Author Archives: Shep Hyken

About Shep Hyken

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, keynote speaker, and New York Times, bestselling business author. For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs, go to www.thecustomerfocus.com. Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

Five Ways Discomfort Could Lead to Your Next Breakthrough

Five Ways Discomfort Could Lead to Your Next Breakthrough

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

The disclaimer on investments is that “past performance is not an indicator of future results.” In other words, don’t get too comfortable with the past. All you have to do is look at the stock performance through last year (2021) compared to this year’s performance to know this is true.

Yet when it comes to people, the opposite is often true. Past performance is often an indicator of future results. Most people get comfortable and stay where they feel safe. But, what if you were willing to be uncomfortable? What if you were willing to go against the status quo, learn something new, regardless of difficulty, and take more risks? How would you feel living in a state of discomfort?

Sterling Hawkins, author of Hunting Discomfort: How to Get Breakthrough Results in Life and Business No Matter What, shares how successful people thrive on discomfort. These are the people whose past performance won’t always indicate what to expect in the future. They thrive on risk, stepping out of their comfort zones, and are fueled by something new and different.

In the book, Hawkins teaches his five-step process that produces results:

1. Expand Your Reality: Just because you were taught that something should be a certain way doesn’t mean it has to be that way. Some might call this “thinking outside the box.” It’s shattering paradigms and challenging the status quo.

This reminds me of the story that the late, great Zig Ziglar used to tell about a family dinner that included four generations. As the dinner was being prepared, a little girl asked her mom, “Why do you cut off the end of the roast before you cook it?” Mom said, “That’s the way your grandmother taught me to cook the roast.”

The little girl then went to her grandmother and asked, “Grandma, why do you cut the end of the roast off before you cook it?” Grandma said, “That’s the way your great-grandmother taught me to cook the roast.”

The little girl then went over to her great-grandmother and asked, “Great Grandma, why do you cut the end of the roast off before you cook it?” Great Grandma said, “A long time ago, the ovens weren’t as big as they are today. We had to cut the end off for the roast to fit into the oven.”

Just because we’ve always done something one way doesn’t mean we should keep doing it that way. Expanding your reality is just looking beyond the usual and ordinary.

2. Get a Tattoo: Hawkins believes you should commit so deeply to something that you’re willing to have it tattooed onto your body. You may disagree, but you do get the point. This is about commitment. The tattoo is a metaphor. You don’t really need to permanently put your feelings on your body, but consider this …

Scott Ginsberg is known as The Nametag Guy. While in college, he found that more people would talk to him if he wore a nametag. It made him approachable. He wrote a speech and several books about how to be more approachable. He committed to wearing a name tag every day. After five years, he made the ultimate commitment to his idea. He had the name tag tattooed onto his chest. That’s commitment!

3. Build a Street Gang: Surround yourself with people who will not only support you but also hold you accountable for your potential. According to Hawkins, having a trusted accountability partner can increase the likelihood of your success by up to 95%!

4. Flip It: The book covers a process for not just overcoming problems or obstacles, but instead using them to your advantage. To Flip It isn’t about seeing the reverse. It’s more about seeing the problem or challenge from a different perspective, starting with a complete understanding of the problem, obstacle, challenge or goal.

Hawkins quotes inventor Charles Kettering who once said, “A problem well stated is a problem half-solved.” Before you can solve a problem, you must first understand it. Clarity is paramount. You must be sure that the problem is not confused with the symptom. The problem becomes a challenge, and you must be clear about what impact solving that problem will mean to you or your organization. Most often, there is a larger purpose to the challenge. What’s the true end goal? For example, you may want to run a 10K race, but the larger vision is to be in good enough shape to run it.

5. Surrender: This isn’t about giving up. Instead, it’s about acceptance. Embrace inevitability and unpredictability. Be flexible and pivot when necessary. Sometimes you’ll find a breakthrough in the middle of the darkest problems. During the pandemic of the past two years, when faced with huge obstacles, some companies and brands not only survived but also found ways to thrive. The same is true for people.

We are in a world where change is happening at a faster pace than ever. We are faced with opportunities that are often disguised as problems and challenges. Hunting for the discomfort in your life and seizing it as the chance to have a breakthrough is what successful people do.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Shep Hyken

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

6 Ways to Create Trust with Your Employees

6 Ways to Create Trust with Your Employees

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

Last week I wrote an article, 4 Ways to Create Trust with Your Customers. I don’t think anyone would argue (and the stats prove it) that a customer who trusts you is more likely to do more business with you. After all, why would they want to risk doing business elsewhere?

Well, it’s the same for employees. With so many employment issues today, it’s more important than ever to get and keep good employees. One of the crucial areas that can drive employee retention is trust. Just like customers, if employees don’t trust you, they may eventually leave for a competitor. And in the world of employee retention, a competitor is any other company that offers employment opportunities.

With that in mind, here are six ways to build trust with your employees.

1. Listen to your employees. Ask them for feedback. Frontline employees often have a better opportunity to know what customers think and say about you than anyone else in the company. Listen to them. And many employees have suggestions about processes and systems that can be improved. Creating an easy way for employees to share feedback and make suggestions can be a powerful way to improve the experience—for both customers and the employees themselves.

2. Act on the feedback and insights employees share with you. If you ask your employees for their feedback and insights and do nothing with it, employees eventually resent that they took the time to offer up their ideas and suggestions. And at some point, they will see it as a futile effort and waste of time, even if what they share with you is important. Employees often provide even more valuable feedback than customers. So, even if you choose not to use their suggestions, at least acknowledge their effort, express appreciation and let them know why.

3. Make sure leadership and management are accessible. If there is a metaphorical wall between employees and leadership, employees will always feel like they are on the outside. And if they feel like outsiders, any organization that may make them feel more included and appreciated could be the next place your employee—who you thought was happy—ends up working. There are different ways to go about this. An open-door policy is not always realistic. As an alternative, consider having “office hours”—a special time each week when employees can make an appointment. The point is that it needs to be easy for employees to connect with their managers, supervisors, and leadership.

4. Get out of the office and mingle with “the people.” If the only time employees see management or leadership is when there are problems, then the sight of them will create a level of fear and tension. Years ago, I read Tom Peter’s strategy he referred to as MBWA, Management by Wandering Around. The idea is that employees would not fear the sight of management, because they become used to seeing their bosses and leaders walking around. If a manager shows up just to point out problems or criticize, employees will always have concern whenever they see a manager or leader walking anywhere near them. The goal is to achieve trust, not fear.

5. Trust employees to do the jobs you hired them to do. If you hire good people and train them well, let them do their jobs. If employees feel like they are always being watched, scrutinized for their work and not being allowed to make the decisions you hired them to make, they will feel unfulfilled and frustrated. This is “Empowerment 101.”

6. Treat employees the way you want the customer to be treated. I refer to this as The Employee Golden Rule. You can’t expect employees to behave toward customers and each other in a way that’s different—as in better—than the way they are treated by their managers and leaders. Your actions and attitude toward your employees must be congruent with how you want them to treat your customers. You can’t invite them to your office, yell at them and then them, “Now go out there and be nice to our customers.”

What’s happening on the inside of the organization is felt on the outside by customers. To create the best customer experience, you must create a similar employee experience, if not even better. While there are many components that go into creating a great culture for an organization, trust is one of the essentials. Without it, you can’t expect to get and keep your best employees.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Shep Hyken

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

4 Ways to Create Trust with Your Customers

4 Ways to Create Trust with Your Customers

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

What brands do you trust the most? And why? There are certain products and companies that seem to own the trust of their customers. It stems from product quality, reliability, managing expectations, good customer service and, perhaps most importantly, consistency.

Keep in mind that consistency is related to all of the attributes mentioned. A consistently bad experience and poor quality, while still consistent, is the opposite of what you’re trying to create. And inconsistency is almost as bad. A great experience one day followed by an average or poor experience will cause customers to question what the next experience is going to be. A pattern of inconsistency kills confidence and trust.

Let’s break it down:

1. Quality and Reliability: A product or service must do what it’s supposed to do. When you think of the most successful brands, you trust them because you know what you’re going to get. That comes from confidence in the product and/or the customer service. If that confidence is broken, it can take a long time to rebuild trust—if the customer even chooses to give the company or brand another chance. For example, a popular restaurant chain had an E. coli outbreak. Even with a stellar reputation, it took years to regain the trust of its customers.

2. Customer Experience: Customer service must be easily available. Customer service isn’t a department. The best companies know that serving the customer is more than reacting to problems, answering questions and resolving complaints. It’s the way customers are treated throughout their entire journey with a company or brand.

And while you may want to have a 100% flawless experience in which the customer never has to reach out, it’s impossible. Every company is going to have problems. In the early days of Amazon, Jeff Bezos was famous for saying that Amazon should be so good that it didn’t need a customer support department. Maybe it was that good, but when the product left the warehouse a third party took over the shipping. And if the package was lost in transit, who would the customer blame? To the customer, it was Amazon’s fault. So, Amazon needed a support center, even for problems that weren’t its fault.

It’s not if there will ever be a customer service issue, it’s when. The best organizations recognize the need for an excellent experience combined with excellent customer support, when needed.

3. Managing Expectations: You don’t have to WOW a customer to get them to say, “Wow.” When people describe a “Wow” experience, it’s typically over-the-top. The problem is that you can’t always be over the top. The opportunities to be over-the-top or go above and beyond happen when there are special situations, such as a problem that is handled so well that the customer says, “Wow!”

The key is to not worry about trying to be over-the-top with every interaction, but to be just a little above average. It is consistent and predictable above-average experiences—even just a tiny bit above average—that make customers say, “Wow!” Speaking of consistent and predictable, we move on to the next attribute …

4. Consistency: Anything less than a consistent experience erodes trust. Consistency is where “the rubber meets the road.” As just mentioned, it is the consistent and predictable above-average experience that gets customers to say, “Wow!” What gets them to that point is when they say, “They are always so helpful … always so knowledgeable … they always respond quickly. …” It’s the word always followed by a positive comment. Often, those comments are basic expectations. Shouldn’t all employees be helpful, knowledgeable and respond quickly? Of course. Just meeting a customer’s expectations, with maybe a more positive attitude, will fuel the experience to be better than average. Consistency creates trust. Anything less erodes it!

Think of the brands you trust and why. The product does what it’s supposed to and meets your expectations. The experience is consistent, and the customer service is great. And to emphasize just how important the customer service part of this is, our 2022 customer service research found that 83% of customers trusted a company or brand more if it provided an excellent customer service experience.

If all of this seems like common sense, it is. Unfortunately, common sense is not always so common. So, be a little uncommon. Deliver quality and reliability, manage expectations and create a consistent and predictable experience that gets customers to say, “I’ll be back.”

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Pexels

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Why Amazon Wants to Sell You Robots

Why Amazon Wants to Sell You Robots

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

It was recently announced that Amazon.com would be acquiring iRobot, the maker of the Roomba vacuum cleaner. There are still some “hoops” to jump through, such as shareholder and regulatory approval, but the deal looks promising. So, why does Amazon want to get into the vacuum cleaner business?

It doesn’t!

At least not for the purpose of simply selling vacuum cleaners. What it wants to do is to get further entrenched into the daily lives of its customers, and Amazon has done an excellent job of just that. There are more than 200 million Amazon Prime members, and 157.4 million of them are in the United States. According to an article in USA Today, written by David Chang of the Motley Fool, Amazon Prime members spend an average of $1,400 per year. Non-Amazon Prime members spend about $600 per year.

Want more numbers? According to a 2022 Feedvisor survey of 2,000-plus U.S. consumers, 56% visit Amazon daily or at least a few times a week, which is up from 47% in 2019. But visiting isn’t enough. Forty-seven percent of consumers make a purchase on Amazon at least once a week. Eight percent make purchases almost every day.

Amazon has become a major part of our lives. And does a vacuum cleaner company do this? Not really, unless it’s iRobot’s vacuum cleaner. A little history about iRobot might shed light on why Amazon is interested in this acquisition.

iRobot was founded in 1990 by three members of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab. Originally their robots were used for space exploration and military defense. About ten years later, they moved into the consumer world with the Roomba vacuum cleaners. In 2016 they spun off the defense business and turned their focus to consumer products.

The iRobot Roomba is a smart vacuum cleaner that does the cleaning while the customer is away. The robotic vacuum cleaner moves around the home, working around obstacles such as couches, chairs, tables, etc. Over time, the Roomba, which has a computer with memory fueled by AI (artificial intelligence) learns about your home. And that means Amazon has the capability of learning about your home.

This is not all that different from how Alexa, Amazon’s smart device, learns about customers’ wants and needs. Just as Alexa remembers birthdays, shopping habits, favorite toppings on pizza, when to take medicine, what time to wake up and much more, the “smart vacuum cleaner” learns about a customer’s home. This is a natural extension of the capabilities found in Alexa, thereby giving Amazon the ability to offer better and more relevant services to its customers.

To make this work, Amazon will gain access to customers’ homes. No doubt, some customers may be uncomfortable with Amazon having that type of information, but let’s look at this realistically. If you are (or have been) one of the hundreds of millions of Amazon customers, it already has plenty of information about you. And if privacy is an issue, there will assuredly be regulations for Amazon to comply with. They already understand their customers almost better than anyone. This is just a small addition to what they already know and provides greater capability to deliver a very personalized experience.

And that is exactly what Amazon plans to do. Just as it has incorporated Alexa, Ring and eero Wi-Fi routers, the Roomba will add to the suite of connected capabilities from Amazon that makes life easier and more convenient for its customers.

If you take a look at the way Amazon has moved from selling books to practically everything else in the retail world, and you recognize its strategy to become part of the fabric of its customers’ lives, you’ll understand why vacuum cleaners, specifically iRobot’s machines, make sense.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Shep Hyken

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

How to Create an Amazing Customer Experience on a Budget

How to Create an Amazing Customer Experience on a Budget

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

With the current recession, employment issues and supply chain problems, companies and brands are struggling to provide the same experience they have in the past. Regardless of the cause, companies don’t have the budgets they once had to devote to CX.

First and foremost, if you have to cut your budget, try to do it in places the customer won’t notice. This may not always be possible, but it’s important to try. The moment you create an inconsistent experience, your customers will lose confidence. Without that confidence, repeat business—and even customer loyalty—is up for grabs.

We had a hotel client who was struggling. One of the places he cut was the housekeeping staff. The staff became overworked and couldn’t keep up with the demand, and the guests noticed. My comment was direct. “No matter how nice your hotel has been in the past, if the guests experience dirty rooms, they may never come back.” It might be smarter to have fewer rooms available than rooms that don’t measure up to their typical standards.

On the flip side, ten years ago, before labor issues were the topic of the times, a healthcare client was struggling to staff one of its hospitals with people who aligned with its vision of creating a stellar experience. They knew that the wrong people on the frontline would erode the brand’s reputation. While they weren’t forced to cut costs, the focus on customer experience meant they would only hire the best. And when the best candidates weren’t available, they chose to shut down part of the hospital until they could adequately staff. They would rather go lean on availability than go lean on the experience.

This brings me to an article by Justin Racine that appeared in CMSWire. The title of the article was intriguing: Cheap Beer and Recessions: How to Survive and Thrive with Exceptional Customer Experience.

Racine had me at “cheap beer,” not because I like cheap beer, but because I don’t equate anything cheap with an exceptional—or amazing—customer experience. He went on to explain that he was strapped for cash in college but still wanted to enjoy the “full college experience.” To do so meant a tighter budget. So, instead of drinking a premium brand like Stella Artois, he drank a lower-priced Keystone Light.

The approach the college students chose was substitution. But this may not always be a viable strategy. For example, a restaurant probably couldn’t substitute lower-priced ingredients and still present its diners with the same quality menu items. The reason the college students may have been happy is that they had a choice. They weren’t forced to experience lower quality, but they chose to do so and were happy about it.

Racine claims disruption breeds customer experience opportunities. Yes! This could be the answer.

Consider that many businesses are being disrupted for all the reasons mentioned. Rather than stare at the problem and hope things will change, you must embrace the disruption and make a move. And to the point of Racine’s article, it may be as simple as a substitution. If you and your organization are facing any of these problems (and others), it’s time to take action. Turning disruption into opportunity starts with a conversation. Here are some ideas to jumpstart the creativity:

1. List and define in detail all the problems causing the disruption.

2. Play round one of “What If?” This is where you put all the current and possible problems (not solutions) on the table for discussion. What if labor shortages (or any other disruptive problem) continue? What if we have to cut more people? What if we lose more people? What if we can’t get the ingredients (or parts, supplies, etc.)? What if we lose a percentage of customers? What if revenue drops by 25%?

3. Play round two of “What if?” This is where you brainstorm solutions. For example, if the costs of goods rise, you might be forced to pass those costs on to the customer. So, what if we had to raise prices? The discussion isn’t a decision to raise prices, but the impact it might have on the customer if you did.

4. Remember to stay customer-focused. This follows up on No. 3. Being customer-focused doesn’t mean always making customers happy with your decisions. It means you consider how the customer will react to your decisions. For example, customers aren’t typically happy when they notice a price increase. Still, if you do so with an explanation, they might not just accept that you had to do so, but also appreciate that you are being transparent in the process.

To emphasize the concept from the beginning of this article, if you have to cut, try to do so in places the customer won’t notice. But if that’s not possible, be transparent. Be prepared to tell your customers why there aren’t as many items on the menu, why there isn’t as much availability, why it’s going to take a little longer than usual, etc. The focus here is on transparency and communication. Sharing information gives your customers a sense of control. They know and understand why there are changes.

For those in the B2B space, that transparency and communication can lead to powerful conversations with customers that can deepen your relationships. Discussing problems, changes and alternatives with your customers can get them to see you as more of a partner rather than just a vendor.

For some companies, making cuts, be it budget, people or anything else, is inevitable. It’s how you approach it that can possibly enhance the customer experience. Talk about it. Brainstorm even the most farfetched ideas. Find the opportunities that are hidden in disruption.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Shep Hyken

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

How To Attract, Grow and Retain Your Best Employees

How To Attract, Grow and Retain Your Best Employees

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

In a recent article, Why Employees Stay, I shared seven reasons why employees would want to continue working for a company. No. 5 on the list was that the company offers career growth and promotes from within. Let’s unpack that one, as it seems to be a top reason some companies are able to attract and keep good employees.

There are two parts to this idea. Growth and promotions. They don’t always go together.

1. Growth

Growth comes from training and on-the-job experience. Employees like to grow their skills, knowledge and capabilities. Even though good employees may come to the job with certain skills, they are often onboarded with training. In some cases, the training takes weeks—even months.

Zappos.com, the online retailer known for its stellar customer service, puts new employees through four weeks of training. “The whole point of the four weeks is to build relationships and make sure you’re comfortable in your role,” says corporate trainer Stephanie Hudec.

That’s four weeks before the employee is actually ready to do the job. That’s a hefty investment of time, energy and dollars, just to get someone “game ready” for their job. Or is it?

Zappos built its reputation with an emphasis on customer service. Putting someone in a customer-facing role who isn’t properly trained and ready could diminish the brand’s reputation.

But the training isn’t a one-and-done effort during the onboarding process. Employees are looking to grow. A few weeks in the beginning gets them to a level of proficiency for their current role, but many want more. They want to add to existing capabilities.

2. Promotions

Promotions are career opportunities within the company. It’s obvious that someone who has been at their job for months will be far better than the first day they started. They have to learn the system and processes, adapt their skills and abilities to their responsibilities, and more. Day one is the beginning of “ramping up” to a place where the employee is meeting the employer’s expectations. And then they go beyond.

Often, growth occurs due to training and education. Employees are trained, and the result is that they get better, smarter and more capable. But it takes something more, and that comes from the employee. The employee who is intent on growing must also take initiative and push themselves to grow to the next level.

Employers need to recognize this growth in both capabilities and initiative and take advantage of it, moving that employee through the ranks. Companies that are known for “promoting from within” are very appealing to employees. They attract good people and are better at getting them to stay.

Starting At the Bottom

We’ve all heard of “rags to riches” type stories of employees starting at the bottom in the mailroom and ending up in the boardroom. Some executives who started in the mailroom of their respective companies:

  • George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN
  • Dick Grasso, former New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) chairman
  • Krista Bourne, COO of Verizon

Maybe all three of these executives had ambitions to be successful from the beginning, but did any of them ever think they would be in the boardroom after starting their careers in the mailroom? Maybe, maybe not. But they didn’t get to those positions on their own. It’s important to recognize that employees who went to work in the mailroom and grew into important roles in their organizations didn’t get there on their own. They had training, great managers, caring coaches and helpful mentors.

There are plenty of stories of successful executives starting at the bottom. Many of them move and grow from company to company. Recognize that a chance to grow is important to today’s employees. A company that invests in the continuous growth of skills (customer service, leadership, technical, etc.) is better at recruiting new employees and keeping existing employees, but not always forever. Yes, in the perfect world, this growth would coincide with promotion opportunities inside the company, but it doesn’t have to. Just know you may be “growing” the employee to move on if you don’t move them up.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Shep Hyken

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

7 Tips for Creating a Great Content Experience

7 Tips for Creating a Great Content Experience

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

Content marketing is a sound strategy. Using email, texting, and social media, companies, and brands are taking advantage of an effective way to connect with customers. Most companies use content to deliver value-added information that gets customers excited about what they sell. That makes sense, but it’s limiting. Think beyond marketing and sales. You don’t just want people to buy your products and services. You want them to experience your company. Beyond what you sell, you want customers to know who you are, what you stand for, and more. A good content strategy helps make that happen.

Perhaps a better way to describe content marketing in this context is to rename it content experience. So, with that in mind, here are seven ways to create an experience that uses content beyond a sales pitch:

1. Get Customers Excited

This is ultimately what you want your customers to experience—excitement for your brand. Share the latest and greatest, and maybe even a sneak preview of what’s to come. Make them feel like they made the right decision to give you their contact information. Get them excited about you—and motivated to want to buy from you and evangelize your brand.

2. Educate the Customer

You might think this is about teaching the customer about your products and services, but there is more. For example, let’s say you sell sports shoes. Look beyond shoes and educate your customers about anything related to your industry. An intelligent customer makes better—and often easier—buying decisions.

3. Highlight Success Stories

Customers want a successful experience with your products, so why not share how other customers have experienced success? Showcase these examples. Turn them into case studies that customers can use to duplicate success. Let your customers tell their stories.

4. Let Customers Showcase the Best Way to Use Your Products

If you’re going to highlight success stories, consider letting your customers do the talking. In effect, these are third-party testimonials and endorsements that are worth far more than traditional paid advertising.

5. Create a Customer Support Forum Run by Customers

Create a place where customers can answer questions posed by other customers. Consumers who have problems or questions love to learn from their peers. By the way, you will want to moderate the responses and be there to comment, add information, and thank customers for their help.

6. Create Meaningful Conversations That Go Beyond What You Sell

Your content experience strategy shouldn’t be one-way. Don’t just post something (a short article, video, white paper, etc.) and walk away. Start a conversation. Ask questions that get your customers to respond and share their opinions, which will ideally lead to other customers chiming in with their thoughts. Then respond to these answers. This type of engagement can bond you with your customers.

7. Stand for Something That Creates a Bond with Your People

There are companies that are admired for their “give-back” strategies. These companies are often charitable. Or they have such a strong belief in a cause that they make it part of their publicly stated mission. It could be sustainability, diversity, and inclusion, or any other cause, charity, or important issue that might excite customers and resonate with them so much that it takes the relationship to something beyond a typical transaction of trading money for a product or service.

Content marketing becomes an experience when you go beyond sales and marketing and make it about the customer. If the content you share creates value for your customers, makes customers feel connected to you and your brand, or makes your customers smarter, you’ve crossed over from sales and marketing to the level of experience. Make your content strategy an experience.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Shep Hyken

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Marriott’s Approach to Customer Service

Customer Service the Marriott Way

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

It was 1927, not quite a century ago, when J. Willard Marriott and his wife, Alice, opened an A&W root beer stand in Washington, D.C. Later that year, the Marriotts added some hot food items to their menu under the name Hot Shoppes. Over the next 30 years, the Marriotts honed their hospitality skills and expanded their restaurant business into food service for airlines. In 1957, they opened their first hotel in Arlington, Virginia. It was run by their son, Bill.

Over the next 25 years, under the leadership of Bill Marriott, the hotel chain expanded across the planet. Today it represents more than 30 brands, from economy-priced lodging to uber-premium brands such as The Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Julius Robinson, Marriott’s chief sales and marketing officer in the U.S. and Canada, on Amazing Business Radio. Robinson started with the Marriott organization 30 years ago in the reservations center. He knows firsthand what it takes to create an amazing customer experience.

Here are six key lessons he shared in our interview:

  1. The Fundamentals of Customer Service Happen One Person at a Time: When Robinson worked at the reservations center for Marriott, he learned the power of individual customer interactions. It’s about taking care of people one interaction at a time. Every customer was a chance to start over and confirm—and even build on—the Marriott reputation.
  2. Understand Your Customers: Understanding starts with listening. A customer who is booking a family vacation has very different needs than someone booking a business trip. The secret is to listen and avoid miscommunication. A complaint from a misunderstanding is one of the worst kinds of complaints. It’s easy to replace a dirty towel in a bathroom. It’s much harder to rebuild confidence after a miscommunication.
  3. Mistakes Handled Well Can Create a Stronger Bond: When there is a problem or a complaint, the way it is handled can make the difference between a customer coming back or not. Just resolving the issue doesn’t mean the customer will come back—it’s the way you do it that can make a big difference. Robinson was excited to share, “If you handle the problem the right way, the customer surveys will often be higher than if the problem had never occurred.” Problems and complaints should be seen as opportunities to prove how good you are.
  4. Embrace the Digital Customer Experience: When Robinson started 30 years ago, there wasn’t an Internet. Today customers may call, but often they make reservations, check-in and check out on a computer. They can even get their keys through a mobile app. According to Robinson, “Technology is an opportunity for the customer to take control over their travel experience.” The modern customer is increasingly enjoying a digital, self-service experience. However, if there is a problem at any point in their journey (no pun intended), the customer must have easy access to someone who can help, be it an agent on the phone or an employee at the front desk.
  5. Employees Must Be Empowered to Take Care of the Customers: Employees must be properly trained to do what is necessary to take care of customers. Robinson shared how, from the very beginning, J.W. Marriott Sr. believed in treating employees the way you want customers to be treated. In other words, leadership and management were the role models, and their behavior showed employees the right way to treat customers. Treat the employees right, and they will treat the customers right, and then the customers will come back.
  6. The Modern Marriott Customer Experience: Every company must grow as customers’ expectations change. During the past two years, we’ve seen customers demanding more. That challenge must be met. Many Marriott customers now expect more than just a place to sleep. The result is Marriott’s shift from simply providing a nice room and restaurant to creating an expanded experience. For example, the hotel staff can help locate hard-to-get tickets to sporting events and concerts. Maybe guests want a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Marriott team is there to help. Marriott, just like any other company, must meet its customers’ current expectations and be able to anticipate what they will need next.

Throughout the interview, Robinson shared insights into the efforts Marriott is making to get its customers to feel comfortable and confident about returning to pre-pandemic travel habits. It’s not only creating a great customer experience and providing exemplary service, but also taking measures to address customers’ concerns about safety and health. Because without that, nothing much else matters.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Shep Hyken

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Three Lessons for Creating Better Customer Experiences

Three Lessons for Creating Better Customer Experiences

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

Customer behavior is changing. Expectations are higher. There’s tension between customers and the brands they do business with. The willingness to leave one brand to do business with another has never been higher.

Lance Gruner, Executive Vice President of Global Customer Care at MasterCard, was one of the keynote speakers at CCW (Contact Center Week), the industry’s largest conference and trade show of its kind. More than 3,000 attendees listened to Gruner share lessons he learned while running customer service teams worldwide for one of the most recognized brands in the world.

Gruner started with a story about lost luggage during a recent trip to Ireland. The airline eventually found it, but it wasn’t an easy experience and seemed to take more effort than necessary. Even though his luggage was eventually returned to him, Gruner realized there was a bigger issue, which was how the incident was handled. His point was something most companies and brands are guilty of. They may fix the customer’s problem, but there is a more significant issue. In Gruner’s words, “We must focus on the root and not the symptom.”

In this example, the symptom is the lost luggage, and the root is how employees handle the customer.

Whether they know it or not, what customers want isn’t that complicated. They want to trust that brands will do what they promise. If by chance, things aren’t working out the way they should, they want to trust that a brand will have their back and fix what needs to be fixed. Sounds simple, but simple doesn’t always mean easy.

Gruner shared how MasterCard does this. Eighty-four percent of MasterCard’s customers are delighted with their experience. “We still have a ways to go,” admits Gruner. He shared three things MasterCard is doing to drive that improvement.

1. Focus on customers, and specifically, the effort customers go through to do business with you. Just ask the question, “Are we making it easy for our customers?” High customer satisfaction marks—and loyalty—happen when a brand can meet customers where they are. Being available on the phone and digital platforms, such as chat, text, social media and other channels, is important to giving customers an easy experience.

2. Use technology and data to support this effort. Data is powerful when used the right way. Data gives you customer insights that help identify trends. Used correctly, you not only meet the customer’s current needs, you can also predict what they will want and expect in the future. Knowing where customers are going before they do is a powerful way to build trust and loyalty. So, leverage data. Don’t just collect it. Study it and use it to create a better customer experience (CX).

3. Focus on employees. Gruner knows there are employee issues. What is known as the Great Resignation started long before the pandemic, but it has accelerated. In addition to Baby Boomers and Gen-X taking retirement, employees are evaluating their lifestyles. Their wellbeing is paramount to their happiness at a company. Gruner emphasizes the importance of focusing on “our people.” Just as customers must believe in the brand, so must employees. He smiled when he said that 95% of MasterCard employees are proud to be part of the brand. They understand that work is more than just a job to some. They want to be part of something bigger. Gruner says, “We are doing well by doing good.” MasterCard is focused on a workforce that is inclusive and diverse. It believes in sustainability and giving back to the community. Employees appreciate and embrace this effort.

Pay close attention to lesson number three. Circling back to Gruner’s comment about the root versus the symptom, employees are the root. They have great control over the outcome of a customer’s problem. When employees are properly trained and appreciated for making good decisions, customer experience magic happens. How employees feel about their jobs and how customers feel about the company go hand-in-hand. What’s happening on the inside of an organization is felt on the outside by the customer. If you want your customers to be happy, start looking inside your company. It has never been more important to focus on employees as part of your customer service and CX strategy.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Shep Hyken

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Customer Experience – The Forever Gift

Customer Experience - The Forever Gift

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

Nothing lasts forever … or does it?

If something could last forever, what would the business model look like? Products could include a lifetime guarantee with a marketing message that says, “Buy it today and never have to buy it again.”

Think about it. If the marketing message is true, you’ll never have to spend another dime on that product. This is a tempting proposition for the customer, but it doesn’t sound as appealing for the company that offers this lifetime guarantee. If the company keeps its promise, it will never have you back as a repeat customer. It’s a one-time sale. Or is it?

Everything I talk and write about is based on a customer experience that gets people to say, “I’ll be back.” But maybe the goal doesn’t always have to be getting the customer to come back. Maybe it’s about a product the customer buys only once. And that product does what it’s supposed to do, but the experience during the buying process was so good that while the customer doesn’t come back, they tell everyone else about it. That means one customer could equal many more customers.

Google the search term “products that last a lifetime,” and you will find plenty of them—everything from All-Clad cookware to Zippo lighters and everything in between.

These companies create products that do last a lifetime. Because the quality is so good, either the customer tells others (great word-of-mouth marketing), comes back to buy the product as a gift for someone else (so maybe there is an opportunity for repeat business) or returns to buy other products the company offers. The point is that the guarantee builds trust. The experience creates confidence. That combination makes customers want to come back.

I bought a set of Cutco steak knives. They have a lifetime guarantee. The salesperson said I would never buy another set of knives again. The salesperson was almost right. I didn’t buy another set of knives for myself, but I did buy some as a gift. Point made!

But it goes further. Cutco sells more than steak knives. It sells bread knives, paring knives, carving knives and more. I may never buy another set of steak knives, but I need other knives—and I’ve bought them, all with similar lifetime guarantees.

Speaking of Cutco, my friend, John Ruhlin, is the No. 1 Cutco knife salesperson in the world. He’s also the foremost expert on gifting and the bestselling author of Giftology. He recently wrote about the Centennial Light Bulb, which inspired me to write this article. For those not familiar, it’s the longest-running lightbulb in history. So far, it’s been on for more than 1 million hours—that’s more than 121 years! Ruhlin says, “This lightbulb is proof that manufacturers could make long-lasting products. But they don’t. Because where’s the money in an iPhone that lasts forever?”

Actually, there’s a lot of money in an iPhone that lasts forever. Let’s say that Apple did create an iPhone that would last forever. You’d still purchase accessories such as screen protectors, earbuds and more. That’s nice, but there’s a bigger picture. Apple is not going to stop with that version of the iPhone. It will make updated versions. While some people will take pride in carrying around an antique phone, others (as in most) will want the latest and greatest, despite the lifetime guarantee.

While Ruhlin’s angle is about creating a gifting experience that builds a relationship forever, I’m approaching this subject with the idea that with the right experience, you get customers to either come back or talk about you forever! As a business, even if you aren’t gifting your customers a tangible item, you are gifting them an experience. Okay, gifting may not be the right word. How about giving? The customer wants and expects that experience, and when you give it to them, they come back. Even if your product is one that lasts forever, sell it with an experience that gets customers to talk about you, and, even better, gets them to say, “I want more of that.”

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Shep Hyken

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.