February 2016
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Joseph's Blog

Soliciting and Using Customer Feedback: Learning Without Annoying

Maybe it is an occupational hazard, but every time I receive service I make two rather important decisions:

  1. Does this company know how to “care for” my presenting need?
  2. Does this company “care about” meeting those needs?


I carry that evaluation process through every touch point with a brand including if/how they solicit feedback from me about their service delivery.

As someone who consults with companies on how to effectively listen and act on the feedback provided by customers, I thought it might be helpful to share a few best practices (which clearly many brands who attempt to engage me simply don’t utilize):

  1. Customer listening should be in the best interest of the customer, not the brand.  Ask questions that show the customer you want to serve them better not that you are asking them to help you build a business that will make you more profitable.
  2. Grab my pulse and respect my time.  Ask as few questions as possible. When customers take a portion of their precious time to offer their input, that time should be honored.  Get to the heart of the matter quickly.
  3. When in doubt ask the big 4. The four areas central to evaluating customer experience are: Listening, Service Accuracy, Ease, and Perceived Care.  To access these one can simply ask customers the degree to which they felt that their people “understood, got it right, cared and made it easy”.
  4. If it’s not something you can or will fix – don’t ask. Don’t ask if your parking lot is big enough, unless you are willing to invest in more parking space.  Generally customers want to know that you will turn their feedback into action which improves their life or the lives of other customers.
  5. Seek both the quantitative and the qualitative.  I love to ask customers yes or no questions or better yet questions that can be answered on a Likert scale (e.g on a scale of 1 to 10 how likely are you to recommend us to a friend or family member) but it is also important to provide open ended questions as well (e.g. How would you describe us to a friend?)


A few good questions which provide actionable quantitative and qualitative data are a springboard for immediately responding to the needs of individual customers, improving broken processes (which will improve the experiences for large groups of customers), and innovating breakthrough products and services.  In a future blog, we can talk about when and how to ask but for now if you’re not seeking for feedback this template should get you started.  For the rest of us, we might want to look through our customer surveys to assure, that we are asking about things that are “fixable” in as efficient and relevant a manner as possible.

Effectively Listening to Customers: Learning Without Annoying {Infographic}

Customer Listening

If you aren’t accountable to your customer…


Trembling: Being Accountable to the Customer

There’s accountability and there’s ACCOUNTABILITY. Try this one on for size…

Would you be willing to be held to a standard (which I refer to as the “tremble effect”) when it comes to the quality and consistency of experiences you and your team provide to your customers?

The “tremble effect” seems an apt description of something that a former AT & T Chariman C. Michael Armstrong purportedly described as follows:

The ancient Romans had a tradition: whenever one of their engineers constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible: he stood under the arch.”

While I am not sure there is an actual historical record that supports this, Chairman Armstrong’s assertion evokes images of trembling architects awaiting the ultimate proof of their competency. It also has a morbid Darwinian flair whereby only the best architects survived.

While far less harsh, the world of customer experience performance management has certainly taken a turn in the direction of increased accountability!

Healthcare, for example, used to operate somewhat like the lead character from the long-running television series “House.” That character, Dr. Gregory House, played by Hugh Laurie, offered negative and, at times, awful patient experiences while delivering his product – extraordinary diagnostic skills and amazing clinical outcomes. In recent years, value-based purchasing in healthcare has linked reimbursement levels for providers with the ratings about how patients feel they are treated. The Dr. House’s of the world are less tolerated in healthcare today!

So let’s assume you want to drive increased customer accountability in your business. Where do you start?

Let me offer some insights born from my work with leaders at Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA). In my recent book, Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way, I detail how Mercedes-Benz developed tools for acquiring customer feedback and how they used that feedback to compensate dealers, based on the way customers felt they were treated at a given dealership. In lieu of the in-depth exploration provided in the book, I thought it might be helpful to simply offer the “must have” ingredients for effective customer experience accountability:

  • Map your customer journey and identify the important contact points from your customers’ perspective.
  • Identify the optimal times and methods to solicit feedback from your customers.
  • Ask your customers about their satisfaction with how your team served them at those important contact points. Also inquire about your customers’ perception of their relationship with your people and brand (e.g. net promoter score, customer effort assessment, and likelihood to repurchase).
  • Look for correlations between the input of your customers and your key performance indicators.
  • Extrapolate real-time data from the customer feedback which drives KPI’s (e.g. a Customer Experience Index) and present it in a dashboard that is easily understood and actionable by your team.
  • Respond quickly to individual customer needs and look for trends that suggest areas where processes must be improved.
  • Set up a compensation/reward/recognition program for high performers on important customer experience metrics. Offer development tools for those who can improve their experience delivery. Encourage team members to explore other career opportunities or other employers if they consistently “don’t or won’t” delight your customers.
  • Share “wow” stories and customer service breakdown stories throughout your organization to personalize the customer feedback you receive.

If you execute on these 8 steps (not that I am saying they are easy), I suspect you won’t be “trembling” under the weight of customer perceptions. Rather you will be the brand that people call “world-class” and be a company that I will be talking about from a keynote stage for audiences around the world!

Leaving a Leadership Legacy {Infographic}

Leaving a Leadership Legacy Infographic

Leaving a Leadership Legacy

Whenever I consider offering customer experience consulting services for a prospective business client, I interview senior leadership and ask a lot of questions that get at motivation and their perceived purpose for the potential partnership.

Early in my career I was so excited “to be considered for work” that I didn’t understand the importance of due diligence when connecting your brand with someone else’s business.  In the context of my “goodness of fit” interview, I now ask questions like:

How do you wish to significantly impact the life of your people and customers?

How do you define corporate culture?

How do you see culture playing into your business objectives?

How will you define employee engagement and customer experience success?

And most importantly….

What do you want your legacy to be?

Long before I asked these questions of the CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) Steve Cannon, he had publically declared that his leadership legacy would be the transformation of MBUSA from a product-centric culture to one that was customer-obsessed.

Given that Mercedes-Benz USA is well down the road on this transformation journey (the details of which can be found in my recently released book Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way) I thought I would share some insights on how to craft and leave your desired legacy…

Be Audacious/Dream Big — Small dreams cast small shadows.  Spend time thinking about what you want to accomplish at the end of your career –  for what you will want to be known. Leadership guru John Maxwell has said that people will remember our leadership impact “in one sentence, so write it now.”  If you don’t design your career to deliver your desired impact, you will likely wobble about and leave an unintended legacy instead.

Declare It –  Once you have your leadership destination in mind, make it public.  You can publish it to a close confident, a circle of trusted leaders, or in Steve Cannon’s case, in Automotive News and every stakeholder forum where it was relevant.  Often people don’t make public declarations because they don’t want to be held accountable.  The very fact that we share a commitment out loud increases the probability that we will act in accord with that declaration even when no one is looking.

Target and Track –  Since you will have spent the time considering your desired leadership legacy and will tell someone else you want to achieve that outcome, why not set short, mid-, and long term targets?  How else will you know if you are making the progress you desire?  For Steve Cannon, his proof would come through his observation of his team, customer feedback, internal metrics, and outside agencies who evaluated and benchmarked the Mercedes-Benz USA customer experience against competitors.

Partner – Develop at least one accountability partner and schedule times to assess progress with them.  Think of weight loss and how Weight Watchers schedules weekly weigh-in’s as a regular accountability opportunity.  If weight loss is not occurring, a course correction can occur.  If success is being achieved, those victories can be celebrated.

Be Coachable – Since you will have a partner, listen to that person as he or she helps you maximize your impact.  Actively seek the guidance of others who are experts in the area you wish to master.  For example, I sought coaching from the founder of the modern day Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company when aspects of my desired legacy required an elevated sense of what it takes to deliver exacting customer service excellence.

Mentor  In the Bible, gospel writer Luke shares, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.”  If one is given the opportunity to lead others, it seems reasonable that such an opportunity should come with the requirement to give back or pay it forward.  When it comes to a lasting legacy, it can only be achieved by developing customer-focused leaders who in turn develop customer-focused leaders.

I have been privileged to work with so many servant leaders who make substantial and lasting impact on their companies, people, and customers.  Steve Cannon and his team at Mercedes-Benz USA are great examples of the elements outlined above.

To learn more, I hope you will check out Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way.

In any case, I trust your thoughtful efforts will afford a legacy in keeping with Thoreau’s insightful observation…

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams

and endeavors to live the life he has imagined,

he will meet with success unimagined in common hours.

Who are Millennials? {Infographic}


The SDI’s of Millennials

In the 1950’s, a number of ministers and politicians railed against the “evils of rock and roll” and implied that the youth of the day were adversely affected by the insidious nature of the music. Despite that music, most of us who lived through the 1950’s and 60’s did so without too much lasting damage.

I suspect that every generation looks askance at the one that follows them. Just as women seem perpetually mystified by men and men by women, so too do we become befuddled by the wants, needs, desires, and motivation of younger generations.

Recently, I was talking to a CEO (who shall remain nameless) who opined “Millennials are Strange, Disloyal, and Indulged.” Since those words don’t seem to fit the Millennials that I have raised (nor the ones with whom I have become acquainted both personally and professionally), I’ve set out to use the letters that started his descriptors to define Millennials differently. My S, D, and I words are: SKEPTICAL, DISCERNING, and INFORMED.

Millennials certainly have every right to be SKEPTICAL. They watched many of their parents errantly believe politicians, advertisers, and the media – only to find that some of those messengers strayed from the truth or at least “spun” it. Millennials are native to the “new media” where events are documented in real time by people like themselves who offer eyewitness accounts on Twitter. They look to reviews of peers, not to hype from marketers.

Millennials are DISCERNING. From an early age they have been besieged by choices. They have had to learn to manage options, information overload and make quick decisions on where they will dedicate their energy and attention.

Millennials are INFORMED. As a youth, if I wanted to learn more about a subject I had to be near my encyclopedia or a library. Today, knowledge lives at the tips of our fingers.

In addition to my S, D and I view of Millennials, research shows they are EXPERIENCE SEEKERS. According to the Boston Consulting Group, 72% of Millennials report that they prefer EXPERIENCES over products.

Since I’ve dedicated my career to researching, writing, consulting, and doing PRESENTATIONS about creating engaging experiences, lets list off the types of experiences Millennials desire.

In future blogs, I will dive deeper into the specifics of optimal experiences but at a high level, Millennials want experiences that:

  • Honor their time
  • Engage them socially
  • Increase their knowledge
  • Leverage technology
  • Demonstrate transparency
  • Give them a story to tell 

As noted in my latest book Driven to Delight, Millennials are transforming and will continue to shape the marketplace. It is time for older generations to stop judging them and instead start listening to their needs while celebrating their fabulous gifts and talents.

Most importantly, it is time to craft experiences that engage Millennials and earn their loyalty!

How to WOW Customers Without Spending an Extra Dime {Infographic}

Not a Dime

Memorable WOW Experience Held Together by Coffee Stir Sticks

It’s an occupational hazard of keynoting, consulting, and writing about customer service that my friends and family feel compelled to share all of their customer service nightmare stories. I’m really not complaining. I merely mention this as a set-up to a story shared with me by my son.

Before I get too far into my son’s story I have to offer a spoiler alert. This actually is a positive customer experience story AND it offers some important lessons for all of us seeking to drive customer loyalty.

Last week my son got married (which is very odd since I remember bringing him home from the hospital and certainly that couldn’t have been that long ago). Back to the story…

Within 24 hours of my son’s wedding in Colorado, he and his bride hopped onto a plane to return to Chicago. They were traveling on Southwest Airlines on what is purportedly the “busiest travel day of the year.”

At the gate prior to boarding, my son and his wife attempted to pay for a boarding upgrade. For those who don’t travel on Southwest, boarding is primarily based on your check-in time and seats are first come first serve. In essence those who board in the A group have more seat choices than those who board in the B or worse yet — the C group.

As my daughter-in-law approached the gate agent to buy an upgrade, she showed the agent her boarding card in the 41st position of the C group and noted that she hoped to sit with her newly-wedded husband. Unfortunately, no boarding upgrades were available for purchase. Resigning themselves to be separated in middle seats for the duration of the flight, the couple prepared to board with their designated group.

This is where the people of Southwest shined. The boarding agent called my son and daughter-in-law up to board with families needing assistance (prior to the B boarding group) enabling the young couple to sit together. Toward the end of the trip, the flight attendants announced the newlyweds over the loud speaker, and adorned them with crowns made of peanut bags attached by coffee stir sticks (the bride also had a toilet paper veil).


In relating the story, my son noted “we felt like royalty and it wasn’t about whether we had the money to be frequent flyers with Southwest, they did it because they were caring people who put themselves in our place.”

Setting aside that this happened to members of my family, let’s look at 5 quick lessons all of us can take from this memorable customer experience…

  • Great service is about empathy – It involves putting yourself in the position of your customers
  • Being kind is the most inexpensive way to consistently create memorable experiences. (Southwest gives away peanuts anyway – so there was no added cost for the crowns.)
  • People will remember and talk about you when you practice small acts of caring. (When my son posted this story on his Facebook page he had as many likes for the story as he did for their wedding pictures.)
  • Positive experiences and fun drive strong emotional connections. (Southwest is known for empowering their people to be playfully themselves.)
  • Every customer deserves to be treated like a “king” or “queen” whether those people can spend like one or not!

Are you customers sharing stories about you like the one I just shared about Southwest? If not you might want to make a crown out of coffee stir sticks and peanut bags…