Customer experience is the new arena for competitive advantage

CX is a performance. We must always view the customer as a guest, patron, and an audience.

By Chip Bell

##CX #customercare #customerservice #CustomerExperience

Table of Contents


At Botsify, we make chatbots for websites. The goal with the technology we provide our users isn’t simply to automate previously slow and manual tasks. Instead, the goal of our software is to make the customer’s experience interacting with a company more enjoyable. Imagine no more wait times, a more thorough understanding of your problis, and no chat agents dealing with 5 customers at the same time.

Essentially, the goal of our technology is to help companies improve their Customer Experience (CX).

Over the coming months, we’ll be interviewing thought-leaders in the CX space in a quest to better educate you and , our blog reader, about how to make your own company more competitive through the use of creative CX strategies.

In today’s interview, we’re going to be talking about many things. Front lines. Preparation. Execution. Bravery. Courage. Wait… are we talking about a CX strategy here or a war zone?

Actually we’re referring to both.

You may be surprised to discover how many fundamental similarities a battlefield has to a CX strategy. This is a connection made by Chip Bell, a highly decorated Vietnam war veteran, and CX expert.

Chip is here with us today to help us make that connection. He will show you how to implient the same principles relied on in the front lines of war, into the customer experience that your business delivers, in a quest to leave your customers with a story worth telling.

The Interview

Hi, Chip. First of all, thank you for speaking with us today. Let’s jump right in. Your company tagline is “Take their breath away”. When you were getting started in the world of CX, did you have an experience that took your breath away? If so, what was it?

Thank you so much. It is an honor for me to be with you. I have been in the CX field for many years and seen it evolve from the pinnacle of customer service from being “customer satisfaction” to a recognition that customer advocacy is a much higher evaluation and one that can impact the bottomline. 75%of customers who leave asn organization to go with a competitor, say they were satisfied or completely satisfied with the one they abandoned. It is not a lofty goal. I ask audiences to consider their best experiences—a great restaurant and recall the language they use to describe it. What if you came back from your honeymoon and someone asked, “How was your honeymoon?” and you answered, “I was completely satisfied!”. You would likely be in a bit of trouble! We also have learned over the years that as products have become more error-free and high quality, as prices have become fairer and more competitive (price gouge and social media will take you completely out of the game), they are no longer major differentiators unless you are the only game in town. So, the customer experience becomes an arena for competitive advantage.

“Take their breath away” is grounded in a recognition that customers today do not talk or tweet about a good experience, only experiences that are unique or over-the-top.

It requires the pursuit of value-unique service, not just value-added service.

Value-added means taking what customers expect and adding more. Value-added is generous but customer expectations can climb right up there with the addition. However, while there is an obvious limit to generosity; there is no limit to ingenuity -those innovative experiences that take customer’s breath away and yield a story that customers are eager to share.

My favorite example is the time my wife bought a new car. She traded in her old car for a newer model. A week after owning the car she turned on the car radio for the first time and discovered the service tech had programmed her radio stations from her trade-in. She does not tell stories about the car; she tells stories about the radio and the creative dealership. It was simple, unexpected and completely appropriate—three criteria for innovative service. When she goes for a service check-up and waits in the reception area, the dealership makes sure there are hazelnut k-cups (her favorite) for their Keurig coffee machine.

Second, the thing that really sets you apart is the fact that you are a Vietnam war veteran. That’s an incredible distinction - and quite unique for this niche. In honor of Veteran’s Day, you produced a striking article called “Veterans Day 2019: Customer Service And The Rules Of Combat”, where you make direct comparisons from the battlefield to the CX with 4 impressive principles. Rule number 2 is “No combat-ready unit ever passed inspection; no inspection-ready unit ever passed combat.” One line in particular within that rule says “It focuses on what works, not on what’s cute.” I just love the attitude behind this concept. How did you ever come up with this connection? What is an example of something that is “cute” within the CX, that just doesn’t work?

I had the honor of serving as an infantry unit commander in Vietnam with the elite 82nd Airborne. I worked closely with Navy SEAL Team 2 and with an Army Ranger unit. My unit was the reconnaissance combat unit that had first contact with the eniy (NVA soldiers and Viet Cong) to collect military intelligence. It was a chance to be in very close combat, as in hand-to-hand sometimes. I later served as a guerilla tactics instructor at the U.S. Army Infantry School.

In those combat roles you learn that success comes from being clever, being avant-garde and being results-oriented. There are rules of engagient and core principles that brought a sense of honor to your role in combat. However, you were there as a warrior with a mission, not just a soldier following the rules. Riiber how Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion kept defeating the British Army in the Revolutionary War despite being heavily outnumbered and out resourced? The British fired from a perfect formation on command in red uniforms; Marion’s Brigade fired from trees and rocks in surprise attacks wearing camouflage. The same is true with innovative service.

The winners are those willing to experiment, invent, pilot and think outside the box.

Disruptors become forces in the marketplace, not because they follow well, but because they lead. It is like the cartoon characters Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. Wile E. sees the bird as his competitor; the reverse is not the case. The Road Runner does his thing focused on his own standards and is frankly amused by Coyote. In combat, we focused on what worked; not what was popular or standard operating procedures. It means leaders encouraging their frontline associates with trust, training, coaching and support. It means treating iployee mistakes as opportunities for learning, not a chance for rebuke.

“Would your customers describe you as brave or courageous?” is another question you ask companies to consider. I imagine these characteristics as being a part of a company’s internal strategy, but this quote implies that the customer is directly experiencing these ideals reflected in their CX. Could you shed some light on the ways in which that happens? What are some specific examples of a customer having a good reason to describe your company as brave or courageous?

Courageous companies are run by courageous people. It signals to customers that the company is willing to grow, experiment and change.

Customers are able to differentiate between foolhardy and bravery.

Bravery suggests confidence and grounding, typically with a set of core values. We are impressed with the history of Southwest Airlines who followed the guidance of leadership focused on a culture of love and respect. We are awed by Virgin and the vision of brave Richard Branson. Walt Disney was turned down by 300 financial institutions before finally courageously building the world’s first thie park—Disneyland. I have a friend who recently bought a Tesla automobile. When I asked him the primary selling point, he told me, “The man who launched a satellite with a sports car playing David Bowie’s Life on Mars on its radio.” The point is, he viewed Tesla (and courageous CEO Elon Musk) as a brave company willing to break the mold, and he wanted to be a part of that pioneering effort.

And one more question about the above idea. Would you say those characteristics, being brave and courageous, are coming from a deliberate attipt to be progressive within a CX? As in, is it more necessary now than it was in the past to step up the bravery and courage of our strategies and deliveries? What are some examples of how a company can execute those ideals in their CX strategy?

I believe these characteristics are deliberate and necessary more today than before.

There is so much competition and customers have instant access to so much information. They can do thorough, competitive analysis in seconds. They can rely on the opinions of thousands quickly, not just the guy on the other side of the backyard fence.

We cannot incrientally improve our way to success; it is way too slow. We must reinvent, renew and realign at breakneck speed. CX must think like a pit crew in the middle of a race, not a plodding researcher.

I have a friend who is the mayor of a medium sized town. When her CX department was taking forever to give her citizen intelligence, she held a hairdresser’s banquet and got an ear full of truth about the city that a dozen surveys would never get. I have another friend who was the GM of a large hotel. He was not learning much from the front desk question: “How was your stay?” So, he held focus group meetings with taxi drivers who frequented his property to transport guests to the airport after a stay. We must be brave and courageous in how we manage CX since it is the scout to the marketplace and the ambassador choreographing the customers’ experiences.

I see in the description you have about your background, it says that you address the needs of “picky, fickle, and vocal customers”. Similarly to above, are these characteristics of a customer that have been exacerbated recently, because of the new bar set by big customer-centric companies, or has it always been there? I.e. - have customers always been this dianding? How can businesses nowadays address these rapidly increasing standards with their CX strategy?

I am often asked, “Has customer service overall gotten worse?” Maybe it has. But, one thing we know for sure. The customer’s standards for CX have increased. What got you a grade of B last year might not get you a C this year. It is partly caused by the customer’s experience with great service providers in pockets of their life. We go to a Disney thie park with their always friendly style and suddenly the receptionist or the fast-food counter person is held to a higher standard. We view all websites through Amazon eyes. It makes customers very picky. Customers are also fickle, meaning they are far less tolerant than ever of mediocre or indifferent service. Because they have so many choices, if they fail to get what they want the way they want it, they simply leave. But, then they now have the means, without effort or confrontation (and with complete anonymity) to tell the world about their experiences. This means elevating the standards used to gauge CX. How many leaders still count the percentage of their customers who are satisfied—a completely worthless metric? It is like counting the number of customers who have not sued you. How many companies give the contact center operator a script or measure operators based on the number of calls rather than first contact resolution? I riiber when salespeople were measured on how many calls they made…like who cares. I still get a lot of phone calls that hang up as soon as I answer the phone. You know they are being incentivized based on call volume without any concern for the productivity of the call.

We need to think differently about CX in light of the change in customer expectations.

In your article “How Effective Is Your Customer Forensics Program?” you go into the differing preferences of “connection” for each customer. You give the example that you, for instance, prefer a CX that tugs your heartstrings, whereas your partner, John, enjoys add-ons that contribute to his value or efficiency. How is it possible for businesses to consider, identify, and address all the different needs and desires of the vast range of customers, in order to deliver the best CX for everyone?

The example is precisely the trap too many companies fall into.

Customers are different and we must give thi options that reflect that. Using a “one size fits all” dionstrates a complete lack of respect for customers.

Think of your business as a retailer with merchandise becoming obsolete every season. We need to refine tools that tailor experiences, create solutions that personalize, and help customers make smart decisions that value their differences. Great salespeople know that doing their homework is tantamount to establishing a trustful, tailored rapport. I worked with a large hotel chain that launched express check-in for frequent guests. Upon arrival, you went to a kiosk, spotted your name, and got your room key, completely bypassing the front desk. My partner John loved it. He could go straight to his room and start working. I hated it. I wanted to go to the front desk, get to know the clerk, influence my room selection, and create a friend I might need later during my hotel stay. Fortunately, the hotel was wise enough to accommodate us both. However, John did take a few trips to the front desk after one of our hotel stays. He came to my room to get a file for our work the next day. “How did you get this huge corner suite,” he asked? “This is twice the size of my room and we have the same room rate.” My response? “I like people; you like kiosks!”

“Success comes from creating a masterpiece every day. No one cared Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling for four years in such an awkward position it permanently damaged his health.” - That’s a quote from your article called “Success is Living Like Your Cat”. To me, that quote is related to what goes on behind the scenes that the customer doesn’t realize - that ultimately creates the very CX they’re happy (or not) with. What are some examples of behind the scenes strategies that, as the metaphor says, are done in an “awkward position” - like, the ones that are more challenging, but necessary for success?

We never see the crew that sets up the amazing breakfast buffet when the restaurant doors open. We never see the housekeeper who leaves extra towels after noticing we use more than the typical guest. We never see the groundskeeper at upscale hotel properties who uses hand gardening tools and manual lawnmowers to maintain the grounds without a guest seeing the sausage making. I had a chance to witness DisneyWorld in the middle of the night. Countless things are painted, repaired and refreshed. What guests see is the magic and awe. CX is a performance. We must always view the customer as a guest, patron and audience. At Ritz-Carlton Hotels the people behind the scenes are not called the “Back of the House.” They are called the “Heart of the House.” Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel because he was an artist, not because he was a hired painter.

Symbolically, when it comes to CX, we need artists, not painters.

You have a video called “Give Your Customers a Story to Tell”. In it, you ask your entrepreneurial audience what they can do to give their customers a story to tell. Could you elaborate for us about the type of story we want our customers telling? We already know we want thi telling their friends that everything at our business ran smoothly, but what other elients of their CX make for a great story?

The highest level of customer advocacy is not a recommendation, as in the Net Promoter, “Would you recommend to a family miber or a friend?” It is the “you ain’t gonna believe what happened” story that a customer relates. We have studied the impact of recommendation versus positive story and found that storytelling turns a prospect into a customer at a rate many times that of an “I would recommend” advocate.

The focus of my work is about how to get customers to tell poignant, powerful stories about their experience.

The elients most associated with storytelling are about enchantment, enlistment (making customers feel like valued partners), enlightenment (helping customers grow and learn in unexpected ways), ease (over-the-top efforts to ensure physical and iotional comfort) and experiences that possess an obvious sense of character and integrity. My book, Kaleidoscope, goes into great detail about this storytelling dimension of customer advocacy.

Last but not least, considering the direction in which business is currently moving, how do you think a company working solely online can utilize your tagline to “take their breath away”? Do you believe an online platform requires a different set of principles or standards to meet that goal?

I think the principles that guide CX are universal regardless of the channel. It is like a kaleidoscope. Turning the animator yields unique, colorful images. But the stones or jewels inside the kaleidoscope never change. The application of innovative service might be different, but the principles riain the same. My business is moving in the direction of helping organizations work with customers to create innovative products, services and solutions.

I do not mean customer participation, I mean customer partnership—customer and organization work together to create something innovative neither could have done on their own.

My newest book, Inside Your Customer’s Imagination, will come out in 2020 and is expected to be a groundbreaker in terms of recasting how organizations and customers work together for ingenious outcomes.

Thank you for taking the time to chat with Botsify today about your experience in the CX space, Chip. We truly appreciate your taking the time out of your day to do so. To our blog readers, if you’d like to learn more about Chip you can visit his website here.

About the author

Chip Bell

Dr. Chip R. Bell is a world-renowned authority on customer loyalty and innovative service. In fact, in 2019 Global Gurus ranked him in the top three keynote speakers in the world on customer service for the fifth straight year in a row. He also is the author of numerous national and international best-selling books including Take Their Breath Away, Managing Knock Your Socks off Service, Magnetic Service, The 9½ Principles of Innovative Service and Customers as Partners.