Hi Sharon-Drew, tell us about yourself and your background
As someone with Asperger’s, I knew I was ‘different’ but desperately wanted to show up as normal. Since there seemed to be no available process to make the changes I needed (I realized it’s not possible to change a behavior by trying to change a behavior), I’ve spent my life developing models that facilitate systemic brain change.
My change facilitation models are used in several industries, including Buying Facilitation® for sellers to lead people through their change/buy-in issues; How of Change™ to enable folks to permanently change habits/behaviors by creating new neural circuitry; a new form of question to enable decision making; a way to listen without bias; and a Learning Facilitation model for course design to enable brain change during training. I’ve worked with leaders, influencers, doctors, coaches, sellers, and customer service teams to help clients change permanently without resistance and with buy-in. All my work is systemic, and based on spiritual values, such as trust, integrity, and servant leadership.
My book Selling with Integrity was the first sales book to be on the NYTimes Business Bestseller’s list. I’ve written several books and many hundreds of articles, trained 100,000 sellers, customer service managers, and leaders in global corporations, and invented new ways to communicate to exemplify win/win. I believe all answers reside within individuals/teams and a leader’s job is to serve and facilitate.
What is the biggest misunderstanding about customer experience, in your opinion?
Best I can tell, companies don’t understand how, or even why, to put customers first. I recently read this sentence on a customer service site (Revechat): “With increasing evidence that customers are the backbone of businesses….” Do we really need evidence that customers are the backbone? Without customers we’re not in business.
Most companies are rule-bound and tech heavy to save money, time, and resource. I was once called back by a customer service rep during his break, on his own phone. He wanted to make sure I got my problem fully resolved because there wasn’t time within the 3 minutes he was allowed per call to take care of me. That’s just wrong.
IMHO the biggest misunderstanding companies have is that it’s about them. To truly care about customers, they must actually put the customer at the very center and trust that the numbers will pay off the resource expenditure.
What are some of the newer CX companies/solutions you’re keeping your eyes on right now?
Sadly, I’ve not run into many companies that serve me as a customer. Sure, many say all the right things. But then they employ long hold times, ‘not my job’ runarounds, and rules that make little sense for me. So, I’ll respond here as a customer.
Amazon.com takes care of me. I’ve read that they don’t take care of their suppliers, so I may be out of line here. But they do take care of me as a customer. Also, Carbonite. In fact, I’ve found Carbonite’s service the best I’ve ever had. They are always available, answer the phones with live people who really help, and take whatever time it needs – sometimes days – to resolve a problem. I love them. (BTW Best Buy has the very worst service. I’m amazed they’re still in business. They very obviously deeply dislike, disrespect, and distrust customers).
Sharon-Drew’s tips for improved customer loyalty
What can companies do to improve customer loyalty and retention?
How do you define ‘customer’? My staff are my first customers. When I keep them happy they keep clients happy. Remember the old myth that the Nordstrom customer service rule book was one line: Use your best judgment. Once you ask employees to use best judgment, you must hire employees you can trust. And then you must trust them.
Companies must regulate at the values level and stop trying to police staff and clients at the rules level. It harms everyone and you lose just as many good employees as you do good customers. I just worked with a well-known company who couldn’t understand why they had such high turnover. I spoke with 30 of them; 15 of them cried (literally!) about being disrespected and ignored. They had even stopped complaining because their managers didn’t care. The company was paying them well above industry standard, so they just collected paychecks and had stopped offering ideas, creativity, or enthusiasm. Best I could tell they weren’t taking such good care of their customers either.
Here are my thoughts for improving loyalty and retention:
- HAVE ENOUGH REPS Seems to me current customer service has been created for the ease and cost savings of the company. Long hold times? Hire more reps! It’s not the customer’s responsibility to be patient because you don’t hire enough support staff! Best Buy kept me on hold once for 13 hours! When the guy finally called it was 3:10 AM! When I answered he said, and I kid you not, “So how are you today?”. When I groggily said, “Not so happy to start my day at 3:00 in the morning with this phone call after waiting 13 hours” he hung up on me. 13 hours. That’s just wrong.
- OWN THE PROBLEM The ‘not my job’ syndrome is endemic. Whoever answers the phone should own the problem! So many companies keep me on hold, then pass me along to many (many!) reps – each with long hold times – as part of the ‘not my job’ syndrome. It’s wrong. It IS your job.
- NO MORE CONTACT FORMS Get rid of those damn contact forms on your websites. No one wants to fill them out because we know you’re merely capturing my name to send me spam. Give me an email address connected with someone who will take care of me and solve my problem.
- STOP WASTING CUSTOMER TIME Most processes are set up to save companies money, not to take care of customers. We’ve all spent hours and hours trying to ‘get through’ to phone companies or tech companies or government groups. Why is my time less important than your time, just to save you money? I’m the customer! I paid your salary for goodness sakes. Just askin.
- RETURN CONTACT WITHIN 24 HOURS How many days, on average, does it take to get a return call to solve a problem? I don’t know. I haven’t figured it out. Certainly more than three. Again, it’s just wrong. Makes me never buy from that company again.
Customer loyalty and retention are the same. When you put customers first, they are loyal. And it’s never a price issue. Make customers feel cared for and they’re yours.
When I ran my tech company, I had 26 competitors. To make sure my staff and clients stayed happy, I did the following:
- I called all my customers monthly. I was small – only had 50 techs in the field – so I was able to do this if I kept the calls to 7 minutes. We never talked business. If business came up we made a different appointment time to discuss it. I wanted them to know I cared.
- I kept in touch with my techs with monthly calls. They were only 4 minutes, but I supplemented the calls with a monthly meet up to play darts at a pub (I lived in London). I always lost.
- I hired a ‘make nice’ guy to make sure I had no fires to put out. John made sure the techie’s programs didn’t crash on client sites, checked they were in positive work situations, and kept in regular contact with our customers. I told him he could take whatever time off he wanted to so long as the staff and clients were happy and the programs didn’t crash. I had no fires and my business doubled annually. All I had to do was grow the business. I ended up with 11% of the market, leaving the other 26 companies to share the rest.
When staff and clients feel individually cared for, they’re loyal and don’t seek other vendors or jobs. When clients are left on hold for hours, routed around among several people with too-long hold times, get sent a bunch of spam, and notice no personal care whatsoever, they have no reason to be loyal. Treat them like a number, they treat you like a number. Simple.
Here is my question: what would it look like for a customer to really (No. Really.) be central? It would look like a circle, with customers in the middle, the next circle would be the technology that touches them, and this technology would be set up to get the right details to the right teams to get the customer what they need. Why is this difficult?
What do you think is most relevant and why: CSAT (Customer Satisfaction Score), NPS (Net Promoter Score), or CES (Customer Effort Score)?
Let’s see: the NPS score is short term and merely highlights results following a single interaction. If a customer has a good interaction, they’ll provide a higher score, a bad interaction a bad score. Not to mention I’m asked to rate a poor call then rate a good company, what do I do? It’s relatively useless. There’s no way to know what, exactly, worked or didn’t work, or what to do differently.
The CSAT score only tracks people who respond, obviously a biased sampling. It certainly misses any specificity of what a company can do to become better.
CES score is spurious. While a customer might ignore a company that makes it difficult to work with them, they won’t necessarily choose a company that’s easy. Not to mention ‘ease’ is not necessarily an indicator of good customer service. So what, exactly, is being measured?
I would create a wholly different type of scoring system based on surveys and questionnaires that gave me the data I needed to be better. Might not be perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction. Questions like:
- What would you need to see from us to be willing to continue working with us?
- What has stopped you from getting the best experience from us – the type of experience you deserve? What would we be doing differently for you to continue, or return to, using us?
- What would you prefer we add to our outreach to keep you happy over time?
The answers will reveal what companies can do to improve, let customers know they are cared about and their ideas are respected, and offer exact ideas rather than being happy or easy.
How can companies better use social media in the era of customer-centricity and personalization?
Customers need help figuring out how to fix their problems simply. It’s possible to offer articles that offer useful ideas about change, or relevant ideas to help resolve problems in the subject area your solution resolves. You can even mention competitors if one of them can help resolve a particular problem. Share problems and ask for ideas. Create a collaboration rather than using social media as a push technology.
Also, companies currently pay far too for content providers who merely write up marketing pieces that tout the virtues of their product. Who, exactly, reads those? Certainly not would-be buyers who know better than read counterfeit information. Why not create marketing content that helps customers amass all the necessary stakeholders needed to buy-in to a purchase? Or how to incorporate exiting software when adding new technology? Why not really try to help instead of pushing boring content that they can get from your site?
What is your opinion on AI-based chatbots to handle customer support?
They don’t work, get people annoyed, and everyone I know figures out how to avoid them. A colossal waste of time, effort, and money. Maybe in 10 years when bots know how to have real conversation and show concern.
What was the best movie you saw that has come out during this past year?
I’m a cinephile. When I lived in Austin TX, I saw 150 movies a year. This past year made going to the movies impossible, so I was relegated to streaming them. But there were enough quality movies to chooses from. And of course, I can’t choose one.
As mother of a disabled son, Crip Camp was heart wrenching and heartwarming and funny.
As a wild child of the 60s (OK, a hippie) I loved Trial of the Chicago 7 (and I was friends with Jerry Rubin back in the day).
Mole Agent was charming.
And 4 of the 5 Small Axe films by McQueen.
That’s one, isn’t it?
Last but not least, what is your favorite CX metric?
Before I name the ones I find important, I want to offer a suggestion. Since the customer service reps speak with customers daily, why not poll them for ideas, patterns they notice, ideas for resolution. Then you must listen to them.
Here are the metrics I believe will give companies a broad picture of how they’re doing:
- How much staff turnover are you experiencing? A high turnover means unhappy employees and most likely unhappy clients.
- Customer churn: How many customers are leaving? Do you know why?
- First contact resolution: whoever answers the phone owns the problem or takes responsibility, make calls to the other folks to gather the right data then get back to the original client. So many ways to take care of an incoming call that could be used to show respect and serve.
As business owners, we are responsible for serving people, our staff and our customers. Our companies are the vehicles with which we serve. And if we can trust that by serving people we will profit and grow, we can all thrive.