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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe Larsen is joined by Shep Hyken to discuss his book, The Cult of the Customer and the different phases of customer experience. Shep Hyken is a customer service expert and has spent 37 years in the industry. He is passionate about customer loyalty, engagement, and management. He is a keynote speaker, a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author and is currently the CSP, CPAE, and CAO (Chief Amazement Officer) at Shepard Presentations. Shep is very knowledgeable and brings valuable insights to the table as he and Gabe discuss the five “cults” in his book. Listen to the full episode below.
Why Use the Word “Cult” with Customer Service?
Most of the time when people see the word cult, they automatically think of small groups of individuals with negative and radical beliefs. “Cult” does not typically have a positive connotation. However, by discussing the latin origins of the word, Shep explains that it actually means a group of people with common interests and a unified goal. In this sense, cults aren’t inherently bad and the word could reference a lot of different groups. Shep states, “It’s a group of people that have a common interest and in this case, the cult of the customer is all about people that are fanatical, if you will, about taking care of their customers, both internal and external…” Throughout his book, Shep uses this word not only to describe the overall commitment and passion to positive customer service, he uses the word “cult” to describe different phases of the experience.
The Five Cults, or Phases, for Customers and Employees
To better understand the experience of customers, Shep created these five cults. The first is uncertainty, meaning that the customer is lacking knowledge or experience with the company. After moving through uncertainty, the customer arrives at alignment. In this phase they better understand what the company actually does and the company’s mission. Third is experience: where the customer actually has personal experiences with the product or service. Fourth, take ownership. When a company takes ownership for any unfortunate mistakes or mishaps, they gain the customer’s trust. Fifth, amazement. Shep recalls, “Now if it is positive and it’s predictable and consistent, you’re actually operating into the ultimate cult, the cult of amazement.” Additionally, Shep relates these phases to employees as well as customers. For example, when a new employee joins a company they have uncertainty, then they learn and align, have experiences, take ownership, and then, hopefully, enter the amazed state.
Consistency and Amazement as a Realistic Goal
While reaching the amazement cult and staying there seems like an unattainable goal, Shep assures that it is possible. It may be a fluid experience but it is possible. To understand how it is possible, Shep defines amazement as being “consistently better than average.” By taking the time to understand customer expectations and then creating better than average standards, customer loyalty will spike as well as customer satisfaction. Consistency is the key to being in the amazement cult. To make this point clear, Shep states:
I’ve been talking about consistency since the 80s. No matter how good you are, if you’re one day good and the next day okay– even if you ever dropped below average– you’re still going to be seen as inconsistent . . . To be better than average means simply as Horst Schulze, the cofounder and first president of the Ritz Carlton Hotel Organization, said “If you want to create a world class brand and be recognized for amazing service, just be 10% better than average all the time.”
Finding the weaknesses or trouble spots in your company, reevaluating customer expectations, and creating goals of consistency is the way to help every customer have an “amazing experience.”
To learn more about The Cult of the Customer and its various applications in the customer experience realm, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.
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Full Episode Transcript:
The Cult of the Customer | Shep Hyken
Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.
Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Hi, welcome everybody. Today we’re going to be talking about cult, the cult of the customer. I think it’ll be a fun dialogue. To do that, we brought in Shep Hyken, probably heard about him. I’ve been tracking him for six months. People have probably been doing it longer, but I’m newer to this space so that’s my excuse. He is a customer service and experience expert, New York Times bestselling, he’s got an author, keynote speaker, and he does run his own company. So, you’ll see him across multiple channels, very active on social, got a podcast. I think we’ll learn a lot today and I would definitely advise after, to make sure you follow some of his thought leadership content. So Shep, thanks for joining and how are you?
Shep Hyken: (00:54)
Hey, thanks for having me. Great to be here. Excited. And while you may have only been doing it six months, I’ve been doing this about 37 years. So, I don’t know if any — I guess I have had followers for 37 years because there are people, this is true. My very first contract I ever signed to do a speech was in 1983 with the company, Anheuser-Busch, or Budweiser. Yeah. And just about two months ago — I mean, I’ve worked with them, gosh a hundred times, maybe more over those years. Okay. But my most recent one was just a couple of months ago. So some of those people had been following me for a long time.
Gabe Larsen: (01:33)
Shep Hyken: (01:33)
And hiring me.
Gabe Larsen: (01:33)
You say 1983? Is that what you said?
Shep Hyken: (01:36)
Yeah. Yeah. Before you were born maybe?
Gabe Larsen: (01:38)
I don’t want to go into it, but it’s pretty close.
Shep Hyken: (01:41)
I know. I look young and I’ll tell you why. I cut my hair off. Just shave it all off. No, you can’t see — has he got gray hair? Well, unless I take my shirt off, you won’t know. Back hair could be gray, but hey, we’re not going to do that here. But seriously, old guys that are bald, they don’t look old until one day they do look old. But I’ve got about another 10 years before that happens.
Gabe Larsen: (02:05)
Yeah. Well I won’t make you share your age, but it sounds like 37– That’s a long…we’ll just go with that.
Shep Hyken: (02:10)
1983 I started my business. Yep.
Gabe Larsen: (02:12)
You are a seasoned professional. Wow. Well again, tons of information we’re going to try to dive into it today. Let’s start high level cause when I saw this book, I mean it is kind of a revised edition coming out, but this idea of cult. I mean most people see that and they’re like cult, that’s some weird people doing some weird stuff in some weird place.
Shep Hyken: (02:34)
It’s got the rep. It’s got the rap and the rap — got the reputation and a bad rap. Cult is actually, it’s an interesting word. And by the way, this is a completely updated, revised edition; new stats, facts. We took out a few of the case studies that weren’t relevant. We got rid of some names of people that are in jail now that we used as examples. They’re now, they’re no longer part of the book. True. That’s true. I won’t tell you who it is either. No, it’s true. There was a guy in there who’s in jail right now. He’s out of the book.
Shep Hyken: (03:05)
You never know what’s going to happen. Right?
Gabe Larsen: (03:08)
You don’t, you don’t.
Shep Hyken: (03:08)
So, the word cult. When I sent the book out, the first time the book came out, I actually sent it to a bunch of my clients. One client sent it back, a healthcare system that has a religious persuasion and said, the word cult disgusts me. You will never work for my company again.
Gabe Larsen: (03:28)
Whoa you’re kidding.
Shep Hyken: (03:28)
Whoa, Whoa. I apologize profusely. But, if you read the back cover of the book or the inside jacket, it says cult is not a dirty word. The word cult is really, first of all, it comes from the word cultus, the Latin word cultus, which means care and tending which is interesting. But beyond that, the actual definition of a cult is not about fanaticism. It’s about a group of people with common interests headed toward the same direction, doing the same thing.
Gabe Larsen: (03:59)
Is that right?
Shep Hyken: (03:59)
So, in effect, it could be a religious order, but it could also be a bunch of people who go out and it’s almost like religion. Every Sunday morning you see them running through the park, working out together. So it’s a group of people that have a common interest and in this case, the cult of the customer is all about people that are fanatical, if you will, about taking care of their customers, both internal and external; creating an environment that’s care and tending toward those people. And, ideally doing such a great job that these customers, especially the outside customers, become evangelists; which is why the subtitle is “Create an amazing customer experience that turns satisfied customers into customer evangelists.” People that will praise what you do and share and spread the word about how great you are.
Gabe Larsen: (04:50)
I love that. You know, I don’t — there was another gentleman, Russell Brunson, he’s kind of a marketing guru.
Shep Hyken: (04:56)
Yep I know Russell.
Gabe Larsen: (04:57)
Cult-ure. Like CULTure, culture. Like something that people are a little more intense about that they really care about and want to be a part of. You’re right. I like that the history shows that it’s not just a negative, kind of crazy people that we sometimes assume. But there is kind of a positive– just a group of people that are really dynamic in following the cause.
Shep Hyken: (05:19)
So here’s some trivia. I’ll give you trivia that I’ve never shared with anybody before. I don’t think I have anyway. So when this– I did not come up with this title. When I was approached by Wiley a dozen plus years ago to write this book, I had the idea that would be called “The Customer Focus,” which is after my training programs.
Gabe Larsen: (05:41)
Shep Hyken: (05:41)
And they said, we’ve got a different title. We would like you to consider, “The Cult of the Customer.” Whoa, that’s an interesting name: Cult. The “cult” caught my attention too. So ironically, that summer I saw a woman speak, she was wonderful. She’s the one that came up with the Aflac commercial. “Aflac.” So she talked about how it would be a polarizing commercial; that people would love this because it’s funny, people would hate it because it’s stupid, but everybody else would remember it no matter what because who’s going to forget Aflac. Right? And so, I asked her. I had a chance to ask her about the word cult in the title, and she says it will do the same thing that Aflac does in a sense. And that if people are walking through the bookstore and they see “The Cult of The Customer,” they may stop and look at that word cult because it jumps out at them.
Shep Hyken: (06:34)
And it may cause them to pick up the book and look at it. Some people, it’ll just like, “who would use that word in a title,” and others will go, “well that’s a really interesting way of putting it.” So in effect — but everybody remembers that word cult because it just stands out.
Gabe Larsen: (06:49)
Oh my heavens. When I first saw it, it did.I think you nailed it.
Shep Hyken: (06:54)
Gabe Larsen: (06:54)
It’s a little bit of a head turner. You walked by and probably some people are like, what? But other people are like — so whatever it is, good for you because it worked.
Shep Hyken: (07:04)
It worked. We sold a lot of books. When it first came out, it immediately, interesting. It was the number one book of all books sold on Amazon for just a real short time. But it was the number one book. It stayed number one in business for weeks and weeks. It also hit the Wall Street Journal list, the USA Today list. And I was surprised it didn’t hit the New York Times. The next one did. But this one still, it hit a bunch of good lists.
Gabe Larsen: (07:31)
Wow, well, congratulations on a bunch of books. Yeah, I’m sure the title had something to do it, but the content as well. So let’s hit the content. Can you talk about these five cults or phases customers go through? Maybe start there.
Shep Hyken: (07:45)
So, I started to look at — my goal in life is to simplify the complicated. And it’s not even that complicated. We want to create an experience that gets people to want to come back. Well, let’s talk about what people are thinking through their journey. And the first time a customer decides to do business with someone, no matter how good the reputation is, they can only hope that it’s going to be as good as what’s promised.
Shep Hyken: (08:11)
And I call that the cult of uncertainty. That’s a phase that customer’s in. The next is they’re going to get into alignment. So they get into this cult of alignment. They’re starting to understand what the company’s about. And by the way, B2B, B2C doesn’t matter. It’s, I want to understand who it is I’m dealing with, what they’re promising me. Okay, I get it. Now I need to experience it. And as I experience it, hopefully I’ll like it and it’s a good experience and I like that experience, but it’s not predictable yet. It only becomes predictable when it’s repeated, when I can count on it. So you go from uncertainty to alignment to experience, and then you go to ownership. That’s when it is predictable. People say things like, “they’re always so helpful, they always get back to me, they always are friendly.” Yeah, the word “always” followed by something good.
Shep Hyken: (08:57)
Now, if it is positive and it’s predictable and consistent, you’re actually operating into the ultimate cult, the cult of amazement. And that’s where, and by the way, amazement can be over the top, blow me away. But you can’t count on over the top experiences every time. Usually, you have to wait for a problem to fix it. Or maybe you overhear something and you can surprise someone. But if day in and day out, you’re just predictably above average and creating that positive experience where your customers go, “I love doing business with them.” And if you said, well, what do you like about them? They always get back to me so quickly. They’re always, like I said, knowledgeable, helpful, friendly. You can use all those. Even when there’s a problem, I know I can always count on them. Which by the way, when you’re in amazement and then there’s a problem, that customer immediately goes back to uncertainty. Immediately. And if you handle it right, they quickly jump back to amazement. And that’s when they’ll say, even when there’s a problem, I know I can, here’s that word, always count on them. So that word “always” followed by something positive.
Gabe Larsen: (10:01)
But that is scalabil– it’s consistent.
Shep Hyken: (10:06)
Consistency counts. I would say that as I do my speeches, I don’t know how many, I mean I’ve done thousands of them over the years, but, as I’ve been talking about consistency; I’ve been talking about consistency since the 80s. No matter how good you are, if you’re one day good and the next day, okay, even if you ever dropped below average, you’re still going to be seen as inconsistent. So if on a scale of one to five where one is bad and five is great, three is average or in the middle. To be better than average means simply that Horst Schulze, the cofounder and first president of the Ritz Carlton Hotel Organization said, if you want to create a world class brand recognized for amazing service, just be 10% better than average all the time. Because that “all the time” part that’s not easy to do.
Gabe Larsen: (10:57)
Yeah, but that’s interesting because we do — sometimes we celebrate the crazy stuff, right? The over the top, I think is the word you used. And those are nice, but it does require maybe a big blow up or a big problem. It’s that consistent, repeatable, scalable, whatever other word you want to throw in, that 10% above average. But it’s getting there. That ain’t that easy.
Shep Hyken: (11:20)
Well over the top is hard. I mean, you know, it’s like if you’re a server at a restaurant and you overhear a couple talking that it’s their year anniversary and you surprise them with a cake with a candle. That’s not really over the top, but that’s a surprise. Okay. But if the rest of the time you are inattentive and didn’t bring them their drinks fast and the food came out and it was sloppy the way it was, put–. See, you’ve got to always be — I want them to say, “you know what, that server was wonderful and that surprise was amazing.” And wonderful is attentive, friendly, nice, made suggestions. And that’s a very simple hospitality example. But again, B2B, it’s the same way. We’re a manufacturer. We’re selling to a company. You feel good about the order you place. I call you up and say, just want to let you know the order– or I email you– the order has shipped, here’s tracking information. I’m going to watch it too. I call you to let you know it arrived and, or I email you to let you know, and I’m on top of it. And you’re saying to yourself, wow, these people have it together. And when that happens again and again you go, “I can always count on them.”
Shep Hyken: (12:29)
That’s why people love Amazon. It’s because they send out these notices, your order is placed, your order has shipped, your order is received. Then on top of that, if there’s a problem, they have a pretty great system of management.
Gabe Larsen: (12:42)
I want to get through the rest of the phases, but just one more click on that because that’s like the Holy Grail. That consistency. It just seems like we can’t do it. Is it because we don’t have the technology, the wherewithal, the knowledge, that there’s just too many complications? How come we’re not there?
Shep Hyken: (12:59)
I believe that the majority of the problem with inconsistency, sure there are issues built into a process that can be fixed. But a lot of the problems have to do with people where they’re not paying attention to what’s going on in that moment. And I will tell you when I work with clients and one of the exercises we’ll do is say, I want to have the group sit down in small groups and talk about– come up with the three biggest problems you hear customers complain about all the time. And I love this because they come up with some great ones and I go, all right, let’s figure out what the most important one we want to deal with. So this happens all the time. Oh yeah, it happens every week, every day. I go, well, if it’s happening all the time, why haven’t you fixed it yet? Okay. And by the way, some things are not fixable. Jeff Bezos said, we don’t need a customer service department. We need to be that good that customers should never need to call us for anything. And that worked until the shipment went out of the warehouse and then UPS, FedEx, Post Office, whoever it is, picked it up and lost it on the way. Now, it wasn’t in Amazon’s hands. It isn’t even Amazon’s fault. By the way, every time a customer called and said, where’s my shipment? It didn’t get here. And they found out that it was lost by UPS, FedEx, or Post Office, whoever. Amazon always said, no problem. We’ll take care of you. Okay. And see, that’s the kind of thing that kind of started that consistency of ownership. And whenever there’s a problem, I always say, apologize, acknowledge or acknowledge and apologize, doesn’t matter. Fix it. That’s the third step. Acknowledge, apologize, fix it or discuss what you’re going to do. Take ownership of it. Don’t blame others, just get it done. And number five, do it fast. And when you do that, you’re going to restore confidence. Now, even though a shipment that’s lost isn’t Amazon’s fault, how quickly they say, we’re going to get one out to you right away.
Gabe Larsen: (14:52)
They take ownership and they recognize it. You know, it’s funny, I remember one time, just to be thinking of your example when you talked to your group. I started even new at this company, but it’s funny when you have fresh eyes on a perspective problem. I remember I joined this company right in the front door, there was this big orange cord that kind of went across the front of the office. And I remember walking in and thinking, guys, why is this orange cord here, this large orange cord? Every day we have this step over it. And you know, to a point, it’s like, well, it’s just always been there. [inaudible]. So sometimes we don’t even acknowledge it because it has become just what we deal with. The orange cord is in our way. It’s always there.
Shep Hyken: (15:39)
There’s an old story. Zig Ziglar, the famous motivational speaker who’s passed away, used to tell a story about — there’s a big family dinner and the little girl says, “mommy, why do you cut the end of the roast off before you put it in the oven?” And mom thought about it and she says, well, that’s what your grandma taught me. And so she went to grandma, “grandma, why do we cut the end off the roast before we put it in the oven?” And she goes, “well that’s actually, that’s a very good question. But when I learned how to cook a roast, that’s the way I was taught by your great grandma.” Great grandma, four generations is in the room. She goes over to this elderly woman, “great Grammy, why do you cut the end of the road off before you put it in the oven?” And she said, because those roasts are so big, you have to take the end off so it will fit in the oven.” But the oven has got bigger, but they still kept cutting the end of the roast off. And it’s like, because we always did it that way and sometimes we become so used to something that it just doesn’t phase us. So back to the original concept, when our clients say this happens all the time ago, why is it happening all the time? There’s got to be some way to eliminate or at least mitigate it. So anyway, we have digressed away from the five columns.
Gabe Larsen: (16:54)
I’m so sorry, that’s so fun.
Shep Hyken: (16:56)
Oh I love it. This is what happens.
Gabe Larsen: (17:00)
[inaudible]. Oh man, you’re right. Bless his soul because that was a lot of great quotes. So go ahead and finish the five. I did have one other question.
Shep Hyken: (17:06)
Those are the five. We’ve got uncertainty into alignment, into experience, ownership and then amazement. And by the way, you mentioned Gabe, as you walked into a new company, employees have the same exact experiences that customers have, the five phases or five calls. Because when you walked in to work with, you know, this new company Kustomer, which by the way, I love the way they spell it. Different. Okay. Because whoever said — there is truth to this, that spelling is no indication of intelligence. Okay.
Gabe Larsen: (17:41)
Shep Hyken: (17:43)
Very smart people just don’t know how to spell. Okay. You spell by remembering, by feeling it and kinesiology. I don’t know. There’s all kinds of ways they talk about, anyway.
Gabe Larsen: (17:53)
He’s mocking because we spell it with a K. For those of you who don’t know Customer with a K.
Shep Hyken: (17:57)
Is the K backwards? No, it’s Customer with the K. So, here’s the thing. The employee comes in and they go, Oh, I’m looking forward to work. I hope I love this job. Hope. Hope is not a strategy as they say, but hope is also an indication of uncertainty. Now I’m in there, I’m being onboarded, I’m learning about the mission, the values, the vision. Now I’m getting into alignment. I’m understanding it. So now I’m going to go to work. I understand this is what we’re supposed to do, this is how we’re supposed to be, and now I’m experiencing this and hopefully I’m liking it. By the way, I’m assuming that I’m enjoying this experience. Can’t wait for tomorrow. Oh, more of the same, more of the same every day. Now I’m owning it. And when you say to me, how do you like your job when you come home and your partner, your spouse, your best friend says, how do you like your new job? And you say, I love working there. You’ve now moved that employee from hope or uncertainty into amazement.
Gabe Larsen: (18:56)
Wow. Yeah. So, the employee’s journey does follow those same things, those five phases or five cults. Got it. One thing I wanted to dive into on the five, you talked just a little about the employee side of it, but we were talking about consistency. Is it– how possible is it really? I mean, you’ve been doing this for 37 years Shep, so you can just tell me it’s not possible, but is it really possible to get to that amazing level? I mean, can you be that?
Shep Hyken: (19:22)
Yeah, that’s the whole point. That’s what I try to preach to my clients. And by the way, I have lost a couple of speeches and projects because my definition of amazement is better than average all the time. And, there was a client that said, we need to always be, we need to blow our clients away every time. We need to prove to them over and over again. I go, you prove it when you’re consistently better than average. And by the way, the client defines who and what average is, but you can get a pretty good idea after being in business for a while, what your clients basic expectations are, and then say, where can I make it better? Where can I exceed it? I don’t ever want my client — you could say this, or Kustomer, you can create standards. You could say our clients will never be on hold for more than 45 seconds and if they are on hold, they’ll be given the option, by technology, allowing us to tell the client, “your call really is important in spite of what other people say and we value your time. We unfortunately are overwhelmed today and your whole time will be about four minutes or we can call you back at whatever time is convenient.” And you know, there’s a system that allows them to just punch in the numbers on their keypad and that shows you appreciate their time and effort. I can’t stand calling and they say it’s very busy, please hold, forever. We don’t know how long it’s going to take. So anyway, there is an example.
Gabe Larsen: (20:50)
We almost don’t even put up with that anymore. Now that we know there’s a different option, right? So, I love that definition of amazing, by the way. It just makes it so much more obtainable. That that does makes me feel better.
Shep Hyken: (21:01)
Little better than average all the time. And that means, and you can set your standards and you could say you’ll always return a phone call within two hours. You’ll always return an email within whenever. And you create these standards and you know, these standards are not just acceptable, but they will impress your customers. And you do that by talking to your people about what they know impresses their customers both internally and externally. We do an exercise here, in our office — and we teach our clients all over the world to do this — where every week they have to bring in an example of a good experience that they’ve created either for an internal or external customer. Sometimes it’s just, give me a general customer service moment of magic, positive thing again or give me an example of when you did something very specific that we’re talking about and they have to look to find that example. And what will happen is they’ll make that example happen, which is great because now they’re service aware, they’re making an effort to make things happen, so it’s positive. By the way, the types of exercises we’re talking about are included in the book. At the end we have a whole workbook and these are the same exercises that our trainers from our company go out and deliver to companies all over the world, so it’s included as part of the book.
Gabe Larsen: (22:15)
Let’s get there. I mean we’ve hit on a couple of points. I love some of the action items. If someone wants to learn more about you — get into the book. We’re obviously recording it now. It will be hopefully releasing soon here in conjunction with this session. What would you recommend to take the next step and learn more about Shep Hyken and what he does?
Shep Hyken: (22:35)
Well, you can go to hyken.com but if you want to learn more about the book, cultofthecustomer.com, and you can learn more or go straight to Amazon. By the way, if you buy the book, you need to go back to the website and there is, you’ll see it as you scroll down– I’m looking at it now– a big circle with a star in it says if you already pre-purchase a book, click here for your free gift. But you know what, we are going to modify the free gift just a little and let me tell you what we’re giving away. Anybody that clicks on that will get free access to one of my courses. We charge $49 for this course. It’s an online service course. Here’s what I want people to do. You can look at it as an individual. Print the workbook out, fine. If you’ve got a group of 25 people, print out 25 workbooks. It’s your paper at that point, and show it to everybody. You’ll have a great one hour with a group of people — have an hour long customer service workshop that you’ll be able to do with your group. No charge. Once you get it, you’ve got to use it because it’s not going to be there forever.
Gabe Larsen: (23:40)
Got it. Oh I love it.
Shep Hyken: (23:41)
Gabe Larsen: (23:43)
Cult of the Customer. Um, make sure we get that. Shep best of luck. Again, sounds like the book, the new version of the book, obviously it’s been out for a while, but new version with new stories, nobody from jail, et cetera.
Shep Hyken: (23:56)
It’s crazy. Yeah. And if I won’t tell you — if you read through the book you’ll go “Oh I know this is.”
Gabe Larsen: (24:02)
I probably don’t. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time. A great talk track on the Cult of the Customer. So again, appreciate you taking a minute for the audience. Have a fantastic day.
Shep Hyken: (24:14)
Thanks Gabe, thanks for having me. Bye bye.
Gabe Larsen: (24:16)
Bye bye. Alrighty and that is a wrap.
Exit Voice: (24:29)
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