Shep Hyken – Effective Customer Support Starts with Data

Shep Hyken - Effectively Training Customer Support Operations

I recently spoke to Shep Hyken, who is a customer experience expert and the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. He is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Cult of the Customer and The Amazement Revolution and has been inducted into the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement in the speaking profession. Shep works with companies and organizations who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. Some of his clients include American Airlines, AAA, Anheuser-Busch, AT&T, and AETNA. In the following brief interview, Hyken talks about how companies can develop successful customer support operations, how data can help companies improve, and how to train people in effective customer relations.

Dan Schawbel: How can data help you create a better customer support process?

Shep Hyken: There is an old saying in business that you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Measurement sets a benchmark – a baseline – from which to recognize if your company is improving or losing ground in the customer support process.

Schawbel: How can empowering employees help a company develop better customer support?

Hyken: There is a strategy/tactic that I strongly believe in: One to say YES and two to say NO.  This is opposite of what many companies do. They require their people to seek the approval from a manager or supervisor before they can say YES to a special request. The best companies have empowered their employees to come up with good solutions that are customer focused. It starts with hiring the right people, training them properly and then giving them the opportunity to do the right thing. If they make a mistake, consider it to be a learning opportunity. Obviously, if they make too many mistakes they either haven’t been properly trained or they are in the wrong position. That said, if you get the right people in the right job, train them well, empower them to do their jobs and take care of the customer, you will have better response and ratings from your customers, and a side benefit, you’ll have more engaged and fulfilled employees.

Schawbel: What does an effective customer support system look like?

Hyken: This is a difficult question to answer as it looks different from one company to the next. So, let’s look at this as a bigger picture. It’s not so much the system as it is the culture. If the organization’s culture is truly customer focused, then the systems will fall into place. It starts with leadership determining the customer service vision. Then it needs to be communicated to the employees. This puts them in alignment with leadership’s vision. At that point all employees need to be trained to that vision. Note: Training isn’t something you did, it’s something you do. Constant reinforcement of the vision through training is necessary to create and sustain the customer focused culture. From there, the vision must be demonstrated. Leadership, and all employees for that matter, must demonstrate and be role models for others to admire and emulate. Finally, a truly customer focused culture celebrates their successes, letting employees know the organization is fulfilling the vision and initiative.

Schawbel: What do most companies get wrong about customer support?

Hyken: Customer support shouldn’t be limited to just the “customer support” department. Sure, the people in that department may be responsible for support, complaint resolution, etc., but a truly customer focused company recognizes that customer service and support is everyone’s job. Internally we all have customers. These are our fellow employees who depend on us to do their job. If we don’t take care of them, and they can’t do their job, then it trickles out to the customer. One of the favorite things I share with companies is that what is happening on the inside of an organization/company is being felt on the outside by the customer.

Schawbel: How do you go about training companies to be better with customer service? What kinds of things do you talk to them about?

Hyken: As mentioned, training isn’t something you did. It is something you do. The foundation has to be set. That’s usually a bigger training session. It could be kicked off with a keynote speech and followed up with a half-day or full-day of training. Some of our clients have us come back several times over six months or a year. Even if they don’t have our trainers come back, they recognize that the training sessions can’t be an event. To be effective it has to be a process. Many of our clients have short weekly meetings – some even daily. Our suggestion is to take a few minutes of these meetings and reinforce some of the customer service lessons that everyone has been trained on. We have ideas and exercises we share with our clients so that they always have something they can talk about in these sessions. Several things that we always share in our trainings:

Customer service is everyone’s job. Every employee has two (at least) major responsibilities. One is to do the job they were hired to do. The other is to take care of their customer.

Customer service is common sense that unfortunately, is not always so common. The ideas we share in our training sessions aren’t that sophisticated. They really focus on the interaction that people have with their customers, both internal and external. Sure, there are systems that happen behind the scenes, and we are happy to consult with our clients about them, but our over-arching philosophy about customer service and support is that it is about interactions. Manage the interactions for a positive experience.

Finally, I want to emphasize one of my customer service mantras: Customer service is not a department. It’s a philosophy to be embraced by everyone in the organization.

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