A lot of employees don’t know what they can actually do to wow their clients. Yes, give them ideas. But also look for the inexpensive ways to wow your team, so that wowing customers would feel natural to them and a part of their culture.
As part of our series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anastasia Vladychynska.
The woman who started a customer service revolution in the country where the word ‘serve’ does not exist. Today Anastasia is an International Customer Experience Consultant, Global Inspirational Speaker and MBA Professor, leading company service transformations with brands like McDonald’s, MaxMara, Hugo Boss and others.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was born in a country which has had a lot of communist inheritance. And when there’s a shortage of everything, no one thinks about serving their clients better. 20 years ago, at my first job as Assistant to CEO in one of the international airlines, I would open passenger complaints and instead of passing them out to the Complaints Department, I started calling these people and apologizing for their bad experiences. Those clients were so grateful that they decided not to sue us. At that moment I realized I wanted to change the way our company and my country treated clients and employees. Since that time, I’ve gone through extensive education in the US, got certified as a Customer Experience Executive and held executive positions in travel and tourism before I was ready to start my own consulting business, helping companies worldwide to change their internal and external service.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Sure! I have plenty of those! I was the first person in my country to notice that there’s no such discipline as Customer and Employee Experience in MBA programs, so I started pitching business schools to have that changed. When I did my presentation for a very prestigious business school, they asked me if I could suggest any customer experience improvements they could use with their students. Now, at that time my husband was taking his MBA class in that very business school and he took me on one of their international assignment tours. And so, I saw way too many things that could have been improved. My mistake was to bluntly share all those ideas right during my self-presentation in front of the person responsible for international assignments… I’m still trying to figure out the thin line between being genuine and not telling everything right away. 😊
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Remember my first job as Assistant to CEO? I didn’t stop on complaints only. I googled ‘customer service in airlines’, read every possible case that was available back then and I saw that if you want your customers to be happy, you need to start with employees. So, while doing my full-time job, whenever I had a break, I would sneak away and go to each and every department in the organization and ask them if they were happy with their job and what they needed to work better. I ended up with a thick folder of research, came up to the CEO and told him I wanted to start a Customer Care Department that would include a loyalty program, employee experience and complaints handling .
I also told him I wasn’t sure how to do it (it was the first customer care in the country back then) but I would invite London Business School to help me figure that out (for free). Oh, and by the way, I asked for a much bigger salary. He looked at me with his long stare and said ‘yes’. He gave me that one chance that I needed and I’m infinitely grateful to him. Oh yes, and I did invite LBS to do a project for us for free as their international assignment and they helped us to do the whole Customer Journey Map and to spot out the issues we had.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?
I’ve been working with organizations across many industries and countries and I can confidently share my observations. Companies that care about customer service and customer experience usually benefit in several areas:
- Cutting operational costs. It’s very expensive to solve customer issues individually.
- Slashing marketing budgets. The idea behind good customer service is to aim at every customer to come back and/or to recommend your business to others. This way you’re not spending tons of dollars to attract new customers all the time.
- Less reputational risks. Remember those catchy bad service stories that make it to the news? For the most part, they happen in companies with bad cultures and, thus, bad internal and external service.
- Lower employee turnover. Good customer service companies are usually good employee service companies as well.
- Better relations with suppliers. You need good suppliers to be successful. A company that cares about their customers, usually cares about its supplier relations too and benefits from better suppliers than its competitors use.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
Love this question! This is actually the first question I ask my MBA students. The first thought that comes to your mind is that customer service is expensive. But it’s not always true. Think Southwest Airlines. These guys are low cost but are on top of the ACSI list (American Customer Satisfaction Index). You will be surprised, but usually there are only two reasons out there: companies don’t know how to do it (this one is easy) or don’t want to do it based on a misbelief that it would not help them long-term or a fear of customers taking advantage of them.
Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?
Definitely, competition is a huge driver for differentiating on customer experience. Before Uber, local taxi companies in many countries didn’t really care when you called them 3 times to ask where your car was. On the other hand, monopoly (or imaginative monopoly, as my friend calls it) breeds slacker companies and if you’re not careful enough, you might overlook someone who can snatch your position with simply better customer service. Your existing customers could also become a driver for change. When we worked with McDonald’s, their problem was that their existing clients were complaining about McDonald’s employees being very robotic and seemingly afraid of doing anything extra for a customer. So, we had to start a huge service transformation program to change how leaders thought about customer experience and then how they hired and trained employees.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
Thanks God, we have plenty of such stories and I always teach my employees to look for inexpensive ways to wow our clients. Why inexpensive? Because usually those ad hoc opportunities are much cheaper than a bottle of expensive champagne as a birthday gift. Here’s a very recent example. We’ve been working with the largest bank in Bulgaria for a while now. But when we just started partnering with them, we noticed that when we sent them any documents in English, they always needed a day or two to translate them into Bulgarian before sending them to their employees. It’s not because they don’t speak English, but because there are subtle meanings in words that should be properly conveyed. And then one of my colleagues suggested hiring a freelance translator to have all our documentation translated into Bulgarian right away. It has cost us around 100 dollars but every time we send them a new document they are wowed with our service.
Did that Wow! experience have any long-term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
I can share another one. When one of the CEOs we used to work with left his company, we presented him with a coffee mug with their Service Vision on it (something we had previously developed with that company). He loved that gift and called us in a month to sign a contract with his new company.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.
- Wow! Customer service starts at the top. Each top manager should understand the value of customer experience and ground their daily decisions on that value. While it’s the most difficult task, it is also the most rewarding one. Recently I had a CXO (Chief Experience Officer) of a huge electronics retailer call me in tears asking for help. Her main concern was that her executives were expecting her to be responsible for customer satisfaction but at the same time they were creating policies and procedures that were scaring off their clients.
- Poor customer service is only a symptom. It usually means something is wrong inside the organization. Do you remember yourself entering a restaurant or a store and immediately feeling something was off? You can tell it by the way employees look or behave and by the atmosphere in general. I sense a company culture right at their front door. Thus, trying to fix unsatisfactory customer service by better teaching your customer-facing employees is like taking vitamin C when you need a major surgery.
- If you want “them” to smile, make sure you inspire “them”. Psychologists say that for a person to start acting in a certain way, they need to go through two stages first: how they think and how they feel. If your leaders think that customers are always lying or that the company’s policy is more important than a client, then guess how your employees will feel and act? I have been lucky to attend a motivational morning at Chick-Fil-A headquarters. Such weekly motivational mornings are a wonderful way to constantly remind your employees about the company values, great service being one of them.
- Wow your employees so that they can Wow your customers. A lot of employees don’t know what they can actually do to wow their clients. Yes, give them ideas. But also look for the inexpensive ways to wow your team, so that wowing customers would feel natural to them and a part of their culture. One of my colleagues has recently told me she was unwilling to go home for Easter because of all those uncomfortable questions, like: “When are you going to get married?”. So, I’ve got her a T-shirt with that very question on, we had a good laugh and now she can wear it to all her family gatherings with a subtle message 😊
- It’s very tempting to look for Wow customer experience opportunities at the front-lines. But before that, look through your back-office policies, procedures and KPIs that might be a barrier to providing a Wow Service. For example, we hire real people to work at our call-centers but then we train and reward them to be robots with very strict scripts and no empowerment. At the same time, we expect these very people to provide “world-class service”. It just won’t happen.”
Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?
Personally, I’m not a fan of sending flowers to clients and asking them to post that on social media. Just kidding. But you’ve got the point. I’d rather have a client decide to recommend us or not. Now, I definitely want to know about customer success stories, so I make sure clients have my direct email and phone number to always share these stories with me. This works far better than asking a sterile “Would you recommend us?” question.
My particular expertise is in retail, so I’d like to ask a question about that. Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
There’s one interesting observation we are seeing with online sales of children’s toys: when bought online, the purchase becomes more rational. For example, just one expensive toy in a cart. Whereas, in offline stores we try to create a lot of emotions and that helps to increase the number of items in one bill. Kids (and parents) love those offline stores where they can play and have fun. So, I think that offline stores will still be there and will be very successful once the vaccination rates are higher around the world.
At the same time, while Amazon and Aliexpress are booming during the pandemic, there’s also a trend to support local businesses. As KPMG calls it “A home is a new hub”. Many entrepreneurs and clients understand that local businesses are part of an eco-system that either succeeds as a whole or fails as a whole, so I would suggest investing into your smaller communities.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Oh, I totally know my mission. My clients call me “The World’s Service Coach”. I really want to change the way companies treat their customers and employees worldwide
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
These were awesome questions! Thank you!