Monday, August 13, 2018

Why Your Brand Needs a University and Other Tips for an Amazing #BrandExperience

I may be unique in my choice of favorite social media platforms, but I've met a myriad of amazing and inspiring people through my Tweets, conversations, and chats on Twitter. Recently, I met Dennis Snow, a fellow advocate for creating positive and memorable customer experiences. Since we've both worked for "the company that started with a mouse," as Walt Disney used to describe The Walt Disney Company (Dennis at Walt Disney World, and me at Disneyland Paris in France), I invited Dennis to appear on my blog to share some of his insights about customer service and customer experience marketing. 

At the end of an interaction between a brand and a customer/fan/guest/client/media rep/stakeholder, a positive and memorable experience results in an amazing brand experience. Tips to create an amazing brand experience and highlights of my conversation with Dennis follow a brief introduction.

Dennis Snow is a business author, speaker, and consultant who helps organizations deliver a world-class customer experience. He is the author of two best-selling business books, "Lessons from the Mouse: A Guide for Applying Disney World’s Secrets of Success to Your Organization and Career" (DC Press), and “Unleashing Excellence: The Complete Guide to Ultimate Customer Service” (Wiley). Visit Dennis' website at, read his blog at, connect on LinkedIn (, and follow on Twitter @DennisSnow.

QUESTION: You've spent a great deal of time teaching others about the secrets of customer service from "the company that started with a mouse." What are three of your favorite lessons that all brands can learn from Disney about customer service?
DENNIS SNOW: Here are my three:
1. Walt Disney World cast members (employees) are relentlessly reminded that, “We’re not selling rides, we’re selling an experience.” Most companies’ products (including rides and shows) are commodities, and consumers have countless choices for where to spend their money and time. An outstanding experience, however, is very rare and encompasses every touchpoint of the customer’s interaction with an organization.
2. “Everything speaks.” From the appearance of the facilities to the tone of voice of the employees, every detail impacts the customer’s perception of an organization’s brand. In fact, the number one compliment Walt Disney World receives is how clean the place is. There’s a good reason for that. It is the responsibility of EVERY cast member (employee) to pick up any stray piece of trash they see on the ground. With 66,000 cast members focused on keeping things looking good, it’s no wonder that cleanliness of the place is the number one compliment.
3. “Little wows add up.” While grand gestures are wonderful, and customers appreciate them, the magic is in the little wows. Walt Disney World encourages its cast members to consistently exhibit simple but effective niceties, such as, offering to take a photo of the family, smiling, asking where guests are from, interacting with children, making recommendations, etc. Taken individually, these behaviors seem like no big deal. But over the course of an entire Disney vacation (or even one day), those little niceties add up to a very big deal.

TWEET THIS: While grand gestures are wonderful, and customers appreciate them, the magic is in the little wows. ~@DennisSnow #CustomerExperience #BrandExperience #BizTip
QUESTION: You were a part of the Disney University team, during which time you taught the Disney corporate philosophy and business practices to cast members and members of the leadership team. How can other orgs create and maintain a University for their brands?
DENNIS SNOW: The Disney University came about because Walt Disney himself understood the vital role that employees (cast members) would play in the Disneyland experience. Since 1955, the Disney University has been the first step of any cast member’s career. There, they learn about the Disney culture, as well as what will be expected of them. And throughout a Disney career, the Disney University provides ongoing learning opportunities that reinforce the organization's culture. I’m regularly asked, “How long is the training at Walt Disney World?” The answer is that begins when you join the company and continues for as long as you work there.

Creating and maintaining a corporate University requires commitment from the top level of an organization as well as an iron-clad belief in the importance of ongoing training. Even in tough financial times, the best organizations don’t cut back on training. They see it as an investment, not an expense. And that takes commitment from those at the top.

QUESTION: One of the ways that you teach about creating a culture of excellence is to "Ensure that your organization's backstage environment never impacts the onstage customer experience." Can you please explain for those who've never visited a Disney theme park?
DENNIS SNOW: A good way to think about the onstage/backstage philosophy is to imagine a high-end retail store or luxury hotel. Everything about the environment communicates elegance and quality. In that scenario, imagine an employee accidentally leaving a supply room door open, with full view of dirty mops, cleaning products, employee schedules, etc. Backstage just came onstage, causing a disconnect between the image the organization worked so hard to create, and the reality of the what the customer sees.

You can imagine the logistics involved in running a place like Walt Disney World. There are delivery trucks, cast member break areas and cafeterias, management offices, warehouses, storage areas, and thousands of other elements required to run a place that is twice the size of Manhattan. But remember, Walt Disney World is supposed to be a magical place. So, all of those operational elements are located behind the scenes (backstage). Here’s a graphic example of the importance of the onstage/backstage philosophy: Imagine a child at Walt Disney World seeing Cinderella on break smoking a cigarette...the result might be years of therapy!

QUESTION: What is a customer-focused culture?
DENNIS SNOW: A customer-focused culture is one in which everything is designed with the “lens of the customer” in mind. Too many organizations design their processes and procedures for their convenience, not the customer’s convenience. A customer-focused culture asks, “What do we want the customer experience to be?” and then designs all processes and procedures to deliver that ideal experience.

TWEET THIS: A customer-focused culture is one in which everything is designed with the “lens of the customer” in mind. ~@DennisSnow #CustomerExperience #BrandExperience #BizTip
QUESTION: A favorite question among cast members at Disneyland in California, the Magic Kingdom in Florida, and other Disney parks around the world is, "What time does the 3 o'clock parade begin?" Can you explain what the question really means in Disney-speak and how it cuts to the core of Disney's customer experience?
DENNIS SNOW: “What time is the 3 o’clock parade” is the classic example of a legitimate question masquerading as a silly question. Since the Magic Kingdom parade route is nearly a mile long, the question the guest is really asking is, “What time does the 3 o’clock parade get here?” In this case, "HERE" means a specific spot along the route. Disney cast members are trained to recognize that guests are out of their comfort zones and likely overwhelmed. So, of course they may not know how to phrase certain questions or may not even know what questions to ask. It’s the job of the cast member to understand what the guest really needs.

In the late 1970's, I worked at the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction in the Magic Kingdom in Florida. I was required to wear a Captain Nemo costume. I was approached by countless guests who asked, “Do you work here?” Rather than respond, “No, my mother just dresses me this way,” I understood that what they were really asking was, “Can you help me?” The bottom line is to look at things from the customer’s perspective.

Dennis Snow the Disney Cast Member

QUESTION: Your pinned Tweet on Twitter says, "No matter what business you're in, every employee at every level has numerous chances to wow customers. You just have to be on the lookout for chances to amaze." Can you elaborate on this?
DENNIS SNOW: This goes back to what I said earlier about little wows adding up. It’s so easy for employees to fall into robotic mode and to simply process customers through a series of transactions. However, by being present in the moment, it becomes clear that there are multiple opportunities every day for creating moments of wow. And it doesn’t have to take any additional time or cost anything. It’s simply a matter of being present and caring about the customer’s experience.

TWEET THIS: This photo of Walt Disney at Disneyland (probably in the late 1950’s) is my all-time favorite Disney photo. The message it communicates is timeless: effective leaders walk the talk. #WaltDisneyWorld #Disneyland #CustomerExperience #WalkTheTalk #EmployeeCommunications
My gratitude and appreciation to Dennis for sharing his customer experience marketing insights. What will you use from this post to improve your brand's customer experience? Please chime in.

To read about a memorable customer experience story from a visit to Walt Disney World, check out my blog post featuring Kevin Leifer (@KevinLeifer on Twitter) – it’s truly an unforgettable story. Click here.

Image Credits: Dennis Snow (Walt Disney and Dennis Snow photos). Debbie Laskey (Disneyland Paris cast member guidebook photo).

Friday, August 10, 2018

Summer Reading Recap: Business and Fiction

Every summer, we plan extra hours for all sorts of activities. From beach excursions to museum visits to outdoor hikes, the summer is the time to catch up on all the adventures we don't have time for during the rest of the year. In addition to all the fun outdoor adventures, another activity on our summer “to do lists” is reading. Some of us even build a stack of “must-read books” all year-long with the intent to read them during our summer vacations. I highly recommend that you add these five books to your reading list.


Leadership expert and author David Burkus ends this book with the sentence, "Your friend of a friend is your future." Throughout the book, he explained that, "We don't have a network, rather, we're embedded inside a massive network that we must learn to navigate. Doing so requires paying attention to who is in your network and recognizing that how your network works matters for issues much larger than just finding that next client or landing that next job...Navigating your network deliberately - making choices about who your friends are and being aware of who is a friend of a friend - can directly influence the person you become."

Burkus told the story of the Isle of Murano, Italy, which has become known as the Isle of Glass. "And Murano isn't unique. For every example of the damaging and isolating effects of silos, there's an example of how clusters in a social network help unleash creative ideas or make individuals and teams more efficient and productive."

He also shared the story of filmmaker Brian Grazer, who may not have started his film career by being well-connected, but he was definitely curious. No spoiler alert here, read the book to learn how curiosity and hard work led to his long-time partnership with Ron Howard and blockbuster films such as, Apollo 13, Liar Liar, Splash, and many, many more.

Lastly, Burkus' best advice was to create one's own community. Make a list of 10-15 people who work in your profession or do something similar enough to have shared experiences. Commit to regular meetings, at first, once a month. Commit to a set of structure for your conversations. Consider asking these questions to start:
*What are you working on right now? What project is dominating your time now?
*What is holding you back? How can the group help you?
*What do you need prompting on? What can we do to keep you accountable?

To quote leadership expert and author Kevin Eikenberry (and his co-author Wayne Turmel), "Leading a team at a distance is at first and foremost about LEADERSHIP, and the principles of leadership haven’t changed - they are principles. What HAS changed is that people are working in different places and perhaps at different times. Given those changes, how we apply the timeless principles of leadership in this new world matters a great deal - for the team members working at a distance, for you as their leader, and for the organization that you all serve."

There are a number of exceptional tools included the book:
*21 Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership (here are a couple: Building trust at a distance doesn't happen by accident AND think about leadership first and location second.)
*Skills of Management versus Skills of Leadership - they are definitely different!
*Leadership and Management Gear
*Excellent Questions to Ask about Developing Long-Distance Leaders

Do you know the story behind 7-Eleven? In customer service expert Shep Hyken's seventh book, he tells the story of how a store selling ice created a new industry, the convenience store industry by adding bread, milk, and eggs. Other examples ranging from spending $5 for a Coke in a hotel's minibar rather than walking down the hall to a vending machine to Uber's pre-payment system showcase the importance consumers place on convenience. But can all brands implement convenience into their competitive positioning? Not only does Shep say yes, but he poses that if brands don't add convenience as a competitive advantage, they may not survive.

The Six Principles of the Convenience Revolution are:
*Reducing Friction (a hassle in your consumer's world)

Lastly, Shep ended the book by repeating the question he asked at the beginning, "How easy is it to do business with you (your brand)?" He explained, "If you keep returning to that simple question, day after day, week after week, month after month - if you look closely and strategically at the honest answers that come back - then you really can join, and win, the Convenience Revolution."

This inaugural novel by British actress Catherine Steadman captures the reader's attention from the first sentence, "Have you ever wondered how long it takes to dig a grave?" The story poses a variety of questions to the reader, and before too long, an unexpected twist happens. I guarantee that you will remember this story for a long time after finishing the final page.

As a fan of the legal thriller created by Scott Turow and perfected by John Grisham, I am interested in every legal thriller ever written. This novel by Anthony Franze does not disappoint. Set in the halls of the United States Supreme Court and neighboring areas around Washington, D.C., the story follows a lawyer's investigation into his daughter's unexpected death while he undergoes scrutiny as a potential Supreme Court Justice.

What business book did you read this summer? And what captivating fictional story will you long remember? Chime in and share.

Image Credit: Debbie Laskey's library.

Follow these authors on Twitter:
@KevinEikenberry and @leadingremotely

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Can You Build a Brand and Tell a Story with a #Hashtag?

Back in 2014, while I was watching the Super Bowl and the ads, I encountered a stream of live Tweets on Twitter led by Jim Joseph in New York. While 3,000 miles away, I enjoyed the discussion about the ads (and sometimes about the football game, too!) with fellow branding and marketing experts. Over the last four years, I've continued to participate in Jim’s Super Bowl chats as well as others he’s led on Twitter during other big events. Based on Jim's expertise, I've invited him to participate in a Q&A about branding and marketing, and highlights follow his bio below.

To quote Jim Joseph, “Marketing is a spectator sport,” and he’s one of the industry’s most engaging, enthralling, and entertaining commentators. As the Global President, Brand Solutions of marketing communications agency BCW, Jim constantly puts his experience to the test. He is also an award-winning author of The Experience Effect series and an adjunct instructor at New York University where he teaches a graduate class in integrated marketing. Entrepreneur of the Year, Agency of the Year, Consumer Launch Campaign of the Year, Most Creative Agency, Best Place to Work, Social Media Icon, Hall of Fame – these are the accolades that Jim has amassed through his long career in marketing. But none are more important than the daily badge he wears with the most pride: Dad. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimJosephExp and check out his Blog.

QUESTION: Since we "met" as a result of your live-Tweeting chat during the Super Bowl in 2014 (#SBexp has evolved into #SuperBowlExp), can you share a brief history about the chat?
JIM JOSEPH: I started out doing the Super Bowl Twitter chats because I noticed that a lot of people were commenting about Super Bowl advertising during the game on Twitter. Then a friend started chatting with me about it too, so I formalized it with a hashtag and invited viewers to join in. It sort of took off from there! It's great fun to chat about the advertising during a television event in real time. It keeps us connected from our various couches! I've done the Twitter "EXP" chats for the Super Bowl every year, and often do them for the Golden Globes, Oscars, Grammys, etc.

QUESTION: How did you come up with your Twitter handle (@JimJosephExp)?
JIM JOSEPH: My first marketing book was titled "The Experience Effect," so "EXP" comes from "EXPERIENCE" as in the “BRAND EXPERIENCE.” So, I just added "EXP" to my name to establish it as a bit of a brand for me.

QUESTION: What's your favorite brand, and what makes it stand out?
JIM JOSEPH: I always cite Starbucks as a fave brand because it's a great example of a brand going well beyond just the product it sells, and standing for a full experience as an active member of the community. Starbucks actively promotes local community organizations and speaks out on social issues. Starbucks actively utilizes its physical and social footprint to add value to people's lives, and, of course, Starbucks sells coffee!

QUESTION: Most organizations have a digital footprint with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Instagram. But it seems as if blogs have become a poor step-child in recent years. How can orgs use blogs to build brand equity and create brand awareness?
JIM JOSEPH: Blogs are great when you have a point of view, but they are only effective when they are integrated into a full social marketing strategy. They have become less effective recently because of the rise of content on other social channels, but when fully incorporated, they can be a great driver of social engagement.

QUESTION: How do you get all your timely ideas for your blog posts?
JIM JOSEPH: I pay attention! I love observing marketing, and since it's happening all day every day, it's easy to get a lot of content. My motto is "Marketing is a spectator sport," so we can learn a lot from each other.

QUESTION: How can an organization's President/CEO be its best brand ambassador and set an example for all employees?
JIM JOSEPH: The CEO is the brand and should live the brand every day. It's nearly impossible now to separate an organization's leadership and its values from a brand. They are completely linked. The best thing a CEO can do is to live by example of the brand. 

TWEET THIS: It's nearly impossible now to separate an organization's leadership and its values from a brand. They are completely linked. ~@JimJosephExp

My gratitude to Jim Joseph for appearing on my Blog and for sharing his amazing insights about our passion, branding. Hope you join us during the 53rd Super Bowl on February 3, 2019, from the comfort of your living room and smartphone or tablet on Twitter for Jim's live TweetChat. And remember to add hashtag #SuperBowlExp to your tweets!

Image Credits: and

Monday, July 23, 2018

Tips to Help Your Brand Focus on the #CustomerExperience

I recently met Nate Brown through a #CustServ TweetChat on Twitter led by Marsha Collier, Roy Atkinson, and Greg Ortbach. As fellow fans of customer service and excellent customer experiences, I invited Nate to appear on my blog in a Q&A. Highlights of our conversation follow below a quick introduction.

Nate Brown is the Co-Founder of CX Accelerator. While customer service is his primary expertise, Nate leverages experience in professional services, marketing, and sales to connect dots and solve the big problems. From authoring and leading a Customer Experience program to journey mapping to managing a complex contact center, Nate is always learning new things and sharing with the CX community. Join the CX community at and follow Nate on Twitter @CustomerIsFirst.

QUESTION: How do you define customer experience (CX)?
NATE BROWN: My absolute favorite definition is from Forrester: “How customers perceive their interactions with your company.” One of my favorite attributes of Customer Experience is that it’s both scientific and artistic: Scientific in the sense that it’s made up of repeatable steps and behaviors, and artistic in the sense that you are dealing with human emotions as the measure for success. 

TWEET THIS: Customer Experience is both scientific and artistic: Scientific in the sense that it’s made up of repeatable steps and behaviors, and artistic in the sense that you are dealing with human emotions as the measure for success. ~@CustomerIsFirst

QUESTION: How do you define customer experience marketing (CEM)?
NATE BROWN: To me, Customer Experience Marketing is when the whole organization works together to create excellent and CONSISTENT experiences across every touchpoint. There is a major positive impact on loyalty when customers feel as though they are dealing with a strong, uniform brand. This illusion is shattered when finance works one way, customer support speaks one way, sales team does their thing, and all the while, none of it is consistent with the “brand voice.” CEM results when marketing works together with the organization to develop the brand voice, and all employees make it a priority to become fluent.

TWEET THIS: Customer Experience Marketing is when the whole organization works together to create excellent and CONSISTENT experiences across every touchpoint. ~@CustomerIsFirst

QUESTION: What brand stands apart from its competitors by its understanding of providing a quality customer experience, and why?
NATE BROWN: That’s easy: Carvana. You can read complete details at

Heres the story: Having recently purchased a car through Carvana, I’m a huge believer in the experience they’ve created. They’ve eliminated all the classic frustrations of buying a vehicle. By combining a remarkable digital experience on the front end to pick your car, a generally effort-free process to do your paperwork, and a magical vending machine to pick the car up, it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. They are an incredible example of how intelligent CX design can turn an industry on its head.

QUESTION: What are your three favorite customer experiences?
NATE BROWN: Firehouse Subs, Tennessee Wildlife and Resource Agency, and B&H Photography.

Firehouse Subs: I sent a simple tweet complimenting one of their young workers for his customer service skill. Next thing I know, I have a box of awesome Firehouse swag and a very kind personalized note from the brand’s marketing team.

Tennessee Wildlife and Resource Agency: I was sitting on the side of a river and wanted to do some fishing but realized I didn’t have a license yet. I sent a tweet to TWRA on a Saturday morning. They responded almost immediately with a self-service option for me to purchase my license right on the spot. I had my line in the water within minutes. Social support for the win!

B&H Photography: I took a second to fill out a survey based on my digital purchasing experience. They responded back in a wonderful and personal manner, letting me know how much they appreciated my time and feedback. I was blown away to get a response at all, and shocked to get something so meaningful!

QUESTION: Which social platform is the best tool for creating a quality customer experience, and why? If different, which platform is the most effective for addressing customer complaints or issues in a timely manner, and why?
NATE BROWN: If we are going with just platform in general, I would go with PHONE. Because I’m old school. I just love a good conversation. If I have to choose a social platform, however, I would go with Twitter. It’s visible enough to get immediate attention, and flexible enough to correspond over direct message with a “chat channel” feel. Sadly, my social support experiences have still been very hit-or-miss. In many cases my request for support is entirely ignored.

TWEET THIS: Twitter is the best social platform for creating a quality customer experience because it's visible enough to get immediate attention, and flexible enough to correspond over direct message with a “chat channel” feel. ~@CustomerIsFirst

QUESTION: Your pinned tweet on Twitter says, “At the end of the day, #CustomerExperience is people being intentional about making other people’s life easier and better.” Can you explain this further?
NATE BROWN: It’s going back to the concept that CX is both an art and a science. It’s easy to get lost in the science of it all and focus on Net Promoter Scores and customer satisfaction levels. What really matters, however, is if you have positively impacted someone’s life through a better experience. Seek out the positive stories and celebrate them!

My gratitude and appreciation to Nate for sharing his insights!

Image Credit: Concept thanks to Nate Brown.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

How Do You Communicate with Your Fans?

Recently, I visited a local automotive museum because I had planned to attend an advertised truck show. The automotive museum was not the famous one on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles that resembles a red race track. It was a small museum in a Los Angeles suburb. The problem happened when I entered the museum: I was told that the truck show planned for the day of my visit had been canceled.

I immediately did what anyone would do in today's mobile device era. I pulled my smartphone out of my purse, found the museum's website, and showed the receptionist the museum's site's homepage. The homepage mentioned the truck show, the date of my visit, the times, and even included a PDF flyer.

What did the receptionist say upon seeing the site's homepage? He said, "I see the information on the homepage, but we removed it from the EVENTS page about two months ago." Did I hear correctly? The events page on the website was correct, but the homepage was incorrect? Who made the decision to update the sub page without updating the homepage?

This error caused me to ponder how big brands communicate with their customers, fans, and other key stakeholders. There should be emails when events are canceled. There should be big yellow stickers placed strategically "above the fold" (aka, near the top) of websites. Depending on the size of the brands, the stickers with the updates should be placed on every page of a website - not just the events or news page. Depending on the size of the brand, a press release may be appropriate. And lastly, all social media platforms used by the brand should promote any event changes. In this case, the social sites used by the museum were quiet about the cancellation of the truck show.

While the receptionist apologized for the inconvenience, and I still was able to see some classic cars, I was disappointed that I missed the truck show. What should the automotive museum have done? Should it have given me a free ticket for another special event? Or should it have offered to drive me around the block in a 1940's-era Packard, like the one used in the Rose Parade?

What would your brand have done?

Monday, July 16, 2018

To Lead or To Manage, That is the Question?

I would like to re-introduce John Baldoni to my blog. I met John on Twitter in 2009, and over the last nine years, I've gained incredible insights as a result of his Twitter feed, blog posts, e-newsletters, videos, and books. A review of one of his books appeared on my blog back in 2014, and you can read the review by clicking here. Recently, John and I had a conversation about leadership, and highlights follow below his bio.

John Baldoni is an internationally-recognized leadership educator and executive coach, and speaks throughout North America and Europe. He’s the author of more than a dozen books, including MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership, Lead with Purpose, Lead Your Boss, and The Leader’s Pocket Guide; and his 13 books have been translated into 10 languages. John writes regularly for and produces a video coaching series for SmartBrief. Visit and connect on Twitter @JohnBaldoni.

QUESTION: What are the key differences between the roles of management and leadership?
JOHN BALDONI: Check out the image for a useful visual explanation.

QUESTION: What is the most memorable thing you learned from a boss, and how has that lesson shaped your career?
JOHN BALDONI: The job is not finished until we do a debrief. This is the principle behind the After Action Review which our military has been practicing since the time of the Civil War. In fact, there is a library of sorts at the U.S. Army War College that is a collection of “lessons learned.” During a review, you will learn what you did right, what you did wrong, and what you can do better the next time.

QUESTION: One of my bosses told me that I should “lower my expectations” of the employees I supervised. How would you have responded to that directive?
JOHN BALDONI: Get a new boss. You get what you put into your leadership. Consider what you are working with. Focus on creating conditions for people to succeed. Set expectations. Provide resources and support. Challenge and coach. Those who respond will succeed; those who do not may not be right for your team.

QUESTION: How can leaders maintain a digital footprint (i.e., use social media) while simultaneously setting a positive example?
JOHN BALDONI: Technology is neutral. As the novelist Phillip K. Dick reminds us, it’s what people do with technology that can be nefarious. Visit your people face to face. Make them feel that you are interested in them. How? Listen, listen, listen. Some of the finest senior leaders I know visit people where they work, even when it means traveling. Know the kaizen principle of “gemba” — where the work is done.

Nothing makes an executive look smaller than using social media to air grievances, particularly ad hominem attacks. Not only do they make the executive look petty and weak, they tarnish the reputation of the organization from which they work. Be smart. Don’t use social media to gripe. Use it to converse.

QUESTION: What is your favorite leadership quote?
JOHN BALDONI: Here’s one from Abraham Lincoln: 

“I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live in it so that his place will be proud of him.”

My gratitude and appreciation to John for re-appearing on my Blog and sharing his timeless leadership insights!

Image Credit: John Baldoni.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Learn How to Transform Difficult Customers into Brand Advocates

Seven years ago, I met Marilyn Suttle on Twitter and was intrigued by the title of her book, “Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan." After I read the book, I shared a review here on my Blog, and here's the link. I also included my favorite story from the book in a recent post entitled, "Want Your Brand to Soar Above the Competition? Learn from Five Amazing Brand Experiences?," and here's the link. Based on Marilyn's amazing insights, I've invited her to participate in a Q&A, and highlights follow her bio below.

Marilyn Suttle is an international customer service speaker and best-selling author based in Metro Detroit. She works with leaders and teams that want to attract and retain customers, inspire employee engagement, and create strong connected relationships. For 20 years, she has trained thousands on relationship-strengthening communication and success strategies. Her clients have won industry awards, raised customer satisfaction levels, and achieved lasting results in reducing stress and experiencing greater success and self-fulfillment.

Marilyn’s advice has been featured on TV news and in print/online media including U.S. News and World Report, Psychology Today, and Inc. Magazine. She co-authored the book, “Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan,” which is currently in print in both English and Chinese. Her latest book is in a category of one, “Color Their World,” which is the first customer service activity book that is also an adult coloring book – and it has become a bestseller in the United States, Canada and Germany. You can find Marilyn on Twitter @MarilynSuttle, at her website (, and on LinkedIn (  

QUESTION: What appeals to you about Customer Experience Marketing (CEM)?
MARILYN SUTTLE: What appeals to me most about CEM is the focus on what customers want most – to be truly served, not sold to. I’m happy to see brands taking this relationship strengthening approach. Simply put, CEM is the practice of engaging customers with responsive interactions that earn long-term brand loyalty. Even though it takes a strong effort to design processes that track and respond to customers’ preferences and expectations, when done well, it results in vocal advocates. Forrester’s Customer Experience (CX) Index reports that while 73% of companies consider it a priority to improve the customer experience, only 1% deliver an excellent customer experience. When you put the customer experience at the forefront of your marketing decisions, you stand out among the crowd and differentiate yourself.

QUESTION: How do you measure customer experience success?
MARILYN SUTTLE: It takes a big picture view to get it right. Case in point, after having an amazing customer experience at a retail store, I jumped at the chance to give positive feedback by calling the phone number at the bottom of my receipt. The survey (designed to thoroughly capture my customer experience) was excruciating. After eight long minutes of misery, my enthusiasm toward the brand soured. Bottom line: Don’t turn your customer experience measurement tool into a torture device.

So, what measurements work well? The answer is…it depends.

There’s the well-known Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), which is a simple “were you satisfied?” type of question.

Then there are productivity metrics, like Average Speed of Answer and Average Handling Time.

The Customer Effort Score (CES), for example, “How much effort did you personally have to put forth to handle your request?” is another type of metric that identifies areas where improvements can be made.

The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is yet another well-known measurement is used to determine the percentage of customers who would recommend your company to their family and friends, based on a question like this, “On a scale of one to ten, how likely are you to recommend us?”

A common problem with metrics is that, when you make adjustments to accommodate one score, it can have unintended consequences on others. For example, a success in shortening the length of a call can cause oversights and leave customers highly dissatisfied.    

A useful measure of customer experience is to track customer support needs per year. That includes support needs with self-service, chat, Interactive Voice Response, email, etc. Document a customer’s typical experience to identify pain points and moments of truth. Then, draw on your employees to find ways to improve processes.

Bottom line, choose your measurement approach with care to ensure that the ones you pick don’t have a damaging effect on your other key performance indicators.

QUESTION: What’s your favorite story about a bad customer experience turnaround?
MARILYN SUTTLE: This story comes from an interview I conducted with PRS Guitars, a manufacturer of high-end instruments that are played by rock stars, coveted by collectors, and enjoyed by enthusiasts around the world. It was featured in “Who’s Your Gladys?” a best-selling customer service book I co-authored a few years back.

An irate customer called Shawn Nuthall, the manager of customer service at Paul Reed Smith Guitars. The customer had purchased a PRS guitar from an online dealer, and when he pulled it out of the shipping box, he discovered a six-inch scratch on the case. The angry customer was sure that the scratch was caused by the long staples that were used to seal the packaging. The online dealer would not take responsibility for the damage, insisting that the case was in perfect condition when it was shipped out.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Shawn, took the most immediate approach to resolving his customer’s issue. He said, ‘‘What’s your address? I’ll send you out a new case.’’ Relieved, the customer asked, “What do you want me to do with the damaged case?’’ Shawn replied, ‘‘Maybe you can pay it forward and help out a kid who needs a case. If not, consider it a backup, and when you go to your next gig, take the beat-up case.’’

The customer was shocked. Has asked, ‘‘That’s it? You’re just going to send me a case?’’ Shawn didn’t see a reason to put his customer to any further trouble. ‘‘He had a problem, and I took care of it. If I have a problem with a product, I want to call the company and have it handled quickly. It doesn’t serve me to give people the runaround. If someone calls with a problem and I can make that problem go away painlessly, why wouldn’t I? I don’t understand the philosophy of companies that expect you to make 10 different phone calls and talk to 20 different people.’’ Shawn’s approach turned his angry customer into a fan, and soon afterward, Paul Reed Smith himself received a glowing letter about this guitarist’s extreme satisfaction with Shawn and with PRS.

QUESTION: What two brands stand out as examples of good customer experience marketing, and why?
MARILYN SUTTLE: While a whole book can be written on the topic, I’ll share a successful feature from two companies that excel at CEM.
Amazon does an amazing job of creating positive customer experiences through Amazon Prime. Once a customer becomes a member, they tend to return regularly and try new offerings. Amazon gives a free 30-day membership to try out Prime – long enough to get the customer (myself included) hooked on free two-day delivery, streaming movies, and other perks. The “frequently bought together” feature and the Amazon Wish List feature make it easy for customers to enjoy community involvement and ease of finding desired gifts for family and friends. This is just a snapshot of how they make the customer experience even more valued.

This e-commerce company sells home goods. It attracts customers with tech-savvy visual marketing designed in a way that aids customers in finding what they want and discovering what then didn’t even know they wanted. Images of fully-decorated rooms help viewers discover their style preferences. When a customer clicks or taps on the little tags connected to furniture and accessories in a photo, for example, rugs, lamps, or chairs, it automatically brings up the price, details, and reviews of the item. This one feature goes a long way in creating a satisfying customer experience.

QUESTION: Do you think every business should have a Customer Experience Officer (CXO)? Why or why not, and what should the person’s background be?
MARILYN SUTTLE: Companies committed to growth benefit by having a Customer Experience Officer to drive higher levels of customer satisfaction and improve bottom line impact. It’s an integral role for maintaining customer-focused alignment through every decision. They are the catalyst for internal collaboration cross-company to maintain a corporate culture of excellence.

The background requirements for a CXO role vary greatly. Try this: Do a LinkedIn search by filling in the title field with “Customer Experience Officer” and start reading. You’ll find that no two professionals seem to have the same list of experiences. What they do have in common, though, is strong leadership skills, and the charisma and credibility needed to enroll key leaders throughout the company in prioritizing and collaborating on customer experience.

My gratitude and appreciation to Marilyn for appearing on my Blog and for sharing her insights about the very important specialty known as customer experience marketing and its alignment with creating brand advocates.

Image Credit: Marilyn Suttle.