Kurt Schroeder of Avtex: “5 Ways To Create a Wow! Customer Experience”

Don’t scrimp on doing customer research. Don’t simply rely on the internal staff’s perception of what the experience is. Do the heavy lifting and talk to customers to get their version of the experience. Talk to customers to really understand how they feel and think about the experience. Without specific customer feedback, how can an […]

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Don’t scrimp on doing customer research. Don’t simply rely on the internal staff’s perception of what the experience is. Do the heavy lifting and talk to customers to get their version of the experience. Talk to customers to really understand how they feel and think about the experience. Without specific customer feedback, how can an organization know where to focus their design efforts.

As part of my customer service interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kurt Schroeder, Chief Experience Officer at Avtex. Here is what he had to say.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started in the CX industry?

I started my career in consulting and was one of those “cost take out” guys that would fly around the country and do efficiency analysis to determine how much savings could be had if there was a RIF (reduction in force), while maintaining an acceptable level of productivity. I hated the work. I decided pretty early on in my career I was going to focus on how to help grow businesses, not reduce them. As esoteric and humanitarian as it sounds, I wanted to help companies create jobs not cut jobs. Since that time I poured myself into investigating how to help companies achieve sustainable groups. About 15–20 years ago I read the book “Experience Economy” by Joseph Pine. That book was the bellwether book that got me excited about a new concept called customer experience. Since then, frankly, before it was mainstream, I have been using customer experience as a key concept in helping my clients grow and sustain their business.

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?

Early on I was a rookie at customer experience research. I can remember crafting hour-long survey instruments and wondering why we weren’t getting any responses. I remember one response we did get back that in the comments said, “I really liked the experience that I have with (company name) until I got this survey”. The lesson learned was to respect the customer’s time and effort to provide you feedback and never abuse it.

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?

I had a mentor about 20 years ago that after I had a miserable failure, he asked me who I had helping me. He asked me who I had gone to for advice and who did I turn to review my work and thinking. I simply answered I hadn’t go to anyone. Then he asked me why. When I was thinking through my answer it was really embarrassing. I wanted all the credit. I wanted all the recognition. Then he told me something that has stuck with me every day since. He said, “No one of us is smarter than all of us. Don’t ever play alone”. To this day, I do not ever go at it alone. I have learned that no one of us is smarter than all of us.

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?

Products and services are easily duplicated so the only area that organizations can truly differentiate themselves is with customer experiences. Experiences are long-lasting, hard to duplicate with authenticity, and will drive deeper loyalty with customers. In addition, there are recent studies that indicate more time and investment will be dedicated to customer experience than product, price, and promotion to develop and sustain a brand. Brand perception is now driven by the customer experience more than the product. Companies have lost millions of dollars of market value simply because of a poor customer experience that they provided that went viral.

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?

For several reasons:

1. There are so many competing priorities that have more direct and visual tangible benefits. Those competing priorities usually get funding and attention.

2. In addition to the competing priorities being easier to understand the ROI, the other force working against making CX a priority is the relative “newness” of the practice and discipline of CX. Companies are still willing to invest in the areas that they have historical familiarity and understanding

3. CX has not become a priority because organizations don’t know where to have it reside. Should it reside in marketing? Should it reside in customer care/service? Should it be its own function? Should it be a competency within all functions and departments? Organizations simply struggle on what to do with it and therefor it doesn’t become a priority.

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?

Competition could and should be a catalyst for the constant improvement of the customer experience. However, historical biases continue to prevent organizations from seeing how they are getting beat based on experiences. It is difficult to isolate if CX is what is causing companies to lose customers. It is easier to blame price or product features for the company’s competitive losses.

The only time a company is forced to look at their CX is when the market presents a true extraordinary differentiator. Look at how Uber and Lyft dramatically changed an entire industry. The fundamental experience is the same. It is the same in other industries as well. The incremental improvements in experience don’t drive the seismic change that extraordinary CX improvements do.

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

Not necessarily an experience that we provided our client, but an experience that we designed for a client that created a “WOW” moment for their customers. This was 10 years ago we worked with a credit union who would do pre-approved auto-loans. Their closure rate of these pre-approved loans, (that is the credit union member actually finalized the load agreement to purchase a car) was an abysmal 22%. We reimagined the experience because we recognized that the member did not feel emotional closure that they had a loan. So the pre-approval was being disintermediated by car dealers’ own financing offers. We simply suggested they provide a blank check to the member with specific terms and conditions of the load once they write the check to the car dealer. The impact was immediate and profound. Within three months of the new experience, the closure rate went up to 94%.

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

Yes! Since this was the first CX project they had ever done they shifted their overall strategy looked at every single member experience and reinvented the entirety of the member experience. In addition, they changed their vision of their organization. Instead of being a credit union or an alternative to banks, they view themselves as a financial experience organization.

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.

1. Don’t scrimp on doing customer research. Don’t simply rely on the internal staff’s perception of what the experience is. Do the heavy lifting and talk to customers to get their version of the experience. Talk to customers to really understand how they feel and think about the experience. Without specific customer feedback, how can an organization know where to focus their design efforts.

2. Pay attention to the effort. As the customer goes through their journey with an organization creating an effortless experience will result in enhanced customer engagement and loyalty.

3. There are two fundamental needs that a customer has in experience. Functional-what is the customer trying to accomplish and emotional-how does the customer want to feel.

4. It is important to create moments and a memorable ending of the experience. In the book “power of moments” the authors outline the research about the importance of creating a single memorable moment in the customer journey and to make sure that the end of the journey is big and memorable. Their research shows that the overall journey can be fairly mediocre but if there is a moment that creates a memory and a “big ending” the customer will view the entirety of the experience positively.

5. Adopt an experience design methodology. Don’t rely on basic, and traditional ideation techniques to improve the experience.

6. Bonus: Be familiar with heuristics and how they affect how customers perceive an experience. Heuristics are mental programs that humans use to help make decisions, evaluate options, and perceive value. Taking heuristics into consideration during experience design work can help create and experience that is exceptional

7. Double Bonus: It is critical that the experience that is delivered is authentic to the brand. For example, Chick-fil-a pretty much pioneered the response of “My Pleasure” when someone says, “Thank you”. Many other organizations have adopted it as well. However, it doesn’t have the same authenticity as when chick-fil-a does it as a part of their experience. So as experiences are designed, don’t copy someone else, be authentic to your brand.

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?

This is the age-old discussion around how to make people “promoters” other words, people willing to talk about you to others in a way that motivates others to engage with you. First, you have to go beyond the basic needs of the experience. Second, you have to really meet the emotional needs of the experience as well. When those two things come together, customers will tell others. However, most organization spend all their time meeting the basic functional needs within the customer experience. However, it is meeting the emotional needs that will create the catalyst for referrals and powerful enough referrals that others will engage.

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. 🙂

Yes, that is easy. I would start a movement that would only allow encouragement via social media and in our day to day conversations. Just think if more people received encouragement versus something less than what inventions, ideas, enthusiasm would be unleashed into our culture. Just think about many kids will be lifted out of poverty because they are universally being encouraged to do more than they believe might be possible. I would want to rid our society of the disdain and disparagement that we see in the public square, on-line and face to face. I think when we quit belittling, mocking and criticizing each other we will see many of our social challenges be solved. The power of the spoken and written word is immeasurable.

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