Interview with bestselling author, keynote speaker and Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations

Q&A: Shep Hyken Shares Easy Ways to Create Amazing Customer Experiences

Shep Hyken

What level of customer experience does your business aspire to achieve? I think we can all agree that anything below “good” is inadequate.

But even “good” isn’t good enough for consumers. To really inspire customer loyalty, customer experience must be consistently amazing—even magical. And while “magical” seems like a pretty high bar, it’s actually not tough to achieve, says Shep Hyken. You just need to be consistently at least 10 percent better than your competition. And Shep Hyken knows all about magic. He began his career in “customer amazement,” as he puts it, as a 10-year-old magician. Since then, he’s become a leader in customer experience, best-selling author, keynote speaker, and all-around expert on all things customer amazeme

Read on to learn about Shep’s magical past and how to elevate good customer experience to an amazing one. Good news: It doesn’t require a top hat or a bunny. Just consistency and commitment, which is sometimes easier said than done.

Customer Experience Tips from Chief Amazement Officer Shep Hyken

Treasure Data: I think we have to start with your job title, Chief Amazement Officer. What made you choose that title? What does it mean to you?

Shep: It’s fun to have fun titles. We have other great titles: Director of Details, Director of Reputation, Manager of Many Things. My title, Chief Amazement Officer, came as a result of what I talk about: How to create an amazing experience. My goal is to do that with all my clients, and teach them to do it for all their customers.

The concept of amazement is within the grasp of every person reading your article. It’s this: Better than average, but better than average all of the time.

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Anybody can be better than average once in a while. But the goal is to be consistently and predictably above average.

Nobody’s perfect. So, there’s going to be days when you have a problem. It’s the way you solve that problem—that’s what gets people back and restores their confidence. What you want people to say is, “I like working with them because they’re always knowledgeable. They’re always helpful. They always return my call quickly. Even when there’s a problem, I know I can always count on them.”

So, that word—always—followed by something positive is really the genesis of amazement. And if you think about this, a little better than average, what does that mean? I had a great opportunity to interview Horst Schulze, who is the co-founder and first president of the Ritz Carlton hotel chain. He said, to create one of the finest brands in the world, all you have to do is just be 10 percent better than average all of the time. On a scale of 1 to 5, what’s average? It’s three. So, a 3.3 or better is what earns you potentially the title of being amazing.

Treasure Data: How did you get to where you are now? What was that journey like?

Shep: I started doing magic tricks when I was about 10 years old, and at age 12, I had my first paid gig, at a birthday party.

And my mom said, “Go write a thank you note.”

Oh, good idea.

My dad said, “Follow up in a week and say thank you again.”

Great idea.

And I asked my client: What did they like about the show? What were their favorite tricks? And after you’ve done a few shows and you hear a few of the answers to what the favorite tricks are, you’ll get an idea of what people don’t talk about.

My Dad said, “Get rid of those tricks and always try to improve and get better.”

And I thought, Wow, those are great lessons. And that was fun and I enjoyed it.

Little did I know, that was called customer service. As I got real jobs, I realized the importance of taking care of people. Now, I’m naturally a people pleaser. I don’t know if that’s because I’m the firstborn of three. I don’t know what that means, but I do know that my tendency is to want to make people happy.

So, I graduate college and I’m trying to figure out what I want to do with my life. And, I saw a couple of motivational speakers and they were fantastic. And I thought: Wow, I could do that.

By the way, I’d graduated from doing birthday party magic shows to working in nightclubs. So, I had this entertainment background and I knew I could get up in front of people. And I had a little business background. And I thought, “I want to write a speech.”

I went to the bookstore and I saw all these books and I thought: Which of the books do I want to buy today? The ones that resonated most were the ones that were in that customer service area.

I think “In Search of Excellence” had just come out, by Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr. I picked up a couple of books by Ron Zemke and Carl Albrecht on customer service. I bought some magazines to read that were business-focused. And I started becoming fascinated with customer service because it’s what I’d grown up with and that’s where it all started.

My first contract was with Anheuser-Busch and the speech was called “Back to Basics.” That’s what Anheuser-Busch’s theme was for that meeting.

As I read through that, I go, “Oh, this is, back to the basics, taking care of the customer.” And, it just tied into all the things I believed in.

As I developed my content and material, I was working with the clients. They were teaching me what they’re doing. Sometimes I agreed with it, sometimes I didn’t. But you know what? I learned every step of the way. And it didn’t take long before I was so deeply immersed in the topic that I wasn’t looking at any other content to consider speaking about or writing about. This was it. And so, really, since the early 1980s, the customer service experience has been the focus.

Treasure Data: How do you feel about the famous statistic that, by 2020, customer experience will be the chief differentiator?

Shep: Guess what, that’s in a few months. So, not very far.

Well, I got news for you. If you wait until then, you’re too late. You’re not only going to be playing keep up, but you’re also going to be playing catch up. And that’s not a fun world to be in, especially as it applies to service and experience. Because once a customer enjoys doing business with a company—because the product does what it’s supposed to do and the experience they’re getting is one that they enjoy—it’s hard to pull somebody away from that.

Treasure Data: Does your day job make you more sensitive to customer experience in your daily life? What’s a good or bad example you experienced recently?

Shep: Well, you know, I am acutely aware. I’ll give you an example. A hotel says check-in is not till after 3. So, I get in at 4:30 and they tell me, my room is not ready. Are you kidding me? I know how to diplomatically handle things, but my expectations are very high.

In contrast, it’s just one great experience after another when I do business with Nordstrom.

There was a salesperson years ago who said, “Here’s my card. If you give me your name, phone number, and email address, I’ll make sure to let you know when there’s a sale, or when something new comes in that I think you’re gonna like.”

I go, “Wow.”

It’s like a personal shopping program if you will. I have a sales associate at Nordstrom who takes great care of me.

She says, “Shep, we’re having this sale. When do you want to come in? Because I want to be here.”

And when I show up, she doesn’t just take me to racks of clothes. She takes me into the dressing area and she opens up the dressing room and there are three shirts and two pairs of pants and she says, “This is what I’ve picked out for you.”

And, you can call that great at sales, but here’s what happens. I don’t live too far from the store. So you know what she does? When my merchandise—if I had to get tailoring—is finished, she drops it off. The other day I bought a pair of tennis shoes.

I put them on and I go, “You know what? They just don’t feel right. I think I’ve got the wrong size.”

She says, “What size do you need?”

And before I even returned them, she has ordered a new pair of shoes. And when they come in, she brings the shoes over and exchanges them for me.

One of the habits or principles I talk about in my most recent book, “The Convenience Revolution,” is delivery. When you can take something to the customer and make the process convenient, why would they want to go anywhere else? This sales associate practices convenience at every level.

Treasure Data: In broad terms, what is your philosophy of developing a customer service culture and that loyalty mindset for brands?

Shep: When Horst Schulze, from the Ritz Carlton, talked about a great brand, he had this credo. Now, the credo was actually the title of a paper he wrote when he was in high school. He was actually in a school that was devoted to teaching people about the hospitality industry.

He wrote, “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” That credo is part of the Ritz culture now and defines exactly what Horst Schulze wanted. Everything they train to is based on that credo.

So when defining and communicating a customer service culture, we’re looking for a vision: A one-sentence statement that really defines what we want the company to be—in terms of service and experience.

Many times we ask the executive team to choose other players that are involved and respected within the company. It could be somebody from customer service, it could be somebody from administrative, it could be somebody in the sales area, it could be somebody in the warehouse. We want some of these people involved in helping to craft the vision.

And this vision is not a flavor of the month, or flavor of the year, that’s going to change with the theme as we have our next meeting. No. This needs to be permanent.

So, once that is defined, you get buy-in because people say, “Wow, they went to some of our own to ask us. They just didn’t pull the idea out of the air from the top. They pulled people in from different parts of the company. This is powerful.”

Then, when you communicate the vision, you do it often and you do it forever. We have clients that recite their core values—one of which is their service initiative—at every meeting they have.

And the customer service mindset becomes part of the culture. It’s ingrained in employees. And, you create what I call service and experience awareness, asking them to share examples of when they’ve created great experiences, putting them through short little exercises, giving them short training throughout the year.

Oftentimes, we’ll tell people when they have a weekly meeting, “Hey, just take five minutes out of that meeting and devote it to the customer service or customer experience you’re trying to achieve, to remind people this is still of the utmost importance.”

Treasure Data: Who owns responsibility for customer experience? Who all in the organization plays a role?

Shep: I believe that customer service is not a department. It’s a philosophy that’s to be embraced by everybody in an organization. Customer experience is everybody’s job, whether they have an outside customer or an internal customer.

Customer experience is cultural. And who helps define the culture? Leadership defines the culture. They communicate it. They get everybody trained to it. They act as role models and behave in a certain way that’s congruent and in alignment with what they want that service and experience vision to be. They let people know they’re doing a great job and, of course, they defend the culture if somebody is out of alignment.

But many times there’s somebody at the top who’s actually in charge of the initiative of driving value through service and experience. It’s usually somebody from up above in leadership and everybody’s got to buy-in.

Treasure Data: Can you share a memorable success story from your brand consulting? Feel free to anonymize.

Shep: I had a large project where there were about 6,000 employees that needed to be trained in customer service in approximately 200 different locations. And here was the big issue: These are very lower-level employees that typically aren’t highly educated and the idea of investing in long-term training was very scary to the client. Chances are these employees don’t have a computer at home. They’ll have to do it on their phone, which is fine. But, again, education might be an issue.

I said, “Let’s take 12 principles that are really important to your business.” I have, you know, a hundred to choose from, everything from making good first impressions, demonstrating knowledge, building rapport, managing complaints.

So, we chose 12, and I went and I made a three-to four-minute video on each principle. So, 12 videos once a month, over a period of a year. And then I created a facilitator guide so the 200 managers would be able to simply read this document and know exactly how to have a conversation about the video that I made for that particular month.

At first, there was a little pushback like, “When are we going to do this?”

And then I told them, “You’re already doing it. You’re already having your meetings, you’re just not including this in the meeting.”

And we’re talking about probably devoting 10 minutes a month, but it should be more than that: 10 minutes once a month to introduce the concept and then five minutes at each of the other weekly meetings throughout the month to reinforce the concept.

And it was just fascinating to watch the ratings the company has gotten before and after. Less than three months into the program, they were already starting to see an increase in customer satisfaction scores. So, that’s a pretty cool concept when it works, you know. It’s exciting. I love it when the clients share that information.

Treasure Data: Any final thoughts on the customer experience?

Shep: Here’s my parable of customer experience: The great Genie comes to Businessland, and there are three entrepreneurs talking about opening ice cream stores.

And the Genie said, “You know, normally I grant one person three wishes, but I’ll grant each of you, one wish.” However, there was a caveat. “The wish must ensure the success of your business.”

So the first entrepreneur, he goes, “Okay, I would love an ice cream store with the best ice cream. And I know if I have the best ice cream, people are going to line up to buy my ice cream.”

And the Genie said, “I’m sorry, I’m not going to grant you that wish because just having great ice cream is not going to ensure the great success of your business.”

Then the second entrepreneur said, “Well, let me give it a shot. I would like the best location in all of Businessland, because if I have a great location and people are walking by, surely they’ll stop and buy my ice cream.”

And, the Genie said, “Nope, I’m not going to grant you that wish either, because just having a great location won’t ensure that you sell a lot of ice cream.”

And the third entrepreneur thought for a moment and she said, “You know, I think a good location is important, and I think having great ice cream is probably important too. But you want to know what I want more than anything? I want customers. I want a lot of customers in my store every day lined up down the sidewalk trying to buy my ice cream. Customers are what I want and what I wish for.”

And with that, the Genie said, “Your wish is my command.”

You see, without customers, you don’t have a business. No matter what you’re doing, the job is to get customers—and keep customers coming back again and again.

Amaze Your Customers

Understanding customers is key to delivering amazing, personalized marketing experiences across online and offline channels. Read more about getting the customer data you need for a true 360-degree view of every customer, with the Treasure Data CDP.

About Shep Hyken:

Shep Hyken is a bestselling author, keynote speaker and Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. Visit his website for more information on his speaking engagement and publications or follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Tom Treanor
Tom Treanor
Tom Treanor was head of marketing at Treasure Data. He focuses on marketing, martech, CDPs, and digital marketing. Follow him on Twitter @RtMixMktg.
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