product launch. It’s an ongoing investment. You’ve got to try and get that balance there.

Gabe Larsen (17:06):
And people just really struggle finding that balance. That’s a really interesting insight. I liked that. I liked that a lot. Well Adrian, man, there’s always more to discuss, always more to go through. We didn’t even get to the, to the 60, what is it, 63 principles in the “Wow” book.

Adrian Swinscoe (17:23):
68 in fact.

Gabe Larsen (17:24):

Adrian Swinscoe (17:25):
I did want it to be 69, but my publisher wouldn’t let me go there.

Gabe Larsen (17:31):
That’s a great way to end this show. We may have to bring you back to dive into maybe not 69, but a couple of these, “How to Wow” customers going forward. But I do appreciate you jumping on. If someone wants to learn a little bit more about you and understand more about Adrian Swinscoe, where should they go?

Adrian Swinscoe (17:49):
Just going to look me up on , Which is A D R I A N S W I N S C O You’ll find everything you need over there.

Gabe Larsen (18:00):
Well, again, really appreciate it, I love the simplicity message. I think it’s something we need. So thanks for taking the time and for the audience, Have a fantastic day.

Adrian Swinscoe (18:08):
Dude, thanks Gabe.

Exit Voice (18:16):
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.


The Five Key Elements that Drive Customer Experience with Mary Drummond

The Five Key Elements that Drive Customer Satisfaction with Mary Drummond TW 2

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Mary Drummond, CMO of Worthix, a specialist at improving customer experiences, joins Gabe Larsen on the Customer Service Secrets podcast to discuss the fundamental elements of building beneficial relationships between companies and customers.

The Value Of Time Well Spent

Mary shares an experience she had during a podcast interview with Joe Pine, the decorated author of the book The Experience Economy. As they discussed customer experience, Joe said, “Mary, when people talk about customer experience, they’re talking about something entirely different than what I’m talking about.” When most people talk about customer experience, they’re actually referring to customer service, customer satisfaction, customer relationship, customer success. However, Joe’s understanding of customer experience is centered on the value of “time well spent”. Mary adds to this point, stating, “it’s taking your time to create an experience out of that purchase.” From this perspective, customer experience can be seen in terms of the economic offering of an experience.

Starting With The Customer’s Needs

In order to create these experiences, one of the best starting points is by going through the process of identifying the customer’s needs and expectations. While the advancement of innovation and technology are continually changing the ways in which expectations are expressed, many of the fundamental needs remain the same. Mary shares an example of the basic need of transportation to convey this point. Before the invention of cars, people still needed to get around, but they either walked, rode a bicycle, or used horses to do so. “Now, as value propositions changed, innovation and technology came around. That need was exactly the same, but the expectations of the market started changing. And as the expectations changed, companies adapted to this ever-changing speed of the customer and provided more and more innovation in the form of automobiles.” As a result, Mary claims that it is the company’s job to identify “the need of the customer according to their ever-changing expectations.”

Building on this, the customer’s experience is established through each of the interactions they have with a company. However, these interactions aren’t limited to the moment of purchase, which is the way many companies see it. The interactions customers have with companies and brands begin as soon as they realize their need, and lasts past the point of purchase. In this context, Mary defines the experience as “the sum of the interactions that work together to provide a solution to the need according to the customer’s expectations.”

The Five Drivers of Customer Satisfaction

Mary offers five of the most important drivers that influence purchasing decisions and customer satisfaction. These main determining factors are “price, quality, relationship, social proof, and brand identification.” All of these hold value to some extent when someone is deciding which food to eat, which clothes to wear, or how they are going to spend their day off. “Depending on how they weigh out in a customer’s mind, you can either increase one in order to improve that perception of a good experience, or reduce them in case it’s causing a bad experience.” By examining these drivers and how they impact the customer’s experience, we can get a better idea as to whether the customer views the experience as “time well spent”.

For more ideas on building your customer experience, listen to the Customer Service Secrets episode “The Five Key Elements that Drive Customer Experience” wherever you listen to podcasts.


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Full Episode Transcript:

The Five Key Elements that Drive Customer Experience with Mary Drummond

Intro Voice (00:04):
You’re listening to the customer service secrets podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen (00:10):
All right, welcome everybody to today’s podcast. I’m excited to get going! We’ve got Mary Drummond. She is the CMO at Worthix. Mary, thanks so much for joining, and how are you?

Mary Drummond (00:23):
I’m good. So I’m like your marketing counterpart here at Worthix.

Gabe Larsen (00:26):
That’s right. We’re like marketing partners. I actually hope we are partnering on more stuff. Mary was just giving me a little tour of how to be a podcaster because outside of being the CMO at Worthix, she is also the podcast host of something called the “Voices of CX.” I probably can’t do it justice. Mary, can you tell us a little about yourself, the podcast and what you do over there Worthix?

Mary Drummond (00:51):
So, more than considering myself the chief marketer, I do truly consider myself the chief evangelist. And it’s probably because other than the CEO, you won’t find anyone in this world who is as passionate about this company as I am.

Gabe Larsen (01:08):
We can feel it from your voice, by the way. I’m like feeling the passion.

Mary Drummond (01:12):
I get genuinely excited when I talk about it. Yeah, but it does, it makes my job really, really easy because all I have to do is then take this passion and convert it into something that people can identify with. So, all I have to do is make sure that I’m distributing that message properly, which is why I have the podcast in the first place. Which is a great way to get that message across, to speak to the people in the industry that actually matter, that everybody else is listening to. And it’s been great because honestly, as the host of Voices of Customer Experience or Voices of CX, I have spoken to some of the most brilliant brains that are out there nowadays. And it’s been the biggest learning process of my life for sure.

Gabe Larsen (01:59):
I can only imagine. I can only imagine. I was telling Mary, I’m setting up on my own journey to become a podcast expert, so she might have to be a little bit of a coach and as I do that, but we’ll save that for a later time. Today, we want to jump into some of the trends and problems facing customer service leaders. And one of the things we were talking pre-show that actually was, you know, and I’m being honest here, it was pretty cool was this idea of not looking at it so siloed. A lot of organizations are looking customer experience as just kind of one point. And you kind of blew that up for me and said, Gabe, it’s different. It’s bigger than that. Give me a little more on that. How are you seeing that play out and why is it so important?

Mary Drummond (02:40):
So, I think that the number one problem that we have nowadays is that it’s really difficult for people to agree on a definition of customer experience. It’s just extremely problematic when you think about it. But when people are looking at the experience, there are a lot of definitions out there. The most accepted or the most commonly used one, and it’s the one that’s used by the CXPA, which is the Customer Experience Professional Association, is the idea that experiences are the sum of the interactions that a customer has with a company. Okay, in a nutshell it’s like 20 words, but basically that’s what it is. So, some of the interactions, right? And I agree with that definition, let’s say with some reservation. Now, customer experience has recently become super duper popular. Everybody’s using it. I like to say that customer experience has gone mainstream and you know, it’s gone mainstream when they start using it in advertising. So if you’re going through airports, you’ll see big signs that say, “Try to improve your airport experience.” I’m like, wow, airport experience… Turn on the radio.

Gabe Larsen (03:52):
Airport experience, well yes, there is an experience I guess. That’s weird.

Mary Drummond (03:55):
The bathroom experience when you’re at the airport is a thing too. And they’ll talk, there’s an ad running on the radio from Quicken Loans and it’s talking about improving your mortgage experience. You know, so experiences have really hit mainstream, which is pretty much a dream. I think that there are a lot of people out there, a lot of authors, a lot of thought leaders that really put a lot of work into making this happening, where people actually care, not only people, companies, investors, shareholders, everybody cares about the experience. So that is great. Now it also means that the message gets diluted and it also means that there’s a lot of confusion surrounding what it truly means. And since the industry is new, there’s still a lot of questions. So I understand that my definition of customer experience might not necessarily be same definition as the listener, but hopefully there is an overlap and hopefully what I do for you makes a little bit of sense.

Gabe Larsen (04:58):
Yeah, one quick followup on that, and I’m still kind of a newbie so I can ask this, but is there a big difference between customer experience and customer service? I mean obviously they’re interrelated, but how would you kind of coach people who are like, why are they people acting like those are different? How would you navigate that?

Mary Drummond (05:17):
That’s my favorite question…

Gabe Larsen (05:21):
If it’s too basic, you can be like that’s a dumb question.

Mary Drummond (05:23):
No, I think that it’s the first thing we need to get out of the way. Especially because your company Kustomer works very closely with customer service. And it’s probably one of the biggest focuses, right? We met at Customer Contact World, which is a conference that’s focused on bringing solutions to call centers and customer service. So there is a huge overlap, but it’s an overlap. One is not the same as the other. So as for a definition, I’m going to use what Joe Pine said. So if you know who Joe Pine is, he is the coauthor of a book called The Experience Economy, which was written in 1999. And it was the book that set off the whole idea of customer experience. So he could be called the father of customer experience. He created this whole concept.

Mary Drummond (06:26):
Yeah, and when I had Joe Pine on my podcast, what he told me super clearly was, “Mary, when people talk about customer experience, they’re talking about something entirely different than what I’m talking about.” So most people, when they’re talking about customer experience, they’re actually talking about customer service, customer satisfaction, customer relationship, customer success. What Joe Pine is talking about when he’s discussing the experience is very much the idea of time well spent. So it’s taking your time and creating an experience out of that purchase. So he’s speaking directly to the idea of an economical offering that is an experience.

Gabe Larsen (07:21):
Yeah, that’s deep. My mind… I’m kind of like, ooh… That was deep. So really, customer experience is kind of, I don’t mean to say it’s better, but it’s on top of, right? It’s like it almost, I would almost say, based on what you’re saying is it is, it’s on top of it. There may be that overlap, but it does feel like it is the broader category of some of these subsets like customer service, customer success, etc.

Mary Drummond (07:47):
Well, you see, the thing is that Pine was speaking of the economic offering of an experience. So that would be something like, Candytopia right? Where you offering an experience that people go in there and they have this experiential thing with candy and then you have like the ice cream museum or you have other things like Meow Wolf, this like immersive art. You know, so Pine was speaking specifically of these things, but if you take that concept and you apply it to business, what you understand is the experience boils down to the need. Okay, so way before products or companies or anything else, humans had needs. So if you consider before the automobile was created, people still had the need for transportation. So what were they using at the time? Horses. Bicycles. Whatever. Right, that need, that need existed. And the market was somehow providing that need.

Mary Drummond (08:55):
Now, as value propositions changed, innovation and technology came around. That need was exactly the same, but the expectations of the market started changing. And as the expectations changed, companies adapted to this ever changing speed of the customer and provided more and more innovation in the form of automobiles. And you know, nowadays we’ve got electric cars, right? If you think about it, essentially they’re still solving the same basic need that was there from the very beginning. It was being solved by a horse previously. Right? So what the experience, what I consider to be the experience in the business sense is the way that the company is providing the need of the customer according to their ever-changing expectations in the market. This goes from before the moment of purchase, the moment the customer realizes that he or she has a need, all the way to way after that purchase or transaction has concluded. Even once the relationship with the company has so-called ended, the customer continues to have expectations about that brand and about that company. So that’s what I consider the experience: The sum of the interactions that work together to provide the solution to the need according to the customer’s expectations. I know it’s a little bit confusing. That is how we see it.

Gabe Larsen (10:27):
It does seem like, and that goes back to almost my original question and maybe that fits in a little bit, right? There are different points in the customer journey, and oftentimes we have focused on one versus the other, but if you really map out that customer journey, it is pretty long, right? There are different touch points and there’s ultimately different things that drive that overall experience and therefore loyalty or satisfaction that really does drive people to again come back, repeat, you know, grow with you, stick with you, etc. Interesting. I’ve got a noodle on that one for a minute… That kind of customer experience versus customer service idea.

Mary Drummond (11:09):
Well i’ll build on it if you want. So when you have customer service, what you’re speaking of is a very particular moment or aspect of the experience, which is the relationship. So customer service is the relationship that the company builds with their customer. And relationship is crucial, it’s really, really important. But it is one of the multiple factors that ultimately affect the customer’s decision to choose to do business with your company or with another one that’s out there. So there are quite a few factors. So if we say customer experience is customer service, it is not, but customer service is definitely experiential. It’s definitely part of the experience.

Gabe Larsen (12:02):
But it is just part of it. It’s not the whole experience. The whole experience is… Well, paint that picture. So of customer experiences, what are some of the other parts of the experience that aren’t encompassed in customer service? For example:

Mary Drummond (12:17):
If we’re speaking of attending the need, right? So you talk about the need, you have to have a product, right? So when someone purchases a product, there are two like really easy cost-benefit factors that we can take into consideration there, which is quality versus price. So we always kind of make that relation, you know, like okay, I’m going to pay this much to gain this benefit. And pricing is so complex that there are whole schools of business that focus entirely on pricing. It really is very, very complex. But what we do know is that it’s not always directly related to quality. It is at times, but there are other things that affect it, like relationship is definitely one of them. People will pay more for a company that they have a good relationship with. Because it’s important to them, right? So just to kind of explain it really quick, what we believe in is that there are decision drivers and all of these decision drivers put together drives the customer to decide on how much of each they need in order to have a positive experience or negative experience. But it depends on the customer’s need and the expectation that they set for that company. So if I’m an Apple customer and I go to buy an iPhone, am I looking for price? No, I’m not looking for price. I’m not price sensitive. They are the most expensive. What am I looking for? I am probably looking for really good quality and probably looking for a very easy experience. So low effort in usability factors. Right? But there’s also something huge that’s a lot less subjective, let’s say, then price and quality, which is social proof. How you’re perceived by your tribe or by the people that surround you. So take it this way. I don’t know what phone you have, but I get really upset when I’m in a group chat and there’s that one person with a Google phone that’s making all of my text bubbles green. I’m like, just stop it already. Just go away. Stop ruining my group text.

Gabe Larsen (14:36):
I’ve got to stop you because I was having problems with the app. I have this total dovetail. It’s only five seconds, but I was that person. I literally was that person. I switched to a Samsung, or Android, I don’t know what it was. But I switched and the whole executive team at my last company, I hope they’re listening, they were all on Apple. And honestly, you would have thinked, you would have think you would have thunked. You wish you would’ve thought, that I killed the president or something. I’m dead serious. There was like a revolt. They were just like, you SOB, you mother***, we won’t put up for this. We won’t stand for it. And I got peer pressured back. So now, I mean, you’re not seeing this, but I’m holding this up for Mary. I’m back on an iPhone because I got guilty. So, sorry for the for the thing, but yes, I know what you’re talking about.

Mary Drummond (15:33):
Do you see how strong social proof is? It’s a huge motivator. And another one that’s also more subjective is brand identification. So one thing that we’ve seen recently, and you know, it’s been all over the news, is brands taking a more active stance politically and standing behind their beliefs and really making strong statements that maybe 20 years ago companies wouldn’t dare do. Oh my God, talk about something controversial. No way. But the truth is that the generations of today, they really want to stand behind something that matters to them. You know, so you have companies, I’ll give two, Nike is an example of a company that stood strongly behind what they believed in with the Kaepernick campaign that they ran last year. Or what was it, 2018? And analysts were freaking out, “Oh Nike… they’re really gonna take a hit for that.”

Mary Drummond (16:28):
And it was actually very successful, but it really could have gone either way. The truth is that Nike did some really, really deep research and they knew who their customers were and they knew that their customers would back them up even though they would lose some customers. The customers that actually mattered to them would stick around and actually create a stronger emotional connection with the brand because of that. I remember when that whole thing happened and people started burning their Nike’s. I remember going onto my phone as I’m watching the news go to Nike’s website and ordering anything. I just ordered anything because I just wanted Nike to see that people were still going to buy from them, you know? So I’m like, I’m going to buy right here just to show Nike how much I care.

Gabe Larsen (17:14):
So what do you feel like? And some of these examples are extremely powerful. Are there certain things that you’ve found that are the typical drivers to kind of get this? I mean, it sounds like, you know, price quality. You’ve listed a couple. Is there a typical list that you’re like, Gabe, these are the normal ones that companies need to be thinking about to drive that overall satisfaction?

Mary Drummond (17:35):
Yeah, we have five. Now these are the ones that we… So we did tons of scientific research and we narrowed it down to five, and these five drivers, they’re the main influencers of purchase decisions. Now, as you changed the decision, because you see the things that we make decisions all day long and ultimately on a daily basis, we’re constantly weighing out cost benefit. Let’s say, let’s call it cost benefit to decide whether or not something is worth it. So I’m going to give you an example. Waking up at 6:00 AM to go to the gym. Do you want to do it? Hell no. Hell no. Today it was raining so hard in Atlanta and I got out of bed and I’m like dragging myself out of bed. I’m like, I’m going to the gym. Did I want to? No.

Mary Drummond (18:21):
But in my mind, I’m telling myself that the benefits that I’m going to obtain from that sacrifice, what I’m giving up is worth it. So I go and I do it. So every moment in our lives, whenever we’re faced with a crossroad, we weigh out price, which can be money, it can be effort, it can be a sacrifice of morals. There are a series of things that we can do as paying a price in order to gain a benefit. And what does that benefit? It can be a better body. It could be health, it can be anything. So when it comes to purchase decisions, normally we’re giving up money in order to gain a product or service. So what we identified as the five decision drivers or purchase decisions are: Price and quality. It’s not in any specific order… It changes radically according to the customer and the situation. Price and quality, relationship, social proof, and brand identification. Each of the five things that I brought up.

Gabe Larsen (19:24):
Oh, price and quality are one. Okay. Got it. Okay, so say it one more time, one more time just so I got them. So, price and quality…

Mary Drummond (19:30):
Price, quality, relationship, that’s where you come in, right? Social proof, and brand identification. Depending on how these five factors… depending on how they weigh out in a customer’s minds, you can either increase one in order to improve that perception of a good experience, or reduce them in case it’s causing a bad experience. So if your customer has a really good impression of you and you don’t know why, you can run a Worthix survey and find out what’s causing that good impression so you can boost it.

Gabe Larsen (20:03):
Hmm, and really focus on one of those key drivers, right? Because I did like what you had mentioned pre-show, like oftentimes you guys were running these MPS survey and I’m just using MPS an example. But you know, it’s like, “Overall how satisfied are you?” And then you’re like, I don’t know what to do with that.

Mary Drummond (20:22):
Satisfaction doesn’t actually lead ultimately to the buying.

Gabe Larsen (20:24):
Well, I just love the idea of like when you talk about those drivers, I’m like, I can do something with that. I can coach my people. They can own it. We can do something. But satisfaction does feel like it’s so, uh oh, well they’re not sad. Then you gotta dive down more and more, so I like the action of building.

Mary Drummond (20:45):
Satisfaction is great if you’re doing a conformity check, right? So like I’ve got expectations as a customer, is that company living up to my expectations, yes or no? If the answer is yes, then I’m satisfied. If it’s not then no. Now am I going to leave you because I’m not satisfied?

Gabe Larsen (21:04):
Personally, I don’t believe that someone… it’s probably is all over the board. Some people, yes. Some people, no. I don’t know if it’s predictive of what we’re talking about here.

Mary Drummond (21:18):
It’s not because it’s only one factor. So if the price is really, really good, I might stay with you even if you suck. If I’m looking to buy like family heirloom that I want to pass onto my daughter when she grows up, I’m probably not going to measure the price because what I’m looking for is quality. I’m looking for durability, I’m looking for something that’s going to withstand the test of time, right? If I’m looking for a quick fix, something that I’m going to use one or two times, why on earth would I spend all this money for something temporary? So I’ll sacrifice quality, then I’ll probably sacrifice relationship cause all I want is this product for like whatever you know a party. Now what happens is… I’m a customer of Comcast. Okay, this this like the perfect example, because Comcast is known for having truly terrible relationship with their customers right now. Why is it that after five years with Comcast, I am still with Comcast even though their relationship sucks? Because I don’t need to call them that often.

Gabe Larsen (22:23):
It’s quality. It’s finding this balance between the different drivers.

Mary Drummond (22:29):
And when I think about the effort that I’ll have to leave Comcast and go to their competition, and then is there competition going to be that much better? Not necessarily, right? So in that specific example of Comcast, I’m not going to leave. But then again, internet isn’t a market that’s that commoditized. You don’t have that many players out there. It’s not like retail where you have hundreds of options. So depending on the industry you’re in, if you’re in an ultra commoditized market where price isn’t a differentiator, nor is quality, then you really have to stand out on other things like relationship.

Gabe Larsen (23:06):
You start to play those different games, yeah.

Mary Drummond (23:09):
And that’s where you have to innovate, truly innovate in the experience. So, you know, an example that I give all the time is Chewy. I don’t know if you know who Chewy is, it’s like a subscription for pet food. It’s like the most basic thing in the world. Chewy doesn’t sell cheap dog food. They’re more expensive than Amazon. They don’t sell super high quality or any different quality than all of the other pet stores out there. They’re selling the exact same products everybody else is selling. So an ultra commoditized market. How does Chewy get their customers to stay with them? How do they guarantee that loyalty if they’re not different at all in price and quality? Well, they really work hard on their customer service. They really work hard in their relationship. They like cultivate this intimate relationship with their customers. They’ll write handwritten cards. My dog got a birthday card! A birthday card in the mail from Chewy! These are these little things that make a difference.

Gabe Larsen (24:22):
Fascinating. Fascinating. So these companies got to find the different things that really drive their differentiators or behaviors, which really can separate them in the market. And you’ve narrowed it down to five doesn’t mean you have to do one could do the other. It’s about finding what’s unique in your industry and potentially commoditize a non-commoditized market. Well, Mary, that was not what I expected. I had like 10 more questions we’re going to have to bring you on again next time. But I really like this idea of experience looking at the whole journey and then the drivers that potentially drive that and you obviously narrowed it down to five. I’m going to have to think a little bit about that.

Gabe Larsen (25:02):
So as we wrap, if someone wants to get in touch with you or learn a little bit more about what y’all do over there at Worthix, what’s the best way to do that?

Mary Drummond (25:13):
Okay, well I’m on Twitter and LinkedIn and Instagram and everywhere is like @drummondmary, it’s really easy to find me. I’m like the one and only. You find some other people, but they look very sketchy. So don’t go with them. I’m like the one and only @drummondmary who looks like a person that would give you lots of interesting thought leadership.

Gabe Larsen (25:32):
So don’t follow them, follow her.

Mary Drummond (25:34):
Don’t follow them. You can also find me on Medium if that’s where you get your fix. And to learn more about Worthix.

Gabe Larsen (25:42):
I love it. I love it. Well, it does it seem like a cool technology.I love the talk track and I’m looking forward to interacting more. Thanks again for joining and I wish everybody a fantastic day.

Exit Voice (25:58):
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.


How to Combine the Best of Both Human and Artificial Intelligence to Kindle a Successful Customer Experience

How to Combine the Best of Both Human and Artificial Intelligence to Kindle a Successful Customer Experience TW

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Vikas Bhambri, Senior Vice President of Sales and CX at Kustomer, joins Gabe Larsen in discussing how both human customer service agents and artificial intelligence (AI) are mutually beneficial in the development of real and positive customer experiences.

AI Bots Alone Cannot Solve Customers’ Problems

The artificial intelligence bots of today’s world are not only growing in popularity, but they are also growing in capability. They are the focus of various customer service conferences around the globe; but are they being utilized in the correct way? Vikas Bhambri, with his 20 years of experience in customer service, claims that even though they are receiving growing amounts of attention, people do not seem to understand where AI bots show their strengths.

Bhambri discusses how everyone is “hyper fixated… it’s getting kind of buzzwordy… [but] the key to me is, let’s think about the customer. Let’s start with the customer and the experience that they want, whatever you want to offer them, and then let’s figure out where you appropriately position the bot versus the human being.” Only in the future, when innovations permit even further data for both bot and human, can they coexist in beneficial harmony.

Knowing Your Customer

Human reps and bots will more successfully coexist when the bots are able to recall previous data from individual customers. Doing so will enable customer service branches to personally help clients, rather than run everyone that calls for assistance through the same AI loop. Vikas goes on about the necessity of “AI machine learning… [bots should be] looking at the results of anybody who’s ever asked a similar question and what has been offered to them and what actually resolved their issue… that’s where it gets… more in depth.”

He also gives an example of treating customers differently by comparing clients that have different demographics. Your company will have “all [of] these different issues that have been resolved across [your] entire customer base and now a multimillion dollar customer comes to [your] website and asks a question.” Your bots of today are “probably going to offer them the same solution as [it] did to the last 20 people that asked that question… they’re only looking at the question, and they’re not looking at who [they] are.”

Where the Bot and Agent Best Work Together

Once the customer has been personally identified, it is vital that both the bots and reps focus on the customer’s needs. Not only is the client’s problem important, but the means, or channel, that your company uses to resolve it should be an additional focus. It is essential to understand the customer’s situation, and realize whether a personal interaction with a rep or an automated conversation would be more efficient.

Vikas and Gabe talk about the idea of whether the customer wants “to speak to somebody [or] if [they] don’t, and want to do it [themselves].” Vikas gives the potential example of using new tech-advances like geolocation to aid in the customer experience as well. He says, for example, “I’m an airline, and when you’re reaching out to me from an airport the moment I kind of initiate that, [I] should be like, ‘Oh Mr. Barry, I see you’re booked on the flight from Orlando to New York because — and I know you’re in the airport right now. You know what, we’ve already rebooked you. Just head over to gate 43.’” The future holds great potential for the merger of AI and human reps, but the customer experience can only really be elevated when the customer’s needs and situations are understood by both.

Do you want to enjoy more in depth ideas about how to better the customer experience? Listen to Customer Service Secrets episode “Bots Vs Human: How to be Successful in AI Customer Experience” to hear it directly from the experts.


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Listen to “Bots Vs Human: How to be Successful in AI Customer Experience | Vikas Bhambri w/Kustomer” on Spreaker.

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Full Episode Transcript:

How to Combine the Best of Both Human and Artificial Intelligence to Kindle a Successful Customer Experience

Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Hi, welcome everybody to today’s show. Today we’re going to be talking about bots versus humans, all things customer experiences. We’ve brought on Vikas Bhambri where he currently is the SVP of sales and customer experience over here at Kustomer. Vikas thanks for joining man, how are you?

Vikas Bhambri: (00:26)
Glad to be here man. My partner in crime. Guest number what, 56 on the podcast?

Gabe Larsen: (00:32)
No, when this comes out man, this is, you’re going to be earlier than that.

Vikas Bhambri: (00:37)
I asked to be number one. I would like to quickly dismiss it… Now it’s like 56, 57, somewhere along those lines.

Gabe Larsen: (00:45)
If you could see me right now, my face is red. I did tell him that but I’m not going to fulfill that promise. Well you’ve been on vacation for like a whole four days. So what do you expect me to do, wait?

Vikas Bhambri: (00:55)
I’m glad the place is still intact, you know?

Gabe Larsen: (00:59)
So I probably didn’t do justice introducing you. Tell us just a little more about your background, some things you do over here at Kustomer, etc.

Vikas Bhambri: (01:04)
Sure, I’ll give you the short version. You can tell me if it’s not short enough or if you want me to go into more detail. Twenty years, CRM, contact center veteran. A lot of people don’t actually know this about me, but I started my journey, or my career in the contact center. I was a guy who carried a pager around, got the call — the page at two in the morning that something was wrong with my application. So back in the day, you have to actually be the coder and the QA, and the help desk for your product. So I did that, but then found myself actually implementing contact center technology. My first client was CSX transportation. If you don’t know them, they’re a big commercial railway on the East coast. And I actually implemented the contact center solution where if you were at a railroad crossing and the crossing was down or broken or the gate was smashed, you call the 1-800 number, it would route into the platform that I implemented with the agent.

Gabe Larsen: (02:10)
What was this 1970, 1960?

Vikas Bhambri: (02:15)
I’m not that old. It was probably just around the .com, so 2000, 2001. I went from there to implementing contact centers, like Bank of America, UPS. So I’ve been on this like CRM contact center journey since its inception.

Gabe Larsen: (02:31)
Was that on purpose or was that just by accident? I mean, are you that passionate about the space?

Vikas Bhambri: (02:36)
You know what, I’ve become passionate about it. I mean, you know, initially it was a job. Oh this is interesting. And you know, for me it was more around I love technology. So it was the perfect role to be a business analyst or project manager working with technology. But then as I got into it more and more and spent more time in the contact center, in the trenches, and then in the CRM world, which now encompasses sales, marketing, etc. And just seeing that evolution. So it’s been fun. I’ve worked across the globe, I spent five years in Europe. I’ve done CRM sales service marketing, you name the industry: retail, TELCO, financial services, insurance, healthcare… so it’s really been a great run over 20 years.

Gabe Larsen: (03:23)
I love it, man, that’s right. It’s funny, you and I have known each other for a few months now, but I forget that history, that’s a pretty rich history.

Vikas Bhambri: (03:31)
Yeah, a lot of people, they get caught up in the title, the most recent title, right. Like, oh you’re sales and CX leader and reality is, I actually started my career as a developer. It’s been a wild ride.

Gabe Larsen: (03:42)
Yeah, that’s a little bit of a change, right? Board room to dev room. So let’s dive in: Talk bots and humans for a minute. So obviously it’s a little controversial, isn’t it?

Vikas Bhambri: (03:55)
It is, because I think, of late, everybody is hyper fixated. You go to any conference, you go to any meeting and everybody wants to talk about bots. It’s getting kind of buzzwordy right? And everybody now says they do it. Everybody says they’ve got one. The key to me is, let’s think about the customer. Let’s start with the customer and the experience that they want, whatever you want to offer them, and then let’s figure out where you appropriately position the bot versus the human being. And I think ideally, and I think that the future will actually be where, they coexist. And so we can stop having this…

Gabe Larsen: (04:37)
One eliminates the other, one pushes the other out.

Vikas Bhambri: (04:42)
Right? And even the way some people talk about bots is they’re like, “look, we’re going to — we’re going to implement the bot and they’re going to solve the problem.” And then what happens when they don’t? Now the customer’s frustrated, right? Now, they pick up the phone or they called the agent and the agent has no idea that they just went through an eight step process with a bot and it failed. So even understanding like how do I take a journey that may start out with a bot, and actually escalate it to a human experience.

Vikas Bhambri: (05:11)
And what nobody talks about is, when did it start out in a human experience and then maybe kind of escalate to a bot, right? So you actually empower the human agent with more information, more data, more automation for them to give intelligent solutions back.

Gabe Larsen: (05:27)
Let’s go back to it. So maybe take one step back real quick because I want to dive into those two use cases. But when you say bot, how is that different than chat versus AI versus… give us a little click on that.

Vikas Bhambri: (05:43)
Sure. I think for me, when you think about bot, I kind of liken it to just robots, right? It’s technology that does a task. Now when you get in a chat box that’s just serving technology through a medium, which happens to be chat. But I would argue chatbots are already outdated because chat is only one digital interaction. Why wouldn’t you do the same on Facebook messenger? Why wouldn’t you be the same on WhatsApp or SMS? So even the whole nomenclature now it’s already outdated.

Gabe Larsen: (06:13)
Well and it did feel like chat — chat’s been around for so long. It’s like wow, is this really something that new, adding a little more of a bot or a push notification in a bot? But it seems like maybe as we take it to different channels, that would be one thing that would certainly be different. It’s this automated interaction in a channel, chat particularly, that allows you to potentially deflect or get rid of some of the human interactions.

Vikas Bhambri: (06:39)
Chat was rightfully kind of the first kind of place to offer it. Because at the end of the day, people are already used to doing pre-chat surveys and asking certain questions. So it kind of made sense to offer it there, right? And you know, you’ve got companies like Drift and others that are doing it in different styles. So it makes sense. But why wouldn’t you offer some sort of automation when somebody goes to your knowledge base? So now we call that — now we’ve kind of pocketed that into self-service deflection. At the end of the day, it’s still a bot. It’s still technology that is looking to the customer to answer certain questions or make some self identifiers and then offer them a solution.

Gabe Larsen: (07:21)
Got it. Got it. Okay, perfect. That’s great to just get the fundamentals. And then one step above that, where do you feel like it’s, maybe it’s where we are currently or where we should be going, but there’s stuff that’s like pre-programmed, like branching stuff you could put in. So they like press a button or they answer yes and then it delivers them a message versus true intelligence, like they write something, the bot reads it and actually responds back in an intelligent way. Are both of those happening? Is just one of those happening? Where are we in this evolution of the bot, so to say?

Vikas Bhambri: (07:57)
Sure. So, to me it’s kind of the if, then, else, right? Like the choose your own adventure. For those of us that are old enough to remember those.

Gabe Larsen: (08:04)
Those books were good. I should get one of those for my eight year old, actually.

Vikas Bhambri: (08:13)
But here’s the thing: So the if, then, else, the branchable logic that’s there. It’s been done. I think you see that quite often now.

Gabe Larsen: (08:22)
That’s pretty table stakes now.

Vikas Bhambri: (08:24)
Right? That’s table stakes. I think true AI, where you’re looking at the question the person’s asking, analyzing it, then comparing it to other questions… When we talk about true AI, machine learning, it’s now looking at the result set of anybody who’s ever asked a similar question and what has been offered to them and what actually resolved their issue. So that’s where it gets a whole much more in-depth. Now, I still think the problem with even that concept and why I’m excited about some of the things we’re working on, is that it’s still very limited to all the problems that people have asked and answered. It still doesn’t really take into account who that customer is. I think that’s still one of the things when we talk about bots and you’re only as good as your data. So what I describe to people is… look, imagine you bought a robot to clean your house and you only put it in one room of your house and said learn and then you unleashed it on the whole house. You’d probably end up with a wreck because the dimensions of your one room are not all of the rooms. And I think that’s when people create these algorithms, they’re only thinking about one problem area and then all of a sudden they unleash it. For example, I’ve got all these different issues that have been resolved across my entire customer base and now a multi-million dollar customer comes to my website and asks a question. I’m probably going to offer them the same solution as I did to the last 20 people that asked that question. Now taking into account that they’re a $5 million customers, now I’m going to wreck my house.

Gabe Larsen: (10:00)
Oh, interesting. Almost like a tiered… you know, we talk about like tiered support where if I’m a gold member, I call in and I’m treated different. But you’re not really treated different with a bot because they don’t know a lot about you, and they’re only looking at the questions.

Vikas Bhambri: (10:14)
They’re only looking at the question, and they’re not looking at who are you.

Gabe Larsen: (10:16)
So that might be one of the future trends, as you think about bots and how they… I can’t think of anybody doing that, that’s pretty… wow, that’s different.

Vikas Bhambri: (10:27)
That’s it. The more data you can feed this, the more intelligent it’s going to be. I think the problem is when people are thinking about it, they’re not thinking about what data am I going to keep using with the robot? Because that’s easy for people to say, “what information you’ve giving the robot?” And if you’re not giving them all the details, they’re going to make foolish decisions.

Gabe Larsen: (10:47)
What else do you have? If you had to kind of say a couple of years from now, I mean I just thought that was interesting. Kind of the personalization of the bot around the individual, the company, whoever it may be, and then treat them slightly different. Any other things you see in a couple of years from now, where the bot is going to that might be a little outside of the norm?

Vikas Bhambri: (11:06)
I think the big thing — well, before we even get there is I think there’s going to have to be this harmony between the bot and the human experience, which I don’t think exists today.

Gabe Larsen: (11:17)
So lets click into that, and then we’ll come back to the trends. So right now people are kind of thinking about it: as I interact with the bot and then there is a chance I would maybe escalate to human.

Vikas Bhambri: (11:31)
It’s still clunky. The hand off is clunky because a lot of times, well we’ve all experienced that as consumers. I get asked a bunch of questions by the bot, I get served up to human agent because the bot can’t actually answer my issue. And the agent actually asks me all the questions again. That’s like the most fundamental failure of the hand off because they have no visibility. They may know that you did communicate. A lot of brands won’t give their bots names. So like you, you asked Jeeves or you asked Elsa, right?

Gabe Larsen: (12:06)
Elsa is a Frozen reference in case anybody’s wondering.

Vikas Bhambri: (12:11)
Right, anybody whose kids are listening, they got it. All of a sudden, they talked to Elsa before me, but you don’t know what they asked and answered. So that’s a very fundamental flaw, but people are getting better at that. They’ll at least give you the tree, showing everything that the person went through with the bot, right?

Gabe Larsen: (12:27)
Do they? I sometimes question if they’re even getting that, but fair. Yeah, they could get that far.

Vikas Bhambri: (12:34)
There are some people who are a bit further along, if you look on a maturity index, so now I know what questions you asked the bot or answers you gave, and why they can’t resolve it. But to a degree, I almost have to still go and do my own due diligence and figure things out. So I think that’s step one. Now the other thing is, how do I take that data that I did get, plus what the agent captures and now offer up intelligent suggestions to the agent to resolve? That’s where I think you start getting true harmony is automation on the front end, smooth pass off, but then also helping the agent be smart by giving them smarter answers.

Gabe Larsen: (13:16)
But help me visualize that a little bit. So what would that look like? The first part I get, so you get the automation. I like the second part, the smooth transition, because that just feels clunky in my own experience with bots. But that third part. It’s like, ooh, how can we enable the effectiveness of the agents so they are responding back smarter? Any examples, like tactical examples that may come to mind?

Vikas Bhambri: (13:38)
Think about this and let’s just use your cable box provider. You just went through an eight step troubleshooting process with the bot. It failed. You’re on the phone with the human agent and the technician is saying, “Ah, okay I see that you went through this process.” Maybe the agent gathers one or two more details from you. You know what I mean? You check the remote, you know the batteries in your remote or whatever. Now, the intelligence to the agent says I’m going to take all the steps that the customer did with the bot, plus what you gathered and now I’m going to offer up a solution. Take both sides of that discussion and then offer up a solution.

Gabe Larsen: (14:20)
Cool! Interesting. So now flip it, because that’s kind of the standard idea, that can we deflect –? Well, do one more quick double clickback on that. So I liked your three step process. You have automation. If you need to escalate, you pass it off smoothly and then you kind of provide real intelligence or a recommendation. A lot of people are wondering how far you can go with a bot before you have to escalate. That’s, I guess, the elimination conversation. Where do you kind of recommend companies who aren’t thinking about that? Try to get rid of the small stuff, focus on the return? How far can you automate that bottom part of customer service?

Vikas Bhambri: (14:58)
I think the two factors you have to look at are one, what can the customer do themselves or can you kind of use the bot to guide them through to conclusion? So that to me is number one, because at the end of the day, as much as brands don’t want to talk to customers, customers don’t want to talk to brands either. Right?

Gabe Larsen: (15:20)
Do you think that’s true? I mean is that kind of where we are? I mean people don’t want to really do it.

Vikas Bhambri: (15:25)
They don’t want to. It’s not a bad thing. And I think we need to get away from that. If I’m booking a round trip flight from New York to LA, I don’t want to talk to anybody, I want to go to a website, I want to go to a mobile app, I want to book the ticket, get a reasonable fare, select my seat and I’m done. It’s paid for it and everything, right? I don’t want to ever speak to a human being and the airline doesn’t want to speak to you either.

Gabe Larsen: (15:53)
It just sounds bad.

Vikas Bhambri: (15:54)
But quote unquote, we’re talking, right? Because we’re obviously transacting business, but we don’t have to have an elongated discussion. Right? So that’s number one. Number two is when do you want to get that human being involved? Because now I’m booking New York to San Francisco, to LA, to Portland.

Vikas Bhambri: (16:19)
It gets more complicated. I want to be able to speak to somebody if I don’t want to do it myself. Number two is there’s an adverse event, right? My flight to San Francisco gets canceled. Now everything is going to be botched. I want somebody to jump in. And third, you have customers whether it’s ato demographic, whether it’s a high end customer, that you want to offer, that additional level of service, if they choose to use it. And that’s why I said bots can be a one size fits all because if you’ve got a premiere business traveler, you want to be able to say, look, if you want to go and book that round trip ticket yourself, go for it. But by the way, we’re here for you.

Gabe Larsen: (17:00)
And maybe it’s just where I am. Don’t get me wrong, I like to book stuff on my app and things like that, but I’m in like a Delta premiere or whatever that is, gold or medallion, and maybe I’m driving, you know, I’m just gonna call them up and have them walked me through it and book my roundtrip ticket or something. I like that sometimes, so I do like that option. I like the complication. The emergency totally resonates, right? It’s like when your flights booked and you’re trying to go home for Christmas, the last thing you want to deal with is a bot. Is my flight canceled? Just help me, I need to talk to someone.

Vikas Bhambri: (17:35)
So that’s why I think brands need to look at where is that inflection? Where does that point where the customer is going to yell? Now there might be some customers, they don’t care if they’re yelling all day long, right? But certain segments of customers, we care, the brand absolutely does care because they want your repeat business. Right?

Gabe Larsen: (17:54)
So do you feel like if you implement some sort of automated bot program, are you affecting negatively or impacting negatively the customer experience?

Vikas Bhambri: (18:02)
No. If it’s done thoughtfully where you’re thinking about that journey and go back to the customer journey, or customer map. It may actually benefit the customer. If I want to change my address, do I want to speak to somebody by changing my address? No I want to go in, I want to punch it in and I want to hit submit and let it go.

Gabe Larsen: (18:25)
I think the problem people are running into is because it’s such a trendy word now, I think I’ve run into this in the past a little bit is you’re like, well, let’s throw a bot on our website or let’s throw a bot somewhere and you don’t watch the rest of that customer journey and that’s where you drop off on kind of points two and three. We have a bot, but the experience actually got worse because we didn’t help them.

Vikas Bhambri: (18:42)
I think like anything, A, you need to AB test, and B, you need to do the what if scenario. What if a customer wants to do this? What if they do that, and you need to really think it through. But the easy thing to do is just… you almost need like a program management around iit.

Gabe Larsen: (18:59)
You really do. What I learned in my last gig is, we got a bot and it was cool. We threw it up there and pretty soon I was like, I need someone to own this and own the journey. It’s not just a side gig that someone else can do by themselves..

Vikas Bhambri: (19:16)
Like in marketing, right? You have somebody who does your search engine optimization. You need a bot optimizer.

Gabe Larsen: (19:28)
So flip the other way then. Is there a reason or a method to go to a human, then to a bot? Is that in our future, that certainly would be kind of a side scenario or side use case. But is anybody doing that? No.

Vikas Bhambri: (19:47)
No. I don’t think anybody’s doing that. I think right now it’s about bot to human. But where I think is a missed opportunity in the near term is to empower that agent with more choice for automation, where they can do things. And you’re seeing in some industries I think TELCO is actually ahead of this where your agent will take action on your behalf, like so you don’t have to get up and reboot your cable box. There’ll be like, we can do it from our side.

Vikas Bhambri: (20:19)
It’s things that financial service institutions are able to do, where the agent can initiate fraud detection and things like that. So I do think there is things happening on that side, but I’d like to see more of that across the board.

Gabe Larsen: (20:31)
See if we can’t bring that together. Okay, last two questions and I’ll let you get back to your day job. So one is for people who are starting to go down this journey, human versus bot, I think you’ve given them a lot of material. Where would you kind of say, if you’re starting this journey, here’s a couple things I think about or if you start, here’s the baby step you could do now, what’s kind of that easy step that you could take starting the journey of maybe getting a bot into your program and your customer service journey?

Vikas Bhambri: (20:59)
I would start with my knowledge base, your FAQ’s. The reason I think people should be putting FAQ’s or their knowledge base together is they’re like, oh this stuff is so darn easy that I expect my customers can do it themselves. So start there and start putting that into your initial bot journey. Where you’re basically pointing them to existing artifacts, things that exist. And then as you start triaging through those, then it’s like what are the next level of… let’s actually sit down with the agents or the reporting, and look at what are people reaching out to us about. And ideally you want to look at the end of the day, you want to fix the end solution. But if you can’t do that in the near term, what can we do that can automate the solution.

Gabe Larsen: (21:54)
I love that, I love that. That’s a great place to start. Okay. Last question is, we touched on it a little bit before, but there’s a lot of movement in the space. A lot of new technology is coming out, all different languages. Obviously some buzzwords. Any kind of predictions as you move into the future, thinking about humans, bots, anything kind of on your mind that says, I think it’d be fascinating if we saw X or Y in the future as bots evolve and iterate?

Vikas Bhambri: (22:20)
I think the biggest thing is, how much data can we feed? What I mean by that is, look, if I’m on my mobile device and you’ve got so much information, whether we believe it or not, the brand potentially has access to my geolocation. They have access to certain data about me on my phone. They have a profile on me. They understand the question I may be asking. Where to me almost get to the point where you’re doing predictive analysis. Before I even ask you my question, you know the question I’m going to ask because we have so much data about you. So we’re like, wait a minute, most of the time when somebody is reaching out to us, I’m an airline, and when you’re reaching out to me from an airport. The moment I kind of initiate that, you should be like, “Oh Mr. Barry, I see you’re booked on the flight from Orlando to New York because, and I know you’re in the airport right now. You know what we’ve already rebooked you, just head over to gate 43.” That’s the Nirvana.

Gabe Larsen: (23:28)
You know the funny thing is I used to be nervous a little bit about the data thing and giving too much data, but now I’m like, I want to give, and I think there’s people like me in this world who are willing to give up less privacy. They’ll have less privacy to get better service, to get more personalization. I’m like, dude take my social security number and take whatever you want, but give me that type of service.

Vikas Bhambri: (23:51)
I think that’s ultimately it. Like look, GDPR, you’ve seen the California Consumer Privacy Act, all of this stuff, people are still hitting every website. You know, I was in Europe, and every website comes up with a pop up and everybody hits accept. Why? Because I’m giving you data because at the end of the day I’m hoping you’re going to market to me better, sell to me more intelligently or are you going to give me better service. There will always be people that will opt out. Most people think, “if you’re going to offer me more value, I’m willing to give that.” And there is so much you can do with it to benefit the consumer.

Gabe Larsen: (24:31)
Could you be proactive? You’ve heard some of those stories where you know people are the target. Did you hear the target story where they were buying this family was buying different things and then they sent them like a gift card or a coupon for… I won’t get into the details, but basically send them a coupon and they were like, “Hey, we’re not, we’re not actually experiencing that. We’re not doing it.” Well they went and asked their daughter, and it sounded like that person is sick or is not working. But based on the behavior, their AI triggered, and sent a coupon for something, this father got it so it can get a little bit out of hand. But my goodness, the stuff you can do with data, wow. You can take this pretty far.

Gabe Larsen: (25:17)
Cool man. Well, I appreciate it. So if someone wants to get in touch with you, learn a little bit more about what you do, you know, continue the dialogue, what’s the best way to do that?

Vikas Bhambri: (25:26)
LinkedIn is always a great place to hit me up. You can hit me up at as well, either or.

Gabe Larsen: (25:34)
Love it, man. Well, I appreciate you joining. Great times. Audience, have a fantastic day.

Exit Voice: (25:47)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.


Encouraging Loyalty in Challenging Times with John DiJulius

Encouraging Loyalty in Challenging Times with John DiJulius TW

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe Larsen is joined by John DiJulius of The DiJulius Group to discuss customer loyalty, growth preparation, and employee management. John is an entrepreneur and has three businesses. However, most of his time and attention goes to The DiJulius Group, a customer experience consulting firm. He has written several books from Secret Service, The Customer Service Revolution to The Relationship Economy. As a keynote speaker, John is committed to helping people understand customer experience and he strives to improve that aspect within businesses. He shares insights with Gabe Larsen and emphasizes customer service principles to focus on amidst dealing with today’s pandemic. Listen to the full podcast below.

Why a Recession is Good for Businesses

The current COVID-19 pandemic has hit the economy very hard. From large scale operations to brick and mortar businesses, everyone is feeling the impact. The last big recession was in 2008 and no one wants to relive that. However, John DiJulius recently wrote an article about how to prepare for a recession and in his discussion with Gabe, he explains why recessions can be good for businesses. He starts by saying, “One of my favorite, but also least favorite, quotes is ‘nothing ruins a company’s customer experience faster than rapid growth.’ … I can’t tell you how many companies in the past year that have hired us and the reason why is because they’ve gone through incredible growth and they got away from the soul of their startup.” While it is never ideal to be in financial trouble, John suggests that it’s a good time for business to hone in on providing quality customer service.

This can also be a great time for creative thinking and focused efforts on ideas and projects that were brushed aside in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We can use this downtime to dive deep into the details of the company. John adds this statement of hope: “I believe that now that we have the opportunity to do this, we’re going to come out of maybe third or fourth quarter 2020 better. And I know that 2021 is going to be a better year as a result of this opportunity than had we not gone through this crisis and never been temporarily shut down or paused.”

Showing Compassion to Your Customers

Strong leadership and management will also be essential for any business to survive the pandemic. By keeping the needs of customers at the center of managerial focus, companies will be able to maintain customer loyalty. John suggests ceasing sales messages and emails; instead, companies should reach out to customers with kindness and concern. While airlines might have a bad reputation when it comes to customer service, John quotes them as being an example of how to care for customers in these challenging times. He states, “the U.S. airlines came out and did it right. I mean they did it weeks ago saying, ‘Hey, if you need to change your flight there will not be a fee.’” Now, more than ever, it is essential that customers know you care. The kind of transparency and compassion the U.S. airlines showed is what customers are looking for. Further, it will be a great way to drive customer loyalty throughout the recession.

Necessary Leadership Skills to Care for Employees

Intense fear of the unknown is looming in communities everywhere. Employees are particularly troubled about their vulnerability and being subject to the actions of their employers. By being transparent and not being afraid to over-communicate, leaders will be able to maintain the loyalty of their employees. Also, being clear about the company plan and the motives behind it will eradicate some of the fear and anxiety employees have been experiencing. Transparency and communication will be some of the most important leadership skills practiced at this time.

Adding to the principle of transparency, John also recommends “making sure that we’re giving our employees resources. Resources to immediately get on unemployment if that’s the case. Resources to immediately know what their health benefits are.” This will continue the chain of communication and let employees know that their employers care about them and their well being in this troubling time. John continues to note that candid CEOs help increase connection and a sense of normalcy. The pandemic and recession are only temporary, but the actions of company leadership will either keep customers and employees loyal, or drive them away.

To learn more about leadership recommendations and how to encourage employee and customer loyalty in a pandemic, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.


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Full Episode Transcript:

Encouraging Loyalty in Challenging Times with John DiJulius

Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
All right, welcome everybody. Today we’re going to be talking about a lot of different things about customer service. It’s a timely topic about managing in times of change, as well as this idea of being recession-proof. How do you focus on the customer to become more ready and prevalent in this ever-changing business environment that we have right now? To do that, we brought on John DiJulius, a man of many talents. Currently the presidents of the DiJulius Group. Excuse me, John, but he’s also a book author. He’s got multiple books out. One of his latest is called “The Relationship Economy.” We’re going to touch on that hopefully just a little bit today, but we’re going to be dancing around multiple topics. John, really appreciate you joining and how are you?

John DiJulius: (00:54)
Thank you. I’m doing great. Thanks for having me.

Gabe Larsen: (00:56)
Yeah, I’m excited. Can you tell us just a little bit more about — there’s so many multifaceted topics, can you give us just maybe one more click on who you are and what you do?

John DiJulius: (01:05)
I’m an entrepreneur. The past 30 years I have grown three businesses. My primary is the DiJulius Group where we are only a customer service/employee experience consulting firm. And we just work with some of the best of the best and helping them become the brand customers can’t live without, and ultimately make price irrelevant in normal times.

Gabe Larsen: (01:34)
I love it. I love it. Well I think that’s very fitting for today’s conversation. So, let’s dive in and then we can kind of tie in a couple of different concepts. So big picture, we were just talking about an article and we can start there. You’d call it how to make your business recession proof. I don’t know if you saw it coming, but maybe give a big picture thought on kind of the current environment we’re working and how companies should be thinking about it.

John DiJulius: (01:57)
Yeah, before this Coronavirus crisis, I wrote an article because I knew… well I wasn’t predicting it, but it doesn’t take a genius to know that everything’s cyclical. So I wrote an article saying it’s time to recession proof your business. And I might be the only person that says this, but I say it all the time. I enjoy a recession, okay? And I don’t like any of the financial crippling it does to people and jobs and all that. But as a business owner, there are so many benefits. So, let’s look at the negatives from a booming economy: Even one of my favorite but also least favorite quotes is “nothing ruins a company’s customer experience faster than rapid growth.” And think about that: We’ve gone through it. I can’t tell you how many companies in the past year that have hired us and the reason why is because they’ve gone through incredible growth and they got away from the soul of their startup. And when we started, we were able to interview 10 people to get the right person. Well, now when we’re growing by leaps and bounds, and we need 50, and we’re interviewing 55 and saying, well he’s not the best for us, but of the candidates here, he’s the best, so take him. We start talking about, you know, “What about Joe who’s underperforming and doesn’t get it?“ Well, we’ll work with him.

John DiJulius: (03:39)
Because not only can we not afford to lose Joe, we need 10 more of him. And all those things. You start fast tracking, you start compromising and the growth is intoxicating, and we all want it. But you wake up and you look around and you’re like, who are these people? This wasn’t the company I built. So, what are the opportunities when you go through a recession? This has been especially prevalent the last three years, it’s been an employee market where there’s been more jobs available than employees. And turnover in 2019 was an all-time high and all these things. So now people got to pay $15 an hour for a $12 an hour job, and may not be getting the best candidates.

John DiJulius: (04:30)
So this stuff all becomes cyclical and now it becomes an employer market, where there are more people out there and better opportunities to choose from. You start making decisions that getting rid of things and fat and silly expenses that we shouldn’t have been doing anyway. And so, it forces you to make decisions. And it always cleans out your competition. I always say a recession is like a business enema and there’s a lot of shitty businesses that are having success. So, when the economy is doing good and so the old quote “even a turkey can fly in a tornado… But when that tornado stops flying, the turkeys start dropping.” So, the people that have worked on customer loyalty and employee loyalty really shine and emerge as the leaders of the business. So, sorry, that was a long answer.

Gabe Larsen: (05:31)
No, I love the setup. I think that’s, I mean the turkey, I’ve never heard this statement with the turkey and the tornado. I’m just going to trust you.

John DiJulius: (05:38)
I’m going to say I made it up.

Gabe Larsen: (05:41)
I love it. So, as you think about some of the things that people can do as these times get difficult, the enema example; it is a time to reflect and cut back the fat, trim the fat maybe refocus in areas. I know we were talking a little bit about that as we jumped on here. How would you coach organizations to start thinking about doing that so that in the next month’s here, they maybe can come out of this a little more on top than they would have?

John DiJulius: (06:11)
Well, the first thing is our leadership, our customer experience, and their employee experience need to all be on center stage. And we have got to be careful with these knee jerk reactions. We businesses probably have to close, hopefully temporarily, and lay off people, or ask people to take one day less, whatever. We don’t know when it’s going to stop and how severe it could be, but man, do we have to do it with empathy and compassion and make sure — and we have to walk a fine line as leaders of transparency and fear. I was talking to a CEO yesterday that had to make some major cuts. And one of his employees that got cut or laid off said, “Yeah, that’s so the company can have a stronger bottom line.”

John DiJulius: (07:07)
That’s not true. So we have got to be transparent and say, look, the reason why we’re doing this is because we want to make sure you have a company to come back to in 90 days and we have to be going into our lines of credit and we have to do these things. So, we need to be transparent in what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it without also causing panic. But I think great leaders right now need to show that they were born for this moment. I love moments like this because I think this is when I operate best. I don’t want to always be in this moment, but I think this is when, while everyone else was running around with their head cut off, I act like this is, I knew we were going to be here.

John DiJulius: (07:53)
I didn’t know when, I didn’t know how, but I knew this was, and we’re prepared for it and we’re going to get through it. And you couldn’t be working with, or for a better brand to help you and us get through this. And so, knee jerk reactions, like with events being canceled and all these things, whether it be a speaker’s or conferences or venues or hotels that first try to enforce their contracts. That’s crazy. And then they’re getting into pissing matches, saying, “Hey, this is not considered forced majeure.” Listen, this is going to die down. People are going to have to have their events again in six months and into 2021 and they’re going to remember how you treated them and no court in the world is going to enforce a penalty or anything like that.

John DiJulius: (08:51)
So I think it’s really a burden. And the really embarrassing thing is, I can’t believe I’m saying this and using them as an example, but that the U.S. airlines came out and did it right. I mean they did it weeks ago saying, “Hey, if you need to change your flight there will not be a fee.” I mean they were probably one of the first. They’re usually the butt of everyone’s jokes and it’s pretty sad that they’re the ones that are showing the way right now. Which, give them credit.

Gabe Larsen: (09:22)
Do you feel like… let’s double click on that because I think that’s a question that people have struggled with in challenging times: How do you work with your customer? You were kind of joking saying you probably shouldn’t go after him and that small fine print clause attack them. Given your seed away and given your pants, you have all my stuff for free for the next 12 months. Maybe not, that’s the other extreme. Is it just a partnership? Come on man, be real, is there a middle ground that you’d advocate for? How do people find that middle ground?

John DiJulius: (09:56)
Yeah, I think the first thing is back off on the sales and pitching because I’m even really offended by like “dude, you’re really emailing me right now about upselling me on something while I’m trying to work through this mess and I’m worried about employees and their families and keeping food on their table?” I just think it’s insensitive, I think we need to reach out to our customers and say, “what can we do for you? What’s the best thing you need? Is it a pause? How can we best serve you?” And I think there’s great opportunity to also step up and give back to the community.

John DiJulius: (10:40)
I’ll give you an example of that. A couple of things that we’re doing and obviously you and your customers can figure out how that applies in their world. But the first thing we did was we reached out to our consulting clients and said, “listen, number one, everyone’s going crazy and because of your loyalty I want to offer your leaders a free leadership webinar on what they need to do, and the face they need to be wearing.” Even if that means when they’re not in front of their employees, they have to curl up in the fetal position and cry. We have to show the employees that we’re right where we want to be, and we have our competitors right where we want to be.

John DiJulius: (11:27)
But then the second so I said, that’s complimentary I want to give to you and listen, while it might be generous, what else am I doing right now for the next few weeks? It’s not like it’s — so I want to give back. The second thing is we have offered our clients, if you want to pause right now, we can pause. If you want to, since we can’t come out there, turn it into virtual consulting, we have that capability. It’s totally your call. And then the final thing that we thought of that one of my employees thought of, which was just brilliant, and again, this isn’t about the DiJulius Group, I’m just trying to give your audience ways to do this. So, we have an online education format that companies take and train their employees.

John DiJulius: (12:13)
But with all of these restaurants, with all these small brick and mortars, or mom and pops closing temporarily, hopefully, it’s scary times. We’re offering, we’re rolling out our online modules to all these small mom and pops to say, take advantage of the downtime and give this to your employees. And again, selfishly if you think about it doesn’t cost us anything. Okay, we’re not going to lose revenue because mom and pops don’t hire us. But we are giving back to them and hopefully doing something that’s valuable to them, because they’re in a horrible position right now.

Gabe Larsen: (12:58)
Yeah, I love that. I just find like finding that balance, looking at it more of a partnership. How do we give more than we get I think is something we’ve got to be kind of thinking about to make this more of a structured environment. I think that’s just some of the things we’ve got to kind of nail down.

John DiJulius: (13:15)
And also in my examples, I want to be clear. Again, none of them are going to cost me or my team anything, so it wasn’t like we are saying, “Hey, give it for free and lose revenue.” No, that’s the last thing we can afford. But these are things that are really about us having either downtime or available online modules that really don’t have a higher cost to us, to customers that would never be our customer. So, it’s not like you would have you’re getting a free and now you’re not going to ever use us. The mom and pops that were all small businesses wouldn’t hire us anyway, so we’re not losing future revenue.

Gabe Larsen: (13:54)
I love that. I love that. One other thing you touched on, and I just wanted to see if we could click on that for a second, was that leadership and the employee side of it, right? So, okay, we got a couple of customer things. Let’s go back to the employee. Got a lot of leaders listening in and trying to figure out this “in environment.” How do I coach and care about the individual? How do I also manage my business? The transparency versus —

John DiJulius: (14:16)
Fear. Panic.

Gabe Larsen: (14:20)
Fear costs. How do I make sure I give enough information about the company but not again — I think your word fear and panic are right. DoubleClick that. How are you finding ways? What coaching would you provide organization’s leaders to make sure they manage that employee the right way?

John DiJulius: (14:35)
And I think you can’t over communicate enough right now. I think the CEO needs to be visible and doing videos and sending out to his employees or her employees and every leader, because some people don’t have access to the CEO, but you might be my GM, you might be my shift manager, whatever it may be… And so, you’re the CEO to me. And just constantly, because worse than what is happening is the fear of the unknown. And that is the other shoe going. I’m waiting for you to come in and tell me that we’re out of business or we’re closing, or I’m permanently laid off. And you can’t promise what’s going to happen in six months or 90 days because we hope that it’s not going to last long.

John DiJulius: (15:25)
All you can do is say, “Hey, here’s our plan and here’s why. I want you to understand why we are taking these steps.” And the other thing that is really — is making sure that we’re giving our employees resources. Resources to immediately get on unemployment if that’s the case. Resources to immediately know what their health benefits are. Because I believe health benefits are still enacted versus traditional times when you lay off someone, they could lose their health benefits and they have to go on Cobra or whatever. I believe that that isn’t the case, because that’s what they’re scared of. Also, something that’s been really, really good is teaching our employees how to deal with it personally, and give him education saying, “listen, we all know what we have to do right now to be safe and avoid.”

John DiJulius: (16:17)
And the thing you don’t need to be doing is checking headline news every five seconds and being on social media too much because the numbers can never go down. They can only go up. So, when you hear other people, a hundred people were infected or whatever it is, and then you hear another industry is forced to close, that’s not helping. As long as you’re not being irresponsible and going out and not practicing social distancing. So now, what to do and teaching them “Hey, take advantage of this time.” Like I told you, when we got out, we’re playing the DiJulius family olympics and we’re going through old pictures and I’m showing my kids my home videos, they’re black and white when I was a little kid.

Gabe Larsen: (17:09)
Come on, they’re not black and white?

John DiJulius: (17:09)
They are, they are. Yeah, but it’s funny, my kids are calling me, they’ll say, “Hey Dad, I thought you had to walk to school both ways up-hill and snow without shoes?” “That, Oh, we don’t have footage of that.” But to see the hairstyles and making fun of dad because his hair was feathered back like it was in the late seventies, early eighties. It’s taking advantage — I think whether it’s God, nature or fate, I think this has a way of giving us a wakeup call saying that we’re out of balance here and we need to get back to that human nature.

Gabe Larsen: (17:52)
Is there something that they’re almost, does feel like there’s a little something bigger of like we need to kind of take a step back as people, individuals, families, groups, and kind of figure out what’s most important. And you’ve seen — I’ve heard some amazing stories of people kind of coming to a better relationship or truth or understanding because they have just said, you know what, it’s the first time I’ve taken a deep breath in five years and I’m going to do things different.

John DiJulius: (18:16)
Yeah. I call it the holidays. It is the holidays right now without the chaos, the mess or the third cousin that we really didn’t want to have to entertain. It’s the best part of the holidays where you play games and look at pictures and videos. Another thing that we’re doing is we’re doing DiJulius family trivia game. So everyone has to think of five questions and see who knows the most. And it’s just, it’s kind of cool stuff now, but let’s take that to the business realm. Listen, I could speak for myself. My business, I have three, we started looking at — there’s several things that it’s been shame on us that I have been mad at; throwing erasers at chalk boards that we haven’t gotten to, that we should have three years ago.

John DiJulius: (19:10)
The next evolution, the next, the better service or product, all these. But none of us can because we’re so busy with the day to day fulfilling customers and our jobs. And all of a sudden, we’ve just created the time to do these things to work on the next innovation that we know was critical to our evolution and revenue stream. I believe that now that we have the opportunity to do this, we’re going to come out of maybe third or fourth quarter 2020 better. And I know that 2021 is going to be a better year as a result of this opportunity than had we not gone through this crisis and never been temporarily shut down or paused.

Gabe Larsen: (19:56)
I love it. I love it. I think that’s As you have the time to pause, make sure you use it effectively, because when this thing ends and it’s going to end, come out on top, find a way to make sure 2021 is a big hit. So, John, I love it. I love the talk track. I appreciate it. It’s very relevant. It’s very contextual. John and I were going to be talking about something different today, but we thought, you know what, all that’s been going on the last months, weeks for wherever you are, that this would be more interesting. And I thought you nailed it John. So, if someone wants to learn a little bit more about you, the DiJulius Group, what you guys do, what’s the best way to do that?

John DiJulius: (20:31)
They can go to or they can email me

Gabe Larsen: (20:39)
Okay, well really appreciate it, John. Fun talk track, and for the audience – have a fantastic day and do be safe!

John DiJulius: (20:46)
Thank you for having me.

Exit Voice: (20:55)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.


How to Focus on the Right Customers for a Strategic Advantage with Peter Fader

How to Focus on the Right Customers for a Strategic Advantage with Peter Fader Twitter

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe Larsen is joined by Peter Fader to discuss the different types of customers and how to have customer centricity. Peter is a professor in the Marketing Department at the Wharton University of Pennsylvania. He also consults and works in many different markets, from telecommunications to financial services. His most recent startup, Theta Equity Partners, helps organizations evaluate their worth based on the worth of their customers. Peter’s philosophies are centered around the lifetime value of customers and sales forecasting for products. His ideas are new, innovative, and are bringing about positive changes in the industry. Peter is also the author of the book Customer Centricity: Focus on the Right Customers for Strategic Advantage and its principles are the focus of the discussion in this episode. Listen to the full podcast below.

Not All Customers are Created Equal

Most organizations are focused on making sure that every customer is happy, satisfied, and motivated to continue buying their product. While this is a good focal point, customer service and customer treatment cannot be “one-size-fits-all” because all consumers are created differently. While equal treatment is normally the goal, Peter suggests the opposite to help businesses grow. He states, “we’ve got to really focus more on . . . the right customers, on the ones that we project to be more valuable. And by investing our marketing and other assets where the value is going to be generated, we will do much better than the kind of one size fits all . . . practices that we’ll see [from] a lot of companies.” Peter further mentions that by creating different levels for customers, they will get the treatment they want and deserve.

Questions to Determine How to Segment Customers

Determining the type of customer treatment starts with evaluating customers and determining how their worth can contribute to the worth of the company. Instead of segmenting customers into groups according to demographic, organizations need to look at the worth that a customer could bring or the amount of time they are projected to stay with the company. Peter states that these behavioral patterns are the best way to segment. The following questions are suggested by Peter to determine the lifetime value of customers.

“How long is this customer going to stay with us? Over that horizon, how many purchases will they make? And how much will we earn off of them on each of those transactions?” Companies who make decisions based on the value and behavior patterns of their customers separate themselves from other companies and they will see more success.

The Link Between CFO and Customer Valuation

For the rest of the podcast, Peter and Gabe discuss the importance of the finance department in a business, specifically the role of the CFO. Most innovations or new ideas are stopped by the finance department. However, with Peter’s model of seeking out the value of the consumers, it creates more hard evidence and space for the finance department to get on board. Peter recalls:

“If we can show the CFO that she can do a better job of valuing the entire company from the bottom-up, by projecting the number of customers they are going to acquire and the value that will derive from them, and go to Wall Street and say this is what we’re really worth, then we’re going to win her respect and then it’s going to spill over across the organization. And we’ve been doing that for real and it’s been amazing how well that’s been working.”

Peter’s “customer-based corporate valuation” tactics are winning over CFO’s and helping companies evolve and do more for their customers. By linking all these different corporate aspects, with the focus on customers with predictable behavior patterns and differential treatment, companies are innovating and expanding. It is a successful new model of thinking and as Peter said, “[it’s] been working.”

To learn more about customer centricity, how to focus on the right customer and what to do about it, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.


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Full Episode Transcript:

How to Focus on the Right Customers for a Strategic Advantage with Peter Fader

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 podcast. Today we’re going to be talking about customer centricity. And to do that, we brought on Peter Fader. He’s currently the professor of marketing at the Wharton School out there in Pennsylvania. He is also the co-author of a couple of books. One that I actually ordered when I reached out to him called Customer Centricity, focusing on the right customers for strategic advantage and he also advises some startups. So, a man of many talents. Peter, thanks for joining. How are you?

Peter Fader: (00:37)
Oh, I’m doing great Gabe. Good to talk to you about this topic and other related ideas.

Gabe Larsen: (00:44)
Yeah, yeah, I love the idea of customer centricity. I did a little bit of an intro. Anything you’d add or explain as far as your background, some of the fun things you’re working on?

Peter Fader: (00:54)
Yeah, in addition to all the academic work, which is the day job, developing models, professing to others. Not only advising startups, but I’ve actually co-founded a couple of startups to take these ideas and methods and bring them to life at full commercial scale. So what we’re going to talk about here might seem a little radical, might seem unconventional, but it’s proven and it’s been quite successful so far.

Gabe Larsen: (01:20)
I love it. I love it. Interesting. Well, let’s dive right in. Start big picture for us. I mean, people use different words, customer engagement, customer service, experience. You talk a lot about customer centricity, big picture, what does it mean to you? How do you define it?

Peter Fader: (01:35)
Yeah, I have to tell you, Gabe, it’s a very bad choice of words and I mean that sincerely. I look back at the book, which has been very, very good. It’s sold a lot and people have been, like yourself, have been reading it and intrigued by it, but the title doesn’t do justice to it. In fact, I think, I don’t know if you have a copy of it in front of you right there, but Gabe what’s the subtitle of the book? That tells us what it’s all about.

Gabe Larsen: (01:59)
Yeah. Yeah, it does say here it’s the focus on the right customers for strategic advantage. Does that, that’s kind of where you’re at.

Peter Fader: (02:06)
So we’re talking about exactly the idea that not all customers are created equal. And it’s not just a matter of being centered around the customer. It’s rather being engaged with, intimate with, responsive to, providing experiences to, the customer and some faceless, nameless, one size fits all way. It’s recognizing the vast differences across them, the disproportional value that some bring. Say, we’ve got to really focus more on those, on the right customers, on the ones that we project to be more valuable. And by investing our marketing and other assets where the value is going to be generated, we will do much better than the kind of one size fits all we love everybody, kind of practices that we’ll see for a lot of companies.

Gabe Larsen: (02:59)
Interesting. So do you feel like — certainly, we, I think for a long time we’ve operated in the world where we all treat customers kind of the same way. It’s that vanilla-type experience. What are the challenges for trying to do this? To actually get to a place where you treat customers either the way they want to be treated or specifically based on their need?

Peter Fader: (03:23)
That’s is the challenge and that’s what keeps me gainfully employed, keeps me in the streets. The challenge is to recognize or at least project what each customer is going to be worth in the future. See, too often we base our customer management strategies either on the past like what did they do with us? Or on totally irrelevant cues. Like are they millennials or gen Xers, or demographics? The real way to value manage your customers is based on, what do we think they’re going to be worth? In other words, how long do we think they’re going to stay with us? How many transactions are they gonna make over that horizon? How much are they going to spend? How much margin are we going to make? In the old days, it was impossible to do that. You couldn’t tag and track and project your customers nearly as well as we can do today. And so we wouldn’t even go there and anyone who would try to do it would be laughed out of the room. But today, given the kind of data that we have, given the kinds of analytics that we can lay on top of it, and given the kinds of technologies that then let us serve up different kinds of experiences, and products, and messages to different kinds of customers based on their value, we can do it; and it’s now a strategic imperative to do it. That’s the idea that I’m pushing.

Gabe Larsen: (04:40)
Wow. Wow. Interesting. If you just had to say, I mean obviously it’s your point, you’re gainfully employed, what percentage of companies are doing this to a level that you would say is, these guys are doing it world-class Gabe? Is it 5%? Just kind of a guesstimate on how the market is reacting to this, so to say.

Peter Fader: (05:03)
That’s a very interesting question that we got to ask. Where are we going to draw the line? Are we going to draw it at world-class? Are we gonna draw it at adequate to keep up with the changing times? So let’s, let’s first be a little bit more modest and talk about just those who are keeping up.

Gabe Larsen: (05:20)
Yeah. World-class is maybe… Yeah, that’s fair. That’s fair. Yeah, go ahead.

Peter Fader: (05:26)
And I’m happy to talk about world class too. It’s just that there aren’t a lot to talk about. And, the issue is this, and it’s an issue that comes up every podcast you do, every conversation you have, Amazon. And the funny thing is that even though Amazon touts itself as being the world’s most customer centric company and they’re not bad at it, that’s not their thing. Their thing is operational efficiency. Their thing is just being able to stock a lot of stuff, get it to the customer real quickly, keeping the prices low. They are operational efficiency, just incredible. They make an operational efficient firm like Walmart or Toyota look like they’re terrible. But, the amazing thing about Amazon, what really sets them apart, isn’t only that they turn the crank better than anyone, but in the process, they’ve also raised the bar on these ideas of customer engagement, intimacy, responsiveness. So Amazon is just a paragon of operational efficiency. And in the process they’ve actually raised the bar on all this — what we ever want to call it, customer centricity, customer engagement, customer intimacy, responsiveness — to the point where even though that’s not their truly main goal, it just arises as a side effect, a spillover from their operational efficiency. And, it makes it impossible for every other company to keep up on either dimension. So again, even though that’s not really what they do, although they’d like people to think about that; companies need to at least be at that level of understanding customers, how they’re different from each other and how the kinds of services and products that we put out there are going to be reasonably responsive to their differential wants and needs. And most companies are just really bad at it cause most companies, most retailers let’s say, are just chasing after Amazon on the efficiency side and not even coming close. And so they’re falling way behind on these other dimensions.

Gabe Larsen: (07:36)
Fascinating. Fascinating. Do you feel — so going again is a little more tactical then. So, you’ve talked about some of the tagging capabilities that allow people or brands, companies, to start to do this idea, start to treat people slightly different. What are the most typical or the recommended ways to segment customers? Sounded like there were some bad practices; millennials for example.

Peter Fader: (08:02)

Gabe Larsen: (08:02)
Sounds like there’s some good practices

Peter Fader: (08:04)
There are. Well that’s again my thing is, let’s not segment people based on what they look like. Let’s not segment people based on necessarily what they’ve done or where they live or any of that. Let’s segment people on a good guess of what they think they’re going to be worth. Or, on the dimensions that are one level below that. So, like I said before, I focus on customer lifetime value, the overall future value of a customer; and that’s the Holy Grail. That’s the gold standard. That’s the best way to do it. But, that’s also, for a lot of people in companies, it’s kind of hard to get their brain around it. So, let’s just knock it down one level and, and break it down into the three or four dimensions that I mentioned before. How long is this customer going to stay with us? Over that horizon, how many purchases will they make? And how much will we earn off of them on each of those transactions? So, those three dimensions, that’s the basis of it. So, Hey, look, we’ve got some customers over here and they’re going to stay with us for a long time, but they’re not going to spend very often. We have some customers over here and they’re going to be come and go. But, when they’re with us, they’re going to spend a lot. And we have some customers over here who, well, they’re not going to buy very often, but when they do it’s going to be giant, giant purchases. So we want to segment people on these relevant behavioral—

Gabe Larsen: (09:34)
Behaviors, yep.

Peter Fader: (09:34)
—topics and we’d like to do it with an eye towards the future as opposed to the past. The past isn’t terribly misleading but it might be a somewhat distorted view of what they’re going to be doing as we move ahead.

Gabe Larsen: (09:50)
Now do you feel like, so once you’re able to segment based on some of those things and I love the idea like lifetime value for example, is the Holy Grail. That’s a great one. Do you, what is, how do you do it differently then? I mean, now that I know this, now that I’ve segmented it appropriately and I’ve got to use some different methodologies, technologies to potentially do that. Is it the more experienced agents? Do you do kind of the gold level, the gold standard experience for the bigger lifetime value customers? Finish that piece of it. How do you –?

Peter Fader: (10:21)
Sure thing. okay, let’s do it. Sure, so once we have our lifetime value magic wand and we wave it over each customer’s head and we see that number shining, then we put them in buckets based on, let’s say high, medium, low. So, you just mentioned the most obvious thing, which is let’s create the presidents, gold, metal, blue ribbon, red carpet club. Let’s give them this special 1-800 number. Let’s check in with them every now and again, make sure they’re happy. So that’s kind of a given. And a lot of companies get that even if they don’t do it particularly well, they don’t use the right basis segmentation or they don’t go far enough with it. So that’s step one. But when I’m looking at some of the best practice companies, it’s amazing how far this differential treatment will spill over.

Gabe Larsen: (11:08)

Peter Fader: (11:08)
So, a really good example would be, it should spill over all the way to product development. So instead of going to the R and D people say, Hey, R and D people come up with something cool that we’re going to sell a lot of. No, it’s, Hey R and D people. We’ve got these really valuable customers over here. Come up with something for them. We don’t mind if other people buy it too, but job one is to make sure that we maintain, enhance, extract the value from those really good customers and acquire more like them. So let’s come up with not just awesome products that will be good to the masses, but that will be especially appealing to the valuable customers. Let’s really double down on and give them differential treatment, not so much when it comes to customer service, but even when it comes to designing products in the first place.

Gabe Larsen: (12:01)
Wow. So basics on that front is, well maybe basics isn’t the right word, but foundationally speaking, yes, do the red carpet, blue ribbon type thing, 1-800 number. The next level on top of that is to actually sit down and say, from a product standpoint, how are we delivering something to that group that keeps them close to us and grows the relationship? Interesting.

Peter Fader: (12:25)
Of course, I endorsed what I just said, but I wouldn’t necessarily call that the next level.

Gabe Larsen: (12:31)
Oh, okay.

Peter Fader: (12:31)
It’s kind of a far off level.

Gabe Larsen: (12:33)
Oh, okay.

Peter Fader: (12:33)
So the first level is just to do it purely on the direct marketing and then customer service side. The second level would be to do it, let’s just go one step away from marketing. Let’s go to sales. So when we’re interacting with our sales people and when we’re incentivizing our salespeople, let’s encourage them not just to bring in as many customers as they can as cheaply as possible; let’s incentivize them to go after the valuable customers.

Gabe Larsen: (13:01)

Peter Fader: (13:01)
Let’s use lifetime value as the metric to guide and gauge their activities. Which salespeople kind of like. They don’t want to just bring in customers. They want to build relationships.

Gabe Larsen: (13:13)

Peter Fader: (13:13)
And so let’s use these lifetime value metrics for sales as well. So that’s one step away from marketing and then maybe the next step away would be on the supply chain. So as much as we want to deliver things quickly and cheaply to everyone, we’ve got to make sure that we get the stuff to the good customers in a way that’s even going to be fast and really reliable. So let’s tip our supply chain a little bit more towards them. So basically we take these ideas and have them diffuse through the organization one step at a time and product development is several steps away. And sometimes there’ll be a lot of pushback from those folks, but if we can win over enough parties within the organization. Now for me, the ultimate partner that we want to have would be finance. And all too often, the folks in finance are really, really skeptical of, if not downright disdainful of what’s going on in marketing. And so that’s been a Holy Grail for me personally, that’s been over finance and that’s what I’ve been doing lately and a lot of my recent research and my newest startup; the idea of customer based corporate valuation. If we can show the CFO that she can do a better job of valuing the entire company from the bottom up by projecting the number of customers they’re going to acquire and the value that will derive from them and go to Wall Street and say this is what we’re really worth. Then we’re going to win her respect and then it’s going to spill over across the organization. And we’ve been doing that for real and it’s been amazing how well that’s been working.

Gabe Larsen: (14:49)
Wow man it sounds like you’ve got your hands full, project here, project there, project there, project here. Ultimately, so this finance thing that you just talked about, maybe just one more click on that. So just bringing it all together, you get this kind of customer centric message and this customer, prioritization engine or model working and you’re really starting to focus on this as a strategic, go to market, what, what does that do different for the organization? Maybe that’s an obvious question, but are you seeing that, end outcome, you know, valuations are higher, end outcomes, the NPS scores are bigger, better, it’s lifetime value grows? All of that?

Peter Fader: (15:35)
All of the above. I’d be happy to give you the specifics on it. So, one thing just from a spreading of the gospel, like we said, we’re going to start with marketing, more over sales [inaudible], and so on. Once we get to finance, then these ideas, these practices, spread like wildfire through the organization. At that point, all of this — once the CFO nods their head and says, yeah, I’m on board with it, then all the other C level people are instantly bought in. I mean, let’s just face it. That’s the power and respect the CFO has in the organization. So it just helps spread the ideas. That’s number one. Number two, all of the stuff, the idea of building relationships for the long run instead of trying to squeeze as much money as we can out of our customers today goes against the grain of traditional Wall Street valuation procedures. It’s really hard for a company, for a CEO to stand up in front of Wall Street and say, trust me, our quarterly numbers aren’t that great, but just wait till what they’re going to look like in two years. But once you have this lens of customer base, corporate valuation, you can actually go to your external stakeholders and say, look at these customer assets. Maybe they’re not showing up on our balance sheet, but they’re real and hold us accountable for them. It’s a kind of thing that Jeff Bezos has been doing informally for for years, but now we’re showing how to do it formally where we’re really working with companies directly, with investors and saying, here are those future looking numbers. You should share them, you should hold yourself, and me, accountable for them. And it works.

Gabe Larsen: (17:14)

Peter Fader: (17:14)
So you get the external buy in as well and it really gives a jolt to these ideas that, I hate to say it, that no internal marketing activity can ever achieve.

Gabe Larsen: (17:29)

Peter Fader: (17:29)
So this is something I had never thought about. Like again, if you looked at my first book, there was never this notion at all, but the key to finding success in customer centricity is win over the CFO first.

Gabe Larsen: (17:41)
I love that. I love that.

Peter Fader: (17:43)
Again, this is what I’m seeing. So if you look at my new startup company called Theta Equity Partners,, it looks like a straight investor play and working with private equity firms and others, just to basically show the value of the customer base or the companies that they’re working with. We’re trying to make it distinctively appealing to them about, again, once they see the value of it, then they start to ask these questions. Wait a minute, wait a minute. Why has all this customer value plateaued? Is it that we’re not acquiring enough customers, they’re not staying long enough, not spending enough? So it starts getting the CFO to start asking marketing type questions and having a really productive conversation with the marketing folks instead of just saying, no, all the time.

Gabe Larsen: (18:35)
Boy, do I know that world. But I do find it fascinating Peter. Right. It’s kind of like the way the world finance has always been. It’s been more of the lag, I’m going to use lagging indicators. We always are looking back and what I’m hearing you say is if you guys can start to look at, I’m going to use the word broadly, like leading indicators, but maybe something that’s not your typical SaaS metric, for example. It’s more customer focused. That would be different.

Peter Fader: (19:04)
So, let’s spin it around. You mentioned just a few minutes ago, net promoter score. Well, so we’ve been spending a lot of time talking to the current holder of the flame of, of NPS. That’s Rob Markey at Bain Consultants.

Gabe Larsen: (19:20)
Yes, absolutely.

Peter Fader: (19:20)
He, along with Fred Reichheld, who first came up with the ideas, they’re not just standing still and just shouting about NPS and ending the conversation there. Rob, to his great credit, is thinking exactly along the lines that you just mentioned, which is let’s augment net promoter score with other forward looking customer metrics. Ones that are a little bit more behavioral and not just attitudinal, like NBS.

Gabe Larsen: (19:46)
I love it.

Peter Fader: (19:46)
Let’s figure out what metrics will be good indicators of how profitable and healthy our customer base is. And you know what? Let’s not just talk about them. Let’s not just insist that our clients look at them and disclose them. Well, let’s go to regulators. Let’s go to financial accounting standards boards and say, you know what? You should be mandating that every couple of weeks we should put these things out there.

Gabe Larsen: (20:14)
I love it, I love it. I love it. That’s so funny.

Peter Fader: (20:14)
Now this is real. If you go look at the current issue of the Harvard Business Review, Rob has an article and we basically have companion articles where he’s talking about the new loyalty economy and painting this picture about how the world has changed. And then we have this companion piece about customer base, corporate valuation. This is my partner in crime, Dan McCarthy and myself. And we both submitted letters literally to FASB, the financial accounting standards board, saying things have got to change; these metrics really work. We should really be having a conversation about which one should be disclosed, what caveat should be associated with them, what investors should or shouldn’t be doing with them. We’re really, really serious about this. And, it’s really taking off, I mean, just in the last year or two, it’s amazing how much progress we’ve had and it’s just beautiful how we’re building the bridge between marketing and finance in a way that it was just really inconceivable just a couple of years ago.

Gabe Larsen: (21:15)
Yeah. This is, I’m looking at the Harvard business review, you guys. Interesting. Well, I know, I know we’ve got a hard stop here, so let’s, let’s let you jump. But wow, real interesting dialogue. If someone wants to, Peter, learn just a little bit more about some of the things we’ve talked about or learn a little bit more about you. What’s the best way to do that anywhere you’d send them.

Peter Fader: (21:35)
So, three different directions. So there’s me personally, so I’m always tweeting about this stuff @faderp, love to connect with people on LinkedIn, keep the conversation going there. Then there’s the day job if you go to you see my Wharton faculty page and all the research, teaching stuff. And then as I mentioned, there’s the new startup, where would we have all these wonderful case studies of how we’ve valued publicly traded companies from the bottom up using these marketing metrics. So lots of different things. They might seem kind of different and unrelated, but they really do come together and paint this picture of what customer centricity is and what it should be.

Gabe Larsen: (22:18)
I really think that’s forward thinking, Peter. I mean, we’ve been looking backward long enough, so I appreciate your work. I’ll have to check some of that out. I had gotten your book, but I was truthfully not aware of some of these other projects. So I appreciate you taking the time.

Peter Fader: (22:29)
And Gabe, I appreciate your giving me the opportunity to talk about it.

Gabe Larsen: (22:32)
Alrighty well we’ll let that, and I’m sure the audience appreciates it. And for both of you, have a fantastic day.

Exit Voice: (22:46)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.


Being Prepared in a Time of Crisis with Dr. Merilee Larsen

Podcast: Being Prepared in a Time of Crisis with Dr. Merilee Larsen TW

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe Larsen invites Dr. Merilee Larsen to discuss the essential and non essential things we need in this time of crisis and how we can be prepared. Merilee is the Assistant Professor at Utah Valley University. Her background is in disaster thinking and education. She has been at Utah Valley University for 20 years and within that time, she has switched from Emergency Medical Services to Public Health. Dr. Larsen has a Masters in Public Health and a Doctorate in Health Education. She is very authoritative on crisis prevention and, during her time with Gabe, she shared some valuable insights for all.

Fear, Hoarding, and What You Actually Need

It has been very clear that the current COVID-19 pandemic has struck fear into the American public and citizens of all nations. The United States has experienced an interesting side effect of the pandemic: excessive purchasing at grocery stores. On that note, Merilee did an experiment with her social media followers. She wanted to determine which items were out of stock and the location tied to that shortage. Dr. Larsen found that cleaning products are out of stock in most places, but results also showed that the Midwest has been buying superfluous amounts of toilet paper. Merilee also mentioned that the excessive shopping and hoarding of items, like toilet paper, is driven by fear. It has become a trend that people participate in because they see others doing it. She states, “I have a friend who went to the store to get paper cups and came home with $300 worth of groceries. And when I said, ‘Well, why did you do this?’ She said, ‘Well, everybody else was doing it and I didn’t know what to do.’”

The solution is not to hoard. Rather, we should be preparing for a 14 day quarantine. Merilee clearly states that we need to have a good food supply. Fruits and vegetables, non perishable items, and a sweet treat to help on tough days. While having an abundance of toilet paper isn’t necessary, she recommends focusing on other toiletries like shampoo or toothpaste and staying on top of prescription medications. By focusing on the daily essentials without hyper focusing on toilet paper, people will be more prepared and less stressed for the coming weeks.

Physical and Mental Health Tips

In her dialogue with Gabe, Dr. Larsen gives listeners a suggestion to promote physical health: we should be washing our hands for at least 20 seconds. While this is simple, it will make a big difference. The disease spreads when “droplets” land on a surface, a person touches those surfaces and then that person proceeds to touch their face. By washing your hands, it is less likely for the virus to spread. On top of that, daily physical exercise is recommended not only for physical health, but especially for mental health. Combined with good nutrition, exercise can help calm a lot of the symptoms of anxiety and depression. In addition, because of the need for isolation and the extended time people are spending with their families, Merilee recommends having a family mental health plan. She states, “Talk over this with your families. Make sure that there’s a plan so you guys can handle being in close quarters together or with your roommates or wherever you’re at. … Have a plan for conflict and … a plan to handle anxiety and depression in your home.”

What is Social Distancing and How is the World Going to Change Because of the Pandemic?

Social distancing, the buzzword of 2020, is avoiding public places and large gatherings. Most states have regulated the size of gatherings or have been placed in a state of emergency. However, when people are required to leave their houses for certain things, like going to the grocery store, the public has been asked to be socially distant. When possible, it is recommended that we stay at least 6 feet apart.

Merilee adds a visual to social distancing, she says, “imagine as if you are holding a hula hoop around you. Don’t let anybody into your hula hoop space.” This prevents the spread of the virus further. Merilee and Gabe also comment on how society will change because of the pandemic. Isolation will probably become a common practice for the flu, the custom of shaking hands might go away and new social norms will appear. Businesses are learning to be flexible, and with technology, employees are becoming a “remote workforce.” Despite all these changes, Merilee is hopeful for the future. One of her final statements is: “I have high hopes for us. I hope that we can — I think we can come out of it, but yes, I think it will change how we are doing things and how we continue to do things.”

To learn more about individual and public health amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.


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Listen to “How to be Prepared in Times of Crisis | Dr. Merilee Larsen” on Spreaker.

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Full Episode Transcript:

Being Prepared in a Time of Crisis with Dr. Merilee Larsen

Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Hi, welcome everybody. We’re excited to dive in. I think this will be a fun talk track today. We’re going to be talking about preparedness during today’s crises. And to do that, we brought on Dr. Merilee Larsen, currently Assistant Professor of Public Health at Utah Valley University. Merille thanks for joining. How are you?

Merilee Larsen: (00:32)
Good, thanks Gabe. Thanks for having me on.

Gabe Larsen: (00:34)
Yeah, I think this will be obviously very timely. It’s a fun talk track. Before we dive in, maybe you could take just a minute and tell us a little bit about yourself and kind of your background.

Merilee Larsen: (00:45)
Sure. Thanks. Like you said, I am an Assistant Professor at Utah Valley University. I have been there for 20 years. I spent the first decade teaching in emergency services. So I have a background in EMS and emergency services and then the second half I have been in public health. So I have kind of an interesting combination of emergency services and planning and preparedness coupled with public health. I have a Master’s in public health and a Doctorate in health education that I got from Loma Linda University. And so my research base is in disaster thinking and in education. And that’s kind of my background.

Gabe Larsen: (01:27)
Well that’s very fitting because that seems to be where we are; the word disaster. A lot going on in the world and we want to dive into it. As we talked a little bit before we jumped on, right? I mean, obviously we have an interesting situation going on in the world today. Many business leaders kind of wondering what’s going on with this virus that’s going around. How can we be thinking about it? And so today we wanted to dive into that and figure out how can we think about preparedness in these times of crisis. So maybe let’s start big picture for a minute and I do want to narrow in a little bit on this Coronavirus. Maybe talk to us about just the basics of it. I think there are some spells about how do you get it, myths about how dangerous it is. Big picture, what’s going on here?

Merilee Larsen: (02:13)
Okay. So the Coronavirus or COVID-19, it is basically kind of a major virus. It can infect both animals and people. We have had outbreaks of coronaviruses in the past. If you think of like the SARS outbreak or, there’s a Middle East outbreak called MERS. Both of those we’ve had. Normally SARS type infections can cause very mild respiratory infections, like the common cold. But this particular virus is crazy. It’s kind of a gangbusters virus. So it’s big. Currently right now, CDC estimates in the United States, we have 300,000 infected as of today. So it’s pretty major. And the reason that’s so big is because it’s new. Nobody’s ever had it before. Nobody’s ever had this kind before. So it is highly transmissible and easy to get.

Gabe Larsen: (03:04)
Yeah. When you talk about the virus itself; anything that jumps out to you as things that… either ways people can get it or ways people can’t get it. I’ve heard some things about my kids swinging on a swing set, boxes coming from Amazon versus direct contact; sneezing, coughing. Any kind of thing you’d highlight there as people think about some of these different things that they’re trying to avoid in order to not get this?

Merilee Larsen: (03:36)
Sure. Well, things to avoid would be direct contact. Once you have it, you have these, basically droplets that you can breathe out or you can talk out or you cough or sneeze on somebody, which is super gross, and it travels through the air. So, most of these respiratory droplets, they just kind of fall to the ground in front of you. But if you’re in super close contact, you’re going to breathe them in or you’re going to get them on your hands and touch your eyeballs. If you’re a kid, you’re going to pick your nose. I mean, and you’re going to get sick. We don’t really know how long they can live on surfaces. Scientists are estimating three to four hours. So is there a little bit of a risk with going to the park or touching things that other people have touched? Yes. There’s a little bit of a risk, but there’s differences. Your Amazon boxes, you’re probably fine. They’re finding that it’s not living on cardboard for super long, but it can live on non porous surfaces. Like stainless steel, still up quite long there, but not on copper. So it just depends on what you’re touching really.

Gabe Larsen: (04:37)
I don’t know all the things that I’m touching. Now I’m thinking about it. [inaudible].

Merilee Larsen: (04:37)
Thank the Lord. Amazon, you’re fine. Prime, we’re going to all be okay. If we can’t get on prime we’re not getting it anywhere.

Gabe Larsen: (04:51)
That’s good, right? Obviously, everything is shutting down. That’s good. Kind of set the level. I know a lot of people read that, but just to kind of set the table. I think the more important thing is where do you go next? Right? So, knowing the times have changed, knowing that we are in a crisis situation, you are hearing things like people making a run for this crazy stuff going on with toilet paper. Right? And that being almost a psychological thing of preparedness. As you think about preparedness and thinking about the times we’re in, how should we be prepared or how can we prepare?

Merilee Larsen: (05:24)
Well, for starters, you’re not going to need this much toilet paper. You’re going to be fine. Everybody’s going to be fine. We need to back off the toilet paper, otherwise you’re going to be very hungry, but you’ll have tons of toilet paper. So we want to try and avoid that whole thing if we can.

Gabe Larsen: (05:43)
Have you seen some of those videos? It’s just crazy, right?

Merilee Larsen: (05:43)
Yes, it’s insanity!

Gabe Larsen: (05:47)
I mean, look, you gotta go, you gotta get what you can get. But, it’s like what is this craziness with toilet paper? But it must be…

Merilee Larsen: (05:54)
I don’t know.

Gabe Larsen: (05:54)
…Our brains that knows we’re panicking and so that’s all we know how to get.

Merilee Larsen: (05:58)
Toilet paper and water. So I hope you’re going to be okay. But, your systems are going to be fine. You can drink water out of your tap. You’re just fine. Toilet paper, you probably need enough in your house for 14 days, maybe, maybe three weeks. I don’t know. I don’t know how much you’re going through, but you don’t need that much. So, if you’re looking at true preparedness and if you’re looking at their recommendation that FEMA is making, you do need food. You need at least 14 days worth of food. So that means perishable and non-perishable and some candy. Everybody’s going to need some candy. So just get some good stuff that you can keep in your house and that you have enough for everyone to eat. Candy and novelty items are really good to kind of break up things, especially if you have kids or if you’re like me and you just kind of need something at the end of the day so you don’t go crazy. Like you just need a little, you need a Twix once in a while. So, some shelter items that are always nice to have on hand. Like if you have a wood burning stove; it’s freezing here in Utah right now, so you might need some wood or something like that. Propane is always nice if you have access to that. So, everybody you need to wash your hands and do it for 20 seconds. Dipping it under the water and pulling it back out, that doesn’t work.

Gabe Larsen: (07:14)
I mean this is obviously, I don’t want to mock it but, this is obviously real. [inaudible] Follow some of the best practices you’re seeing around the 20 second thing, etc.

Gabe Larsen: (07:24)
Right. Sing the chorus to your favorite song; a little “Mr. Brightside,” a little “Touch of Grey,” whatever. Sing the chorus to it while you’re washing your hands. It’s perfect. 20 seconds. Do it when you leave your house and come back, wash your hands, kids too. And then watch your face. Don’t touch your eyeballs. Don’t pick at your teeth, keep your hands out of your face. You’re going to need some household goods. You probably need some laundry soap. You probably need some dish detergent, some paper towels. The big thing that we always talk about is cash. You really need to have or work on having enough savings that if you are out of work for however long this quarantine lasts, that you can afford it. You can afford to pay your utilities, you can afford to pay door dash; because we all know we’re going to use it. Then you just have enough cash on hand so that you can pay your bills for two weeks or more. So you need some stuff if you’re bored. You need maybe some board games, some books, some things to pass the time, which is a big one. If you have babies, you need baby supplies. Diapers, again, don’t hoard. But, you do need enough diapers, wipes and formula for your little ones. And if you have a neighbor that has one, they could always use a little help. Personal hygiene items; shampoo, conditioner, tissues, floss. We all appreciate it, some floss. Prescription medications are huge. If you have a prescription for something, make sure that you get those filled. I recently had to have a prescription filled for my little boy and we waited for three days because they had so many prescriptions to fill. So make sure you’re ahead of the game on that. Talk to your doctor and if you have pets, please get some pet food for your pets at least long enough that if you have to stay inside for two weeks or more that they’re covered as well. So mentally, we also talk about mental preparedness. Talk over this with your families. Make sure that there’s a plan so you guys can handle being in close quarters together or with your roommates or wherever you’re at. And if you have a plan for conflict and if you have a plan to handle anxiety and depression in your home. The mental aspect is just as important as the physical, always, especially in this time. There’s a lot of fear going on right now and we have to help each other and we have to help…

Gabe Larsen: (09:33)
Yeah, it does seem like one of the areas that people, I mean, and I think we’re hoarding different items is as we kind of go into this nervous preparedness or whatever that psychological state is of hoarding. But, yeah, the mental thing is a little bit overlooked. Whether that’s in work or at home. I definitely find that that resonates with me as I’ve talked to different employees. I’ve got obviously family myself and there are ups and downs. Is there anything, I mean you mentioned kind of having a plan. Is there other things from the mental preparedness standpoint? A little bit of exercise, psychological, well I don’t know if there’s psychological help that is available to different people, but any other thoughts on the mental side?

Merilee Larsen: (10:14)
Yes, mental — always, exercise is great for mental health. It does wonders for anxiety and depression. There’s countless amounts of studies and research that’s behind that. So really if you’re feeling an anxiety attack, come on, I would recommend for you to go out and take a walk or a run and that can really help pull back some of those symptoms. Other things mentally is to eat a little better, to choose a little bit healthier food and that can help mental clarity as well. There’s an app called Calm, which is fantastic, that has meditations and things like that on it that are really helpful. And there are a few apps that you can find out there that have chats with psychologists. So if you need to, there’s an option for that kind of thing as well. Now that we can’t really — there are a lot of psychiatrists and psychologists who will do face to face over zoom and that option is out there as well. But I would really tell you to try and get a little more exercise, try and eat a little better. And if you’re feeling it come on, go put some running shoes on and go for a walk.

Gabe Larsen: (11:14)
I like the mental and physical part. And do you have any thoughts as to why — I mean, is that just human nature? I mean, we joked a little bit about the hoarding and the toilet paper and stuff, but is that just the grasping at straws mentality or why do you feel like people went that direction versus maybe some of the recommendations you said, which was a little more food preparedness or a little more mental preparedness. Is that just the human emotion kicking in?

Merilee Larsen: (11:43)
I think it’s fear too. And it’s kind of interesting as I’ve been talking to people and doing a little more research during this time, I have a friend who went to the store to get paper cups and came home with $300 worth of groceries. And when I said, well, why did you do this? She said, well, everybody else was doing it and I didn’t know what to do. So I think we’re kind of following each other and we are very panicked about the unknown. We don’t know what the next six weeks is going to look like. And we’re afraid to go without. And you know, people are choosing different things. We see our neighbors…

Gabe Larsen: (12:18)
Because we all deal with it a little differently, right? Now you did a little exercise. What was that? You did a little exercise where you had different people send to you as they were going around and shopping. What was that?

Merilee Larsen: (12:27)
I did. On my social media I asked my friends from all over the world to tell me what their grocery stores were out of and where they were located. And it was kind of fascinating to see the Island of Tahiti was out of hand sanitizer of all things. And we had — I had friends and it seemed like more in the Midwest toilet paper seemed to go like wildfire. But in other places, it was hand sanitizer and Clorox. So it was kind of fascinating to see what was happening where and where the panic was.

Gabe Larsen: (13:00)
Hmm. Interesting. We’ll have to check that out. As we think about businesses, I want to turn just for a minute. Definitely we’ve got companies with the economic struggles now that this virus is putting on the economy. I mean it’s obviously very real and many people are facing dire and sometimes interesting situations. We’ve got business leaders trying to take care of their customers and their employees. As you think about preparedness, and maybe more on the employee side, is there anything you’d recommend to business leaders — and maybe it goes down kind of that mental preparation and enabling some of that as people are facing things in their personal life and also trying to manage work — that you’d recommend to them as they try to navigate the business side of the preparedness equation?

Merilee Larsen: (13:52)
The business side is kind of an interesting side. This is a side that there’s so many facets to. But really a lot of the top, I would really talk about flexibility. I think too, as a business leader, I would look to see how flexible we could have our employees be. Can we reduce our meetings and our travel? Can we do more on Zoom? But can we still somehow stay connected? Maybe have morning coffee over Zoom or whatever it looks like for you. Being transparent with your employees as well as your customers I feel like that is huge as well. And if you’re having your workers come into your workplace, really stress hygiene and making sure that everyone’s taken care of in the building, but then when they leave so that we’re not just becoming a hotbed of illness and then carrying it out to the families. But really be flexible. Really have your people self-monitor if they’re feeling sick and if they need to, have the flexibility that they can isolate or quarantine at home. That is a great way to help.

Gabe Larsen: (14:54)
And make it a little bit easier both for the business as well as I think for society as a whole. We were talking a little bit about social distancing and obviously that’s become a big buzzword. It is something people are kind of practicing, but I don’t know if I know what it means. I know what it generally means. But, what are the best practices for social distancing that you have in mind? Again, I’m thinking of some people, you know, a lot of businesses are obviously closing. Some are mandatorily staying open to others. You’ve got factories, you got Amazon; people are trying to still manage. Best practices in this kind of social distancing for people who are put in a situation where they may need to be around others and interact with others?

Merilee Larsen: (15:40)
Social distancing is really, you’re trying to avoid large events, mass gatherings. So, imagine as if you are holding a hula hoop around you, don’t let anybody into your hula hoop space.

Gabe Larsen: (15:51)
I like that.

Merilee Larsen: (15:51)
Socially distance. No close talkers. Keep them outside of your space.

Gabe Larsen: (15:57)
Yeah. Is there kind of that hula-hoop, is that about the right distance? I mean, is it 12 feet, six? I think I’ve heard six feet.

Merilee Larsen: (16:05)
Six feet is great, but if you’re in a situation where you’re in a meeting, then maybe just try for that hula hoop distance. Something is better than nothing.

Gabe Larsen: (16:16)
Wow. Crazy times, right? I’m starting to kick off — I went to one conference, this is now weeks ago, but it was just the beginning of it and they kind of, you know, no handshake conference, right? So people were, it was awkward. We were doing this elbow thing and fist bump thing and that was a month before. I wonder how this — assuming things do continue, assuming things improve — how this will just change. Obviously we’ve got the flexible workforce, a remote workforce. We’ve got interactions between people as they talk about different waves, if you’ll kind of get rid of things like social norms of shaking hands? Some people say the world will never be the same, but hopefully we have semblance here.

Merilee Larsen: (17:01)
Well, hopefully, hopefully we can get back. I think it’s going to take a little bit of time though. Like if you look at the last time we used a federal quarantine, the last time we were totally restricted was the Spanish flu in 1918.

Gabe Larsen: (17:14)
Is that right?

Merilee Larsen: (17:14)
Yeah. So, it took a little bit of time to come out of that. But I think I have high hopes for us. I hope that we can, I think we can come out of it, but yes, I think it will change how we are doing things and how we continue to do things. We may socially choose to isolate in flu season normally. And that’s not a bad thing. So this may change the atmosphere of public health, which I don’t hate. It’ll be okay.

Gabe Larsen: (17:44)
1918, right? This definitely is unprecedented. I mean, I’m not that old, but I’ve lived through the 2000s, 2004, 2008. This is definitely different than all of those so it is uncharted water. But, real interesting talk track, appreciate you jumping on and talking through just some of the different things companies and people can do to get prepared in these times of crisis. So, if someone wants to get in touch with you or just learn a little bit more about some of the things you’re thinking about, is there a good way to contact or stay connected?

Merilee Larsen: (18:16)
Yeah, my LinkedIn page is great or you can feel free to email me at

Gabe Larsen: (18:24)
Awesome awesome. All right, well, really appreciate you taking the time and for the audience. Have a fantastic day.

Merilee Larsen: (18:29)
Thanks Gabe.

Exit Voice: (18:38)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.


How Customer Service Has Transformed in the Last 20 Years with Brad Birnbaum

How Customer Service has Transformed in the Last 20 Years with Brad Birnbaum TW

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe Larsen is joined by the CEO of Kustomer, Brad Birnbaum. They discuss the transformation and evolution of the customer service experience over the last two decades. Brad started his customer service career by founding eShare Communications. As Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President of Product Development, he helped create the first chat tool used for customer support. He later co-founded Assistly, which was acquired by Salesforce and rebranded as With his extensive knowledge and experience in the CX space, Brad knew where solutions in the market fell short. He decided to create what customer service agents were looking for and founded Kustomer, a company dedicated to creating a modern customer support tool for the 21st century. In this podcast, Brad and Gabe discuss how the industry has changed, the different channels being used today, and what companies can do to create rich support experiences. Listen to the full podcast below.

The Evolution of the Customer Service Experience

Customer Service has drastically changed within the last 10-20 years. With the advent of online support, customer service was done over chat, and it was very transactional in nature. Phone support was used, but chat options were preferred. Due to the creation of new technologies, chat use declined at first but came back strong. Channels like Facebook messenger, SMS, and web chat solutions soon became popular. Brad summarizes this point well by stating, “We were doing a tremendous amount of support through chat and I sort of saw chat tapering off in the […] 2010s. It wasn’t nearly as popular. And I think with … mobile phones coming online and then people starting to really text… chat just took on a new light.”

An Omnichannel Approach Creates a “Rich Support Experience”

Today, there are multiple channels used in communicating with customers. In order to create a “rich support experience,” companies need to consider their customer when deciding which channels to use. Brad specifically warns against singular channel customer service because it often creates frustration for both the consumers and the agents involved. Although phone calls generally come to mind when customer service is mentioned, Brad suggests that calling should not be the only option available. In fact, he recalls what issues surface when you focus on a singular channel.. “In those traditional systems, a ticket or a case can be a one channel type, a singular channel type. What that does though is [it] creates a really miserable experience for customers because, in the end, you’re going to get agent collision.”

Supporting Customers and Creating Success

Now more than ever, consumers are demanding excellent service from brands, and the bar is constantly being raised. Brad gives a great insight into what the attitude of an organization should be when it comes to supporting their customers. He states, “mak[e] sure you’re supporting your customers in the way that they want to be supported.” It’s all about the people. The more brands focus on their customer’s needs, the happier and more loyal that customer will be, leading to company success.

Brad shares a few ways to keep customers happy, but first he asks brands to remember that negative experiences travel faster than positive ones. Consumers immediately turn to social media, friends, and family when something goes wrong. Therefore, companies need to overemphasize the positive experiences they have and put all of their efforts into creating a quantity of quality experiences. Brad mentions that this can be done by having a “higher caliber of agents” with exemplary training. Having the right tools to enhance the training of the agents is also essential. Brad knows Kustomer’s product is the type of tool to “enable […] agents to be successful” in creating the support system that consumers are looking for.

To learn more about the evolution of the customer support experience and how that affects businesses, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.


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Full Episode Transcript:

How Customer Service Has Transformed in the Last 20 Years with Brad Birnbaum

Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Welcome everybody to today’s podcast. I’m excited to get going. We’ve got Brad Birnbaum here, CEO of Kustomer. Brad, thanks for joining. How that the heck are you?

Brad Birnbaum: (00:19)
I am great. I am great, excited to be on my first podcast with you.

Gabe Larsen: (00:22)
That’s right. Kicking off the Customer Service Secrets Podcast. I wanted to have Brad on. Brad, can you tell us just a little about yourself and what you do over here at Kustomer?

Brad Birnbaum: (00:32)
Sure, my name’s Brad Birnbaum, CEO and co-founder of Kustomer. Been in the customer service space my whole career, started my first company in the mid-nineties, focused on doing internet-based customer service. We were one of the first companies doing so. We used to be the online customer service for companies like Microsoft, Dell, Sprint, AOL, et cetera. And, I’ve just been a part of many, many companies along the way and on that journey, had a couple of great exits. Fast forward a little further along, I co-founded Assistly in 2009 and we’re all about SMB, SaaS services. It was kind of awesome back then and we were doing real, real well. It was frankly 18 months from–

Gabe Larsen: (01:13)
That’s so cool!

Brad Birnbaum: (01:14)
[inaudible] from Salesforce and it was a super fun ride being a part of Salesforce, but ultimately –

Gabe Larsen: (01:22)
Three years with Salesforce. Right?

Brad Birnbaum: (01:22)
I spent three years with Salesforce.

Gabe Larsen: (01:24)
And what were you doing over there?

Brad Birnbaum: (01:25)
Well, when Salesforce bought Assistly they rebranded it to and that was our SMB play for customer support.

Gabe Larsen: (01:33)

Brad Birnbaum: (01:33)
And we were very focused on that; frankly, doing well. But, decided that there was a bigger vision out there. And, we just saw the opportunity to do something in a much more modern way than what Salesforce was doing at the time. We understood the value of the Salesforce platform, but it was 20 years old. It was built in a different generation; I would argue almost two generations ago. It was built pre-AWS, it was built pre-mobile, the tech around it was different, there was no such thing as documents stores, and was built on RDMAs. We knew that the world needed a better version of it and decided to set forth and create Kustomer with that in mind. Right? So we wanted to reinvent, or re-imagine the customer service space.

Gabe Larsen: (02:18)
Yep, yep.

Brad Birnbaum: (02:18)
So, the platform first approach. It took us over two years to build our platform and our platform was designed to know everything about customers, to be able to take that information that company has acquired about customers and use it to enhance support experiences.

Gabe Larsen: (02:34)
I love it. I love it.

Brad Birnbaum: (02:34)
Use it to present support agents with the relevant data they need to provide that optimal support experience customers want. Use it to automate routine and mundane tasks in RPA like fashion with our business process automation, especially in retail. We’re seeing just amazing benefits and efficiencies around that and overall improvements in customer satisfaction. It’s been a great journey and, Kustomer is about five years old now and it’s starting to transform the world.

Gabe Larsen: (02:58)
I love it. I love it. Well, let’s get into that. I think that’s a good introduction. 20 plus years in customer service. You highlighted a little bit, some of the challenge, but also what customer service looked like back then. And then as we start to translate into, what it does look like now, how would you paint that picture of some of the big changes?

Brad Birnbaum: (03:19)
So, it was back in the 90s and early two thousands, it was super transactional in nature.

Gabe Larsen: (03:25)

Brad Birnbaum: (03:25)
We still see some people’s view of that as transactional in nature, but it was, it was very transactional in nature. In the late nineties and early two thousands, we saw chat as a really up and coming channel and everybody was jumping on chat.

Gabe Larsen: (03:38)
But that would have been new because phone was–

Brad Birnbaum: (03:41)
Yeah it was. Phone and email was coming online, but we saw a lot of chat. We were doing a tremendous amount of support through chat and I sort of saw chat tapering off in the two thousand and 2010s. It wasn’t nearly as popular. And I think with the resurgence of, well mobile coming along, mobile phones coming online and then people starting to really, you know, text and things went right. Chat just took on a new light.

Gabe Larsen: (04:06)
Right, right, right.

Brad Birnbaum: (04:06)
It’s become an incredibly popular channel and all forms of chat, right? Whether it be web chat, mobile chat, whether it be Facebook messenger, chat, texting, et cetera, et cetera. We’re just seeing that being super–

Gabe Larsen: (04:16)
That is, I mean, you saw back in the 90s, but chat has kind of reemerged. Is it due to the mobile? [inaudible]

Brad Birnbaum: (04:21)
I do think so. I do think so.

Gabe Larsen: (04:22)
It’s old but new.

Brad Birnbaum: (04:22)
I think so. Think about how we communicate nowadays. I communicate probably more through various forms of texting, anything from Slack, to texting, to even LinkedIn messenger. It’s all, it’s all text-based, right? The amount of time I spend on actual phone calls is far less than it was 10, 20 years ago.

Gabe Larsen: (04:40)
Right, right.

Brad Birnbaum: (04:40)
You would probably say the same. That has been driving it for sure.

Gabe Larsen: (04:44)
So that was a big difference back then. But chat was coming online and that’s where you jumped in.

Brad Birnbaum: (04:49)
That is, that is.

Gabe Larsen: (04:49)
To see if you could provide a third channel for customer service back then.

Brad Birnbaum: (04:54)
For sure. Back then companies were just starting to understand what e-commerce looked like and they were realizing that the benefits of it and they were saying, well, if we’re going to start selling online and driving people online, we have to support online. And how do we do that? And chat was the predominant channel.

Gabe Larsen: (05:13)
Got it, got it. And then you also touched on, so chat was a big one. The new channel.

Brad Birnbaum: (05:16)

Gabe Larsen: (05:16)
This ticket concept or kind of the structuring of the way we looked at it.

Brad Birnbaum: (05:21)

Gabe Larsen: (05:21)
Zendesk, some of these created 15, 20 years ago. What does that mean when we say ticket? What does that? How else? What is the structure of that.

Brad Birnbaum: (05:28)
Sure, for pretty much all of eternity in various forms of customer support, it was, a very transactional nature. You were always bound by a ticket or sometimes people would call them cases. People use those words synonymously, right? And that was just a single incident, had a finite resolution. Um, but it was a very small piece of understanding the customer, right? Like businesses were always thinking of customers in terms of that ticket or case they weren’t thinking of customers as the actual person that they are. Right? Like you and I as we have gotten and grown to know each other, we form a relationship and we learn more and more about each other and it’s not that single transaction that defines us. It’s the entire relationship with the business that’s important. And we’ve seen this over the years as a barrier to amazing and incredible support experiences and knew that in transforming the way that people at the companies receive support can truly adopt that shift of the way the world’s going. So, here at Kustomer, we took a pretty different approach. We are support agents, people who use our product don’t think in terms of tickets or cases. They think in terms of customers and you’re always working on a customer. We call that our customer timeline. And the customer timeline is, everything about the customer, right? You might see what we call conversations. Some people might think of that as a modern lightweight case or ticket, but it’s more than that. And then inside of that timeline might be, if you’re a retailer, orders and shipping information, everything about that customer and how they interface with the business. And that has really transformed. The information architecture around it has transformed how support agents can–

Gabe Larsen: (07:09)
Can actually interact with their customers.

Brad Birnbaum: (07:11)
And customers really appreciate it and it is the modern way of engaging with customers, right? The world has gone from thinking of call centers as call centers and they’re now starting to really think of it as profit centers, right? They are investing heavily in amazing support experiences. They’re no longer trying to save 5 cents off a phone call. That’s not how the game is played, right? But it used to be that way.

Gabe Larsen: (07:32)
No, no. Absolutely. That at all costs $1 and 8 cents. How do we make it $1?

Brad Birnbaum: (07:37)
They’re no longer focused on that. Right? What they’re focused on is these amazing experiences–

Gabe Larsen: (07:40)
I love that.

Brad Birnbaum: (07:40)
–that you are investing in, right? As the world is going more direct to consumer, as the world is going online–

Gabe Larsen: (07:46)

Brad Birnbaum: (07:48)
–The stores in the malls are closing. The stores on Fifth Avenue are closing and companies are investing in a very different way. They’re investing in amazing experiences through tooling and through support.

Gabe Larsen: (08:00)
Got it, got it.

Brad Birnbaum: (08:00)
It’s producing repeat buyers, producing customers for life. And some of us, we’ve all seen the Zappos stories, right? Where our people stay on the phone for–

Gabe Larsen: (08:08)
15 hours.

Brad Birnbaum: (08:08)
–extreme amounts of time to provide those rich supporters. That’s extreme and exaggerated, but companies are embracing that philosophy because they realize once you get those customers, you get them for life and they become advocates and that’s what they want.

Gabe Larsen: (08:21)
I love that. I love that. Okay, so one big thing was certainly the ticket. Now focusing kind of on the customer. You talked a little bit about the channels, and I want to dive into… let’s go there next because back then it was kind of chat, phone and email. It’s like 30 now.

Brad Birnbaum: (08:38)
Look, there is more and more. If you look at your phone and all the different ways you communicate with your friends and family–

Gabe Larsen: (08:42)
And how important is that?

Brad Birnbaum: (08:44)
It’s very important because everybody has a preferred communication mechanism, right? Within our business, we use a lot of Slack inside the business, right? There’s different tools that people use. And some of my friends I will text with some of my friends, I might Facebook messenger with some, I might actually hit up on Twitter, right? We all communicate with people with a multitude of channels and escalate them accordingly, right? So, it’s important that you can converse with your customers in any way. The other thing you’ll, you know, that that has happened is there’s the immediacy of channels. You know, if customers, they may try a slightly more asynchronous channel and if they don’t get a response fast enough, they would gravitate towards moving towards a more synchronous channel–

Gabe Larsen: (09:25)
Got it.

Brad Birnbaum: (09:25)
–or real time channel. And ultimately each of those channels tend to be more expensive to support as well. Ultimately landing on telephony, on voice, which tends to be the most real time in nature. And, we’ve approached that in a really solid way, right? We’ve, we’ve changed, we’ve transformed it in that the way we think about omni-channels is very different than most companies do, as we’ve reimagined customer service. So, our definition of omni-channel is actually quite simple. It is a single thread of conversation around a topic where we could converse with your customers on any channels and provide support on.

Gabe Larsen: (9:58)

Brad Birnbaum: (9:59)
And while that sounds obvious and you’re like, of course Brad and I would tell you nobody does that, right?

Gabe Larsen: (10:03)
It certainly wasn’t that way.

Brad Birnbaum: (10:05)
None of our competitors do that, right? They, the way our competitors see the world is, is they, they do support you across different channels. But each of those channels would be a separate ticket or case, right? So if I have a problem with company X as a customer, initially I might email in and, I’m an impatient guy, so after 15 minutes–

Gabe Larsen: (10:22)
I jump to the channel.

Brad Birnbaum: (10:22)
–If I don’t get a response, I’m like, all right, I’m going to jump to another channel. Maybe I’ll text and I don’t get a response ultimately, maybe I’ll end up on voice. A lot of the solutions out there, really all the other solutions out there today, those will be three separate tickets for cases–

Gabe Larsen: (10:38)
The channel and searching, [inaudible].

Brad Birnbaum: (10:38)
Because in those traditional systems, a ticket or a case can be a one channel type, a singular channel type. What that does though is creates a really miserable experience for customers because in the end you’re going to get agent collision. So eventually agents will probably get to all three of those.

Gabe Larsen: (10:54)
Yeah, and you’ll get different answers.

Brad Birnbaum: (10:55)
Again, getting three responses. Hopefully you’re not getting three different answers; hopefully, or at least getting the same answer three different times and from three different people. But you’re wasting a lot of your business time because three of your agents are ultimately supporting them. Hopefully you’re not given three different answers because then your business really doesn’t– [inaudible]

Gabe Larsen: (11:11)
Actually, that’s a little bit, I’m nervous about that because one of my favorite things to do is call Delta, and if I get an answer that I don’t like, I like to call another agent.

Brad Birnbaum: (11:19)
Yeah, absolutely. Try again.

Gabe Larsen: (11:20)
So what you’re doing is you’re eliminating kind of my channel.

Brad Birnbaum: (11:22)
Sure, yeah, yeah. But for us, those all funnel into a single conversation, which is a really interesting and amazing paradoxical shift. And not only is it helpful for when customers contact you multiple times, through different channels, but even when you’re on the same channel, let’s say we’re on a phone call, and I’m like, Hey, you know, check out this link. I’m going to text it to you, and I can text it to you from the same conversation, and you’re getting it through touch while you’re on the phone call. You could click on it, see it if you want to. Like there’s, there’s a lot of value in being able to context switch.

Gabe Larsen: (11:50)
Cool. Makes tons of sense.

Brad Birnbaum: (11:50)
Through the proper omnichannel. And we’d probably do ourselves a disservice here by calling it omnichannel because it’s a word that’s so used, it’s so used by everybody else. But I just think they got it all wrong. Their definitions are just wrong.

Gabe Larsen: (12:02)
On this multichannel versus omnichannel can, I think sometimes be a little confused.

Brad Birnbaum: (12:05)
It’s very confusing, yeah.

Gabe Larsen: (12:07)
Okay. So, we got one is kind of the different view of the ticket and customer. Two is this channel thing.

Brad Birnbaum: (12:11)

Gabe Larsen: (12:12)
Data. Talk to me about data. I can only imagine when you were back in the day talking through different chatbots etc. The availability of data then versus now has got to be completely different. What does that mean for customers?

Brad Birnbaum: (12:23)
I know we saw over my entire career. We would always see companies trying to use the various point solutions that I had in market. Right? Starting from my first company eShare or to my most recent one, where people were trying to stick data into cases or tickets. They were trying to know more about the customer, know more about the transaction and trying to stay–

Gabe Larsen: (12:46)
–But it wasn’t making–

Brad Birnbaum: (12:47)
–and it just didn’t fit. It was a round peg and a square hole. Right? It’s like, well, we need more custom fields on the case object, and we went from 10 to 25 to 50 to a hundred to ultimately 200– [inaudible].

Gabe Larsen: (12:55)
Why do you need all these customers?

Brad Birnbaum: (12:56)
Because you’re trying to fit data and because you want to have those richer support experiences; you want it to be more CRM-like in nature. But most of the solutions out there are not, they’re not CRM-like in nature. They are point solutions for ticketing. So, when we started Kustomer, we knew that we needed to think about the world differently. We knew that we needed to be a CRM system.

Gabe Larsen: (13:14)
Right, right.

Brad Birnbaum: (13:14)
Because the only way you can deliver amazing support experiences if you truly understand the customer that you’re engaging with, right? Otherwise you have such a myopic view of them you’re not going to provide that optimal experience. And if not, you’re then going to be context switching between a multitude of other applications to try to get that information out.

Gabe Larsen: (13:30)

Brad Birnbaum: (13:30)
Whereas in the Kustomer world, we’re able to actually aggregate it together, present it, leverage it for those richer support experiences. And then we’re able to take advantage of Kustomer IQ, which we’re rolling out, which will be able to automate a lot of routine and mundane tasks around that like something like processing a return or processing an exchange if a retailer could often be…

Gabe Larsen: (13:49)
That’s why, but the whole AI stuff comes in.

Brad Birnbaum: (13:52)
And it’s also our business process, our RPA business process automations where it could often take five different steps of going to one system, generate an RMA number; another system to process the return and another system to see if you have that same item and let’s say a larger size, let’s say if it was a shirt–

Gabe Larsen: (14:07)

Brad Birnbaum: (14:07)
If not, go to a suggestion engine, finding it in–

Gabe Larsen: (14:09)
Got it.

Brad Birnbaum: (14:09)
–Another one, ultimately placing the order. We can automate that down where it might take a person many minutes to do across these different systems with a whole bunch of copying and pasting.

Gabe Larsen: (14:18)
[inaudible comment]

Brad Birnbaum: (14:18)
When it’s in our system and when our system, our platform, what it means is it takes milliseconds to actually do actions.

Gabe Larsen: (14:24)
I love it. I love it.

Brad Birnbaum: (14:24)
What we’re seeing is we’re seeing it across our customer base, right? Significantly. Significant improvements in agent productivity and efficiency.

Gabe Larsen: (14:35)
Of course you eliminate–

Brad Birnbaum: (14:35)
We publish case studies where we’ve seen customers go anywhere from 10% to 25% improvement in engine productivity, which is just– which is massive. That’s not your five seconds off of a five-minute phone.

Gabe and Brad: (14:48)
That’s an agent. That’s measurable, right? That’s a day.

Brad Birnbaum: (14:49)
So you’re really able to … your customers are getting service faster so they’re happier and agents are not spending time doing those routine and mundane tasks. So, they’re happier because they’re spending their time actually doing what’s important and supporting the customer.

Gabe Larsen: (15:01)
Right, right.

Brad Birnbaum: (15:01)
And then your business is more efficient. So arguably you might need fewer agents. Right?

Gabe Larsen: (15:04)
No, I love it.

Brad Birnbaum: (15:05)
Which is arguably a very large cost for most customers and [inaudible] agents.

Gabe Larsen: (15:07)
And I still think people are always looking for ways to make that more efficient. Right?

Brad Birnbaum: (15:12)
Of course, of course.

Gabe Larsen: (15:12)
Got it. All right. Well, love the three trends, kind of big differences that you’ve seen in the past and now in present day. Because you think about the audience and maybe this is just kind of your final summary statement. You’re a new customer service leader trying to make a change in your organization. What’s kind of the baby step or the one takeaway you’d say, guys, my quick advice for you would be start here or do this or do that. Anything you’d kind of leave for the audience?

Brad Birnbaum: (15:37)
Well, I mean, I would say make sure you’re supporting your customers in the way that they want to be supported. Right? They– the bar is going up and up every single day, right? People are, when you have a bad experience, you’re taking it to Twitter, you’re telling all your friends about it, right? So over index on those amazing support experiences and the ways to do that would be through higher caliber of agents here that are very well trained and then a tool that’s going to enable those agents to be successful. And certainly, our product can help you do that. But I would focus on that. I think that’s one of those amazing support experiences that will drive customer loyalty and retention.

Gabe Larsen: (16:15)
Yeah. I like, you’re right. The bar is being raised and if you don’t do something quick, you’ll be falling behind. So, Brad, thanks for joining.

Brad Birnbaum: (16:24)

Gabe Larsen: (16:24)
Appreciate your time and for the audience, hope you have a fantastic day.

Brad Birnbaum: (16:28)
Thank you much.

Exit Voice: (16:36)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.


20 Ways to Effectively Manage a Remote Customer Service Team During COVID-19

Starting a Revolution: The Launch of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast Twitter

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A Stanford University study said that productivity increases among remote workers to the tune of an extra day per person, per week. That’s a lot of extra productivity, but how do you do it, and how do you do it effectively? It’s not always a rosy picture. In my first days of working remote due to COVID-19, I know I’ve struggled with communication, cabin-fever, and an uncomfortable work environment. And I’m not alone. Buffer released a study on remote workers and found these top three issues: unplugging after work, loneliness, and collaborating and/or communication. As much of the US moves to a remote workforce, we have no choice but to overcome these challenges. Here are the top 20 ways you can manage a remote customer service team.

1. Close Your Office

If you haven’t already, do us all a solid and close your office now. Social distancing is a pretty important word right now, and if you have a work environment with more than a handful of employees, I’d highly recommend shutting it down and moving remote.

2. Follow Routines

Like me, you probably don’t think you need a routine. You’ll just sit down and do your thing. Bad idea. Working from home has its own set of challenges and, like at work, distractions are all around you. Figure out a routine that works for you and your company and stick to it.

3. Watch Out for Security

With everybody logging in remotely, it’s worth doing a quick check to ensure your security policies and procedures are being followed. With all that is going on, the last thing you need is a roommate who inadvertently opens up your network and machines to potential security threats.

4. Find Your Place Within Your Place

Don’t think you can roam around the house and stay focused or be productive. It just doesn’t work, believe me. You need to create a designated space for work. It doesn’t have to be a whole room, it could be a small section in your kitchen or a corner of your bedroom. It may not be the perfect office, but you do need to have it.

5. Be Done

Yes, you want to be productive and yes, you want to stay focused, but just because you are working remotely doesn’t mean you have to work 24/7. It’s sometimes easy to feel guilty about “not working” while being remote, but be strong. Fill your hours, do your job, and when it’s over, you have my permission to shut your computer and live your life.

6. Execute Weekly SPIFs

You want to keep things fun and interactive, and one way to do that is with sales performance incentive funds, or SPIFs, traditionally used in sales but effective for any team. These can be small gifts or even group recognition. Don’t focus on monthly goals, but rather on short-term wins to drive motivation and engagement.

7. Schedule Break Time

It’s easy to get up and get right to work because you’re not wasting time commuting or skipping out for lunch. Just because you can sit at your computer all day doesn’t mean you should. The only way to make sure you take time for breaks or time for your family is to actually schedule those times in your calendar.

8. Get the Basics

This goes above and beyond, but it’s a nice gesture. For many employees, they may not have the basics for a remote work environment, so offering a small stipend to get a headset or other basic items to perform their job is not a bad idea.

9. Create Signs

Whether it is kids, roommates, or significant others, everybody needs to know what different signs mean. For example, door closed does not mean “bang until open.” Setting the ground rules with those around you so they all know when you are on important calls or in meetings, is a must.

10. Test Your Speed

You can’t work remotely if your internet is slow. Make sure you and your employees have fast enough internet speeds to do the job required. A good rule of thumb: if you can watch Netflix, you can probably do your work. Here is a site to test your speed:

11. Start Creative Interactions

Don’t be boring. Find creative ways to interact. Could you create a remote team lunch? What about a remote happy hour? These and other ideas help people keep it light and fun.

12. Dress the Part

You might not have to be on camera but you still have to be working. Rolling out of bed and throwing your headset on doesn’t make you happy and, I promise, it doesn’t make your customers or prospects happy either. Pretend like you’re going to work, shower, and put on some decent clothes. I promise it will make the day better.

13. Huddle Daily

If you were not already doing this, shame on you. Every team needs a good 5-10 min huddle each morning to kick things off the right way. You need to keep these meetings small in size and short in time. Focus on quick numbers from the previous day. Highlight three strengths from the day before and one area of opportunity and then ask each person to commit to something.

14. Listen to a Lot of Calls

Remote managers may not have a ton of extra time, but they should optimize the time they do have. That extra time should be used listening to calls and reviewing other types of communication. Know what your people are talking about and how they are talking about it. The devil is in the details, so get into the details.

15. Be Ready to Iterate

If you’re not an expert at remote managing, give yourself a break and iterate every single day. Don’t settle. Find little things you can do better to make you and your team successful.

16. Gamify Your Culture

People want to know where they are and where they are not when it comes to winning, so help them see that. One idea is to create a scoreboard: it doesn’t need to be anything fancy, but it’s a great motivator.

17. Go Video or Go Home

Push to have everyone be on video during any team meetings you hold. Video helps interaction and engagement, so make it mandatory when possible.

18. Get Collaboration Tools

If you’re not already using Slack or Teams, you should be. Find easy tools that allow your team to interact with each other more easily.

19. Communicate as Leaders Often

If you were holding a monthly company meeting to update employees about the business, you may need to make that more frequent. Leadership should plan on communicating weekly to all employees and I’d encourage daily flash emails when needed.

20. Support Your Team With Customer Service Technology

I have to put this one in here, but just because I work for a technology company doesn’t mean it is not important. Having customer service technology that allows you to monitor employee work, access important customer information, and communicate through multiple channels wherever or whenever, will be incredibly important during this time.


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Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers with Matt Dixon

Podcast: Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers with Matt Dixon TW

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe Larsen is joined by Matt Dixon to discuss creating an effortless experience for customers. Matt worked for a profit think tank and currently works at a company called Tethr, an AI platform that helps customers understand and interpret data. Matt talks about the strategies involved in delighting customers, how to train customer service reps, and what the ultimate effortless experience is. Listen to the full podcast below.

Why Delighting Customers Is a Controversial Topic

Back in 2010 Matt Dixon wrote an article titled “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers”, that went against all of the strategies companies currently use to create a positive customer experience and motivate meaningful interactions. The argument came as a result of over 10 years of research, during which he found that this core tenet was “fundamentally flawed.” The original concept of delighting customers stemmed from the theory it would create more loyalty and increase the amount of money a consumer would spend. Dixon’s research concluded that the “customers whose expectations [were] exceeded, are actually no more loyal than those whose expectations [were] simply met. So, they’re no more likely to keep buying from you [or] renew at a higher rate.” His research determined that extra efforts to go above and beyond for each customer didn’t pay off the way that companies expected.

What Creates Disloyal Customers?

If the current strategies used to delight customers are flawed, what strategies work to create customer loyalty? First, companies need to understand the processes that customers go through to fix their problems. These processes are often long, time consuming, confusing and affect the attitude of the customer. Dixon states “things like making your customer call you back five times …sending them to your website and then confusing them or giving them the run around or an error message” are all actions that drive customers away. Customers are people, and the most effective way to keep them around is not by wowing them with gifts and celebrations, but by “reducing effort [and] making things easier than you are making them right now.” While complexity drives customers away, simplicity and minimal effort draws them in and helps with retention..

How to Design an Effortless Experience

Most companies aim to create new, inspiring and unique products. But doing that means nothing if there isn’t an effective plan in place to help resolve issues. Most companies are stuck in the trap of trying to wow their customers, so Matt Dixon has created four pillars on how to ensure frictionless service.

First is channel stickiness. Consumers want to self-serve. They want to be in control and you want them to keep using your digital channels. This is done by providing simple and intuitive information written at “a fifth grade reading level.” Simple communication that customers can easily understand themselves will help them stick to your self-serve channels.

Next Issue Avoidance (NIA) is the second pillar. NIA means that instead of simply resolving the problem, research is done and acted upon to prevent future problems. Dixon recalls an experience he had with Dyson where they sent two spare parts because they knew men are generally more rough and often break the first one when they try to insert the part themselves. The goal was to prevent a subsequent issue before it even happened. .

The third and fourth pillars deal with customer service reps who are on the frontlines helping customers. Dixon says, “two thirds of the effort equation [is the customer’s]… perception of the experience. And so, what that really means is…it’s about the language that representatives use in communicating a resolution to the customer and, oftentimes, communicating bad news to the customer.” Effective spoken communication helps the customer feel understood and prepared to receive the help that they need. The fourth pillar involves hiring “controllers, not empathizers.” This means that reps are confident in their abilities, own the problem and thus own the solution. By hiring more direct and confident reps and not just those that will say, “I’m sorry” to consumers, companies will create a much more efficient and effortless experience for their customers.

To learn more about creating an effortless experience, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.


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Full Episode Transcript:

Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers with Matt Dixon

Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
I welcome everybody to today’s podcast. We’re going to be diving in, talking about effortless customer experience, top trends in customer service, and what’s the latest and greatest to do that. We brought in a friend of mine, Matt Dixon. This one goes way back. It’s funny, I first saw Matt in his CEB days, if you didn’t know that name you probably heard of something called the Challenger Sale. The organization was just spewing forward truth. And so, I started just following everything those guys did. I was at a company called Inside Sales. And so, we tried to get Matt a few times to a couple of our conferences, meet with some of our clients. Challenger Sale was revolutionary. I still think it’s fundamental for any salesperson, sales leaders, when they think about the way they want to really run their business.

Gabe Larsen: (00:58)
However, I made a change to a company called Kustomer, as many of you know, and we really focus on the customer service, customer experience space. So, I was like, Matt, I called up Matt again and said, “Hey, why don’t we chat?” Because his other book, that was on my radar, and certainly I think a lot of people’s, was this idea of the effortless experience. And we’ll touch a little bit on that today. So I’ve reengaged. In fact, we never really lost contact. I just continued working with Matt. We’ve had him in a couple of our events. We’ve got a Kustomer conference coming up. We’re looking forward to hopefully having him there. I think he’s a great presenter, but the key is data-driven research, you know, you’re in customer services, you’re in sales. It’s just been notoriously “let’s make people feel good.” and I think CEB, Matt, they just brought such a different dynamic to let’s not do it that way. Let’s do what the data says. And the data was surprising in multiple, multiple ways. So, with that, let’s jump into it. Matt, thanks for being on the show and, how are you?

Matt Dixon: (02:05)
I’m doing great. I’d say it’s great to reconnect, but we never disconnected. So, it’s great to be on here thanks for inviting me.

Gabe Larsen: (02:13)
That’s correct. So, I wanted to provide just a little more of a personalized introduction but can fill in the blanks a little bit. Tell us what you’re doing now and give us a little more detail on your background.

Matt Dixon: (02:22)
Yeah, so I went from, I spent about 18 years at CEB and my focus areas were, for those who don’t know, CEB it was basically a for profit think tank, right? So, we sold research to big companies. I ran the research practices in sales, which is how we got to know each other. But also in customer experience and in customer service, and that world was more around the effortless experience. I left CEB about three years ago and joined up with a company called Tethr. Tethr is an AI venture, based in Austin. What we do is we help customers make sense of their unstructured data. So whether that’s data in Kustomer or whether that’s data from maybe your recorded phone conversations or chat interactions or other conversational data that, you know, many companies have recorded for years and captured for years, but they’ve never leveraged for any good purpose to really understand the customer experience.

Matt Dixon: (03:20)
And so that’s what we’re doing and we really focus on conversational data. So phone conversations, data from chat interactions, and so forth to really understand what your customers are trying to tell you about the experience they’re having, how much effort it was, what do they think about your products, what do think about your digital experience, and what do they think about the salesperson who sold them the service or about you relative to your competitors? So, it’s a fascinating space. I mean, I really look at this as kind of studying a lot of the concepts we brought forth, in Challenger and Effortless but using modern technology and the whole new data set.

Gabe Larsen: (03:57)
Interesting. Yeah. Tethr. Cool stuff. I think that’s a big need. Well we’ll dive into some of the use cases here as we get into it. So, let’s start big picture. I just loved, as I was saying in that intro, your push against the stuff, the softer stuff. It all started with your HBR article where you kind of went against this idea of delighting the customer. Touch on that briefly and let’s get into how some of those things have changed over the years.

Matt Dixon: (04:22)
Sure. So, the article you’re referring to, we wrote this article back in 2010. The book, the Effortless Experience came out a few years after that. This was a multi-year, probably 10 year plus research effort. And I think we kind of, at one point we just felt like we had enough for a book, and we pulled up and published the book, but the HBR article in 2010 was called Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers. And as you can imagine, we’ve got a lot of flak from the establishment around that. The funny thing is that statement is still defensive, right? They’ll delight your customers. Oh yeah. Well here’s the thing is that, let me explain a little bit about what we found and then maybe go back to this idea of delight.

Matt Dixon: (05:03)
So what we found is, we went into this study with the intention of helping companies try to figure out like… this is right around the time that net promoter score became really popular. A lot of service leaders were asking this question of like, hey, we’re in a world where our customers think we’re all the same, like our products are commoditized. Maybe service is an opportunity for us to stand apart and to differentiate. And we all know in service the way that you do that is by providing delightful, over the top, kind of a wow moment to the customer. Like whether that’s the woman returning the set of snow tires at Nordstrom’s or it’s the 15-hour phone call with the Zappos rep where you can get into your life story and all this stuff.

Matt Dixon: (05:43)
Like this is the stuff of great press releases it’s stuff of legends, what we all aspire to like, we all know that’s the right answer. Our goal was to help big companies figure out, of all the things you could do to delight a customer, what are the best ways, the most leveraged ways to do it? And the thing we found, which turned what was supposed to be a six-month research product into a 10-year study, was that this whole strategy of delight was fundamentally flawed. The thing that we found right away was that customers whose expectations are exceeded in a service moment… so, when something’s gone wrong and the customer reaches out and they’re trying to get some problem fixed, those customers whose expectations are exceeded are actually no more loyal than those whose expectations are simply met. So they’re no more likely to keep buying from you, to renew at a higher rate.

Matt Dixon: (06:27)
They’re no more likely to spend more with you and they’re no more likely to say good things about you. So that was like for us, it was a showstopper. It was that we tried to get the quant guys to make that finding go away because it just didn’t jive with our whole goal of the study. And we couldn’t make it go away.

Gabe Larsen: (6:43)
Oh, so it’s the concept, yeah, like this delighting concept of the measurement of delight didn’t really have any differentiation when it came to any business outcomes. And so, all of a sudden it was like everything we’re focusing on doesn’t tie to what we all get paid on or care about.

Matt Dixon: (7:02)
Yeah. If you really get down to it, it meant that, you know, if you think about the day, and I think about your average customer service leader standing in front of the team at the pull up on Friday morning and pulling that rep up on stage in front of like hundreds of reps and in reading aloud a letter from a customer praising that rep for going above and beyond, diving on the grenade, you know, making the dive and catch and giving that rep a Starbucks gift card and a Lucite trophy and then telling everyone else go out and do the same thing, like delight them, hug your customers and then realizing like all this stuff you’ve been preaching is, it’s not paying off in the way that you expected it.

Matt Dixon: (07:40)
And so there’s really two big takeaways there. I think one was, look we generate a lot of good when we simply do what customers expect and we don’t get paid much more when we do more than what they expect. And so, when people start kind of wrestling with that and they kind of come down when they get down to it and people think about, okay, well how much does delight cost in companies? Delight costs a lot of money. That’s, you know, escalations to higher tiers of service managers and supervisors and so on and so forth. It’s refunds. It’s givebacks, it’s policy exceptions out of warranty service, you name it, all this stuff we do to try to love on our customers and they don’t return the favor. And so that was kind of a head scratcher for us.

Matt Dixon: (08:22)
Or head snapper really. And then we started to kind of peel apart the layers of the onion and we went from surprising news to kind of depressing news. And then we got to the good news later. The depressing thing was we found out that on average any service interaction, was four times more likely to make a customer disloyal than loyal. So, it’s not even that delighting customers doesn’t lead to loyalty. It was that on any day of the week, your average customer service interaction is four times more likely to leave your customer in a state of disloyalty. Now people hear that and what they say is, well of course because the customer is in a bad spot already. They’ve got a problem; they need help fixing it and so it stands to reason. But that’s all… the data says what the data says. We take the customer in a bad spot and by the way that we handle the interaction, we actually make it worse.

Matt Dixon: (09:05)
We kind of parse that apart. What we found was the things that drove that disloyalty effect, were the sources of what we call customer effort. So, it’s things like making your customer call you back five times again to answer, sending them to your website and then confusing them or giving them the run around or an error message and then they bail out and they have to pick up the phone and call. Not because they wanted to, but because you gave them no other choice. Transferring them from one department to the next. Making them tell their story over and over again. Treating them generically or robotically or just citing policies and obstacles to the customer that just feel to the customer like they exist for no better reason than to save the company money and to frustrate the customer. And so, we add those things up and we call those sources of customer effort. So, the punchline of the research was, look, it might feel good to want to delight your customers and wow them, but the far better strategy is, instead of trying to make customers more loyal by delighting them, try to mitigate disloyalty by reducing effort, by making things easier than you are making them right now.

Gabe Larsen: (10:05)
You know, it’s funny even as I hear that now, right? I mean that was 2010 you said was that came out a couple of years later. But I mean you’re still, and I don’t mean to dive into this, but I’ve just been having conversations lately about tiered service models, about president’s club, you know, red carpet, blue ribbon phone numbers. and I’m thinking you’re right, man, that’s… to your point, that stuff you found basically didn’t matter at all. That’s cause no matter, how do you go around , how do you talk to people who are all about the Delta gold phone number? You know?

Matt Dixon: (10:45)
So, I think, you’re hitting on really is sort of this, almost third rail topic, which is that, you know, most people will say, look, if the message here is like, let’s be average, that’s not super inspiring. If you think of the world’s best companies, like I don’t think we’ve described any of them as average. Right? So, the message for leaders was, look, it’s not about not delighting your customers, it’s about the way in which you do it and the places in which you do it. So, one thing to keep in mind is like, if you’re not delighting your customers with a killer product that’s differentiated in the market with a great value prop, a competitive pricing model, a great brand. If you’re a retailer, a great store experience, if you’re an airline, a great inflight experience, like there are awesome places to delight customers, and you should keep doing that stuff by all means otherwise, what’s the point of being in business, right?

Matt Dixon: (11:40)
But the place that you don’t really need to delight nor do you really want to delight is when things go wrong. So, when the thing you sold the customer doesn’t work and they reached out to you for help, that’s a time to play great defense. So, your company is spending all this money and all this energy filling this goodwill bucket of loyalty, right? Great product, great brand, great store experience, great pricing model, great value prop, great message. And the last thing you want is when that stuff falls short and the customer needs our help to get problems fixed, that you’ve basically drilled a hole in the bottom of that bucket and all that goodwill is lost. And so, you don’t need to delight in service moments. Instead what you need to do is make it easier. You know, your point about the gold, you know, the tiered level of service and the gold, the gold service line or the, United flyer, like the one case service line.

Matt Dixon: (12:26)
What’s interesting there is I do think, and some of the research bears out, a lot of the table is set, in terms of how customers are going to perceive the experience, almost before they even get on the call or get it, you know, engaged with the company. And a lot of it is informed by what we call the baggage they bring to the table. And as a company you have got to handle the baggage. And so, one of the things that we know is that customers, especially higher tier customers; think about airlines or hotels or other loyalty programs, have a sense of self-worth, often inflated, about how important they are to the company is really important to, even at a surface level acknowledge they’re treated differently. It doesn’t actually mean that the service experience needs to be that different. But some level of acknowledgement of like, Gabe thank you for being a 1K and a you’ve been a 1K for 15 years, we really appreciate that. How can I help you today? But the truth is, that easier service that you’re getting as a 1K or gold medallion or blue-ribbon customer, everyone should be getting that easy experience. The fact that only some customers get it and the rest of them get hosed is a separate problem.

Gabe Larsen: (13:36)
But that is interesting because it does, that is still the stuff that’s, you mentioned the Nordstrom tires, right? I mean it’s like the Zappos 15 hours, that’s not out of our system. I mean this stuff is not, I mean I know the books now, it’s getting to be a few years back, but making it easy, it does seem like that’s probably a better place to start. I’ve just been having so many conversations about these fluffy things. You really caught me off guard because I’m like, you’re right. That’s funny. I’ve been talking so much about that, those aren’t, that isn’t maybe the fundamental stuff. The second point though that you mentioned was on the service experience. Did I hear you right? You basically said any time anybody interacts it’s basically negative because you just don’t want to do that.

Matt Dixon: (14:30)
Yeah. I mean there was a book and I was like, it’s a great title, which is The Best Service Is No Service. And I kind of wish I came up with that, which is actually not a bad, I mean, by the way, we all know that’s, that’s not possible, right? Especially in a world of complex products that we’re delivering to customers. That integrate with other products. Sometimes those are other things we make. Sometimes there are, you know, other products that we don’t control. But the customers’ expectations are going up. Products are more complex, yet the services are wrapped around those. But you know, in reality, I think it’s pretty simple, it’s that your customer doesn’t want to be having the problem and they prefer to get back to what they were doing before, whether that’s back to their jobs, whether it’s back to hanging out with friends and family. They don’t want to have to engage with you. They don’t want to build a relationship with you and they certainly don’t want to do it in that moment when they just need the thing to get fixed.

Gabe Larsen: (15:22)
Yeah. Yeah. Interesting. So the problem, it makes perfect sense, make it easy is where you obviously, where brands probably need to go in order to kind of really get this what you would consider, what we all want, get to the end outcomes is really making it effortless, and make it easy. Watch out for focusing on things that don’t directly correlate with the outcomes you want. I’m hearing that. How do you start to then coach organizations to do that? So, I’m sure some of my listeners hopefully are like, dang it. Yes, we’ve maybe been focusing a little too much on some of these things that we know now don’t tie to the outcomes we’re really being paid on or want to drive from an organization. How do I start this journey? Or what are some of the baby steps you could coach them on? That says, guys, this is how you start to think about making it easier, or effortless for your customers.

Matt Dixon: (16:12)
Yeah. You know, so I remember I was presenting to an airline in Europe a couple of years ago and I showed them those drivers of disloyalty: repeat contacts, transfers channel switching, repeating information, obstacles in the way of the customer experience, treating customers generically. And the response from the leadership team was like we flew you all the way over here from the U.S. to tell us that these things are valid? We already knew that! And so, they’re like, Oh, how do we do that? Because we’ve been trying to get out of repeat contacts and tell us like, we all know this stuff is bad. Maybe they never thought of it in quite those terms and maybe they didn’t fully appreciate that.

Gabe Larsen: (16:53)
You do frame it different, right? Because it does, when you, there’s so many things going on in customer service and when you can kind of whittle that down and be like, guys, let’s hit the things that tied most of the outcomes we want. That does provide a different perspective. So given that I still think it’s right, I know repeat channel flipping is bad Matt.

Matt Dixon: (17:16)
So I think the cooler part of the research I actually thought was that in the study we were able to identify which companies in the eyes of customers get it right. So, who are the companies who actually deliver a low effort, frictionless experience, and what are they doing that’s different from what everyone else is doing and how can we learn from that? So, we basically found there were four pillars of low effort service. So, we’ll go through them really quickly. The first one was what we call a channel stickiness. But really what this is, it’s something we all know to be true, which is customers today want to self-serve. They want to use digital, they want to self-serve on the problems.

Matt Dixon: (17:52)
They like being in control. But a lot of companies struggle with this because what they find is, they provide more capabilities, tools, digital opportunities for their customers who engage and customers still call. And there’s a lot that goes wrong in terms of how those channels and options are set up, how they’re communicated, how companies prescribe the right digital experience to the customer. And it’s not, what’s interesting is, a lot of it comes down to like, it’s not actually about spending more money. It’s about thinking about digital in a streamline, user centric kind of way, really, to almost thinking like a design thinking type of approach. So, the best companies understand it’s not about getting your customers to go to digital. They already knew you had a website. They already knew you had an app, they already went, they already tried it, and then they bailed out and called because of the place you sent them failed.

Matt Dixon: (18:41)
So it’s all about creating a sticky experience. And so, we get down into a set of, and we can talk about this if you want, but set of principles around what does that, how do you get the customer to stay in that digital channel, where they want to be anyway. And by the way, it was cheaper for you as a company too.

Gabe Larsen: (18:55)
But all but ultimately it’s a kind of a design experience exercise around that digital interaction that if it’s winning, it’s winning. If it’s not, it’s not. You’ve got a double-click there.

Matt Dixon: (19:05)
Yeah, that’s right. And you know, a real quick example I’ll give you is, you know a non-technology example, but one of the places that digital really falls short, is communication of information. So, when we go to a company’s website and we go to their knowledge base, or we just simply click on the FAQs and the stuff feels like it was written by attorneys or the compliance department. And it gets loaded with industry jargon. It’s really confusing. And the companies that get this right, write for language simplicity. And they write with customer language in a way that is sticky and resonant because it’s not to suggest our customers are dumb people. They’re not, but they’re all attention deprived and so they’re not going to spend a lot of time waiting through jargon. They’re just going to pick up the phone and call. And so, if you want customers to use your FAQs and knowledge articles, write it at a level of like a fifth grade reading level in customer terms. So, it’s easy to consume. It’s bite sized and it’s sticky. So just one example there. The next pillar was something we called a next issue avoidance. So, you know, in customer service, everyone obsesses about this idea of first contact resolution, get to one and done.

Matt Dixon: (20:09)
That’s the gold standard, that we solve the customer’s issue in one contact. But low effort companies go beyond that. So, they, yeah, they care that they solve the customer’s issue the first time around, but in their minds, simply doing what the customer is asking for is not enough. You’ve got to not just solve the issue they call you about, you’ve got to also forward-resolve the issue they might call you back about. And so, a lot of that has to do with, we as companies, providing services and products to our customers, when a customer calls in about issue A, when we solve issue A, what are the downstream issues, B, C, D and E that stem from solving that problem? So, think about it. A simple experience I had is a story I tell when I present, about a Dyson vacuum cleaner. I broke apart my Dyson and I called up Dyson. It was a really integral part. It turned out it was a dust filter cover on the side of the vacuum cleaner. I rammed into my dining room table leg and it broke off. And I tried duct tape and super glue and none of that stuff worked. So, then I called up and the rep took me to the Dyson website. It got to the exploded diagram of the vacuum cleaner and she said, you need part 21 J. Now if we hit stop on this, or even if she had asked me, “Have I fully resolved your issue today?” I would’ve said, yes. Perfect. Right? That’s the part I need. Thank you very much. But then she thought one step ahead for me. She said, you know what, I’m going to send you two of those.

Matt Dixon: (21:31)
And I said, well why? And she said, because in our experience, that part is really hard to install actually. And no offense, but guys tend to force it on there and when you do it, there are these little pins and plastic tabs. If you don’t get it on right and you break one of those, you’re back to the duct tape option which you already know doesn’t work. So I’m going to send you two now and if you get it right the first time, congratulations. If you get it wrong, then you have a backup. And I said, I was like, holy cow, that’s amazing. Doesn’t that cost you guys a lot of money? And she said, no, actually to be brutally honest, this phone call cost us more money than the second part.

Gabe Larsen: (22:03) No way.

Matt Dixon: (22:04)
Super cool idea and I, as a customer, would never know that. But Dyson, seeing this problem all day long, every day of the week, they do know that. And so, they’re in a great position to prescribe an experience and think one step ahead for me, which is great.

Gabe Larsen: (22:20)
So that’s kind of pillar two. So, pillar two is that kind of, you’ve got to go one step ahead, think one step ahead. Give me the next two. What’s the third?

Matt Dixon: (22:28)
The third thing is this idea of, you know, in service we all focus on teaching our reps kind of soft skills, right? Like smile through the phone, treat the customer as you would like to be treated. Those are all good things. Like I’m not going to knock it. My research didn’t show that those things are bad to do. You should do those things, but it’s not enough. And what best companies realize is that, you know, when you think about effort, part of the effort has to do with things that you have to do as a customer.

Matt Dixon: (22:55)
So I had to call back, I got forced out of the website and into the phone channel. I got transferred, I had to tell my story over, over and over again. But what we found was that’s only one third of the effort equation. Two thirds of the effort equation is how the customer felt about what they had to do. It’s their perception of the experience. And so, what that really means is when you get down to it, it’s about the language that representatives use in communicating a resolution to the customer and oftentimes communicating bad news to the customer. So, we tested a series of language techniques that have been written about in everyone from Robert Cialdini to (Daniel) Kahneman and others, really trying to look at language techniques rooted in human psychology and behavioral economics. Things like advocacy, proactive guidance, anchoring.

Matt Dixon: (23:39)
And what we found is the best companies are teaching the reps like, hey, don’t just be polite and smile through the phone, but when you have to communicate bad news there is a scientific way to do it that gets the customer to be more accepting of that answer, and perceive that it was actually easier than maybe it would be had you communicated a different way. So really, it’s about the power of language on that third pillar.

Gabe Larsen: (24:00)
Interesting. So then what’s four?

Matt Dixon: (24:03)
Four is all about, I think it’s all about the implications of if…. number one was like, hey, customers want to self-serve. We found in our research today, 80% of customers before they pick up the phone and call are going to go try to self-serve. And what happens in a world where we get good at self service, which most companies have gotten better at this, and the kinds of things that we as customers could do in self-service are way beyond what we can do even last month or last year.

Matt Dixon: (24:29)
Nobody calls to a call center to find out like if their flight is on time, nobody calls to find out where their package is, nobody calls to change their address or check their balance. We do this stuff on our own. But what happens in a world where the easy stuff goes away and what’s left for the live representative is the harder stuff, the more complicated stuff. So, in that world, it turns out we’ve got to hire a totally different individual and we’ve got to put them in the right environment. And even more, we’ve got to give them the right capabilities, the right tools, tools like Kustomer, so that they can engage with our customers. So, what we found is a couple of quick pieces there. One is, we did a global study of sales rep profiles. You remember Challenger, we found five types of sales reps. In Service, we found seven types of service reps. So, I won’t go through all seven. But I’ll tell you, there’s one that everyone jumps to. Remember everyone, all the sales leaders want the relationship builder. And it turns out the challenger wins. So there was a very analogous story in service. The one that everyone in customer service wants is the empathizer. Now the empathizer is your people person, right? They love on your customer. They sit on the customer side of the table. They hug the customer; they walk a mile in the customer’s shoes. What we found is that person dominates the current service population in big companies around the world. They are the most preferred to hire with the next open position by hiring managers, but they fall way short in terms of delivering a low effort experience.

Matt Dixon: (25:56)
The winner was actually one we call the controller and this is going to sound familiar to you being familiar with Challenger. This was sort of the sharp elbowed opinionated know it all of the call center. But they relish in their subject matter expertise and they love nothing more than that moment where the customer calls up, frustrated as they’ll get, having spent an hour on the website trying to solve this problem, they’ve made a big mess of it and then they call it in, in just abject desperation, and that rep says, you’re in luck. You got the smartest person in this joint and I’m going to take care of it. Their people skills may not be, you know, they may not have the warm fuzzies.

Gabe Larsen: (26:31)
But the effort, they solve the problem.

Matt Dixon: (26:35)
They solve the problem, they own it. And what it tells you is in a world where customers are trying to self-serve and they’ve already tried self-service and it’s failed, and then they pick up the phone and it’s the last thing they want to do is the last supportive last resort.

Matt Dixon: (26:46)
The last thing they want is an apology. And that’s what the empathizer leads with is a, I’m so sorry. You know, and then they start going through their checklist. What they want to do in that moment is to talk to somebody who’s smarter than they are about the issues they’re experiencing. But the other thing we found is, if you’re going to hire an army of controllers, you’ve got to manage those people in a different way because they won’t thrive in your classic factory floor contact center with scripts and checklists and handle time clocks. And by the way, the other thing we always tell leaders is if you really want to fix effort, you’ve got to understand that it’s impossible for your front line to deliver a low effort experience if you make the job hard for them. If you are a hard company to work for, and you’ve saddled your reps with old systems and old technologies, you know, if you’re not giving them a platform like Kustomer with the customers at the center, and I can see the whole timeline of interactions really easily and it puts me in the driver’s seat, I can’t overcome that.

Matt Dixon: (27:42)
Right. I can’t overcome the lack of that information, those capabilities. So yeah.

Gabe Larsen: (27:46)
Right. And you’ve got to be able to provide that, that that enablement certainly makes a difference. That’s funny. I’d forgotten that about The Effortless Experience. You did have the personas. That’s funny to hear you talk about both of them together. It’s the control, you called it what? The controller?

Matt Dixon (28:00)
Yeah, the controller. Actually that work there’s um… for listeners who want to check it out, there was an article we wrote an HBR in 2017 called “Kick Ass Customer Service,” which admittedly has the least Harvard business review sounding title of anything ever published, but it was their idea, not mine. But it’s all about those seven profiles. And then I wrote an article last year at HBR called “Reinventing Customer Service,” which is all about, you know, in a world of self service and higher customer expectations, we’re all focusing on effort. How do we fundamentally rethink the structure of the service organization? It is actually a detailed profile of what T-Mobile has done, with some really progressive work in terms of kind of turning their service model upside down. So I definitely encourage your listeners to check those two pieces out.

Gabe Larsen: (28:41)
Oh, I love it. Again, I think that kind of sums up the conversation, right? It is that word reinvention. We just need to continue to think about this differently. We’re still holding on I think to some older archaic ideas and it’s a fresh perspective. As we wrap here, wanting to just see if we can tie a couple of things together but then end with this, I know you’re at Tethr now and you’ve kind of brought this full circle with kind of an effort score. Can you tell us a little bit about how that kind of ties into the effortless experience? If someone does want to learn a little bit more about that or some of the work you’re currently doing, what’s the best way to do it?

Matt Dixon: (29:19)
Sure. So yeah, our machine learning at Tethr is all built off of and based on the research from Effortless Experience. So, in lay person’s terms for the non-data scientists or AI/ML people out there, basically our machine speaks effort, it understands effort. It is pre-tuned and programmed to start running calls and chats and other data through it to find those effort, high effort moments and those effort drivers in your conversations. One of the things that came out of the research was this idea of the customer effort score. And it was actually a sidebar in that original 2010 article. And we found in service environments, a customer effort score outperformed metrics like net promoter score and C-SAT in terms of predictability. Now it’s a cool idea, but I think what we found is, in the, call it 10 years since we, yeah 10 years since we wrote that article, the world has changed.

Matt Dixon: (30:13)
And one of the big changes is that customers don’t fill out surveys the way they did 10 years ago. And so, think about our desire, like if I’m a leader and I’m saying, hey, we want to reduce effort, what I want to do is understand how much effort did the customer have to put forth? How easy or hard is it to make this experience for them? Let’s ask them in our survey. But what happens if only 2% to 5% of your customers fill out the survey? You’re still wondering like where’s the effort coming from? Why, what’s happening? What’s happened over the past 10 years, this is what we’re really focused on in Tethr is we now have the ability to use machine learning to take unstructured data…. like think about that phone call we recorded, that chat interaction, that email exchange, whatever the customer conversational data is, data in Kustomer for instance… and teach a machine to score the level of effort without ever having to ask a customer to take a survey or give us an effort score.

Matt Dixon: (31:02)
Somebody said something to me a couple of years ago, which was one of the reasons I decided to go to Tethr, but they said, hey Matt, did you ever stop to think that the whole idea of asking a customer to fill out a survey to tell you how much effort the experience was is itself a high effort experience. And I was like, that’s totally totally true. We should not today, in today’s day and age have to rely on people filling out surveys to tell us this stuff.

Gabe Larsen: (31:33)
Like to tell us how they’re feeling. Oh man, it’s so true. I don’t feel that, I hate that stuff. I hate it.

Matt Dixon: (31:40)
Nobody feels it, you know the reality is like you might fill it out once and then the one time you shouted into the black box and the company never responds to you like you’re not filling out a survey again. Unfortunately, that’s the reality for like 99% of surveys out there. What we built at Tethr is something called the Tethr Effort Index, which is a predictive algorithm. So, it predicts the score a customer would have given on the survey without having to ask the customer to fill out the survey. So, there’s a few good uses of that, of really practical stuff. So, one is we’ve found on average about 15% of your interactions fall into that higher effort zone. We also know, we’ve looked at the correlations and we’ve started to study this in depth,those are the customers who are much more likely to turn out, much more likely to bad mouth you on social media or just you know, to their friends and family and its’ highly correlated with low conversion rate, low save offer acceptance. In other words, it’s highly correlated with all the bad stuff in our businesses that we want to avoid.

Matt Dixon: (32:35)
So the first to do there is if you knew across 100% of your interactions, your customer conversations, who are the 15% people who are going to turn out? Like, go out to those folks and actually, some research that Qualtrics put out recently suggest that that simple act of reaching out to the customer and finding out, hey something happened here. It wasn’t quite right. What can we do better to help us improve, is itself a real disloyalty mitigating moment even if you don’t give the customer anything away for free. And so that’s the first thing is like find those customers and go save those customers. Because keep in mind, of that 15%, a small percentage of them will actually tell you and fill out the survey and you’ve got all the other ones who will turn out. And you never know why. So, act against that.

Matt Dixon: (33:16)
The second thing is, you know, we know that our representatives are, there are behaviors when we write about this and The Effortless Experience that both reduce effort and also increase effort. So, who are the reps doing the good stuff that we want to pat on the back and who are the reps doing the bad stuff that we need to coach and get them better? And so, it gives you, tying it down to the agent level allows you to see who’s creating high effort moments and who is reducing them so we can get really actionable with coaching. And then I guess the last, the last piece we recommend is, there’s some stuff on there that you’re going to find that is not the job of the service organization to fix like problems with the website or problems with the product or the fact that the competitor’s product is outperforming ours.

Matt Dixon: (33:56)
But what this allows you to see is those systemic effort drivers that you can take to your business partners, that you can bring in to go work on eliminating so that those problems that ever happened to begin with.

Gabe Larsen: (34:07)
Matt that’s fascinating. I love the idea of actually, it does seem like that’s been amiss. We hit the effortless concept, but yet with the survey, we’re still doing that. Is there not another way to really figure out how people are feeling, their sentiment, and then figure out a way to get proactive to go outbound. So, I’m going to have to check out that Qualtrics thing. That does sound interesting. All right man. Well hey, really appreciate you joining such a fun talk track. Looking forward to working with you here in the future on different angles. Best way to get in contact with you, LinkedIn, anything there that you’d recommend?

Matt Dixon: (34:37)
So I always encourage, anyone, please, if you listen to the podcast, you like what you hear or you want to stay in touch, just shoot me a LinkedIn invitation. If you have a question, feel free to ask it. Ask it to me and I’ll do my best to respond. If you’d like to learn more about Tethr, visit us at By the way, Tethr is T-E-T-H-R. Because we’re a startup, we couldn’t afford the extra vowel, so it’s spelled incorrectly, but that’s okay. It’s cool. That is what the kids told me at least, so it’s, and you can learn more about the Tethr Effort Index, learn more about what we’re doing or requested a demo if you’d like.

Gabe Larsen: (35:10)
All right, well, Matt, thanks for joining. For the audience, have a fantastic day.

Exit Voice: (35:21)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.


How Customer Experience and Marketing are Intertwined

Podcast: How Customer Experience and Marketing are Intertwined TW

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe Larsen is joined by Dan Gingiss to discuss the intersection of marketing and the customer experience. Dan has worked for Fortune 300 companies, including McDonald’s, Discover, and Humana, in marketing and customer service roles. Dan talks about how merging marketing and the customer experience is a smart strategy to drive a remarkable customer experience and grow a successful business. Listen to the full podcast below.

The Intersection of Customer Experience and Marketing

The lines between customer experience and marketing are merging, and they’re merging fast. Dan Gingiss, a keynote speaker and customer experience consultant, focuses on how marketing and company organization affect the customer’s experience. According to Gingiss, “[Marketing] sets the stage for what we can expect… what kind of experience we can expect and what kind of products and services [a company] offers…marketing is also telling us about a brand. Is this brand funny? Is this brand serious? Are they going to value my security?…that’s where the intersection starts.” Marketing creates the first impression for customers, and user stories are the most authentic form of marketing. Additionally, creating a “remarkable experience” for customers can often turn into free marketing. When people find something they love, it is human nature to share it with their friends and family. By providing exceptional customer experiences, consumers naturally end up marketing for the company on their personal social media accounts. The intersection of the customer experience and marketing is growing closer and closer with the advent and popularity of social media.

How an Organization’s Structure Impacts the Customer Experience

Social Media increases authentic marketing, but a company’s structure effects how long customers stay once the marketing brings them in. One problem companies face is that while they are focused on gaining new customers, too many customers are leaving without recognition. Gingiss points out that most companies invest heavily in sales, not customer retention. This lack of attention current customers receive decreases the positive attitude customers have toward a company. Consumers expectations aren’t met and only some of them will leave reviews to say why they are unhappy. Companies should focus on striking a balance between growing the customer base and retaining existing customers.

Another important organizational change that could improve the customer experience is the way employees and customers interact. Letting customers build relationships with sales representatives is essential, but pointless if once they sign, they are passed off to another person. Allowing customers to work with the same people consistently would, as Gingiss states, decrease “undue stress on organizations and on their customers.”

Basic Steps to Improving Customer Experience

Gingiss describes a few simple ways to make communicating with customers more effective and explains how to create a “remarkable experience” customers can’t resist sharing. First is signage. Are all of the words surrounding your company helping boost the brand reputation? Gingiss asks a few important questions. “Is it communicating what you actually want to communicate to customers? … can you communicate something better?” Reevaluating how companies use words will help improve the customer experience and create more effective marketing. Lastly, use the information that customers share. Gingiss recalled an experience where a restaurant used the information he put in OpenTable to create a special birthday for his son, and had a birthday card for him when they checked in for their reservation. There are so many ways to make customers feel valued and create a positive customer experience. You just have to have the tools in place to do so

To learn more about the intersection of customer experience and marketing, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.


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Listen to “The Power of Marketing and the Customer Experience | Dan Gingiss” on Spreaker.

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Full Episode Transcript:

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 podcast. Today we’re going to be talking about marketing and the customer experience. This will be a fun one. To do that we brought on Dan Gingiss. He is currently a speaker and consultant in the customer experience space. Dan, thanks so much for joining and how are you?

Dan Gingiss: (00:30)
Hey, my pleasure. Thanks for having me on the show. I’m super excited to talk with you about two of my favorite topics and the intersection of them both.

Gabe Larsen: (00:38)
Yeah, customer experience and marketing. That’ll be fun to jump into. But before we do, can you tell us just a little bit more about yourself and kind of some of the fun things you’ve done in the past?

Dan Gingiss: (00:49)
Sure. My pleasure. I spent more than 20 years in corporate America climbing the ranks and, and having leadership positions to three fortune 300 companies. I was at McDonald’s, Discover and Humana, I’m mostly in marketing roles, but also in some customer service, customer experience roles. And what I found was really that, the key to a great marketing campaign was actually having a great customer experience. And I got really interested in that and started doing some speaking and research. I wrote a book, I blog, I podcast, all this stuff. And about a year ago I decided I was having a lot more fun doing that stuff then my real job. And so, I went off on my own and I started my own company. And now speaking and consulting is what I do professionally. And my joke that I like to share with people is I enjoy working for the Dan a lot better than I liked working for the man.

Gabe Larsen: (01:47)
Love it. I love it. Well, congratulations. Sounds like you’ve been able to get to a better place. I would agree. I don’t like working for the man either, but you know, you gotta do what you gotta do. So, let’s get into this conversation. Maybe just our big picture as we think about the intersection of customer experience and marketing, I think a lot of people are like, Whoa, what does he mean by that? Start there.

Dan Gingiss: (02:10)
Well, first of all, the, the first experience that you have with a company is often some form of marketing. You see a TV commercial, you get something in the mail, you get an email, you see them on social media. So that often is how we’re introduced to companies. And I would argue that that’s a very important introduction. It sets the stage of what we can expect when we do business with this company, what kind of experience we can expect and what kind of products and services they offer. Of course, there’s the features and benefits piece, but more and more, marketing is also telling us about a brand. Is this brand funny? Is this brand serious? Are they going to value my security? Are they an old brand, a new brand, etc. and so that’s where the intersection starts. That is really the first experience that we have.

Dan Gingiss: (03:02)
But one thing changed about, I don’t know, we’re probably at eight or 10 years ago, and that was the advent of social media. Now, I’ve been in marketing for most of my career and I mean starting all the way back in direct mail and leading teams in email, website marketing, social media, etc. And when I first got into social media, the thing that struck me was that it was the first marketing channel where people could talk back to you. If you think about it, we’ve never been able to talk back to marketing before. You can’t talk back to a billboard or to a super bowl ad, but, well, you can talk back but no one’s gonna listen. But all of a sudden, in social media people could talk back. I mean, customers had a public voice for the first time ever.

Dan Gingiss: (03:51)
And what I believe is that actually set in motion where we are at today, which is this major focus on customer experience. Because when customers finally got a voice, they said, we’re fed up with this. Well, we want better service. And, that’s why you saw, especially early days that most comments in social media about brands were negative. And one of the things I try to teach audiences when I’m speaking and my consulting clients is how do you change that sentiment? How do you get people talking positively about your brand, not just coming to social to complain. And so, the answer in my mind, which is that second intersection is by providing a remarkable experience to them that they can’t wait to share with their friends and family and social followers. And so, it all sort of comes back full circle where the, if you want to change the sentiment in social media, the way to do that is not to bombard people with more marketing, talking about how great you are. The way to do that is to have your customers talk about how great you are because there are a lot more believable and authentic.

Gabe Larsen: (05:01)
Yeah. Yeah. So that’s a little bit about that idea. I mean, I think people when they hear that last part, I’m sure most of us say got it right. I mean, yeah, the customers would be more authentic than hearing marketing. But why don’t we do it? What’s the thing that’s holding most brands back from kind of mastering that idea of pushing the customer first rather than their own voice first?

Dan Gingiss: (05:26)
Because if you look at the expenditures at almost any company, all the money is going to sales. It’s all going to acquisition of new customers. And meanwhile, we have what I like to call this leaky bucket, right? Where we have customers that are walking out the back door while we’re so focused on bringing in new ones and we’re not even paying attention to the people walking out the back door. We don’t know why they’re leaving. We don’t know. You know, we haven’t heard anything from them. Right? And we’ve all heard the same stats that it’s far more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep one. And yet, if you look at budget, companies are spending eight, nine, 10 times as much money on acquiring new customers as they are on making sure that their current customers are happy. Right? And so, and, and the thing is, is like where this gets really weird and you sort of wonder why more companies don’t pay attention to this, is that the customers who are complaining about your company are actually complaining because they care, right?

Dan Gingiss: (06:28)
They want a resolution. They want to keep doing business with you. They’re just unhappy with the service or with the experience. The bigger problem is that most customers when they’re unhappy, don’t complain. They just leave it. Just go to the competitor, right? I don’t like one, my mobile service sucks. I’m going to the competitors. And that’s the dangerous part, right? So when people come out into social and they complain, we should be listening and responding because these are people that want to stay customers. But likewise, the flip side is true, which is that when you are able to change your experience, likewise, I like to give simple, practical and inexpensive ways to change your experience to, to turn an ordinary experience into extraordinary. You surprise people and you get people wanting to tell the story.

Dan Gingiss: (07:23)
Because we don’t, as consumers, we don’t have very many positive experiences with brands. Yeah. I mean, I love to do this in front of an audience. I’ll say raise your hand if you remember the last time you were so impressed with an experience with a company that you couldn’t wait to tell people about it. And usually I get three or four hands. Okay, now raise your hand if you remember the last time you were disappointed by the experience with a company and almost every hand goes up. So what I like to say is you can be that company that people remember for the good experience and then you’re going to have people talking about the good experience and not the bad experience.

Gabe Larsen: (08:00)
Do you feel like…you kind of hit me with one of these lines on the, we spend so much more on acquisition than we do on retainment. is that because I mean obviously businesses are built like that in focus, but would you typically say to solve that Gabe, I recommend organizations kind of think structurally different. I mean we think of, we have maybe teams that are designed for more acquisition. We don’t really have teams like that are marketing, customer marketing or you know, upsell marketing, however you want to define it in your vertical or niche. is it a structure thing? Is it just a focus thing? Is it a strategy thing? How do you start to coach organizations to do that part better? Like guys focus on those customers and make them happier and win more.

Dan Gingiss: (08:50)
Yeah, I think it’s organizational and it’s two parts of it that don’t work and they’re both related to being siloed. So the first part is, is that at least in organizations that I’ve been down that are sales driven organization, the sales numbers are always built, assuming a certain amount of attrition. So for example, I was at a company recently where no joke, in order to net $1 million in sales, they basically had to sell 1.4 million dollars. Now that is putting way, it’s putting undue stress on your sales team. You know, it’s constantly rising sales goals to get harder and harder to achieve every year. But you know what, no one’s doing? No one’s focusing on that $400,000 going out the back door, right? It’s just, it’s just we’re assuming, well you know, we have this attrition and we’re going to lose some people, well we’ve got to make them up, cause our sales have to go up every year.

Gabe Larsen: (09:43)
Oh man. Man, you’ve talked to a few companies, haven’t you? I can tell.

Dan Gingiss: (09:50)
But the other part that’s structural is that usually the sales cycle ends as soon as the deal is signed. And this can be B2B or B2C. Correct. And there’s a, let’s think about this for a minute, right? Most people, whether you’re B2B or B2C, you buy from people that you like. You establish a relationship with the salesperson. And I mean very few people buy from people they dislike, right? So you’ve established this relationship with the salesperson. You’ve signed on the dotted line and two things happen. One, the salesperson goes and celebrates with his team that he just signed a new deal when he should be celebrating with his new customer who like any customer is going to have some amount of buyer’s remorse. So what we want at that moment is confirmation. We made a good decision.

Dan Gingiss: (10:40)
But the other thing that he does is he takes his brand new customer and he hands them off to somebody else to go execute on what the customer came for because they liked the salesperson, right? Now it’s like, well, I’ve been working with John and John sent me out the job, made all these great promises to me, and now I’m going to sign on the dotted line with John. And then John says, all right, thanks so much. Here’s Sally, right. It’s like, wait a minute, I don’t, I don’t know who Sally is. I don’t want to work with Sally. I want to work with John. And so those are the two things to me that cause undue stress on organizations and on their customers.

Gabe Larsen: (11:17)
Yeah. I’m getting amped up again! Oh man, it’s material. Well, you’re preaching truth. You’re preaching truth brother. Do you… what are some of the other, I mean, I’m actually now like trying to learn for myself. And I need to make sure I focus probably on the audience a little bit, but, your talk track Is really resonating. I’m like, oh geez, I totally do this. So I need to rethink some of my strategies. But when you were talking earlier, you mentioned there’s some simple, inexpensive kind of tips and tricks you do to help people think through some of this stuff a little bit more effectively. Bringing that back in. Anything kind of top of mind, simple, that you’re like, okay, Gabe, here’s a couple of brass tacks I could leave for the audience as they think about really upleveling the customer experience for their current clientele.

Dan Gingiss: (12:03)
So I’m glad you asked that. I often moved to real life examples and answer questions like this because I think that they’re just easy to relate to. I’m going to give you an example that actually happened last night. So I have not ever used this on stage or on my podcast or anything yet. Okay. Yesterday was my son’s 14th birthday and he asked to go to a steakhouse for dinner. Okay. So we booked a table through OpenTable. Okay. And we noted in the reservation that it was my son’s birthday. We walked into the restaurant and as soon as we checked in, they handed my son a birthday card. You’re kidding. And I was like, that’s amazing. Like that is brilliant. And they also, I said well, enjoy your meal. We’re going to have something special for you later.

Dan Gingiss: (12:55)
Right. And they ended up at the end of the meal, they brought out not a cake. They brought out a a box of homemade bonbons and a little sparkler on them. And you know, it said happy birthday Mark and whatever. It was really cool. But it was actually the card that got me, because I was like, man, that is so easy. How many companies know the birthday of their clients and do nothing with it? Yeah. And here they just, they didn’t even get it from us. Right? They got it from OpenTable. We go through OpenTable, we mentioned it was a birthday and boom, a birthday card. Now that is a simple, inexpensive way to really uplevel the experience. It will now be one of the examples I share. Of course, they took pictures because that is what you do when you’re a customer experience guy.

Dan Gingiss: (13:43)
But I think that you know, there’s other ways to do that. I love communication words, signage. I think it’s a, I was a college journalist for a while and so I loved writing and the words that we use are so important and yet we don’t spend enough time on them. So, if you have a physical establishment, I always recommend reading all of the signage that’s in and around your physical establishment. Is it communicating what you actually want to communicate to customers? What can you have at something? Can you communicate something better? Yeah. Also this goes for digital communication too. One of my favorite examples, and it’s in my book, it’s a company called iflix which is an Asian competitor to Netflix. Yeah. Now iflix, when they send out emails from their corporate email, like many companies at the bottom of the email, there’s a legal disclaimer.

Dan Gingiss: (14:39)
You’ve probably read it before it says if you’re the unintended recipient of this, you need to delete it immediately or we will take your children. Okay. But this one doesn’t say that this one actually starts off with three words in all caps covering our butts. Now I asked you if you see a disclaimer that says covering our butts, what are you going to do? Probably gonna, probably read it right? Because you’re like, wow, that’s got my attention. And if you read this disclaimer on iflix’s emails, the whole thing is hilarious and it’s very clear that it was written by both a lawyer and a creative person because the legal words are all in there. And even when there was a word where I could just imagine the fight going on, they use the word disseminate, right? And I’m sure the marketers just like, oh no, don’t disseminate me.

Dan Gingiss: (15:29)
So, they wrote in parentheses, it means spread because they knew that people wouldn’t know what it meant. The whole thing is brilliant and it’s taking a part of the experience on our podcast. We call it required remarkable, right? It’s a required part of your business, which is the legal disclaimers, but it’s making it remarkable. Can you imagine someone sharing your legal disclaimer on Facebook saying, I love this company. This is so cool, right? No one ever even thinks about that. Yeah. And that is, it was free for them to do that. And literally no cost, maybe an hour of somebody’s time some creative person’s time to rewrite it, but there’s no physical cost. So the ways that we communicate to people can have a huge effect on how we feel about a company and the experience that we have. And a lot of times today you make someone laugh or you know, you just sort of give them something that they can smile at and they’re along for the ride with you. They love you and they want to keep doing business with you.

Gabe Larsen: (16:31)
Yeah. That just feels so much more authentic, you know the legal, I’ve thought of some interesting things I think to kind of change the customer experience, but I’ll be the first one to admit I never considered messing with my legalese in my emails, so I might have to take that one to heart. That’s extremely creative, but I like it. You’re right. You look at some of those buying journey steps and that certainly is one of them. Legal with creative. All right, well I know our time is short, Dan. Really appreciate you taking the time. interesting talk track on bringing together marketing and that customer experience. I like the idea that, yeah, you’re right. Marketing has a power in the brand, so does customer experience how you bring it together. If somebody wants to get in touch with you or learn a little bit more about all the fun things you’re doing, what’s the best way to do that?

Dan Gingiss: (17:22)
Sure. This is my website, which is It’s Dan G-I-N-G-I-S-S dot com or hit me up on LinkedIn or Twitter where I spend much of my day engaging with people. I love to do that. So follow @dgingiss on Twitter and you can just search for my name on LinkedIn. I’m the only one there with that name and I always love to connect with people. I send out an every other week newsletter where I just share customer experience stories and articles and tips and just try to you know, give people good content that that gives them ideas. And I always try to focus on ideas that you can take back to the office and do tomorrow. You can go look at your legalese tomorrow. That’s something easy to do. I try to stay away from, there are some wonderful customer experience examples from very, very, very big companies who have lots of money to spend. And they’re great stories, but they’re not practical for most companies. And so hopefully somebody even in this conversation about something that says, you know what, I can go to work tomorrow and, and do that in my company.

Gabe Larsen: (18:33)
I love it. I love it. All right, well, hey, really appreciate you taking the time. Fun talk track for the audience. Wish you a fantastic day.

Closing Voice: (18:48)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.

Starting a Revolution: The Launch of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast

Starting a Revolution: The Launch of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast Twitter

Listen and subscribe to our podcast:

Three years ago, I wanted to start a podcast so…I did. A mentor of mine, Ken Krogue, told me that if I was going to do it, I needed to be consistent. I’m not sure he thought I’d take his advice but after three years we recorded more than 250 episodes and had nearly 20,000 subscribers. It was a blast and we want to do it again, but this time the focus will shift from the sales experience to the entire customer experience.

This isn’t just another podcast, it’s a podcast focused on customer service secrets. Customer service is broken and you and I both know it. Why? Think about the last time you were surprised by the service a brand provided to you. Can you remember? If you can, it’s probably only happened once or twice in your lifetime and that’s exactly the problem. We as consumers are WOWed by customer service so infrequently that it is a shock when it happens.

I had a friend tell me the other day that he had booked a dinner reservation for his son and when they got there the restaurant immediately welcomed them with birthday wishes and he was…shocked! I was happy for him and I could tell, as he spoke, that he was generally impressed. But, as I thought more about it, I couldn’t help but think, really? He made a reservation for his kid’s birthday and the restaurant acknowledged it? Is that how desperate we are for great customer service? Sadly the answer is yes and it’s got to stop.

The brands that are winning are ones that create memorable and personal experiences with their customers. The phrase “customer obsession” gets thrown around constantly, but it doesn’t quite get to the bottom of how we should be treating our customers, only that we should be obsessing over them. “Customer care” gets more quickly and directly down to brass tacks. When we really, truly care about our customers, and build a company culture that supports this care, we’re able to become leaders and disruptors.

And what do our customers care about in 2020? They no longer want to be treated like a transaction or a ticket. They want to feel like a valued part of the brand, and often choose where to shop because they identify with a brand and believe in their mission and values. Being able to deliver on a brand promise, before, during and after a transaction, naturally leads to a community of advocates. Customer service can be your most powerful tool, building up lifelong fans that go out and market your business for free, or your quickest downfall. The choice is yours.

The Customer Service podcast will launch in the next two weeks and each week a new episode will come out on Thursday’s at 6 AM ET. It will focus on helping leaders transform their customer service, with practical information from thought leaders and practitioners who will share their secrets to delivering exceptional customer service.

We need a new type of customer experience and this podcast will help facilitate it. We want to help build modern CX leaders instead of traditional ones.

  • Modern CX leaders are waging war against transitional thinking and they are winning left and right.
  • Modern CX leaders are turning their service centers into profit centers while traditional leaders are focusing on cutting costs.
  • Modern leaders are asking for forgiveness as they break barriers while traditional leaders are still looking for permission to be great.
  • Modern leaders are doers not talkers.
  • Modern leaders test everything with data while traditional leaders are still guessing.
  • Modern leaders have a playbook, while traditional leaders simply throw hail marys and hope to get lucky.
  • Modern leaders do whatever it takes to win, while traditional leaders are doing their best.
  • Modern leaders are changing the world and traditional leaders are simply trying to change their pay.

If this sounds like you, get ready to join us as we help revolutionize the customer experience!

Here’s a quick preview:

Listen to “What is the Customer Service Secrets Podcast?” on Spreaker.

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