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Experience Points featuring Global Guru on Customer Service, Best-Selling Author and Keynote Speaker, Jason Bradshaw.

Avtex Chief Experience Officer, Kurt Schroeder sat down with VP of Marketing, John Seeds to discuss key takeaways from this episode of Experience Points with Jason Bradshaw. In this episode, Kurt and John discuss out-of-office emails, what happens when things go wrong, and finding the right channels for your customers.

Fake or Fact

[John] We’re talking about one of my favorite subjects, out-of-office emails!

[Kurt] You know a couple of weeks ago I was down in Florida and I thought I had a pretty clear out-of-office. I said, "I'm not in the office right now. I’ve got my toes in the sand and a drink in my hand. I'll get back to you when I get back. But for now, don't count on a rational response." No, I didn't say that.

[John] I will say, when you joined the organization, you had some pretty good out-of-office emails that really stuck with me in terms of just showing a little bit of personality. I loved it. It was the first time I'd really seen somebody just own an out-of-office email by saying, "Hey, thanks for your email!” I thought it was great. And it exuded who you are as a person. I think that it's an interesting commentary on just being authentic and being yourself. But that's not a place where people feel comfortable being themselves.

[Kurt] I think there's this concept, and there's a fascinating book written about it, called The Human Brand. It talks about, we as individuals, have our own brands that we cultivate. Sometimes when we get in the work world, we leave our personalities at the door. Everyone has their own human brand. Everyone wants to be engaging with each other.

That stuffy, stoic out-of-office reply is symptomatic of the lack of creativity that some organizations promote to their employees. I think that's just representative of what happens when the guard rails are so tight that there's no room for creativity. There's no room for expression. There's no room for humor. There's no room for doing anything, but what the policy says.

[John] I think that some of these are customer-facing out-of-office replies. But for a lot of us, it's really internal in terms of who gets exposed to that. I do think there's a powerful message here of, even though you may only be internal, there's an employee experience and personal brand building that’s happening. I think that the power of a lot of the things that we hit on and themes that they talk about through Experience Points is around the alignment of that personal brand to the company's brand.

What are some ways that you've seen or some suggestions around helping organizations make sure they're allowing people to align their personal brand and have that freedom to attach to the professional brand?

[Kurt] Jason brought up the idea of the North Star. I think his quote said, "You need to give people permission to live by that North Star." I think what that permission means is the permission to have creative flexibility, that as long as what they're doing aligns to that North Star, it's okay. You don't need to go ask for permission. We're going to give it to you ahead of time.

Too many organizations have a North Star, but it's just the Vision and Mission Statement. Employees don’t know it or memorize it and certainly don't know how to apply it. I think organizations need to take the time to say, "This is our North Star. And here's what it means." Make those guard rails wide so that people understand what they can do and how they can behave within the confines of that North Star, as well as their own personality injected into that.

[John] So when we're interacting with some middle management or some people managers that are tasked with a specific group and a specific charter, what are some things that they can do to bring that North Star into the day-to-day, as you say? How do we make sure that we're aligning our decision-making, our execution, our thinking, and our brainstorming to that North Star?

[Kurt] Well, I think one, is just asking that question. When a decision is being made, to be able to challenge people with, how does this align to our North Star? Challenging each other in various decisions, in rooms, conference rooms, as they're having a discussion or in teams meetings, on how these items align to their North Star.

I think the second thing that they can do, is at the end of every interaction that they have with the customer, to evaluate that interaction by saying, "Did this live out our North Star?"

Then I think the third one is to look at individuals in their roles and their own personalities and to say, "What is your own personal mission statement," and if you will, "as it aligns to our North Star?" To help people think about what they bring to the table in terms of their own personality and how should that align?

[John] I think one of the impactful pieces there is making sure that there's this critical forum available for people who are interacting with a customer. There needs to be internal forums for folks that are frontline and hearing from a customer to make sure that information is fed back and looking at if they are meeting their North Star promises

What Happened?

[Kurt] I think one of the things that really stuck out in my mind in this conversation is this idea of anticipating problems. We do an awful lot of work with our clients around journey mapping, and we always look at the normal journey. And I think this was really a good call out to say, well, what's the journey when something goes wrong and how do we respond to that? There's a saying that goes, the true test of an organization is when things don't go right. And so how do they respond?

In many cases when things are not necessarily going right or not perfect, how you respond does more to drive and build loyalty, than it does when things are going right because that's the expectation. But when things go wrong and you are able to respond in a way that is memorable, that is unanticipated, boy, does that solidify the customer's perception of you.

[John] Well, I think that it's the expectation on the customer's behalf that it should go right, but it needs to be the opposite for the business. You can't model how you work on everything going right. And to your point on the journey mapping, you aren't journey mapping for when things go wrong, and I think that that's a critical point that came out for me is this concept of building models for employees to be able to operate when things go wrong.

The model has to be flexible because you can't account for every single scenario. It's not a scenario-based model, but it's, hey, things are going wrong. How do you make sure that you're injecting humanity back into the situation and, to your point, using it as an opportunity to shine, using it as an opportunity to say, hey, we're going to show you how much we care about you as a customer by how we respond to this scenario and actually kind of create a little bit more loyalty, a little bit more buzz around that moment when it was started off as a negative.

[Kurt] Well, and I think you bring up a good point. Organizations also need to balance their response to the importance that the product and the services to the customer.

Most impactful for me in that discussion was how the organization just failed to recognize the importance of the issue. And, quite frankly, the idea of a functional need versus an emotional need. And because of the emotional need is so high, the person wanting to look good on their wedding, you can't ignore that kind of the emotional need in this situation.

[John] I totally agree with that. I think that to that point, they did a great job of presenting this concept of what you're talking about as reframing, and really understanding what problem was trying to be solved here. Problem wasn't the sleeves. The problem was how he's going to look on his wedding day with the ridiculously short sleeves and how that memory becomes permanent. Are you going to be attached as a business to a negative permanent memory for this gentleman that every time somebody sees it, "Oh yeah, don't go to this place because they messed up my suit." Or can you be attached to a positive, permanent memory?

[Kurt] Yeah, I think that's exactly right. And I think you can be attached to a positive recovery or how the organization recovers from this.

[John] Yeah. I think that's a great theme for us to end on is opting for moments of recovery to make your business shine and to make a positive impact.

Think Fast

[John] I think that it's fascinating how this channel conversation continues to come up across industries and the evaluation of channel options, but I'm of the opinion that you've got to scale your channels constantly, by understanding where people want to communicate at different points of the journey.

As a consumer, I don't always want to communicate via email. I don't always just want to communicate via phone. A couple of years ago, I would never have wanted to communicate via text. But I had a very pleasant text support communication, that was great, with a brand that supplies my glasses and to get glasses replacements, that took place over the course of two days. But it was that persistent communication where I didn't have to always be right there on hanging by a computer or on the phone.

[Kurt] I think it is a continued discussion point because we know that we want to reduce costs, but on the other hand we also know that we want to provide great experience and a human connection. So I think trying to balance that out and making sure that you can deliver a great experience to people is critical.

Your brand and the experience that you wrap around that brand is more important than the product itself. And so really understanding what the true cost of driving everyone to self-service is in a way that reduces the human connection and reduces how you deliver that kindness and respect that people are craving, more organizations should figure that out.

[John] It takes a certain humbleness to admit that my product doesn't matter. My service doesn't matter. I know it matters at the end of the day, but what matters more is how I treat my customers. I think it does take a certain amount of humility to go that direction and put that at your North Star, which is a theme we pin on this episode.

[Kurt] Yes, and that doesn't mean you shouldn't have other channels. John you've coined the term “channel fluidity” which allows me as a customer to move in and out of channels based on what my needs are at the time. So if I need flexibility and maybe I don't need the answer right away, then you know what? Texting might be okay. If I'm trying to multitask then maybe chatting is okay. But if the question is really important, if I really think it's complicated and I want to engage in conversation then you know what? Pick up the phone and talk to me. I'm amazed that somehow we got to this place where organizations don't want to talk to their customers.

[John] Right.

[Kurt] We have these words like deflection. We're trying to deflect calls out of the contacts center. Man, I love to talk to my customers. Now I know that we're in a different business, so I understand that, but how did we get to that point where we don't want to talk to our customers?

[John] I think that that's the theme here: talk to your customers. They're the most valuable asset that you have.

[Kurt] By far. And then I don't think we can underemphasize this idea of kindness and respect. And you can do that even if you're in a chat or a text environment. That showing personality, showing that warmth. Right? And recognizing that you need to respect their time, respect their opinion, and respect the circumstance they're in. I mean, it applies in multiple situations. If you're going to offer those channels, then you better be able to step into whatever situation arises for that customer and be able to handle it easily and with minimum effort required by the customer.