Putting People Above Process with Jeanne Bliss

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Putting People Above Process with Jeanne Bliss
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In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Gabe Larsen is joined by Jeanne Bliss to discover what it means to be a customer-centric company and to discuss how companies succeed when their employees are trusted and given room to grow. Tune in to the full podcast to learn more!

A Fresh Perspective on CX

It’s time for a new perspective in the CX industry, one which focuses on customer happiness and agent happiness. As so many guests on our podcast have pointed out before, the happier that CX agents are, the better outcomes they produce in customer interactions. When agents are happier in their jobs, this leads to higher NPS scores and overall customer satisfaction and loyalty. 

As CX advances to keep up with the modern customer, Jeanne hopes that more companies will adopt this philosophy of people over policy/process. She finds that because of her diverse background and no BS perspective on CX, many leaders relate to her realness and they adopt the techniques she writes about. She explains, “I’ve lived in reality and I think that’s what people gravitate toward: that my stuff is not pie in the sky, it’s not kumbaya, it’s been field-tested, has to be real and that’s really also why I keep changing how I write about this work.”

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Placing Trust in Your Employees

Something a lot of leaders have in common is that they don’t trust their employees enough to make decisions on their own or to give them enough room to grow within the company. These leaders miss out on so many opportunities for customer success because of this lack of trust. Jeanne believes that one of the best things a leader can do for their employees is to equip them with the tools and trust necessary to make their own decisions. “We do things inadvertently inside our business that gets in their way. We wire them into policies that they have to constantly feel bad about enforcing. We don’t trust them to make the call.” For example, if a long time customer wants to return something but missed the warranty claim by just a few days, it would be worth trusting your agents enough to allow for an exception because most likely, the second they turn that customer down, they will take their business and loyalty elsewhere.

Is Getting Help Easy for Your Customers?

This is a question so many leaders want to say yes to, but actually can’t because their processes are over-complicated for both employees and customers. Jeanne describes how neither should be forced into binary boxes with strict rules and policies they have to follow. Agents should be trained to make decisions based on customer needs, and customers should be valued and helped, even if sometimes exceptions need to be made. “Do we make it easy to get help? Are you getting old waiting on hold? Do we make our customers feel like hot potatoes passing them around? These are the things that affect all of our lives. Would you send your pile of paperwork to your mom?” Jeanne uses the analogy that if you wouldn’t say it to your mom, don’t say it to your customers, meaning that if your mom was calling in to complain about a product issue, you wouldn’t treat her as just another problem or number. Each customer should be treated with the same dignity and grace, regardless of who they are.

To learn more about creating a company culture that values both employees and customers, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.

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Full Episode Transcript:

Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Alright, welcome everybody to today’s podcast. We’re going to be talking about customer experience, how to do it, why to do it, some of the details around that. To do that, we brought on Jeanne Bliss. She is currently the CEO and founder of Customer Bliss. In addition, she is the five time Chief Customer Officer and what some people refer to as the “Godmother of Customer Experience.” I love that one. That was fun. That was really fun. Um, Jeanne, thanks for joining. How are you?

Jeanne Bliss: (00:41)
I’m great, how are you?

Gabe Larsen: (00:43)
Yeah, fantastic. I appreciate you coming on and we were talking pre-show, trying to learn all that I can about customer experience and I think Jeannie, obviously has a lot of background —

Jeanne Bliss: (00:51)
It’s Jean actually, if that’s okay with you. Yeah, that’s okay.

Gabe Larsen: (00:55)
Okay. I apologize.

Jeanne Bliss: (00:57)
No worries! It’s spelled Jeanne but I say Jean, just to confuse the heck out of everybody.

Gabe Larsen: (01:02)
I’ve got some of that going on. I’m Gabriel and I go by Gabe. Some people say Gabby, so I know the feeling.

Jeanne Bliss: (01:09)
Hey Gabby. There you go. Yeah.

Gabe Larsen: (01:10)
That actually happened yesterday in the taxi. He’s like Gabby, I’m like, whatever. I’ll just take it.

Jeanne Bliss: (01:15)
What’s on your Starbucks coffee cup?

Gabe Larsen: (01:18)
That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. So, anything you’d add kind of to your background? I mean, I did short and sweet. Anything you’d add for the audience, Jeanne?

Jeanne Bliss: (01:27)
Sure. I was a practitioner for 25 years before I started books and coaching leaders around the world. And so I’ve lived in reality and I think that’s what people gravitate toward: that my stuff is not pie in the sky, it’s not kumbaya, it’s been field tested, has to be real and that’s really also why I keep changing how I write about this work. So it’s accessible.

Gabe Larsen: (01:59)
Hmm. Yeah. I mean the practitioner always makes a difference rather than someone who just talked about it or consulted on it. So I think that gets into the talk track that I wanted to dive into today. We were talking a little bit about one of the books that you’ve written and this is, “Would You do That to Your Mother?” So, start big picture for us. Can you talk just a little bit about why the book, why you want to get it, what it’s a little bit about it, etc.

Jeanne Bliss: (02:24)
Absolutely. Yeah. So this is my fourth book and what’s happening with customer experience, like anything that becomes something that is in the conscience and everybody wants it or it’s in their top two things for their CEO is now, suddenly, we have a capacity to do two things. Overcomplicate the heck out of it or water it down so much that it means nothing. So it means either nothing or everything and we make it more and more complicated and or inaccessible. What’s happening with customer experience is that both of those things are happening and while we’re getting into journey mapping and all of these other things, which are fine, we’re also missing the basics of what’s still impacting each of us as human beings, as we try to get value from the companies who serve us. And so this is a fast track to identify those common things that affect our lives that either don’t show us honor or trust or don’t honor or trust our employees. And so it’s broken into four categories. You’ll recognize them as a human being, and a customer, and as our leader — leading service or support people and serving customers — you will recognize these are the four major areas that you have the opportunity to impact. And so that’s why I wrote it, to make it very accessible and fast track people into this world.

Gabe Larsen: (03:50)
And then, from a title perspective, I do have to ask, how did you — where’d that one come from? I mean it’s certainly unique.

Jeanne Bliss: (03:57)
So, originally the working title was “Why Oh Why?” Why oh why do companies charge $7 for a bottle of water? Why oh why, la la la. And at one point in time this, “would you do that your mother” jumped in because what’s happening is in a well-intended or not deliberate way, we’re letting things seep into our business that we wouldn’t do to the people that we care about in our lives. And so this is a conscience question. It goes all the way back to the beginning of my career when I went to Lands’ End and was training 2,000 phone operators. So, and back then, Gary Coleman, the founder of Lands’ End actually called me the conscience of the company. And so this is a conscience question and you can ask this question at every level. You can ask it personally as you’re interacting with the customer, maybe you’re not in charge of that policy.

Jeanne Bliss: (04:51)
But, would you deliver the know the way that you might consider delivering it to your mother or whatever it is. When you’re in the middle of an organization creating processes that put customers through 50,000 hoops, it kind of forces you to think about that. At a leadership level it gets you into those more strategic decisions about how you make the money in the business.

Gabe Larsen: (05:16)
I love it. I love it.

Jeanne Bliss: (05:16)
So, yeah, and again, back to my thing of simplifying. Whether you’ve got a major customer experience transformation effort on, or you’re leading a big part of the organization, we can start asking, would we do this — it doesn’t have to be your mother — somebody you love. Would you do this to your favorite aunt? Would you do this to your uncle? Would you do this to a friend or a neighbor —

Gabe Larsen: (05:38)
Keep it close, keep it personal.

Gabe Larsen: (05:38)
It’s just about to humanize. There’s this person at the end of every decision that we make. Full stop.

Gabe Larsen: (05:46)
Yeah. Yeah. So, okay, so that’s the title. That’s one of the reasons you bought the book, or you wrote the book. These pillars that you talked about. Let’s dive into those just a little bit and talk about how that can then be translated into changing the way we do customer service. Maybe start at the top.

Jeanne Bliss: (06:01)
Sure. You bet. So four categories or four pillars of the book. The first one is around enabling your employees to rise. We do things inadvertently inside our business that gets in their way. We wire them into policies that they have to constantly feel bad about enforcing. We don’t trust them to make the call —

Gabe Larsen: (06:23)
All true, all true.

Jeanne Bliss: (06:23)
We don’t trust them in the moment with data about customers. We don’t give them the opportunity to make a call or extend grace or exceptions without touching the desk or passing it on or escalating five times. The way we hire; we’re hiring perhaps for technical skills before we hire for care. We inadvertently put our people in the position of being survey score beggars. We’re coaching them to score versus coaching behaviors. On and on, giving them — and there’s this other thing around spirit in an organization. It’s what I call congruence of heart and habit. Are you letting people live their values at work? Are we letting them be memory makers or are we making them watch a clock and tick off boxes that there’s no way that they can go beyond checking boxes? Are we giving them the ability to put themselves in the moment and leave the customer with a memory that is, “Man, I want to deal with these people again.”

Gabe Larsen: (07:28)
Wow. Wow. I mean, as I hear that list, I’m just like, wow. That’s so many things that we can do right or do wrong. If you were coaching an organization, is there a place you typically say, this is where you should start on enabling employees? Like make sure you hire right or make sure you get this part first because it’s kind of the baby step to getting, enabling employees to really rise or thrive.

Jeanne Bliss: (07:54)
Yeah. A couple things. One is be really clear about who you’re hiring for. What kind of humans do you want in your organization and how do you want to show them, help them show up. The second one is around trust. You know, trust given is trust received. If we have — if we’re hiring the right people, then we should also be identifying the places where customers are constantly hitting their wall, hitting their head and asking for exceptions. Two things here: help your people identify stupid rules or policies and be open to that feedback. Reward people for bringing it up and then get rid of them. So that’s number one. And number two is trust your people. This is what I call leadership bravery. Trust your people in the moment to make the call. For example, um, you know, one of the things I say in the book is, “would you turn down your mom’s warranty claim three days out warranty?” Well, you don’t want to, but we force our people into these black and white things.

Jeanne Bliss: (09:02)
But what about if we were brave? So we hire them for the right reasons. We know they have these humanity plus technical skills and then we give them —

Gabe Larsen: (09:10)
Empower them a little bit.

Jeanne Bliss: (09:10)
— enough. It’s not blind trust. This isn’t about do what’s right, the customer’s always right. Everybody gets confused. This is about putting them in a position of growing the business by making the right call. You may be — if you’re turning down somebody’s warranty in three days out of warranty, it may be a 20 year five line of business customer. Goodbye Charlie and the customer’s gone, man, we’re dumb. The employee’s going, man, we’re dumb. And I didn’t want to do that, but I was forced to do that after I escalated it five times. So we’re doing two things here. What we have done is condition our customers — think about your own life — to do what I call service roulette. You ever call an airline more than once?

Gabe Larsen: (09:59)
No comment, no comment.

Jeanne Bliss: (09:59)
Okay, so you call it — I love the airlines but the poor airlines people are put through the ringer– call an airline more than once, you reach a policy cop, probably a nice smart person, but they’re just going to spout it off. And so what we do is we hang up and we dial again, hoping for somebody else every time we call. Every one of those calls, what does that do? That costs the company money.

Gabe Larsen: (10:24)
That costs tons. Yeah.

Jeanne Bliss: (10:26)
So service roulette is costing the company money. Not trusting our people is costing the company money, not only in customers who depart, but in employees whose spirit is diminished and don’t want to be a part of: A, a company that makes such dumb black and white rules that they’re forcing their best customers away, and a company that doesn’t trust them to make the call in the moment.

Gabe Larsen: (10:51)
Yeah. Wow. Wow. Interesting. I like that. You call it service roulette? Is that what you said?

Jeanne Bliss: (10:58)
Yeah. Service roulette.

Gabe Larsen: (10:58)
Boy do I play that. I was laughing because I, yeah, I do that too often. I didn’t know there was a name for it. I thought I was being sneaky.

Jeanne Bliss: (11:07)
I made that up. So in that — those were the top eight things. Do we honor the dignity of customer’s lives? Do we show up [inaudible] company? Do we trust the frontline to extend grace? Number two, do we hire people with the ability to care? Three, are we doing any survey score begging? Four — our people hate that — do we check our bias at the door? We’ve got built in biases. We have to coach people. Five, do we have any rules that inhibit people’s ability to serve? Six. Do we reward for congruence of heart and habit? Seven, and do we nurture memory makers?

Gabe Larsen: (11:42)
Wow. Wow. Interesting. Okay. So that’s all about enabling employees. You’ve got a whole eight kind of recipe process. So let’s go number two now. I want to see if we can get through a couple more. We may not get through all four pillars, but the next one was easy, right? Make it easy to do business with you. How do you think about that one?

Jeanne Bliss: (11:59)
I actually call that chapter, because this is a mom book, “Don’t Make Me Feed You Soap.”

Gabe Larsen: (12:05)
Now for someone who actually — I have this one memory, you’ll love this Jeanne. I have this one memory. I’m walking home from a church activity and someone did something and I swore at them and my mom happened to be right there and boy did she feed me soap. So I have eaten soap before.

Jeanne Bliss: (12:22)
I have eaten a lot of soap.

Gabe Larsen: (12:23)
It tastes terrible.

Jeanne Bliss: (12:25)
It’s terrible. Yeah. Okay, so this is all about those things that roll under the feet of the call center people. Now here is how you can solve this everybody out there; start keeping track of how many times you get this. Okay? Do you honor customer’s time in their clock, right? How often has an airline pushed away from the gate and caused an on time departure? Or are you waiting for a refrigerator repairman and waiting for half a day? Are you put in a queue? So are you building your business on customer time or your time? You take the monkey off the customer’s back and if you’ve ever tried to put in an insurance claim or lost your luggage and you call and instead of helping you, the company gives you homework.

Gabe Larsen: (13:14)
Sounds like you’ve been through this. I think we’ve all been through this before.

Jeanne Bliss: (13:16)
Do we let customers depart gracefully? You know? Remember that whole AOL thing a million years ago? Well, we won’t get into it, but a graceful departure can lead to an eventual return. But if you badger your customer, you penalize them for leaving early. You do all of this handcuffs stuff, the customer is going to say, well now of course I left ‘because they’re meanies.

Gabe Larsen: (13:44)
Yeah, boy, boy. It seems like a lot of people do that. That’s a bad one. That’s a big problem.

Jeanne Bliss: (13:50)
Do we make it easy to get help? Are you getting old waiting on hold? Do we make our customers feel like a hot potato passing them around? These are the things that affect all of our lives. Would you send your pile of paperwork to your mom?

Gabe Larsen: (14:10)
Yeah, I probably wouldn’t. I don’t know if she’d do it.

Jeanne Bliss: (14:13)
So those are some of the eight in that section.

Gabe Larsen: (14:16)
Yeah, I love that. So, number two is all about we gotta make sure we do — It’s easy, but I love that. Looking at it from the customer’s viewpoint, not just our own. Because we’re always like, well, this process is very efficient, but might be efficient for you. It’s not efficient for the customer. Okay.

Jeanne Bliss: (14:30)
In fact, I call this section, build your respect delivery machine. Are you respecting? Does the customer at every turn feel like you’re respecting them?

Gabe Larsen: (14:39)
Yeah. Yeah. That’s a great way to summarize it. Okay. That’s pillar two. Where do you go for pillar three?

Jeanne Bliss: (14:45)
Pillar three is around rebuilding your business from the customer standpoint. I call it put others before yourself.

Gabe Larsen: (14:53)
Okay.

Gabe Larsen: (14:55)
Does your hello focus on people or process? Ever walk into a reservation center or a hospital? You’ve got somebody, eyes down, and they hand you a clipboard, right? Or a business room or whatever, or you call to put in a claim. Instead of saying, Hey, how are you? They say, what’s your policy number? Or order number, ticket number? What — the hello? That is the first impression of who you are as people. Do you allow for human error? If you return that rental car three minutes late, are you going to get dinged for half a day?

Gabe Larsen: (15:38)
Yeah. Do you put — I like that. Do you put people first or put people above process?

Jeanne Bliss: (15:46)
So it’s redesigning. Do we build for customer emotions? I have a story in there about the emotional and health impact of the hospital gown. People actually get sicker in hospitals wearing those crummy gowns where you can see your underpants. You know what I mean? Cause you’re cold. You’re cold and vulnerable and all this other stuff.

Gabe Larsen: (16:08)
It’s a terrible experience. It’s a terrible experience. You’re right.

Jeanne Bliss: (16:13)
Do you walk customers out of trouble spots? When the power goes out, are you there immediately saying, “we know your power’s out and here’s what’s happening.” So, it’s a bunch of prodding in this section to have you rethink what you, how you run your business.

Gabe Larsen: (16:29)
And that literally is, I mean, it’s examining almost the entire process beginning to end and seeing where you can put, not you first, but the customer first.

Jeanne Bliss: (16:38)
The starting point of the work is different.

Gabe Larsen: (16:40)
Yeah. Okay. Got it. Okay. Then number four, where do you go for number four? We’re cruising now.

Jeanne Bliss: (16:45)
We’re cruising. It’s called take the high road. It’s getting rid of the bad legacy practices that seep in. Again, we’re good people, but we let crummy things seep in. So for example, are we honoring customers as assets? Ever see your phone company give a better deal to a new customer then you spin around?

Gabe Larsen: (17:07)
TV. My TV company. Yeah.

Jeanne Bliss: (17:09)
I’m a multi million miler flyer of an airline and I lost my club card. You don’t need them anymore. But at the time I said, “could I have another club card?” And the woman looked me in the eye and said, “that’ll be $30 please.” We make the silliest decision. Does two way trust define our actions? Every relationship that’s created between a customer and a company comes because customers have to trust us. But are we trusting them in return? Read your fine print, do a trust audit. Is there anything in there that says we don’t trust you? Do you have any gotcha moments? The Columbus public library, metropolitan library got rid of late fees because their whole purpose is to help young minds read. But if you’ve gotta return a book before it’s ended because you’re worried about the late fee, we’re completely getting in the way.

Gabe Larsen: (18:05)
That goes against your whole policy. Yeah. Your whole vision.

Jeanne Bliss: (18:09)
Your whole reason for being — yeah. Or gullibility tax. You bring your car in to have the radiator looked at it and there’s now a $2,000 bill that’s presented to you because it’s an opportunity. And then a nickel and diming, you know, who loves cracking open a $7 bottle of water in the middle of the night, charging you what you can. And is your apology your finest hour. I know. It’s funny.

Gabe Larsen: (18:40)
The seven dollar bottle of water. Oh my goodness. I hate that experience.

Jeanne Bliss: (18:44)
The cool thing about this book is I actually hired a cartoonist. So there are cartoons for every single one of these.

Gabe Larsen: (18:50)
Well it’s, that’s so much. Yeah. I mean there’s a lot to take on and I appreciate you kind of running through in a fairly quick manner, the four pillars. As you take a step back and you think of the audience, you’ve got these customer service leaders trying to nail down some of these principles. Where — the baby steps or the place to start. Do you typically go to pillar one, two? How do you coach people? Guys, there’s a lot, but start simple. That’s why I loved your message. Start simple, start here. Where do you kind of go?

Jeanne Bliss: (19:17)
I would definitely do the start with the first chapter because I say what’s on the inside shows up on the outside and the chapters around employees and it’s called “be the person I raised you to be.” [inaudible] things around them, silly momisms. And there’s a quiz at the end of the book and if you want to, I will give you the first chapter and the quiz that you can put as a link that people–

Gabe Larsen: (19:40)
We’ll absolutely do that. Let’s get that after. And that probably answers my next question. So if someone wants to learn a little bit more about you and some of the things you do, the book, we’ll certainly put those notes in. Anywhere else you’d pushed them to take the next step in learning about Jeanne and what you do.

Jeanne Bliss: (19:55)
Sure. Definitely. I have a really simple website. I married a guy named Bliss, so my website is Customer Bliss, B L I S S happiness.com. I did not make that up. Customerbliss.com and there are all kinds of goodies and things. There’s a whole section called downloads. Many, many gifts for you to drive this work inside your business.

Gabe Larsen: (20:17)
Okay. All right, well Jeanne, really appreciate you taking the time for the audience. I’m sure you’d love that. Great information, high level, tactical, strategic. Hopefully you enjoyed it. Have a great day. Jeanne, thanks again for joining.

Jeanne Bliss: (20:30)
You’re welcome. Thanks. And Hey everybody, keep pushing that rock up the hill.

Gabe Larsen: (20:33)
Take care. Bye bye.

Exit Voice: (20:42)
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