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WOW Your Customers! With John D. Hanson

This week’s podcast guest offers fresh ideas and insights to generate “customers for life”. Customer service expert and author John D. Hanson explains how to WOW today’s customers, based on extensive research into the practices of industry leaders including Amazon, American Express, Nordstrom, Ritz-Carlton, and others. In an age of increasingly digitized customer service automation, John suggests seven ways that firms can differentiate with service excellence online and offline.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS.

John D. Hanson: I don’t think that it makes a difference whether you’re a B2C or a B2B because it’s all about people. So you have to invest into those relationships in a way to make sure that they’re getting their best from you.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising. Produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of insights at Bigeye, a full-service, audience-focused creative agency. We’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Customer experience, also known as CX, reflects customers’ and clients’ perceptions of a business or brand. Every interaction a customer has with a business, from navigating a website, to talking to customer service representatives, to actually using the product or service, impacts a customer’s decision to keep coming back or not. Done right, customer experience can increase customer loyalty and satisfaction, yield positive, online reviews, and generate word-of-mouth referrals and recommendations. So managing customer service is increasingly seen as important as other marketing tactics. And yet when we think of call centers, for example, performance is often measured more by operational efficiency than seen as a way of creating or enhancing customer value. In a hyper-competitive landscape, every touchpoint that shapes customers’ perceptions of service quality really matters. An established leader in CX, today’s guest, John D. Hanson has over 25 years of experience in customer-facing roles and is currently President of Accelerated Revenue Inc., as well as a sought-after consultant and speaker. During his career, John has worked in both business-to-consumer and business-to-business contexts: in retail, lending, credit card servicing, and industrial automation, as well as serving in the military and working with nonprofit organizations. John is also the author of the book, WOW Your Customers: Seven Ways to World-Class Service, the culmination of 18 months of research, which has sold copies worldwide. To talk about his experience and offer practical ways to WOW customers and clients, John is joining us today from his office, just outside of Columbus, Ohio. John, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

John D. Hanson: Thank you very much. I’m looking forward to our conversation today Adrian.

Adrian Tennant: So John, what prompted you to write WOW Your Customers?

John D. Hanson: Might sound a little cheesy, but it was actually a New Year’s resolution of all things. I decided I was going to spend less time at night on a digital screen and read books. And I had just started into a new sales role, the first B2B sales role I’d ever done. I thought, “I know I’ve always had a strength in customer service. How can I translate that strength into sales?” And so I took out as many well-reviewed books as I could find. And as I kept reading through these books, one thing after another, I just realized that a lot of the things that books were talking about were things that I had done. I have been on the frontline roles of customer-facing in all different kinds of industries for a good part of my life. I thought, “What if I could write a book that could help people that are either on the frontlines or managing people who are on the frontlines? What if I could do that?” So I did.

Adrian Tennant: So I mentioned in the introduction that you spend at least 18 months undertaking the research for the book, and it sounds like you did have a particular type of reader in mind when you started the writing process. I’m curious, did that change through the course of the writing?

John D. Hanson: It did actually. Yeah, because as I looked into this more and more, I realized that. Well, every company and every person at every level of an organization should value how the customers are treated. If there’s a disconnect where the person on the front lines are the nice voice and the ones that show compassion, empathy, and then there’s this disconnect when it starts going outside of that, then that’s not consistent. And then as I realized that we have eelationships, not just with external, but there are internal customers as well. And that’s where I realize, you’ve gotta be able to take good care of people, whether they’re opinion, customer or another kind of customer. And that’s where I realized that this applied more universally than just someone in a customer-facing role.

Adrian Tennant: John, in the book, you describe seven practical principles for wowing customers. Let’s talk about a few of them, starting with winning. What does winning mean in the context of customer service?

John D. Hanson: Yeah. So unlike the idea of coming in first or a gold medal, blue ribbon, and that idea of winning, this is more of a winning attitude, focusing on being a positive person. Positive, not at the expense of reality, but positive with being an energy giver, being someone that contributes to the team, someone who focuses on the solutions or is aware of the problem, but also offers solutions. Anyone can identify what’s wrong, but it takes a certain kind of person with a winning attitude that comes in and what can we do about this? When people call in and they’re talking to someone and that person can’t do a thing for them, it’s very frustrating as a customer. And that’s not a winning attitude, that’s just someone that’s punching the clock most likely, or they’ve not been empowered by their company to do what’s best for the customer so they’re stuck with “Well, what do I do? I can’t do what you’d like me to do.” So a winning attitude is something that is extremely important. It’s the thing that we can impact, the thing we can control: our attitude, how we approach our day. And that makes a big difference in the course of the day, as things go on, when we interact with customers in particular.

Adrian Tennant: The second principle I’d like to explore with you is organization. Now I can see here a connection with your military background, but could you explain how organization helps in delivering customer service?

John D. Hanson: Yeah. This was a fascinating part of research Adrian and I’ve always been somewhat analytical and organized my whole life, but I didn’t understand the science behind it until I did some research on it. What’s amazing about it is that, and you may know this, but our human brain is like a supercomputer, but everything that our eyes see, they process. And so from that, I learned that the more brown space, we call it with the desk in front of me here this color, more brown space that we have the less that our brain is slowed down by what our eyes are seeing. The fewer notes we have the fewer reminders that we have around us so the more white space we have, but also part of organization was making decisions. How do you make a decision when you need to be flexible in the course of a day, but as things come up, how do you be flexible and decide this is now more of a priority than the thing I was doing before and be okay with that? I think that’s sometimes a challenge too. We want to get it all done, but some days that’s just not possible and so being able to identify what’s most important to get done today, and those things got done and give yourself a pat on the back because you got done what needed to be done most importantly and you’ve got some other things done as well. Sometimes we’re our toughest critics on that, but organization is not very sexy. It’s not very exciting, but if you apply just some basic organizational principles, especially with how you prioritize where your time goes in a day, that can make a big difference by the end of the day, end of the week with what you’ve gotten done and how you feel about what you’ve done.

Adrian Tennant: John, how did you identify the seven principles in WOW Your Customers? Do they reflect practices that you were already using or was the process of writing the book helpful in crystallizing?

John D. Hanson: I have always liked the number seven. It’s just been a favorite of mine. And I know there’s probably more principles than this, but I thought let’s start with seven. Those were all, when I looked back at the areas that I’ve had success, those were common principles that I had in those roles. So they were always customer-facing roles of some kind or another, but all different kinds of industries. And I just noticed that in my career path, I would move up quickly and it wasn’t just because I was intelligent or hardworking. There’s plenty of people who are that. It was the combination of those things that I looked at those seven aspects and I thought if someone applies just the seven, humor’s a big one. If you aren’t finding a way to counteract the stress in a day, sometimes in the workplace, others, a lot of stress sometimes. If you’re not bringing humor with you into the workforce in a tasteful way, of course, then you’re actually shorting the team a little bit. That good humor, I know it’s an old saying, but to be good-humored didn’t mean that you were the jokester of the class. It meant that you had the steady, reliable, doesn’t matter if the world’s on fire,  this guy’s, this gal’s got it under control. That idea of being good-humored was a very important part of how you were successful, especially in the stressful times. But I would say probably the one that’s a superpower is empathy. I think if you can put yourself in other’s shoes, I think that’s maybe the one that enabled me to succeed the most, whether it was in leadership or got to be given the opportunity to be in leadership. Because it’s just something that I have naturally, since I was a kid. When a movie would be on and someone was going through something very painful or very embarrassing, I’d have to leave as a kid because I couldn’t separate myself from that character. I was feeling their pain, I was feeling their embarrassment, so it was something that was hardwired into me. Or I know with others, empathy is a kind of a learned skill. So I think that was probably, of the seven, that was probably the one that I would have came naturally with. But the others I learned over time.

Adrian Tennant: John, I know you also lead workshops based on the seven principles in the book. You’ve characterized your sessions as being about developing a fresh mindset rather than a whole new method, equipping workshop attendees, rather than educating them. What have you observed about what works and what doesn’t, when it comes to helping people develop customer-facing skills?

John D. Hanson: Oh, that’s a good question. I think sometimes, just like businesses can get wrapped up in the busy-ness of doing business, I think that can also happen, especially in customer-facing rules. It gets to be every day, so taking care of the customer is just my job. Whereas if the fresh mindset that I talk about, if people could understand that the power that they have as a frontline agent where if they transform, especially if someone calls in with an issue or a problem, and they not only take care of that, but that person leaves happy what they’ve done for the company’s future and for anybody that, that person’s going to tell, it’s massive, it’s huge. So they’re not just doing a job. What they’re doing is hopefully they’re underlining the brand of the company. They’re securing a customer where we know they could easily go somewhere else nowadays and tell plenty of people about the bad experience they had. So they’re doing a lot of things more than just taking care of issues, they’re not a firefighter. What they’re really doing is helping to keep that business with customers who are happy to be there and telling others about it as well. Because the time when customer service has proven the most is when things don’t go according to plan, when they don’t go as they should. Horrible companies with horrible service can take care of a transaction that’s smooth from start to finish. Any company can do that. The challenge is not that. The challenge is when things don’t go the way they should. How do we step up? How do we deliver? How do we take care of them? If we do well in that instance, then we’ve proven our value. And so if a frontline agent can understand that it’s more than just, take care of the thing and then on to the next thing, but seeing it as taking the very best care of that customer so that customer stays and then tells others about the good experience they had then that’s more important. Retention is more important than acquisition, meaning that the cost to acquire is five times that of retaining. So the role of a customer service agent done well, someone who’s very good at it, is actually more valuable than a salesperson that’s out there making hay and bringing in new customers because it’s the ones that stick that have more long term value than the always new.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Kathie Baptista: I’m Kathie Baptista, designer on Bigeye’s creative team. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as creative and advertising professionals. At Bigeye, we always put audiences first. For every engagement, we commit to really understanding our clients’ prospects and customers. Through our own primary research, we learn about customers’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivations, and develop personas that help us visualize them as real people. As a designer, I use these insights to guide my approach to crafting visually engaging solutions – and our clients see insights brought to life in inspiring, imaginative, brand-building campaigns. If you’d like to put Bigeye’s audience-focused creative communications to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com. Bigeye: Reaching the right people, in the right place, at the right time.

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Voices: Female, male, gender fluid, cis-gender, genderqueer, non-binary, trans-feminine.

Adrian Tennant: Society is constantly changing and evolving. To understand how Americans feel about gender identity and expression, Bigeye undertook a national study involving over 2,000 adult consumers. Over half of those aged 18 to 39 believe that traditional binary labels of male and female are outdated and instead see gender as a spectrum. Our exclusive report, GENDER: BEYOND THE BINARY, reveals how beliefs across different generations influences the purchase of toys, clothes, and consumer packaged goods. To download the full report, go to Bigeye.agency/gender .

Voices: Nonconforming, transgender, two-spirit, trans-masculine, gender fluid.

Adrian Tennant: GENDER: BEYOND THE BINARY.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with John Hanson, the author of WOW Your Customers: Seven Ways to World-Class Service. John, how did the COVID-19 pandemic impact your ability to conduct workshops? Did you move to online learning or did you pause the workshops?

John D. Hanson: Yeah, I moved to online. I didn’t do as many, but I did do online and still had good response from people because the biggest thing that I try to do is bring about new ideas, new mindsets, or bring a fresh definition to a word that people are familiar with but actually give either a technical definition of where they come from or what’s its origin, how do you apply it. Yeah, I still find that I can interact with an audience if it’s through a camera or in person. And what I, the feedback that I’ve gotten from people is that I’m very animated. And I’m glad to hear that because when I speak I’m that way in person. But I realized that, especially with all the zoom meetings going on, that if people are going to be having a virtual presentation, it really needs to be someone who’s obviously excited about what they’re talking about. So the feedback that I’ve gotten often is that boy, I’d love to hear you speak in person because they were obviously very excited about what you were sharing with us and it came through. That feedback was very encouraging that I was able to still engage with an audience virtually just as I do in person.

Adrian Tennant: You mentioned contact center work. As you know, online retailer Zappos takes a contrarian approach to customer service, considering its contact center, a major point of differentiation from its parent, Amazon. While contact centers are typically focused on reducing the time taken to handle customer service inquiries, Zappos has an award for those people who can stay on the phone the longest with customers – demonstrating that they really value those human conversations. John, are there other organizations that you can think of that are doing things a little differently from their competitors or counter to customer experience industry norms?

John D. Hanson: Yes. I would think of two things. One right off the top of my head is Chick-fil-A. They passed up Wendy’s as the number three chain in the US following Starbucks and McDonald’s. And they’re only open six days a week. That’s not accidental, it’s because they’re doing a lot of things right. At every location, the experience that people have is consistently good and people are treated very well there. The team members earn their way up in opportunity and management. And if you want a chicken sandwich, you can get a chicken sandwich anywhere, but it’s how they deliver that it’s how they’re taking care of their people inside and how they take care of their customers. They’re in an industry that’s notorious for poor service. Fast food is just not known for great service. And so when you get that consistently at every single location, then you know that it’s being done. Well, another idea I have is Ritz-Carlton and now they’re in the hotel industry. They have a standing rule that says up to $2,000 if something needs to be made right. Any team member – does not have to be management – any team member can do up to $2,000, can do what they need to do to make it right for that customer, for that guest. Now they rarely exceeded $500, it was usually to have a bottle of wine or a dinner or something like that, but it was the freedom that was given to every team member that made the difference. And here’s how that impacts things. So the typical occupancy rate for hotels is about 69 percent. Now, Ritz-Carlton usually charges about almost twice as much as the national average for room rates. Their occupancy rate is 76 percent so it’s 7 percent better than the national average and they’re charging almost twice as much for the room. So it is profitable and it does work and the experience that people have when they go to a Ritz-Carlton as a guest, everything is so well thought through that the experience is just unlike anything they’ve had before, and it can be very profitable when done right.

Adrian Tennant: Last year, the customer experience technology firm Servion predicted that by 2025, artificial intelligence will power 95 percent of all customer interaction, including live telephone and online conversations that will leave customers unable to “spot the bot.” John, what are your thoughts about this prediction? Do you think automation and digitization of customer service are inevitable or will humans always be able to “spot the bot”?

John D. Hanson: That’s a good question. Cause I know that when Steve pops up on the bottom right-hand corner of my screen, that it’s not Steve. It’s a chatbot that’s trying to answer, take care of my issue with a simple FAQ list they have already populated. And if my question is that simple, then that’s helpful. If it’s more complex, then that’s where it gets me to a person that’s having a conversation with someone. I think there are advantages to technology so long as companies don’t rely on that to replace the in-person. I guess we could get to the point where technology is so savvy that it’s able to do that too and people might not know the difference, but I think we’re a long ways off from that. And if people have an issue and it’s not simply addressed, then they’re going to want to talk to a real person rather than the phone trees or the whole music forever, or the options that our customers are obviously fatigued with.

Adrian Tennant: John, since the COVID-19 pandemic, companies have been forced to embrace new technologies and operating procedures to meet customer needs. I’m thinking about the rise in order online, pick up in-store, as one example. From a practical perspective, how do you think firms, looking at their customer experience should evaluate the current practices and determine what that optimal balance of real human interactions and automated processes look like for them? What are some of the issues important to consider?

John D. Hanson: Yeah. Convenience is definitely one of those things that once you let it out of the bag, you can’t put the cat back in the bag, so to speak. You can have fast food delivered to your door. You can have your groceries ready and you just pull up and they load them up and off you go. I think it opens up new areas for companies to still find a way to provide a great experience, even if it’s entirely automated, as far as the ordering process goes. So people might not be actually putting a foot in your store, but they’re still interacting with your brand. If the only interaction they’re having is the person that loads the groceries for you in the back of a car, then you’ve got one human touchpoint in that entire process that had better be a great experience. Not where the person is going overboard on things. But if they’re professional, if they’re courteous, if they’re smiling, if they say thank you very much for your business with us, then that one human interaction could make the difference between something that’s just convenient or convenient and enjoyable. So while convenience is something that companies will find how to do more and more because customers are obviously seeing the value in it and demanding it, then still, they need to make sure that the soft skills are still being invested into and still being trained and developed so that when people are using those convenient technology-driven advances, if they’re having any kind of human interaction in that process, that it’s still a top-notch experience. So training and development will still need to focus on those soft skills. I think it’s the soft skills that take the most amount of training. And for some that come more naturally than others, but it needs to be consistent.

Adrian Tennant: How do you think customer experience differs between business-to-consumer, which we’ve been talking about quite a bit, and business-to-business firms in terms of execution? Strategically, do you think the considerations are different?

John D. Hanson: I really don’t. The reason I say that is because I believe that we have four types of customers. We have an external, we have internal, we have what I call the inner circle and then we have the customer type that’s actually most important. And I found this by going to the definition of what’s a customer, where does it come from? And that’s an old English word: accustomed. So when you’re accustomed to interacting with, matter of fact at the time, it didn’t have anything to do with dollars and cents. Well, we added that aspect to it over time so a customer and its origin, it was someone that we regularly interacted with. When I realized that, I thought, well, there’s actually four subsets then of a customer. There’s the ones that are external customers that pay us money. There are internal customers, whether it be vendors, team members, leadership management. Then there’s an inner circle, which would be family and friends and true friends. Family, whether you believe it or not, we bring our family to work with us. So we are emotional human beings. We are not able to simply separate neatly when we walk in the door at work, so that’s another customer. So we regularly interact with, and they definitely need our best and these go up in priority so why you would never tell a paying customer they’re not the most important. They’re not the most important when it comes to being able to take the very best care of them. You’ve got to take the very best care of your internal people. Richard Branson said to “Take the very best care of your people so they’ll take the very best care of their customers.” It’s just more of a common-sense type thing really than anything else. And then you take care of your inner circle because those relationships directly impact at work. But the most important customer is ourselves. We’re the ones that we interact with the most. And if we don’t take care of ourselves, then there’s no way that we’ll be able to take care of the other three. So I don’t think that it makes a difference whether you’re a B2C or a B2B, because it’s all about people. So you have to invest in those relationships in a way to make sure that they’re getting their best from you.

Adrian Tennant: I really like the way that in the concluding pages of your book, you suggest ways in which the reader can internalize the seven principles. Since the book was published in 2018, what kind of feedback have you received?

John D. Hanson: I’m grateful to say I’ve sold one on every continent. Well, except for Antarctica, I haven’t sold one there. I don’t expect to either. But the feedback’s been encouraging from people. They loved it, the practical ideas, I made sure they understood that it was a menu of options. These have all worked well for me, but I recommend starting with one or two ideas first and see how they work for people. And people liked that it was easy to read, easily adjusted. I didn’t want to make a big, massive, hundreds of pages of a book that wouldn’t be enjoyable to read. So I wanted to make it something that was practical, full of great ideas that people could use right away. As soon as they read it, they can apply it in either all low or no cost to implement. And the feedback’s been encouraging that people have benefited from that. 

Adrian Tennant: I understand you’re also hosting a new online radio show. Tell us more.

John D. Hanson: Yeah. So it’s called The Heroic Experience: Elevating Business to Heroic Success. Why are we drawn to heroism? From millennia: why has it pulled up? Why is it that element of heroism always does well at the box office and in sports and other arenas? Why is heroism a fundamentally human attribute? Why do we pursue that? So I looked it up and heroine was essentially the pursuit of two ideas, a higher purpose and nobility or excellence. Well, when I saw that, then I realized that okay so it’s not a Hollywood pipe dream or something that only certain massive companies can afford too. Companies of any size can be heroic by how they go about doing business, by the stories of their customers, the stories of their team members, the stories of why they started what they did. No company got into business, no business owners, like, you know what? I think I’m going to start something and it’s going to be okay. It’s going to be, I believe they had something so good that they wanted to create a business where they could provide it to others and they want it to benefit their community and they wanted to benefit team members that would work with them in the future too. And I thought it’s just that they get busy along the way. And sometimes the business ends up running them. And I thought if there could be a show that helps as guests talk about how they have this heroic approach to how they do business, then it becomes something that becomes a magnet that attracts and keeps the team members and the clients that company wants. And it gives some ideas about how to do that as well as some stories and some examples of how they had a heroic impact in others’ lives. Yeah. I’m excited about that. I was planning to have a podcast next year. And then I was approached with the idea to have one this year and it’s fully produced. So that was something that was a huge benefit to me. So yeah, in September is when that’s going to be launching.

Adrian Tennant: It sounds exciting. John, if IN CLEAR FOCUS, listeners would like to learn more about you, your book, WOW Your Customers: Seven Ways to World-Class Service or your new radio show, The Heroic Experience: Elevating Business to Heroic Success, where can they find you?

John D. Hanson: I’m easily found, Adrian. The book is on Amazon. I worked very hard and very diligently at growing my social media family, so I have over 30,000 social media connections. LinkedIn is a great place for people to follow, so that would be a great place to connect and engage there because I love to add value. My life purpose is to encourage others – and whether that’s a business or that’s an individual – I believe that by adding value to others in a way that has tangible ideas to it, then that’s one way that I can use the social media platform to do that. I would recommend following me and connecting with me on LinkedIn. By far, that’d be a great place to start. 

Adrian Tennant: John, thank you very much for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

John D. Hanson: I love the questions that you had. They’re very thought-provoking and thanks again, I really appreciate it.

Adrian Tennant: Coming up next time on IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Ksenia Newton: Everyone is just going online, right? They don’t need to go to the store and if they do go to the store, they just do some window shop and then they go online, they find a better deal. So COVID definitely had a hand in that, for sure. And then it accelerated, big time!

Adrian Tennant: That’s an interview with Ksenia Newton of Brandwatch, next week on IN CLEAR FOCUS. Thanks to my guest this week, John Hanson, the author of WOW Your Customers: Seven Ways to World-Class Service. You’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeyeagency.com. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, YouTube, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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