Customer Intelligence Master #3 Shep Hyken

In the latest Customer Intelligence Masters series, we were lucky enough to get to interview Shep Hyken

In the latest Customer Intelligence Masters series, we were lucky enough to get to interview Shep Hyken.

Shep is a well-known customer experience expert and the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. He is a Wall Street Journal and New York Times bestselling author and has been inducted into the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement in the speaking profession.

We have been really looking forward to this, below you will find a transcription from the interview. Read on and be inspired by his approach.

1. How did you get started and how did you become a customer service Expert?

When I graduated college I decided to become a motivational type of speaker. As I was reading different books and researching I just kept being drawn more and more to the concept of customer service. This is what I was doing and what I believed in –  that’s pretty much the story. That’s what got me started and over the years with all the clients that I have worked with and all the research that I have done, I have stuck to my expertise.

I didn’t know I was going to be a Customer Service Expert but I did know that I wanted to get up in front of the people and share information – I wanted to be a speaker. There were also a couple of books that influenced me in my search for excellence. For example, Ron Zemke who wrote several books. Once I read those books I realized that the topic of customer service and customer experience really resonated with me. I just read more and more and interviewed many people. I didn’t know what was going to happen but that was what I had insight on.

2. Did anybody inspire you when you were a kid?

Well… Years ago I saw two professional motivational speakers. One of them was Zig Ziglar and the other one was Tom Hopkins. Those are the two people that I saw and thought “Wow! I could probably do that!” When I was a kid I used to do magic shows for birthday parties and eventually I worked in nightclubs – I knew I was comfortable getting up in front of people, so it’s just a matter of “OK, this is a business audience, I have to write something that they would be interested in.”

I was surprised back then that there wasn’t a whole lot written on customer service. The top company in the world in customer service was IBM. Now IBM is still around but they’re not the same company that they used to be, they’re completely different. They don’t sell big computers anymore, they are a software and artificial intelligence company. By the way, today they’re very actively involved in creating great customer experiences using Artificial Intelligence.

3. How do we know whether our customer experience needs improvement?

You can’t manage what you don’t measure, and one way to determine whether you’re doing well is to take measurements. Find out who your customers are! What do they think about you? What is the feedback they’re giving you? And in addition, it’s not just customers, it’s also feedback from your employees. We need to be aware of that as well.

You measure it, and you find out how well you’re doing. You also track your customer numbers, including your retention rate and your repeat customer rate.

I always say that the only measurement that really matters at the end of the day is: Does the customer come back?

When it comes to the experience, how do you know you’re creating a good one? Well, they either come back or they don’t come back. If they don’t come back why not? Something is wrong. Do they go to a competitor the next time?

The first thing we should do is recognize where we stand in our customers’ eyes and understand how our employees think.

(And by the way there’s a direct correlation between employee retention and customer retention – employee retention and customer engagement, and then the fulfillment or the happiness of an employee to the happiness of a customer – what is happening on the inside of a company is felt on the outside.)

4. How do we identify where the problems are in the customer experience?

I think the only way to do that is to be on the frontline – listening to what customers say and getting feedback from the employees that are dealing directly with the customers. There’s a little exercise that we put our clients through in some of our workshops. I have a team that actually goes out and delivers a great training program. One of the exercises we do is we ask the audience what are the most common complaints or issues that our customers have? What are we hearing out there? It could include complaints that we’re always out of stock. Why is that? How can we fix that? Why do they keep complaining about it? You have inventory problems – why aren’t you doing more to figure out how to fix your inventory problem to fix the bad customer experience?

Once you find out what all the complaints are – then we sit down, we analyze the most popular and most common ones and we figure out ways to at least mitigate if not totally eliminate what the problems are.

I think the big mistake that companies make is that they don't listen to the people who work for them who are dealing directly with customers. Click To Tweet

By the way, I would also do the same exercise internally. This gives you suggestions on what could be handled better and take a look at internal friction points as well. The other thing I would suggest is that executives should spend some time on the frontline, or go out with a salesperson and actually experience what’s happening with the customers.

5. What are your thoughts on the recent hype on personalization?

I love the idea of personalization! Years ago personalization was like, “I know enough about you – from you coming here before – so that I can give you a personalized experience.” Today there is this concept of mass personalization and what is very interesting is if you look at all of your customers you could probably segment them into maybe four or five different groups – they call them personas and personalization personas. I’ll give you a great example:

Nike has a great personalization program. If I buy basketball shoes I’m going to receive content related to what I’ve shown interest in. If I buy running shoes I’ll receive information on running shoes but I’m not going to receive information on basketball shoes. They’ve managed to put me into a bucket, segment me into what my interests are. I think it’s a very good idea to do that because it reaches out directly to the customer. It’s a part of the customer experience. If you send me content that’s relevant to me then I’m going to want to do more business with you. Some people call it ‘hype’ but I think it’s ‘reality’.

I think any company given the opportunity should figure out a way to create some type of personalized marketing and branding experience. Click To Tweet

Now, I’d also like to just quickly talk about something called ‘micro personalization’ or you may know it as microdata. If I’m a hotel owner and you stay at my hotel I should take note and have your record for when you come back. What you like or dislike about your room so that I can make sure I give you the same experience that you were happy with before. Then when you come in I would say, “Oh [Name] it’s really nice to see you again. Hey, last time you had a corner room on the eighth floor I’ve got that room available for you again. Would you like that?”

That’s a very personalized experience – micro personalization. And I think it’s a very powerful thing to do. Micro personalization is just something I call it.

6. What about the fact that personalization also raises issues of privacy? Where to find a balance?

I think that if I am willing to give you my information and I give you a permission to market to me that you do it and you personalize it – that doesn’t bother me. It would bother me if you sell my information or if you use it in a little bit more of what I would call an aggressive manner.

It’s not even about privacy – I’ve given you a right to market to me but I didn’t give you the right to cross the line. Personalization and privacy to me are two separate topics although, you can abuse the personalization, therefore, causing privacy issues.

We need to know what we can do, make promises to our customers and keep those promises. There’s a reason why I don’t lose subscribers every month in my newsletter. That’s because I give them what I promise. I don’t market and sell them continuously. Aggressive marketers will say to me, “You’re making a mistake when you don’t push harder.” Maybe I am losing sales because I don’t push harder. but you know what? I have a community of followers out there that appreciate me because of how I handle my situation. I don’t want to disappoint them.

7. To what extent should we try to replace the human customer experience with a digital one?

I think chatbots have their place right now, they are great! They provide an excellent way to gather information or help a customer with what I would call lower-level issues, such as changing my address or checking on an order. Those are great AI functions. AI is not taking care of things on a really high level yet and I don’t know how long it will be before they really will. However, I am observing that at a basic tertiary level, so far they are being handled quite well.

8. In the future, which additional tools do you feel business owners will be looking for to create/improve their customer relationship?

First, I think more and more business owners and leaders of major companies are recognizing the importance of the customer experience and therefore, they will put more effort into anything related to that endeavor, but let’s get specific. I think AI is something that even small companies will be able to use because the cost of creating a basic front-end AI that asks and answers basic questions is very inexpensive today.

Next, there are companies that allow you to bring all of your customer information through different channels and consolidate it onto one good platform. Those tools are coming down in price to where any company can afford to do this. I think it’s exciting what we have today that we didn’t have even two or three years ago, and I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen two or three years from now!

9. How do you see the future of customer intelligence? What do you think will the key trends be in 2020 for customer care?

I love the word that you’re using here, intelligence. It’s not just customer experience its customer intelligence. When you have enough customers over a period of time you can see trends, you can predict what they’re going to do. Computers and AI are going to benefit us tremendously and will give us insight into what the trends. It will help us with support, it will help us with inventory control, it will help us understand what we need to do, and how we need to do it.

Personalization is a trend that will continue and only get better. And by the way, because of the new privacy laws, will get safer.

The next trend I think will be from social customer care, customers reaching out through multiple channels like Twitter or the Facebook messaging app. They’re going to continue to use the phone especially as things escalate. I think you really need to be very cognizant of what’s happening on your company channels and manage the social customer experience.

Self-service is more important than ever before, and we’re not talking about just a Frequently Asked Questions site although, that’s a really good start. I think self-service solutions like posting videos, allowing people to be able to log on and track their own information without having to pick up a phone and call someone to find out where their packages are is allows the customers to enjoy the experience. We really need to focus on a good self-service experience.

AI is going to support customers and agents who support customers AI will allow us to make predictions and see upcoming trends. I know people are worried about the fact that AI is going to take away jobs and I think in the short term we do not need to worry about it. In the long term, it’s definitely going to happen.

AI will take some jobs in the customer support world but jobs are going to open up in other areas as well. Click To Tweet

People will have to learn different skills. There are some great reports that say it’s not quite one for one but it’s going to be a long time before we see jobs disappear. I always say that when the banking industry introduced the ATM everybody thought the ATM machines would take away jobs at the bank. There would be no more tellers. There are still bank tellers and video didn’t kill the radio star.

10. Where do you as an Expert look for inspiration and new knowledge? Any links or books you could share with us?

I read a book every week soaking up. It helps me to form opinions and gather knowledge. I love helping other people to get what they want. I’ve got a customer service mentality. I love to serve.

11. Is there anybody who inspires you the most?

I’ve got to tell you it’s going to sound like a cliche or dated, but Jeff Bezos inspires me.

I’ve never met the man and I hope one day to be able to meet him. If I could go to dinner with the man I’d love to just learn from him and sit and let him just share his wisdom. If he’s willing to do that – I’m willing to go there.

I have a new book coming out later this year called The Convenience Revolution. I think convenience is going to be one of the biggest differentiators. Which is one of the reasons why Jeff Bezos inspires me because I believe Amazon is the easiest company on the planet to do business with.

My favorite book of all time is called The Experience Economy by Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore and it’s all about creating an amazing experience. They use Starbucks as an example and I think that’s a great case study. They used Starbucks when Starbucks wasn’t even as big as they are today!

***How do you spend your free time – you seem like a super busy person? 

I don’t have much free time. I don’t sleep a lot. However, I play ice hockey, I play guitar.

I do card tricks and I’ll do all three of those today in addition to all my work. I’ll pick up my guitar sometime during the day and I’ll probably pick up a deck of cards and practice the card trick.

***Where do you get the energy from?

I’m like the Energizer Bunny. I just keep going

Got inspired? You can always reach Shep out at  


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