Listen and subscribe to our podcast:
In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Gabe Larsen is joined by Amanda Chavez to discuss human-centered customer service and design. Amanda has over a decade of experience working in this type of design and shares expert advice worth listening to. Tune in to the podcast below to discover how Amanda incorporates human-centered design into all aspects of customer experience.
How a North Star Mindset Can Bring Success
As the Director of Customer Service at NuAxis, Amanda understands how to effectively incorporate the often forgotten humanistic element into customer experience. She explains that a human-centered approach not only focuses on learning from data and gathering numbers, but it more importantly allows CX agents to get to know customers on a personal level. She expounds:
There’s lots of different approaches, but taking a human-centered approach really focuses on not only knowing the numbers behind who your customers are and what their behaviors are, but actually intimately getting to know those people. Like actually having conversations with them to discover where the pain really lives in that experience and using a lot of creative methods to reshape that experience for them.
Amanda’s approach to CX is not new, but rather different than traditional CX methods; she calls this a north star mindset. This mindset is all about acting in the best interest of customers and keeping them at the forefront of the experience. When institutions get distracted by keeping stakeholders happy and getting work done, oftentimes the customer gets left behind in the decision making processes. By having a north star mindset, Amanda finds that it gives people the courage to make unpopular or dubious decisions on behalf of the customer that ultimately leads to success.
Including the Human Element of CX
The human element of the customer experience is arguably the most important part of creating lasting customer loyalty. When companies become too distracted with pleasing stakeholders or keeping upper management happy, as previously mentioned, the customer is often left out of the equation. For Amanda, the act of physically making an effort to include that human aspect back into decision making, keeping stakeholders happy, etc. ultimately keeps customer retention rates high and leads to better employee/customer relationships. She illustrates, “It doesn’t matter if you are somebody working on the front lines of your occupation or if you’re sitting somewhere in the middle or at the highest levels, you have to be the one to have courage to advocate for that point of view.” To help CX leaders better understand how to include the human element in experience, she urges leaders to ask meaningful questions and to ask customers to provide specific examples of their experiences. One way to do this is to find the extremes of CX, or customers who have experienced the radical highs and lows of service, and ask targeted questions that help to gain a more in depth understanding of areas to improve. Another helpful tip Amanda offers is to record customer conversations. Her team does this through a free, open-source software called Otter. These recorded interactions pose to gather data and to shape future training for more successful outcomes.
Common Sense Uncommonly Practiced
When incorporating the human element back into CX, it is important to develop a sense of empathy for each customer. This empathetic approach naturally occurs when agents genuinely interact with their customers by asking questions and listening to their needs. Discussing her time developing and working a human-centered design approach, Amanda mentions, “Each of us sort of has a movie in our mind and we are all seeing it so differently. And that came from literally talking with people and just hearing their stories and hearing their perspectives.” Agents and leaders who understand that customers are all experiencing their own version of service through personal interpretation, are typically better equipped to handle any range of customer experiences. Amanda’s final advice to CX leaders is to use “common sense uncommonly practiced,” meaning to engage with the humanistic side of customers and to incorporate human-centered design and service to all aspects of CX.
To learn more about human-centered customer experience, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Tuesday and Thursday.
You can also listen and subscribe to our podcast here:
Full Episode Transcript:
Best Practices of Employee and Customer Engagement | Suzzanna Rowold
Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.
Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
All right, welcome everybody. We’re excited to get going today. We’re going to be talking about human-centered customer experience and to do that, we brought on the Director of Customer Experience from NuAxis, that is Amanda Chavez. Amanda, how the heck are you? And thanks for joining.
Amanda Chavez: (00:24)
I am as good as can be expected with homeschooling kids and working.
Gabe Larsen: (00:30)
We were just comparing notes. You have how many kids again, Amanda, for the audience just so they know?
Amanda Chavez: (00:35)
Half as many as you, I’ve got two.
Gabe Larsen: (00:36)
Yep. So she’s got two and unfortunately, I did have a chance to meet a couple of them before and that was really fun on our Zoom meeting, but they are unfortunately not in school. Mine are in school, so I was bragging and Amanda was jealous, but that is the world in which we live. Amanda, tell us real quick, besides the two kids, give us kind of your quick background, who is Amanda?
Amanda Chavez: (00:58)
Oh my gosh. So I have been in human-centered design for a little over a decade and in human-centered design, we designed for end-to-end experiences whether it’s for an end user or a customer. And so I’ve parlayed that into more specifically work with customers, working on that experience. So yeah, that’s me.
Gabe Larsen: (01:28)
Awesome. Awesome. Well, we’re excited to pull some of that information out of you today. So let’s start at the top. A lot of people don’t even know what, when you say human-centered customer experience, maybe just define it or what does that even mean? Why is it important?
Amanda Chavez: (01:41)
Sure. So I mean, well, human-centered design really focuses on designing experiences for humans and customers, I’ve heard that customers are also humans. So, we should start there. So in designing for a customer, using a human-centered approach to design for customers. So there’s a lot of different ways to skin the cat of customer experience, which you delve into through your podcast. And there’s lots of different approaches, but taking a human-centered approach really focuses on not only knowing the numbers behind who your customers are and what their behaviors are, but actually intimately getting to know those people. Like actually having conversations with them to discover where the pain really lives in that experience and using a lot of creative methods to reshape that experience for them.
Gabe Larsen: (02:42)
Got it. And is there, I mean, if you had to compare that against a non-human centered, like, is it, this is kind of the new way. What was the old way? What would you say is kind of the old way of doing things or what’s the difference with this?
Amanda Chavez: (02:55)
So it’s not necessarily an old way, just a different way. I think that people in this field, it’s just really easy to go to numbers and to point to a tried and true solution to address the numbers. Which is fine. Anybody who’s focused on improving things for a customer, I’m not going to throw salt on how they do it. This is just a different way to do it.
Gabe Larsen: (03:23)
Love it. Okay, good. So let’s get into some of the ways you think about this human-centered design. If you were going through with a specific project or client or maybe a project of some sort, how do you start to think about attacking or approaching this human-centered customer experience?
Amanda Chavez: (03:44)
Sure. I think first and foremost, you have to go in with a mindset. And maybe this is because I’m in my forties now and right in the middle of life that I’m thinking about it this way, but why is any of us really doing what we do, right, if not for the benefit of other people, if not for our customers? So I think really keeping your north star and your “why” front and center helps you to act with courage to make even at some points controversial or leap of faith decisions on behalf of your customers. So I think having that north star mindset that you are acting in the best interest of your customers has to be sort of front and center, agnostic of what approach you take.
Gabe Larsen: (04:36)
So the “why.” Why do you feel like, I mean why, why, why?
Amanda Chavez: (04:43)
That’s a, I love “why” questions. Go for it.
Gabe Larsen: (04:45)
Well, yeah. Why do people miss this? Or why did they not start here? Is it just something they dive into the details? It seems like a natural thing to do, but maybe an easy thing to forget.
Amanda Chavez: (04:57)
Yes. So what you’re saying is like one of my favorite expressions: it’s common sense, uncommonly practiced. And I think the “why” for it is like, you’ve got a boss who’s giving you a mandate. You’ve got shareholders who have earnings expectations above you. There’s a lot of drivers that influence, very real drivers too, that influence how people communicate to you about what you’re supposed to be doing. And a lot of times it’s not, the customer doesn’t really come into the conversation. I have noticed that after working for 20 years, that it almost never enters the conversation. So I think, this is why I think it also takes courage because you have to be the one to put it in the conversation. And it doesn’t matter if you are somebody working on the front lines of your occupation or if you’re sitting somewhere in the middle or at the highest levels, you have to be the one to have courage to advocate for that point of view.
Gabe Larsen: (05:58)
Yeah, somebody’s got to do it, right? And if it’s not you, it’s probably not going to be anybody.
Amanda Chavez: (06:04)
Gabe Larsen: (06:04)
So we can start with the “why” and really just try to figure out why you’re a business, why you’re serving your customers, get that kind of big picture. From there then, where do you go to kind of start to dive into the detail?
Amanda Chavez: (06:18)
Sure. So I don’t, I really don’t want to knock quantitative data. That’s certainly a part of the human-centered practice also, but instead of stopping there which is, I feel like, you were asking about a new way versus the old way, I think just a common way is to stop at looking at the quantitative data. And there is truly a place for survey data, looking at your AI analytics about how people are interacting with a given touch point, but you need to look deeper than that. So it, and this is something that costs like almost no money. It takes a little bit of time, but again, part of the common sense uncommonly practiced is take that data and that will tell you where the solar flares are, right? It will tell you where, it’s a symptom that there’s a problem. Take a look at that and then talk, just talk to the humans, right? Like things that we do all the time. Ask, you’re talking about “why” questions, literally all you need to talk to the humans is like the stuff that you learned in fifth grade English, right? Who, what, where, when, why, how. Ask them about their experience and really listen and even better, record it.
Gabe Larsen: (07:34)
Yeah. Sometimes it is about, I think I read once that, maybe this was for emails, it was like, “It’s best to speak at like a third grade level.”
Amanda Chavez: (07:48)
Nailed it then. A little ahead of you, Gabe.
Gabe Larsen: (07:53)
I was just like, “Wow.” Because I am, I’m a buzz. I’m like, “AI chat bot,” any other buzzword I can throw in there. CX experience management. It’s like, “What is experience management?” And I’m like, “Wow.” If I really started to just be real with people, I think that would probably help in sales and marketing and customer service. But I can imagine as you go and talk to these people and you have a real conversation, the news, I’ve always called them the newspaper questions. I don’t know why, but –
Amanda Chavez: (08:29)
No, that’s it. The newspaper questions. You learned it in fifth grade.
Gabe Larsen: (08:32)
Yeah. I actually need to Google that one like is that a thing or did I just make that up, the newspaper questions?
Amanda Chavez: (08:39)
You didn’t. I was actually going to say the journalism questions.
Gabe Larsen: (08:42)
Yeah! There is some. No, I knew it!
Amanda Chavez: (08:43)
See? You were right all along.
Gabe Larsen: (08:43)
No because, like yeah. The basic newspaper guy, woman, man would be like, “What, who are you? What are you doing? What happened here?” Like that’s the base.
Amanda Chavez: (08:56)
Oh, and can I also say too when you’re asking these questions, so set aside, listen, I have a whole method for doing this. And I get really like, if you’re like an expert in this, I will like punish people for not asking questions the right way. But if you’re somebody just getting into this, it doesn’t matter how you ask the questions. But one thing you do need is to shut up. Like, you need to ask the questions and do not add your color commentary, let that person speak and dig in deeper. Like what you’re doing on this podcast, Gabe too, you’re asking follow-up questions, you’re digging. When somebody gets really excited about something and they start to gesticulate, not that any of us is ever going to talk to anybody in person again, but you hear them talking and you can tell that they’re getting excited or you hear them kind of take a step back, pause and get reflective, those moments where something changes and how somebody is talking, that indicates that there’s a high level of emotion going on, either positive or negative. Dig into those places. Follow up. Ask your newspaper questions.
Gabe Larsen: (10:07)
I like the follow up. Yeah. It’s about going, I’ve found that in multiple aspects. Actually, I was just interviewing a candidate and was really feeling the benefit of that. Like, “Tell me about this and then well, what happened here?” And then we went down like five levels. It was just really, it was like, “Oh, that’s, I think this person really knows what they’re doing,” or you really got to the root of it because you did, you went five levels down. Maybe five –
Amanda Chavez: (10:33)
That is, no, that’s the magic number for root cause. Yep.
Gabe Larsen: (10:36)
Yep. Well see, I know so many things, Amanda. You just didn’t, weren’t aware of it. I know newspaper questions. I know third grade reading level.
Amanda Chavez: (10:45)
Gabe, seriously. I mean, we’re very lucky to have you here.
Gabe Larsen: (10:51)
Yeah. That’s what I was wanting you to say that. Thank you for saying that.
Amanda Chavez: (10:55)
You’re so welcome. You’re so welcome.
Gabe Larsen: (10:55)
Okay, so you got point one. We’ll come back to that topic in a minute, but we’ve got point one, it’s all about the “why.” Point two is how did this, finding the right data. I love the questions. Diving deeper. I love your idea of it’s not, you don’t have to say the perfect thing, but dive into it. What’s number three? Where do you go for kind of your third big point on figuring out this human-centered design?
Amanda Chavez: (11:14)
Sure. So, and the reason I recommended to you recording it, so you have to ask permission just so that, I mean, I feel like a lot of people know that, but I don’t want to make assumptions. So if you’re ever, there’s a free open-source software out there, I want them to give me a cut because I advertise them without sponsorship all the time, but Otter. It’s Otter like the animal. Otter.ai. If you enter that into a web search, they have an open source free platform for you to record conversations and they transcribe them for you. And then they even do like sentiment analysis. Like, I mean, it’s, it’s bananas. Like there, it’s, if you want to do like CX on the cheap, you could do a lot worse than Otter and I’ll be collecting my check from them later, but the reason –
Gabe Larsen: (12:09)
I’m looking at them now. Keep going. I’m looking at it though.
Amanda Chavez: (12:12)
Oh sure, no problem. But once you collect that data, because that is what you’re doing, you’re, I mean, it’s a softer touch, going in and talking to the humans, but it’s nonetheless it’s data. So collect that data and then start to look for what the themes are. So talk to a couple of people, right? Talk to people who represent the extremes of the experience. People who have, either people who’ve had the ultimate high or the ultimate low with the experience, find out what they’ve got in common or demographically, right? Sort of customer segments. Looking at people across different customer segments or people who are, who represent the extremes of an experience, and then from there aggregate what they’ve got in common. What are the themes that they’ve got in common? Because by looking at those different segments and seeing what they have in common in their experience, that tells you, and again, compare it with your quantitative data too, but that tells you sort of in a really graphic way, what’s going on with your customers and what their experience really looks like. And then from there, you can map out their journey, right? From literally from their own words, you can begin to map out their journey. And I know that probably most of your audience knows how to do a journey map, but –
Gabe Larsen: (13:39)
What have been some of the just, I wanted that last part because people do ask about that a lot. I mean, what are any experiences or stories, and I guess it could be on any of these points. But as you’ve gone through these exercises, fun things you’ve kind of discovered, interesting pain points. Like, “I’ve never thought we’d find that to be a problem and we found it,” or something that can kind of bring some of these points just in a little more of an example.
Amanda Chavez: (14:05)
Sure. No, thank you. You would, by the way, you’d make an amazing human-centered researcher. Like you kind of do it naturally. So, but yeah, because we ask for examples. We ask when we’re talking to customers. We ask them to give examples. So some of the interesting, oh man. I don’t want to get into like dark night of the soul stuff, especially since we’re having such a lovely conversation –
Gabe Larsen: (14:31)
Oh no, let’s do it. Those words are intriguing. Dark night of the soul.
Amanda Chavez: (14:35)
I know. Yeah, but I mean it. So I’ve been, so NuAxis, we work with federal customers and that’s where the majority of my, the second half of my career has been working with government, federal government customers. And the cool thing about the federal government is that they touch every problem and every person and every like customer segment. I mean, it’s amazing the reach of the federal government and so I say that to say that it, one of the first human-centered design projects that I did was for sexual assault prevention. And that’s why I’m like, “Oh, the dark night of soul stuff.” What we realized through that research and talking with people who were, who had been on, like who had been victims of sexual assault, as well as perpetrators, people who had perpetrated it, was that there’s so, I mean, one of the biggest things for me was that there were so much gray for them in their perspective. I mean, really going in and talking with people and it’s a big challenge to stay objective, especially when you’re talking with like people who have perpetrated sexual assault, but there was so much gray for them. And so much like misunderstanding sort of leading up to the event and then after the event. And I think in our minds, we kind of like see it as a black and white thing. And that was sort of, that insight alone really kind of shaped my thinking about a lot of different things that sort of, that insight sort of has permeated my understanding all these years later that each of us sort of has a movie in our mind and we are all seeing it so differently. And that came from literally talking with people and just hearing their stories and hearing their perspectives. And I mean, I know that that sounds really like mixed up to say that you can have empathy for people who have even been on, but it does once you talk to people and you understand them, you can’t help but have empathy.
Gabe Larsen: (16:53)
Hmm. Interesting. Well, that’s a fascinating experience. I didn’t realize those, that you worked on projects like that. That’s wow.
Amanda Chavez: (17:03)
Yeah, well it’s been all over the map.
Gabe Larsen: (17:04)
No, it’s a great example though. I think of kind of double-clicking into that idea of this kind of human-centered design as you, wow. Geez. That’s crazy.
Amanda Chavez: (17:16)
Sorry, I didn’t mean to, I told you it was going to be dark night of the soul.
Gabe Larsen: (17:19)
Yeah, in my mind and the gray area comment. That’s right. That really resonates, fascinating. Well, we might just, man, we might just have to have you come back. I want to hear three or four more experiences. Maybe not as interesting as that, but I –
Amanda Chavez: (17:37)
Like a little less interesting for the next time. Totally, totally. We’ll keep it lame.
Gabe Larsen: (17:42)
But it might be fun to have you come back and talk through some of those examples, but I appreciate kind of the framework. We did it on a couple of different ideas. In summary, as you think about CX leaders who are trying to get to more of this human-centered design, or maybe just get better in CX, what would be kind of thing you’d want to leave with them?
Amanda Chavez: (17:58)
So, I mean, I, again, I think I would just want to go back to start somewhere. You may not have a perfect process mapped out. You may not have sophisticated AI running in the background or the means to interpret the analytics that you’re collecting, but you can always talk to the humans and you don’t have to have a fancy formal process. You will walk away with just deeper understanding of who your customers are. And if you have that north star, that intention that you want to improve their experience, I mean, we can all be talking about all the tools, tips, and tricks in the world, but really the basics, again, you could do a lot worse than to just go with the basics.
Gabe Larsen: (18:47)
And you got to add your, what’s your common and uncommonly phrase? I think we just, we got –
Amanda Chavez: (18:52)
Common sense uncommonly practiced.
Gabe Larsen: (18:55)
Yeah. We got to end with that one. That’s such a great, I got to steal that one. I just don’t, it’s such a tongue twister. I don’t know if I can do it. Alrighty. Well, if someone wants to get in touch with you or learn a little bit more about human-centered design, what’s the best way to do that, Amanda?
Amanda Chavez: (19:09)
Oh my gosh. Email me. I would love to have a conversation about it. Do I give my email here?
Gabe Larsen: (19:14)
You can absolutely. Or you can do LinkedIn. What, any preferred –
Amanda Chavez: (19:19)
Like normal adults. Yes. You can look me up on LinkedIn. Yes. You could do that too. Rather than posting my email like a billboard.
Gabe Larsen: (19:29)
No, no. Well, yeah, we do transcribe this, so we would probably get your email out there, but either –
Amanda Chavez: (19:35)
LinkedIn, that’s it. LinkedIn. I’m there. Yes.
Gabe Larsen: (19:37)
Awesome. Awesome. Well, it’s been fun to have you and appreciate the talk track and for the audience, have a fantastic day.
Amanda Chavez: (19:47)
Thank you, Gabe. Thanks everybody.
Exit Voice: (19:54)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you’re subscribed to hear more Customer Service Secrets.