If Your Mom Was Your Customer, Would You?
By Ginger Conlon | 9.4.18
With all the pressure to deliver outsized marketing results, the customer experience sometimes suffers. It doesn’t have to. There are myriad ways marketers can provide an experience that drives engagement, loyalty, and revenue—including, focusing on customers rather than on processes, understanding customers' motivations before creating campaigns, and building a journey that makes it easy for customers to interact with you on their terms. The insurance? Before finalizing any strategy, ask: "Would you do that to your mother?"
That question is the title of the latest book on customer experience from Jeanne Bliss, founder of consultancy Customer Bliss, best-selling author of I Love You More Than My Dog, and a CX veteran with 20 years in the trenches at Land’s End, Coldwell Banker, Allstate, Microsoft, and Mazda.
In this video interview on delivering a top-notch, profit-building customer experience, Bliss discusses how marketers can ensure that they treat every customer as well as they would their mother. She covers areas such as ways to make it
easier to do business with you, helping customers achieve their goals, and establi-shing a balanced relationship with customers.
OR… Read the (lightly edited) transcript:
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Ginger Conlon: I'm Ginger Conlon, Chief Editor of MKTGinsight. And I’m so excited today to be here with Jeanne Bliss, founder of Customer Bliss. She is one of the foremost experts on customer experience, with more than 20 years in the trenches at such companies as Land’s End, Coldwell Banker, Allstate, Mazda, and Microsoft. She's also the bestselling author of I Love You More Than My Dog, a great book about customer loyalty.
We're here today to talk about her latest book, Would You Do That to Your Mother?, which is so much fun, such a great read. Jeanne, thanks so much for being here with us today.
Jeanne Bliss: You're welcome, Ginger. I love talk to you, you know that. So thank you for having me.
Conlon: Absolutely. In Would You Do That to Your Mother? you talk about treating customers as if every customer were your mom. How does that specifically apply
Bliss: Customer experience is a major part of every marketing function now.
Some CMOs are essentially taking on the role of the Chief Customer Officer in addition to traditional marketing. So, what we're finding is as the rise of CX from a way to grow the business increases, it's also turning into tactics and spreadsheets, and dashboards.
And so, having written I Love You More Than My Dog, two books on the role of the Chief Customer Officer, which are the mechanics of uniting the business, with this newest book [I’m giving] people 32 behaviors and experiences that define our lives as customers, so they can use it while they're building that engine—because building that engine takes time, and what we're finding is while we're building the engine and proving the case for it, we're also losing the attention of leaders, and customer experience is about work streams versus changing how you will and will not grow. That's what this is. It's really about conscious leadership.
Conlon: You make several recommendations in the book. One of them is to “make it easy to do business with you,” which seems so obvious, but is not the case in a lot of situations. What's one way that marketers can make it easier for customers to do business with their company?
Bliss: This is in a chapter I call—get to use all the momisms—"Don't Make Me Feed You Soap.” What I identify in that chapter are the eight things that define all of our lives, even after all these years, of us talking about focus on the customer. We're still operating on our time versus customer time. So, if you're influencing your hours of operation, how long it takes you to get back to a customer, putting a customer in a black hole of communication, those are all of the things that are creating customers to come back to us with our dukes up.
One of the stories in the book is all about communication. As marketers, that is one of the major areas of opportunity we have. The first thing is, think about communication almost as a product of your organization, something that you invest in with as much rigor as you invest in your product. There's an energy company in Houston, Center Point Energy, for example. We all know when the power goes out, we feel like we’re alone.
So they created a whole mechanism, you sign up for [an alert] and soon as your power goes out, a message goes to you and says, "We know your power went out. You're not alone. We're here for you." They give constant updates, they create information, they give the customer options of how they're going to be communicated with. If they're in a zone, for example, that gets hit a lot, they’re given more proactive communication. So, make communication to your customers a product.
The other thing that's in that chapter I call “Getting Rid of the Paperwork Rigmarole. [Actually,] two things in the Paperwork Rigmarole: Number one, do you use any language in your business that you'd never use in a sentence with your mother? For example, in insurance we've got all of these crazy terms. In every kind of industry, though, there are terms that we use inside our business that we would never use as we communicate with our friends, with our colleagues.
Again, we're using “mom” to humanize this and to really think about a human at the end of the decision.
The other thing is the processes we put people through to fill out our paperwork, to fill out our contracts. We make all of our customers go through so many steps to do work to benefit us.
Think of your life as a customer, Ginger. When you contact a company, have you ever been given homework by them to get your job done? So, they're giving you homework. It's insanity. But this is what continues to happen even after all these years. That's why I felt like I needed to write this happy and inspirational book, but one that also gets to the heart of, “Look, evaluate if you're doing these 32 things. It's likely these are the major things that are getting in the way of your relationship with customers at least right now. And then you can move on to other things.”
Conlon: Another recommendation that you make is to help customers achieve their goals. I think this is one of those things that's especially important in B2B because someone's career could potentially be on the line, and their job. So, how can marketers play a role in making sure that the company is helping customers achieve their goals?
Bliss: One of the first things we do with every kind of organization—and I know marketers are doing this with much more rigor now—is define the goals, the mission, the customer is trying to achieve. Now, some people call them stages of the journey. Whatever language you use, it's probably clear in your interaction with your B2B or your B2C customer of the distinct activities they need to be successful at advocating for launching your product into their organization.
So, for example, when you're going through what you consider your selling
process, recognize that who you're trying to sell to has a whole stream of stake-holders inside of their organization that they have to sell to. Recognize all of the work they have to do and make that easier for them. Be that partner that helps them with understanding that value. One of the major things in B2B, as you know, is onboarding.
Sometimes onboarding is the equivalent of backing a truck up to an organization and dumping a lot of processes and paperwork and tools and other things, which seems great. From the company's standpoint, this is all about put others before yourself. We check that onboarding is done, but our customers are flailing, they're trying to figure it out.
And define those moments as parts of the onboarding process where you can identify that they've successfully implemented A, that they're using B at what percent, and know that there is an inflection point where you may have to slide back in and rescue that person to make sure that their company is seeing value in what they've just now sold to their organization.
Conlon: Another recommendation that you make is to establish a balanced relationship with your customers. Tell me a little bit more about that and how marketers can help.
Bliss: You bet. That's in the chapter called “Take the High Road.” We're always going to give moms the benefit of the doubt here, with rules and policies and processes that we've put in place to manage things. In the case of the people in the middle of the organization, whose KPIs are attached to success in a certain way, [we have to be careful of what we do to] ensure that they can achieve success. These [things to watch for] are things like building a spreadsheet and presenting back that if we just increase the service fee for X by X percent, we will get this much more revenue.
Now, these are things that become addictive. That's why we have $7.00 bottles of water in hotel rooms now, right? It's insane. But one of the main things goes back to communication. What does your fine print say? Go across the communications between your customer and your company, and do a trust audit, and read every single piece of communication to identify is there anything about the language that says, "We don't trust you," or, "We're doing this to protect us from you." That's one of the first things that we do, inadvertently. Yes, we have to put legal language in things, but it all comes out as “the company is holding the cards.”
The other thing is, when you think about offers, do your offers have an expiration date that create a "gotcha" moment for the customer? Or, are your offers so complex—for example, you get [one] for a free lunch, or a free product demo, but you can only redeem it every other Tuesday and when there's a full moon—that the customer says, "You know what? They really don't want me to redeem this offer." Those are the “take the high road” things. It's about growing differently, choosing to grow through truth, transparency, and two-way trust.
Or, the inverse of that is the auto-renew. Do your customers know the terms of your agreement includes an auto-renew? There's a story in the book about a guy who…realized there was an auto-renew, but he didn't realize he had to call before month 11 to turn off the auto-renew. And it's those kinds of "gotcha" moments and those terms that really create that imbalance.
The other thing is, how do you sell? Think about your life as a customer and your experience of buying a car. All throughout the book, there are custom cartoons, and one of them [illustrates that] we feel like we're almost in jail when we walk to that finance and insurance department in the auto dealership, because we know what's going to come next is fuzzy math on the trade-in, unclear terms of the car contract, what really is included in that extended warranty. And all that fuzziness says, "Is this a relationship or is this a one-sided contract?"
But we have control of that. And, from a marketing and communications standpoint, we can impact so much of the tenor, the tone, and the trust—the
three T's: the tenor, the tone, and the trust—of that relationship with customers. And guess what? The other thing is, it sends [the message] to your employees, "Do the right thing."
Conlon: And that's so important because they’re your face to the customer.
Bliss: That's right. Lately I’ve talking about this not as customer experience but as, [simply,] experience, because what's on the inside shows up on the outside. We have to take care of the employee experience to make the customer experience be something that's prosperous. Yes, financial prosperity, but also prosperity of the human spirit. If your employees feel like they’re policy cops and rule upholders, or tacticians that are just sent in to do a task, their spirit diminishes, and your customer feels that, right?
There are some great stories in the book about company successes. What is one favorite story that you have of a company that makes mom proud?
Bliss: There's are many great stories. I spent almost eight months curating all
these stories, and as I mentioned, there are 32 case studies and almost 75 companies in there.
What I think is terrific now is that we're de-siloing what we all do. We all need to come to the table to be part of this entire customer engagement. So, while marketers may not think they should have a seat at the table of deciding how people are hired, they actually should because it has everything to do with the values and the culture of who belongs inside of the organization that connects all the way to your brand promise.
So, there's a company I love, and I love telling this story because everybody's organization at some point is filled with people who sometimes are transient. There’s a hamburger and hot dog stand in [the book] called Pal’s Sudden Service and they have 27 locations in the Tennessee area. What they do to hire their
people is put them through a 60-point psychometric survey because they want to know the human behind the resume. And what's interesting about this is that the best companies hire for the people. We called it at Lands’ End “The Light Behind Their Eyes.”
These questions they ask aren't about skills. They're about who they are as a person, things like, “In general, I feel pretty good about myself.” And, “I find that when I meet people for the first time, I usually trust them.” And, “My way to get attention is to raise my voice.” And in these things, you identify who that person is. Are they going to make it as part of our team, and are they going to continue to enrich our culture, so we can keep moving forward? I think, as marketers, we need to be purveyors of this entire experience and link arms with the rest of the organization. It's not HR over here in the corner anymore. This is about uniting what we do.
So, I love that [story] because it's so unexpected. By the way, they have not only achieved financial prosperity—they’ve grown almost 360% since they started—their turnover with their employees is one third of their competitors. And here's what's crazy, they have a Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award.
Bliss: I mean, this is a hamburger and hot dog stand. And they brought humanity to that.
Conlon: At the end of the book you've got a quiz. What are three questions that marketers can ask themselves to assess whether their company consistently makes mom proud?
Bliss: The last chapter's called “Stop The Shenanigans.” And these are very operational. Do we honor the dignity of customers' lives? Have we woven humanity into our operating model? Do you know the vulnerable times in customers' lives? And are you not making it the work of the frontline to do the right thing, but that you're giving them permission and actually giving them options.
Another is… Do we have clarity of purposes? Why do we exist, and have we united the organization to operationalize that? If we don't have clarity of why we exist…how are you translating that to people's jobs?
One of the things that's really interesting is there is a clinic in Canada called Mayfair Diagnostics, and they completely rebuilt the hello. Does your hello focus on people or process?
Going all the way back to that paperwork trail we put our customers on, what [Mayfair Diagnostics] found was looking at each other eyeball to eyeball makes more difference initially in how you're going to feel about me and my company than pushing that piece of paper across the desk.
Then there are others: Are we honoring customers? I'm a broken record on this. I'm sure there're places where you've gone into an organization and they've turned down your warranty claim three days out of warranty, or they haven't given you something you wanted. What's the first question that you think in your head? “Don't they know how valuable I am to them?” So, are we giving our frontline that information of the lifetime value of a customer, or the value of who they are, and giving them permissions, tools, and trust to make the call versus boxing them into these policies that may send customers packing….
As your customers are interacting with you, are you creating the wiggle room opportunity for your frontline to make decisions about how to act that isn't about just that single policy, but enabling them to use their good instincts and train them to make the right call? Because, I've had clients, B2B especially, who have lost $40 million customers over a $350 change fee. Things that send people away because they're like, "Are you serious?" And we box our people in to having them make those bad decisions. It doesn't feel good to them, and it makes their customer question the entire relationship.
Conlon: Any final advice for marketers on how to make mom proud?
Bliss: What I did with the book is turned it into 32 tool kits and action plans. Be a part of this conversation. A lot of people are doing the “Stop the Shenanigans audit” [first], identifying where they are.
Don't boil the ocean. Don't try to do all 32 at once. Find three or four things that really are driving your customers away, and also driving your employee joy out of the organization. Focus on those things. What we need to do is build the skill for how to work together to solve these things systematically and create a new way of working together. Pick a few, work it out, rinse and repeat.
About the Author
Ginger Conlon, chief editor and marketing alchemist at MKTGinsight, catalyzes change in marketing organizations. She is a frequent speaker on marketing and customer experience, and serves in advisory or leadership roles for several industry organizations. Ginger was honored with a Silver Apple lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the marketing industry.