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.

Receive a 7-Step Peer Cross-Training infographic to visualize the process and share with your team. Click here to get it delivered to your inbox.

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.

Last chance. Receive a 7-Step Peer Cross-Training infographic to get started today. Delivered, for free, to your inbox instantly. Click here.

VIDEO: What is Customer Experience?

If you were to walk around your workplace tomorrow and ask five employees,

“What is customer experience?”

What would happen? Would you:

a) Receive five identical answers

b) Listen to a debate amongst your team without an aligned response

c) Have your employees staring at you blankly

It might sound elementary but you would be surprised how many companies don’t know what customer experience actually is. If that’s the case, how are they suppose to create a world-class customer experience?

In this 3 minute episode you will learn:

  • A Gartner study statistic that predicts customer experience innovation
  • My personal customer experience definition
  • A real-world example of customer experience that we can all relate to

Be sure to watch until the end of the episode as I ask my “Question of the Episode.” If you like the video, I would greatly appreciate if you did the following (it will only take you a moment):

  • Subscribe to my YouTube channel. There are many more videos coming very soon
  • Comment on the video. Let me know your thoughts, comments and questions.
  • “Like” the video by clicking the thumbs up icon

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How Any Company Can Increase Employee Engagement to Drive Big Results with Their Customers

*This post originally appeared on Theartof.com*

How does your company acquire customers?

Sales, marketing, and business development teams are provided with the internal resources needed to succeed. Companies use traditional methods, such as radio, television, and print advertising, to increase their chances of converting new customers.

But none of the aforementioned tactics are where the greatest opportunity lies. To grow our businesses, we must look internally before we try to expand externally.

As a management consultant and keynote speaker, I’m trusted by companies of all sizes to look into their strategies and find new opportunities. Whether it’s a small business, or a billion-dollar brand with international recognition, the story is often the same: they want to grow their business or increase their profitability.

After looking at their yearly plans, I tend to see the same thing – traditional programs are given a lion’s share of the company’s operating budget, which produce good results that achieve quarter-over-quarter success. However, living quarter-over-quarter isn’t an advantageous position; the greatest companies in the world build programs to secure their livelihood for the next ten years, not the next ten weeks.

When I work with a company that is trying to grow their business, I NEVER start with customer acquisition or loyalty strategies. Instead, I respectfully challenge the company to build a stronger relationship with their employees before trying to influence something that is external to their business.

But how can companies of all sizes achieve this? There are three essential ways for any company to increase employee engagement.

Efficiently survey your employees

The world’s greatest athletes ask for feedback from their coaches and mentors to better themselves and make necessary adjustments. The same approach can be taken with your employees with great results. Despite the importance of asking employees for feedback, a lot of companies don’t actually gather it. A company called Critical Metrics found that around 90% of companies believe that gathering feedback from employees is important, yet only 30% have the processes in place to actually gather this feedback.

I highly recommend surveying employees to understand what makes them tick (and what ticks them off), so that you can embrace their feedback to drive change in your organization. The word ‘survey’ can have a negative connotation for some; we picture a long, outdated, and inefficient survey that takes employees forever to complete. In this day and age you can’t survey employees like this if you want to truly understand their motivations and challenges.

Whoever is responsible for gathering the feedback must take the next steps, which include:

  • Finding trends within the data and deciding what you are going to do with it
  • Quickly delivering the results back to the entire organization, with full transparency. Don’t let this data live within the C-Suite or management team
  • Surveying employees more than once a year. You must keep your finger on the pulse of your employee culture at all times.

Create meaning over delivering money

While it would be naive to assume that employees don’t want a competitive salary or monetary incentives, if you’re hiring correctly your employees will sacrifice a higher salary for a meaningful relationship with their company or boss. The idea that employee engagement is determined by financial incentives has long been disproven. A 2012 Aon Hewitt study, for example, found that the top engagement drivers for employees are career opportunities, recognition, and organization reputation.

When I got my start at 1-800-GOT-JUNK? I worked within the call centre. I was earning a fair wage, but nothing worth glamourizing. Why did I enjoy my time with the company? For me, I really liked the culture of the company and the opportunities for growth.

Companies allocate incentive budgets and bonus programs for their sales teams to achieve greater results, which has been proven to work, but these incentives don’t tend to resonate with employees for very long. Why? The incentive they receive, be it cash, iPads, or vacations, can be spent very quickly, which erases the memory of their achievement. To genuinely create stronger relationships with our employees, and achieve greater business results, we must pull at their heart strings and make them emotional.

Whether you are the CEO, a sales manager, or customer service team lead, I recommend “hacking” your leadership style to find cost-effective ways to inspire your team. My recommended strategy is to block off 30 minutes a week on your calendar and set it as a recurring, non-negotiable meeting. For example, you may choose every Tuesday from 11:30am to 12:00pm. During this time you only have one responsibility: to identify someone on your team (or within another department) and acknowledge them for a personal achievement or for helping you achieve an outcome. This conversation can be done over coffee or lunch, sticking with the theme of being cost-effective. While hosting this conversation, there are a few rules that you should apply to make it a success for both parties:

  • Keep the “business talk” to a limit
  • Get to know them as an individual and not as an employee
  • Using Simon Sinek as inspiration, understand their “why”
  • Close the loop. Ask them outright, “Can I help you?” and deliver on any promises you make

If you hire correctly, this is what will inspire your salespeople to sell more, your PR professionals to pitch more effectively, your developers to code more efficiently, or your customer service staff to deliver better service.

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Understand that employee relationships are a long-term investment

Similar to our personal relationships, building memorable relationships with our employees takes time, but will ultimately create greater business results. After all, lifelong relationships with our friends or family aren’t cemented by successfully dropping someone off at the airport one time or helping them move. Rather, it takes many instances of goodwill to build strong relationships.

Too many organizations believe employee engagement is a campaign. For it to be truly successful it must be part of the DNA of the business. In addition, it takes a champion within the organization to advocate for the strategy and rally the organization by continuously talking about the subject, not just creating an initiative that happens once.

When thinking about how your company is going to sell more, market better, or deliver better service, consider what’s happening inside your organization before you look externally. It’s not a coincidence that companies like Airbnb, Starbucks, or ZenPayroll are achieving massive success. They are successful because they hold their employee engagement in high regard, becoming admired brands in the process.

Leave a comment below. Do you think these three tactics are achievable for all companies?

If you liked this post and learned a thing or two, I guarantee you will love my FREE ebook. Download it by filling out the form below.

The Executive’s Playbook: 3 Affordable Ways to Improve Your Company’s Customer Experience

 

Are we asking the right question?

Do you want to know the number one question I’m hearing today from executives, professionals just like you, that want to improve their company’s customer experience?

“Michel, where do we start?!”

Customer experience is a growth strategy. I firmly believe that most of us now understand this. We are now trying to determine the best foot to put forward to bring us closer to creating a customer experience that not only delights our customers, but that also helps us financially.

If a superior customer experience has worked for companies like Starbucks and ZenPayroll Gusto can it also work for your organization? Of course!

[bctt tweet=”Customer experience isn’t agnostic to a specific industry or size of company. It’s for every company!”]

But first we need to reevaluate how we are spending our operating budgets.

I see it every day: companies from around the world claim to be customer-centric, but their operations don’t show it. If they are truly customer-focused then why is their call centre understaffed? Why are customers waiting on-hold for 60 minutes to speak to an employee? Why aren’t their social media channels monitored 24/7 like their phone lines are?

Ready to start learning right away? Learn 28 strategies for improving your company’s customer experience today by reading my free ebook. Download it for free by clicking here.



I believe we would rather invest in traditional marketing before we invest in improving our customer experience for two key reasons.

Marketing is tangible

We can touch print marketing. We can see television ads. We can hear radio campaigns.

Being able to touch, see, or hear our investments provides us with a sense of immediacy and allows us to show our boss that, yes, we did manage to create value out of our operating budget. After all, I don’t disagree with traditional marketing. I still believe it can help your business; I just think there is a time and place for it. That time and place isn’t before improving your customer experience.

If you’ve ever invested in improving your customer experience (for example, by hiring someone to facilitate training for your frontline employees), you know that the ROI isn’t instantaneous. Often, you can’t touch, see, or hear the immediate impact of hiring an exceptional trainer for your team, other than your employees saying that the training was valuable. But, for the executive who is able to think long-term, you know that an investment in the development of people is always a winning bet.

Is it all we know how to do?

This reason is unfortunate. I know of companies that neglect to improve their customer experience because they don’t know where to start.

A recent conversation I had with a Vice President who works for a large, recognizable company humbly said:

“What keeps me up at night is that I don’t have the answers to improve our customer experience.”

He had recently attended a conference and all the rage, at the event, was to invest heavily in social media. While I won’t argue that a social media strategy isn’t important (it’s terribly important), it might not be the greatest priority for his company.

To create a world-class customer experience, we must be willing to let our guard down and admit that we don’t have the answers and need help.

This is why I’m writing this post.

After studying and being a practitioner of customer experience for nearly ten years, I believe I know the first three steps to improve a company’s customer experience.

Before I get to that, let’s review the research my team compiled after surveying 1,000 entrepreneurs and executives from small, medium, and large-sized companies from industries such as manufacturing, retail, hospitality, and professional services. I encourage you to share these statistics with your team.

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We asked these executives five questions.

  1. How do you define customer experience?
  2. How important is a superior customer experience to the success of your company?
  3. Does your organization have a customer experience strategy?
  4. How likely are you to invest to improve your customer experience within the next 12 months?
  5. What would you be more likely to invest in to improve your organization’s customer experience?

The results were both shocking and optimistic.

How do you define customer experience?

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Only 3% of the executives we surveyed were accurately able to explain what customer experience is, according to our definition. This took us by surprise. How are we supposed to begin to improve something if we don’t know what it is? That’s like an untrained mechanic trying to fix a car when he has no experience.

Our definition of customer experience goes like this:

“Customer experience is the design of the interactions your customers have with you from beginning to end.”

It emcompasses everything. From the moment they recognize they have a need or desire to purchase your service or product, to receiving your customer survey after the purchase has taken place, and everything in between.

How important is a superior customer experience to the success of your company?

CX importance

74% of executives we surveyed said that customer experience was “very important.” After all, whether it’s in your personal or professional life, isn’t taking care of people “very important”?

These responses told us what we already knew: that we tend to understand that customer experience must be a top priority.

Does your organization have a customer experience strategy?

CX strategyOur hearts sunk a little bit after reviewing the data for this question – we may have even cried a little bit.

82% of responded said “no.”

Ouch!

While it hurt to hear this, it did validate what we believed was true. As I mentioned earlier in the post, and our data confirmed, we, as executives, know that customer experience is important. What we don’t know is where to start, which, in turn, leaves us without a strategy.

How likely are you to invest to improve your customer experience within the next 12 months?

CX investmentI was more optimistic after seeing the responses to this question. 78% of executives replied, “very likely”! You see, we know that we need to do so, we just need some guidance along the way. The business world doesn’t need another marketer or salesperson; it desperately needs more customer experience professionals. Together, we will make our businesses stronger. We must be willing to take action and not simply acknowledge this need from the sidelines.

What would you be more likely to invest in to improve your organization’s customer experience?

For this question, I provided respondents with three options:

  1. Train better
  2. Hire effectively
  3. Survey customers efficiently

The results were as follows:

CX improvement

I’ve met some executives that want to run straight to surveying their customers. I would never say that is a bad idea. However, I do believe that there are some other subtle refinements that can be made to improve your customer experience first. Actually, there are three affordable ways to do so.

 

Want to become a customer experience pro? Download my free ebook and learn 28 tangible strategies for improving your company’s customer experience today. Quickly access your free download by clicking here.

 


And now, what you came here for.

Based on my experience with coaching companies of all sizes, across many industries, there are three ways for a company to improve their customer experience (almost instantly).

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Affordable Strategy #1 – Build a Bulletproof Hiring Strategy

Here’s an exercise for you to complete. Locate the hiring template your company uses to host interviews. Take the questions and copy and paste them into Google. After clicking search, if you are able to find the answer to your question, guess what your candidate is doing 24 hours before their interview with you?

We must make the way we hire bulletproof and make it difficult to earn employment with our company. If we are going to trust our employees to deliver a world-class customer experience that will grow our business or department, we must ensure that we are inviting the right candidates into our business, similar to how we meticulously analyze who will attend our wedding or housewarming party.

Stop asking the predictable questions like:

“What are your strengths and weaknesses?” and “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Instead, consider asking these two questions:

“How would you explain the difference between customer service and customer experience?” and “What is the temperature of the sun?”

To understand why I recommend asking these two questions, email me at michel@michelfalcon.com and I will tell you.

For those who may be asking themselves:

“I want to improve my company’s customer experience, but where do I start?”

The answer is clear: you must start by evaluating the way you are hiring customer-focused employees before you pursue anything else.

Affordable Strategy #2 – Training Isn’t Expensive; Bad Training is Expensive

I charge clients in the five-figures to host training programs. I command a high price because the value of the training I provide exceeds the cost of hiring me.

In 2014, I was hired by an auto group that owns four franchises (Toyota, Lexus, Volkswagen, and Scion) to host customer-focused training for an entire year. What did this make me think?

“This company gets it!”

The company got it right from when they made the decision to have every single employee on their payroll go through the same training. The training wasn’t only reserved for their receptionists or customer service team. We welcomed sales staff, the finance team, technicians, general managers… everyone! They understood what I preach: in order to deliver a seamless customer experience, every department must receive the same education.

[bctt tweet=”Customer experience training isn’t only reserved for customer-facing employees.”]

My first job, if you were to exclude the paper route I had when I was seven years old, was at McDonald’s, which has a fantastic training program. They taught me to be efficient, be friendly, and to make eye contact with customers. While these training tactics are still important today, they can’t be the only thing we teach our employees to do.

Our employees, the people who will speak to more customers in one day than the CEO will in an entire year, must be the most educated people in our business.

Take a moment to review your current training program. What type of material does it include? If it doesn’t include the following two pieces of content, then you have an opportunity to improve.

  • What is organic growth?

Organic growth is defined as the revenue that a company earns through referrals and repeat purchases from existing customers. Ask any CFO about the importance of organic growth to the bottom line. She will tell you that organic growth is vitally important to the success of the business because the cost of acquiring these customers is low, if anything at all. You see, if a customer returns or refers a friend or family member to your business, you didn’t have to spend any money on traditional or digital marketing to acquire that new, highly profitable customer.

Organic growth is powered by customer experience. Sure, your product might be fantastic, but if your customer experience is subpar then the success of your business will be in jeopardy. Imagine if Apple had the same great products but was supported by poorly trained Apple Geniuses in their stores. They might not be the most valuable company in the world, as they are now. It’s the Apple Geniuses that provide that memorable customer experience.

Your employees must understand that it’s their efforts that contribute to the success of the bottom line through organic growth.

  • The Three Customer Personality Types

You know that your employees can’t deliver the same type of customer service to every customer, right?

Some customers react differently to certain conversations, while others have different definitions of a successful customer experience. You’ve probably overheard a conversation that one of your employees was having with a customer. He may have said:

“Hi, terrific weather we’re having, don’t you think?” and the customer abruptly said, “Yes,” and didn’t engage further.

If this same question was asked to another customer, one who is willingly converse with employees in off-topic conversation, then perhaps that conversation may have been more successful and meaningful.

The three customer personality types are:

  1. The Director – this customer has shorter conversations, is direct with their desires, won’t willingly engage in off-topic conversations, and appreciates efficiency.
  2. The Socializer – this customer loves engaging in off-topic conversations, can be easier to build rapport with, and appreciates employees who will take the time to ask them about their day before conducting business.
  3. The Passive – this customer may seem guarded, unwilling to divulge much information about their motivations in doing business with you, and seem unenthusiastic. But, keep in mind, that this personality type may be doing this as a way to not be sold to.

Review your training program today and see if you can implement these tactics to improve your training program tomorrow!

Affordable Strategy #3 – Does Your Employee Engagement Strategy Create Meaning?

If you’re hiring correctly, and getting the right people into your organization, then they don’t always want to be recognized through money or electronics, like free TVs or iPads.

Don’t get me wrong, your employees do need money to secure their livelihoods, but if they are focused on growing within your company then they will sacrifice a small wage increase to have a stronger relationship with the organization.

Some of the best ways to keep your employees engaged and have them continuously delivering a memorable customer experience doesn’t involve money or incentives. As a practitioner, someone who takes what he knows and applies it, I have found that the following two strategies work exceptionally well.

  • Lunch & Learns

Your employees want to learn. Some of them may want to grow a business of their own one day, while others may want to rise through the ranks of your organization. Whatever their motivation is, help expedite their growth by providing them with education. Lunch & Learns are monthly, 60 to 90 minute workshops hosted by the organization around specific topics. For example, the Lunch & Learn in September may be focused on digital marketing, hosted by a marketing manager within your company. The following month, your finance team may host a workshop on how to read financial statements.

Not everyone is going to volunteer their time to attend Lunch & Learns, but that’s not the goal. Pay specific attention to the ones who do reserve their time and attend because they are your rising stars. These individuals will be the ones who may replace you as the next leaders.

  • 30 Minute Recognition Sessions

Every executive should reserve 30 minutes a week on their calendar as recurring meetings that don’t get cancelled. During this time your only responsibility is to find an employee, in your department or a neighbouring department, and thank them for their service to the company.

The reason that you are recognizing them could be for a number of reasons:

  • An outstanding accomplishment (i.e. delivering amazing customer service or setting a sales record)
  • Helping your department with a special project
  • A work anniversary

During this 30 minutes, take the employee out for coffee or lunch (keeping with the theme of affordability), but limit the amount of ‘business talk’ that takes place. Of course, you want to outline why you have invited them for lunch, but then turn the conversation over to them. Get to know them an individuals, not as an employee. Ask them questions about their passions outside of work and what their hobbies are. You will find that the employee will willingly share information with you once you begin talking about what makes them excited.

At the end of the conversation, ask this:

“What can I do to help you grow within the company?”

Record what they respond with and deliver on it!

I want to hear from you…

We know that customer experience is important. It’s not going to become unimportant… ever! Part of the reason why we don’t know what to do next to improve our company’s customer experience is because business school never taught us how to develop customer experience management strategies.

Knowing this, my team and I set out to build an online course we called Experience Academy. We didn’t feel that the business world has been given the opportunity to learn the strategies that go into building a world-class customer experience, so we built a six module online certification course. You can learn your first eight lessons, for free, by clicking here.

I believe this post has given you some things to think about and look into (i.e. hiring, training, employee recognition).

Do you agree with my three suggested strategies?

Is there a better way?

Have I missed something?

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Let me know in the comments below.

Don’t forget! You can also download my FREE ebook, “28 Actionable Strategies to Grow Any Company Through Customer Experience,” to learn other unique tips to improve your company’s customer experience.

The Parallels Between Customer Experience and a Rolls Royce

Has your company designed your customer experience in a similar fashion to how you mapped out this year’s marketing efforts?

In 2013, BC Business, a leading business publication in Vancouver, published a study that my team and I had produced.

The study revealed that 87% of executives believed that their company was delivering an exceptional customer experience. However, only 12% of their customers agreed that they provided a strong customer experience.

How can there be such a large disconnect between your perspective and what your customers themselves perceive? I believe the answer is simple: most companies lack the strategic approach necessary to build, design, and deploy their customer experience efforts.

We don’t take the same methodical approach to customer experience as we do to marketing. As a marketing team, we collectively build campaigns, determine what type of digital and traditional programs we will use to deploy them, and allocate the portion of the budget that each will receive.

Customer experience needs the same methodical approach to be successful. However, customer experience doesn’t live within a single department like marketing does. To build a successful end-to-end customer experience program, you must include every single department within the company, from Marketing and PR to Operations and IT. Heck, even Accounts Payable has a role in delivering a seamless customer experience that will help make you an admired brand.

I’m often asked,

“If you want to improve your customer experience, where should you start?”

I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as many companies have unique challenges. A great starting point is to host a customer journey mapping workshop with your Customer Advisory Board. My friend, Annette Franz, is the best in the world at doing this.

Building your customer experience plan is like designing a Rolls Royce. For the assembly of the car, a Rolls Royce is nearly all handmade; everything is tailor-made and personalized, from every single stitch down to the last screw. To build this machine, individuals from different areas of the business must seamlessly work together to bring this vehicle to life. The cost of the product speaks for itself.

Today, companies still believe that customer experience is customer service. They associate customer experience with more training. You can’t improve the customer experience simply by providing more training, although that is an element of it. Rather, it’s a structural design across all platforms and touchpoints.

RELATED: This is the difference between customer experience and customer service (video)

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Companies such as Ritz-Carlton and Disney have methodically designed their customer experience, just like building a luxury car, and charge a premium for it. Customer experience pays!

If you want to improve your end-to-end customer experience, you must receive the same amount of attention and, dare I say, budget as your PR and marketing functions do. It’s insane to me that companies pay thousands of dollars to hire  PR or digital marketing agencies to create awareness of a service or product, when it will likely fail their customers because the experience hasn’t been designed to retain new customers.

As I mentioned in this post and this one, we love to invest in marketing because it’s tangible. Not only can we can see, hear, and touch it, but we would also rather be ego-centric than customer-centric.

I get it. We like to do things that are high profile, like run Super Bowl ads or create flashy billboards. Customer retention isn’t as sexy, on the surface, as being able to show your friends how successful your company has become by profiling your logo on page 37 of a magazine or buying radio ads for them all to hear.

But if your company is going to last for the next 100 years, you must get your entire company aligned behind customer experience: design your program and strategically deploy the same experience you would want if you were the end customer of your business.

Have you checked out Experience Academy? My team and I have built a six module online certification course that gives your company the education and tangible assets (templates, blueprints, proven strategies, infographics, videos) to continuously improve your customer and employee experience. 

5 Traits of Customer-Focused Companies

How do you personally define a customer-focused company?

I’m not talking about a company that claims to be customer-focused but one that genuinely obsesses over improving their customer experience.

Year after year, we hear of companies of all sizes wanting to focus more on their customer experience. While some actually use the appropriate resources to be more connected to their customers, others continue to give lip-service to it. After all, it’s very easy to say you are customer-focused when, in reality, you’re not.

For nearly a decade, I’ve studied the operations of companies across dozens of industries to make sense of it all. I believe that genuine customer-centric companies exhibit the following five traits.

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The CEO is the Flag Bearer

No customer experience program will be sustainable if your CEO isn’t your greatest flag bearer. I’ve seen it time and time again, an executive claims to be customer-focused but when push comes to shove they allow sales and marketing to reign supreme.

I’m a HUGE fan of Westjet airlines, based in Canada, for several reasons. A key reason why I’m bullish on their success is because of their leader, CEO, Gregg Saretsky. I’m a fan of his because he has humanized the way he leads his team. Perhaps, it’s because he use to be a flight attendant before his climb to being the CEO of the second largest airlines in Canada. I have a friend who works at Westjet’s HQ who speak very admirably of him. I mean, it’s very rare for me to go to a party and have someone talk to me about their CEO for 30 minutes, while I drink my scotch, but this happened to be earlier this year when one of his team members did so. The CEO, entrepreneur or business leader within your company can’t just wake up one day and care about the company’s customers. They must have it within their DNA as a person because caring about strangers isn’t something that comes natural to most of us.

It’s very easy to gain media attention and claim to be customer-focused but does your organization continue these efforts at the end of the quarter when you must hit your numbers? Does your company sacrifice the customer experience to save the numbers?

You Must be Willing to Think Long-Term

An organization must understand that if customer experience is going to be at the core of their company then they must be patient.The ROI of customer experience doesn’t develop overnight and is a long term play.

Your customer experience is a collection of events your customer experiences when doing business with you from beginning to end. For example, if you go to a movie theatre, the experience may begin with you visiting their mobile website to see what movies are playing. When you arrive at the theatre, you will purchase your ticket, visit the bathroom and buy popcorn at the concession stand. Even before you have watched the movie you already have experienced four customer touchpoints that involves marketing, operations and sales departments. To be able to recreate or refine your customer experience you must include all departments. This takes time. For some companies, this won’t ever happen because of silos that exist within the organization.

See also: How Customer Experience Will Crush Your Company’s Silos 

Now, think about how long it takes to develop a marketing campaign, a part of your business that is given a far larger budget than your customer experience efforts. I believe traditional marketing, such as radio, tv and print, has trained us to be impatient because we can have a marketing campaign up and running in a month or two. If you work with an agency, you can have your radio campaign aired in no time. If you’re a small business, you can have your direct-mail sent out next month.

My argument is this: you will never be customer-focused if you don’t practice patience. Customer experience WILL grow your business, however, you must be in it for the long haul.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, says it best,

“We are willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time.”

What he means is that he will invest to improve Amazon’s customer experience even if the ROI is 12-24 months away.

Are we going to argue with his success?

Understand Creating Micro Customer Experiences is Worth the Investment

When I was invited to speak at Tangerine Bank’s executive retreat earlier this year, I introduced them to what I call micro customer experiences. How I define a micro customer experience is a small, subtle, memorable and affordable gesture that will resonate with your customers for years.

Starbucks understands micro customer experiences by writing your name on your cup. A local small business practices micro customer experiences by writing their customers hand written cards that include personalized messages.

When I introduce this concept to my clients or audience, I can always plan on someone asking,

“How do you scale this?”

The answer to this question is quite simple: How much do you care? If you care enough you will find the resources or workflow to scale it.

I’m sure the Starbucks operations team questioned how this would scale as I guess it adds 3-5 seconds to each customer interaction. For the most part, they were able to figure it out.

A small business owner may think,

“I can’t afford to pay someone to write hand written cards to every customer!”

You can afford to pay someone to do this! After all, don’t you spend 5-15% of your top-line revenue on marketing? You can allocate a percentage of your marketing spend and reinvest it into becoming memorable, which will bring you organic revenue through repeat business and referrals.

For a company to be successful in 2015, customer experience and marketing teams must work together to improve the customer experience and increase customer acquisition through organic marketing such as word of mouth.

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Recognize that Customer Experience is Marketing

Take a moment to answer this question to yourself before you move forward.

What comes to mind when you see Zappos’ logo?

Do you think of their customer experience or what font they used?

Do you smile because of the call centre employee you spoke to when you ordered your pair of sandals, or do you think of what hue of blue was used to create the footprint in their logo?

Forward-thinking marketing pros understand that customer experience is marketing. You may have heard this before, and agree or disagree, whatever your opinion is, allow me to help you think differently.

The Next Web, one of my favourite tech and business websites, published a post titled, “Why I’d Rather Email than Pay for Ads.” If you have a moment to read it, please do. The columnist explains that as an entrepreneur, she’d rather focus on building a double opt-in email list  to provide value to her community by producing exceptional content; we know this to be content marketing. Before she pushes a ‘buy from me’ email she first provides value through content on several different occasions, and then asks for a sale.

Seth Godin refers to this approach of marketing as “permission marketing.” Gary Vaynerchuk, wrote an entire book on this approach called Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.

Providing valuable content to make your customers smarter or more efficient can also be considered customer experience. If you can educate your customers through the content you create, isn’t that providing a better customer experience?

One of my clients, one of Vancouver’s largest auto dealership groups, is doubling down on their content marketing this year to better educate their customers on their industry. The auto industry has a massive opportunity to make their customers smarter. Personally, I don’t know much about my SUV other than that the right pedal is for go, the left pedal is to stop and that my SiriusXM radio has more than one pre-recorded hip hop channel. As a consumer, when I receive an email from them about “5 Things Your Car Needs to Prepare for Winter” I will read it and become a smarter customer. For me, this is a better customer experience than seeing one of their competitors ads on the back of the bus.

See also: How Zendesk, ZenPayroll and Tangerine Bank Make Their Customers Smarter, Efficient and Successful

Content marketing is powered by producing educational content that enriches your customer’s lives. 

Does your marketing team understand that customer experience is marketing? If not, please share this post with them.

You Must Continuously Invest in Employee Experience

I come from a very traditional family, and I still go to my family home once a week to have dinner with my parents and sister. A few weeks ago, my father admitted that he doesn’t fully understand what I do. He knows my subject but didn’t understand what steps I take when I consult for a company to improve their customer experience.

I began to explain to him that I first audit the company’s employee experience. Where do they recruit their employees? What questions do they ask during the interview process? What’s their on-boarding experience like? How do they motivate and reward their team?

I chose to explain this to him first because it’s what I do with my clients. It’s typical for me to receive an email from an entrepreneur or executive who says,

“Help us increase our customer loyalty.”

I never start with the customer. Ever!

The most successful companies understand to be successful you must: find great people, give them the tools and education they need to succeed and then get out of the way to allow them to navigate the customer experience.

The other day, I read this Business Insider article about Nordstrom’s. The article explains “how Nordstrom’s became the most successful retailer.” The number one reason was because of their dedication to customer service. Within this point, the columnist outlines that they hire “nice, capable people.”

This is exactly why I always start with the employee experience. How on earth are you suppose to deliver a memorable customer experience, one that your customers obsess over, if you don’t have the right team to push your effort forward? Company’s that are customer-focused first become employee-focused.

Does your company focus on your employee experience to improve the customer experience?

We make business complicated.

Business is as hard as we want to make it for ourselves. Many of you are familiar with my story about how I learned my greatest business practices from my grandfather and his fish market in Lima, Peru. If we truly want to be successful, we must be able to take a step back, analyze what is not working in our business or department and trim the fat. After you have done so, review these five traits and ask yourself if you are truly customer-focused.

Now, here’s a tough question. What one trait is the most important to become customer-focused? Tweet me @michelfalcon to tell me your answer.

10 Customer Experience Laws to Become an Admired Company

Having a strict focus on customer experience will lead to your company becoming an admired brand.

More often than not, an admired brand can also lead to financial success. Companies such as Westjet, Airbnb and Zappos make customer experience a top priority and reap the benefits in all aspects of their business. Regardless of the size of your business, you can use these laws to your advantage to beat your competition.

In this post, I outline 10 laws you can use as a check list to evaluate the state of your company’s customer experience.

For the entire list of 28 traits, receive it here.

Law #1: Executives and managers want to uncover the good as much as they want to discover the bad.

Customer focused companies don’t hide when poor service is delivered; they run to understand why.

Law #2: Inspect what you expect to ensure uninterrupted service is being delivered.

Customer experience driven organizations are always evaluating the current state of their customer experience through voice of the customer programs, customer advisory boards and mystery shopping.

Law #3: Have your management team rub shoulders with your frontlines.

The CEO’s of customer centric companies aren’t arrogant or feel that they are above their frontline employees.

Law #4: Never say “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Be willing to embrace change to improve.

Law #5: Part with customers who are demeaning your employees.

A customer centric company will stand behind their employees when a customer is being irrational. They will sacrifice the numbers to save a relationship with their employees.

Law #6: “What’s the ROI of customer experience?” isn’t asked, it’s understood.

Customer centric organizations never question the power of a superior customer experience strategy.

Law #7: Customer related initiatives and strategies are always on yearly strategic plans.

They give customer experience the same attention that marketing receives. The majority of companies invest more in marketing than customer experience.

Law #8: Believe that organizational silos are the poison to create customer experience strategies.

The departments of these company’s all work together to create a seamless customer experience.

Law #9: Customer experience is the foundation of a superior sales strategy.

Customer centric companies enjoy high repeat purchases and referrals from existing customers which gives them an organic sales lead generation.

Law #10: Long term investments in customer experience strategies are accepted, even when the ROI is years away.

Customer centric companies are patient.

Companies such as Apple, Zappos and Disney have a reputation of being admired and can be found on Fortune magazines Most Admired list. I believe companies like Bevel and Zendesk will be on that list one day.

SEE ALSO: How Zendesk, ZenPayroll and Tangerine Make Their Customers Smarter, Efficient and Successful.

For the entire list of 28 traits, receive it here.

How Creating Micro Customer Experiences Can Be Your Greatest Competitive Advantage

On a flight back from Boston, I took my seat next to a man who I later found out was the CEO of a recognizable quick service restaurant (QSR).

I was exhausted and just wanted to sleep on the flight home after hosting a customer experience workshop. I couldn’t, however, give up the opportunity to talk to this CEO about the importance of customer experience within his company’s industry.

After a quaint introduction of ourselves and our lines of work, we began talking about customer experience and its impact on growth and brand reputation.

The conversation started with the understood “customer experience has to be your number one priority” maxim, but that’s when our discussion moved into another direction.

He mentioned that the effort of his team was focused on “creating service experiences that will propel us into the future.” In other words, his company was working to create initiatives that I call “home runs.” These initiatives are closely aligned with innovation which can have your competition thinking “why didn’t we think of that?!”

He continued discussing his “home run strategies” without sharing too much information. As he began to hold his cards close, I interrupted by asking, “What are you doing to create micro experiences?”

I caught him off guard.

“What are micro experiences?” he asked.

How I define micro experiences are small, subtle, affordable and memorable touches that resonate with your customers for years. They are the simple things that we neglect to do because they are so small we don’t believe that it can have too much impact; but they do!

Uber understands micro experiences.

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After you use Uber, they send you an email with the route the driver took to show you that the most efficient route was taken. What this small touch point does is build “consumer confidence.”

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Of course, micro customer experiences can also work against you. Starbucks understands micro experiences and their intentions are in the right place. However, you know it’s working against you when there’s a tumblr site dedicated to your employees misspelling your customers’ names.

Companies that create micro customer experiences become brands that are admired, trusted and ones that have a business model that are difficult to replicate.

Let me compare micro experiences to something personal. I love my parents because they showed me love in micro ways. Sure, I loved it when they bought me a Big Wheels or Nerf gun, which is the equivalent to a “home run” strategy for your customers. But, after a month I was bored of the big gift and inevitably wanted something else. The micro love my parents gave me by telling me I was handsome when I got a bad haircut or when they said that my big ears gave me character is what resonated with me forever. It’s the unconditional love that they consistently showed me that has lasted a life time.

The challenge with creating micro experiences is that it needs to be genuine, and let’s face it, not many companies are genuine. Another challenge to be considered is how you scale these genuine moments that connects you with your customers? It’s difficult which is why I laugh when someone says “customer experience is easy.”

What companies are you loyal to because of their micro customer experiences?

How to Build a Customer Advisory Board to Improve Your Customer Experience

Let me begin by explaining that a Customer Advisory Board (CAB) is not a boring focus group. The fact that organizations would stand behind a pane of glass and watch how customers interact frankly gives me the chills.

A CAB is an internal team of customers who help grow your business by providing genuine and actionable insights on your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Regardless of size or industry, all businesses must assemble a CAB.

Over the past 18 months, I’ve worked with several organizations who want to create a CAB for their business. In this post, I will explain how I have found success in building teams of customers to help improve your customer experience.

  • Craft your desired outcome and vision. Before you begin assembling your team and establishing the logistics of your meeting, you need to determine how your company is going to define success and what you’re trying to accomplish. I’ve seen organizations create a CAB simply to say that they have hosted one and to cross it off their “strategic plan.” Needless to say, this should not be your goal. A company I previously worked with stated that each quarter they wanted to create one strategic initiative to improve their customer experience based on what they learned from their CAB. Another company’s marketing team defined success by improving their landing pages from direct feedback from their CAB (in combination with doing A/B testing). The long term goal should always be to have a more intimate relationship with your customers and an opportunity to refine your customer experience.
  • Build your external and internal team. The amount of customers you welcome to your CAB team depends on the size of your business. If you’re a small business, you may want to invite 2-5 customers. For a medium or large sized business, this could grow to 6-12 customers. When it comes to what type of customers you should invite, have a mix of “promoters” and “detractors.” The problem with only welcoming promoters is that they will provide feedback with rose-tinted glasses. You need to have tough, challenging conversations which your detractor customers can provide. What employees should be involved? A CAB should be hosted by your executive team (middle and large sized businesses) or owner and managers (small businesses). For middle and large sized businesses, have each of your department heads attend and then disseminate the knowledge to the entire organization.

  • Establish the logistics. How often will the meetings take place (quarterly or yearly)? Where will they take place (your office or off site)? I recommend that you host them quarterly and at an offsite location. Make the meetings fun! Have the event catered and in a relaxed environment. I was recently invited to a CAB workshop hosted by my client in Whistler, it was a blast and everyone genuinely seemed to enjoy themselves.
  • Develop the meeting structure. You have a fantastic opportunity to get to know your customers intimately; don’t waste their time. Your “customer task force” should meet at least one month prior to the event to finalize the content and delivery. What type of questions are we going to ask? Are we going to showcase prototypes? Who will be moderating? Who will be recording minutes? Ensure that you consider every minor detail to host a seamless meeting.

  • Compensation. I have seen companies not need to compensate their CAB members, as having a catered event was enough in exchange for their time. However, I’ve witnessed other companies compensate their members $25-$100/hour. I have found that the organizations that have genuine customer loyalty don’t need to compensate their members. I work with a small coffee shop in Vancouver who I am undoubtedly loyal to and want to see succeed; I do not charge them to give insight into their business.

  • Follow up. After you have gathered feedback, close the loop with your CAB members. Let them know what they can expect to come as a result of their feedback to reassure them that their time was well served and appreciated. Don’t simply send an email. Follow up in a professional and formal way by distributing a one or two page document (CAB at a Glance) that outlines all that was discussed and your next steps.

CAB meetings aren’t meant to replace VoC programs. They are there to support all other initiatives to improve the customer experience. Plus, it’s fun, educational and a sign that your company is genuinely customer centric.

Have you had success with a CAB program?