Peer Cross Training: What Is It And How Will It Improve Your Customer Experience and Employee Engagement?

Does the thought of aligning your entire company, improving your customer experience and increasing employee engagement interest you?

If so, this post is for you – I want to introduce you to peer cross-training as a way to improve alignment, customer experience and employee engagement in the next 30 days.

In this post I will outline what peer cross-training is, explain the benefits and provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to host it for your company.

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But first, I want to share a few statistics on employee training and engagement that shows the positive ROI that organizations can experience when they take these concerns seriously:

  • 40% of employees who receive poor job training leave their position within the first year. – Go2HR
  • Companies with engaged employees outperform those without by 202%. – Gallup
  • 69% of employees report engagement is a problem in their organization. – Psychometrics

What is peer cross-training?

Peer cross-training is the practice of having one representative from each department host a presentation to their neighbouring departments. During these presentations the representative describes a day in the life of their team, as well as provides detailed descriptions of their motivations, challenges, measures of success/KPIs and goals.

Imagine you were to ask your marketing department:

“Can you describe what our call center agents do?” 

Would they have a detailed answer, one that adequately describes the ebbs and flows of a typical day in the department? Would they even be able to recite the service-level agreements or workforce management protocols of the call center? Or would they simply reply with:

“They answer calls from new and existing customers.”

You see, often our teams have a general idea of what their colleagues experience, but seldom do they have an in-depth understanding of what their neighbouring departments do to help customers and achieve their goals.

As a consultant, advisor and keynote speaker, my career is built on helping companies improve their customer experience and increase employee engagement. It was nearly a decade ago that I recognized that no company will ever reach their maximum potential in creating a world-class customer experience if their organization isn’t truly aligned.

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Why peer cross-training?

By appointing one member from each department (or more if you’re a large company) and asking them to build and host a presentation describing their department’s motivations and challenges, your company will experience the following benefits:

  • Employee engagement: It’s likely that your team has never hosted such an event before in their career and, if you’re hiring the right people, they will jump at the opportunity to describe what their department does to their neighbouring departments. Peer cross-training provides your team the ability to share how their department contributes to the overall success of the company.
  • Organization alignment: After hosting the workshops, each member of your company will walk away with an in-depth understanding of each department and clearly understand the end-to-end customer experience. How can you possibly achieve alignment if your departments don’t know what each other do?
  • Peer empathy: You will experience an increase in empathy after hosting peer cross-training. You will often here employees say, “I had no idea that’s what your monthly sales goals are!” or, “Oh, that’s why you need three days to complete that task.” This greater understanding only stands to benefit your employees’ intra-organizational relationships.
  • New initiatives: Sometimes asking someone who has an unbiased, unemotional opinion will lead to new, cutting-edge initiatives. Often we can become so entrenched in our day-to-day professional lives that we neglect to identify new opportunities to improve. Neighbouring departments, once they are exposed to every facet of what your team does, may be able to offer great ideas that your department can adopt.
  • Better customer experience: Your customers won’t truly experience a seamless customer experience until your company is aligned. By hosting peer cross-training, you will be one step closer to creating a fluid and frictionless customer experience for your customers.

FREE infographic that outlines the 7-Step Peer Cross-Training process. Receive it instantly by clicking here.

How to host peer cross-training?

I want to provide you with a step-by-step guide so that you can host peer cross-training for your company.

Step 1: Set goals for the initiative

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How will you measure success?

When creating an initiative for your company, always outline the goals before you start building to ensure your team understands what success looks like. Your goals when hosting peer cross-training may include the following:

– Have attendees walk away with a deep understanding of other departments’ operations and customer experience. This can be measured by sending a short survey after the training sessions have been hosted.

– Improve your team’s presentation skills. The person or small team that hosts the presentations will walk away from the workshops with a newfound or improved skill set for presentations.

– Build and deploy a high-impact, medium-effort initiative within the next 30 days.

Before you go into ‘solution mode’ you must first outline the goals for your initiative.

Step 2: Outline follow-up plan

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Like any initiative, you want to create a follow-up plan that will ensure the program is successful long after deployment, and in such a way that it builds off the momentum you have created. After you have hosted the workshops, I recommend that you do the following:

– Create awareness for the fact that the individuals who hosted the workshops are now the main point of contact for other departments when they have questions or commentary for the respective department

– Form an advisory council. In an earlier post I outlined how to create a Customer Advisory Board (CAB). The people who hosted the presentations will be each department’s representatives within this advisory board. This team should meet regularly; I recommend that they meet weekly or bi-weekly.

– Produce quarterly department reports, company-wide, that share each department’s initiatives and goals. By doing so, your entire company will be able to receive a snapshot of each department.

Following these three steps will increase the likelihood that the program is successful long after you host the initial peer cross-training sessions.

Step 3: Outline the education you want attendees to walk away with

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What type of knowledge from each department do you want your company to walk away with? Before you begin hosting your peer cross-training workshops you must outline exactly what you want your company to learn.

For example, you may want your entire organization to understand:
– What your sales team’s targets are
– What your service-level agreements are for your call center
– How your marketing team measures success for the content they produce

It’s highly recommended that you understand how each department contributes to the top and bottom line and communicate these metrics. Whatever is measured should be shared during peer cross-training.

Step 4: Select your single point of accountability (SPA)

 SPA 2

Who will be each department’s representative during cross-training? There are two ways to determine this. Please note that I’m not partial to either way; the choice really depends on how your company prefers to move forward with Step 4.

– Your leadership team can identify an individual from each department who would be a great fit to represent their team and offer this individual the opportunity. This person should exemplify leadership qualities and a strong desire to grow within the company. Often this person is someone that management is grooming for a leadership role or future promotion.

– You may follow a democratic approach by presenting the opportunity to each department and allow individuals to volunteer their services. After you have selected the SPA, be prepared to explain your decision to the individuals who were not selected. To ensure that your decision doesn’t negatively impact anyone’s morale, invite these individuals to help the SPA build their presentation and offer feedback.

When determining your SPA, it’s advised that the chosen person has the experience and tenure to effectively represent their department and that they feel comfortable presenting to their peers.

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Step 5: Build presentations

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Your SPAs will need time to build their presentations. Don’t ask them to do this on their own time. Instead, reserve a day to allow the peer cross-training team to get together and work in coordination to build their presentations.

I’ve hosted peer cross-training sessions with companies on-site, at their office, and even off-site at a hotel conference room. Later this year I will be hosting a peer cross-training session with a company that has rented out an entire home through Airbnb, which will host the team for the duration of the session.

The following content should be included within each presentation:

  • Department overview: What does the department do? What does a day in the life look like? How does the department measure success (i.e. KPIs, etc.)?
  • Customer success: How does the customer define success? What does the department do to achieve this success?
  • Barriers to success: What barriers does the department face in delivering a world-class experience? How does the department avoid or overcome these barriers?
  • Department collaboration: What departments do they regularly interact with? What’s the dynamic of these relationships?
  • Q&A: Reserve time for the SPA to answer any questions the audience may have.

Ensure that your SPAs are very specific. For example, you want them to communicate specific service-level agreements and key performance indicators in their presentation.

Step 6: Host presentations

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Now that all the preparatory work has been completed, it’s time to have your SPAs host their presentations! There isn’t a one-size-fits-all for scheduling presentations because each company has a different bandwidth.

For small and medium-sized companies, I recommend that the audience size for each presentation does not exceed 24 people. Presentations may be held over a few days, or longer, but don’t allow it to exceed two weeks as you may lose momentum.

For large-sized companies, it will be virtually impossible to schedule presentations due to the sheer number of people involved. In lieu of in-person presentations, consider having the SPA record videos that outline their presentation, which can then be shared system-wide.

Step 7: Debrief with team

Image of smart business people looking at their leader while he explaining something on whiteboard during seminar

As you would with any initiative or new program, you will want to debrief with your peer cross-training team after presentations have occurred. During your debrief period, it is the leadership team’s responsibility to understand the following:

  • What did the peer cross-training team enjoy about presenting to their peers?
  • Do they believe that the training material resonated with the audience?
  • Allow them to provide feedback on the process and approach that was designed to host the peer training program

You may also consider surveying the audience to understand the effectiveness of the program. I recommend using survey tools like TINYpulse or Survey Gizmo (both have free options).

Regardless of your company’s size or industry, peer cross-training is a high-value, medium-effort initiative that can align your company, improve your customer experience and increase employee engagement. The positive results you will achieve when hosting peer cross-training far exceeds the cost of resources that the initiative requires.

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Improve Your Customer Experience or Become Poor

“Our customer experience is so poor that we lost the 10% growth we achieved last year. What happened?”

“How are we going to increase our sales by 15%?”

“We need more customers! How are we going to market to them?”

Have any of these questions been asked out loud within your organization? I’m sure they have. Genuine customer loyalty is defined by delivering an amazing customer experience which builds consumer confidence, word of mouth marketing and repeat purchases. The organizations that have designed and successfully deployed their customer experience are reaping the financial benefits. Let’s follow their lead.

SEE ALSOHow to Build a Business with a Customer Experience Focus

 

What will an improved customer experience do for your business?

We are all loyal to an organization for one reason or another. I’m loyal to Starwood hotel group for their customer experience and because they offer me peace of mind. Since they take care of me as a customer, I take care of them financially by spending with them frequently. I have many options when choosing hotels when I travel for work but because of their consistent customer experience I willingly spend more to stay with them and I encourage my friends and family to do the same.

We don’t admire and respect organizations because of their newly designed logos or high earnings. Companies become admired when they have a defined organizational understanding that their mission is to deliver service that is predictable and memorable. We didn’t begin to admire Zappos because they had 10,000’s of products within their online store. Westjet Airlines didn’t become a case study for customer centricity because they offered competitive rates. Disney doesn’t become the company that we know without their level of service. Without customer experience these companies aren’t the names we now respect.

Your bottom line loves customer experience

CFO’s and small business owners love customer experience because it offers a low cost of customer acquisition. When I emphatically promote a business that I am loyal to because of their customer experience it encourages my friends and family to do business with this company too. When they do, the cost of acquiring this customer is very low, or nothing, because of the power of word of mouth and customer loyalty. Of course, earning genuine customer loyalty doesn’t come easy.

Read some of the obstacles you may face when trying to achieve loyal customers.

If we know this to be true then why do we still lack the investment to improve the customer experience? Well, I have some thoughts on that, too. The alternative is paying for traditional media that can cost an arm and a leg without any definite proof that it will help us acquire new customers.

I’m sure Blockbuster and Circuit City never thought they would one day shut their doors but it happened. Many reasons go into filing for bankruptcy but one thing I know very well is that if you lose focus on your customer experience it gives your competitors an opportunity to steal your customers. Small businesses are threatened by the Amazon’s of the world but if you ensure you are consistently delivering exceptional service to your existing customers it will give you a fighting chance to survive.

There are two type of organizations.

#1: This organization is constantly trying to fill their sales funnel because none of their customers will repeatedly do business with them because of their poor customer experience.

#2: This organization is admired, often in the media and grow quarter over quarter. This company is devoted to service and find that their sales funnel is always full. They don’t stress about sales targets, they build strategies to leverage their success into even greater accomplishments.

Why do you believe that some organizations move like snails to investment in improving their customer experience?

How These Two Companies Will Disrupt Their Industries With Tech and Customer Experience

I love seeing industries get disrupted. I believe that there are no longer any barriers of entry to any industry. If you combined better technology and a superior customer experience you can compete.

Business is a competitive landscape and isn’t reserved for the weak or passive. For the past six years, I’ve studied Amazon, Apple, Zappos, Southwest and Westjet to understand how they have leveraged customer experience to become billion dollar brands.

Now, it’s time to uncover the next great brands that are going to disrupt industries that have stagnated for far too long.

I’m bullish and betting my chips on ZenPayroll and Silvercar.

The common theme with these companies are that they are leveraging two things to enter their industries: technology and a superior customer experience.

It’s also worth noting that their competitors are massive companies that have owned their markets for decades.

I’m a huge advocate in the belief that there are no longer any barriers of entry into any industry. If you develop a better customer experience and combine it with advanced technology you can compete.

ZenPayroll:

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Founders: Joshua Reeves (Founder, CEO & Co-Founder), Edward Kim (CTO & Co-Founder), Tomer London (CPO & Co-Founder).

Industry they are disrupting: payroll processing.

Why I’m bullish: I’ve had the opportunity to connect with some members of their team and have seen their product. Both their team and product are amazing! Plus, they are just as passionate about customer and employee experience as I am.

I have personally done business with their competitors and can confidently say that their process is much more superior. They are turning a system in business that isn’t the most sexy or glamorous and making it more efficient.

They have also gained the financial backing of Google Ventures, Salesforce, Aaron Levie (Box), Drew Houston (Dropbox), Jeremy Stoppelman (Yelp) and others investors.

Recent news: They announced a partnership and integration with Freshbooks. They also recently raised another round of $20M from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and General Catalyst Ventures.

SilverCar:

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Founders: led by Austin Ventures

 

Industry they are disrupting: rental car industry.

Why I’m bullish: Have you ever rented a car before? It can be an awful customer experience. By downloading the Silvercar app, you are a few clicks away from driving away in a silver Audi A4 (which is the model of car they supply). They are well on their way to reinventing the rental car experience. The rental car industry was due for disruption and I’m confident that Silvercar will capture market share.

How good are they? They are one of the few companies that bring value to the QR code.

Recent news: they completed a $6M round in financing.

Who else has my attention?

  1. Shyp: Shyp is an app that allows you to snap a picture of a parcel you want shipped. One of their “Shyp Heros” arrives and takes care of the shipping process for you. My only concern with Shyp is the amount of volume they must do to have favourable shipping rates and influence margins. The reason they have caught my eye is because they are providing a solution to a headache. I mean, who genuinely likes visiting Fedex? To date, Shyp has raised $2.1M in funding and is led by Joshua Scott and Kevin Gibbon.
  2. Oscar: Based in New York, Oscar is setting out to disrupt the healthcare industry. For me, I don’t get excited to sign up, pay or renew my healthcare because it’s a very mundane process. If Oscar, led by Josh Kushner, can simplify this process they will be in a position to take market share away from other industry leaders. They have raised $40M in investments and poached talent from Google and Tumblr.

 

What companies do you think will start disrupting their industries because of technology and customer experience?

Build Trust and Sell Your Customers Anything

While recently at Toronto’s Pearson airport, I read a Fast Company article on how Airbnb is going to expand on their end to end hospitality experience. By offering additional services to their home and apartment sharing service, Airbnb will be adding airport pickups, room cleaning and other services to complement their core business which will inevitably increase their revenue and value.

This lead me to think of other brands that began selling a single item who now sell us more than they originally advertised.

Amazon began their humble operations in the 1990’s selling us books out of a garage. A young, motivated Jeff Bezos lead his enterprise to a company that now, almost literally, sells us everything.

A more recent example is Uber: the transportation disruptor that offers a solution to a pain point which is the traditional taxi experience. Many of those that have used Uber have become addicted to their service and experience. Uber’s recent round of venture capital from Google Ventures and TPG at $258MM can only give us optimism that they will also inevitably expand their operations to offer other services.

Note: Something will happen with Uber and Google’s self-driving car. I can only imagine, and hope, that if I want my laundry delivered, I will use the Uber app and a self-driving car will deliver it to me without having to leave my home.

Now, a company offering additional services isn’t worth a blog post. The only reason these companies are able to offer other services to grow their business is because they have earned the trust of their customers with their flagship offering.

This lends itself to journalism as well. Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher developed a loyalty with their readers by providing value when writing for the All Things D website. When they launched Re/code it was, from my perspective, an immediate success.

The customer experience coach and keynote speaker in me will tell you that the only way to build trust is by delivering an exceptional, consistent, predictable and memorable experience.

Having this trust gives you an advantage far beyond increased revenue. This leverage not only allows you to expand your business and add new verticals, but further puts you in a position of power against your competition. It erects barriers around your business.

When it comes to branding, it builds a sense of peace of mind with your customers that no branding expert or designer could ever create for you. It’s psychological.

Allow me to be bold (or least think I am) when I say this next statement:

You haven’t earned the right to cross or upsell your customers until you’ve built trust first.

When you’ve earned trust, you will have your customers eating out of the palm of your hand. Too many companies have customer acquisition backwards. Rather than hunting for new customers and revenue opportunities, emphasize on building trust first and watch your company grow organically with the customers you already have.

What is your company doing to build customer trust?

How to Turn a Complaining Customer Into an Asset

It is human nature to react when a customer complains about your service or product, particularly if the customer expresses anger, frustration, disappointment or hostility.

I’ll cut right to the chase: effectively handling complaints requires most of us to shift our way of thinking. We need to set our egos aside and view a complaining customer as an opportunity to better understand our customer experience and be open to change.

Every company needs an effective system for dealing with complaints to ensure your customer service system is top notch. Sure, you may have a system in place, but is it helping improve your customer experience or simply putting out fires?

Ensuring your customer service team understands the difference between a complaint and a personal attack is the first priority. The customer almost always is complaining about a failed product or service, not the failure of the individual he is speaking to about the problem. Still, customers can be challenging to speak with, and downright unpleasant at times. How your customer service team responds, such as communicating the process they will undertake to resolve the complaint, should give the customer peace of mind and demonstrate that the organization genuinely cares about resolving complaints.

Another shift in thinking could be viewing complaints as positive – blessings in disguise – since they can illuminate where your service or product needs improvement. When a customer complains, thank them for bringing the matter to your attention and giving the company the opportunity to improve the product/service. Of course, you’re not likely to make a significant change to your product or service after just one complaint. However, complaint number one is a good time to start gathering more data month over month to see if other customers are saying the same thing.

Listen to your customers! They are the end users and often know your service and product better than you do.

If a customer complains, have you lost them forever? Absolutely not! In fact, resolving your customer’s complaint quickly may earn you higher customer loyalty than if the service or product delivered correctly the first time. We can all relate to the experience of complaining to a company, but not having a timely response, or worse, having our complaint be rejected always reflects poorly on the brand. All that marketing you do to increase customer acquisition is wasted by not figuring out how to protect your brand and increase retention.

Ask yourself, “Does my company spend as much on retention as they do on acquisition?” I imagine that they don’t.

One missing system in most organizations is that there is no set service level agreement (SLA) to escalate and resolve complaints. Not having a SLA for this will result in a fragmented process that has no internal goal which ultimately affects your customer’s experience. Go out and set your SLA’s for complaint management.

One thing you do not want to do is simply reimburse or discount the customer who is complaining without taking any other actions. It’s easy to throw money at a problem and hope it goes away but this is not what your customers are looking for. They are looking for you to make things right in an operational way as well. Your customers are looking to hear what actions you will take next to ensure that it’s unlikely that the same issue will arise. Let the customer know what you are going to do about the matter along with the financial compensation they may be looking for.

“Mrs. Johnson, I greatly apologize for the inconvenience we have caused. As promised, I will be reimbursing you for the amount you suggested. Equally as important, I will be speaking with our customer service representative that provided the incorrect information to you as I feel there is a great learning and training opportunity here…”

Do this to not only give the customer peace of mind that you are doing your very best to ensure their concern doesn’t resurface, but to show them you would appreciate another chance to rebuild their trust. I can tell you first hand, customers love this!

Everyone wants to be heard. And we can all appreciate acknowledgement of a wrongdoing and a strong effort to make up for that mistake. So I encourage you to embrace complaints! Buried within them you may find your diamond in the rough: the areas where you need to re-evaluate your service or product to ensure you’re not only meeting customer expectations, but exceeding them.

As business professionals, we all recognize that we need to manage our customer complaints. But, when will be put as much effort into customer retention as we do acquisition? At my past employer, we were able to reduce system wide customer complaints, in a franchise model, by 33% in three months by creating a process which helped us understand our customer aversions.

Properly listening to customers negative feedback can make them an asset and help grow your customer intelligence.

Let’s ensure our expectations as consumers is aligned with what we deliver as professionals.

In other words, if you’re going to demand that a company responds to your complaints immediately you better do the same within your business.

Complaint Resolution LLC: How to Exceed the Expectations of Your Customers and Employees

The other day an entrepreneur asked me this question:

How do I resolve a customer complaint when his version of events is wildly different from my frontline employee’s story? Must I always take the side of the customer? What about my employee’s word?

 

More often than not the go-to response to this particular issue is the customer is always right. However, your frontline employee who originally provided the customer with a product/service deserves to have his or her side considered and responded to also. It’s not acceptable to give in to customers who are always seeking reimbursements or discounts for services or products delivered, without ensuring your employees have a full understanding of your actions.

To make an accurate judgement on this question I suggest analyzing each situation through the following 3 steps:

Listen

 

Speak with your customer to understand the entire scope of their complaint. Don’t be afraid to ask questions that dig deep into the situation and be sure to remain neutral throughout your information- gathering. Then speak with the employee responsible for the initial customer interaction. If the concern involved multiple employees speaking with each of them individually will help you to connect the dots a lot easier as you take each account into consideration from the source. Your broad approach will likely show up any disconnects, thereby leading to a speedier resolution.

Learn

 

Examine your customer’s profile. Are they notorious for filing complaints? Do they have a history of demoralizing your staff? Or have they been a faithful, long-time customer with no prior instances of complaints or seeking reimbursements or discounts?

Then, do the same with your employees. Do they have a history of complaints from customers? Did they have a negative event in their life that day that may have resulted in a less than stellar customer interaction?

Answering these questions will clarify the drivers of the complaint and help to determine the resolution.

Conclude

 

With your due diligence with both customer and employee complete, you are prepared to take appropriate action to resolve the complaint. If you determine that the customer has a valid complaint which justifies a reimbursement or discount, immediately fulfill their request. Follow up with your employee to tell him why you have decided this course.

On the other hand, if you find that this customer is notorious for seeking unjustified reimbursements or discounts, or continuously hassling your employees with complaints, you may consider declining the customer’s request or possibly even firing them as a customer. Carefully explain to the customer why you have chosen to do this. Some may argue that declining the customers request goes against all customer experience best practices, however, as an entrepreneur you have standards by which you run your business effectively. Do not abuse those standards. You can live without one customer but you can’t live without your dedicated employees.

To support the LLC structure, set a Service Level Agreement (SLA) to have all complaints resolved within a set time frame.

For example, “At Joe Smith’s Autobody, we strive to have all customer feedback addressed and resolved within one business days.”

Have you set your SLA for complaint management?

How to Avoid These Four Customer Loyalty Obstacles

I don’t think I need to convince you of the importance of having loyal customers to support your business. Customer loyalty influences organic growth (repeat purchases and word of mouth marketing) which can be the most profitable way to grow a business. However, some companies may never achieve customer loyalty because of four key reasons.

1. Not accurately identifying your loyal customers

 

Who are your most loyal customers? You must be able to answer this question in order to better understand how to achieve true customer loyalty. Many businesses may have an idea who their most loyal customers are based on intuition but you need data to support this. Once you have identified who your supporters are, you can then begin to understand what their desires and motivations are.

2. Discounting doesn’t provide 100% loyalty

 

Your most loyal customers are supportive to your organization because of quality, not because of a discounted price. Often, customers will pay a premium for a superior customer experience rather than a bargain rate. Consumers that focus their attention on price can often be lured away by another company that is providing a lower price. The price game doesn’t earn true customer loyalty.

3. Trying to make everyone loyal is a fools game

 

You must accept the fact that not everyone will be loyal to your brand. Trying to make everyone loyal will test your endurance and may negatively effect your morale as you inevitably find that this isn’t possible. If you’re familiar with the Net Promoter System, customers who rate your service or product a 7-8 (passives) are often customers who aren’t loyal. Although, you always want to stay focused on your entire customer base, paying particular attention to detractors (those that give a score of 0-6) and promoters (9-10) will be more valuable to your organization because they highlight your strengths and your weaknesses.

4. Not being able to think long term 

 

Growing a foundation of customers who are genuinely loyal to your brand can take years. Those who are able to think long term will be able to make strategic decisions which will support their organizations growth for years to come. To achieve customer loyalty, make decisions in the short term that will positively effect your long term customer initiatives and programs.

Milennials Need to Learn Before They Earn

Having been born between 1982 and 1993 makes me a millennial and even with all the negative press about us being narcissists, I’m proud to be one.

If you don’t know my story, I transitioned from being an employee to starting a consulting agency. Within an 18 month period, I have been featured in publications like Time magazine, Forbes, Yahoo Small Business Advisors, Yahoo Finance and Digiday.com. I have become a professionally represented speaker and I travel across North America coaching entrepreneurs who have much more workforce experience than I do.

Let me tell you right now, I could not have accomplished any of this if I hadn’t cut my teeth as a dedicated and engaged employee first.

While working with a company before I started my agency, my friends would always tell me to leave and start my own business. They believed I was ready but I still wanted to learn. While I appreciated their belief in my ability, I knew that I needed to continue to earn some wins under my belt so that I would be in a better position when I was ready to start my own brand.

Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat were all started by millennials. Seeing the IPO of Facebook, the sale of Instagram and “hockey stick growth” of Snapchat have given millennials the motivation to start a company and one day also sell for a billion dollars. However, I don’t think that’s where our motivation needs to be right now.

For those that may be thinking that I am saying, “You can’t build the next Facebook!” I’m not. All I’m saying is that there is nothing wrong with working for a company before you start your own company.

I recommend partnering with a company whose success you can learn from and contribute to. If you are an hourly employee, work beyond what you’re paid for, arrive early and leave late. If you’re salaried, 40 hours is a minimum, not a maximum. Learn as much as you can and ask a lot of questions.

Believe me, what you learn from other entrepreneurs and leaders in the short term will increase the likelihood that you earn more in the long term.

Five years ago, I started off in the call centre of a reputable company making a nominal wage. The money was not important to me because I recognized that I was learning way too much to be concerned with the pay and I was going to use the strategies I was learning when I started my consulting agency.

Five years and tens of thousands of hours of learning has put me in a better position to succeed because I learned before I earned.

How to Build a Business With a Customer Experience Focus

Some of the world’s greatest brands decided to start with their customer experience first and work backwards. AppleSouthwestAmazon and Zappos all decided that they were going build their businesses with this strategic focus to drive their growth. I believe that any debate over their decision would be short lived as they have all reaped financial benefits operating behind this strategy.

When I speak with an entrepreneur that is starting his or her business, naturally I ask,

“What is your customer experience plan?”

Sometimes, I hear great answers and strategies. While other times I catch the entrepreneur off guard who may have no formal plan.

It’s not to say that if you don’t begin with this philosophy that all hope is lost. I have witnessed many companies that began with other core values and later implemented a stronger focus on customer experience have promising results. However, it’s much easier to begin with a customer experience focus rather than change course of action later in your business life.

Here are the three steps to implement from the beginning of your business:

1. Set your vision. No initiative is complete without your vision. As the leader of your organization, you must make your vision clear to your team and publicize it. What will it look like? What will it feel like? How will it operate?  You want to speak about it so often that you begin to sound like a broken record.

Tip: Frame it. Print your vision and frame it within your office. Another unique way to remind your employees to why they are there, to service your customers, is to put customer service related quotes on their screen saver or put decals up on the walls.

2. Hiring. Without employees that have bought into your vision, your initiative will not exceed your expectations. You need to have team members that are genuinely passionate about serving your customers. While this is a “no-brainer” the difficult part of this step is finding and interviewing the right people.

Tip: Have your interview with the candidate be heavily weighted on customer service to assess their current knowledge on what customer service really means. Create a questionnaire that they can fill out to determine their “service aptitude.” Pass on candidates that don’t have this focus.

3. Train and Educate. 

Do your current employees know what customer service really is and what’s the ROI? Is your customer service training a program that only highlights the “do’s and don’ts of customer service”? Or, is it high level that outlines the “why” of customer service that educates on ROI, customer centricity, organic growth, customer loyalty etc. Ensure that everyone is aware that any decision or action that is taken should have the customers best interest in mind.

 

Tip: Ask you current employees if they know what customer centricity, organic growth and what the ROI of customer experience is. This will tell you if you have an exceptional training program. If they are left scratching their heads, you may need to address the way your training is being conducted.

I am passionate about customer experience because I believe in growing businesses organically and it’s very cost effective. The three steps I listed above have minimal costs to implement and can have the positive financial effects that Apple, Southwest, Amazon and Zappos have experienced.

If this strategy and focus worked well for these well known, respected brands it can work for you.

Did I miss anything?

Comment below if you feel that other steps are required.

This is Why TD Bank Is Winning at Social Service

On Monday, January 6th 2014, CBC News reported on a story about a couple in Kelowna, Canada who locked themselves into a car loan that included a 25% interest rate because of their financial situation. Of course, they were upset by the high interest rate and pointed the finger at TD Bank.

This post isn’t to start a conversation about the finance industry and interest rates. It’s to outline TD Bank’s (specifically their Canadian program) “smoke detector” approach to social media and the way they have humanized their business.

Shortly after the CBC segment aired, @TD_Canada tweeted this:

 

Td bank

Then this…

 td bank 2

I call it a “smoke detector approach” because they detected smoke and where there is smoke there’s a PR nightmare waiting to hurt your brand.

Rather than waiting for the social community to negatively tweet at them and manage the backlash they preemptively addressed the story. To further support their efforts, they added a link to a landing page where you could ask questions.

I loved this approach because they: acted fast, took action and offered a solution.

Furthermore, it’s my understanding that TD is contacting their financing partners to remind them of what their refinancing conditions are. This is another example of a company proactively taking action which helps protect their brand. I advocate that having an admired customer experience is a form of brand protection and growth.

In a world where seeing a company fail (see: United Break Guitars and Papa John’s) is much more entertaining than seeing one succeed, we should all acknowledge the companies that “get” social media.

I find that most businesses lack character. The one’s that are the most admired have figured out a way to humanize their business. I think TD Bank has done an awesome job at this and they do it very subtly. Case in point, look at their Twitter avatar.

td bank 3

Rather than having the feeling that you’re speaking to a faceless Twitter handle, TD has profiled their social team and humanized their customer engagement.

It boils down to this: the companies that genuinely care about their customers and think long term will be the ones that win.

What other companies are knocking it out of the park with their social media strategy?

See also: How Customer Trust Will Increase Your Social Media Sales (But Only If You’re Patient)