Shep Hyken On Creating An Amazing Customer Experience (Interview)

How can you create an experience that turns everyone customer into a raving fan? In this interview, Customer Experience expert Shep Hyken shows us how.

Customer Experience

Today’s guest is well-known customer experience expert Shep Hyken. Shep works with companies who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees.

His focus is on delivering amazing customer service, customer engagement, managing the customer experience and creating customer loyalty. He is a hall of fame speaker (National Speakers Association) and a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling author.

So what makes an exceptional customer experience and where should you start? That’s what I sat down to speak with Shep about earlier today. Watch the complete interview or read the transcript below

Full Interview Transcript

Lauren: Hi everyone. This is Lauren from Fieldboom. If you’re not familiar with us, we provide simple software that allows you to create beautiful online surveys and forms in under five minutes. And today I have the pleasure of interviewing customer service guru and influencer, Shep Hyken.

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Shep, thanks so much for joining me today.

Shep: Thank you for having me. I appreciate the compliment, “Guru,” wow.

Lauren: Well, of course. Well, let’s go ahead and jump into our questions. We’ll start off by asking you how would you describe exceptional customer service?

Shep: Well sometimes the best way to describe service is that there’s no service issue at all. And that means one of two things. Either you’re dealing with a product and it’s flawless, you call somebody, you get straight in, it’s like there’s no friction, there’s no effort, it’s as easy as possible.

Others might describe service as something better … a good service experience, or an exceptional experience, as something that’s out of the ordinary, or better than average. And one of the things I preach to my clients is that that secondary one … By the way, effortless is real important too, because as soon as there’s friction or effort, then you have to work to get back to where you need to be, to where your customer says, “Oh, you’re great to do business with.”

But anything that’s better than average. Even just a tiny, tiny bit better than average. That, if it’s done consistently, puts you in what I call, “The zone of amazement,” because that’s what the key, amazing companies are consistently better than average. Every once in a while they get to be amazingly over the top better than average, but most of the time it’s just a little bit.

Lauren: Very true. Well, and can you give an example of what great customer service looks like?

Shep: Wow, it’s so easy. What it looks like is when you walk into … let’s just … everybody goes out to eat. So you walk into a restaurant and immediately you’re greeted by a host, or a hostess. That person asks your name, they, “Yes, we have your reservation. Your table’s ready. And by the way, welcome back mister, or missus, whoever the name is.”

Now, just right of the top there, several things. Number one, easy, it was walked in, they recognised us, they were ready for us, they used our name and now they’re sitting us.

The same thing, go to an auto dealership and you’re going in to get your car serviced, you call and make an appointment. Well that was easy. As soon as you drive in, your paperwork’s ready to go, they recognise you when you … well, they recognise … as soon as you identified yourself, although a good dealership will recognise the car coming in, licence plate, they know who you are, they’re walking to you and know who you are. That’s … see? There’s a little secrets behind a service if you will, little systems that make it even a little bit better.

And then they tell you what’s wrong with your car, or tell what they’re gonna do to the car, they tell you what time is gonna be ready, and guess what? They call you and they tell you it’s ready before it’s too late and you call and go, “Where’s my car?” They’re meeting all of the timeline and expectations. So there’s some examples of what good service is. And that’s very front line oriented.

How about on a business to business? When the manufacturer promises something’s going to be made, shipped and sent, couple of things. Number one, you’re constantly being informed through email as the process goes along, your product’s being made, it’s now in the warehouse, it’s now being prepped for shipping, it’s now shipping, here’s a tracking number. And you’re being informed the entire … and guess what? It shows up on time, if not even a little bit earlier than you expected it or needed it, which is perfect.

Lauren: Yes. Perfect examples. And would you say the need for superior customer service has changed or become more important in today’s society?

Shep: Well, gosh, yes. Of course, it has. I think that it’s become a differentiator, it’s a competitive advantage. Today they are stating, by the year 2020, which is just a few years from now, that the customer service experience will be more important than a low price.

I don’t know if service makes price completely irrelevant, but I know it makes it a lot less relevant. So from a competitive differentiation stand point, a better service experience wins you business over competitor if everything else is equal, but now they’re saying it’s gonna be so important, it’s even gonna trump price as a consideration. I love that idea.

I think the expectation for service is higher than ever before and the reason is, is because companies are starting to educate their customers on what good service looks like. And by the way, it may not be my company that’s doing it, but some other rockstar company not even in my industry, is delivering a great service experience, teaching my customers what good service is, now I’ve gotta go match somebody that’s not even in my industry, in order to be thought of as a rockstar in the customer service world.

And I think that’s important for every company and every business out there to understand. You are no longer being compared to your competitor. You’re being compared to anybody that’s great at delivering service.

Lauren: Yes, very true. Kind of along those lines of what’s going on in today society, what should they be doing on social channels to improve the customer experience?

Shep: Well, the first and foremost thing is to respond to all social posts. And that includes things on Twitter, Facebook, any other social channel including review sites, like Yelp, TripAdvisor. And I don’t care what industry you’re in, there’s probably a review site for your industry, where they’re talking about you.

And when I say, “Respond,” most people think, “Okay. They complain, I should respond.” No. Respond to every comment. I know that sounds like it could be big or daunting, but I think if somebody’s taking the time to write something nice to you, at least like their response, or recognise that you’ve read their response, you give them a little bit of feedback, even if it’s a sign of, “Yes, I like what you did. I re-Twitted you,” or maybe I actually make the comment.

Now, if it’s a problem, or a question, not always a problem but maybe a question, they need help, well then respond as well. But here is the next word I’m gonna use and it’s one word to sum it all up: quickly. You respond quickly to everything. Maybe not as important when somebody makes a nice comment, but if somebody’s got a question …you know, the average response time for customer service on Twitter is approximately seven hours. That’s ridiculous. If I want my question answered in seven hours, I would wait seven hours to ask the question, right?

Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, email, which I know isn’t truly a social channel, but it is still a channel, any channel you should respond quickly.

Now, if it’s a problem or a negative response, obviously you don’t want to start or get into an argument or debate with a customer. Say for example with Twitter, you move it to a direct message format. You move it if you have to, to a phone support. And by the way, that’s the only channel today, that you can switch somebody from. You can’t ask somebody, “Hey, thanks for reaching out to us on Facebook. You mind if we go into the direct message mode of Twitter?” No, you can’t get them to switch a social channel, but you can get them to switch into a phone channel typically.

And in a perfect situation, if somebody complains, respond by apologising and acknowledging and say, “The first thing we need to do to fix this is for us to have a chat. Can we get on phone, or can we move this offline, direct message?” Go back and forth, do whatever it takes, get it fixed and then, as the business, jump back on to the social channel, thank the customer for bringing this to your attention and say, “It was great that we were able to resolve this.”

In the perfect world, the customer is gonna come back on. Doesn’t happen as much as I’d like it to, but in the perfect world the customer will come back on to say, “Yes, thank you, I’m glad I brought this to your attention blah blah blah. You guys are awesome.” Okay? That’s in the perfect world. But the worst case is that anybody watching, sees customers respond, company respond, goes offline, comes back on, problem solved.

My friend Jay Baer … I don’t know if you’ve interviewed Jay but you should if you haven’t … Jay mentions that customer service, because of social media, is now a spectator sport. Everybody in the world gets to watch how a company is handling the interactions that customers and the companies are involved in.

Lauren: That’s very, very true. Well, along the lines of say like products and services, what can they be doing to market those with the customer in mind?

Shep: Well, everything needs to have the customer in mind. Anytime … and this is what we call, “Customer focus.” Anytime a company is deciding to create a product, change a product, introduce a new product, introduce a new system, a new way of doing things, go to ask people … maybe got a new shipping process, a new order form that we’re putting on our website. Anytime you’re gonna do something new, always ask how is this going to impact the customer. Is it gonna be a non-event where they barely notice, if notice at all? Are they going to notice and it’s gonna be a better improvement? Or are they gonna notice and there’s a little friction?

For example, banks and financial institutions have compliance issues and they’re constantly sending emails to you asking you to agree and acknowledge you received things. And there’s a little bit of friction there, asking a customer to do that, but you know, you have to do it, because it’s the law.

What about raising a price? We sit down, we gotta raise prices. Well, what if we just surprise the customer and raise the price, how is the customer going to perceive this? And the answer might be, well, some may not mind, but if the explanation is, “We had a choice. We can cut the quality of the product, but which we know you don’t want. We can cut the quality of the service, which we know you don’t want, because if we left the price here, you wouldn’t be happy with this long term. So we had to raise it just a little bit and that’s our explanation.”

Most people say, “Okay, I get it. If you decide to raise …” I know there were some issues last year where a drug company raised their prices by 2000% and it was all out of greed and not out of really being customer focused.

And if you really do it with the customer in mind and recognise, “They may not like this decision, but we have to do it for the overall effect and ultimately they will like us when we’re all finished.”

I hope that answers the question. I know sometimes I go off on a little tangent, but I try to give you a little bit more than you thought you’re gonna get, which is what customer service is all about, right?

Lauren: Exactly. No, that’s perfect.

Well, inevitably, no matter what industry you’re in, people are gonna make mistakes, so what are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen businesses make when it comes to customer service? And maybe ways to kind of avoid those.

Shep: Sure. Well, first and foremost everybody thinks … not everybody. The companies you’re referring to, that make the mistake think that customer service is a department and that it’s frontline based, and that is so far from the truth.

A customer focused company, a company known for customer service, if you really dig into it, you’re gonna find that their culture is about customer service. So it starts with the CEO deciding … or anybody who would call themselves as a leader of the company, deciding, “Hey we’re gonna deliver great customer service. This is our initiative, this is how we’re going to do it.” So they decide they’re gonna do it, they actually define what it looks like, they communicate it to everybody, they train everybody on how to do it. And by the way, when I say, “Everybody,” you need to get your people on the frontline, you got people in the warehouse. They’re gonna be trained differently, but they’re going to understand what the philosophy and initiative is all about. Everybody gets trained.

Leadership needs to demonstrate it, they need to defend it when people, or departments, or individuals are going out of alignment with it, and then it needs to be celebrated. Everybody needs to know, “We’re on track, we’re doing it right, let’s be happy about it.”

So the biggest mistake I think companies will make, is that they don’t recognise that service is a philosophy, not a department.

Lauren: Very true. It needs to be a whole encompassing effort, really.

Shep: Right. Wholistic, if you will.

Lauren: Yes, exactly. And, kind of along those same lines, what are some ways to provide more personalised experience for customers?

Shep: The first thing is, don’t think of them as an account number. I use this example all the time, I called up a major computer manufacturer that I buy my computers from, and very quickly somebody’s on the phone, a customer service rep operator, whatever you want to call him, receptionist. And they don’t say, “Hello, how are you?” They say, “Can I have your account number?” “I don’t have my account number.” “Well, what’s your phone number?” “Do you have caller ID?” “Yes.” “Then you have my phone number.” “Sir, we need to verify.” “Okay.” I give my phone number, they give me my account number, they say, “Please write it down and keep it handy.”

I didn’t realise just how handy, or how soon I would need this, because they said, when I told them what I wanted to buy, they transferred me to the correct department and the first person, or first question the person asked me was, “What’s your account number?” And I go, “Didn’t I just give somebody my account number? Why do you need it again?”

First and foremost, personalise by recognise people are people and they’re not account numbers.

Number two. What have they bought in the past? What system do you have that allows you to recognise what they bought in the past, what their frequency of purchase is. There’s lots of systems that can do this. Now, depending upon what your job is, where you are, if you’re in a retail store talking to a customer, you recognise somebody and you can recall. But if you’re talking to somebody over the phone and you’ve got a computer with a screen that has the customer’s name on it, there’s no reason that you can’t have more information, what they bought.

Think about what Amazon does. Amazon is the best example of digital personalization of just about any retailer. When you bought from them before, and you browsed on their website before and you go back on, they will say, “Hey, last time you were here you bought this. You might want to look at this. And you looked at this, you might also want to look at this.” And they start giving you the same great experience that you might get if you are in a store talking to a really good sales person that remembered everything about you.

Lauren: Yes, very true. Well, beyond personalization, what are some ways that you can build trust with your customers?

Shep: Sure. And by the way, back on personalization.

Lauren: Yes.

Shep: For the technical companies out there, you can use a lot of data, you can get a lot of analytics and we’re actually seeing artificial intelligence start to go in and look at the information and compare customers … if you’ve got thousands of customer, maybe it can compare you to hundreds, if not thousands of other customers that buy exactly what you do at exactly the same frequency, so you can start to not just personalise the experience, but predict what their experiences are going to be and what they can be.

The question you just asked was, what else besides personalization can be used to enhance the experience?

Lauren: And to build trust with the customers.

Shep: And to build trust. And that’s a great key, because there’s an old cliche that people like to … cliche is not the right word, a saying. Cliche has a negative connotation. But there’s an old saying that people want to do business and be around people that they know, like and trust.

And that knowing and liking is easy, because perhaps we’ve got a nice looking storefront, we’ve got a sales person, or a customer service rep, or anybody we’re talking to, they present themselves well, they’re friendly. So knowing and liking, we immediately start to know and like them and like them a little bit more, we’ll get to know them a little bit more.

Trust comes from continuity. Trust comes from a predictable experience that people might have over and over. Another form of trust comes from recommendations, or referrals from people that the customer knows. That immediately raises the level of trust, so it’s easier. Basically it’s like it’s yours to lose, not to get, because you’ve already got it when they walk through the door, or they pick up the phone and reach out to you.

What you want to do to create trust is a predictable above average experience. Remember at the beginning, we talked about that amazing customer service comes from just being a little bit better than average. But when you’re predictably that way, in other words it’s all the time, so the words I use to describe this is when people say, “They’re always knowledgeable.” The word, “Always” followed by something good. “They’re always helpful, they’re always friendly. And I know when there’s a problem, I know I can still always count on them to take care of it.”

The word, “Always” followed by something positive. If you are working toward creating that expression if you will, from the opinion the customer would give you, I think you’re on your way to creating that trust and the confidence.

Lauren: And tying into that, and maybe this is the next step after trust, how do they gain their customer loyalty?

Shep: Ah, loyalty. Without trust, I don’t think you can have loyalty. And I actually interchange the words, “Confidence” and “Trust.” Confidence and trust. So great service plus confidence, or trust, equals potential loyalty. And that comes from that predictable experience.

Now, I want you to also think of what I call, “The loyalty question,” which is this: What am I doing right now with this customer that I’m interacting with, that the next time they need whatever it is that they are buying from me, that they would come to me instead of a competitor? Most people think of loyalty as a lifetime. I’m asking people to think about it just for the next time, but every time. So what am I doing now to make sure this customer’s gonna buy from me the next time?

If I’m in an interaction and it’s just, they’re in the store, or they’re on the phone, or whatever, it could be just smooth and I’m doing that right. And that’s good, but what can I do to make it a little bit better? What can I do to take the ordinary and bump it up a little bit of a notch to be above average?

However, if there’s any kind of a confrontation, this is where the rubber really hits the road. What am I doing right now to make sure that customer’s gonna want to come back? Am I trying to win an argument? No. I’m trying to win the customer. So let’s focus on that relationship and not that just little one time interaction.

Lauren: Yes, and maybe one way to get answers to those questions that you’re asking would be with surveys and I was wondering how important are using surveys when it comes to customer experience? And talk about the importance of those.

Shep: Sure. Peter Drucker … or, gosh. It’s been credited to Peter Drucker. Several other people said, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” So measurement’s important, measurement comes from surveys. Now, what kind of survey are you going to send somebody? Are you gonna send somebody a 10-15 minutes survey with multiple questions, pages of questions, or are you gonna make it easy?

I personally prefer the easy way. You’re gonna get more interaction, you’re gonna get more responses and you can follow up with all of them. How important is it? The simple answer is that it’s really important if you want to know how you’re doing and here’s the key. It’s not just about knowing how you’re doing.

Let’s take NPS, Net Promoter Score, which is one of the more popular customer satisfaction scores. On a scale of zero to 10, what’s the likelihood that you would recommend me to a friend, a colleague, whatever business you’re in, a co-worker, whatever, family member. I want to know. Nines and tens are my promoter, sevens and eights are my ones that are in the middle and those are average, they think I’m okay. Actually, I think that’s a big risk. I could potentially lose those people more than anyone else. The ones at the bottom, six and below, I already lost them. They’re my detractors. But I would still like to follow up with them and I would like to find out, number one, why are they detracting, number two, why, or what would it take to get them to come back.

So we can learn an awful lot from the detractors. And by the way, that’s where more people go. “Guys, we got a low score, let’s call those people and find out why.” You’re missing a huge opportunity if you don’t find out from the people who love you what they love about you. And one of the questions I love to ask, if somebody gives us a nine or a 10, I want to know, is there one thing you can think of that can make doing business with us even better? By the way, that’s a great question to ask any customer, because if enough people are saying the one thing and you’re not doing it, maybe it’s time to do it. And if people who love you are asking you for it, it’s a great way to improve on excellence or even perfection.

Lauren: Definitely. And once you’ve collected all that information for using a survey, or Net Promoter Score, or whatever you’re using, why is it so important to then actually act on that feedback?

Shep: I kind of answered that question …

Lauren: Yes.

Shep: … but I think it gives you great insight and it gives you an opportunity for improvement.

Another question by the way, that might be a fun question to ask is … you know, you get somebody that’s giving you a halfway decent score, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. I mean, they get sevens and eights, to me they’re passive. Six probably isn’t that good, but if somebody’s giving me, “Yes, you’re okay, or you’re not excellent,” I want to know what would it take to just bump me up one number. That would be a good question to ask. At the perfect score, ask what would it take to make it even better, but if somebody else gives you a decent score, what would it take to get one number?

So why is this important? Once again, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. And if you see yourself falling short, you’re gonna lose customers to your competitors, who figure out … one of the things we talk about is how to exploit the weakness of your competition. And it’s specifically the weaknesses that applies to customer service. You should be looking for what you can do differently than they do.

By the way, this is what I hate. I tell people to benchmark against their competition, so my clients are saying, “What is that mean exactly?” So what are they doing that you’re not doing. And that becomes a basic bottom line and what you need to do is figure out whatever they’re doing that you decide you want to do, you need to do it better and different than what they’re doing, because you don’t want to be a copycat. Because all you’re gonna do as a copycat is chase and chase and chase every time they make a change you’re gonna make a change.

You know what? If you like something that your competitor is doing, then go for it but make it better, so that the competitor now has to catch up.

I don’t know if that is a direct answer to your question.

Lauren: No, that’s good.

Shep: Okay. Good, good. Just making sure, because I get excited, can you tell? I get excited talking about this.

Lauren: Well, that’s perfect.

Shep: I’ll try to calm down.

Lauren: We love excited. And I know we’ve hit on a lot of different topics with customer experience, but kind of sum it up. If you had to have one takeaway, I guess, or one thing you’d want people to know about the customer experience, what would that be?

Shep: Now you’re using the word, “Customer experience” and I love the word, “Experience.” Experience is the total experience. I’d say, if you want to look at the total experience, look at the journey map. A journey map of your customers’ journey by doing business with you.

And by the way, most companies have multiple types of customers. They have first time customers, repeat customers, customers that buy this type of product versus that type of product. So you might have multiple maps or stories of each customer, but that’s just the start. That’s a touch point. You’re looking at all of the interactions that your customer has with you. I want you to look behind the scenes. What’s driving those touch points? Behind the scenes there’s something we call, “Impact points.” And every single department, if not every person in an organisation, should have some impact on a touch point that’s happening in the customer’s journey.

And to give you a quick example. Obviously if you’re gonna take a trip somewhere and you’re gonna fly, you make a reservation, you go to the airport, you give your bags to the baggage handler, they go down the shoot, you go and check-in and the ticket counter, take your flight, land and there’s your bag waiting for you, eventually when you get off the plane.

Let’s talk about what happens. When that bag goes down to that conveyor belt underneath the airport, and is being picked up by somebody, put it on the luggage cart, scan, put it on a different cart. Many hands, people’s eyes, machines are touching that bag. Those are all the impact points that are gonna drive that one single touch point, which is at the very end, when the customer sees the luggage coming up the conveyor belt, or under the carousel. Make sense?

I think one of the big things that any company can do is journey map their customers’ journey and all the impact points behind the scenes that are taking place as well.

Lauren: Great. I love talking with you. I love your excitement.

Shep: Well thank you. We could go on for days. This is what I do. I’ve written books about this, lots of books.

Lauren: Well that is why we’re talking to you. Thanks so much, I really appreciate it.

And to follow up on everything, if anyone is interested in collecting feedback and insights from your customers, make sure you visit our website at and give Fieldboom a try completely free.

Thanks again Shep and I hope you found the customer experience information helpful.

Shep: Great talk with you Lauren. It’s great to be here and let’s do it again real soon.

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