Hi Steve, tell us about yourself and your background.
I started way back as an agent, in the late 70s, and moved into management in some larger corporations in the 80s. At that time, what we talked about in business was the idea that you don’t know what you don’t measure. And a lot of it was based on both the internal and the external clients. So, for my entire life, my background has been built on the idea that it’s through the customer that you get the outcomes that you’re looking for.
And really, that was the purpose all along. Over the years, I’ve worked in many training sessions regarding client experience. And inevitably, in 1999 I got to run my own company. Me and my partner started this business with very little money and built it for 10 years. We quickly realized that the only logical thing to do was to control our behavior so that it would benefit the client. And everything that we could control, we did control.
In other words, I’m going to make my client a promise, and I’m going to keep it. At that moment we were selling contact center technology, and we were the center of the customer’s universe. But this came with a lot of responsibilities. If we failed the client, we could kill that business very quickly, probably within hours. And we took that responsibility seriously.
And through that experience of placing the client’s needs at the center of our business decisions, we inevitably found ourselves in a position that we became a world leader. The power of that has always stayed with me. Imagine, we were 2 people. No money. New to what we were doing. But one after the other we showed we cared. One at a time. We took on a single customer and did exactly what we said, and more. Then we took on the next and the next the same way. We refused to fail the customer. Then, this simple formula developed into a global exponential organization. We just did the next right thing for clients, over and over! Amazing how that works, isn’t it?!
What is the biggest misunderstanding about customer experience, in your opinion?
The biggest misunderstanding about customer experience, in my opinion, is that it’s complicated. However, it’s not complicated. In truth, it is only as simple as making and keeping a promise. If you make a promise to a client, you need to keep that promise. And at the bottom of it all, that’s the situation.
Put everything aside for a second and ask yourself: What is the best approach to making a promise and keeping it? Then, once you do that, build a process that is sustainable, repeatable, and easy. Improve that process to assure that you can have that same behavior based on that single core value of promise-keeping all the time, and advertise it. The advertising does something very special: it forces you, in the public eye, to always do the right thing. Because if you don’t do it, you’re really going to be a hypocrite.
What are some of the newer CX companies/solutions you’re keeping your eyes on right now?
Just yesterday I was looking at a list of about 15 different software companies that allow you to measure the entire customer journey, from the beginning all the way to the end. There are a lot of promising companies like Odigo, Mopinion, and so on. However, I’m not here to underline that one is better than the other. All that matters to me is how do I measure the entire customer journey from the first moment they contact or visit my website? Is this data relevant in the sense that it can help me become a better promise keeper?
For many years we’ve had CRMs. In a contact center, the relationship management software assures that we can create the right data context for our clients. But what it doesn’t do, it doesn’t necessarily measure the value proposition of that relationship. And some of these new software solutions are doing just that! I think it’s fabulous that there’s a greater focus on this.
What can companies do to improve customer loyalty and retention?
Here is something I think it’s important to understand. Many businesses build themselves on allotting a certain budget to different areas. So, they may allow X budget to operations, X budget to client experience, X budget to supporting that client, X budget to finance, and so on. Then, that department uses those funds to the best of their ability to meet a certain outcome.
However, I don’t believe that’s the right method. Instead, I believe that you must determine the single point of keeping your promise to a client. But how do you do that? Ask yourself: What is the best way to keep a promise, money not considered? And you build the prime and singular approach to that alone…without cost consideration while being practical. Then, you make sure that that approach, is manageable and repeatable.
Of course, there’s a cost to that. I call that cost, the cost of doing business. Now, if you can’t make money by doing what is right for your client, in my opinion, then you shouldn’t be in business. However, people inevitably cut corners on these areas, because they see themselves as having financial limitations. But frankly, businesses must look at the idea that this is the very basic cost of doing business. And it’s centered on the idea that the client experience is the only reason people come to you: because they believe what you promise.
What do you think is most relevant and why: CSAT (customer satisfaction score), NPS (net promoter score), or CES (customer effort score)?
I often get asked what are the most important KPIs and how to know which ones to focus on. However, again, I don’t want to complicate it. And I don’t know that any single point tells me more than any other point. Frankly, what tells me the most is talking to a client and finding out what their pain points are, what their hopes are, what improvements they want to see in the relationship? So whatever tools, whatever indicators in your business specifically relate to that and give you those outcomes and that insight, those are the ones you have to use. Listen, there are many software solutions out there that can measure the customer journey with a wide range of data.
Now, you can’t say one piece of data is more important than another piece of data. It’s all relevant, but it’s how you choose to see it within the context of what your singular core value is and your goal of meeting the client’s expectations. You can do surveys and get feedback using platforms such as checkmarket.com or delighted.com; there are plenty of ways to do this. But at the end of the day, the data must speak to you. Find the tool that gives you the quickest, easiest look at the behavior that you’re dealing with, and can make the modifications in an agile environment, so that you can inevitably have a continuous improvement process in your business. It’s a mindset. It’s an approach, and we live by this management process.
How can companies better use social media in the era of customer-centricity and personalization?
Well, first of all, let me rephrase this question: How can I continue to do better while being exposed to the public; knowing that the public is watching me all the time? There’s nothing hidden anymore. I think we’d all agree on that. However, it is not an era of customer-centricity that we’re talking about, though. Customer centricity has existed since the first person sold the first thing to the next person. I don’t think we’re in an era, when we’re better at this than ever before.
Every era has had training and investment, and a very conscious effort to support the clients to the best of their ability. The difference in this era is there’s more exposure to the public. So, the public has more ways to view you, more ways to compare you, more ways to talk about you. A business can personalize an experience for a client, and then the client takes it out onto social media sharing that information, for better or for worse. So, the difference now is that the company needs to be very careful about the customer relationship because everything can go public really fast. But don’t kid yourself, this is not an era of customer-centricity, because this was the foundation of doing business that always existed.
What is your opinion on AI-based chatbots to handle customer support?
So many times, when I’m buying an airline ticket, I will contact my airline and I will go through the entire process, never having to talk to anybody, because I’m working through their artificial intelligence system. The voices are natural, it’s very timely and very quick in terms of data lookup, so it’s really easy to communicate with. So, because I have a very busy day, there’s a great advantage for me to communicate with those chatbots.
But not all businesses have such a simple and straightforward support process as buying a ticket. Many if not all AI customer support systems need to be backed up with the option of switching to live human interaction. And one of the most effective ways to integrate AI support within your wider communication system is to use the omnichannel approach.
In short, omnichannel provides more flexibility to the client by offering a quick way to solve his problems without even having to leave his preferred communication platform. It doesn’t matter if the client initiates an interaction with an AI chatbot on your website or Facebook Messenger (or any other channel for that matter). A true omnichannel platform would be able to manage multiple channels and update the client’s status or disposition in real-time, even when the same client chooses to continue the conversation on some other channel or wants to switch from AI to a live agent.
Now there are tools that you can use to tie in with social media and other channels. NobelBiz is offering such a contact center solution and it’s called OMNI+. And the reason I bring it up is not so much for advertisement purposes, but because there is a good reason why our product resonates in the contact center space today. So yes, AI gives you dependability and simplicity of outcome, but sometimes, though, it may be difficult, to rely solely on artificial intelligence. And in those cases, you want to be able to pair your AI with an omnichannel type experience, like NobelBiz OMNI+ so that the client can skip back to the more comfortable type of communication.
What was the best movie you saw that has come out during this past year?
Well, I saw a lot of really good movies. I went through series after series of television shows because I had a heck of a lot of time at night, pandemic considering. So, I don’t know, this is a hard question to answer. But I did see one that I think was remarkable. It was a true story about a woman at the end of the 1800s, early 1900s. She was first working as a housekeeper. But then she had an idea of developing this hair straightening solution. And she took that hair straightening solution and found out that not only did straighten the hair, but it helped grow hair. And people’s hair was becoming fabulous after using her formula. The next thing you know, over her career, she built one of the largest businesses in her era. At that time, she went from being a minority person in society to taking her own challenges and her own hopes and desires, finding a product that she could build around, and optimizing that product to the best of her abilities.
And the reason I love that movie is that it speaks about a person that you don’t expect is going to win. And the other reason I like it, of course, is because it’s business-related. And I think it’s a lesson for all of us that we can do what we set out to do if we do it with the right intentions and the right approach.
Last but not least, what is your favorite CX metric?
As I’ve said before, this comes up all the time: Steve, what is the single thing you look at that shows you the greatest value in terms of what’s going on with that client? It’s very easy for me, and I don’t always see it exactly in terms of measurement. But I would say this: I compete in a world where I have over 200 companies that suggest they do similar things to what I do now. Of course, we think we’re a little different. But maybe the client doesn’t necessarily perceive this difference. So, we have to be very good at everything that we do.
The single most important metric for me is this: are they staying with me as a client? Are they continuing their customer support? Are they convinced that we are meeting their goals? The way we do it is very simple. We have what we call a client advocate department in our business. And that advocate is in a sense the customer sitting within our business. In other words, this is the person that speaks for the customer. And when that client advocate is very busy and bringing client issues to the forefront, I know that we’re not doing very well. And when the advocates are getting happy and feeling good about not having to challenge our own internal systems to do better, then I know things are going well. That’s the metric I go by. Thanks very much for having me. I really enjoyed this!