Jeff, tell us about yourself and share some background. How did you get to the CX space?
I’ve been customer-obsessed since day one.
My first job was in a retail clothing store. I was just 16 and had no idea what I was doing when I started that job. On my first day, the person who was supposed to be training me left me alone on the sales floor after 15 minutes. I was utterly unprepared to help, and I did a poor job with the first customer I served. He asked me if we carried a particular product and when I hesitated to answer, he stormed out of the store in a huff.
It was a terrible feeling, and I resolved to never feel that way again.
Since then, every job I’ve had has focused on improving the customer experience. At first, this was in the corporate world. In 2005, I started my own customer service training firm. Today, my company focuses on the broader customer experience by offering books, training videos, and presentations that help clients get customer-obsessed.
Online commerce was booming in 2020; how did it affect brands’ approach to customer experience? – What should be the main focus for brands this year?
A lot of that boom came when the pandemic hit in March, so let’s start there.
Brands were initially caught off-guard. There were shipping delays, product shortages, and intolerable wait times for customer service. I tried ordering coffee from my favorite local coffee shop, The West Bean, and the experience felt like online shopping in the late 90s.
By May, many companies started figuring it out. They added staff to fulfillment centers, improved processes, and started getting shipping times back to pre-pandemic levels. Locally, The West Bean revamped it’s e-commerce system to make it far easier to order their delicious, freshly roasted coffee beans and get them delivered in just a few days.
In September, we really started to see some big changes. Companies found more efficient ways to handle growing numbers of returns and retailers with brick and mortar locations became more savvy at leveraging both their physical locations and online presence. The West Bean began proactively notifying me when it was time to order more coffee while also sending me tantalizing photos of specialty coffee drinks I could purchase in one of their physical stores.
Jeff’s checklist for CX strategy
In your POV – What is the ultimate checklist for a good customer experience strategy?
I recommend using the framework of a guarantee to help companies create an effective customer experience strategy.
It starts with understanding the problem your customer is trying to solve. Customers don’t really buy a product or service. They buy solutions to their problems. For example, people buy from Amazon because they need to buy something and get it quickly and conveniently.
Once you understand what problem your customer is trying to solve, you can offer a guarantee. This has three components.
The first is a promise to solve the customer’s problem. This provides assurance to prospective customers and helps you win their initial business. For instance, Amazon tells you exactly when you can expect to receive an item you order.
The second element is taking action to keep your promises. Companies don’t spend enough time obsessing about this. Executives often declare something and then just hope for the best. Amazon has the biggest share of the e-commerce market because as a company it never stops trying to improve it’s order accuracy and delivery efficiency.
The third element is a recovery plan. With an experience guarantee, you must have a way to restore trust if something goes wrong. For instance, Amazon has a very simple returns process and has even started allowing customers to keep inexpensive items they wanted to return to help customers avoid the hassle. (Of course, this also helps Amazon save on returns processing costs.)
I outline this approach in my new book, The Guaranteed Customer Experience.
What was the biggest lesson you learned in 2020?
Flexibility. A significant part of my business is keynote speaking. That business cratered in the first week in March. Rather than just giving up or waiting for things to get better, I immediately started improving my ability to speak at virtual events. It took a lot of work and several months of effort, but I eventually got my virtual volume to match what I used to do in-person.
A lot of businesses did this as well. They saw the trends and then hustled to adapt what they were doing to better meet customers’ needs. Fine dining restaurants developed take-out menus. Retailers accelerated cashier-less checkouts. Apparel companies made masks that coordinated with your outfit. Seriously, who would have thought masks would become a fun fashion item?
It’s amazing to see how many companies adapted their approach to customer experience in 2020.
2020 was the year of webinars and online events. What was your favorite one?
It’s hard to answer this question without being self-serving. We were flooded with online events last year, and most of them weren’t very good. They were typically boring presentations where the presenter droned on in a monotone voice while the audience was forced to stare at a terrible PowerPoint slide.
The best virtual events are dynamic. They involve the audience and give participants practical information they can use right away.
One of my favorite examples is a webinar I co-facilitated with Micah Peterson at ProcedureFlow. ProcedureFlow makes knowledge base software that helps contact center agents quickly access procedures on the fly while serving customers. We ran the webinar entirely by answering participant questions about moving their training programs from in-person to remote and demonstrated a lot of the techniques we discussed using impromptu examples. Over 90 percent of the people who attended stayed signed in the entire time.
It looks like working from home is going to stay with us for the foreseeable future; how should CX Executives gear up to the changing times?
Managing a remote workforce causes leaders to make a fundamental shift. When your employees are in the office, you can see them and you assume they are working. But when they’re remote, now you have to spend more time defining clear goals and managing outcomes.
That’s a better way to manage anyway, but it’s new stuff for a lot of executives. The ones who are doing really well were already adept, or have gotten adept, at setting a clear direction, providing feedback as appropriate, and assessing performance based on what employees are able to achieve.
Last but not least, what is your favorite CX metric?
In the for-profit world, the most successful businesses understand the connection between customer experience and profit. A great experience will help you win new customers and then keep them coming back. It will also decrease your servicing costs over time. That all flows to the bottom-line.
There’s definitely a natural tension between experience and profit. You can offer the best experience in the world, but you can’t stay in business for very long if it’s not profitable. Likewise, you can cut costs to the bone and temporarily increase profits, but that’s rarely sustainable in the long run if you can’t offer a consistently great experience.