Gary Magneta: “Share your experience with your friends”

…In every meeting you have, you should put a chair at the table with a name card that says “Customer.” Every time you need to make a decision, you should turn to that chair and ask your customer how they are impacted. As part of my series about the five things a business should do […]

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…In every meeting you have, you should put a chair at the table with a name card that says “Customer.” Every time you need to make a decision, you should turn to that chair and ask your customer how they are impacted.

As part of my series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gary Magneta.

Gary is a Chief Change Architect of Root Inc., a consulting company that helps organizations execute their strategy through people. During his 17 years at Root, Gary has partnered with CEOs and executive teams at Fortune 500 and Global 2000 organizations throughout North America and Europe bringing a holistic view of their businesses, their people, and the customers they serve.

Whatever the challenge, he brings more than 30 years of business experience to every project, supported by a realistic outlook, a durable “street sense” for creating results, and a sense of humor that puts things into perspective.

Gary is the author of 720 Haircuts — Creating Customer Loyalty that Lasts a Lifetime and The Un-Bossy Boss, and has more books slated to come out soon! He is also the host of the video talk show series, The Pot Stirrer. He is a frequent speaker at client events, industry conferences, and business strategy and human resources seminars. He has been recognized with a Stevie American Business Award for Executive of the Year.

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 in customer experience before it was called customer experience. I was born on the floor of my parent’s retail store and was interacting with customers as soon as I could walk. My grandfather, who had originally started the business, believed in and taught us all that the customer is always right, even when they’re wrong. And that is the framing I had about customers and CX from a very young age.

In addition to working for my parents, I worked in hospitality — restaurants, specifically — and that further rounded out my customer service learnings and perspective.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

One thing I learned early is that CX should be about asking great questions and understanding the customer’s needs. Here’s the story that made this important lesson really hit home.

I owned a restaurant that had an attached specialty store where people could shop, put together gift baskets, etc. One time we had a bride who wanted to put together 30 gift bags with snack items specific to each of her out-of-town guests, and we were to assemble and deliver them to the hotel where her quests were staying. Well, we messed everything up. The person who was lactose intolerant got the bag with the cheese, and the person who was allergic to garlic got the gourmet chips dusted in garlic and chive seasoning. It was all wrong. And the bride came back after her honeymoon and was very upset. She marched in, saw me, and asked to see the manager. I had to inform her that I was the top of the food chain — I was the owner. She proceeded to yell at me and asked for a full refund. I, being young and green, told her that couldn’t happen as she had actually received all the right products, they just went to the wrong people. I didn’t know how to resolve the issue or make the customer happy. She left. Very dissatisfied. That experience changed the way I went about problem resolution — the customer needs to feel heard and validated and know that a resolution has been reached, a resolution that the customer sees as fitting. A problem is only fully resolved if the customer feels satisfied with the outcome, and it took me a while to understand that she could have felt satisfied if I had offered her some options. In hindsight, I don’t think she really wanted a full refund; I think she wanted an apology and a gesture.

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?

The person who I’m most grateful to for helping me become a CX expert is my dad. He taught me all about CX, about why it’s important to build personal relationships and create personal connections. My father was a master at creating customer intimacy. And he was an exceptional storyteller. In fact, when he was interacting with his customers, he was most likely talking about things that had nothing to do with the sale at hand. He believed creating customer intimacy was paramount to everything. And that’s something I do to this day.

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 feel compelled first to make the distinction between these two things — customer service and customer experience are not one and the same.

Customer service is a transaction, a moment in time. It’s singular. The customer experience is made up of many customer service moments. If you don’t get the moments right, it’s impossible to get the experience right.

In a world where products and services can be and will be knocked off overnight, the only thing that can never be replicated is the customer experience you’re offering — that’s your thumbprint, your DNA. The experience you offer, how you make your customers feel, is what keeps people coming back. Customer experience is your one true differentiator.

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?

When companies fail in making CX a priority, I tend to view this as product or service arrogance — or “we are a special snowflake” syndrome.

Businesses suffering from special snowflake syndrome believe that what they’re offering is such a unique and special product or service that it is enough on its own. They don’t need to offer a single another thing, including a great experience. That is a business killer.

Companies with special snowflake syndrome are falling by the wayside. Because your product or service is just one component of your business. Yes, you need a great product, but you also need the operations and technology to deliver that product as promised, and you need to create an experience that differentiates your offering. The second you don’t think your CX is equally as important as your product, you lose. The second you don’t think you have a competitor, you lose. So don’t fall prey to special snowflake syndrome.

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?

I do believe competition is one reason a company works to improve the customer experience it delivers. And one of the main external pressures that affect customer experience is the changing workforce. Today people really want to work for a brand that is doing good and has a respected reputation. If you want to attract the best talent, you need to have a company that people want to work for. People want to be proud of where they work. And your customer experience speaks volumes. It is, in most cases, a direct reflection of your employee experience.

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?

I have a NY-based customer who asked me late one night if I could join a meeting with his leadership team via video conference the next morning. I happened to be in California for another work commitment and the video call was scheduled for 7:30 a.m. ET. I didn’t hesitate. I said yes. So at 4:30 a.m. PT, I joined that video call, dressed in a suit and tie. I was at a hotel, and from where I sat you could see the windows behind me. Where the sun hadn’t even started to rise. Someone in NY asked why it was so dark outside, as I’m based in Chicago (or Florida, depending on the time of the year). I explained that I was on the west coast. The customer called me back after that meeting and told me how the fact that I accepted the invitation at the last minute and never mentioned I was in California demonstrated how dedicated to providing excellent service I am. And my firm got a new piece of business that day.

On a personal note, I was “wowed” by an experience with a customer service representative at a well-known, high-end furniture store brand. I found out that my son, who was away at college, was coming home for an internship. It was a last-minute thing and my wife and I were out of town, and my son was going to be coming back to a new home (we had recently moved) and we no longer had bedroom furniture for him. This seemed like an awful homecoming, so my wife and I went online and found a grey bedroom set that we liked. However, it was hard to tell the exact color of the furniture online. I called customer service and spoke with an agent who didn’t just tell me the shade of grey, which was called Warm Smokey Grey but described it in the most emotional and colorful way. She said, “Imagine a campfire and you’re roasting marshmallows. Can you picture that? Well, you know how you can roast a marshmallow to the point that it falls off your skewer and drops in the fire? That puff of smoke when the marshmallow hits the fire is what Warm Smokey Grey looks like.”

Her story described the color with such clarity that I had to place the order right then. It was delivered and set up in time and my son loved it. This was truly a Wow customer experience that I will not forget.

Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

When my customer invited me at the last minute to join his leadership call, he did that based on my expertise. Because of my contributions to that call, and the fact that I joined at 4:30 a.m. PT, they signed a contract that day with me. They realized I would go the extra mile.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.

Here are the five most important things a founder or CEO must know to create a Wow customer experience:

1) In every meeting you have, you should put a chair at the table with a name card that says “Customer.” Every time you need to make a decision, you should turn to that chair and ask your customer how they are impacted.

2) There’s a causal relationship between how you treat/engage and reward/recognize your employees and how they will treat/engage and reward/recognize your customers. The way you treat your people directly reflects how they’ll treat your customers.

We were hosting a brunch for 30 people at our house one weekend. My wife called the local gourmet shop to place an order for food and dessert. A few days before the event, we decided to do something different for dessert, so my wife called to say we no longer needed the pastries. Then on Sunday, I went to pick up the order. And they had nothing for me. The employee was very dismissive and told me that my wife must have canceled the full order. I knew this couldn’t have been the case. The guy said, “I guess you’re out of luck.” I was shocked by his lack of empathy and rudeness. He didn’t even try to solve the problem. So I asked for the manager to call me when she got in. I come from a catering background, so I went to the local bagel shop and bought a ton of supplies and created a very nice spread. Later that day I spoke with the manager and I recounted the story. She told me that I clearly had canceled the whole order. That’s right. She continued to put all the blame on me. Not one apology or a shred of empathy. It all became clear to me. So I said to her that I realized why her employee was so rude and dismissive. Because she was too. Her employee was simply mirroring her dismissive and insensitive behavior. The bottom line is that leaders set the tone. If you don’t show you care about your customers, your employees won’t either.

3) CX is constantly evolving, and you need to view it as an ongoing journey. So when you talk about CX with your people, don’t talk about it as a destination, but as an evolving and ongoing journey.

4) Technology has evolved to the point that most customers can find resolutions to problems, issues, and concerns digitally. However, customers still need human assistance too. And by the time your customer needs and reaches an employee, the problem is complex and they need a better level of expertise than the technology can provide. So be sure your investment in advanced technology is balanced by your investment in your people. Your people need to develop from transactional assistants to next-level experts. That’s how you’ll get customer loyalty.

5) We’re in an era where a customer’s need for instant gratification can quickly usurp brand loyalty. Brand loyalty is being challenged by immediacy. Customers are looking for instant gratification — in both B2B and B2C industries. It’s the “I want it now, Daddy” mindset. Customers want what they want when they want it. And if you can’t deliver, their loyalty will go to the company that will. They’ll throw brand loyalty to the wind to scratch their itch quickly.

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?

We’re all hoping for the “likely to recommend” effect. Today people are using social media to talk about their lives and are much more likely to share their negative experiences on these platforms than the positive ones, so you have to work really hard to Wow people and get the “likely to recommend” effect. You have to go the extra mile. But how? As simple as it may sound, you just have to ask!

Consider this: the quickest way to build a relationship with someone is to tell him or her a secret or ask for a favor.

I recently went to a podiatrist for a simple procedure. When I went for my follow-up appointment, he asked if I had enjoyed my experience with him and his office. I said yes. And then he said, “I’m building my practice through referrals. Please share your experience with your friends.” My podiatrist’s secret was that referrals were key to his success. His favor: “Share your experience with your friends.”

I thought this was great! Because I liked him, I wanted his practice to flourish, so I did make a referral. And I became part of his journey.

Here’s another story on the same premise. When my son got engaged, my wife gave him her engagement ring for our future daughter-in-law. But it needed to be resized. So my wife and I took my son to a new local jewelry store. The jeweler delivered a truly personal CX and did a great job with the ring. I thanked her for her time and knowledge. She said, “I‘m new here. It would help so much if you went to our Facebook page and wrote a positive review.”

The secret she told me was that she was new and needed help building her name and reputation. The favor was asking me to review her. Since then, we’ve been back to the store multiple times and made several new purchases. I feel invested in her success and want to be a part of her story.

One last story on this topic. Each year we host a Christmas party and have mostly Jewish food items — brisket, potato latke, etc. One year I didn’t want to spend the time making the potato latkes myself and I had heard that Golden’s frozen potato latkes were very good and I decided to give them a try. This was out of my comfort zone, as I’m a trained chef, but I did it. And they were amazing. And I saved a ton of time. I was so thankful that I wrote a letter to the brand to compliment them on their great product. I got a letter back in return. The manager writing the letter told me she read my note to her entire production team during their morning huddle. And the letter made everyone’s day. Along with this letter, they sent four coupons toward future purchases. And I’ve been a loyal customer ever since. I’m now emotionally connected to this brand and am still passing Golden’s potato latkes off as mine (don’t tell anyone).

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. 🙂

If I could start a movement, it would be to have everyone live the team mindset. The “Treat Everyone Like Mom” mentality. It’s one of the oldest ideas around but goes even further than the golden rule. What if your coworker was your mom? If your customer was your mom? What care would you give them? Ask yourself — what kind of care would I like my mother to experience in this situation?

How can our readers follow you on social media?


This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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