From Call Center to Consultant: 6 Steps I Followed to Build My Customer Experience Career

If you’re reading this, you most likely have a career in customer experience.

Or perhaps the headline caught your eye because you manage a customer experience or customer support department and want to elevate your team.

Regardless of whether you’re new to the profession, or a Chief Customer Officer for a major brand, I believe the six steps I took to advance my career – going from being a 21 year old call center agent to being hired by recognizable companies like Verizon Wireless, BlueCross BlueShield, Electronic Arts and others before the age of 30 – will help you take your career to the next level. It’s this same strategy that has allowed me to travel the world, work with great companies, start an online course, invest in a couple startups and keynote speak at events with 100’s of people in the audience.

If this strategy worked for me, surely it will work for you too!

[bctt tweet=” If you’re going to have a successful career as a customer experience professional you need a strategy.”] I remember the day when I first recognized that customer experience management would be “my thing.” It was the niche that I would hitch my wagon to in order to build a career that I could have never imagined. I recognized that my peers were focused on sales, marketing and PR – you know, the traditional things. I wanted to be different. I wanted to follow a path that few had traveled because I knew that this niche would quickly become a hot topic for all organizations.

In this post, I will share the exact step-by-step strategy I created to grow my customer experience career as an employee of a medium-sized business called 1-800-GOT-JUNK?

Step 1: Be a Practitioner, Not a Guru or Expert 

This matters more than anything, which is why it’s step one. For the past three years, when it comes close to the new year, I tweet the same thing:

prac
The most enlightening and valuable conversations I have had in my career have been with people who have done the work that they advocate. These are the individuals who have been in the trenches, built the systems and have the experience of doing the work – someone like my friend, Annette Franz. During our phone calls, ones that always seem to go over the allotted time, I always learn something after speaking with her and trust what she tells me because I know she’s done the work. These types of conversations are extremely valuable, especially for individuals who want to grow their customer experience career.

Could I have advanced my career in my 20’s faster by spending less time building and more time promoting, by writing a book and positioning myself on social media as an expert? Maybe. But I knew that I needed to cut my teeth and earn experience if I wanted a smooth transition between being an employee and being an entrepreneur, consultant and keynote speaker. I recognized that by immersing myself in the work I would have real-world experience to share with my clients and audience – not ones that were simply borrowed from other organizations.

Today, because I put my head down to earn recognition as a practitioner, I’m able to earn clients because they know that I have a proven record doing the work that I discuss. By doing this work successfully (and even unsuccessfully sometimes, using the lessons as a learning experience), your personal brand becomes stronger. I’m thankful that, due to this, reputable professionals, like Cameron Herold, will introduce me to his network and trusts me to help people he knows who want to improve their customer experience.

Key take away: build strategies and don’t concern yourself with being labelled an expert.

Step 2: Create Your Personal Brand

When I first recognized that my career would be in customer experience management, I immediately started thinking of my five-year plan. If you know me well, you know that I can’t only live in the present and must always be working toward something else. I envisioned that, one day, I would become a consultant to some of the biggest companies in the world and a reputable keynote speaker that would travel the world speaking at conferences.

michel-on-stage
To accomplish this, I recognized that I must create a personal brand early, while I was with the company I was working at. By doing this, when I was ready to take my next step – becoming an entrepreneur – I would already have an established personal brand. Here is a list of the things I did to build my personal brand when I first got started:

  • Bought my first and last name domain and started blogging once per week. Remember, it’s not the quantity of the posts you produce, but rather the quality of the posts (particularly through long-form posts like this one). Be willing to share your best strategies with your audience, don’t hoard them.
  • Marketed and shared my writings. Derek Halpern, a recognized digital marketer, suggests that you should spend 20% of your time producing your content and 80% promoting it. By doing this, it will help you drive more visitors. The more visitors you have, the more brand impressions you earn. Here is a link to his suggested strategy.
  • Updated my LinkedIn profile and included customer experience within my tagline and bio so that I came up more frequently in search results. Just like Google picks up on keywords, so does LinkedIn. Be generous with the amount of times you mention customer experience in your LinkedIn bio, but don’t keyword stuff.
  • Hosted free webinars. Even to this day, webinars has been a key avenue for me to give away education that helps serve others.
  • Joined LinkedIn groups related to customer experience and customer service and engaged with the group regularly by sharing other people’s content and commenting on threads.
  • Created streams in Hootsuite to track keywords and hashtags, like #CX, customer service, customer experience, Net Promoter Score and many other relevant search terms.

Key take away: create association between your name and customer experience by building a personal brand.

Step 3: Invest in Yourself

While I was able to learn a lot through free methods, like reading online articles on customer experience, and leveraged other affordable options by buying books, I knew it wasn’t enough.

I’m a very curious person and I ask a lot of questions. When I was getting my career started, Zappos was fast becoming a recognized company for their customer-focused culture. I wanted to visit them, ask questions and learn. Like most companies, yearly budgets are determined in Q4 of the previous year, so an impromptu trip to Henderson, Nevada for a call center agent wasn’t going to be an easy ask from my boss.

Rather than having an “aw shucks” mentality, I thought, “F*** it! I’m going to fund this myself.” I live in Vancouver, a city where you can easily spend $200 at a bar in a single night, especially when you’re in your early 20s and trying to meet girls. I did some quick math and realized that, if I stayed in for an entire month, I would save enough money to buy a plane ticket, ground transportation and a one night stay in a cheap hotel off the Las Vegas strip. I’m ever so thankful to Patrick Louis, someone who always provided me with direction and motivation to pursue my career in customer experience, as well as the Founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, Brian Scudamore, who made the call to Tony Hsieh to get me the invite (as this was before the organized Zappos tours).

The reason I’m able to live a career of my dreams is because I personally invested in my career and made short-term sacrifices for long-term gain. I have an innate ability to think long-term, even to this day. I don’t think:

“How can I earn as much revenue off this client as possible?”

Rather, I ask myself:

“How can I serve the client today to create a long-term relationship?”

Key take away: Your career is your livelihood; invest in it.

Step 4: Take Ownership of Your Career – No Freebies 

Here’s something that might shock and awe you – I don’t believe managers are entirely responsible for growing the people on their team. In 2014, I wrote a post titled, “Employees Need to Be Responsible for Their Own Development” on LinkedIn that received nearly 10,000 views.

The thesis of my post was that, to be successful, you must take ownership over your desired outcome, whether it’s with your career, sports or, well, anything. I recognized this when I was starting to develop my career in customer experience. How did I go about doing this? Here’s a list of things I did every day, in both the morning and evening:

  • I set up a Feedly account to easily find and read other customer experience content. Feedly is an aggregator of publications that allows you to track when your favourite business publications publish posts in real-time. I recommend upgrading to Feedly Pro, which is only $5/month, to get access to additional features such as the search ability. With the upgrade you can search terms, like “customer experience,” and any link within your Feedly account that contains those search terms will appear – it’s great!
  • Remember how I told you earlier to build your personal brand online? Well setting up a Buffer account will make sharing customer experience-related articles much easier. Eventually people will start associated your name with customer experience after you consistently shared related articles.
  • I set up Google Alerts to track keywords, like customer experience, customer service, customer centricity, Net Promoter Score, employee engagement and many others. Again, this will help you build your personal brand by sharing valuable content to your followers and connections. Eventually people will begin to immediately associate your name with customer experience.
  • I bought books related to customer experience and read them all the first day that I bought them. I bought books like: The Ultimate Question, The Ultimate Question 2.0, Answer the Ultimate Question and The No Asshole Rule. I also read the book you see below, What’s the Secret?, which was bought for me by Brian Scudamore, the Founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, who also included a thoughtful and inspiring message for me.

Bs book

Greatness isn’t reserved for people who have a mediocre work ethic. The saying, “Work smarter, not harder” has never resonated with me. Maybe it’s because of my South American ethnicity (we’re a hard working bunch), but I believe you must do both.

Key take away: Take ownership over your career – there are no freebies when it comes to building your future.

Step 5: Do More Than the Minimum

I remember a colleague of mine, Ryan Creamore, once said:

“40 hours a week is a minimum, not a maximum.”

I’ve always agreed with him. Whether that’s before or after your shift, or typical 9 to 5, you must be willing to do more than just the bare minimum to accomplish epic achievements in your career. The primary reason I’ve been able to accomplish things reserved for people that are twice my age is because I did more than the minimum when I was building my career. I made short-term sacrifices so I could earn long-term gains.

I use Gary Vaynerchuk as a source of inspiration for creating my own success. The reason his message resonates with me so much, and has ever since I first read his book “Crush It”, is because I appreciate his work ethic. It’s the same work ethic I’ve had since I was 7 years old: waking up at 5am for hockey practice, going to school, doing chores, playing hockey from 9AM to 11AM on Saturday or Sunday mornings, then delivering newspapers in the pouring rain in Vancouver immediately after, so I could earn $100 a month.

Now, please keep in mind I recognize that working 50, 60 or 70 hours per week isn’t for everyone and isn’t promoted by all companies. I’m suggesting it because it’s what I know and what has helped me. If you take a look at the greatest athletes or business people they all have a common principle; they work harder than others.

Key take away: Whether you’re building a career in customer experience, you must do more than just the bare minimum.

Step 6: Pick Five Companies and Study Them Intensely 

Zappos, Southwest Airlines, Apple, Amazon and WestJet. These are the five companies I chose to study intensely. What are your five?

When I say “study” I don’t mean that I just read things about them online – even though I did read literally every article about them related to customer experience and company culture. I took it one step further. I went to LinkedIn and used the search function to find people who worked within these companies, particularly the customer service departments, and connected with them.

Linkedin 3

Assuming they accepted my connection request, I would DM them and ask to book a call with them to learn more about their customer experience practices. This was a similar script that I would use to move the online connection to a call – feel free to use it yourself.

Hi <NAME>,

The customer experience community is small, so I always jump at the opportunity to connect with professionals like yourself. I noticed that you work with <THEIR COMPANY> – you’re very fortunate to work with such a great company. <If available, include a complimentary and recent story about the company that you found online>.

I wanted to ask if you were able to reserve time on <CHOOSE SPECIFIC DATE & TIME> to chat by phone to hear of some of the customer experience strategies we are using at <YOUR COMPANY> and share best practices. As mentioned, the customer experience community is small, albeit growing, and it would be great to learn from each other.

Are you available on <REITERATE SUGGESTED DATE & TIME>? If not, is there another date and time that would work for you?

Thank you,
<YOUR NAME>

Early in my career someone told me:

“R&D doesn’t stand for research and development; it stands for ripoff and duplicate.”

I don’t entirely endorse this because it impedes innovation. But I do HIGHLY recommend learning from other companies to spark ideas for your own company. Use other companies and their strategies for inspiration to create your own programs. Choosing five companies is the perfect size – it’s not too large of a sample size that you’ll dilute your learning and it’s not too small that you won’t learn enough – to generate ideas and connect with people from these companies.

If I was starting my career today, the five companies I would recommend studying (these are the ones I’m learning from today) would be Warby Parker, Gusto, Bonobos, Operator and Bellhops.

Pay specific attention to how they are leveraging technology, customer experience and employee engagement to grow their companies. Reach out to them, take notes and build conversations among your team.

Key take away: study, study, study!

The Worldwide Customer Experience Career Opportunity


014 - World Needs CX Pros

Take a look around you. It’s 2016 and best-selling business authors – ones who started off as marketers – are now writing books on customer experience because we are all recognizing it’s value to the bottom line. The community is growing fast and the CXPA is a well-established organization helping facilitate this growth. Heck, I’m (very slowly) starting to see post-secondary schools teach customer experience management and conferences are starting to invite customer experience speakers just as much as they are sales and marketing speakers.

For those that have been “in the game” for years before customer experience became a hot topic, I salute you.

If you’re just starting your career in customer experience, you’re going to be in extremely high demand. Great days are ahead!

I’d love to hear you from.

What are you doing to build your career in customer experience?

Leave a comment below.

Necessary Steps to Build Your Company’s 2016 Customer Experience Plan

As 2016 nears, have you started to map out your customer experience strategy for next year?

Will 2016 be the year that you fully commit to improving your customer experience?

I don’t mean that you continue to tell your customers, employees and business partners (i.e. vendors) that you’re customer-focused. I mean, will you actually invest, in dollars and time, to create a customer experience that is worth seeing again and again?

This year, my team and I surveyed one thousand CEOs and determined that only 7% of their companies had a customer experience strategy – a strategy that is meticulously designed, discussed and ready to be deployed across the organization.

Know that your customer experience is only going to get better with action and it deserves the exact same attention that marketing and sales receives. Assuming that your customer experience strategy will develop on its own is wishful thinking.

There are three key questions that you must answer before building your 2016 customer experience strategy.

  1. What is the current state of your customer experience?

doctor
Before you can heal or improve something, first you must diagnosis it. Doctors do it to heal an injury. Relationship therapists do it to mend struggling relationship. And, likewise, you must do it to understand which actions to take for steps 2 and 3.

So how do you audit your customer experience?

Anecdotally assuming that you know the current state of your customer experience is wrong. Speaking only with your executive team about it is wrong. Going with your gut instinct is wrong as well.

You must look internally AND externally to properly audit your customer experience.

Voice of the Customer (VoC)

If you’re familiar with customer experience and its strategies and processes then you are familiar with VoC. But what if you’re not? VoC is a way to better understand your customer experience directly from your customers. This can include both customer surveys and customer advisory boards.

Your company’s management team should review year-over-year customer survey results and be able to identify trends. To begin, identity the top 3 reasons, or categories, why your customers say they are loyal to your company or would recommend you. To serve as an example, let’s say you operate a chain of grocery stores. Your top 3 promoter reasons might be competitive prices, clean stores and accessible parking. The next part is the tougher part of this exercise: understanding why your customers wouldn’t recommend your service or product. If you are in banking, you top 3 detractor reasons might include inflexible banking hours, high monthly fees and long lines.

Whatever your “top 3s” are, your entire management team must understand them and be able to recite them like their telephone numbers.

Have macro and micro conversations with your employees

Your customers get a voice, right? How about your employees?

The voice of the employee is an intimate way for you to receive feedback from your team. Now, I would never suggest a roundabout way for surveying your employees (i.e. sending a long list of questions). I’ve seen employee surveys done well and, more often, done poorly. But that’s okay (for now). Today is the day that you learn how to properly do it to build your 2016 customer experience strategy. After all, your employees may speak to more customers in one day than the CEO might in a year. It’s only fitting that we learn from them too.

Macro employee listening

The macro way to listen to your employees is to survey them. But doing so is slightly different than surveying your customers. Not only do you want to understand what customers are saying about your service or product, to your employees, but you also want to understand how they trust team members and feel in their roles as employees.

  • Do they have the tools they need to succeed?
  • Do they need more education on how to perform their job well?
  • Are they consistently motivated to excel? If not, why?
  • Can your company be doing anything more to help them improve the customer experience?

There is plenty of light, affordable software to help you survey your customers. In fact, many of the VoC software programs will allow you to survey your employees as well. A company called TinyPulse, software that I recommend in my online course, Experience Academy, allows you to ask your employees one question at a time. Employees love it because it’s simple and submitted anonymously.

Before you decide to purchase software, or sign up for a free trail, determine what questions you’re going to ask and what you will do with the feedback.

Micro employee listening

During my time as a call centre team member at 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, before I moved into Operations, Patrick Louis (someone that I’m still in touch with today) created a new layer of management. These employees were known as Team Captains and they reported directly into call centre management.

What this new layer of employees were responsible for, amongst other things, was to keep a close ear to what customers and employees were saying about the current state of the customer experience. I can tell you, firsthand, that it worked magically! Not only were Team Captains able to provide useful information that the management team could use to better the business, but it also gave them a sense of accomplishment, pride and promotion (as this new designation came along with a modest raise). Team Captains and management would come together weekly to discuss the current state of the customer experience. This form of micro employee listening works extremely well and I highly advocate it within medium and large-sized businesses. If you’re a small business, but plan on growing, start building the blueprint for this to happen now.

  1. Who will do what by when?

timing
In my last post, I outlined that your customer experience needs a Single Point of Accountability (SPA). Who within your business will lead your company’s customer experience? I outlined in that post that the CEO can’t do it. While your CEO must be a proponent of your efforts, she can’t be doing the work. Your company must appoint someone to lead the strategy, build the team and execute on the plan.

An emerging role within companies of all sizes and industries is the Chief Customer Officer. Munchery, the ventured-back delivery company, recently recruited Pascal Rigo to become their Chief Customer Experience Officer after he sold his company La Boulange to Starbucks for $100 million. When I read the article, I was elated because I, and many others, have been promoting the need for this role within companies for years.

Whether you’re a venture-back company, valued at a billion dollars, or a $25M company, your customer experience needs a SPA. One of my clients, one of Las Vegas’ largest HVAC companies, recently appointed their customer experience SPA. This company, in an industry not immediately recognized for their customer experience strategy, understood that their customer experience needs a leader within the organization with me even having to make a case for it.

Do you have a customer experience SPA within your company today? Do they have everything they need to succeed, including the education, the budget and the software required to thrive?

If you don’t have a SPA, do you know someone in your company that could take on that role and succeed? If not, do you know how you will recruit this individual?

  1. What role will you play?

your role
What do you do for a living?

You could be the CEO of a recognizable company. Maybe you’re an executive or manager for a multi-million or billion dollar brand. Or you could be the entrepreneur that is looking for new ways to grow their business. Whatever it is that you do, you’re going to need to assist in creating your company’s 2016 customer experience strategy.

I remember being 23 years old and being asked to sit in on my company’s strategic planning meeting to give my thoughts on the organization’s customer experience initiatives that were being deployed the following quarter. It was during these type of meetings that I was able to support the company’s customer experience strategy before I even had the authority to lead.

If you’ve follow my blog, visited my YouTube channel or follow me on social media, you know that I spend 3 to 4 hours each day studying the inner workings of customer-focused companies. When I was developing my career in customer experience, I would regularly share articles, case studies and interviews with colleagues to continuously remind them of how important customer experience was to the livelihood of the company. This was another role I played early in my career that yielded value and one you can do as well.

If you’re a CEO or executive, the role you must play is twofold:

  1. Champion the customer experience à la Richard Branson – talk to the media about your customer experience, preach it in every meeting, and include it in your company’s internal newsletter
  2. Allocate the necessary resources (i.e. time and budget) to always improve your company’s customer experience. Your customer experience won’t improve unless you invest in it. Believe me, I’ve seen it firsthand: an investment in customer experience always pays a favourable ROI.

As I make plans for 2016 (I’m working on something REALLY exciting and I can’t wait to share it with you) some things I’m asking myself are:

  • “How will my customer experience improve in 2016?”
  • “Where did I fail last year in delivering a customer experience that my customers would want to see again?”
  • “What do I need to do to take it to the next level?”

Yes, customer experience consultants and keynote speakers also need to survey their customers, conduct customer journey maps, and identify strengths and areas to improve.

We probably haven’t met in-person before, but allow me to make a personal challenge, perhaps even a plea: go out and give your customer experience a 2016 strategy. Start now! Don’t wait because it will not build itself.

Have you downloaded my free ebook yet? Learn 28 customer and employee experience strategies that will help you become a world-class company. You can download it by filling in the form directly below this post.

5 Things Your Customer Experience Strategy Needs to be Successful

If you want your customers to truly become loyal to your service or product then your customer experience needs a strategy.

This blueprint needs the same methodical thought and processes that goes into a marketing or sales strategy.

It’s common for me to open my keynote speaking engagements by asking the audience two questions, so I can gain context around where they are at in their customer experience development plans. The first question is:

“Please raise your hand if you have created a marketing plan in your career to attract new customers.”

It’s typical for at least 75% of the room to raise their hands proudly.

The second question is as follows:

“Now, raise your hand if you have ever created a customer experience plan to acquire and retain new customers.”

I would estimate that only 2 to 5% of my audience has ever raised their hand.

You see, we are beginning to understand that customer experience must be a pillar in our business to become successful. What I’m hearing executives say when I work with companies is:

“What do we do next to improve our customer experience?”

Recognizing that this is a common question for many business professionals, from around the world, I hosted a webinar on this very topic on October 6th titled “5 Things Your Customer Experience Strategy Needs to be Successful.” You can download the recording of the webinar by clicking here. With 175 professionals from around the world having registered, I knew that this was a very important topic and needed answers.

Do you want the five steps outlined in a PowerPoint presentation? Click here to sign up and receive my slide deck, free of charge.


 

#1 – An Operational Flag-Bearer

You’ve heard it before: the CEO of the organization must lead the company’s customer experience. Let’s look for some evidence. Richard Branson visibly advocates customer experience at Virgin, Tony Hsieh promotes the experience at Zappos and Howard Schultz proudly defends Starbucks’ efforts.

RELATED VIDEOWhy the Best CEOs Invest in Customer Experience

While these CEOs are often in the media, talking about the company’s customer experience, they usually aren’t doing the work. That is why I included the word “operational” in this point. If an organization is going to have a strategic plan, it needs a leader that will get in the trenches, lead operational teams, and work on the strategy and deployment of the program.

To be successful, this leader needs a customer experience background or a burning desire to learn and lead. When my customer experience career began at 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, I didn’t have a formal background in customer experience. However, I compensated for this lack of formal education by self-educating myself for thousands of hours, learning from other organizations and discovering best practices.

This single point of accountability (SPA) must attend industry events to learn from others and continuously educate themselves. Here is a short list of great customer experience events from around the world. 

  • The IQPC hosts several premium customer experience and customer service events around the world.
  • CXPA is a leading association for customer experience professionals, hosting events for both members and non-members.
  • You may recognize Salesforce for their massive event, Dreamforce, but did you know that they also host events focused on customer service? Check the lists of their events here.
  • Aspect, a leading contact/call centre software provider, host an event titled ACE. While the date and location have yet to be announced, be sure to keep your eyes open for when it is.
  • Frost & Sullivan host contact centre and customer experience events in cities around the world.
  • Clarabridge hosts a yearly event in London called ‘Customer Connections’ that I’ve heard great things about.

Note: I would like to put together an exhaustive list of yearly customer experience events to share with my clients and email subscribers. Please email me (michel@michelfalcon.com) to let me know of your annual event.

RELATED POST – 4 Non-Negotiable Traits of Customer-Focused CEOs 

The CEO doesn’t have to lead, but they do have to believe in the influence customer experience has on the success of a business. Similar to marketing, sales, or business development, customer experience needs an operating budget, and it must be respectful enough to influence positive change. Your operational leader is going to need a budget to hire her team, purchase SaaS software, and cover other operational needs like an employee engagement budget.

#2 – Vision

If I wanted to drive from Vancouver (where I’m based) to Miami, Florida, I could do one of two things:

a) Get in my car and head southeast, hoping I get there in a decent amount of time and without spending too much on gas.

OR

b) I could build a plan before I start my trip and well before I start driving. By doing so, I will get there faster and I’ll be well-rested (because I would have planned what states I would stay overnight in a hotel), all without spending too much on gas.

Ultimately, planning and having a vision for how you’re going to accomplish something helps you actually accomplish the goal rather than flying by the seat of your pants. Building a customer experience strategy is no different – you need a plan!

To build your vision, one that will help you succeed, you must ask yourself the following five questions:

  1. What is your strategy’s definition of success?
  2. How will you measure success?
  3. Who is a part of the customer experience team?
  4. Who will do what by when?
  5. What is the operating budget?

Nearly ten years ago, when I first started my career in customer experience, I selected five companies that had a world-class focus on customer experience and I committed to studying the inner workings of their organizations. I did this because it helped me understand how a company goes from vision to execution. When building your customer experience strategy, I highly recommend selecting three companies and study everything about them: read everything you can online (i.e. research papers, articles, etc.), watch YouTube videos where their CEOs are interviewed, and even go as far as calling them and asking if you can visit their headquarters to ask questions. Even to this day, I still study as much as I did in the early days so I can understand what world-class companies are doing.

Want to learn the three companies I’m studying today? Download my PowerPoint slide deck and go to slide 18 to find out.

#3 – Alignment

Nearly all companies believe they are aligned; after all, admitting that you’re not is not something you want to showcase. Not being aligned will prevent you from having a customer experience that will rival the best. In fact, I believe it’s impossible to have an exceptional customer experience without true alignment.

I was recently working with a bank and one of their executives told me a story that showed him that his team wasn’t aligned. The story goes something like this.

His marketing team created a campaign that, on the surface, was a success. It increased the amount of savings accounts that their target customers opened with his bank by 15%. While the marketing team was literally pouring champagne, the company’s call centre was singing a different tune.

You see, the marketing team neglected to inform the call centre management team that this initiative was being created. The influx of calls, which was generated by the marketing campaign, increased call volume by 30%, which the call centre wasn’t properly staffed for.

(As an aside, call centre workforce management teams don’t receive enough recognition for the important work they do. They are the glue that holds the machine together!)

While the marketing department was celebrating, the call centre and customers, particularly the ones who had to wait for 15 to 30 minutes to get through, were regretting their efforts and misalignment.

You see, these are some of the things that can happen within ANY organization. It may have even happened to you.

To create alignment, the first step I recommend is for your company to host a Customer Journey Mapping (CJM) workshop. If you’re not familiar, a CJM session is where your company comes together (with at least one person representing each department) and collectively map out the entire customer journey. To have you think differently, break the group up into smaller teams and have every group outline each customer touch point. At the end of the session, each group should present their findings. It’s very common that this will be where you find that your team isn’t aligned, as each group outlines a different customer experience.

Note: There are many other steps that go into hosting a CJM workshop, but, for sake of brevity, I’ve highlighted a few key steps.

This session isn’t run to simply show misalignment. Rather, the purpose is to bring awareness to an opportunity that can be resolved as a team. Whether it’s your organization, or a professional sports team, company alignment matters, particularly when it comes to creating a customer experience strategy.

#4 – Measure Through Metrics

I’m a fan of Net Promoter Score (NPS) because I’ve had success with it for years! I understand there are NPS naysayers, but the ones I meet tend to have weak arguments. Do I believe that NPS is the be-all-end-all? Not at all. But I do recommend that it be integrated as part of your customer experience strategy.

RELATED POSTHow to Influence Your Boss to Adopt Net Promoter Score Without Pushback

If you’re motivated to look and feel better, you would workout and eat healthy. To measure success, you may weigh yourself or have a body fat percentage test done.

Customer experience is no different, in that you must measure your success. NPS is a great way to do so. The reasons I recommend my clients use NPS is for the following reasons:

  • It has a low barrier of deployment and doesn’t take too much effort to begin using it within your company.
  • All team members, regardless of business acumen, can understand it.
  • It’s very actionable (when you do it right).
  • It’s easy to find trends (when you categorize verbatim comments properly).

Whether you’re using NPS today or not, I would highly recommend you look into bringing it into your organization to listen to your customers’ needs, wants, and aversions better.

#5 – Invest in Education

My team built Experience Academy, my online customer experience course, for a few reasons. One of them was that we didn’t believe there was premium customer experience education available online for people around the world.

Earlier I told you that I still spend hours, roughly 2 to 4 hours each day, studying and investing in my education, even after I have achieved success.

Why?

Because my biggest concern is that I will become irrelevant to my clients and audience when I speak at an event. I don’t want to be that guy who tells the same old stories and becomes forgettable. I take pride in knowing about the latest software or companies who are customer experience leaders before my competition.

If you want your company’s customer experience strategy to be the best then you must invest in your own education. There are several affordable ways to invest in your education:

  • Read books
  • Attend conferences
  • Join LinkedIn groups and engage on social media
  • Join associations

But, by far, the best resource to invest in your education is online courses. According to Forbes, the online course market hit $57 billion in 2014 – and it’s expected to DOUBLE in 2015. Statistics like these are not why I believe in online courses though. The primary reason why I recommend using online courses to invest in your education is because, if the course is built correctly, then you are able to take action on the education. It’s often more valuable than simply reading a book because, in most cases, the course will allow you to watch videos, download resources, and take end-of-module quizzes to ensure you retained the knowledge.

Extra – Learn How to Properly Survey Your Customers

To create a customer experience strategy that will support the growth of your company and make you an admired brand you absolutely MUST have a well-thought out plan. Without a plan, you simply have a desire; regardless of how badly you want to achieve your goal, it won’t happen unless you take a methodical approach.

On November 3rd, I will be hosting another webinar titled Why Your Customers Aren’t Filling Out Your Survey (and How to Fix That). Click here to register (it’s free)! Be sure to share the link with your colleagues who you believe should attend.

You can download my PowerPoint presentation that outlines all five steps covered in this post so you can share with your colleagues. Click here to sign up.

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.

 

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?

cx defined
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).

 

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?

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.

5 Secrets Entrepreneurs Can Use to Achieve Consistent Growth (Regardless of Budget or Industry)

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.

Disclaimer: Just a heads up. This is a 2,500 word article with statistics, best practices, and tangible learning. If you’re not serious about growing your business, then this article isn’t for you. But, if you are, I guarantee the words that follow will steer you in the right direction and help you grow your business like you could never have imagined. If you don’t learn at least five solid takeaways, please tweet me @michelfalcon and say “Michel, you jerk, you wasted my time!” And if you do like it? I encourage you to follow me on Twitter for more insights and send me a tweet about what you learned.

So you want to grow your company?

 

Say yes if any of these have happened to you while trying to grow your business:
  • Paying the high cost of running print advertising
  • Investing in social media, only to see “nothing happen”
  • Working hard to acquire customers, but having these new customers never buy again or refer anyone

These can look like good ways to grow your business—and some might eventually work if you spend enough—but none of them are the best way.

Good news… today is the day that you learn the secrets of some of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs and how they grow businesses that last for decadesand enjoy profits that until now you’ve only dreamed of.

Today is the day that you learn how to grow differently, in a more profitable and sustainable manner… by improving your customer experience.

But first…

I’m going to show you five things you need to do to grow your company. But first we need to learn what customer experience is—as well as what it isn’t—and discover why organic growth is a must.

Keynote: Verizon Wireless Retail Summit

Keynote: Verizon Wireless Retail Summit

 

And here’s why I want to teach you: for nearly a decade, customer experience has been my niche. It’s the foundation that I’ve built a profitable company from. And doing that work—whether travelling around the world speaking at events, consulting with billion dollar companies, or founding Experience Academy—I’ve come to recognize that entrepreneurs don’t even really know what customer experience (CX) is.

Most people often confuse it with customer service, which is a problem. Because while the two seem similar, they are in fact very different.

What is customer service?

Customer service is about actions. When you go to the grocery store and pay for your bananas and milk, the person at the till is giving you customer service. When you file your insurance papers for your car, you are receiving customer service. When you visit the bank, and the teller helps you pay your bills… customer service.

When I was first introduced to the idea of customer experience, I thought it was just another word for customer service. I considered customer service something that helps operate a business, not something that helps grow it.

I now know much better—customer service is just one of the parts that go into a much larger strategy.

[bctt tweet=”Customer service are the nuts and bolts that go into a much larger strategy that we call #cx.”]
How is customer experience different from customer service?

Customer experience is the design of the interactions your customers have with you—from the beginning of their relationship with you to the end of it.

Here’s an example. When was the last time you went to the movie theatre? Let’s review that customer experience.

If you were asked what the experience is like at a movie theatre, you might describe it this way:

  1. Arrive at the movie theatre
  2. Pay for your ticket, either at a self-serve kiosk or at a cash register with an employee
  3. Have your ticket validated by another employee
  4. Buy your popcorn from a third employee
  5. Watch the movie
  6. Leave the theatre

While all of these interactions—often called customer touch points—are in fact part of the customer experience, there are a couple of key points of engagement missing from this list.

Here’s my personal movie theatre experience:

  1. Review what movie I want to watch, and find which theatre is showing it, on my mobile phone, tablet, or desktop computer
  2. To avoid the possibility of a long line, purchase tickets through the theatre’s mobile app
  3. Arrive at the movie theatre and park my car
  4. Present my virtual ticket to a theatre employee
  5. Buy popcorn from another employee
  6. Visit the restroom before the movie begins
  7. Watch the movie
  8. Leave the theatre
  9. Receive a survey through an app or email

Points 1, 2, 3 and 6 (and 9, if the movie theatre offers a survey) are missing from the first description—and vital to the overall experience.

What would your impression be of the company that operated the theatre if the parking lot was littered with garbage? What if the restrooms were filthy? I’m sure it would hurt the experience for you, not to mention make you think twice about spending money to watch a movie at that theatre again.

Whether your own company’s customer experience has 4, 8, or even 10 touchpoints doesn’t matter. What matters is that you realize they all work together to create your customer experience.

Was I able to clearly define customer service and customer experience for you? If so, I guarantee you will learn 28 other customer experience strategies for your business in this FREE ebook.

Why customer experience matters

Now that we understand the difference between customer service and customer experience, we must understand why we should do any of this.

Creating positive change within companies with customer experience is what I do for a living. I help companies outline their entire customer experience, and build the right systems and processes to improve their customer experience and help grow their business.

But I didn’t commit my career to customer experience management because delivering great service makes people smile. While I appreciate the warmth of delivering and receiving great customer service, the primary reason I do what I do is because I’m a capitalist—I want to grow businesses.

Customer experience is the greatest way to grow your business, hands down. It’s better than any marketing campaign and better than any sales strategy—and it’s definitely better than PR.

Put simply,

[bctt tweet=”Customer experience is the engine that drives organic growth.”]

Organic growth: the Holy Grail
If you need a refresher, organic growth is the revenue earned through 1) repeat purchases from existing customers, and 2) customers referring your company to other customers.

It’s so important because earning business organically is more profitable than anything else you can do.

Why? The largest cost associated with growing any customer base is acquisition. But once a customer is acquired, it’s a lot more cost-effective to retain that customer instead of going out and finding a second one. Because when that retained customer generates additional business—either through repeat purchases or referrals to family and friends—you’re paying very little to get that new business.

Consider the following statistics:
  • The probability of converting a new customer is 5% to 20% (Marketing Metrics)
  • The probability of converting an existing customer is 60% to 70% (Marketing Metrics)
  • Increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95% (Harvard Business Review)
  • A 10% rise in customer retention yields a 30% increase in the value of the company (Bain and Company)

And now consider these case studies in massive success:

  • Amazon – Grew from operating in a garage to having a market cap over $100 Billion
  • Zappos – Grew from $1 Million to $1 Billion in revenue in ten years
  • Starbucks – Grew from one store in Seattle to over 22,000 stores worldwide

What do they all have in common?

All of them have the necessary systems and processes in place in order to make their customer experience predictable, memorable, and addictive.

The aforementioned companies have all grown organically as well.

Coincidence? I think not.

Do you want to grow your business and operate like Amazon, Zappos and Starbucks? If so, click the button below to learn 28 strategies to improve your company’s customer experience by reading ‘28 Traits of Organizations Who Are Customer Experience Titans’.

 

Send Me My FREE Ebook

The 5 secrets of customer experience

How can you start to develop a stronger customer experience?

Well, the time has come—I’d like to share with you five rules that you can use to improve your company’s customer experience.

Secret #1 – You’re in this for the long haul

There will always be a positive ROI when you invest in your customer experience. Always. When you invest in building the right systems and processes to improve the customer experience, it will strengthen the relationship you have with your customers and make them more loyal. That, in turn, will lead to organic growth.

But you need to be patient if you want to see that pay-off. Building stronger relationships with your customers, like you do with your best friends, takes time.

You can’t just wake up one day, do something nice for a customer, and all of a sudden expect them to start spending more money and referring all of their family and friends. It’s like how driving a friend to the airport so they can catch their flight will help build a stronger bond between the two of you, but isn’t the sole ingredient in establishing a long-term friendship that will last for decades.

The most customer-focused entrepreneurs in the world know how to think long-term.

Secret #2 – You have the budget—you just need to find it

I hear this all the time:

“Michel, we don’t have the budget to do this and [insert additional lame excuse here].”

You do have the budget to improve your customer experience, but you might need to reallocate your existing budgets. Here’s how to do it: reduce the amount you spend on marketing, PR, and other customer acquisition strategies that aim to acquire customers inorganically. After all, why are you trying to recruit new customers when you aren’t prepared to retain them? That’s like spending money on invitations to a housewarming party at a million dollar home, but then hosting the party in a dilapidated shack. You must build, protect, and decorate the home first.

The best entrepreneurs grow their businesses by making the right investments and ensuring that the customer experience has a distinct budget.

Secret #3 – Customer experience starts with your employees

When I work with an entrepreneur who aspires to improve his or her company’s customer experience I NEVER start by focusing on the customer. I always audit the employee experience first.

You see, you can build all the systems in the world, and buy the most expensive software to improve your customer experience, but if your employee experience is weak then your customer experience will be weak as well. Sure, you might make some improvements to your customer experience, but you won’t maximize your opportunity.

Think about it… It’s rare to be greeted by unfriendly WestJet, Virgin, or FedEx employees. While I’m not going to suggest that superior companies don’t have a single employee who isn’t operating at a high standard, I’m confident when I say that the vast majority of their teams love the company and deliver an experience that represents the brand well.

Yes, companies that have customers who love them have something else in common: their employees love the company too.

And it’s not just large corporations. Think about small businesses in your city that deliver an amazing customer experience. I bet the employees at these businesses are happy to work there, consistently have smiles on their faces, and have sacrificed opportunities that might have paid more in order to enjoy working for a company that values the employee experience.

One of my favourite companies to use as an example is Timbertrain Coffee Roasters in Vancouver, Canada, where I am based. Every time I visit their shop, each employee is happy and, in turn, makes me loyal because I enjoy doing business with them. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that their coffee is amazing as well.)

The results speak for themselves; Timbertrain is always busy and the company can afford rent in a trendy area of downtown Vancouver that is typically reserved for the Starbucks of the world. In short, they are successful and continue to thrive because their employees love their jobs, and the company itself.

Remember… You might have a great product that your customers love, but if they are greeted by employees who aren’t representing your business properly, those customers can easily be lured away by your competitors.

To audit your employee experience, consider doing the following:

  • Review the kind of questions you ask during the candidate interviews. Are they standard questions that an interviewee can find on the web in advance and heavily prepare for? If so, you need to create better questions.
  • What is the first day on the job like for new hires? If it’s rudimentary and standard, then you have an opportunity to make it more dynamic to capture the hearts of your employees.
  • How do you recognize employees for providing exceptional service? If you’re simply giving them extra cash, you are not creating memorable experiences. If money is the key motivator for your employees, it might mean you are hiring incorrectly or creating a culture motivated solely by extrinsic rewards.

The world’s greatest entrepreneurs, no matter what size of business they run, spend the time necessary to evaluate their employee experience and make it a magnet for exceptional employees to thrive in.

Secret #4 – You need to create your own education

I’m starting to recognize an increase in awareness around customer experience as a growth strategy. The next question I often hear is:

“Michel, what do we do next?”

Business school doesn’t teach you how to recruit and hire customer-centric professionals, nor does it help you build customer-focused training materials or create surveys that will properly gather feedback from our customers.

That the educational system doesn’t teach aspiring entrepreneurs how to build companies that grow through customer experience is a huge missed opportunity—so you need to take it on yourself.

To build my own career in customer experience management, I had to study the inner workings of successful companies like Zappos, Starbucks, Apple, and Amazon. To this day, I still spend 2 to 4 hours studying every day.

(As an aside, I built Experience Academy, my online training course, because I recognized that there isn’t a lot of premium content available to people serious about improving their knowledge of customer experience management. Yes, you can read books, but many of them are filled with jargon and theory, not actionable strategies and tangible learning like Experience Academy offers.)

Wherever you find your education, make sure you prioritize it. The most respected entrepreneurs develop a culture of learning within their companies, which helps them to continuously improve the customer experience.

Secret #5 – It’s not a cliché… Improve constantly or die

In the same way that you don’t stop improving the relationships you have with your family members or friends, you have to ensure that you never stop improving the experience that your customers have with your company.

Building systems and processes to improve the customer experience isn’t something that happens once; it must become a part of your company’s DNA. Yes, the improvements must start somewhere, but you need to keep refining and “inspecting what we expect” to ensure you are always delivering an experience your customers will obsess over.

Only by doing so will customers be proud to frequent your business and refer you to their family members and friends.

The most admired entrepreneurs are always refining their customer experience to grow their business.

Now it’s your turn… to be the leader of your customer experience

If delivering amazing service is important to the growth and security of a business, why do some entrepreneurs struggle to improve it or give it the attention it deserves?

Don’t be one of the ones who doesn’t prioritize the way customers experience your company. As an entrepreneur and leader, you must be the flag-bearer of your customer experience.

Look to people like Richard Branson of Virgin, Zappos’ Tony Hsieh, and Jamie Clarke from Live Out There for inspiration. They’re all visible leaders of their customer experience—and they ensure the approval of the budgets and resources necessary to grow the business.

I’m not asking you to do the work entirely on your own; rather, I’m suggesting that you take the lead as the person who spearheads change within your organization and act as the visible advocate of improving the customer experience to grow the business.

And don’t forget… You’ve got a resource in me.

Open up to me if you’d like. Let me know what you are struggling with regarding your customer and employee loyalty.

What challenges are you faced with?

What do you need to change the status quo?

Leave a comment below and I promise to respond to every single one of them.

And when you’re done, be sure to download my FREE ebook by using the form below to learn 28 actionable strategies to improve the relationships you have with your customers and employees.

Thanks for reading this far. I wish you the best of success with your customer experience.

How LinkedIn’s CEO Leveraged Feedback to Improve Their User Experience

When was the last time your customers gave you feedback and you leveraged that to create change?

If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you have a LinkedIn account. After all, not having a LinkedIn profile today is like not having a resume in 1999.

In my opinion, LinkedIn has opportunities to improve their user experience. Today, we began to see that change.

While watching TV, and scrolling through Twitter, I noticed the following conversation between @MikeIsaac, a New York Times tech report, and @JeffWeiner, LinkedIn’s CEO.

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Here was Jeff’s response.

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Mike responded with a small jab.

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Jeff responded with flattery.

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Personally, I receive 5 to 10 LinkedIn requests every day, which doesn’t really bother me. Perhaps Mike’s connection requests have reached a point where each email is a small paper cut that ruins LinkedIn’s user experience for him.

Clearly LinkedIn’s user experience team are paying close attention to user behaviour and leveraging their feedback to create change that will improve the user experience.

Whether you are a small business, or a tech company valued at billions of dollars with hundreds of millions of users, you should be asking for customer feedback and using it to improve your customer’s experience.

So what can you learn from this short Twitter interaction?

Ask for feedback and use it to create change

As a consultant and keynote speaker, I tell companies not to survey their customers if they aren’t going to use it to “continue the good and reduce the bad.” Surveying customers does take resources to do effectively. If you are going to use these resources, then you must leverage the resulting data to improve your business.

I’m not certain how LinkedIn monitors user feedback (I’ve sent them some emails to find out), but they are monitoring it. Not only that, but they are using this as a gift, returning the favour to their users by creating a better experience for them. After all, if the users aren’t happy, then the platform is vulnerable to competitors.

The CEO should have an intimate understanding of customer feedback

Clearly the CEO of LinkedIn is hyper-connected to his user experience team and is made aware of user feedback on a regular basis. When a CEO is this engaged, they become the flag bearer of their customer experience and give their team the green light to create positive change. I can’t begin to tell you how reassuring this is for employees when they see that their CEO is engaged in their customer experience.

This could be part of the reason why Jeff was voted the most beloved CEO in America by Glassdoor. My recommendation to CEOs is to follow Jeff’s lead by having a close relationship with the team that gathers customer feedback, meeting with them on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

RELATED: 4 Non-Negotiable Traits of Customer-Focused CEOs

Close the loop (in a public or private setting)

It doesn’t hurt that Jeff responded to Mike, someone with a massive social following, on Twitter so that the public can retweet and favourite their interaction. What this does, for me at least, is make LinkedIn a more admirable brand. It humanized a billion-dollar company by simply closing the loop online with a customer (though closing the loop offline is just as effective).

I’ve experienced this myself through a phone call a couple of years ago with Gregg Saretsky, the CEO of WestJet. Read the story on my agent’s website by clicking here.

What I’m hearing from entrepreneurs around the world, when it comes to improving their company’s customer experience, is:

“What do we do next?”

You see, I believe that awareness of the importance of customer experience is increasing. We see its value. But now we need to know what to do next.

If we are isolating customer feedback, this is my advice.

If you are going to ask for customer feedback, don’t put all your energy into determining what software you are going to buy; that is only a spoke in the wheel. Your organization must be prepared to create change by using your feedback to create greater customer loyalty.

Just like LinkedIn has done here.

Have you downloaded my free ebook yet? Learn 28 customer and employee experience strategies that will help you become a world-class company. You can download it by filling in the form directly below this post.

The One Goal Your Business Is Missing to Achieve Customer Loyalty

Every business, regardless of size or industry, has goals (or service-level agreements) to achieve success.

For a sales-centric organizations, perhaps it’s revenue targets.

For marketing-focused companies it might be lead generation through their online campaigns.

But what is it for customer-centric organizations?

You know what organizations I’m talking about. These are the companies that fight tooth and nail for customer loyalty. They are also the ones that invest resources into improving their customer experience, year over year, and don’t see their efforts as a mere campaign.

So what is the one goal that customer-centric organizations pursue to achieve success?

It’s not a higher NPS score.

It’s not organic growth.

The one goal your business is missing to achieve customer loyalty is a complaint resolution service-level agreement.

In this report, Fred Reichheld and Phil Schefter stated:

We showed that in industry after industry, the high cost of acquiring customers renders many customer relationships unprofitable during their early years. Only in later years, when the cost of serving loyal customers falls and the volume of their purchases rises, do relationships generate big returns. The bottom line: Increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%.

While on a speaking tour this year, I traveled to North Carolina to work with a billion dollar insurance company. The executive team had taken time to read my ebook prior to the event and, while we were all getting to know each other before the event, the COO of the company told me that the number one thing that motivated him within the pages of my ebook was the following statement:

All complaints, across all channels, must be resolved within one business day to achieve genuine customer loyalty.

This may sound like witchcraft, or an unattainable dream, for some companies because they feel they don’t have the workforce to achieve it. For others, they will cry,

“We don’t have the budget!”

Of course you have the budget; you are just spending that money on customer acquisition strategies and neglecting customer retention. In my career as a consultant, I’ve seen it time and time again. We mindlessly run to invest in traditional marketing, sales, and business development strategies to grow, yet we are perplexed by why customers are not renewing contracts, referring their family and friends, or talking about us on Twitter.

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

For those that feel that they don’t have the workforce, nor the budget, to do so, here’s a crazy idea. Ready for it?

Reallocate a modest portion of your marketing budget and hire the team you need to respond to all complaints, across all channels, in one business day. It doesn’t sound so crazy now, does it?

For small businesses, doing this may only require one part-time resolution specialist. For medium or large-sized businesses, you may need a more robust team, depending on how many detractors your organization has.

However, is a service-level agreement enough?

No.

We can’t just have someone put out fires. You wouldn’t send someone into battle without ammunition would you? This complaint resolution specialist must also have a reimbursement budget to appease complaining customers who have justified complaints, as well as the authority to make decisions without checking in with the boss or management.

As I prepare for a keynote I’m hosting in Cincinnati, where I will be talking about customer acquisition and customer retention, I believe the greatest gift we can give our business is to find a balance between diligently investing in customer acquisition strategies and passively focusing on customer retention.

Does your company have a complaint resolution service-level agreement?

Have you downloaded my free ebook yet? Learn 28 customer and employee experience strategies that will help you become a world-class company. You can download it by filling in the form directly below this post.

3 Pro Tips for Using Twitter Ads Without Hurting Your Customer Experience

Do you still get upset when you see an in-stream ad on Twitter?

On Tuesday, I was glued to my TV watching Game 6 of the NBA Finals. The outcome of the game didn’t matter much to me; I just wanted to watch some great basketball. For those of you who watched, I’m sure you would agree that it was a good game.

However, it wasn’t the game that captured my attention, but rather a Twitter ad from the Golden State Warriors (@warriors) that got me thinking about Twitter ads, social commerce, and user experience.

After the game was over, the trophies were awarded and the Golden State Warriors received their championship hats. I took this opportunity to go on Twitter and see what the reaction was from NBA fans. After scrolling through my feed, I came across this ad:

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I thought this was the perfect display of how to properly leverage social ads, and a great example of why I’m bullish on Twitter ads specifically. I’m excited about the possibilities that these ads represent for three reasons.

Timeliness
There were Golden State Warrior fans around the world that were in a euphoric state after the win, and who would gladly pay $40 to be a part of this (often) once-in-a-lifetime moment. Clearly, the Warriors’ social team was on top of their game and not just popping champagne after this huge victory for their franchise. This must have been planned in advance by their social team, in the likelihood that they would win the championship on this night.

For the company that’s wanting to advertise, creating a Twitter ad takes a fraction of the time that it would take to create in-store advertisements, like posters or display ads, to promote the same hat. Plus, let’s be honest, who goes cruising through the mall to purchase these types of items anymore? I haven’t done that since I was 15 years old. Don’t just take it from me: read this Business Insider post, which outlines how traffic to shopping malls across North America is declining.

Immediacy
Could Warriors fans have waited until the next day, when the team store opened, and purchased the hat in-person? Probably. Could I have bought it in a couple of weeks for a cheaper price? Most likely.

We know that social media breaks news, around the world, at an increasingly fast pace, giving us the ability to acquire information immediately (and much faster than traditional news networks). Commerce is no different. I have personally recognized that, when I want a service or good, I want to make the purchase now, not tomorrow. And, to do so, I will pay a premium for it. Twitter ads provide this immediacy that so many people desire.

I recognize that Warriors fans could buy the hat in-person and actually receive the hat faster, since those who purchased through the Twitter ad will have to wait for delivery, but, for me, securing the purchase is enough to satisfy my desires while giving me peace of mind that the item is on the way.

Effortlessness
Above all, it was the effortlessness of buying through the Twitter ad that makes purchasing through social media make sense for me and why I don’t mind in-stream ads.

After clicking the first buy button, this is what I experienced:

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Two clicks and, after entering my credit card information, I was done. It was painless.

Within 3 minutes, I had made the purchase. It would take me much longer than that to get into my car, drive to the nearest retailer, and buy the same hat, not to mention finding parking, speaking to an employee, and then returning home. That entire experience could take me 45 minutes to an hour. For me, as a consumer, you will earn my wallet if you provide an effortless customer experience, even if you charge more.

I think it’s unjust when people complain about ads on Twitter, or any social platform for that matter. These companies, at the end of the day, are a business; of course they are going to advertise at some point! We experienced Twitter ad-free for years, enjoying everything about the platform rent-free. So let’s stop complaining when we see an ad. Personally, I love Twitter and I want it to survive. Seeing the occasional ad is a small price to pay for continued access to the service.

A disclaimer, though, for companies thinking of advertising through Twitter: please do it right. Last year, I saw an ad for a medium-sized business, which promoted on Twitter that it was celebrating its 25th anniversary. That’s great. Congratulations! Surviving for 25 years is difficult in any industry. However, this type of ad doesn’t do anything for me as the consumer. It doesn’t enrich my life. It doesn’t get the company’s product into my hands to enjoy. If this ad I saw followed the Golden State Warriors model and promoted their success while providing me with a $25 discount, and I genuinely needed their service, I would most likely have purchased or retweeted it.

Twitter ads don’t suck; we just suck at creating them, which I think is a MASSIVE opportunity for Twitter. They have the opportunity to teach businesses how to properly use their ads platform through tutorials, videos, case studies (i.e. dos and don’ts), and by being willing to say no to crappy ads.

Is your company using Twitter ads within your marketing mix? If not, do you plan on pursuing them in the near future?

If you liked what you read, follow me on Twitter.

Featured image credit: Simon Owens

3 Reasons Why Customer Experience Fails

Customer experience is like the pretty woman at the party. The idea of speaking with her sounds amazing, but what’s the best way to approach her?

As a consultant and keynote speaker, I’ve seen first-hand that organizations want to better their customer experience and design a strategy that will support this improvement, which makes me optimistic for the future. However, having good intentions doesn’t always translate to successful deployment of these initiatives.

On a flight home from Philadelphia, earlier this year, my inbox flooded with emails from people in the audience motivated to better their customer experience. This got me thinking:

Why is it that some companies’ customer experience intentions will succeed, while others will fail?”

I believe there are three key reasons why customer experience fails at a company.

There is No Executive Sponsor

A customer experience program that succeeds always has an executive sponsor, a senior-ranking executive that is the champion of the program. She has the authority, budget and motivation to make this program a success and will stop at nothing to have the initiative become an integral part of the company.

Personally, I won’t work with a client on a consulting engagement if it doesn’t have an executive sponsor, because we will face inevitable barriers that can only be overcome by someone with signing authority. When an internal battle for budget and resources ensues during strategic planning meetings, customer experience needs to have a flag bearer that will fight tooth and nail for its attention.

Does your company’s customer experience have an executive sponsor? Tweet at me to let me know.

There is a Lack of Education

Part of the motivation behind building Experience Academy, the online customer experience learning platform that my team and I created, was because we felt there was a HUGE gap in where professionals go to obtain education on customer experience. After all, business schools around the world are doing such a poor job at teaching this to aspiring business leaders, and rarely even include it in the curriculum.

If your company needed to improve its approach to digital marketing, there are a plethora of education options which you can pursue to help develop a successful program. You can often rely on this education to give you a step-by-step strategy to follow and provide direction. With customer experience, most companies are still trying to answer the primary questions such as:

  • What is customer experience management?
  • Where do we start?
  • How do we measure success?

Where does your company go to further its customer experience education? Share your thoughts with me on Twitter; I would love to know.

It’s a Rallying Point with No Strategy

If I was to hire anyone to improve an organization’s customer experience, Annette Franz would be on my shortlist. Last year, she wrote a post titled ‘Customer Service or Lip Service?‘ that depicts this point very well. Most companies splash their walls with motivational quotes or create shameless taglines that say, “Providing world-class customer service since 1981.”

For them, say this makes them feel customer-focused, when both you and I know that it’s merely lip service.

During my latest keynote speech, I opened the keynote to a group of 300 CEOs by asking the audience two questions:

  • “Please stand if your company created a marketing plan for 2015.” At this prompt, around two-thirds of the room stood up.
  • “Stay standing if your company also created a customer experience plan for 2015.” Sadly, only one person remained standing.

Note: You can watch the full-length keynote engagement here.

You see, we spend so much time and effort building strategies for things that we are familiar with, such as marketing, and neglect that customer experience needs the same strategic approach to be successful. Imagine if your CMO or Director of Marketing told your CEO that he was going to approach marketing in the same way that most companies currently approach customer experience. Needless to say, he would be fired.

When your company released their quarterly or yearly strategic plan, did it include initiatives that will improve the customer experience? Hit me up on Twitter and let me know with a simple yes or no.

I’ve worked with small companies, and I’ve worked with large companies, ranging in industries from automotive to finance, and hospitality to transportation. The three traits I mentioned are relevant to all industries. To succeed you must have an executive sponsor, the proper education, and a strategic plan.

As the end of Q2 approaches, what is your company doing to ensure that customer experience is given the attention it deserves to succeed?

Have you downloaded my FREE ebook yet? Fill out the form below to instantly get a download of 28 Traits of Customer Experience Titans and learn how to better your company’s customer experience strategy. 

Why Customer Service Employees Must Play Both Defense and Offense

Does your company consider customer service, with all that it entails, a cost centre?

If your call centre or customer service team is costing you money, you’re doing it wrong!

If you’re doing it right, then your call centre or customer service employees should be earning you a profit. A couple of weeks ago, I told you about KLM Airlines and how their social media customer service team earns the company $25 million annually. If you love profitable revenue, like I do, then this should grab your attention.

Defensive Customer Service

Most people equate customer service to the “please” and “thank yous” of a business, as in,

“If you’re nice to your customers, then they will return.”

I didn’t make customer experience management my career because I’m friendly. I made it my career and passion because, if done right, it will grow businesses massively. THAT is what gets me out of bed in the morning.

So, how do you play defense in customer service? It’s actually quite easy: you limit the amount of talking you actually do.

After your customer service agent greets a customer, an offensive tactic, you ask them to step back and actively listen to the customer. Now, listening is easy; it’s what they retain that is important. After saying hello to your customer, your employee should understand a few things about them:

  • The customer’s personality type. Which one of the three are they? Watch a short video here to learn more about these personality types.
  • Why is the customer here today? This will help employees understand their needs or desires.
  • What needs to be done today to make the customer satisfied?
  • When does the customer need this need fulfilled?

To be able to successfully accomplish the 3Ws, you must train your agents on active listening. What I have suggested here isn’t ground breaking, and you may even be doing it today. Here’s the challenge: how do you get your customer service agents to go from digesting theoretical knowledge to effectively putting that knowledge into practice?

There are a few things you can do. One example is to run a mystery shopping program, or develop quality assurance programs. While these things work well, they do cost money, and if you’ve ever worked with me before you know that I like to find cost-effective ways to do things before choosing to spend money.

To be able to play defense successfully, your employees must understand why they must follow these steps to make the customer interaction successful. Learning about your customers pain points or desires before you try to sell, or whatever action will proceed the initial greeting, is vitally important to delivering a successful customer experience.

Allow me to use a real life example.

Before my fiancée, Kate, and I went on our first date together, five years ago, we spent countless hours talking on the phone, on Skype, and exchanging Whatsapp messages. During these conversations, I actively listened to what she had to say and remembered every single subtle detail. What did she like to eat? What did she want in life? What made her laugh? What made her angry? Knowing this information helped us have an engaging conversation on our first date. Fast forward, five years later, and we are happily engaged with two dogs and a nice home.

The interactions you have with your best friend, spouse, or customer are no different. At the end of the day, we are dealing with human behaviour. We are all human.

How well are your customer service agents playing defense?

Offensive Customer Service

Sales can be a dirty word. We try to avoid it at all costs but, at the end of the day, I need it, you need it, and we all need it.

If you’ve played defense well, then you will have put yourself in a better offensive position to sell to your customers, based off of their needs and not the company’s desires. After you have identified the customer’s personality type, and understood the 3Ws, you are now on offense. You have the opportunity to take the customer by the hand (not literally) and find them a solution. Most people think this time is reserved for selling, but your first duty is always to establish a connection with the customer and get them to like you.

To build trust with the customer, you must play to their personality type. For example, if a Donald Trump-like customer, with a Director style personality, approached me as a retail employee, I would immediately limit the chit-chat and say,

“I know exactly what you are looking for. Follow me…” Getting down to business matters to this customer, possibly more than anything. This is an example of being on offense, where you take charge of the situation and lead the interaction.

On the flip side, let’s say an Ellen Degeneres-like customer was my next customer. After pinpointing her personality type, and understanding the 3Ws, I would take a different approach. I would relax my shoulders and recognize this conversation is going to be different, in that I have more time to build rapport with them. I’m going to look for something to have an off-topic conversation about and build that rapport. Perhaps she is wearing a watch or necklace that your Mother also has. Pay a subtle compliment to it, while mentioning that your family member has the same one. That’s your offense move; watch it build an instant connection. From there, you will have the customer on your side and develop customer trust. Throughout the conversation with your customers, regardless of personality type, you will need to switch from offense to defense regularly, like you would in a tennis match.

RELATEDBuild Trust and Sell Your Customers Anything

I just gave you two examples that you can use to train your retail customer service team members. Many of the same examples can also be used within your contact centre. Remember, I know this stuff because I used to be there, having worked within a call centre for a couple of years.

The most successful companies are able to reap the benefits of having an offense customer service strategy. One of which is Aritzia, a very popular North American women’s retail boutique that operates a profitable call centre. Rather than try to piece it together for you, why not bring someone into the conversation that achieved this success with Aritzia? For this post, I reached out to my friend, Greg Harrison, who is a Contact Centre Manager with Aritzia. He said:

“At Aritzia Customer Care, we focus on sales through service. Our goal has been to bring the amazing experience our clients have in our stores and implement it into our phone calls, chats and emails to create ongoing relationships with our clients. This is why all our Customer Care Associates are hired directly from our retail stores.

While most customers reach out to Aritzia Customer Care initially due to an issue that they had with either our product or experience, we have found that the relationship shouldn’t end once we solve their initial issue and that it is mutually beneficial to stay in contact with our clientele. We get to know the customer and ask for permission to let us reach out to them in the future if we come across items that would work with their current wardrobe/past purchases.

Our associates’ key performance indicators (KPIs) still include traditional service-based call centre metrics, such as handling time, abandon rate, etc. However, these service KPIs make up only 30% of their overall performance score. The remainder of the score is mixed with 50% sales performance and 20% Customer Satisfaction and Inquiry Quality, which gives us a 50/50 blend of sales versus service goals. This way, a sale never trumps service when speaking to customers and pushes us to only sell through giving quality service.

By focusing on Sales through Service, we have grown the Aritzia Contact Centre from a cost centre into a profit centre within 3 years of our inception.”

It might be your organization’s beliefs, or past experiences, that are causing you to think that customer service costs a lot of money. In reality, if done right, it should provide a large return for your company. I’m very happy to see companies and business leaders beginning to see the connection between customer experience and profitability. After understanding this, the next challenge is answering the question,

“What do we do next?”

Follow me on Twitter at @michelfalcon and let me know what you plan to do next.