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Customer Success is the Key to Business Success: An Interview with Shep Hyken

One of the things I love most about working at ICMI is connecting with the amazing people that make up the customer service community.  I love chatting with old friends and new during #ICMIchat each week.  I love seeing you all face to face at our events, and hearing more about your successes and struggles.  I also love learning from all of you—whether that’s through a phone conversation, a tweet, or a blog post.

Last week I had the great privilege of learning from one of the greatest.  I interviewed one of my personal customer service heroes, Shep Hyken.  If you haven’t already heard of Shep, stop what you’re doing and go check out his book Amaze Every Customer Every Time.  Shep is a best-selling author, award-winning speaker, and all-around nice guy.  He’s truly one of the smartest in the business, and his customer service insight has helped propel the success of many of today’s leading brands.

Check out my conversation with Shep to learn about how he got in the business to begin with, and how he thinks contact centers can better serve customers in the coming years.  Bonus: Shep also shares some really great advice on boosting morale and developing contact center leaders.

Q: Tell me a little bit about how you first entered the world of customer service.

Shep Hyken: Well it was back in 1983 when I decided to get into this business. I wanted to be a speaker and in the process of reading virtually everything that I could on the topic of business, I landed on a customer service book and as I read it I thought “this is everything that I've always believed in.” In college I worked in a retail store--actually a chain—and when I was younger (about the age of twelve) I had a little business. It was a birthday party magic show business. My parents taught me to always write a thank you note, show up early, and build confidence with my customers so they believed I was going to be there, do great job and give no hassle. Doing all this lead to repeat business and referrals, and I realized all the things that I was doing were very customer focused related activities to make that happen. Aside from the fact that I did a good magic show, everything surrounding my success was customer service related.

Q: What excites you most about the customer service industry today?

Shep Hyken: I think we've moved from customer service to customer experience. And if you'd asked many people five years ago what customer experience was they would say it was customer service and it was the experience a customer had during a service interaction, but now it's so much bigger.  It's no longer just about the people on the customer service team. Marketing is heavily involved, and it all ties back to branding and the brand promise you offer. The way to deliver on the brand promise is to create the experience that you promise. And at the end of the day, what defines the customer experience is whether or not you lived up to your promise.

I love how that's happening, but I also love how technology is making life easier for both the customer and the businesses. It took a while, and it's been around for a while, but think about the process of buying an airline ticket. You buy it online, then check in online and print your boarding pass or get it on your iPhone and you don't ever have to deal with an airline employee until you actually get to the gate and you're greeted to get on the airplane. Now is that a good thing or a bad thing? I think they've created a great system that streamlines the process and allows us all to save time, which I think is a really good thing. So I love how we're creating these self-service solutions and using technology to do so.

I also love that video is really so strong in the world of customer service that you can use it to teach your customer how to use your product more effectively.  For example, take a look at what some of the software companies are doing. You can go to salesforce.com, or YouTube and easily input a search query that pulls up hundreds of step by step tutorial videos to help you solve a problem. These are some of the things that excite me most right now.

Q: Many have said that 2015 is the year of personalized customer service. Others have said it’s the year of mobile, or video.  What’s on your radar for this year, and what do you think contact centers should be focusing on as they head into 2016?

Shep: I don't know what I would call it “The Year” of because I really think it depends upon what your customers are asking for.  In certain industries, mobile is hotter than ever. In other industries the concept of personalization is--especially in the retail world where you can collect data to personalize marketing messages, service offerings and the value that you bring customers. I really think it's almost industry specific.

Everything  you mentioned has already been done. We’ve been talking about video and mobile for a long time, and now that both are seeing some critical mass there's more of a tipping point. But something new that's coming up is a concept called customer success. It's been around for a little while but it's really starting to catch on.

It's all about a proactive approach to ensuring that the customer is successful with your product. For example, I do business with Infusionsoft which is the software we use for C.R.M. in our automation (our newsletters and that type of thing).  When you sign up for an account they assign you a coach and the coach works with you to help you understand how to use the software most effectively. This eliminates a lot of potential frustration. I remember when I bought my very first computer back in the 80’s, the person who sold it to me said this is going to do one of two things: either  you’re going to use it or you going to put it in your closet because you're too frustrated to use it. So essentially what Infusionsoft recognizes is that you’re either going to use their product effectively, or hate it. So what they do is assign a free coach to ensure your success. This also eliminates a tremendous amount of calls that the call center and support center might get if it weren’t for this proactive measure.

Customer success is exactly that--doing something proactively to help ensure the success of the customer.  And if you think about it, you can you can use video to do that, or any tool that takes the customer step by step through a process. Ensuring customer success means looking at the future and anticipating needs, but it also means answering questions your customers haven’t even thought of yet.

Q: We’re helping our customers gear up for Customer Service Week, which is the first week of October.  Why is Customer Service week so important for those in the contact center industry?

Shep: My first disclaimer is it shouldn't be a week of the year, it should be every day.  But Customer Service Week allows you to focus and re-energize and rejuvenate. It’s a great chance to remind people about the importance of customer service.

So why is it important? I would like to see it happen more often than once a year, but really it's a great time to renew and reset. Customer service isn't a department,  it's a philosophy, so the week should be for the whole organization, not just the contact center.

Look at a great company like the Ritz Carlton who's created an eight word mantra to define what their whole service initiative is: we're ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. Or think about Ace hardware. They use one word to define their mission: helpful. And they keep using that word (helpful) in all their training.  That simplicity around the vision makes it easy for everyone to understand, and when everyone “gets it” great things happen.

If I walked up to any employee in your company right now and I asked them what your company stands for when it comes to customer service, what would they say?

In our company everybody would say amazing. Always be amazing. That's our mantra.

Q: Do you have any tips for contact centers as they start planning for customer service week? What unique things have you seen in terms of celebrations or morale boosting activities?

Shep: I think it's really important to celebrate the wins and one way to do that is to let everybody share what their wins are. We call these moments of magic at my company.

Each week we ask everyone to take an index card and write down one example of a positive experience, or a moment of magic they created for a customer.  We do this every Monday during our team meetings. It’s easy to do, and you don’t have to go over the top. Some moments of magic are as simple as “I called the client back right away and they were surprised that I could get back to them so quickly.”

Getting in the habit of recognizing these moments of magic makes agents more aware when they’re creating them, and it begins to permeate the culture.

Q: We were honored to have you serve as a judge for our 2015 Global Contact Center Awards. In your opinion, what does it take to deliver award-winning service these days?

Shep:  The simplistic answer is consistency and predictability of a good experience. When the customer contacts you through a support channel—regardless of the channel-- they should know what to expect and it should be consistent.

If, for example, I tweet something out “hey I have been having a problem with xyz” and I get a response in five minutes, guess what?  I'm going to use Twitter next time and expect the same outcome. What happens if it takes three hours to get a response? I've completely lost confidence.

That’s why when I’m judging I look for consistency and predictability of a good experience.  Show me evidence of that and you’ll get my vote for award-winning any day.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d offer to a young professional just beginning  their career in customer service?

Shep: Well to start I would suggest that you read as many of my books as possible and attend every #ICMIchat that you can. :)

I’m kidding, but I do think you have to immerse yourself in the industry, and look to gain as many different perspectives as you can.

My number one piece of advice is you have to come with the right attitude. Show up with a service attitude, and then expand on your strengths and passions. The best way you can do that is through education.  I read almost a book every week or so. I also spend several hours each week reading articles, and that keeps me on the cutting edge.

When I was just getting started I read everything I could.  I think if you are willing to spend a half an hour to an hour each day on your education you’ll further your expertise in your field and be deemed an expert within a year. Within five years you can become an authority.  I think that’s true for any industry.

Immerse yourself in your work. If you're a manager in a call center get up from your desk and shadow your team as much as you can. Listen to calls, learn about different personalities, learn what works and doesn’t work and really be very open to accepting everything that comes your way.

Never discount an idea just because you may not agree with it. There are plenty of things that I don't agree with but I try to recognize the validity of it and see how I might apply it to other situations.


Ready to expand your network and immerse yourself in contact center education?  Join us for ICMI's Contact Center Demo and Conference in Las Vegas.