CX Interview Series with Shep Hyken

October 8, 2020
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We believe that the knowledge you need should find you. Knowing how hard that is to do for ourselves, we ventured out to try to help you with this challenge. When it comes to CX, that means bringing insights from the best and brightest CX professionals around the globe and bringing some of the knowledge they so diligently and admirably have built over the years.

This edition welcomes a guest admired by the whole CX community, many of which consider him a mentor - Shep Hyken.

In tough times, what matters most is our perspective. To what extent can we shift our mindset and make the best of the situation? This is one of the many interesting debates we've had throughout this enriching conversation.

We hope you enjoy reading the following interview and take just as many actionable lessons from Shep as we did. :)

Listen to the full podcast here: Embedded content:

Chattermill: Hi Shep, thank you so much for being with us today. We're going begin with the big questions and not waste any time here. It would be great to just talk about what customer centricity means to you. it's a loaded topic and I feel like everyone has their own answer to this question, so it would be great to listen to your perspective.

Shep Hyken: Sure, and real simple. Customer-centricity is being customer-focused. Any company that is truly customer-centric puts the customers at the heart of every decision they make. They always ask, regardless of what it is they're doing - if they're going to change a process, if they're going to add a person, product, take away a product, change the color of a product, change the price of a product - how will the customer respond to this? Or how will this impact the customer?

The effect may be negative, but it also may be necessary. For example, when you raise prices, customers aren't going to be happy, but when you understand the reason - the why behind it - it will all make sense. All you have to do is understand what your customers want and how they're reacting to changes in your business. Every decision needs to have the customer in mind.

Chattermill: How do companies go about building that customer-centric culture if they don't have it yet? And once they have it, or for the ones that do have it already, how do they maintain it through tough times?

Shep Hyken: There are several questions here, but let me give you a process that we take our clients through and I call it Six Simple Steps.

They’re simple but by no means easy. Here they are:

Number 1: You define what your vision for customer experience or customer service is going to be. I like a one sentence description. For example, Ritz Carlton have it in nine words: “we're ladies and gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen.” Our company does it in three words: “always be amazing.” That's be amazing to our clients and teach our clients to be amazing. So, there are customers and clients.

Number 2: Once you define it, this guides your company. Now, you must communicate it properly. That's number 2.

Number 3: You must train everybody around it. And everybody and training, isn't something you did. It's something you do. So, there's some ongoing training to it.

Number 4: Focus on your executives and your management. Anybody that has people reporting to them, they act as role models and showcase what this experience is supposed to be.

Number 5: Have these leaders keep everyone in alignment. That could be one person, could be a department out of alignment, could be an entire region of it's a worldwide huge company. The leader's job is to make sure everybody stays focused on an alignment violently.

Number 6: Finally, you need to celebrate it. When it works, you let everybody know they're doing a great job.

Summarizing: You define it, communicate it, train to it, be a role model and defend it, and finally, you celebrate it.

Chattermill: Incredibly clear and efficient. Thank you, Shep. What type of challenges do you think comes with building and maintaining a customer?

Shep Hyken: For sure. Let me give you an example by just looking at one aspect of it. Let's talk about training, for example, people think, when you come on board, you come to work for us. We'll put you through our training program and you're going to go through X number of hours, or maybe it's even weeks of onboarding.

So part of that is customer service and experience, we've trained them and then that's the last training they get on customer service and experience. And I use that word training pretty loosely. I believe that once a week - if you want to do it once a month, I think that's a little too far out.

But once a week to spend five minutes as part of a meeting discussing what went well, what stories you heard that were great things that you heard that popped up that were problems that you're going to show everybody, share it with eliminate or mitigate. You have these ongoing right discussions. They keep it front of mind. I think it's very easy for companies to get very distracted and forget to do that, or just say we don't have time to do it. I mentioned the Ritz Carlton's credo. When they come to work, they understand what that credo is. And then there are 24 gold standards that drive that each day. And it doesn't matter whether you're in the Ritz Carlton, where I live in St. Louis, Missouri, or where you are, in London, or where you’re from, in Brazil. The Ritz Carlton experience will be the same. Employees have heard these different gold standards in year after year, and it's ingrained in their brain and they get it. They understand it…they live it…and they deliver it ongoing.

Chattermill: Thank you for that. Now just branching out from these macro type questions. It would be great to talk about tools. As one of the most respected people in the CX space, what type of tools do you use and admire?

Shep Hyken: Yeah. I guess I’m something close to a thought leader in the industry. So, personally I don't implement or use all these fantastic AI and the CX tools. That’s for companies that have customer support departments. So, I'm a brand agnostic, if you will.

But I tell you what I enjoy seeing most - the tools that are best out there are digital tools. They allow a customer to seamlessly transfer to a human being. So, if I'm talking, being on a chat bot, if I'm in a virtual response system, all I need to do to get out is hit a number or maybe even the system recognizes they're not answering my question based on my responses and says, “let me get you over to an agent right away”, and then I don't have to start all over again. The agent can see what I've been doing because the system delivered to the agent who I am, and I'm already pretty much authenticated. If you will, maybe one extra question, but you don't have to send me through the whole process all over again.

We can actually take tools like a chat bot and set it up to support the agent and not the customer. And by supporting the agent, the chat bot can listen in on the conversation or the agent can type some basic questions and the chat bot can give back suggestions and then human to human. The agent talks to the customer and shares with empathy and some type of enthusiasm in order to best give this answer that the chatbot has given. It just humanizes the whole experience. So, I believe the best tools are the ones capable of recognizing customer confusion that automatically flips it to the customer or says, “Hey, I'm not sure I'm getting this. Would you mind if I pass you on to an agent?” I think that's a great way to go. The customer is going to be very happy when that happens.

Also, companies need to give customers self service solutions, cause some customers want that and we need to teach them where they are and how to use them properly, so they get the most out of what we do.

Chattermill: Absolutely. If I can just follow up on that - I think it's an interesting debate. What do you think about human centered technology versus machine learning, AI center technology? Is there a better strategy to follow or do companies need both?

Shep Hyken: I think that the latter is a greatly improving just year over year, every year. I'm amazed at the improvements of technology. But it isn’t perfect yet.

Interactive chatbot for example can only handle simple requests. Like with my Amazon Echo, it can handle questions like: where's my shipment, what's the weather today…it can answer very rudimentary questions. I can be talking to my bank, through AI and find out what my balance is.

But if I have a really difficult question to ask, then it’s probably not going to be able to handle it. I think that the companies did figure out where that point is and find the balance between online or digital and direct. I think those are the ones that win absolutely fantastic insights.

Chattermill: Very interesting. Now just diving deeper into your experience as a CX professional. What type of recurring problems do you or your peers keep encountering as in the CX space?

Shep Hyken: So many times, solutions are implemented that are great for the customer, but add a layer of difficulty to the agent. This really frustrates the agent. It can actually work the reverse effect that you want on the customer when they finally do talk to an agent. So that's one thing to consider.

The other thing is multiple programs open in your desktop. I can't remember what the number it was, but I wrote about this probably about a year and a half ago in one of my Forbes columns articles. There, I mentioned the number of times an agent switches screens to move to a different program in a day. It’s not in the tens…it’s not even in the hundreds. It could be in the thousands. In an hour you might switch 80, 90, a hundred times between different programs. That's just hard work on the agent's part.

I'm not suggesting that there aren’t solutions that may be able to handle everything. But the best solutions that are out there will also be able to bring in, and interact and interface with other solutions to create that seamless solution for the agent.

Chattermill: Definitely. The ability to integrate is a key factor to create a successful solution in CX. Now just moving a bit outside of the CX space and just trying to understand who Shep is as a person. How do you stay on top of the game after all these years? What type of resources, books, blogs, broadcast are you consuming every day to keep improving personally and professionally?

Shep Hyken: Yeah, I wish I had time to listen to podcasts. I don't commute - I walk to work every day and my walk is literally 200 and some odd steps out the front door of my apartment, to a building that’s two buildings over. So, I don't have time to listen to podcasts much. But I do read about 15 or 20 in-depth articles every single day, and I’m a voracious reader of books. On a good year, I read around 40 books. Although now I’m not travelling, I used to, on the way to whatever engagement I'm doing, study and I look at my notes and I rehearse my speech in my head and work on whatever I have to work on for the client on the way home.

Also, I always try to read one fiction book for every three business books. But business books, I get through pretty quickly; I can do a business book on one trip.

But I can't wait to get back to live events. Even the ones that I speak on. I like to listen to the other speakers. I learned a tremendous amount from them.

That kind of explains why so many people are now starting podcasts and YouTube channels and stuff like that. One reason is the exposure, it’s something for us to promote. But another reason is that I get to hang out for 30 minutes with a really smart person and pick their brain and ask them questions and learn about what they're reading and writing and, doing with their company. That’s invaluable.

Chattermill: Absolutely. We’re here taking this opportunity as well and picking your brain! (laughs) I love something that you mentioned there about how you prepare for speeches, which links to the key skill in CX, which is that of communication. What's your ritual in preparing for your big speeches that you're so famous for and how do you keep improving as a communicator?

Shep Hyken: Sure, it is pretty much a ritual. In the perfect world and whether or not causing me delays and me like barely making it, to wherever I'm supposed to be or getting it at a reasonable hour, there's a couple of things.

I believe in three key elements to succeed as a speaker:

  1. Know your material. I work very hard to understand the client, and what I'm supposed to do, and what my goals are. I actually, early on, I have a pre-program questionnaire and there's several questions to get to the three key points that I want my audience to know by the time I'm finished.
  2. Practice. I'm working on it endlessly, going over it in my head and looking at my notes consistently.
  3. Summarize it. My goal is to have the entire speech summarized in a one-pager, no matter how long it is. It could be three hours long. Doesn’t matter. Get one sheet of paper, and jot down the main points. All I need are key words to trigger and from all that practice beforehand, I’m able to conduct the speech without needed slides and nailing the essence of what I’m talking about.

Overall, I’m making sure that I know my content, I know my audience, and that I know myself. Play to my strengths. Go to bed by 10 and be ready to excel the morning after. That’s my routine.

Chattermill: In terms of recommendations, is there any specific person specific that you suggest our audience to follow in the CX space; any mentors or peers that you're always revisiting their work?

Shep Hyken: Sure. Wow. There are so many minds that I respect. I don't want to leave anybody out, but I just, I love my peers. I talked to a lot of them on a regular basis and one of my favorite guys, Jay Baer, Jason Dorsey, Dan Gingiss, James Dodkins, Jean Bliss, Lisa Ford, Mark Sanborn, Scott McCain. I can go on and on.

Chattermill: We're big fans of Dan! We had an amazing talk with him a few weeks ago and learned a ton from him. He’s one of those – like yourself – who always keep improving and stays on top of their game and is always up to date with what's happening in the business world.

Shep Hyken: Yeah. Here's an example. Why Dan? Why is Dan a great guy? Just look at Dan's history. He worked at Discover. He worked as the head social media guy worldwide at McDonald's. And he worked for a major insurance company.

He understands digital marketing and customer experience because he’s been there, he’s done it.

Chattermill: Absolutely. And one thing about the CX space that I see that is quite rare in other spaces. CX really is a community, right? People love to share and pass on knowledge. The CX space should be an example to other industries. The power of doing so is huge – knowledge compounds and from there, the sky is the limit.

Now, it would be great to talk about your career. Could you please tell us a bit about how you ended up working with CX; where you started and the main inflection points along the way?

Shep Hyken: Yeah. So, I pretty much have been doing this since right out of college. I love the idea of taking care of customers. From the very beginning I had a magic show business. I was 12 years old. My parents taught me how to make those customers love me beyond having a good show, showing up early, staying a little bit late writing thank you notes, calling a week before confirm making them have confidence that everything was going to go fine. And of course, everything did. I worked in retail. When I was in high school and college, I worked in a restaurant. I worked in nightclubs doing my entertainment. I graduated from birthday parties to nightclubs, but I saw and understood that even though I was the entertainer and people would so disagree with this in my business. If I saw a table was struggling, I would go over and help smooth out the situation. I viewed myself as an ambassador of the club, and that meant if I had to pick up a dirty dish off the table and put it away, I was not beneath doing that. and I believe you just do what it takes to make that customer happy. So, I had this in my blood.

So, starting out, I would say the advice is what is it that you want to do? What is it that you're passionate about doing? If you could do one thing in your job all the time and only do that, what would it be? You're probably never going to find that job, but if that job has a big part of that, you're going to be really happy.

Chattermill: Do you see any secrets to succeed in CX, beyond the mentality and the mindset that you just spoke about? Is there a specific avenue that people should take to succeed or not really?

Shep Hyken: Yeah. So, I really believe in being disciplined and in continuously learning.

I'm a very disciplined person, for example, I have a seven day a week content marketing schedule that includes a blog, has videos, podcasts, tweets, Instagram posts, major articles that I write. Everything.

I also think learning always is a key to success in anything. You asked me about how many books and that type of thing. I think that if you want to be recognized, somewhat respected as an authority on what you do, you must read about it. If you are working in a job and there's plenty of books out there about what you do, read as many as you can at the end of the year. If you've read, 10, 15 books, they're going to go, wow, that person's, well-read at the end of a couple of years of doing that person's an expert.

__Chattermill: Fantastic advice, thank you. In terms of both soft and hard skills, what 3 of each would you say are crucial for people to succeed in CX? __

Shep Hyken: I call the hard skills what I would call the technical side of service. The soft skills are your empathy and your ability to communicate and, understand and feedback to the customer.

So, when you hire somebody. and this is really interesting. Jim Bush, who used to be the Senior Vice President of American Express, they called him the customer service czar worldwide. He was in charge of their whole program and he would come out with reports and writings, very well respected. So, I interviewed him for one of my books and I learned, he said I had a choice between somebody in the support center, world call centers, customer service type work, and they had great experience working in a support center, or I could look at this candidate who'd never worked in a support center, but spent the last five years working at the front desk of a hotel. I'm going to take the person who worked at the hotel because they have the hospitality mentality. They have that empathy. They have that understanding. They have the ability to communicate. I will teach them the skills of using the software and flipping through screens and understanding what to do. But it's hard to get that soft skill. I like to look at what really is personality or soft skill driven versus technical or hard skills. But you do need a balance of both to be fair.

Chattermill: Thank you for that. Now, to culminate our chat here, it’d would a shame if we didn’t discuss COVID and the effect that it’s been causing on businesses globally. What type of problems do you see companies facing as a result of the COVID crisis going forward? And building on that, how do you think companies should position and behave in order to weather the storm?

Shep Hyken: The key word here is adaptability. Some companies adapted faster than others, but I'm seeing that most companies are figuring it out. I'm writing an article right now in Forbes that starts out with “where am I going to eat?”. And at the end of October, And I should add at the end of October when it starts getting cold, because restaurants are being told, that they can only open to a very small percentage of capacity. Some places are at 50%, some places at 25%. How does a restaurant survive having to pay rent, overhead, employees?

But I look at this and I think to myself, wow, some of those restaurants are going to go under and many of them already have, but then there are others that seem to be doing okay. They may not necessarily be thriving; although some are. And I'm not talking about the fast food or quick serve restaurants. We're talking about real restaurants where you sit down and stuff.

One is right here in my hometown, in St Louis. It's a very popular hotspot. And on the summer, their patio is huge, and it's always been filled with people. Obviously now you have to sit at a table and those tables are distanced properly. So, they probably lost a big chunk of their business. However, what he did to adapt is he expanded the restaurant space from the patio into his parking lot. Now he can actually handle quite a few more people than originally he had planned to this winter. Winter has always been slower than the summer for them because you can have people outside the restaurant, in the patio. But what we did now is he rented a large bubble to go outside, above the patio, allowing him to keep the patio during winter. Therefore, he’ll have more capacity this winter than any before. He’s now thinking: “Why didn't I think about this years ago? It's that great?”

Okay, I have a another. So, there's a restaurant up in New York. very famous three-star Michelin, highest rated restaurant. One of the top chefs in the world. And I've watched him go from, “wow, what am I going to do? Shutting down?”, to now adapting really well. And we're talking about the most expensive meals. Now he created curbside delivery where Rolls Royce's and Bentley's would pull up chauffer driven; guests order their food to be delivered to their car where they would sit there and eat it rather than go home and eat it. Granted, it's not nearly as many people. But he did adapt and make the best of this tough situation. He's delivering meals to the Hamptons, two hours, but they're very expensive. He actually got a food truck and experimented with a food truck. It's just great, this creativity really amazes me.

Chattermill: Wow. I'm blown away by the examples he brought, like I had no idea and the very creative by using his own house and his own garage as a piece of business and everything, is it just ingrains this like skin in the game that I feel like a lot of people didn't have before. This level of resourcefulness and creativity is so admirable!

Shep Hyken: Yeah, I was asked recently on a call: “before we begin just as a reflective exercise, what are you most grateful for right now in your life?” And people were saying, I'm grateful for my family. I'm grateful. Even though COVID was bad, there was some, I got, I was forced to spend time at home. Then that turned out to be a good thing.

And I said, I'm just going to be straight out and say it, I wish it never had happened, but I'm grateful that COVID happened. But bear with me. It isn't about the death and the ugliness of the disease. It's about what it forced me to do and force me to think about. I got to spend 11 weeks with my daughter who came in from New York. She was furloughed and she lived with us for 11 weeks. When is that ever going to happen again with one of my grown children.

It also really forced me to change my business. Granted, I'm still talking about the same things and doing the same things. I just have a completely different delivery system of doing it. I am no longer getting on a stage in front of thousands of people today. But I’m engaging on virtual presentations in front of hundreds of people. And when I do a virtual presentation, it's not a talking head. I've got great visuals. I've got motion that I bring into it. I've got a little box over here that allows me to switch camera angles and slides, add slides. And you're what you're watching more of a TV show than just the talking head. I was forced to do this and develop these new skills.

It's a little bit different business model. So that's fun, breaks the monotony of the last, I don't know how many years next year, probably toward the end of next year, things will start to look normal again. That's my prediction by 2021, or actually 2022, the following year, I'd say business will be getting better.

I'm a very optimistic, but realistically optimistic. I just make sure to look for the opportunity and the good in everything. If the situation is bad, I try to figure out how to work around it and hack it and try to get it out of my life if possible. If I can’t, I use it for my benefit - to improve personally and professionally.

Chattermill: Absolutely. I think that's a great note to end our great conversation - always try to focus your perspective on the things that you have control over and can change. Thank you so much for your time, Shep, and for this lesson that you just gave us all. It’s been a huge pleasure!

Shep Hyken: My pleasure.

Shep Hyken is a customer service and experience expert and the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations.

He is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author and has been inducted into the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement in the speaking profession.

Shep works with companies and organizations who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees.

His articles have been read in hundreds of publications, and he is the author of Moments of Magic®, The Loyal Customer, The Cult of the Customer, The Amazement Revolution, Amaze Every Customer Every Time, Be Amazing or Go Home and The Convenience Revolution.

He is also the creator of The Customer Focus™, a customer service training program that helps clients develop a customer service culture and loyalty mindset. (Now available as an online/web-based training program!)

His Twitter

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His Youtube Channel

His Forbes Column

Amazon Page

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