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Improving Customer Experience Online and Off – Jay Baer
The Agents of Change

If we’ve learned nothing in this digital age of social media domination, it’s that businesses need to up their game when it comes to customer service because it is more front and center than ever before. And as a brand advocate and customer experience expert, Jay Baer has seen how businesses can turn an unhappy customer into a raving fan for life, if they just follow a few key rules.

Rich: My next guest is a sought after keynote, a true thought leader, an author of multiple best-selling books, a lover of tequila, and perhaps most importantly an impeccable dresser. Maybe even more important than that, he’s just one of my favorite people and an all-around good guy. Back for I believe the third time on The Agents of Change Podcast, Jay Baer. Jay, welcome to the show.

Jay: Hello my friend. Thank you so much for having me back on the show, it is always scintillating to speak to you and great to be with your audience.

Rich: I always picture you, no matter what you’re doing, in a plaid suit. Is that true?

Jay: Currently I am wearing plaid boxer shorts and a Corona t-shirt.

Rich: Excellent. Very close to what you wear on stage.

Jay: Or so I will have you believe.

Rich: This is why I need cameras. Well Jay, customer experience is a bailiwick of yours. I don’t have a question here, I just want to use the word “bailiwick” in conversation today.

Jay: Just stop the show.

Rich: We’re done, ok. With so many channels for customers to engage with us on websites, social, email, chatbot, phones, and so forth, how do you manage the customer experience in 2020?

Jay: Well the first thing you have to do, and we do a lot of this work for our clients, is to say where are our customers. Just because a channel exists doesn’t mean customers are necessarily using that channel with any consistency or rigor. So that sort of media habits are now increasingly a big part of what we’re trying to do, and audience segmentation research, those kind of things.

But the reality is, and this is not medicine that goes down very easily, the reality is there are far, far more ways to interact with customers and prospective customers today than there were even 3 years ago – certainly dramatically more than 7-10 years ago – and business just has to evolve.

Now I mentioned this in my very first book, “The NOW Revolution”, a decade ago, this steady creep towards more and more contact mechanisms has always been the case, it’s just accelerated lately. There was a time a while ago, but in the big scheme of the world not that long ago, if you wanted to interact with a customer there was one and only one way to do that and that was face to face.

In Victorian Portland, Maine, if you had a problem with some mutton, there was only one way to complain about mutton and that was to look the mutton purveyor in the eye and say, “This mutton ain’t right.”  And then of course somebody invented something else and we had mail and then fax.

But business has always had to evolve over time as customers choose new and different ways to express pleasure or dissatisfaction. And we have to be flexible enough, as Gary Vaynerchuk says, “You have to market like the year that it is”, and I think the same is true about customer experience. You have to interact with customers like the year that it is. Which his why you see smart companies say wherever customers want to communicate with us, that’s where we’ll be. And if that’s live chat, we’ll do that. If that’s Facebook Messenger, we’ll do that. If that’s Whatsapp, that’s what we’ll do.

Whatever the customers want we’ll be there. Does that take a lot of time, energy and resources? Hell yeah it does. But what’s the alternative? To say, “Well customers, we’re only going to answer the phone, and if you don’t want to use the phone you can’t get a hold of us.” Ironically that’s what a lot of companies are doing.

Rich: And I guess if you don’t adapt you’re probably going to be in the same place as that mutton purveyor, because I can’t remember the last time I looked a mutton purveyor eye to eye or even used his chatbot.

Jay: Well now one of the big trends of course – you see it on Instagram all the time – is Emutton, where people find an Instagram ad and they just click the button and mutton is delivered to their door. It’s a new world.

Rich: It really is. Jay, one of your jobs is a public speaker. How do you create a customer experience that gets people talking about you as a keynote?

Jay: One of the things that I do – and you mentioned it in the introduction – is I always wear a plaid suit on stage, and I have many plaid suits. And that’s always sort of been a calling card for a number of years and audiences notice that on some level and it’s usually a suit that is festooned with a pattern that perhaps they have not seen in the past. And that’s mildly interesting but it’s not an experience.

And we talk about customer experience, the experience part of that word is perhaps most important. So what I’ve done is sort of put a twist on it. So now when meeting planners book me to give a presentation, they actually get a link to a special website that we built called dressjaybaer.com. If you go to dressjaybaer.com you can select which suit I wear on stage, so now they’re part of gag. And what’s even better in many cases in last 6-9 months, meeting planners who have picked out their 3 favorites and then sent an email to all the event attendees and said, “Which of these would you like Jay to wear on stage?” And then the entire audience is in on the gag and it does become an experience and they talk about it all the time. It’s really become sort of a talk trigger.

Rich: And I’ll just say having hired you as a speaker for The Agents of Change Conference, that the customer experience from my standpoint was fantastic. Your team is really good in terms of checking in, making sure that everything runs as smoothly as possible, in a way that very few speakers that we’ve worked with have ever done. So it just makes it more likely that I would recommend you.

Also you did a great job, we had a sponsor that year and you integrated the main sponsor into your presentation – including showing a video of theirs – as you did your presentation. And just the fact that we’re still talking about this and the sponsor is still talking about this just goes to that whole customer experience thing.

Jay: That’s awesome, thank you, I appreciate that very much. That’s when it works out, when the sponsor does want it in the presentation and you can pull that off. It doesn’t always work like that of course, because sometimes a sponsor is a little far afield form my topic. But in that case it was terrific and it’s nice of you to say.

I really appreciate the comments about our team, we work really hard on being easy to do business with and it does make a difference, it certainly ups the margins. Meeting planner business is not an easy business and goes to the person that makes your life easier.

If you think about customer experience in general, whether it’s my business or yours, too often we think about trying to create a customer experience that’s going to generate a bunch of new business. That’s a pretty high bar to clear. How good does your food have to be for somebody to say I’m going to pick this restaurant over all others, if the rest of it is just ok?

The way I think about customer experience so often is, just reduce the things that people can say no about. So what are the 10 or 12 things that could get me not hired as a keynote speaker? How can we use CX to eliminate all of those 10 or 12 things so that there really is never any one gripe that can get you disqualified? That’s how I think about it. It’s also like playing really good defense instead of playing offense.

Rich: Absolutely. And you started to hint at this. We often focus so much in marketing about customer acquisition, and we don’t do nearly a good enough job about customer retention. If you’re doing these things and you get hired that first time, well very often either they’re going to refer someone else to you or they’re going to bring you back if you did a good enough job.

So that’s another thing we often forget as marketers, is just that customer retention piece. And I agree with you that the easier you make it for people to want to work with you, the more likely they are. I know that I do this monthly segment on the NBC affiliate here in Maine on tech pieces, and every month when we come up with a topic I write the questions and the answers out for them. And at first I thought it was to help me out, but it’s incredible helping them out. One of the things they said to me is I’m their favorite guest because they never have to do anything. They don’t do any research I make it so easy on them they’d have me back all the time.

And that just goes to show that if you have these opportunities make it as easy for the customer – in this case the customer was the local NBC affiliate – make it as easy for them as possible, you’re much more likely to get more customer acquisition, but more importantly, to retain those customers.

Jay: Yeah, that’s just it. There are so many choices, there’s almost no monopolies anymore. Almost every industry has a ton of competition, more on the way, because the barrier to create a business and enter any market has typically been reduced.

So that being the case, if you know that fundamental offering is not terribly dissimilar from everybody else. One of the big things that I’m trying to work on this year is to help people understand that customer experience is your product. If what you sell is similar to what everybody else sells in price, all you have is customer experience.

It’s interesting Rich, a lot of Chief Marketing Officers have come around to this way of thinking, 82% of CMOs according to an Oracle survey say that they believe that they will be competing primarily on the basis of customer experience in 2020 and beyond. And I think that’s a really important finding.

If what you think the battlefield is is customer experience, that’s a dramatic difference from just a few years ago when you’d say we’re competing on the basis of product quality, product reliability, on price, on availability, on options. If we say you know what, all that’s basically same/same, now it’s how hassle-free can we be. I think that will go down as one of the most colossal changes in business history. And right now I think it’s being under studied and under reported.

Rich: I 100% agree with you. In fact just this morning we had our staff meeting today and I was like, yes we’re in a B2B business and companies are always looking for good value and all this sort of stuff. But the bottom line is they’re looking for a positive experience. If we’re delivering on our deliverables – even over delivering – but if the customer experience isn’t everything it can be, they’re going to want to work with someone else.

And likewise it’s the same thing for us. I could probably find a cheaper lease but I trust my landlord, he’s done a good job for us. So the bottom line is I stay here because I enjoy the experience of being in this building and having him having my back when it comes to our space.

And the other thing is you’re talking about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And you have to make sure that you have food and shelter. So that’s almost like if you’re in a business you have to make sure you’ve got good value, good deliverables, but when everybody starts to be able to supply that, that’s when you have to take that into the next level up. And the next level up is this customer experience.

Jay: Yeah, absolutely. And the challenge is – a lot of what I’m working on for my new keynote this year – is a coveted customer experience. The challenge is when you say to a business, ok the true battlefield now is CX, so what you need to do is make your customer experience better in order to outflank your competition, etc.

Most people are going to kind of nod their head and think that seems reasonable. Here’s the problem though, how do you do that. If I say make your customer experience better, what do you actually do with that information, what do you do next. And this is the challenge that I’m trying to help businesses with today. I believe the problem is when we talk about customer experience, it’s too big. Because the reality is – and this is going to get a little down the rabbit hole – but the reality is that customer experience as we think about it doesn’t actually exist. Customer experience is a nickname.

What it actually is, is the totality of interactions that you have with your customers. And those interactions are numerous. It can be dozens or even hundreds of different things; how does the email look, what happens when you walk in the door of the shop, and just lots of different things that comprise the customer experience. But when you talk about it as if it is a thing, make your customer experience better, that really does everybody a disservice.

So my advice is to instead think small. Just say what are the very specific things that we can do incrementally better that customers will notice and care about. So I’ve done a lot of research on this point, Rich, and discovered that the three things that customers really care about that really matter are; they want you to be quick, they want you to be clear, and they want you to be kind. If you can be incrementally more quick, clear, and kind, your customers will notice that and love it and they will change their behaviors accordingly.

So when we say “get better” at customer experience, I think what we should say is, get better at these three things specifically and the rest will take care of itself.

Rich: Alright, let’s talk about those three. So you mentioned quick first, and everything these days seems to move at light speed. But when you’re talking about quick – or maybe if we’re trying to outwit other people, it’s quicker – what are we talking about? Are we talking about response time to emails, are we talking about getting the widget into their hands, is it everything? You said start small, so what are some specific things that a typical business might focus on to make sure that they being quick or quicker than the competition?

Jay: Yeah, exactly. And it depends what type of business you are, of course, and the different intersection points you have with your customers. But what we advise is to sort of do an intersections audit, to say what are all the things where our clients have to wait for anything.

  Are they waiting for the phone to be picked up, are they waiting for an email response, are they waiting for a package in the mail, are they waiting for somebody to get to customer 17 at the butcher shop because they want mutton? What are all the different places where people have to wait for even 1 second? Are they waiting for the website to move for them ever?

You make a list of all of those things and say realistically which of these things could we improve. You’re not necessarily having to go from an hour to a minute, you’re not looking to leap over buildings in a single bound. But if you can say you can get 15% faster (15% is the number we use) at some of these key intersection points, customers will notice and appreciate that. Because the one thing that nobody has a surplus of is time.

Rich: True. The one thing I might add to that is sometimes time is relative. So if you can take that time that somebody is waiting in line and somehow entertain them or provide value, or somehow make it feel short. Maybe it’s just about making it feel 15% faster or quicker than it is actually about making it quicker.

Jay: Yeah, for sure. And what Uber Conference does – Uber conference is a provider of free voice calls and internet VOIP – and when you do a conference call online you log in and you’re the first one there, instead of the standard jazz music Uber Conference has a hilarious song that their CEO wrote and performed about waiting on hold and it makes that time go by very quickly and it’s actually enjoyable. In fact, if you go to Twitter and do a search for “uber conference on hold”, you will see dozens if not hundreds of people saying that’s the greatest song they’ve ever heard, and the only reason they use Uber Conference is because of this on hold music.

And that’s a really interesting point you raise Rich, because Uber Conference does totally the exact same thing that at least 10 other companies do. It’s free phone calls on the internet. But they have said they can’t really make it faster because people join the call whenever they join the call, but they can make that passage of time better.

Rich: Absolutely. So the second thing you mentioned was clear, so talk to me a little bit about clear, or clarity.

Jay: It is amazing to me that here we are in 2020 and how hard companies often make it to either buy from them, or once you get and assemble the thing, or contact somebody, it is almost like some sort of Harry Potter riddle sometimes. And you’re like, how does this company stay in business.

This goes back at least 10 years. I used to have a Tumblr blog – which gives you a little date stamp on this story – when I first started to speak on the road and it was called, Why So Complicated? And it was called Why So Complicated? because – true story – I was at a hotel in New York City, a fancy pants hotel, and I had to call down to the front desk to ask them how to turn on the shower. The shower controls were so Byzantine, it was one of those deals where it was supposed to be fancy, it had 11 knobs and ho “H” or “C” on there, it was just crazy. And I literally could not figure it out. I’m twisting, turning, pulling, pushing. It was the worst phone call I ever made but I called the front desk and said, “Hey, I’ve got some bad news here, I can’t figure out how to turn on the shower.” And she said, “Oh, we get several calls like that a day, sir, don’t feel bad.” To which I said, “I’ve got an idea, you could a) change the shower controls, or b) please put a small sign in the bathroom with some advice on how to turn on the shower.

Neither of those were present and that kind of idea where they know it’s hard but assume you’ll figure it out, that is too prevalent in business and it creates customer frustration all the time. When you don’t understand how to get a hold of them, how to put the thing in the shopping cart, how to change the number of things in the shopping cart, I mean there are thousands of circumstances where we lack clarity. And what that creates is either uncertainly in the mind of the customer, or, feelings on behalf of the customer that they must be stupid. And that’s not great for business either.

Just like with anything, do a clarity audit, take some who maybe doesn’t work for the company and say, “Could a reasonable person figure this out?” And if the answer is less than 100% of the time yes, then work on that. 

Rich: Yeah, I hear you. And I’m thinking that somewhere between quick and clear. I always have this vision in my head of when I used to live in Boston and driving and trying to get out of Boston, and I’d be stuck behind a giant truck before we got to the Longfellow Bridge. And I’d wonder if I was just 1 or 2 light cycles away from freedom, or is there like a 5 car pileup and I will be here for the weekend. If I could just see past that truck.

If you said to me, “Rich, it’s a 5 minute wait”, even if it’s a 30 minute wait, I’d be ok. It’s that uncertainty of being behind the truck that I can’t stand. And I’ve told my team, it doesn’t matter if you have to tell a client that things are going to be late or they’re not working out quite the way we thought or whatever it is, just don’t leave them in the dark. Explain to them what’s going on so they know exactly what’s going on and then they can be calm and won’t harass you three times a day. Because they’ll know, things got delayed and you’ll get back to them next Tuesday. It’s that kind of being clear with somebody that can make all the difference.

Jay: Yeah. I’d rather know the truth. What gets you is the uncertainty. You might be frustrated because this is going to take 11 minutes and that seems too long. But it’s the uncertainty of how long it’s going to take is the part that creates fear and uncertainty.

And people who do sales for a profession – which I never have – are really good at this because the whole thing about sales is to close loops. You’re not ever going to leave a customer with an open loop. And what I mean by “loop” is, there’s an unanswered question. Like, “Hey, what if I don’t like the product, can I get a refund?”, or, “Hey, how are we going to install this?” or, “Hey, what’s the service contract?” or, “Hey, how long is it going to take?”

All of these are open loops and what sales people try to do when they meet objections is to close the loop. Yes, because it’s informationally sound, but more so because open loops create mental dissonance. And mental dissonance and uncertainty keeps people’s wallet in their pants.

Rich: So the last one you mentioned feels like something that our moms should have taught us back in the day; kindness. Talk to me a little bit about that.

Jay: I wish it was one we didn’t have to talk about but we still do. One of the greatest – in my estimation – business psychology studies ever done showed that, and this goes back 30 or 40 years, and it rings true today. That customers who have a problem that your business can successfully address end up buying more and becoming more loyal than customers who never had a problem at all.

Now I want you to think about that. It sounds like Stockholm Syndrome. Here’s a customer that had a problem, complained about the problem, but you fixed it. They then become not a decent customer, your best customer.

Organizations get tremendous – and rightly so – credit from customer when they actually fix something. So yes, of course we should spend time on customer service and customer experience to have a high level of service at all times. But where you really need to put your effort – and I talked a little bit about this in my book, Hug Your Haters, is when the customer has an issue, doing whatever possible to address and or fix that issue. And I think part of that is just empathy.

You can’t fix what’s already happened. If a person had a fly in their soup, you can’t un-fly the soup, it happened. You don’t have a time machine. So what I always tell people is, you have zero percent control over what’s already happened. You have 100% control over what happens next. And the most important thing you can do is to say. “That sucks, I’m sorry”, and actually mean it.

The problem we have today is everybody is so scared of saying the wrong thing, that instead of giving apologies we give “faux-pologies”, and it doesn’t have the desired impact.

Rich: I agree with everything you say. And just thinking about, empathy is the right word, because I definitely have been on both sides of the situation where a kind word will go a long way, listening to people will go a long way. And also the tone in your voice. Not being short with somebody when you feel like, how could you not have figured this out on your own, that kind of thing can make a world of difference in how somebody feels and when they feel good they’ll give you their business. But if they feel bad or stupid they’re going to be embarrassed or angry and they’re not going to want to give you any additional business. 

Jay: Yeah. And what’s so puzzling about this is every single person knows that this is true. This is just a golden rule and here we are talking about it in 2020. And I’ve been talking about this kind of thing for quite a long time, and nobody ever says, “Nah man, I think being an asshole to customers is the better plan.” Nobody ever says that, right?

Yet as a practical matter, empathy in many cases is still in short supply. So it’s not about sort of a psychological belief, it’s about making the resource decisions necessary to give your team the necessary time to actually be empathetic. It’s not a values question, it’s a resources question. And that’s really easy to handle if you just say we’re going to do it.

It continues to puzzle me why just being kind is beyond what some organizations are able to muster. It doesn’t make any sense.

Rich: I hear you. Hey, before I let you go I do want to mention I’ve been enjoying your new podcast, Standing Ovation. Do you want to just talk for a few minutes about what it’s all about?

Jay: Yeah, I appreciate that, thanks. So it’s a new podcast, been rolling for just a little while now, 2 or 3 months. As somebody who does a lot of keynote speaking, a big part of that side of the business is storytelling. As somebody who’s been around a lot of speakers and done a lot of it, I’ve always been fascinated about the different types of stories that speakers tell on stage. And most speakers who do it a lot have a handful of “signature stories” that they tell about themselves or a business circumstance. And that’s part of almost every speech that they do, it’s like playing the hits.

And I’ve always been interested in where did those stories come from, but more importantly, how did they get to the point they are today. Because every story you tell doesn’t come out of your mouth fully formed. So I decided to start a show based on that. So each episode of Standing Ovation I interview a keynote speaker, and at the beginning of the show we actually listen to their signature story.

So it’s an audio clip and it’s 2-6 minutes and their signature story, and I interview she or he about where did it come from, did they instantly put it in their program after it happened, how has it evolved and been perfected over time. And it’s been really fun to record and I’ve learned a lot.

I’ve got to tell you I’ve done probably 1,000 keynote speeches and I am a demonstrably better speaker today than I was when I started recording the show. Because I have learned something from each and every guest on the program and it’s really fun to do. I’m glad that you’re listening and people seem to like it.

Rich: So tell me your favorite takeaway from the show? You mentioned you learned a lot of things. What’s one thing that you’ve started to work into your own?

Jay: I’ll tell you one thing that I’m actually doing. It’s from our mutual friend, Andrew Davis, and this is such a good idea. So he takes his core stories of different keynotes, and each keynote might have 4 or 5 segments, and he records them and then saves them off as mp3s and then creates his own Spotify playlist that are just his own stories. So that when he’s driving around town he listens to himself do his stories – almost like you’d listen to a podcast – and that audio repetition back in your own head is a really great way to improve pacing, and word choice, and pauses, and things like that. It’s just a really smart way to go so I’ve been starting to do that as well.

Rich: Yeah, I listened to that episode and I was thinking to myself, never go on a long road trip with Andrew Davis. That was my big take away from that.

Jay: You can listen to Andrew Davis for the entire time. We’re going Seattle to Miami.

Rich: The other thing that was funny is that it did remind me, for me it’s always the first 5 minutes and the closing 5 minutes, and then everything else in the middle just kind of gets mushy. But I always want to start strong and finish strong.

And so often when I’m driving to a presentation I don’t listen to the radio, I don’t listen to anything else, and I’ll just repeat that opening 5 minutes until it feels so natural I get up on stage and feel better about it. So it’s almost the reverse of what Andrew does, but I may take that as well.

Jay, this has been great. You’ve got your website jaybaer.com, which people can learn more about you. You’ve got the Standing Ovation Podcast available on all your favorite podcast platforms. Where else can people go to learn more about you and to get in contact with you?

Jay: Our main site for the company and all of our work for marketers about social media content, digital marketing, etc., is convinceandconvert.com.

Rich: Awesome. We’ll have all those links in the show notes. Jay, as always, great talking to you and I look forward to seeing you soon in San Diego at Social Media Marketing World.

Show Notes:

Jay Baer is the expert when it comes to excelling in the customer service and customer experience games. If you want to take your business to the next level and learn how to properly interact with your customers, run and listen to Jay’s podcast, check out his website, and absolutely check out his best-selling book.

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing