Customer Experience That Sticks: Adam Toporek

Customer Experience That Sticks: Adam Toporek


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About Adam Toporek

Adam Toporek is an internationally-recognized customer experience expert, keynote speaker, and customer service trainer who helps organizations transform their relationships with their customers through better strategy, training, and communication.

He is the author of Be Your Customer’s Hero, the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog, the co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast, and the creator of the virtual training course, How to Deal with Difficult Customers. Adam is regularly ranked as a top customer experience thought leader and has been cited in Entrepreneur, Forbes, AMA, and over 100 other media.

Follow Adam Toporek on LinkedIn
Follow Adam Toporek on Twitter@adamtoporek

Visit Adam’s Blog: Customers That Stick®
Buy Adam’s Book: Be Your Customer’s Hero
Listen to Adam’s Podcast: Crack The Customer Code

Follow Worthix on LinkedIn
Follow Worthix on Twitter: @worthix

Follow Mary Drumond on LinkedIn
Follow Mary Drumond on Twitter@drumondmary


Mary Drumond: (00:05)
Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer experience expert, keynote speaker, and customer service trainer who helps organizations transform the relationships with their customers through better strategy, training and communication. He’s the author of Be Your Customer’s Hero, the founder of the popular Customers That Stick Blog, and the cohost of Crack the Customer Code Podcast. He’s also the creator of virtual training course, How to Deal with Difficult Customers. Adam is regularly ranked as a top customer experience thought leader and has been cited in Entrepreneur, Forbes, AMA, and over 100 other media.

MD: (01:25)
Adam, thank you so much for coming on today.

Adam Toporek: (01:28)
Oh, thank you so much for having me, Mary, James. I appreciate it and I am excited.

MD: (01:32)
Yeah, and here’s James Conrad, my co-host, my wing-man. Great having you James. Thank you so much for joining us today. Adam, you are a well known figure in the customer experience community. I’m pretty sure that most of our listeners have heard about you and somehow either read or listened to something that you’ve worked on, some project, but tell for you know, if by any chance there’s anyone who hasn’t heard of your work yet and doesn’t know about you, can you just give a brief intro to yourself and what you do and what your mission is and customer experience?

AT: (02:08)
Absolutely. Thank you for asking that. I am a third generation entrepreneur and I think that’s one of the different lenses I tend to bring to customer experience. I grew up in and around small business. When I got to my working years, I started my own businesses, was in retail and franchising for awhile and really started seeing how important experience was and how it was such a driver for not only, you know, customer loyalty and things like that, but for the overall experience in the organization and how you had the center things around experience. So eventually I started talking about it, blogging about it, and now I’m a keynote speaker or a customer service trainer, a strategic adviser all on the topic of customer experience and customer service.

AT: (02:52)
Well you have a lot of initiatives that you work on. I mean there’s the book Be Your customer’s hero is your most recent piece of work, right?

AT: (03:02)
Certainly my most recent book. Right.

MD: (03:04) And, and then you also work on a podcast that you co host, which is crack the customer code. And you’ve been podcasting for a while, right?

AT: (03:10) Yes, absolutely. We have been, I think we’re on episode around the time we’re recording this three 50 something. Wow. It’s been a few years I’ve been doing that. I’ve had the Customers That Stick Blog. It was definitely, it was a different blog originally. I’ve had that since 2011 so yes, we’ve been talking about and putting out content on customer experience for a long time and that’s great. I always love podcasting with other podcasters cause it’s, it seems to go really smoothly. I’m going to be fixed that Mary right now.

MD: (03:43)
I did want to start off by talking about your book because your book touches on a very interesting topic that we’ve heard a lot in the previous season of this podcast, which is talking about frontline employees and how they’re the face of the company and regardless of all of this focus on the work that they’re doing, the importance of their job representing the company to customers, there’s still seems to be a lot of mistakes that go on and there are a lot of problems. That’s probably the most delicate aspect of the experience. And I’m curious, since you’ve worked with companies, you speak about this all the time, I’m curious to understand what it is that always seems to kind of bring in that process and what executives and leaders can do to mend that and make that a solid front of such an important touch point for customers.

AT: (04:36)
It’s simply a lack of focus. I mean in the end there’s a million different reasons, but it comes down to a lack of focus and more accurately a lack of making it a strategic priority and looks back up and talk about why it’s so important. Because I think one of the reasons it gets lost, especially today is we’re seven out of every eight articles is about technology and customer experience. I mean, people actually dealing with your customers is so thousand not has to catch it. It isn’t a, and more importantly, you know, I talk a lot about the emotional journey, customer emotion, how important it is. The research we’ve seen in the last, you know, 10 or 20 years really has shown us how much we are irrational creatures. And emotional creatures and how much our experiences, not only defined by emotion, but the memory of emotion.

AT: (05:26)
And I would sort of contend that to take that a step further, in most cases, not every case, the most emotionally resonant experience you’re going to have with an organization is going to be a human to human experiences. It is just how we’re wired biologically. Evolutionarily, we respond more deeply to other humans. Thus, if that’s going to be the most emotionally resonant, it’s also going to be often the most important. And despite all of this knowledge that have talking about right now, the human piece gets ignored so often in favor of technology, in favor of assuming that you know, our teams know what to do, that they are somehow magically given the gift of great customer service at birth and they’re going to come in our organization. And then you’re going to be surprised when they didn’t know exactly what to say to that customer or how to handle that situation.

AT: (06:19)
And one of the ways I like to look at it, it’s sort of going back to the psychology and evolutionary biology is this, anybody who’s sort of a decent communicator and a good person who cares can be pretty much pretty good at proactive customer service. We are not wired for reactive difficult situations. We’re not wired to get yelled at, screamed at and go, thank you ma’am. I understand. I’d really love to help you to get it right. And not only does it take training to manage our own emotions, but it takes training to know what to say in the face of the customer’s emotions. And that is so often where organizations just fail. They simply don’t put the time or the investment into training their teams and into making that a strategic priority. Let me ask you something and this is something that I could be totally wrong about James, don’t kill me that I’ve been working on in my head where at lots of times you have call centers or you know customer service departments in companies and they tend to be, I mean you know we’re in the age of the, you know the Internet and the means and it’s, it’s almost become ironic and the way that we represent either telemarketers are customer service reps as being just like the worst possible job that somebody can have, right?

AT: (07:35)
So it’s like a punishment almost. If you were in customer service and you have to deal with the customers, it’s a punishment and you’re, you’re poorly compensated because you know wages are not fantastic and it’s just like a gruesome job where you’re just listening to people angry and shouting at you the entire time. In my mind I’m thinking perhaps this is such a customer forward position or you’re a direct representation of the company in that moment. Maybe sometimes the only human interaction that your customers have with your brand should maybe be the opposite as to where customer service representatives should be more highly compensated or even be more senior positions and not entry level or high turnover jobs. That is harder to say. I of course, I would love for everybody to be paid more. That isn’t customer service cause I know what a tough job it is.

AT: (08:25)
Unfortunately, you know, economically the jobs we think should be paid well often aren’t. It’s just the nature of market dynamics that teachers, things like that. Right? Yeah. But here’s what I would say even before we got to pay, his leadership has a role in making that stereotype go away. And let’s just talk about two dynamics. One, the one we’ve already spoken about, which is are they giving the agents the tools and resources they need to solve customer issues? Because if I just say know, I use an example of one of my keynotes speeches of basic training in the military, right? And obviously the stakes are much higher in the military. I’m not going to tell you to go rush to the hill until I’ve trained you on how to do that. Right. And given you like, you know, the materials and supplies you need to do that well.

AT: (09:11)
And it’s the same thing in customer service, which is you got to give them the tools, you’ve got to give them the resources and the job isn’t as hard when you have that. And the second thing is this, the greatest Roi in all of customer experience is a difficult situation that is prevented before it ever starts. And leadership and management has a direct hand through designing the experience. We’re investing resources in the correct places in preventing escalation and preventing issues from happening in the first place. And if you just fix those two things for getting, just putting pay aside, which is a, uh, a serious issue to discuss leadership just focused on those two things, that job, that meme that, you know, funny Youtube video about the nightmare of being a customer service rep could change a lot.

James Conrad: (09:58)
And do you think that people that are on the job mostly feel like this is something that I’m going to do temporarily cause I have to pay bills but the first opportunity I get I am out of here. And is that sort of how people come to work? I mean I’m asking you because you work a lot with customer service and I feel like you deal with this more than I do. Is that something that executives and leaders see, where people just hate their jobs and hate coming into work? So aside from the training and the knowledge, they still have to kind of encourage and inspire and rev everybody up and give people pep talks like come on guys, we can do this is,

AT: (10:39)
Yeah, I mean so the pep talks devoid of the action is not very effective. Let’s talk about just generating enthusiasm for the team. Right? And that’s a cultural thing. First of all, yes. With any type of entry level or sort of one step above entry level type job you will have, no matter what a percentage of people, you’re just taking it because they need the job. And you know, your job as a leader or is to have a team and a culture where the right people rise to the top and the people that aren’t right for that fit of hopefully sooner than later figure it out. That’s easier said than done. I’m making it sound really easy. It’s not, but it is still the goal. It’s the objective you want. But I think when you’re talking about that, and the sort of Rah Rah stuff, that’s okay as long as you are supporting it, you know, in the practical operational sense.

AT: (11:29)
So one of the things I say is, and that’s when I talk about customer experience. Leadership, put your money where your messages, which is if you want customer experience, well you better not just be incentivizing sales. You better be incentivizing customer experience. If you want your contact center team to not be the meme of, you know, horrible customer service job will, you better create an environment in which they able to thrive. At least within the context of that job role. You need to empower them. You need to not give them metrics that are in direct contravention to the behaviors you expect. There’s a lot of things a leader can do to make it better and I really do think it does come down to leadership. I agree. And I think we’re also, if we expand out, we were talking a little bit here about customer service reps, but if we think about frontline in frontline goes into a lot of well paying jobs.

AT: (12:21)
You think about flight attendants or people that work in hotels. I mean they’re, they’re not making minimum wage, they’re being relatively well compensated. When you’re talking about training and giving tools to folks that are on the front line, you’re, you’re considering in the broad sense, like not just the people that are getting, you know, the one 800 number, you know, and complaining. But you’re thinking scoping this as everybody that’s touching customers right across the whole journey. Yeah, I’ll take it even further. That’s a great point, James. I’ll take it even a step further and say it’s not even just front lines. It’s customer facing, which means, you know, one of the things when I do trainings is I talked to management first and I ask who for management, not necessarily upper management, but who that is supervising the front line supervisors who have, they are going to be in the training.

AT: (13:10)
Because if you’re not the most customer centric person on your team, if you’re not one of the most skilled people in issue resolution on your team and you’re leading the people you expect to do well, you’re going to have a challenge, right? So I think to your point, it’s not just, you know, the, the contact centers, it’s anybody that’s customer facing at any level of the organization. I mentioned I come from Small Business, third generation entrepreneur. I took those calls for a long time and the calls I took were really, really bad because by the time it got to me, right, you know, I had some really good people trying to resolve it before it got to me. So if it got to me, it was sort of a mess. Right. And you gotta you have to have those skills so that your team knows. So it’s, it’s at all levels.

AT: (13:54)
And have you seen Adam as well when you’ve been engaging with some of these companies and training? Uh, have you seen some sort of marked differences and the impact and Roi of really focusing? Because in one of the key message I’m taking away is it’s focus here, making it a strategic priority, investing in giving your customer facing teams the tools that they need to handle these interactions in the right way to deescalate and all those sorts of things. Have you seen in the work that you do when companies have made it a strategic priority, how have you seen a shift in, in the way that customers are acting and the metrics and had this stuff works when you really focus on it? 100% and I will say this, it works when you make it a cultural change that is reinforced over time. Okay. Right. So I’ll, I’ll be frank and I want to, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll save all of your listeners a, there are money as well.

AT: (14:51)
Neither I nor anyone else ever born can come fix quote unquote your customer service in a one day workshop. That’s what I was getting at. Yeah. Let me just tell you now. It’s the first thing I say when I get on the phone and I tell them, if somebody tells you they can, yeah, here’s what I can do in a one day workshop. Here’s what I can do in a follow up program. Here’s what I can do. Mixing and virtual learning or virtual trainings after the fact, here’s what you need to do or none of it matters in the end. No outside unless unless you’re bringing them in and they’re going to be like full time and know basically be a job role and your role organisation, no outside consultant can make a cultural change for you because it’s all about how you lead and the focus you put on these investments and making it a strategic priority as we’re talking about, and I was very fortunate.

AT: (15:40)
I don’t think I’m allowed to speak about it publicly yet because I just found out, I haven’t even spoken to my client, but one of my clients just got like best in customer service and Newsweek or something for their industry. So it was really cool. So I got to follow up with them. So yeah, I mean it definitely when you, it works if you work it right. You know the old cliche. Yeah, it really does, but it’s, it can’t be an initiative. It can’t be the flavor of the month. It has to be a true cultural change in creating a customer centric culture.

MD: (16:37)
Well, Adam, without giving up all the tricks of the trade, because I know that this is what you do for a living, but what is the one thing that you tried to get across to companies when you get in there to work on projects and to work on these trainings and these workshops. What is one thing that you think companies can not do without, Ooh, one thing. The one message that you give across the board that must be instilled into the company’s culture. Yeah. I don’t know if it’s been instilled in the culture, but I think the one thing I tell the leaders don’t assume that your team knows what to do. Hmm. Okay. In every situation. Don’t assume they know what to do in the way you want it done right now. You know, I go in and I’ve had people like literally my training was your first day of work and then they’re sitting next to somebody who’s been with the company 20 years and then, yeah.

AT: (17:27)
And sometimes these are, these are higher, uh, higher level people, people that have been in like, you know, business to business sales. I mean these are people that know a lot about how to talk to customers and you’re or advanced already and you get a mixture and assuming that the person whose first day of work is that day knows what that 20 year person knows. Assuming and managing that way is often one of the biggest flaws and people don’t do it intentionally. Like if intellectually you talked to them and say, do you think the 20 year person and the, you know, one day person have the same skillset? Of course not. But when they’re going there in the day to day rush, the flowing rapids of business, right, they just act as if it is true. They manage as if it is true. And stepping back and remembering that your team needs the tools and the resources to truly deliver excellent or what we call hero class customer experience is incredibly important.

AT: (18:23)
I know that one of the, the, the workshops that you do is on a psychology of communication and it involves a little bit of neuroscience and neuroscience is something that’s psycho, a personal favorite topic of mine and I’m like borderline obsessed with it because I just think it’s incredible how you’re studying and understanding human behavior. We can predict the outcome of customer experiences and somehow design those experiences beforehand. So we get to control. The outcome of course are exceptions, right? But in general if we stick to it, that’s kind of what we’re trying to achieve, right? Controlling the outcome of the customer experience.

MD: Now what are, what are some of the things that you teach and that you try to get across through this workshop?

AT: So one of the ways I’m looking at it, and I think it is truly fascinating, I agree with you Mary, that it’s just something that is captivated me and in the last five years I’ll spend a lot of time really asking the question, how does this apply to customer experience and customer service?

AT: (19:25)
Because I think, and tell me since you’re into this, if you’d agree with me, so much of the work that’s been done in this area, especially before the, like the last couple of years has been in the sales and the influence side, right? This all began with Cialdini’s influence and I think it’s been, there’s been a lot less application to customer experience. So that’s one of the things I’ve been exploring and a few other of my colleagues had been exploring and one of the areas have really honed in on, but the research isn’t there. I’m, I’m more at the stage where I’m hypothesizing if we apply this principle X here to this situation, why, what would happen? In theory it should work. We don’t have the data to know. So for instance, there’s a, there was a great article called the most dangerous word in the world. You know what that is and oh no.

AT: (20:11)
And essentially they did research and said, just hearing the word no. And I don’t even like saying get to tell the story. It gives you a release of fight or flight of your stress, chemicals, cortisol, all that. They just flash the word no and they have you know, Mri imaging now so they can see what’s happening in the brain. That’s what’s making this stuff so fascinating. Just flashing that word had dozens of stress chemicals released. Now you know we’ve known since Dale Carnegie is not a great word, you use positive language, not negative language, but now we know really how important it is. Now we know, hey, you know what, let’s take this word out of almost anything we can. And that’s something that’s a, okay, what does that really mean? If you put it in a sample set of 10,000 emails and then you did a control study of 10,000 emails with the word and you know, we don’t really know if that is proven, but there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that would be an accurate way to approach it.

AT: (21:06)
Does that make sense? So I’m sort of playing with some of these ideas, like taking these ideas from influence and from the research in these areas and saying, okay, if we apply it, the customer experience, what does that look like? The direct correlation of the use of certain words during any sort of customer service job that generates maybe feelings of anxiety or feelings of aggression in customers. Therefore causing them to have a negative perception of your brand. You know, the classic book is named influence right there. It’s not a press a button and get a result kind of thing. It’s an influence that if you have a hundred people, it may move 60 people more in that direction, somewhat, right? None of the, none of this is a, you know, a process by which you get a defined result. So it doesn’t have to be negative though.

AT: (21:56)
It doesn’t have to be words to avoid. Have you heard of, you’ve heard of priming, obviously I guess if you’re into this stuff, right? So that idea of they did the Bingo tasks, right? They had people, sorry, shuffling letters. There are college students. One group had a sort of generic set and the other group had a set of words that prime the idea of elderly, like Bingo and Florida, which I take offense to because I’m, so these are young college students, all healthy. And you know, of course, see the experiment wasn’t the experiment. It never is. The experiment was they timed them walking down the hall when they left and the ones that had been primed with the elderly words’ actually walked slower, right? And they’ve done a lot of other priming kind of things and anchoring effect and things like that. So here’s the question I start posing, which is us, can we use that with a difficult customer situation?

AT: (22:49)
Can we use that in a tough email? Can we purposely add words like cooperation, understanding and prime these ideas? Is that going to magically solve things? No. But over a sample set this, these are the questions I’m trying to ask. We really need the data to study it. What happens does that, you know, out of a thousand, uh, samples, does that turn a hundred of them? And can we be strategic with our word choice? And use these principles. I mean, I’m using it in anyways in my own work and I’m teaching it to clients when I’m also letting them know, hey, this is a theory.

MD: Right. That’s really interesting. Oh, I’m with you on that theory. I mean I’m all for it. And you know, we see this a lot when we study customer emotions and how we can link these words to emotions and how emotions control things.

AT: (23:39)
Really crucial things to organizations like a loyalty insurance, which is, I know something that you discuss a lot of as well. Right? But you know, if we look at a lot of concepts, a psychological concept that when we talk about all the time on this podcast and like the peak end rule for example, and like the idea of designing experiences and creating positive peaks and endings to somehow try to make the customers take away or their memories be remarkable and be wonderful. Right? And this is something that the, I’m a huge fan, once again, it’s still kind of in the initial stages, although it’s been studied for a while. There’s still not that much concrete evidence about it. But I still believe that it’s helpful.

MD: Is this something that you encounter and you work with? Do you see companies actually trying to apply these concepts into their experiences and their customer journeys?

AT: (24:31)
I think so. And a lot more people are talking, you know, I’m a little bit out on the front edge with the language stuff in the neuro words idea. A lot of people were talking about peak end rule, including myself. And I think more companies are certainly accepting of customer emotion now and there’s been a lot of talk about the emotional journey for the past few years. One of the sort of different lenses I’ve taken on that is, and I think you’ve seen this because we’ve talked about the speeches I do, is the idea of hassle free. The idea of preventing customer hassle that is actually not just oh, hassle free to be hassled for you cause it sounds good and we just assume everyone hates hassle, right? It’s actually about customer emotion and it’s about the idea that you have to prevent negative emotion in order to facilitate positive emotion.

MD: (25:18)
Okay. If you’re going to have a peak emotion, right? Well, you have to not only manufacturer generate that great moment. You’ve got to make sure you don’t create another one somewhere else that’s worse and as negative. It’s probably more important even than generating the positive one is the lack of negative emotion, right?

AT: Exactly. 100% because that, I mean, when you think about it, one of the ways I explain it is if you and I are married or whatever, right? We have a 10 year relationship. Well, there’s a lot of room for deep emotion and multilayered, a complex emotions, right? You can be mad at your spouse and still love them and think they’re awesome. Right? With companies that there’s not that much room, okay. There’s not a lot of room for those layers. If a customer is upset with you, I mean, you may have a long relationship where they just really love you, but on the average, on the whole, if they’re upset with you, they’re not thinking about the positives, right?

AT: (26:14)
It’s crowding out the positive emotions and certainly it’s probably dominating their emotion, their memory of the experience. As we discussed and all of those things, and you don’t have the ability to make that positive connection as well or as poignantly if you haven’t either prevented, preferably, but resolved the negative emotion.

JC: Yeah, yeah. It’s, it’s an interesting discussion and we, we’ve talked about this in some previous episodes and I just wanted to get your thoughts on this from your perspective, this idea of delighting customers and should the focus be creating these amazing moments and these are the things that people really remember and this should be what we strive for or, and it doesn’t have to be an and/or. It could be an and/or, but also ensuring that we have consistency in what we do rather than trying to have these spike moments of amazing experiences.

AT: (27:07)
Just make sure that people can have consistency and we don’t drop the ball and we always deliver it and be more sort of sustainable rather than it’s strive for these moments of delight. I’d love to get your thoughts on this in relation to this idea of emotional experiences. And so I tell a couple of stories and my keynotes about amazing customer experiences. The spikes, right? That, and one of the messages I put with them as a stories do not scale. The stories I tell probably can’t be done for every one of them. Definitely can’t be done for every customer. That can’t be done for most customers. It’s not about trying to create those, the light moments. I think those are important, but they should always just be moments of seized opportunity. They should not be a strategic focus because you will fail. You simply can’t do it for every customer.

AT: (27:52)
Right? So the real question is, what is the baseline consistent experience look like? What does every customer experience no matter what? And surprise and delight doesn’t have to be these big viral moments. It can just be a really nice piece of communication, right? It can just be, they asked about, you know, your, how your dog was doing that. You mentioned last time you came in the bank, right? It doesn’t have to be the ATM that spits out, you know, which that was a PR move. But you know what I mean? They ended up spits out, right? I mean, this kind of crazy stuff. I, I mean, one of the stories I tell is about a hotel that heard me mentioned my wife’s birthday when we booked the reservation two months ago and had a whole spread on the bed when we arrived there. They can’t do that for everyone, but they happened to know about our birthday and we’re able to seize the opportunity and make that moment great and we always remembered it and et cetera, et cetera.

AT: (28:43)
But the key is if you have that baseline, if every experience is good and consistently good, then when those moments arise, they just mean that much more. But if you try to make them a strategic focus, it can be really tough. Now if you can make something that’s like a little extra, like the double tree cookie, a strategic focus, that’s a little more scalable.

MD: Yeah. Okay. That makes sense. Absolutely. Well, you know, one thing that I think is very difficult as well for companies is, is James is going to tell me not to say to, everyone loves doing this, bring it up. You know the double tree cookie is also on there, James as the top. I find it very interesting how consistently these names come up. I think it just takes this point home, which is these companies are constantly brought up as examples because they are so consistent in delivering incredible experiences and they managed to create this own like word of mouth, viral reputation for themselves by simply being consistent, right? Which is, it’s probably the most important part of everything that they do, right? No, 100%. And then on the other hand, what you get is, is companies who either fail horrendously added and companies that are, you know, somehow trying, they’ve understood that they’ve got an issue and they’re working hard to try to fix that. And this is something that I did want to bring up because I read a article of yours from your blog that talks a little bit about Comcast and Comcast. You know, for those who are listeners on the show, Comcast is the opposite of QE because it all comes up as the bad experience and they’re an easy target and I’m not going to bully them and I’m not going to take advantage of, you know, oh my God, it’s so easy to bash Comcast.

MD: (30:39)
But what I did want to talk about was how you had a firsthand experience in seeing how Comcast is trying to turn this around. Now. I know that there are a lot of brands out there that have successfully transformed their experiences to now be memorable and being market leaders in having excellent customer service. And one that I wanted to bring up was t-mobile. I’m 34 and when I came into the market, t-mobile had already brought in, it already had established this wonderful reputation of being extremely customer centric before. But I understand it wasn’t always this way. I’ve heard people talking about how t-mobile was actually really well known for being one of the worst services in the industry, that they were like the standard of bad for a and how they managed to change this. They managed to get in there and change their branding and change their campaigns and change the way they do things so that the, the customer all of a sudden came top of mind.

MD: So what is it that brands can do? How do they bounce back from bad reputations? That customer experience. So companies that are the opposite of Double-tree, the opposite of Chewy companies that are known for being really bad is there. Salvation is they’re fixing it.

AT: That’s the perfect pitch. Mary, thank you so much. Because the title of the blog post I wrote about my experience at Comcast was it’s never too late to win with customer experience. I appreciate it. I should say there’s a caveat to that and I’ll, we won’t go down this little side road, I’ll just mention it in the post. I explore the idea that it’s really only never too late for a healthy company to win with customer experience. There’s a point at which it is too late. But if they’re healthy, if they still have profitability and solid customers and solid products, absolutely can. And that’s going, Comcast was really fascinating. And I’ll talk about the customer experience side. I think there is a PR side to this, a branding side that’s not really as much my area. But here’s the thing. None of that matters if you don’t turn around the customer experience ship, right? If you’re known for a bad customer service, you’re not going to change that through a PR campaign. No kick off your, your change in customer experience through a PR campaign. So like try to convince people to give you a second chance through the PR campaign, but then you do have to deliver. Right? Agreed. But I think that should be down the road. And here’s why. You know, Comcast, back when it happened, I wrote a few articles about them at the time and one of them was basically the picture on the blog posts is like a container ship. Cause that if you look at like there’s even a diagram of how a container ship turns, it’s like a big thing.

AT: (33:29)
Right? And that was really the metaphor I’d used for like how hard it’s going to be to turn a culture that size tens and tens of thousands of employees, right? That is a monster undertaking. And why? Why? I say I think the PR and the branding can happen later. And they just said, hey, we’re going to fix this. We’re doing this, we’re putting a bunch of money in it. And then they sort of went about doing it. If you try to go sell it, it doesn’t turn around. If you try to go sell that, the ship has turned around and you’re in a, you know, the first 3% of that turn, well, everyone’s going to say, oh no, you still suck. Right, right, right. Hey, this is what we were talking beforehand. I got to stop. All right, so, so yeah, I agree there you can absolutely be a branding and a sort of PR push, but you better have your ducks in a row before you do that.

AT: (34:17)
So let’s talk about getting the ducks in the row. Comcast did the most important thing you can do. They actually meant it when they said it and put the money and budget and resources into doing it. Now you can mess up, you can go down bad paths, you can invest poorly when you’re trying to do this. That’s going to happen to any company that does it. What the big differentiator is, and I mentioned this earlier, put your money where your messages was. They invested for real like crazy money in this turnaround. I mean like budgets are bigger than like another 30 companies, right? I mean just insane because they’re so big and but they did. They put the money where the messages they’ve invested in it and you know, it’s truly interesting to see a lot of the stuff they’re doing. I mean they’re obviously using technology.

AT: (35:06)
They’re a technology based company. They’re using that in a lot of ways to innovate, but they are also working on the nuts to bolts, human to human. The stuff we talked about earlier, interactions as well. Things like just if your person doesn’t show up at your house in the window, you get a bill credit and the window is narrower. Now it’s like down to two hours and I don’t know if it’s in every market or what, you know, they’re so big, I can’t really generalize some of these signs, but that’s one of the things they’re doing. Like so a narrower window, that’s a pain point that’s been reduced and yeah, actually you get a credit if don’t make it right, they put their money where their messages and that’s just one example. Uh, so I think any company can do that. To your point, t-mobile, whoever, it’s never really too late to win with customer experience as long as you still have a healthy business.

AT: (36:23)
It wasn’t really mysterious. Everybody knew what the main problems were with Comcast. But like you said, when you have a dinosaur, it’s really difficult to actually make changes because it involves so much on such a large scale. Right? So, you know, as a Comcast customer, as someone who’s had so many problems with Comcast, honestly I’m, I’m cheering for them. I’m rooting for them. I hope they’re able to do it because first of all, I think I’m going to benefit most of all as their customer. And secondly, because it’s going to give me really, you know, something wonderful to blog about and talking about when the chain, but it’s important because it, it seems like they are doing their research, they are listening to their customers. They’re, they’re taking that step of finding out what the main problems are, the issues that actually make people cancel. You know, what is it that drives churn? What is it that drives loyalty? And let’s focus on the things that truly are causing customers not only to be unhappy chancel or to take their business elsewhere.

MD: Right. And Yeah, you know, that that window of having people come over that, that’s a really big deal. That’s something that makes Comcast lose business. So it, it makes me quite happy actually to hear that they’re, they’re investing in, in changing that.

AT: (37:38)
Yeah. I think an important thing to remember that a lot of people forget. They’re like, oh, well this is the, yeah, this, they haven’t changed. Those haven’t changed that. They’re not only doing well, all the things I mentioned, they’re doing it in the face of an upheaval and part of their core business. Right, right. I mean, cord cutting. It’s just, you know, I mean, that’s a huge, you know, that’s one of the reasons cable companies forget Comcast, all cable companies, I’ve been right near the bottom, you know, of every customer service industry, a survey, Acsi, whatever it may be for a long time because they have captive customers. Yeah. They didn’t have to be nice. They could still be make a whole, but then fight. They made more money not being nice. I would argue they probably didn’t if they really had understood preventing bad experiences can do for your bottom line.

AT: (38:23)
But they certainly saw it that way and they certainly made more short term money that way where it cause customer experiences and investment. But now they’re having to do this turn there, you know, let’s say they’re turning that big ship around where they’re doing it during the tropical storm.

MD: Yeah. Right. So, yeah, so, so it’s not that easy. Yeah. I have a six year old daughter and this weekend we stayed at a hotel and there was cable and her reaction was, why are there breaks for commercials? She’s like, what is the need? You know? So I mean, this is what they’re waging against. This is what they’re up against. A generation that absolutely rejects the core of their business, you know? So yeah. I mean Comcast is very diversified, but that is a huge point.

JC: (39:12)
Yeah. Yeah. Adam, I had just a thought. As you’re, as you’re talking through the Comcast story and thinking about what clients often grapple with, what role does metrics have in, in this processing, getting people measure it against the right things or the things that we know drive behavioral change if they do. What have you seen in your experience and where that fits in the, in the priorities as you’re thinking about setting up strategic priorities and getting this more ingrained in the culture, getting the right metrics in place, and maybe sometimes they don’t have the right metrics in place. And, and what role does it play? Is it significant or is it just one of those things that’s less important? That’s a hard way to phrase that. I’ll, I’ll say this about the metrics themselves aren’t really important. The purpose of the metric is can be incredibly important.

AT: (40:02)
Uh, metrics, as a whole, they’re often a misuse tool is the problem. They are nothing more than that. They should never be the goal of customer experience. They should never be the true focus of customer experience program. They should be a tool for analyzing the progress of customer experience program and you do need them and the bigger you are, the more you need them. Right? Cause you just simply, you know, when you’re talking like talking about Comcast when I wasn’t going to do 50,000 like anecdotal surveys and put them together. Now they’ve got to have a, they’ve got to have some numbers to figure out what’s happening. It’s just not going to happen. So the question’s what metrics do you choose? That’s really the crux of it, James. I mean, what are the ones that give us the end result we’re looking for? And that is truly the hardest thing then is implementing them and not becoming metric blind. 

AT: (40:49)
Right? I mean we all know nps, right? It’s the most popular customer service metric. NPS has a lot of problems. Most of the problems from an NPS or how people use it though, right? You’re not a problem of the actual metric. There’s no, no one metrics book. I would never recommend one metric anyways, but the great majority of the problems with nps or the fact that it’s not used well, it’s just used at this end all been in organizations. I’ve worked with organizations. I know I’ve talked to clients where they’re like, oh yeah, our nps has done this and done that and I dig into the program. I was like, okay, well here’s the seven ways I can tell you you’re probably have people cheating the system already because it’s all about the number and there’s a lot of ways to cheat it, right? It’s just so easy where that’s how, you know we talked about the psychology and human nature.

JC: (41:37)
It’s so easy to just look at the one number, right? Because everything else is messy and difficult. It makes sense at him and I was thinking too about frontline, just coming back to where we started in front line, I was wondering also about measures within sort of performance management as well and if you’re talking about training and trying to arm teams with better information. I was wondering also about in the performance management process, if you change the way performance is measured of the people that are interacting with customers, does that have a significant impact and the way they behave? That’s what I was trying to get at, or whether that’s not really significant. It’s more about arming them with the tools and you know, role, role modeling, role playing, et cetera. There are hugely important and they’re more important in a negative sense and in a positive sense to me.

AT: (42:25)
Okay. In other words, it’s not completely true. I mean you absolutely. Metrics can be used positively in management. I’m just saying that more often they’re screwing things up. Management, which are screwing things up with metrics. Right, right. Okay. Because they’re focused on the numbers because they’re easy. It’s easier than having a discussion about how you phrase things on the phone and also because here’s the real problem. The people who are managing the people who are supervising, they didn’t come up with which metrics to measure. Their boss did. Right. We always forget that, right? I mean they’re like I don’t want to do first call resolution or I don’t want to only do first call resolution. I don’t want to do, you know, average handle time because now all my people are rushing off the phone and everyone’s calling back. Right. But that’s what was set from on high and not in a way that gave anybody flexibility and not in a way that gave them the ability to look at the experience as a whole.

AT: (43:25)
The key is figuring out which metrics really matter and then understanding the unintended consequences of those metrics. Yeah, average, average handle time is going to be speed speed’s fine but you’ve got to balance it with something else. Otherwise everybody rushes off the phone. Unintended consequences sometimes these metrics.

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Mary Drumond

Mary Drumond

Mary Drumond is Chief Marketing Officer at Worthix, the world's first cognitive dialogue technology, and host of the Voices of Customer Experience Podcast. Originally a passion project, the podcast runs weekly and features some of the most influential CX thought-leaders, practitioners and academia on challenges, development and the evolution of CX.



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