I recently provided an interview which I thought would be of interest to the CXpert readers.
1. Was it one particular customer service experience (good or bad) that inspired your work? If it wasn’t one experience in particular, could you tell us where your CX passion came from?
Everybody has a different story when it comes to how they came to work in the CX profession. After all, it’s not (yet) like law or medicine where you finish high school, do a 3-year course at university and then begin your career in a graduate position. My undergraduate degree was in Marketing and after spending a few years doing that early in my career, I was asked to move into a Sales role. I found that I loved selling – to me it was solving customer problems using the products and services of the company I worked for. For the next 20 years I spent time with customers daily learning about their pain points, their motivations, their preferences… everything. I made it my business to understand them as best I could so that I could accurately convey that information back to my company to ensure I got what I needed to address their issues.
In 2013, I started working for a local feedback vendor. When I began researching what feedback could do for a company, I was directed towards a couple of relatively new disciplines in Australia at the time: employee and customer experience. As I began reading about them, it completely resonated with what I’d always thought about how businesses could profitably grow – focus on people! Engage employees and understand your customers and anticipate and deliver to their needs. I decided that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my career and so six months later I opened the doors of my own customer experience consultancy which I called CXpert and I’ve never looked back. I now work with a variety of clients across a number of industries to help them grow by becoming more human-centric.
2. You state that “providing an exceptional customer experience is the only sustainable competitive advantage”. Can you tell us more about this statement? Why do you use the word “sustainable”?
I’ll start my answer by defining the term. A sustainable competitive advantage is a company asset, attribute, or ability that isn’t easily replicated or surpassed that provides a superior or favourable long-term position over competitors. Some examples include a unique manufacturing process, a patent, the special skills of an employee, or a brand name that’s been built over a long period of time.
The thing about each of these examples is that they won’t last forever. A competitor could start manufacturing using the same process, the patent could expire, the employee with the special skills could be wooed to a competitor, and a brand name could be destroyed overnight by a scandal (Volkswagen dieselgate anyone?).
For a competitive advantage to be truly sustainable, it should last in perpetuity. And that’s exactly what will occur if you continually update your knowledge of customers so that you understand their needs (both stated and unstated) and then deliver a great experience when meeting them.
3. There’s a quote by Maya Angelou that says, “…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. In fact, I guarantee everyone reading this has had an experience as a customer that left them with an unforgettable feeling, both ones they cherish and ones they want to forget. How much truth do you believe is in this statement? What role does this concept play in creating the best CX?
The way I define customer experience is: every interaction that a company has with its customers and (critically) how they feel about it. So from the perspective of customers, good customer experiences are three things. First and second, they are useful (they deliver value) and usable (the organisation has made it easy to find and engage with the value). The third (and I would argue most important) aspect of good customer experiences is that they are enjoyable i.e. they are emotionally engaging.
So customer experience is ALL about feeling and emotions and its why the wonderful Maya Angelou quote is so often used in our world. CX designers need to target the head AND the heart.
4. In one of the guest articles you shared in your blog, the speaker, who is a CX consultant based in Cape Town, mentions how most of the CEOs she spoke with had no idea about customer service. They were aware of the technical aspects of information gathering, like customer surveys, but they were clueless when it came to the real-life connection with their customers, often assuming that was the responsibility of the frontlines. What can you say about the importance of higher ups in developed companies having a solid grasp on CX?
I loved that post by Julia Ahlfeldt on what it was like as a CX consultant to move from the US to South Africa in 2010. When she first got to Cape Town and started talking to executives she realised that CX wasn’t even on their radar. In 2019, the statistics around customer experience are now so overwhelming that I doubt if she moved there today that this lack of understanding would still be apparent within the top echelons of South African organisations.
Studies like the one done by Walker that found that by the end of 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. Or the Watermark Consulting study that found that CX Leaders outperform the broader market whilst CX Laggards trailed far behind. Or even the Customer Experience Impact report that found that 82% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company as a result of a negative experience. There are a mountain of statistics that prove out the worth of striving to improve your customer experience.
So what can I say about the importance of executives having a solid grasp on CX? Its absolutely critical! And to your point about CEOs assuming connection with customers was the job of frontline staff, improving CX is EVERYBODY’s job. It doesn’t just sit with the CX Manager or frontline staff or Marketing. Everyone in the company is either supporting a customer directly or supporting someone who is so the responsibility is on everyone. Executives need to spend time connecting with customers regularly be that on the phones, out in the field, or as part of a Customer Advisory Board. Great leaders do not allow themselves to become disconnected from occurrences on the front line.
5. I’d like to move into a detail regarding strategy. When most of us think about where to start with CX, we go straight to the customer. But in your article on developing a CX strategy, you make it clear that the first step is the company’s vision. In fact, a saying by Simon Sinek that many entrepreneurs are familiar with is, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. What are some universal methods of conveying a company’s “why” through CX? For example, let’s say I have a company selling organic snacks. I do it because I’m passionate about providing health and wellness to people who are low on time. Then let’s say my customer is complaining about an unfulfilled order they made online. How could I possibly connect my vision to the way I approach this particular experience? How can businesses do it generally, as a strategy and a principle?
I love that video by Simon Sinek and thoroughly recommend watching it. If you haven’t already, it will be the best eighteen and a half minutes you invest in yourself all day. Companies’ “why”s are generally communicated through their Mission, Vision and Values which then translate through to the way the company treats people; both employees and customers.
Taking your example, if you were serious about looking after people who were low on time, you never would have allowed an order to go unfulfilled in the first place because contacting a company to complain about it takes up even more of your customer’s time! When you opened for business, you would have installed systems with the necessary reliability to ensure orders were never missed.
But mistakes happen and let’s say this was a human error. Often, the way you respond to an error like this can actually improve your relationship with customers. By genuinely apologising, being transparent with why the mistake happened, reinforcing your “why”, and offering the customer a small token (associate it with health and wellness to further reinforce your “why”) to compensate them for their time, you could actually turn this customer around 180o and make them a promoter.
So companies need to define why they exist. And it’s not to create shareholder value or make oodles of money for the partners – both of those “reasons” are outcomes. Once you’ve defined that, define your aligning Mission, Vision and Values. And then communicate them far and wide and make them easily accessible for employees and customers alike. I recommend putting them up on the walls of your business to constantly remind people why they come to work each day and what they’re there to do but there’s many ways you can share your “why”. I’ll tell you a quick story to illustrate.
In 2014, I showed my brother, Marcus, that Simon Sinek video. He was just about to open a new bar in Adelaide, South Australia and was inspired by it. He immediately went to work defining his “why” and incorporating it into his new brand. That definition became: “We aim to lift spirits, both yours and those in your glass, through serious hospitality, while not being that serious about ourselves”. The bar, Hains and Co, opened in January, 2015 and today, you’ll find their tagline “lifting spirits” in all of their marketing, in artwork on the walls of the bar, and on external signage. The fact the bar is still open after almost 5 years speaks to its popularity and if you’re ever in Adelaide, I’d highly recommend a visit. Even without the family connection, I’d still drink there because it’s a wonderful space and the service is excellent. If you go, ask for The Admiral and tell him I sent you.
6. I’d like to take a detour and share an interesting titbit about Disneyland. I believe we can learn a lot from them, as they are one of the most committed companies to CX out there. Did you know that whenever something negative, or unsightly occurs, such as a child being sick in a bush, the entire staff at Disney, down to the ones serving your drinks, are trained to redirect attention away from the disturbance? While it may be an extreme example, do you think the same concept of having similar measures in place could teach us anything when used in more traditional CX set-ups? Similarly, what are some of the most important things that need to happen behind the scenes, that customers don’t realize, that help manage (or steer attention away) from a bad experience?
When it comes to CX, you never want the poor experience of one customer to taint the experience of another which is precisely why Disney staff have been trained in the way you mentioned. If an angry customer came into my store and started complaining in front of other customers, I would quickly usher them towards a secluded part of the store. The same principle applies on social media where you’ll often see companies urge complaining customers to interact with them via direct messages.
The things that need to happen behind the scenes to manage bad experiences are first and foremost, training frontline staff to deal with situations and people appropriately. Then giving them the tools they need to correct poor experiences and empowering them to do what’s needed to make things right. The best example of this comes from The Ritz-Carlton hotel chain which empowers its employees to spend up to $2,000 to solve customer problems without asking for a manager. That’s not $2,000 per day or per week. Its $2,000 per incident. When you consider that the Customer Lifetime Value of a typical Ritz-Carlton guest is around $250,000 though, that amount doesn’t seem as large.
7. Even the folks behind such a well-developed CX as Disneyland still know they can’t control everything. Bad things will still happen, and people will complain. What are the best methods for dealing with complaints? Are you familiar with any tried and true techniques to deflate an angry customer? Most importantly, can those techniques be used effectively for online businesses?
Its timely you’re asking this question because I’m working with a company right now on how their contact centre should handle irate customers. In the age of social media, where bad experiences can be shared thousands of times, companies must have effective ways of dealing with angry customers in place.
There are a number of things I advise companies to do when confronted with an angry customer. The bare minimum is as follows:
All four of these principles are applicable across any customer service mediums and can be used effectively in face-to-face situations, on the phone or online.
8. Finally, I’d like to ask one more vital question. Considering that our readers are working with new technologies, like automated chatbots, what are the most essential, non negotiable elements of CX that cannot be sacrificed, no matter the delivery method? How can their CX strategy integrate with modern technology without losing the “human touch”? How much technology is too much technology?
Going back to my response to question 3, the three elements of good customer experiences they are useful (the customer is able to do what they wanted to do), they are easy (i.e. frictionless) and they are enjoyable. The most essential, non-negotiable element of CX that cannot be sacrificed from that list is the first: the customer has to be able to do what he engaged the product or service to do in the first place. In terms of Jobs To Be Done theory, he has to have completed his job.
When it comes to the new technologies being employed by businesses today such as AI and chatbots, my advice to clients is to maintain the human touch by making it easy for customers to talk to a human at any stage of an interaction. Chatbots are great for low involvement interactions but irate customers will only go atomic if you don’t make it easy for them to talk to a human. And when that happens, you’re risking social media retribution.
How much technology is too much technology? That’s a question for your customers.
Ben is a customer experience specialist with over 20 years’ experience developing and implementing customer acquisition and retention strategies among some of Australia’s largest organisations. Through his consulting company, CXpert, Ben now helps clients grow by becoming more human-centric. Specialty areas include employee engagement and culture, strategy development, insight programs, and customer service.
This post first appeared on the ICMI blog in February, 2022. I started my career in my early 20’s working
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