Interview with Shep Hyken about The Convenience Revolution

NYT bestselling author and customer service expert Shep Hyken has a new book coming out October 2, just in time for Customer Service Week.

It's called The Convenience Revolution.

The book focuses on the next wave of service—making it easier for customers to do business with you. It's chock-full of case studies from top companies, both big and small. The best part is it contains practical ideas that can allow businesses of any size to out-service the competition.

Shep shares six convenience principles and invites readers to decide which principles work best for their business:

  1. Reduce Friction

  2. Self-Service

  3. Technology

  4. Subscription

  5. Delivery

  6. Access

I recently had a chance to interview Shep and discuss his new book.

Shep's always an entertaining interview, and he shared lots of great examples and ideas. You can pre-order the book now or buy it on October 2.

Shep's Special Offer

  1. Buy the book on Amazon before October 2

  2. Email your order confirmation to info [at] hyken [dot] com

  3. Shep will email you an electronic version of the book so you can start reading it immediately!

The Best Time to Provide Service Culture Training

Advertising disclosure: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

Any service culture initiative will eventually involve training. The big question is, "When?"

I've gotten a lot of calls from customer service leaders lately who have wanted advice on service culture training. My answer almost invariably surprises them:

“You aren't ready just yet. There are a few steps you should take first."

Read on to see the advice I share with these leaders and discover the pre-work that should be done before any service culture training program. You'll know it's time to train when you've completed these assignments.

 Team attending a service culture training session.

Define Your Culture First

Imagine you decided to invest in new accounting software for your company. There are a lot of different products on the market, so you decide to conduct a search for the best option.

Is that the time to train employees on the new accounting software?

Of course not! You must first decide which software you're going to acquire and then install the software so employees can actually use it before training them.

Service culture is the same way. 

There's no sense sending employees to training until you've defined your culture with a shared definition of outstanding service called a customer service vision

The vision should be the basis for your service culture training. Without one, your training will be generic and won't be customized to your organization's unique culture.

I outlined the process I use to create a customer service vision in The Service Culture Handbook. You can also read this step-by-step guide.

Create Learning Objectives

Let's go back to the accounting software analogy.

Imagine you've selected a software vendor and installed the new software so it's ready for employees to use. Now is surely the time to train employees, right?

Not so fast!

You must first know exactly what you want employees to do with the software. This might involve mapping out the various tasks employees will perform in the software and then designing a curriculum to teach employees those specific skills.

Service culture training is the same way. You must start by identifying what you want your employees to know and do after completing the training.

I always advise clients to focus their service culture training program on helping employees answer three questions:

  1. What is the customer service vision?

  2. What does it mean?

  3. How do I personally contribute?

Using these questions has a guide will make your training much more specific and focused. 

Plan for Sustainability

Okay, let's go back to the accounting software analogy one more time.

Imagine you implement the software and create a training program for your employees. Surely, now it's time to train, right?!

Not necessarily.

You want to time the training so employees learn to use the software right before they start using it. If you do the training too far in advance, employees will inevitably forget what they learned and they'll need to be trained again.

Service culture training works the same way. Before you train employees, you want to be sure that their work environment will help sustain and reinforce the training.

This means aligning two things with the training program:

  1. The employees' daily work.

  2. Messaging from the employees' boss.

Examples of daily work include policies and procedures, resources, and tools. If the service culture training encourages employees to go "above and beyond" for customers, but employees are bound by strict by policies that don't actually allow them to go above and beyond, the training will fall flat.

Likewise, managers must be aligned with the training as well. A boss who constantly harps on employees to be efficient and control costs will probably override a service culture training program that encourages employees to find ways to "surprise and delight" the people they serve.

Take Action

When I talk to leaders who are using The Service Culture Handbook, the biggest obstacle I observe is impatience.

Many people are tempted to skip crucial steps in the process and jump to training on the hope that training alone will change a service culture. 

It won't.

Time and time again, the most customer-focused leaders I see have the patience to commit their organization to the process. It may feel like slow-going at first, but you'll soon pick up steam and will suddenly be surprised at your momentum!

How to Get Customer Feedback Without a Survey

Advertising disclosure: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

I frequently use subscriber feedback to improve my Customer Service Tip of the Week email newsletter. Yet I've never used a survey.

Customers are inundated with surveys, so it's important to think carefully before rolling out yet another one. With my newsletter, I've found I can get a lot of useful voice of customer feedback from several alternative sources.

Here are five ways I collect and use voice of customer feedback.

 Business people sitting around a conference table analyzing survey data.

Issue Alerts

The weekly email will occasionally have a small issue such as a typo or a broken hyperlink. I try to proofread each email and test all the links, but problems occasionally do happen.

Typos are my kryptonite.

Thankfully, I can count on subscribers to let me know when there is an error. It's usually just a handful of people who email me about the problem, but that's all the feedback I need. Keep in mind most customers won't bother to tell you about small issues, but that doesn't mean they don't notice!

I have a process in place where I can flag a problem and fix it the next time I send out the same tip. In some cases, such as a broken hyperlink, I may re-send the email with the correction, although I try not to do this very often because I don't like swamping people's inboxes with extra emails.

Discussion question: What process do you have in place to allow your frontline agents to resolve or report problems?


Investigate Icebergs

A customer service iceberg is an issue that seems small and isolated on the surface, but is actually a sign of a much larger and more dangerous problem that's hidden from view.

Someone recently emailed me to let me know she had tried to sign-up for the Customer Service Tip of the Week email, but never received a confirmation. This was a classic iceberg because it was easy to dismiss the problem as a one-off where maybe she just missed the email or the confirmation wound up in a spam folder. 

I was tempted to just manually subscribe her to my list, but I decided to investigate. 

My research led me to a helpful exchange with a support agent at MailChimp, the company that powers my newsletter. With his help, I identified a technical setting in my account that would make my emails more recognizable to corporate email servers.

Here comes the kicker—my weekly subscription rate instantly doubled!

Some of those extra subscribers undoubtedly came from a marketing campaign, where I'm promising to send a PDF of my new book to anyone who is subscribed to the email by September 30, 2018.

But some of that huge increase was certainly due to this technical issue. And I never would have found it if I hadn't investigated the iceberg that came from just one email.

Discussion question: What do frontline employees do when they encounter a strange or unusual problem? Are they trained to search for and identify icebergs?


Invite Conversation

There are a few books that have absolutely changed the game for me. One was Kevin Kruse's book, Unlimited Clients.

A key piece of advice in the book was to invite conversation with your customers. The first version of the book had Kevin's phone number and email address right on the cover, and I can tell you from experience he actually responded!

So I took Kevin's advice and added a special invitation to the welcome email I sent to new subscribers. 

 Excerpt from Customer Service Tip of the Week welcome email.

Subscribers have always been able to reply to any email and send a message directly to my personal email address. However, this invitation substantially increased the number of people who actually emailed me.

It's not everyone. (Thankfully—I don't know if I could keep up!) But a couple times a day I get an email from a new subscriber who tells me a little about themselves.

It helps me learn more about them and I often try to share something helpful in response. I've also learned those subscribers are more likely to share their feedback as they begin to receive the weekly tips.

Discussion Question: How can you invite individual customers to engage in a one-on-one conversation?


Catalog Unstructured Data

Something really amazing happens when you take all those individual conversations you have with customers and categorize them.

I went through hundreds of emails from subscribers and categorized the customer service challenges they shared with me. When I decided to put my weekly tips in a book, I put the top ten challenges in a chart and identified tips that could help with each one.

Going through several hundred emails may seem like a lot of work, but it really doesn't take that much time. I probably spent an hour or so. 

It goes even faster if you catalog feedback from individual customers as it comes in. A lot of customer service software platforms have a tagging feature that allows agents to do this on the fly. If your technology won't do it, you can have agents use a spreadsheet or even a piece of paper.

Discussion Question: How can you capture and analyze unstructured data?


Be a Customer

I learn a lot by subscribing to my own email.

This was a trick I learned from working in the catalog industry. Catalog companies would mail themselves a copy of each catalog so they could time how long it took to arrive and could verify each catalog arrived in good condition.

Subscribing to my own email allows me to do something similar.

For example, the Customer Service Tip of the Week goes out each Monday at 8:45 am Pacific time. One week, the email didn't arrive as expected. I double-checked the system and discovered I had set that particular email for 8:45 pm

Oops! Fortunately, I was able to quickly change the send time and the email went out only a few minutes later than normal.

Discussion Question: What can you learn from being your own customer?


Take Action

This post is a bit longer than normal, so here are all the discussion questions in one spot:

  1. What process do you have in place to allow your frontline agents to resolve or report problems?

  2. What do frontline employees do when they encounter a strange or unusual problem?

  3. How can you invite individual customers to engage in a one-on-one conversation?

  4. How can you capture and analyze unstructured data?

  5. What can you learn from being your own customer?

All of these questions can yield terrific customer feedback without ever resorting to a survey! Best of all, the feedback you get from these sources can often be quickly used to make improvements.

You can get five more survey alternatives from this old post.

And, if you really want to use a survey, my course on LinkedIn Learning can guide you. Here's a short preview.

The First Step to Fix Poor Customer Service

Note: This post originally appeared on LInkedIn.

I've talked to a lot of customer service leaders recently who want to improve customer service, but aren't sure where to start.

One of their biggest challenges is they struggle to articulate exactly what "improve" means. Here are some actual statements I've heard:

  • "We want to deliver world class customer service."

  • "We need to get back to the basics."

  • "Things need to get better around here."

The challenge with all of those statements is they aren't clearly defined. You'll struggle to take action if you can't be specific about what you want to do.

It's helpful to imagine you wanted to go on a road trip. You'd need two data points to plug into your GPS:

  1. Your destination

  2. Your current location

This calculation is exactly the same for improving customer service. You need to know what success looks like (your destination) and you must understand where you are now (your current location).

Here's how to find both.


Define Success

This can be done in general terms through a customer service vision, which is a shared definition of outstanding service that points everyone in the same direction.

You'll need to get more specific if you want to improve. Start by thinking about what's concerning you most about your team's current customer service.

  • Is customer satisfaction too low?

  • Is service quality inconsistent?

  • Are you getting too many complaints?

  • Does it take too long to resolve issues?

  • Do customers have to frequently contact your team multiple times?

Whatever the issue, try to focus on something specific and clearly define what success would look like. That includes putting a specific measurement to it.

For example, perhaps you'd like your team's average customer satisfaction rating to be 85 percent on your customer service survey by the end of March. That's a specific, non-ambiguous destination.

You can't skip this step. If you aren't measuring customer service right now, there's no way to improve it. Just like your GPS will be confused if you ask it for directions but don't provide a destination. 

Find something important to your organization and start measuring it to establish a baseline.


Identify Your Current Location

Now you need to measure where you are now.

Let's say you want to achieve an 85 percent average on your customer service survey. You can find your current location by simply looking at your current average survey score. 

This step should be relatively simple if you've clearly established your destination. Did you skip that step? Then go back and try again! You need a destination to plan your route.


Determine the Gap

The last step is to determine the gap between your destination and your current location.

Let's say your goal is to increase first contact resolution to 95 percent. Your current first contact resolution rate is 82 percent. That makes your gap 13 percentage points.

It may be helpful to express your gap in a SMART goal statement. A SMART goal fits five criteria:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Attainable

  • Relevant (to your customer service vision)

  • Time-Bound

Example: "Improve the average monthly first contact resolution rate from 82 percent to 95 percent by July 31, 2018."

You can use this SMART goal primer to help you. This short video can also provide more instructions on finding your customer service gap.

Looking for the next step? 

Watch the full Quick Fixes for Poor Customer Service course on LinkedIn Learning (or or download this Quick Fixes worksheet to find solutions for closing the gap and reaching your destination.

Lessons From the Overlook: Know Your Neighbors

Note: Lessons from The Overlook is a monthly update on lessons learned from owning a vacation rental property in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild. It's a hands-on opportunity to apply some of the techniques I advise my clients to use. You can find past updates here.

You've probably heard horror stories about bad neighbors. Perhaps you've even been unlucky enough to experience this issue yourself.

It's a particularly thorny issue for vacation rental owners. 

My hometown of San Diego is a popular tourist destination with quite a few vacation rental properties. Many residents have complained about loud parties, rude or even intoxicated guests, vehicles blocking driveways, and other nuisances from people renting a house next door.

The problem has gotten so bad that the San Diego city council recently created extreme regulations that will effectively put many vacation rental owners out of business.

Idyllwild isn't immune to complaints about renters, as you'll see in just a moment. 

While you may not be in the vacation rental business, your company almost certainly has neighbors if you have a physical location. Here's how we learned just how important a good relationship can be.

 Guests have sometimes blocked our neighbors' driveways, even though there is room to park four vehicles on the gravel and asphalt areas at The Overlook.

Guests have sometimes blocked our neighbors' driveways, even though there is room to park four vehicles on the gravel and asphalt areas at The Overlook.

Why Good Neighbors Are Good For Business

There are many ways a neighbor can help or harm your business.

A friendly neighbor can keep an eye out on your property and alert you to anything suspicious. This can be very comforting for Sally and me since The Overlook is a two-hour drive away from where we live. We know our property management company is very diligent about watching the property, but it's nice to have an extra set of eyes on things.

During the recent Cranston fire, we relied on updates from people in our neighborhood who stayed behind to keep tabs on the fire. Fortunately, The Overlook was unharmed, but we were very worried as the flames grew closer. The "on-the-ground" intel was extremely helpful.

A unhappy neighbor can also harm your business.

They'll be less likely to look out for your property or help you in an emergency. Complaints from neighbors can draw scrutiny from local authorities and even lead to fines if your business is not compliant with local regulations. 


How We Created Relationships

The Overlook has full-time residents living on both sides of us.

When Sally and I first bought the property, we visited both neighbors to introduce ourselves. The Overlook had been a vacation rental before we bought it, but we still wanted to create a good first impression. So we brought over some homemade fudge and a card with our contact information on it.

Our visit turned into a short history lesson when we learned one of our neighbors had helped build an addition to The Overlook many years ago when his sister owned the property! He and his wife's grandson runs a painting business in Idyllwild, and we've used his services for a couple of small projects. 

We told our neighbors we wanted them to feel comfortable calling us if they ever experienced an issue with a guest. It would be much better to hear about something quickly so we could handle it proactively, rather than letting an annoyance fester and create long-term damage to the relationship.

I hadn't heard any complaints at all, so I recently contacted our neighbors just to check in. It was a good thing I did.

Both of our neighbors told me they have had a few issues with guests blocking their driveways. There's plenty of room for four vehicles at The Overlook, so we worked with our property manager to provide clearer parking instructions and even a photo of the parking area.

One of our neighbors also told us about a loud group that clearly had more than the maximum of eight guests that we allow. They had left a lot of trash on both our property and hers (which she graciously cleaned up) and were really annoying.

This same group caused damage and stole some items last December. Had we heard about these issues sooner, we may have been able to proactively address the situation and possibly avoid annoyance for our neighbor and theft and damage for us.

The feedback made me realize that I needed to be more proactive about maintaining relationships with our neighbors. People can be naturally reluctant to complain or raise an issue if they don't feel comfortable. So I'll now be checking in with them more often so they won't hesitate to call us or our property manager when a guest is causing a problem.


Take Action

You can apply this lesson in your own business.

Start by identifying the value of having good relationships with your neighbors. Some businesses share a common area or a parking lot. One business I know of shares tools with other neighboring businesses and even allows one company to borrow its forklift!

Here are some action steps you can take once you identify the value of great neighborly relations:

  1. Identify your neighbors.
  2. Proactively make contact to start developing a relationship.
  3. Discuss areas of mutual interest or concern.

And of course, don't forget to maintain the relationship. That valuable lesson could have saved us some theft and damage at The Overlook!