Interview with Shep Hyken – customer service legend
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Interview with Shep Hyken – customer service legend

Oliver Stasinszky

Oliver Stasinszky

Last modified on January 24, 2022 at 1:13 pm

We’ve had the ultimate honor of interviewing Shep Hyken, a legend in successful customer service. In this interview, Shep will reveal insights about great customer service, and how you can deliver it. Sit back, relax and enjoy listening to the interview, or read along with the transcript.

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Shep Hyken interview transcript

Shep Hyken: Are we actually videotaping or just audio ? 

Matej Kukucka: Just the audio. 

Shep Hyken: Doesn’t matter to me. I just, I have to do my hair.

Matej Kukucka: So it’s great pleasure for me to introduce Shep Hyken, who is like one of the leading customer service experts in the industry. So Shep we have prepared a few questions for you, we’ll give you time for them to answer. So, welcome again. And, I would like to start with the first question.

Shep Hyken: Thank You. 

Matej Kukucka: So, so Shep. are one of the leading customer service experts.  How did you get into the industry and what made you stick?

Shep Hyken: Haha, so I actually didn’t even know it was called customer service back in the day. And what I’m talking about is how you treat other people. So 12 years old, I did a birthday party – magic show, and I was paid $16 to do that show.

And when I came home, my mom said, write a thank you note. My dad said, call in a week and make sure they were happy. And ask them what tricks they liked the best and whatever tricks they don’t talk about, replace it with tricks they will talk about. Now, that doesn’t seem like you know much for, you know, little kid, you know, I get it. 

Write a thank you note. Not a big deal, but what it really was, was saying thank you and showing appreciation, following up to get feedback, asking specific questions such as what tricks did you like, and then using that feedback to make it even better. Isn’t that what we do day in and day out in virtually any type of business in any industry today?

So that’s where my first lessons in customer service came from. And as I got into regular jobs growing up in retail, and I had another job at an oil company. I graduated college and when I was looking for what I really wanted to do, I happened to see a couple of professional speakers, kind of motivational type of speakers, and I thought, well, I could probably do that. I had that entertainment background, not just birthday parties. Eventually I started working in nightclubs and building other types of party events, which allowed me to have the, experience onstage. So I went to the bookstore and I started looking for books to buy and research, and I was drawn to the customer service books, and I believe it was because that’s kind of what my parents taught me to do.

They, they put this in me, and I love taking care of people. I like making them happy and really that’s where it started. I’ve never gone off course over over the years, customer service started to be called customer experience. And then customer experience morphed into something much larger than just service, but I’ve stayed in those, in that lane, if you will, ever since. So for many, many years. 

Matej Kukucka: So, yeah. So it’s been a great ride and looking  at your experience. It’s been many years. So my second question is a little bit connected to what you have said right now, and you kind of realized that,  you had a special experience, like 16 years ago, as you mentioned and…

Shep Hyken: Oh no more than 16 years. That’s because  I look so young. 

Matej Kukucka: Okay. Okay. So it’s even more, you know it’s a, a great experience, you have. And,  for me at least as I see it, is that the customer service is often very underestimated, in the eyes of an audience. Maybe even in the eyes of someone who is taking the college and who would like to start a career in  industry, maybe even online industry. So do you think that the customer service is really underestimated, when you know, allocating time and budgets, compared to let’s say, doing sales or marketing and crafting campaigns and stuff like that. 

Shep Hyken: Yes. So this is a real simple question. I believe that companies value the idea of customer service, but oftentimes they’re not investing enough into it. They believe that sales and marketing and campaigns to get customers to show up, call in, buy whatever. 

I think they spend a lot of money there and they should, they shouldn’t stop, or maybe they should recognize that spending a little bit more money on the proper training of the people on the goal of making the process easier for the customer, which might mean managing the software. Especially if you’re doing any type of digital campaign, you must create ease. Any friction and you start to lose your customers. And when companies recognize that the investment is an investment and not an expense.

And that’s important to realize because when you start raising your customer satisfaction scores, whether you’re using CSAT, NPS or any other metric. It doesn’t matter what it is. When you start raising that, it’s not just a customer might come back and might buy more, and there’s all kinds of stats to tell you that, you know, it’s much less expensive to get a customer to come back.

Customers that do come back buy more, then first time customers, customers that are loyal to you buy even more. But more importantly,  another number to look at are just as important, excuse me, is what is the savings based on giving a better experience and not having people call in with a problem or a complaint?

And when you can create a better experience, a better product that has you know, issues worked out. When you start to eliminate and maybe just mitigate the tickets that you have coming in the calls, the requests for support, you actually have a huge savings in the cost to provide support. Which sometimes could even be as large, if not larger than, you know, the benefit of adding 1% or 2% to your customer loyalty number, if that makes sense.

So lots of,  of ways to look at this. But at the end of the day, when companies and leaders in those companies start to recognize the benefit and the ROI on creating a better service experience and a better overall experience, I think there’ll be more than happy to step up and start investing more. 

Matej Kukucka: Perfect, this a perfect answer. and I have something prepared for you later , in other questions,  it’s regarding the KPIs and I feel that they’re actually companies doesn’t know how to correctly measure customer experience and customers satisfaction. So, we can go to another question.

I saw your presentations and I really honestly think that you are amazing speaker.

Shep Hyken: Thank you. 

Matej Kukucka: And  I saw that you mentioned customer experience a lot in your presentation and you’ve seen a lot in your career.. Did you actually have  some sort of special moment where you were pleased by the customer service you received.

Shep Hyken: All the time. I mean, this is what I live for. I love when I get great experience. I love when the person in a restaurant just seems to be doing an amazing job. I love when I call my software vendor and they respond quickly and they’re knowledgeable and they recognize, who I am, not just another customer or an account number.

There is a particular experience that I love to share and almost all of my speeches, you can actually see the live presentation on my YouTube channel, which is a And that is the story of a taxi cab driver. And I don’t know if you’re referring to that experience or not, but you know, we all jump into a taxi cab or an Uber or Lyft or whatever the mode of transportation is.

Well, this particular day,  I would tell you the driver didn’t look, I mean, he looked kind of grimy and dirty, but the inside of his cab was spotless. And by the way, it was the hottest day of the summer, that particular day, and he’d been working hard all day, which is probably why he looked a little bit like he looked, but the cab was spotlessly clean.

He had soft drinks for me to drink, no extra charge. He gave me a newspaper. The conversation was minimal, but it was great. And the point is, is this guy delivered, an above average experience. Now. There were other things about it that made it a little over the top. But if everybody would think about just consistently being above average, and this is what the guy did, he got me there and it was safe and he was so nice and friendly, I gave him a huge tip and he gave me his card, he said, call me when you come back. And I thought, great, I will, but to make it even better, I gave him my card cause he said, can I have your card? I collect the cards of the people that I drive. And a few days later, I had a thank you note from this cab driver.

It’s like, who gets a thank you note from a taxi cab driver? But this guy did, and I would call him up and until we retired, every time I was back in Dallas, Texas, here in the United States, I would call him up and he would pick me up and take me around, and there was a reason. Number one, the experience was better than I expected., better than average. It doesn’t have to be over the top, but if you’re consistently better than average, people will say, wow, you’re amazing. And then he was reliable. When I did ask him to meet me at the airport when I flew in the next time, he was waiting for me. I didn’t have to wait for him. The next time I needed to go back to the airport that same trip I called him and I walked out of the hotel where I had my meeting. He was waiting for me. I didn’t have to wait for him, so I’m starting to think things like he’s always on time. His cab is always clean. He always gives me, you know, the little extra, the soda or water. The word always followed by something positive is what you’re looking for.

And that’s what this guy created. And by the way, every company  has the ability to create amazement because amazement is not over the top. You get that opportunity when there’s problems or special circumstances. But otherwise, if you’re consistently above average they always call back. Whenever I call, they’re always friendly. They’re always helpful. They’re always knowledgeable. Again, that word always. And then even when there’s a problem, I know I can always count on them. That’s that word again, always with something good behind it. 

Matej Kukucka: You know, so many, great advice here. It was very easy for you to become loyal customer of the taxi driver, right?

Shep Hyken: Yes, very easy. I actually wrote a book titled, check it out. I know the loyal customer. I know we’re on video, but it says a lesson from a cab driver and it’s just a thin little book and it’s the story. And anybody can do what that taxi cab driver did. And if you think about, and you break it down,  the different parts of the process, whether you’re a manufacturer selling business to business or whether you’re selling direct to consumers or whether you’re supporting them in a contact center. All of the principles that that taxi cab driver did to get me to want to come back can be done by any company in any industry. 

Matej Kukucka: Perfect. Okay, so let’s go to the next question. I saw that the, you often mention –  “Often ask extra questions.” Your advice is very concrete., yet in the  21st century, there’s a lot of information everywhere there is information overload. So what are some examples of asking the right extra questions. 

Shep Hyken: So, and this is really  a person to person, people, the people, human to human, if you will, type of experience. When somebody says something, they don’t necessarily, uh, you may misunderstand it and I’m sure it’s happening before people say one thing. You think it means something else. 

Matej Kukucka: Okay.

Shep Hyken: An example of the extra question is somebody might say, ah, I need this quickly. Don’t say, okay, ask them how quickly. Because if their idea of quickly is faster than you’re actually able to do it. Even though your best intention is to do something for someone quickly, you’re going to miss the expectation.

So let’s say they’re asking you to get something where, well, just the other day I was talking to somebody in the support center and they said, thank you so much for giving me this information. We need to listen to the recording of the last call you had with us. And I said, great. You know, I want to resolve this quickly.

Oh, we’ll get it done as quickly as we can. And I said, you didn’t hear me. I need to get it done quickly. How?  So I asked the extra question as a customer, which I shouldn’t have to do. How soon are you going to get this information? She said, it’ll take three to four days. Okay, I can live with three or four days. And by the way, she delivered an under four days, which meant she met the expectation, but we had to have a communication about it. When I said how quickly we’re going to get this resolved, she should have asked me a question like, well, how soon do we need to do this for you? Because it does take time for us to get the recording.

If I’d have said, can I get it by tomorrow? Then she could have realigned my expectation and said, no, we have to go into archives. I have to put a submit a request for it. I’ll expedite it. It’ll probably take three days and I promise I’ll call you back no matter what. If I have it or not, just to let you know what’s going on, I would’ve been happier, you know, as happy as can be with that response.

Does that make sense? So that’s the extra question. I joke about it when my wife one day said to me, uh, honey, would you like to stop and get ice cream? I said, no. But then I realized later on, she really wasn’t asking me if I wanted ice cream. She was saying, I want it. I should have responded with the extra question. And that would have been, I don’t want any. Would you would, you know, two words with a question mark. And  just think about what the person is saying to you and then ask a question back just to make sure you understand that sometimes it’s more than one question. So that’s my concept of asking extra questions.

Matej Kukucka: Okay, perfect. So. My another question is connected to the KPIs. What are some of your favorite customer service KPIs, you like to  implement in businesses you are working with and is revenue and growing revenue one of them? 

Shep Hyken: Sure. Well, obviously, you know, looking at revenue is a very important number to most of the clients that  I talked to and looking at revenue reducing costs of responding to service. So how can we reduce costs? And sometimes that’s a software application we could do to create a better self service situation, to use artificial intelligence to deal with what I would call lower level questions or basic questions, allowing the support agent to deal with customers who have higher level support issues.

So I mean, those are the benefits of delivering and using technology. The KPIs really, I mean, I haven’t found, I’m pretty open and agreeable to using any and all of them. There’s opportunity within all of the types of KPIs that are standard. I mentioned earlier, NPS, net promoter score, a CSAT. You know, and you can have all types of, in a support center. You’ve got your average handle time. You’ve got, you know, first call resolution. All of these are very, very important. And I think what you need to do is a leader is look at what most impacts your organization. Look at the bottom line impact and look at the, the human capital impact. What can you do and what measurement will give you the best information to optimize what you’re doing.

So getting the data is nice, not doing anything with it is a complete waste of time. Knowing which data to get is really important. So if you give me a, on an NPS, on a scale of zero to 10 what’s the likelihood that you’d recommend us. And you’re giving me a nine. I’m going to say, Hey, thanks so much, but Hey, I want to know why you didn’t give me a 10 there needs to be a followup question. So what would it take for you to have given me a 10. If you give me a four, I don’t want to ask what it would take for you to give me a 10. I want to know, why did you give me a four and what would it take to get a five or a six from you? Because I need to improve. Okay. Maybe even better. So I’m going to ask, I think the key is not to just get information, but dig down again with an extra question or two, to make sure you understand. So if we do, if a client asked me, what kind of survey should we do? I said, well, it depends what you’re really looking for . And if you’re looking for, you know, just a basic benchmark, well then just getting a  single question, NPS is fine, CSAT is fine. But if you want to get a little bit more information, ask me three questions and promise the customer, me, if I’m the customer that it’s only going to take 60 seconds. 

Number one, on a scale of zero to 10, what’s the likelihood you recommend? Again, I’m using NPS as an example. It could be anything.

Number two,  you know, what would it take? And by the way, there’s lots of software that once I give you the answer, we’ll know one of several questions to ask next. I would ask, what would it take? An open ended question, what would it take to give me that score? Or why did you give me that score? 

And then depending upon if I want to add a third question on like two questions, a third question that I like to use when I get a great response, and this is cool. So I’ve got somebody that loves me, they’d given me that 10 on a scale of zero to 10 I want to ask, what’s one thing you can think of that would make it even better? The service experience. The experience. Why do I want one thing? If I ask a thousand people that same question and I get 600 of the same answers, I know.

Wow, there is an opportunity, right? It’s a lot of  but maybe even that outlier might have one good suggestion. And I’m asking, asking my happy customers, cause they already love me. What it would take to be even better? How do you improve on greatness? That’s how you’d do it.  

Matej Kukucka: Yeah. So much advice companies can implement straight away, a lot of our clients are not using this follow up question on the NPS score. So this is a great thing to implement right now. So my last question for you Shep is, if you could give us three best tips for our audience to implement into their business today,  that doesn’t break the bank, are easy to implement and have the potential best, to improve their customer service. What they would be? 

Shep Hyken: Great questions. And just, so you know, I like looking at these questions and just not thinking about them until you actually asked me. So I can be somewhat extemporaneous. The first I would do is to recognize, that you’ve got to create a journey map, recognize  where the customer’s experience is likely to be wonderful and potentially fall apart.

So. Sit in the room. And if, and by the way, the customer has many journeys with a company. The first time buyer dealing with salespeople. If they’re calling in for support. So let’s just talk about the support center, because that’s so many, of the people that are listening today. What’s the journey the customer takes to get their issue resolved, to get their question answered? Number one, they’ve got to find your number. How easy? And by the way, that’s one that they, well, first thing they do is call us. That’s not where the journey begins. The journey begins when they’re looking on how to connect with you. So, are they going to find your number? Are they going to find your contact info easily?

The best companies, if you go to the website, it’s real easy to find and it’s on every page. So just think about that as a main touch point. And then they  make the, and let’s use just the phone as an example. I realize, you can do a digital experience, you can do it via social media, via email.

There’s going to be a different journey for each of these. Map them out. But when they get, and they make that phone call. What’s the first thing that happens? Are they put on hold or they told their call is very important, but everybody’s busy, it’ll be 30 minutes before they get to you. I mean, what is the experience they’re having?

So journey map that along the way. Look at all of the touch points and think, what can I do with those touch points to eliminate friction, to mitigate friction if it’s can’t be eliminated,  to make the experience better in any way. This is a low cost, no cost research project, common sense. And when I asked my clients, do you know about journey mapping?

Oh yeah. Well, have you done it? We probably could do a better job of it or no exactly. So this is common sense. So that’s number one. Let me give you some easier ones. Number two is, and it’s a simple thing that I believe that if you can do it on a daily basis, great. Have a short little meeting.

At least once a week to remind people of the importance of service. Share an example from the week before. That is a great example of when somebody took care of the customer. And as a leader, you can get these stories and just say: “Hey, this was great.” Or here was a problem that came in. Let’s brainstorm.

How should we solve this? How should we resolve it? By the way, Bob over here did a great job, but I want to know before I tell you what he did, I want to hear what you would have done. So you use some of the examples from the week as, and you’re spending 10 minutes. You know, I love the daily huddle, but if you do it at least weekly. Third is to ask everybody to take a week and once a week submit an experience that they created for one of their customers.

And I’ll add, it can be an internal customer, somebody they work with as well. But what positive experience did they create? Think of the best one they had, and this is what you want people to do. Put it on an index card, a small card, two or three sentences. We’re not writing a novel. The whole exercise should take 60 seconds.

Okay? They’re going to hand it to their manager and the manager is going to give them a little bit of feedback and then share some of those examples. Maybe that’s the example they share is that weekly example, but the point is, we want everybody to do this because we day in and day out, all day long, we’re giving customer service experiences to people. I want people to recognize when they’re giving their best and when they start to know when they give their best, I call that service awareness. They’ll start to give their best more often. That makes sense. And then the final tip, I know you only asked for three, I’m going to give you a fourth one cause it’s quick.

Make sure everybody recognizes that they have an awesome responsibility at any given time That customer is going to talk to one person. Email with one person. Socialize with one person. And that one person, after they’ve created that great experience, the customer is going to walk away and say, wow, I love doing business with them.

They are fantastic, and it was one person that made that experience happen. Everybody needs to recognize that at any given time, they represent the entire company and all of their employees. So there you go. That’s my bonus one. I love giving more than expected. 

Matej Kukucka: Yeah. That’s what’s a good customer service is about.

Don't forget the extra questions

Ensure you’ve done everything you can for your customers before resolving their tickets. Have a bad memory? Save the extra questions as canned responses.

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