"Customer amazement is within the grasp of every company"

Kristina Eventov
September 7, 2021

Customer experience expert Shep Hyken shares his top tips for creating processes that keep your customers coming back again and again.

Shep Hyken is a customer service and experience expert and a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author. Shep works with companies and organizations that want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. His articles have been read in hundreds of publications, and he’s the author of 8 books, including his newest book I’ll Be Back: How to Get Customers to Come Back Again and Again (released September 21, 2021). Shep is also the creator of The Customer Focus™, a customer service training program that helps clients develop a customer service culture and loyalty mindset.


In the interview, Shep shares insights on creating a great customer experience and the difference between loyal customers and repeat customers, and actionable tips to keep your customers coming back again and again.

Prefer watching? Check out the interview on YouTube!

We are here with Shep Hyken, customer service guru and best-selling New York Times and Wall Street Journal author. We're gonna get some good questions out today. So Shep I wanna jump right in though because I actually think– I want to say I've actually seen you speak before because I knew your name, and then I was easily able to make that connection to him. Like oh yeah, Shep's a St. Louis guy. The thing is, is I don't know where which is kind of crazy, but I know that I've seen you speak someplace before.

I love that.

So this is actually really really cool for me. But enough about me. So the first thing I want to jump on real quick – obviously, you know, we're a virtual first company. Our clients are also virtual first right too. So in the last two years, especially since the pandemic started, lots and lots of companies are moving to virtual models – virtual selling models – more so than ever, right? So, how do you think the best companies out there are delivering the same amazing customer experience that you've been preaching about forever, in a virtual way?

Sure. So I think customers are more and more accepting of virtual platforms. You mentioned sales – I focus primarily on customer service and experience, and sales can be kind of tied into that, because when customers have questions, when they're doing their research, to me that's all part of the service and sales experience. Customer service is not like a problem, I need help. Customer service is the experience they have along the way. So I'd love to share with you some stats and facts that I think are very telling, very important. We recently surveyed over a thousand consumers –basically weighted to the U.S. census of age, gender, geography, ethnicity, and even income – and while today, 59% would prefer to talk to a company or a live person, okay? 41% choose to go digital first, before they make that call, which is pretty darn interesting. Some companies mistakenly think that they can go 100% digital, and that's only going to cause frustration at some point. So another stat that I found which was really good is that, the consumer thinks that 67% will use self-service tools and it gives them control – and this is what customers like. They love to control their experience, whether it's sales or service. The idea of giving them control is their ability to do research about the product, product comparisons, perhaps even to a competitor, even looking at reviews and ratings. Anything they can to help support the confidence that they make in their decision.

Got it, okay. So yeah, you touched on this a little bit I guess. So basically, there are some people out there who are looking– they're enjoying things like automation for basic interactions and that sort of thing, but at the end of the day a majority still prefer at least, you know, some kind of direct interaction.

Yep, exactly. And here's the thing, if you're going to go the digital route, totally fine. If you want to go digital first and that's your mission? Then you need to create a seamless way to a human when the customer needs it and wants it. And by the way, in the perfect world, if they seamlessly move to the human regardless of what channel they're in, the agent / the support person / the salesperson should be able to pick up the conversation in flow, as opposed to going back to the beginning and saying "No, no, what is it that you originally wanted?" You know, that's a little frustrating to the customer.

Absolutely.

How it's handled is really important.

So that's something we were talking about as a team, I think it was late last week, we were talking about one of the most annoying things is as you move through, you know in our case the sales process, but it works in the same sense on onboarding a customer too, right? People don't want to have to consistently repeat themselves over and over again, and it can really make for a bad transition or onboarding scenario for a client when they have to constantly repeat relevant information.

So, everybody in the support world, let's just go there, they measure you know how many transfers, average handle time, there's so many different measurements that we have in that world. One of the measurements that I don't see very often, if ever, is how many times do customers have to repeat their story, okay? Getting transferred doesn't necessarily mean having to repeat your story. If I'm focused on a digital experience in my purchasing experience and then I have to move to talk to a sales person and that sales person say "Hey, now tell me who you are. Jake? Great. Last name? You know, I noticed that you've bought from us before and you were just on our site looking at these water bottles. Is that what you're calling me about?" What are you going to say? "Yeah, wow! That's pretty cool you know that."

Absolutely. So that's an interesting point too. So do you think that,  even though this technology has come a long way, people are working hard to make those experiences better, do you think that the default is still people expect kind of bad virtual experiences and they expect to have to repeat themselves?

No. I think, well, they've become very accustomed to it. And I mean, thanks to Amazon we know how to do a virtual experience really really well, we know how to research a product, okay? Thanks to the airlines, we know that going online and booking our flight is a whole lot better than having to call a reservationist, wait on hold, talk to somebody, when I know that I can book a flight in under a minute to two minutes – and I don't have to pick up the phone to do it. I know it's a lot easier to go online, and check in, and get my boarding pass on my mobile device – it used to be print it out and bring it – than it is to go to the airport and wait in line and talk to somebody. So we are being trained by amazing companies on how to go digital first. So, I think that that's a great thing. I don't think that consumers, customers, are scared to go digital first. They want a good experience, they hope for a good experience, they're used to good experiences. So, let's figure out a way to deliver a good experience.

Yeah, okay. Good point. Good point. So you touched on this actually a little bit and you made me think of another great thing here. So, one of the things that Ciara does very very well, is it helps in the onboarding process. Now again, you know, we're a sales focused tool, right? But we try to make sure that there's a seamless transition for people who are adopting to our platform, and one of the key components people use it, is to train their their sales people more efficiently. What do you think is integral to that process between, "Okay, we've acquired this new customer, sales has finished this thing, now this customer is moving through the life cycle, now to our customer success team, customer service etc." How do you get a really smooth transition out of that, as a virtual team?

Well, as a virtual team, you used the right word and I'm glad you threw it in there – customer success. We want our customers to be successful with the products that we sell them, or the services that we sell them. And if one of the ways to do it, is to onboard them properly? What are the tools that you are using to onboard them with? Is it a human-human interaction? Which is perfectly great and fine and customers don't mind that. Is there a digital way to continue that digital experience? There's so many solutions out there, and yours may be one of them, where a customer goes through a process and through each step of the process you're – I'm going to use the word – 'quizzing' them along the way, to make sure that there's a level of acceptance and understanding of the content that you're providing them, and moving them through a flow that gets them to a point. Here's what your goal is in all of this: is to prevent them from having a call with a problem, right?

Sure.

Because that means our customer success onboarding process didn't work.

Right.

Now there's, you know it was Jeff Bezos many years ago that said, "We need to be so good that, you know, 'Why do we have a customer service department? We shouldn't have to have one for that, right?'"

Right.

And the answer to that is, well you may be that good but unfortunately, when you hand off the package to the post office, to UPS, to FedEx, or any other provider, if they fail, to the customer "Huh, my Amazon package didn't show up. Who am I going to?"

You're right. You're right, you're right.

So you know, there's lots of outside forces that would cause a customer to come to you and and request something that maybe is outside of the territory that you would normally cover. Anyway, I might be getting a little bit off the topic here, but that's what I believe – the onboarding process is a way to prevent problems happening down the road. Now, can I suggest that training is not something that you did, it's something that you do. I talk about this internally when you have people that you're training, but how about customer training as well? It is important to reinforce to your customers, you know, how to properly use their products. And if we can engage – the same way your company works for the sales process –, if we can engage in the support process by recognizing, "Is this customer using our our solution to their best ability?" and hey, AI should be able to pick up on that. So let's give them an advanced course. Let's give them the next piece of information they need to know to make their journey with whatever we sell even better.

Continuous reinforcement, I like that.

Not only continuous reinforcement but continuous education. Our software should be able to track the customer's capability and then know they're ready for the next step.

Okay, okay. Development Team, I hope you're listening to this because this is gold!

Yeah, I hope so. That's exactly what I'm thinking. You can give me a small percentage of your future sales based on this part of the product.

Absolutely. They're gonna see this and going to be like, "Yeah, he's right!" That's awesome. Okay, so that feels like a natural segue. So that continuous education, you know we're kind of putting the pieces together and I like that this is kind of centering around the onboarding process. So, effective onboarding and then continuing education keeps your client seeing the value in our software, in this case, sounds like a good segue to getting repeat customers, right?

I love repeat customers.

How do we keep our customers coming back and back...and back again?

Ah yeah, that's the title of my book, you know? The new book. Did you know that?

I did, I did. That's funny that you would say that, yeah.

Isn't that great? There it is, "I'll Be Back: How to Get Your Customers to Come Back Again and Again." So I'm very excited about the book. September 21 is the official release date. If you purchase it ahead of time, you can do it through Amazon or through our website– Here's the only reason I'm mentioning this, the website by the way is "illbebackbook.com", and there's no apostrophe in I'll because websites don't like that, right? So it looks like 'ill' bebackbook.com. But if you purchase it ahead of time, you get the ebook free, right away, so you can get your customers to start saying "I'll be back" before the book actually comes out. And if you buy it through Amazon, just shoot me an email or go to my website, and you can just say "Hey, I bought the book. How do I get the download?" Otherwise do it through our website, doesn't matter. Anyway, to your question about repeat business, that's what you asked about.

Yes, sir.

So, a repeat business is really important. What you need to focus on is 'the next time' every time. So, what is the experience the customer is having right now, that would get them to come back the next time? Are we creating that experience for them? Let's just use people to people because I call this 'the loyalty question.' A lot of times we're interacting with the customer, let's say they're not calling because they're upset, there's no complaint. However, they're calling with a question. Did we handle that question the right way? Did we make them wait on hold an inordinate amount of time? Did we wait three days to respond to their question if they emailed it to us? Or did we respond in less than an hour and they went, "Wow, that's pretty quick!"? The question you ask is, "What am I doing right now, with this interaction, that's going to make that customer want to come back to me the next time they need whatever it is that we sell?" So that's called, I call that, 'the loyalty question'. But, recognize loyalty doesn't happen the next time. It happens the next time, every time. So it may take a while for the customer to feel they have some level of connection with you. Loyalty is driven by an emotional connection, where repeat business is driven by an experienced connection. "I experience this today. I like it. I'm gonna go forward." By the way, 'like' is an emotion, but it's not the same as 'love'. I love doing business with them, and that doesn't mean they love you in the, what is it – the biblical sense? No. They love you in the sense that they trust you, and trust and confidence are emotions. So what we want to do is, create this experience where they know that every time they have a question, a problem, an issue, anything related to their experience – be it in the sales process, the service process, anything –, they're going to get the answers they want. They are confident. They know. And that's why they keep coming back. I just wrote about this, an article, I called it 'The Always Concept.' I've been talking about this 'always' word for so long. How do we get the customer to say, you know, "They're always so quick to get back to me. They're always quick to respond to me. They're always knowledgeable. Even when there's a problem, I know I can always count on them." And that word 'always' means there's predictability. Predictability is what creates confidence and trust, hence that emotional connection that your customers are having with you. That's why they love doing business with you, because if it's a good experience and they know what's going to happen all the time, they love that, right? So, by the way, that experience doesn't have to be over the top, blow me away, the most incredible experience I've ever had. It just has to simply meet expectations and exceed them even by the tiniest amount. Example: "You know what I love about that company? Every time I reach out to them, they always get back to me quickly." And in their mind, 'quickly' could be, you know, an hour or two hours compared to what they're used to, okay? But the point is, that's not over the top. That's just the basic expectation, and we deliver on those all the time? We're gonna get that connection. So, let's go back to your original question which is 'repeat business.' I love repeat business. We need to make sure we understand why our customers are coming back to us, and is that because they're simply a 'repeat customer' or are they a 'loyal customer'? Both are fine. Plenty of companies create great experiences that make the customers fall in love with them and create loyalty. Many companies create a marketing type of experience that makes customers just want to come back the next time. Let's go back to the airline example, you know where you're talking about the automation. If an airline that I use,– "Oh, why do I fly on that airline? Well I have a lot of miles on that airline, a lot of points, right?"

Right.

So that's why I choose it. I want to keep accumulating points with them, right? That makes me a repeat customer. They take away the points, and let's say all of a sudden across the board all airlines took away the points, am I still going to go with that airline or am I going to find another one, right? So I'm loyal to them because of the points. And that's marketing, that's not true loyalty. Again, nothing wrong with that. I've created a system that drives repeat business. Amazon has you pay – what is it – 129 dollars now for Prime membership?

Sure.

I don't even know, I just pay it every year cause I love them, right? Somebody said, "Oh they got a great loyalty program!" It's not a loyalty program. It's Prime membership. It's a membership program. It's a marketing program because I paid my money and now I want to get my money's worth, okay? So I'm going to go back to them to ensure that I'm getting my money's worth because I paid for it. So there's all kinds of reasons customers would come back to you because of how you set up the repeat business, the marketing side of what you do. What you want to do, ultimately – by the way, again, if I had all repeat customers, I'm happy with that. But if I can convert them to loyal? That's another level. I'm going to try to do that.

So what advice would you give a startup company like ours? You know, we've acquired new customers, we have people that love us, I'd like to think we have people that are loyal to us, right? But we're still kind of in the first three years of life. So what what can we be doing at our level to create loyal customers?

Well, recognize that every opportunity that you have with the customer, every interaction, is an opportunity to create a positive experience. With enough positive experiences that happen over and over again, customers will want to come back with you. That is why I believe customer amazement is within the grasp of every company. So I'll go over that again. It is the predictable and consistent experience that they have with you. If it's positive, that's when they say – and I use that word 'always' – always friendly, always knowledgeable, always helpful, etc. etc. That word 'always' is telling us that we're operating in the zone of amazement. You can't be great one day and just okay the next. So, whoever your people are, they need to be properly trained, properly onboarded. Knowledge is really important. There's really two levels of knowledge. Knowledge of the "I can answer the question that you asked me." But you want to know what customers really love? Is not only that you have the answers to their questions, but you know who they are. Knowledge of the customer. So if I'm your customer and I call you, you'll recognise me from my– you may not be the actual person I talked to, but you as a support person or even a salesperson might recognize, "Okay, this guy Shep bought from us before. He's called in three other times. Let's pick up where we left off. Let's make make Shep feel like he's –" you know I call it the 'Cheers' factor, where everybody knows your name. You know you walk into the bar.

Perfect.

You remember that TV show?

Yeah, I do.

Yeah, they have reruns. I know you're not that old. But you know, the point is that's what we're trying to create is a little bit of a personalized experience. Customers love that. And when we did our survey – again, I'm happy to provide you with a copy of this –, the survey found that what customers love more than anything is that the employees are knowledgeable about their products and services, and barely followed by that they're kind and helpful, okay? Because knowledgeable without being friendly is like "Okay, what a jerk. How much longer am I gonna put up with that?" And then also the ability to reach the right person quickly and easily, or the right solution quickly and easily. So those three top the list, and by the way I have eight that fell into the concept of important to very important. The eighth most important thing, which is at the bottom of the list of what's important to a customer, is personalization. But recognize, there were a lot of other things that weren't important to the customer. So this is like the top thoroughbred in a horse race that just happened to come in eighth place, okay? They're still in the money, you know?

Sure.

So, creating that personalized experience which we just talked about makes that customer feel like, "You know what? I'm back to a place that I feel connected to."

Perfect, perfect. Okay, so I think we've got, I'm gonna ask you one more question here. I know you're a busy guy. So I have to ask you a little bit of a sales focused question. So how can great customer service or a great customer experience, how can you turn that into let's call it an 'upsell' or, you know, 'additional business'?

Yep, great question. If you legitimately have a reason to upsell or cross-sell that customer into a new product, more expensive product, an additional product, whatever, and you don't do it? Actually, that's bad customer service. That's a bad experience.

Tell them, Shep.

Yeah, okay. So I'm gonna give you the most basic example. I have to paint a room in my home. I'm going to go to the Ace Hardware store and I'm going to walk in there. They're going to point me to the paint department. I'm going to tell them I want to paint my room whatever color it is, and we find the right color, and the person's as nice as can be, sells me a can of paint, and I walk out of there. You know what happens when I get home? I realize, "Darn it. I forgot to get the brushes." Okay? To paint my room. Now I've got to go back to the hardware store. That Ace Hardware employee needs to ask me the right questions when I'm picking up that can of paint the first time, okay? "Hey, do you need brushes to go with that?" "Oh, I'm so glad you asked." "Well in that case, do you have a drop cloth? Do you have the pan? Do you have whatever other accessory – you know painters tape?" Whatever I need to make sure that I have everything I need. I jokingly say we don't want the customer to come back–

Right.

–for that particular interaction. Of course, we want them to come back whenever they need what it is. But if we don't give them what they need that first time, they have to call us back, and we've got to sell them something else, spend the time to do it. And it may be their fault, maybe they didn't know to ask. You know what? That's not their fault. It's our fault for not asking the right questions. So, this is more important than going to McDonald's and the person saying, "Would you like an order of fries with that?" Although, I'm glad they asked because if I forget? Oh, I'm disappointed that I didn't get those delicious tasting fries. Okay?

Right.

But, you know, that was that was a simple question to upsell and – you know, the results of that you can look and see what the latest stats and facts are on that – but just by asking that simple question. Let's say they actually did order the fries, so you might ask them, "Hey, would you like –," you know I remember they used to upsell the hot apple pie as the next question. You know when you used to have those out. But, you know, "Would you like a side salad with that?" You know? So anytime you have the opportunity to upsell, in the right way, when it's a benefit to the customer, if you don't do it it's a disservice to the customer. If you do it right, they'll love you for doing it.

I love that and so that ties into a big belief that we have at Ciara about what we call 'benevolent sales', right? You know there was an article one of the editors on LinkedIn wrote recently about, "There's all these sales jobs out there right now. Companies are trying to, you know, scale back up to where they were pre-pandemic, right? Or maybe even outgrow those positions. They're trying to hire sales talent. They're offering, you know, great benefits and that sort of thing, and no one's applying. No sales people are applying for these jobs," right? And it's, you know, some of the belief is that there's still a stigma attached to sales and salespeople about, you know, are sales people– because, you know, you think of The Wolf of Wall Street and things like that have really – and of course that's an extreme example, right? – but people still feel that way about salespeople, that they can't be– that they're self-serving and they're not really looking out for their customers. And I love what you said about that, you know we call that 'the discovery process', right? And you almost have, it's our belief you almost have a moral obligation to be thorough, and to ask more questions, and uncover more pain points, and sell your client more, if that is what they need. And they're not always going to tell you – they may not even realize, I guess is what I'm saying – that they need more than what they're currently asking you for.

Yeah. Your ultimate goal is that you don't become the vendor to that company. You become the partner to that company – and partnership is vendor relationship on steroids. And what you're trying to achieve is a trust factor where your customer / your partner will call you about questions related to what you do, suggestions on how they could use your product better, do you have other services that you can offer? And, ultimately, you know you're doing a great job when they start asking you about something that you don't even sell because they want your valuable opinion to who they should use, if they should do something. That's where you're really in a powerful place.

Got it. Wow, okay. Last question, I promise. So–

That's what you said the last time!

Well, I know. But let's go. You've just got so much knowledge, right?

Oh, I don't know about that, but thank you.

So, how do you turn– so we talked so much about how to create the best customer experience, how to get loyal customers, right? So the last logical step here for us – as a sales organization, let's say –, referrals. How do you turn loyal customers into referral?

Okay, great question. So the very simple way, ask them. It's that simple, but let me go into a typical 'how do we know we're doing a good job?' We do these satisfaction surveys, 'On a scale of one to ten, did you like our product? Did you like our service?' etc. etc. One of my favorite questions is the NPS question, the net promoter score, 'On a scale of zero to ten, what's the likelihood that you would recommend us?' Now I'm going to put my– this is a customer service question typically, because from this you derive a lot of information on what you can do. But if I'm a salesperson and this is a question that's asked, and I find out that this customer gave us a nine or a ten, which means they're a promoter of what we do? I'm going to pick up the phone. I'm going to reach out to them, I'm going to say, "You gave us a ten on the question, 'Would you be– you know, what's the likelihood that you'd recommend us?' I want to know who you'd recommend us to, and would you be willing to make that introduction for us?" It's that simple. Use that information and then ask the customer. Because if they love you, they'll take care of you, just like you want to take care of them.

Absolutely. Thank you. All right well, Shep, so thank you so much for your time today, sir. I've just got to throw this out there one more time it's illbebackbook.com, right? It's going to take you to the website for the launch.

Yep, or just go to Amazon, you'll see it there and I know you'll be happy. If you're not happy, you've got to let me know so I can make it up to you.

I'm sure we will be.

Awesome.

So yeah and we're going to put all those links down here and then, you know, we we should be in good shape there.

Awesome. Well thanks so much for having me. Love it, love it, and great questions and look forward to the next time

Thank you, I really appreciate it. Us too.

Want more insight on sales? Connect with Shep on LinkedIn, check out Shep's newest book, and follow Ciara to never miss the latest sales news.