An Interview with Shep Hyken: Creating Happy and Loyal Customers

On a recent 710 WOR “Mind Your Business” broadcast, Yitzchok Saftlas (YS) spoke with guest, Shep Hyken (SH), Customer Service Expert and NSA Hall Of Famer.

YS: In your 2022 study on A.C.A. (Achieving Customer Amazement), it shows that 83% of customers trust a company more if they provide an excellent customer service experience. Why is that level of trust so vital?

SH: It's an old cliché, but people love doing business with companies that they know, like, and trust. Trust is the hardest part of it. Getting people to know and like your company is actually not too hard, because you can create some great commercials, run promotions, and be welcoming when people come in to give them a friendly experience. But do they trust your company? When you create trust, you get closer and closer to the customer saying, “I like doing business with them because every time I go in there, call them, or do any kind of business with them, the number one thing I see is consistency.” If they know what's going to happen, they trust the experience. Now, trust also comes from the ability for a company to tell customers, “we’re here for you. We're genuine. We're authentic.” And when you add all of those together, you create that trust, which gets customers to want to come back. If I'm a customer, why would I take a chance on doing business with somebody new if I already know that at your business, I'm always going to receive the same level of service and the care that I’m used to? So, trust is important to creating loyalty and it's definitely a factor in getting somebody to come back the next time. If you don't have trust, another company is going to come along and figure out a way to steal your customers.

YS: Another point shown in your study is that 58% of customers believe great customer service is more important than price? What can we take away from that stat?

SH: Perhaps the best example is in the hotel business. If you go to the Ritz Carlton or the Four Seasons, you're going to pay quite a bit more than if you go to a budget hotel that you might find on the roadside. Yet, they're both basically the same thing. There's a room with a bed, a telephone, and a TV. So, why do you upgrade and pay more money for these larger hotels? Well, maybe the bed is a little bit nicer, or the towels are thicker and fluffier. But you know what else is nicer? The experience. The way they treat you. This is what gets your customers to come back again and again. It goes back to that idea of consistency. When your service is predictable and consistent, customers will trust that they are always going to have that same experience. They don't want to take a chance anywhere else. So, as long as a company remains somewhat competitive, price becomes very irrelevant when compared to another company that might be a little less expensive, but doesn't provide that great service experience.

YS: How does a company balance consistency and quality? Would you say that it’s more important for a company to focus on delivering consistently good service rather than focusing on raising the level of quality?

SH: Let me put it to you this way. Most people think that amazement is about being over the top and blowing people away with the most incredible service they've ever had. And that happens in isolated situations, when a problem drops in your lap and then you get the opportunity to go above and beyond. For example, if I'm a waiter and I overhear it's this couple's 10-year anniversary, I'm going to surprise them with a little cake and tell them how much we appreciate them. They're going to love that. But the next time they come back, they're not going to get the cake, because it's not their anniversary. But what they're still going to get, hopefully, is that wonderful attitude, the waiter caring about them and doing what he can to make sure the experience is always great. Once again, it's all about consistency and predictability in creating an experience that is sometimes just the tiniest bit above expectations. It just needs to be a little bit better than average satisfactory service. What does that mean? When you walk into my restaurant, I might recognize you and say, “oh, you were here just a few weeks ago. Welcome back.” I'd make you feel really good. And maybe, if I learn and use your name the next time, I'm bumping it up just a notch. What I've learned is that consistently offering just a tiny bit better than average is what makes customers say, “I love doing business with them. They're always friendly. They're always knowledgeable. They're always helpful. Even when they have a problem, I can always count on them.” And I'll even go a step further. Sometimes you don't even have to be above average. You just have to say, “what's the actual expectation?” When you meet that expectation consistently, you're still falling into that zone of amazement, because even though you're just doing what's expected, you're doing it all the time. That's what makes it amazing. And that's what gets customers to come back.

YS: How important is it to be proactive and transparent with customers when dealing with a crisis, or even something as small as a delay in someone's order?

SH: Why not let the customer know what’s going on before they start worrying about it? For example, if I go to an airport for a flight that’s supposed to leave at 4:00, and there's still no airplane at the gate by 3:45, I know that when the plane lands, it’s going to take 20 minutes to get the people off and 20 more minutes to clean and get everyone on. There's no way we're getting out of here by 4:00. So, why hasn't the gate agent made an announcement to tell me that we're not going to leave at 4:00? I once encountered the same scenario at an airport, but before I even had a chance to walk up to the gate to ask the agent anything, he got on the loudspeaker and said, “hey, everybody, you may notice that plane is not here yet. It won't be here for another 25 minutes. When it lands, we're going to get everybody off and board, but we're probably going to experience about a 25-minute delay. I just wanted to let you all know. And in 10 minutes, I'll confirm if that's still the case.” You could see all of the passengers’ relief. Now, they know what's going to happen. That’s what proactive behavior does. When you inform a customer about problems, it isn't just to inform them about the problem. It's to give them a sense of control over the situation. Simply because they have the knowledge of what's going on, they feel more in control. They may not know when that plane is going to land, but they know that somebody's there, giving them information and taking care of them. And that's all they need to know, to feel good about what's going on. Proactive communication, whether it's about a problem, an order delay, or even just that an order has been placed, makes a huge difference. When you order something on Amazon, the first thing that happens is you get an email that your order has been placed. A little while later, you get notified that your order has been shipped, along with the tracking information. A day or two later, you’ll get an email that says that your order has arrived with a picture of the box leaning up against your doorstep. All we're doing is proactively communicating so that the customer gets some level of control about what's going on.

YS: When a company has to raise their rates, what is the recommended path for informing the customer in order to minimize the potential friction?

SH: This is what makes the difference between a normal company and a customer-focused company. The customer-focused company always considers what's going to impact the customer, either positively or negatively, with whatever decisions they make. “If we decide to add a product to a product line, is this going to hurt the customer? Probably not. They're probably going to be happier. But what happens if we have to take something away? They may be upset. We better have a good explanation, and maybe it’s even better if we proactively tell them.” Whenever we raise prices, we must sit down and think about how this is going to impact the customer and how they are going to respond. Go out and ask a few customers about how they would respond or what they think your reasons are. There was a client that we worked with who had to raise prices, and this is what they did. They sent out a notice to all of their customers saying, “we're raising our prices, and here’s why.” They gave a very clear explanation on why things were more expensive, and also, what would happen if they kept the prices the same. And they said, “in order to maintain the product quality and the levels of service, we're going to have to raise your prices. But I assure you, we're not making more money because of this. We're doing it because we must, in order to give you what you’ve come to expect.” And nobody complained. As a matter of fact, they were sent letters thanking them for the explanation.

YS: In your book, Be Amazing Or Go Home, you discuss the idea of “Lombardi Time.” Could you explain what that is?

SH: Vince Lombardi was a football coach who used to tell his players, “if you arrive to practice right on time, you're late. Be here 15 minutes early, and then you'll be on time.” And it's a great metaphor for any type of meeting or engagement you have with somebody else, because I believe it shows a huge sign of respect if you show up on time or even a minute or two early. And it's a huge sign of disrespect if you show up late, because what you're saying is, “I don't value you enough to be here on time. I think my time is more important than your time.” My dad taught me this lesson before I ever even knew about Lombardi Time. I used to do magic shows when I was a kid, and I would show up to the birthday party I was performing at just a few minutes before it was time to start. And my dad said, “you're too close to the time you're supposed to start. The parents are going to be worried whether or not you're going to show up. How soon do you think you should show up so that they won't worry?” I said, “I don't know. 15-20 minutes?” He goes, “exactly, you need to be there 20 minutes early, even if you've got nothing to do but sit around and wait, so that the parents are comfortable.” That’s what makes a great customer experience versus a stressful experience.