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How To Impress Your Customers With Jon Picoult

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In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Gabe Larsen is joined by Jon Picoult, Founder of Watermark Consulting, to learn what it takes to not only impress your customers but to make them obsessed with your brand. Tune in to learn more!

Creating Loyalty that Lasts

So many CX leaders are dead set on impressing their customers but Jon urges them to go one step further and create a customer relationship where they’re utterly obsessed with your services. According to Jon, satisfying customers simply isn’t enough to keep them loyal. “There have been plenty of studies that have shown that satisfied customers defect all the time. They demonstrate disloyal behaviors.” Creating customer loyalty starts with an impression that sticks. “I think that word, impress, is so key because it really comes down to leaving this indelible positive impression in the minds of the people that you’re serving. Getting them excited to work with you again and to tell others about you…that is a reaction that simple satisfaction does not elicit.” When a good impression sticks, they’re more likely to spread the word about their awesome experience.

Saving Money Through Better CX

Companies need a solid CX team not only to make money but to save money. When asked if leaders should even bother investing in their CX operations, Jon says that it is an absolute necessity to do so because that investment will save money in the long run. A successful team of agents needs the right tools to better educate their customers, ranging from a chatbot that helps with simpler issues, to an omnichannel experience that lessens customer effort. The more funding that’s invested into CX, Jon finds that there are fewer customer issues, as many of their questions can be answered with AI before ever having to speak with an agent. He explains, “When you deliver that better experience upstream, what you’re really doing is you’re reducing your cost to serve people because you’re getting fewer chat sessions, fewer incoming calls.”

Listen to your Customers – It’s Worth the Effort

Jon serves leaders a slice of humble pie when explaining that most companies aren’t doing as well as they think they are in their customer’s eyes. Being customer-obsessed isn’t just answering their questions and moving on to the next issues, rather, it’s a full lifecycle. It’s answering customer questions, being proactive about any future problems they may encounter, and learning from past customer experiences to predict future issues before they ever occur. These skills are essential to strengthening the bond customers have with the company.

“I always encourage companies, look for wherever you have to say no to a customer because whenever you say no to a customer, you’re actually creating effort in their lives because they still have a need.”

When companies take the time to listen to their customers, actively practice empathic service and add the human element back to CX, their customers will not only be impressed, they’ll be totally obsessed.

To learn more about how you can go from impressed to obsessed, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.

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Listen to “Understand Your Customers and Quantify the Customer Experience | Jon Picoult” on Spreaker.

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Full Episode Transcript:

How to Impress Your Customers with Jon Picoult

Intro Voice: (00:04)

You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)

All right. Welcome everybody to today’s episode. Our guest today, to put it quite simply, helps companies impress their customers. We’ve got Jon Picoult and he’s the Founder at Watermark Consulting. It’s a leading expert in customer and employee experience. Now, this gentleman has been just about everywhere, featured in dozens of media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, of our favorite, the New York Times, NBC News, Forbes Fortune 100 CEOs. He’s been working with also small entrepreneurs. Again, across the business, he’s been helping people really manage this concept of customer and employee experience. He got his start as a bachelor’s degree in cognitive science at Princeton and an MBA from Duke. So he’s joining us today to talk about this idea of loyalty enhancing strategies described in his book: From Impressed to Obsessed: 12 Principles for Turning Customers and Employees Into Lifelong Fans. Jon, thanks for joining. How are you?

Jon Picoult: (01:18)

Gabe, I’m great. How are you doing today?

Gabe Larsen: (01:21)

Well, you know, excited to talk about customer experience. It’s one of my favorites, obviously. So appreciate it. Fun book. We’re going to dance all around it today, but before we dive into the topic, maybe just add a little bit to that bio. You are currently kind of running a consultancy, but why? How’d you get your start? Give us a double click.

Jon Picoult: (01:44)

Yeah, sure. So I got my start in business back in college when I was selling radio ads door to door for the college radio station if you can believe that. It was actually a station that was manned by students but didn’t get any money from the university. It was totally self-supported and I wanted to get a radio show and they basically said, well, if you want anything other than the graveyard shift, you need to sell ads and bring money in.

Jon Picoult: (02:09)

And that’s really where I got my taste of business and customer experience because I kind of realized through those sales interactions, just all the different touchpoints, significant as well as subtle, that really influenced people’s behavior, in terms of purchasing a product or service from you, repurchasing, referring you to others. And that’s kind of how I got my start in customer experience, even though back then, it really wasn’t a term people were familiar with. And then when I joined the corporate world, I had the opportunity to lead at various points, sales, service, operations, marketing, even technology, and distribution. And that’s when I kind of realized that I was developing a background that I thought was kind of unique and that I could parlay into my own consultancy because as I’m sure you and your listeners know where many companies fall down on customer experience is they don’t realize that their functional silos are kind of working across purposes and really aren’t coalescing around that larger view of the kind of customer experience they want to deliver. And so having had a chance to walk in the shoes of all those different functional leaders, I thought it gave me a really unique perspective to be able to help other firms on their journey to creating a great customer experience.

Gabe Larsen: (03:28)

Wow, great story. Yeah. Good old college ads. I mean, yeah.

Jon Picoult: (03:34)

It was fun. Yeah. It was fun. Not an easy job, not an easy job going door-to-door is selling ads for a college radio station. It worked out well.

Gabe Larsen: (03:44)

You know, I did some door-to-door it. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? It is totally character-building.

Jon Picoult: (03:51)

Right. I mean, there is no substitute for rejection, and just learning from rejection, it really is an educational exercise though painful at the moment.

Gabe Larsen: (04:04)

Yeah. Yeah. I do. I tell, I’ve got some younger boys and I tell ’em one of the things I’m gonna make ’em do is some door-to-door stuff, because, yeah. It, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Anyways, obviously done some fun stuff since the radio adds back in the day. The book has some real meat to it and it does really jump out with this provocative opening line. And I just had to ask you about it real quick. You know, it says if you’re aspiring to satisfy your customers, then you are aspiring to mediocracy. Now that seems like a little bit to contradict, you know, the fundamental business tenant, which we’re all familiar with. Namely, customer satisfaction is key. Were you just trying to poke the bear? What should we think about that?

Jon Picoult: (04:53)

Yeah. It is a provocative statement, but I truly do believe it, and actually, the research supports it. I mean, there have been plenty of studies that have shown that satisfied customers defect all the time. They demonstrate disloyal behaviors and I think that to create a real, sustainable, competitive advantage, you just can’t rely on satisfying customers. You need to impress them. And I think that word, impress, is so key because it really comes down to leaving this indelible positive impression in the minds of the people that you’re serving. Getting them excited to work with you again and to tell others about you. And that is a reaction that simple satisfaction does not elicit. And that’s why you really need to go a step further and you need to leave that impression on people. And so that’s why I really truly believe that customer satisfaction is kind of a one-way ticket to the business graveyard. I don’t think that’s going to get you where you need to be. You’ve got to go beyond that.

Gabe Larsen: (05:59)

Interesting. Yeah. I mean, you’re right. There are, I mean, yeah, that’s still, I feel like it should be more mainstream actually what you’ve mentioned there, but I feel like a lot of people are still kind of pushing against the stones on that one as they don’t want to accept it. But I don’t think the data, I think the data is almost pretty irrefutable. That might bring up kind of the next thing I wanted to just touch on. We talk customer service, we talk customer experience, but many listeners have actually said, what’s your definition? Why are they different? Are they really different? How would you kind of speak to that one?

Jon Picoult: (06:33)

So, I definitely think they are different and I actually, any company that views those two terms as synonymous really needs to take a step back and rethink their approach because, in my view, customer service is but one component of the end-to-end customer experience. When people think about customer service, I think their heads go to the retail store associate that you’re interacting with, or the 800 line call center agent that you’re talking to over the phone. And those obviously are important parts of the experience that you have with the company, but they’re certainly not the entire experience. Every live print and digital touchpoint that you could possibly stumble across as a customer or a sales prospect when interacting with a business is part of that customer experience. And so the reason I don’t like people to use those terms synonymously is when you start doing that, I think you actually sub-optimize your effort to impress customers because you start thinking just about this narrow element of customer service when there’s a whole universe out there of interaction points that are completely outside of the traditional definition of customer service but nonetheless exert a real meaningful influence on the impression that you’re leaving on customers.

Jon Picoult: (07:55)

And just to illustrate the difference in another way, I would argue that companies that even have a need for customer service, that often implies that there actually is a problem with the broader customer experience. Because think about it, nobody gets up in the morning and says, “I can’t wait to call my auto insurer.” “I can’t wait to call my cable company or my utility,” whatever it is. And so when you trigger a need for people to reach out and contact you to get assistance, to get service, it suggests that something else has gone wrong upstream in the experience. And so that again, I think is a reason why you don’t just want to think about customer service excellence. You want to think more broadly about customer experience excellence.

Gabe Larsen: (08:42)

Yeah. That’s a great differentiator and they’re linked but still different. I like that. I like that. One of the challenges and I’m sorry, Jon, we don’t often get guests who can speak about every topic. So I might be bouncing around just a little bit here, but one of the topics that our listeners have asked us about is this idea around the business case for customer service. Many customers experience transformations, they’re expensive, right? And it’s not always easy to measure the direct result. And one of the things people say is, “Gabe. We often talk about metrics that our e-team doesn’t really care about.” For example, they’ll kind of say, “Hey, we speak a different language.” Just curious what your insight on that might be.

Jon Picoult: (09:34)

Yeah. So a couple of things. First I would say, I think it is a myth that a great customer experience always has to cost more, and actually, it goes back to what we were just discussing in terms of the interrelation between customer service and customer experience. Because if you are doing things better in the experience upstream, for example, making products that are easier to assemble or providing sales materials that are easier for people to understand and more accurately set expectations. If you’re doing things like that, what you actually end up doing is obviating the need for downstream customer contact. You’re basically preempting dumb, avoidable reasons why customers reach out to you. “Hey, I’m having trouble understanding these assembly instructions. Can you help me?” And so in that way, when you deliver that better experience upstream, what you’re really doing is you’re reducing your cost to serve people because you’re getting fewer chat sessions, fewer incoming calls, and so that’s one important thing I think to put out there is that when you look at the ROI of customer experience, you don’t always have to assume that it’s going to cost more to deliver that better experience. In truth, you can actually save money or it could be self-funding because you are preempting those unnecessary inquiries that drive cost in the organization.

Jon Picoult: (10:57)

So that’s one thing I would say. The second thing I would say too, just at a macro level, and this was something that I really struggled with in my corporate years. And then when I started my firm in 2009, was how do you get people to open their eyes to the idea that a great customer experience does not have some soft, intangible ROI? That it’s real? I struggled with that for a while and ultimately, what I realized was, you’ve gotta persuade people, business executives in a language that they understand. And I realized that the language that they all understand is really the language of shareholder value. Whether you’re a public or a private entity, top executives, business owners, they understand shareholder value, the idea of growing the value of the firm in the eyes of the market and the investors.

Jon Picoult: (11:48)

And so that was actually the origin of what’s now kind of the famous Watermark Consulting customer experience ROI study, which is one of the most widely cited studies of its kind. And really, it was one of the first to show a connection between the quality of a company’s customer experience and their shareholder returns. And in my new book, there’s a new version of the study and it’s got 13 years of data in it and the headline basically is that companies that deliver a great customer experience on average, outperform those that lag in customer experience by over three to one margin. And you look at the graphic that shows the shareholder returns, and you just kind of step back and say, “Holy crap,” like, “This is real.” This is not soft and intangible. Like there’s really real money to be gained by differentiating on this axis. And there are really real penalties exacted on the companies that don’t do it. And so I find that’s a really helpful study for opening a dialogue with executives who might have some sort of deep-seated skepticism about whether customer experience really pays off.

Gabe Larsen: (12:57)

In this study. We might have to link it. We’ll certainly do that with the book, but the study, yeah, we can try to link to that. Yeah. To Jon’s point, it’s very meaty. Well just one more click on that, because I love the three to one point. So thanks for the quick headline, but oftentimes people do, they feel like it is, I’m forgetting the word you just said, but it’s a little less tangible. It’s a little softer, the ROI of customer experience. How do you think about calculating that? Is there a way without going, I know we only have a few minutes, but any thoughts on that?

Jon Picoult: (13:33)

Yeah, sure. I mean, I’ll give you a couple of ideas. One thing is if you’re really good at understanding where your new customers are coming from, that’s one way to quantify the value of the customer experience. With a simple question upfront when you’re onboarding customers, you can find out, did they get to you through some kind of referral? Did they hear the positive word of mouth? Did their friend or colleague send them over? Because then you can kind of check the box and say, “All right, there’s ROI there.” Because the reputation that we’ve developed with the experience that we’re delivering that sent this new customer, this new revenue stream to us.

Jon Picoult: (14:08)

So that’s one way. A second way to quantify it is to actually look at the customers who are fans versus those who are foes, if you will, and look at their lifetime value. What kind of spending are they making with your company? You might even be able to figure out what kind of expense are they generating because you often find that happy loyal customers contact you less. So they drive less expense in your organization. And if you look at those two groups and their lifetime value side by side, that’s another way to quantify what the value is of making somebody a promoter, if you will, to use net promoter parlance, versus having them be a detractor and it kind of creates a very visible contrast of the benefit, the financial benefit of having somebody be that raving fan for you versus being a customer that loathes you. And so those are just two examples I think of ways to quantify it at a more micro level, as opposed to looking at the macroeconomic, which the CX ROI study does.

Gabe Larsen: (15:08)

Love it. Love it. Love it. That’s great. That’s a great way to just kind of bring it down to a, I think, more bearable, understandable concept there. I mean, I wanted to hit a couple of challenges, but backing up one more step again, you see a lot of companies, you see a lot of stuff, you’ve obviously done a lot of studies that you just kind of referenced there. What would you consider to be the most universal problem in customer experience? Would you go back to kind of the ROI? Would you go somewhere else? Where would you go with that one?

Jon Picoult: (15:40)

And by problem, you mean like the key challenge that companies have in terms of moving the needle on this?

Gabe Larsen: (15:47)

That’s right.

Jon Picoult: (15:47)

Yeah. I’d actually, I think I’d point to two things. One is, I’ll call it arrogance. I think that there is some arrogance in the boardroom, if you will, where companies think they know what their customers want and how their customers are feeling, without actually going out and asking them, observing them, having an in-depth conversation with them. And that can be dangerous. That can get you into real trouble. And in the book, I actually quote some studies that really illustrate that there is a pretty awful chasm of perception between companies and their customers. Meaning that companies tend to think that they’re doing a lot better than their customers actually will say they’re doing. So that’s one dangerous thing that I see a lot of companies stumble on is they just don’t want to invest the time of kind of getting out there into the wild, observing their customers, talking to them because they just feel like, “Hey, we know. We know what they want. We know what they like, what they dislike.”

Jon Picoult: (16:52)

So that’s definitely one thing I would say. And then the second big challenge pitfall that I see companies come across is I don’t think they fully appreciate the importance of the employee experience in fueling that customer experience. And by this I mean, really understanding what are the boulders that your staff encounters that despite their best efforts, make it difficult for them to consistently deliver that great customer experience? Companies are enamored with the shiny objects, the website that is customer-facing, the retail store, and all the accouterments and the atmosphere in that store. And that’s all critically important, but they also need to look at what’s going on backstage and what are the challenges that their own employees face in terms of realizing their best efforts to deliver that great experience to customers. So those are two areas where I think, where I see many companies kind of fall down and sub-optimize their efforts to improve the experience they deliver.

Gabe Larsen: (18:00)

Yeah. Yeah. That does seem like one of those, the bias, right? We always, yeah. I always think I’m, maybe it’s me, but I think in life we see that as well. Right. It’s like, I think I work out more than I do. And I’m like, man, I don’t think I go to the-

Jon Picoult: (18:18)

Right. Yeah. Absolutely. You’re right. It’s a human bias. No executive likes to wrestle with the idea that I lead a company that customers hate. I mean, how do you live and get out of bed every morning? So we do tend to fool ourselves a little bit and we put on the rose-colored glasses and kind of paint a picture that’s maybe a little more attractive than what our customers are seeing.

Gabe Larsen: (18:45)

I love that. I think as I said, I think that applies in business and in life. Maybe one more question just about the book. I was perusing through it a little bit. I love the 12 principles. I think that’s obvious. It’s just, twelve’s a nice number and it’s something that you can kind of digest, but one of them jumped out. This idea of making things effortless for customers. And look, that’s a term I think we’ve heard before, but I just feel like it’s so powerful. It’s something that, I’ve seen that moves the needle in different situations. I’m curious, what are some of the ways that you’ve found business can accomplish this effortless comp, to truly make it easy for people to do business with them? Does anything come to mind?

Jon Picoult: (19:27)

Yes. So, there are two types of effort in my definition. There’s physical effort, which is like how many times do you need to use your vocal cords to tell your story over and over again, to say to a different rep? Or how many times do you need to click a finger on a website? There’s that physical effort and then there’s cognitive effort, which really refers to how easy or difficult it is for customers to kind of wrap their heads around some idea, some concept, some sales proposal, or a value proposition that you’re offering them. And so I think it’s important for companies to be able to manage both of those sources of effort, but just to throw out a couple of quick ideas here going back to our earlier part of the discussion. You don’t want to just think about, how do you make it easy for customers to contact you and request assistance and get assistance? Do you want to think about how do you eliminate that need entirely?

Jon Picoult: (20:26)

And a big part of that is in tracking not what people are contacting you about, but why they’re contacting you. So like a lot of call centers, service centers, for example, they’ll track, oh, well, this customer is calling about billing, or calling about installation or onboarding or something else, but that’s not really actionable. What you really want to know is why are they calling? Why are they calling about that billing statement? What was it about the billing statement that they didn’t understand? Because if you could put your finger on that and then go upstream and make an alteration to that billing statement, you have the potential to make the experience a lot more effortless because nobody wants to pick up the phone and call you in the first place. So I think that’s one way to do it.

Jon Picoult: (21:12)

And then the other is, I always encourage companies, look for wherever you have to say no to a customer because whenever you say no to a customer, you’re actually creating effort in their lives because they still have a need. You might not be able to satisfy it, but they still have that same need, and they have to figure out some other way to address it. Whether that’s going shopping for an answer from someone else at your company, or maybe finding another firm that can meet that need. So I think it’s very enlightening to periodically catalog all of the situations where you and your staff need to say no to a customer, and then go back and ask yourself, can we do anything that might reduce the number of nos that we have to give people? Because the more you can do that, then the more effortless you’re making life for that customer, because every time you say no to them, you’re really saddling them with an additional effort that saps their loyalty. There’s no other way to describe it. It really just saps their loyalty and makes it more likely they’re going to feel bad about the experience.

Gabe Larsen: (22:15)

Yeah. I like the no. Look for the no. That’s good, that’s actionable. That’s a great one. Okay. Well, hey, always more to talk about. So fun to kind of bounce around. Thanks for letting me just ask some random, different types of things. As I said, we don’t often get guests that talk just about everything in the customer experience. So Jon, really appreciate your time today. If someone wants to learn more or would like to kind of take the next step to dive into some of these things. What would you recommend? What’s the best place to kind of learn more from your side of the house?

Jon Picoult: (22:49)

Yeah, sure. So one place I would direct people is to the book’s official website which is impressed2obsessed.com. That’s impressed, the number two, obsessed.com, and they can learn more about the book there or buy a copy. And then you can also go to my firm’s website which is watermarkconsult.net, or you could just Google Watermark Consulting. And there, you can see all kinds of additional content that are not even in the book, blog posts, and published articles and whatnot that will really give people a good sense of how can I take the next step? How can I move the needle on customer or employee experience in a way that doesn’t necessarily cost a whole lot? Because that’s one key takeaway I think that I’d encourage your audience to embrace is the idea that it doesn’t always require a multimillion-dollar capital investment to move the needle on the quality of your customer experience. Sometimes small, subtle things can have a very significant impact.

Gabe Larsen: (23:48)

Yeah, that’s right. I love that. Through small and simple things, big things happen, right? You’d be surprised. You don’t always have to take out the big rocks. So Jon, really fun talk track, appreciate it. Fun to have you onboard and for the audience, have a fantastic day. Bye!

Exit Voice: (24:12)

Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.

Special thanks to our friends at Kustomer for their insights on this topic.
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