Customer Experience Management: An Exclusive Interview with Micah Solomon
Best-Selling Author and Expert Micah Solomon Addresses the Importance of Customer Experience Management and Strategy
When he talks, businesses stop and listen. So, when SugarCRM sat down to learn about customer experience management from Micah Solomon, renowned customer service and CX expert, author, keynote speaker, and webinar host to delve into his customer-centric brain ahead of his upcoming webinar series with Sugar.
Here’s what he had to say.
View the on-demand CX webinars and listen as Micah digs in further on customer service in the experience economy.
Q: Why is a customer experience strategy (CX) so important today?
Micah Solomon: A customer experience strategy is one of the only remaining competitive advantages in today’s marketplace (along with product design and, in only a very few remaining industries, location).
Back in the 1960s or Mad Men era, you could use brilliant marketing to obscure any weakness—all the way up to convincing customers that Lucky Strikes were good for your throat. (Sadly, this is a real-life historical example, documented in the United States Library of Medicine; requiring only light fictionalization for the show.)
Today, while marketing is still important, it only works if the message aligns with what is actually experienced by customers or by the people whom customers listen to, either online or in their offline lives. If you have tremendous marketing but a terrible product or customer experience, then your marketing will be ignored or worse—received ironically.
Q: Previously you’ve written about “helping even when you can’t help.” Why is this an important CX concept in the current economic landscape?
Solomon: Yes—particularly in this time of crisis and challenge, I encourage companies, leadership, and their employees to help even when you can’t help. In other words, be open to the idea that customers will be calling, texting, or emailing, not necessarily to have you solve something for them, but because they need something non-commercial: A friendly voice, an interaction with fellow work-from-home employees, and so forth.
A shining example of this is Zappos. Zappos hasn’t been selling a whole lot of shoes during the current work-from-home landscape, and though I don’t know about everyone else—I’ve been exclusively wearing the same pair of comfy walking shoes I’ve had since maybe December. Instead of folding under the current crisis, they’ve turned their contact center (what they call their “Customer Loyalty Team”) into an “Ask Me Anything” brigade. In other words, Zappos is encouraging customers and even non-customers to call in for any non-commercial reason as well; anything that they can assist with or commiserate on.
Another insight is to consider extending your mission to include helping in ways that you would typically consider to be outside of your vertical. CHROME is a credit union, located outside Pittsburgh, with a very member-oriented ethos (member is credit union-speak for a customer). I discuss in my new book, Ignore Your Customers (and They’ll Go Away): how two CHROME employees found themselves helping out an older, retired member get his social security check more reliably, by going to his home and helping him set up online banking. But during their visit to his home, they realized that what he really needed was a Shop-Vac® to address the flooding in his basement. These two employees had a couple of extra hours free and a CHROME company credit card, so they headed to the hardware store and got him exactly that. Above and beyond, outside of your typical operating zone is “helping when you can’t help.”
Q: You’re well-known for helping companies bring a Ritz-Carlton caliber customer service to their business operations. Tell us more about this and why.
Solomon: As a customer experience consultant and customer service turnaround expert, I get a lot of requests from companies that want to become “the Ritz-Carlton of banking” or “the Ritz-Carlton of aircraft parts manufacturing.” I think it’s widely acknowledged that the hospitality industry, and in general, that the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is a leader in systematizing and sustaining an exceptional customer service experience. My clients look to me to bring their approach and methodology to whatever industry the client company may participate in.
A couple of things to look at if you want to try to do-it-yourself (DIY) your customer service transformation into the Ritz-Carlton of your industry:
- Focus on hiring talent for personality traits rather than for existing experience and technical skills.
- Be passionate about empowering employees to serve customers creatively as they see fit, rather than making employees rigidly align with what you, the remote boss, think will work.
- Deploy an effective Service Recovery Framework. Things will go wrong. But one of the things that distinguishes a successful organization like Ritz-Carlton is how they manage to work successfully with customers when problems occur. This practice ultimately changes the story that customers were telling themselves about the experience into something more positive.
Q: Bad customer service can hurt a business—what are companies doing wrong in customer service today?
Solomon: Unfortunately, there are many, many bad customer service examples to share throughout the internet. However, many things, both small and large, add up to bad customer service. Three frequent ones are:
- Getting their style of customer service wrong. Customers today want attentive but informal service rather than the stiffness and scriptedness that may have been acceptable in the past.
- Failing to hire the right people or, when you do, failing to support your customer service talent with training and mentoring.
- The Cliff of Dissatisfaction, my own term that I like to use for companies who are taking too long to respond to customer inquiries and/or to update them on the status of their order/project.
While that isn’t everything here, these are broad but dominant examples of where companies fail in customer service today.
Q: Are there companies that are doing it right that we can learn from?
Solomon: Absolutely; the companies succeeding at this that I cover in my newest book include: USAA, Virgin Brands, Zappos, Nordstrom, and Safelite Autoglass, and upstarts including Drybar and MOD Pizza. These organizations are focused on, even obsessed with, the customer experience, and it shows—not just from their customers but also in terms of their profitability.
Q: An intriguing thing about your work as a customer experience expert is how involved you become. You go above and beyond to help a company, including going in hands-on as an undercover mystery shopper.
Solomon: Yes! The best part of my job, arguably, as a customer service consultant and customer experience turnaround expert, is the mystery shopping part at the beginning of the project.
I’m the guy who goes undercover to secretly shop at a fintech or insurance company or, alternatively, a 5-star hotel or a boutique spa or, no kidding—a mortuary, to find a baseline for how they’re currently delivering their customer experience before we start the project to transform their customer experience management and strategy.
As far as how you can mystery shop at your own company, start with the easiest part—see how you’re holding up in terms of timeliness and efficiency.
- Submit a query via an online webform: Keep your inquiry not related to demonstrating the product or software. Does anyone answer your question?
- Tweet at your own company: Say something polite but don’t use your own account. How quickly does someone respond to your comment?
- Check for politeness and empathy on the phone or in-person: If it’s your own company, you’ll need a friend or family member to help you identify these qualities while you listen discreetly in the background.
These are all tactics that you can use today in your business to see if your current customer experience strategy is working.
Q: If you could offer one piece of advice to businesses today about customer service strategy or customer experience management, what would it be?
Solomon: Benchmark companies outside of your industry—your customers already do this. They expect service to be as friendly as Starbucks; they expect repairs to be as hassle-free as Apple; they expect inventory to be up-to-the-minute like Amazon. Even if you’re in a highly technical or niche industry, or sell exclusively B2B, don’t make the mistake of only trying to be as good as (or slightly better than) your direct competitors. That’s not good enough! When you limit your vision to good enough, you make yourself a sitting duck for customer defections. Why? Because it leaves your offering in the commodity zone and customers will be ripe for leaving for price or convenience or familiarity with your equally mediocre competitor. Good enough is the opposite of a customer experience strategy and will hinder your business long term.