Monday, July 9, 2018

Learn How to Transform Difficult Customers into Brand Advocates

Seven years ago, I met Marilyn Suttle on Twitter and was intrigued by the title of her book, “Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan." After I read the book, I shared a review here on my Blog, and here's the link. I also included my favorite story from the book in a recent post entitled, "Want Your Brand to Soar Above the Competition? Learn from Five Amazing Brand Experiences?," and here's the link. Based on Marilyn's amazing insights, I've invited her to participate in a Q&A, and highlights follow her bio below.

Marilyn Suttle is an international customer service speaker and best-selling author based in Metro Detroit. She works with leaders and teams that want to attract and retain customers, inspire employee engagement, and create strong connected relationships. For 20 years, she has trained thousands on relationship-strengthening communication and success strategies. Her clients have won industry awards, raised customer satisfaction levels, and achieved lasting results in reducing stress and experiencing greater success and self-fulfillment.

Marilyn’s advice has been featured on TV news and in print/online media including U.S. News and World Report, Psychology Today, and Inc. Magazine. She co-authored the book, “Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan,” which is currently in print in both English and Chinese. Her latest book is in a category of one, “Color Their World,” which is the first customer service activity book that is also an adult coloring book – and it has become a bestseller in the United States, Canada and Germany. You can find Marilyn on Twitter @MarilynSuttle, at her website (, and on LinkedIn (  

QUESTION: What appeals to you about Customer Experience Marketing (CEM)?
MARILYN SUTTLE: What appeals to me most about CEM is the focus on what customers want most – to be truly served, not sold to. I’m happy to see brands taking this relationship strengthening approach. Simply put, CEM is the practice of engaging customers with responsive interactions that earn long-term brand loyalty. Even though it takes a strong effort to design processes that track and respond to customers’ preferences and expectations, when done well, it results in vocal advocates. Forrester’s Customer Experience (CX) Index reports that while 73% of companies consider it a priority to improve the customer experience, only 1% deliver an excellent customer experience. When you put the customer experience at the forefront of your marketing decisions, you stand out among the crowd and differentiate yourself.

QUESTION: How do you measure customer experience success?
MARILYN SUTTLE: It takes a big picture view to get it right. Case in point, after having an amazing customer experience at a retail store, I jumped at the chance to give positive feedback by calling the phone number at the bottom of my receipt. The survey (designed to thoroughly capture my customer experience) was excruciating. After eight long minutes of misery, my enthusiasm toward the brand soured. Bottom line: Don’t turn your customer experience measurement tool into a torture device.

So, what measurements work well? The answer is…it depends.

There’s the well-known Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), which is a simple “were you satisfied?” type of question.

Then there are productivity metrics, like Average Speed of Answer and Average Handling Time.

The Customer Effort Score (CES), for example, “How much effort did you personally have to put forth to handle your request?” is another type of metric that identifies areas where improvements can be made.

The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is yet another well-known measurement is used to determine the percentage of customers who would recommend your company to their family and friends, based on a question like this, “On a scale of one to ten, how likely are you to recommend us?”

A common problem with metrics is that, when you make adjustments to accommodate one score, it can have unintended consequences on others. For example, a success in shortening the length of a call can cause oversights and leave customers highly dissatisfied.    

A useful measure of customer experience is to track customer support needs per year. That includes support needs with self-service, chat, Interactive Voice Response, email, etc. Document a customer’s typical experience to identify pain points and moments of truth. Then, draw on your employees to find ways to improve processes.

Bottom line, choose your measurement approach with care to ensure that the ones you pick don’t have a damaging effect on your other key performance indicators.

QUESTION: What’s your favorite story about a bad customer experience turnaround?
MARILYN SUTTLE: This story comes from an interview I conducted with PRS Guitars, a manufacturer of high-end instruments that are played by rock stars, coveted by collectors, and enjoyed by enthusiasts around the world. It was featured in “Who’s Your Gladys?” a best-selling customer service book I co-authored a few years back.

An irate customer called Shawn Nuthall, the manager of customer service at Paul Reed Smith Guitars. The customer had purchased a PRS guitar from an online dealer, and when he pulled it out of the shipping box, he discovered a six-inch scratch on the case. The angry customer was sure that the scratch was caused by the long staples that were used to seal the packaging. The online dealer would not take responsibility for the damage, insisting that the case was in perfect condition when it was shipped out.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Shawn, took the most immediate approach to resolving his customer’s issue. He said, ‘‘What’s your address? I’ll send you out a new case.’’ Relieved, the customer asked, “What do you want me to do with the damaged case?’’ Shawn replied, ‘‘Maybe you can pay it forward and help out a kid who needs a case. If not, consider it a backup, and when you go to your next gig, take the beat-up case.’’

The customer was shocked. Has asked, ‘‘That’s it? You’re just going to send me a case?’’ Shawn didn’t see a reason to put his customer to any further trouble. ‘‘He had a problem, and I took care of it. If I have a problem with a product, I want to call the company and have it handled quickly. It doesn’t serve me to give people the runaround. If someone calls with a problem and I can make that problem go away painlessly, why wouldn’t I? I don’t understand the philosophy of companies that expect you to make 10 different phone calls and talk to 20 different people.’’ Shawn’s approach turned his angry customer into a fan, and soon afterward, Paul Reed Smith himself received a glowing letter about this guitarist’s extreme satisfaction with Shawn and with PRS.

QUESTION: What two brands stand out as examples of good customer experience marketing, and why?
MARILYN SUTTLE: While a whole book can be written on the topic, I’ll share a successful feature from two companies that excel at CEM.
Amazon does an amazing job of creating positive customer experiences through Amazon Prime. Once a customer becomes a member, they tend to return regularly and try new offerings. Amazon gives a free 30-day membership to try out Prime – long enough to get the customer (myself included) hooked on free two-day delivery, streaming movies, and other perks. The “frequently bought together” feature and the Amazon Wish List feature make it easy for customers to enjoy community involvement and ease of finding desired gifts for family and friends. This is just a snapshot of how they make the customer experience even more valued.

This e-commerce company sells home goods. It attracts customers with tech-savvy visual marketing designed in a way that aids customers in finding what they want and discovering what then didn’t even know they wanted. Images of fully-decorated rooms help viewers discover their style preferences. When a customer clicks or taps on the little tags connected to furniture and accessories in a photo, for example, rugs, lamps, or chairs, it automatically brings up the price, details, and reviews of the item. This one feature goes a long way in creating a satisfying customer experience.

QUESTION: Do you think every business should have a Customer Experience Officer (CXO)? Why or why not, and what should the person’s background be?
MARILYN SUTTLE: Companies committed to growth benefit by having a Customer Experience Officer to drive higher levels of customer satisfaction and improve bottom line impact. It’s an integral role for maintaining customer-focused alignment through every decision. They are the catalyst for internal collaboration cross-company to maintain a corporate culture of excellence.

The background requirements for a CXO role vary greatly. Try this: Do a LinkedIn search by filling in the title field with “Customer Experience Officer” and start reading. You’ll find that no two professionals seem to have the same list of experiences. What they do have in common, though, is strong leadership skills, and the charisma and credibility needed to enroll key leaders throughout the company in prioritizing and collaborating on customer experience.

My gratitude and appreciation to Marilyn for appearing on my Blog and for sharing her insights about the very important specialty known as customer experience marketing and its alignment with creating brand advocates.

Image Credit: Marilyn Suttle.

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