The Secret Sauce for Customer Happiness: Chicago

Written by on August 5, 2015

Last week, we had the pleasure of hosting a Customer Happiness Tour event in Chicago, at Revolution Brewing. The seventh stop on our worldwide tour, launched last year in NY, gathered customer experience leaders from Greater Chicago to discuss the Secret Sauce For Customer Happiness.

This event featured Erika Paman-Mercado, from Zappos, as well as a discussion with Geoff Flickema and Elizabeth Toy, from Illinois’ own Judson University. By the end of the event, we’d ranged through a wide variation of topics – everything from core values and community engagement to self-service and automation. A few particularly interesting themes emerged from the discussion.

Customer Happiness Tour: Chicago Panel, 2015

From left: Erika Paman-Mercado, Dilawer Syed, Elizabeth Toy and Geoff Flickema

There was a lot of discussion about the importance of culture and how to create and retain the right company culture.

Zappos: “We prize customer service above everything else.”

Zappos consider themselves not just a shoe retailer, but a service company. They strive to provide “above and beyond customer service,” helping the customer no matter what. That even extends to a “Don’t have it? Assist them with finding it elsewhere” philosophy.

And they really do this! Erika shared a story in which one of their team members heard about a mother who was trying to order a dozen pair of red Lacoste shoes. This specific design was her son’s favorite shoe. Her son had passed away and the shoes were for his friends to wear to his funeral. Zappos didn’t have them in stock and the agent couldn’t finding them on another website. So the agent took it upon herself to hunt down the shoes from multiple sources and overnight the order to the mother. Zappos also had the family flown out to their office in Las Vegas where they gave them a tour of their facility and a party in their honor.

Erika from Zappos, CHT Chicago

Erika on Zappos’ hiring process

Zappos’ hiring process is a critical part of how they keep the culture intact as they scale. Every candidate has two interviews, a tech interview that assesses the basics – grammar, internet navigation and so on, and a cultural interview where they determine fit. The customer loyalty team is usually on the lookout for upbeat employees, something that is hard to determine with the usual questions. So, they may ask anything from ‘What kind of music do you listen to?’ to ‘What kind of superpower would you want if you could choose?’ to find out what the candidate’s temperament is really like.

Once hired, all employees go through a 4-week new-hire training process to make sure that everyone is customer-centric and treats everyone: customers, vendors, and fellow employees, alike with respect.

The importance of building relationships and trust was another important theme that emerged during the Chicago event.

Judson IT: “Building relationships is how we get things done.”

Judson University’s IT support had been at an all-time low. There was zero trust from the University – no one believed they’d fix anything. It wasn’t enough to implement technology and set up processes. They had to repair relationships rebuild the University’s trust. How? By resolving their issues one by one, certainly, and exhibiting consistency. They also recognized the importance of first impressions in building relationships so they redesigned their space to be more inviting. It had been dark, dingy and cluttered before and is now well lit and designed to look like a bar!

Judson University redesigned their office to make it more welcoming.

Judson University’s snazzy new office

Judson IT then invited the different departments over for donuts and coffee to share their excitement about the changes they were making. Slowly, over time, Judson University’s IT team regained the trust of their staff and students. Earlier this year, they even experienced two straight months of 100% “Awesome” customer satisfaction ratings!

The two stories raise interesting questions about the most critical factors for exceptional customer support. Zappos focuses on “Wowing” customers. They go out of their way to deliver extraordinary experiences. Judson has achieved 100% CSAT ratings through a focus on consistency and resolution. If wowing customers is the goal, it can be difficult to maintain consistency; in an effort to make your user experience exceptional, you might be setting yourself an unbearably high baseline, a baseline you’ll have difficulty maintaining every single time and for everyone. Which is more important consistency or delivering extraordinary experiences? Which should companies strive for? What do you think?

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  • Robert Boris

    I think companies should strive for a good balance of both exceptional experiences (WOW Experiences!) and consistency. The best rated customer support teams are consistent. It is unrealistic to have Wow experiences on every contact. However, we should strive for it and recognize those that are rock stars. Recognition is very important to a culture and should never be overlooked. Robert Boris – NuWave, LLC

    • Jill Soley

      I agree on both counts, Robert. Ideally you have a balance of both. But, as you say, “The best rated customer support teams are consistent.” Should you worry about the ‘Wow’ until you have some base level of consistency?

      And yes, recognition of those employees who go above and beyond is critical. The organization needs to show them that their efforts are valued. Employees notice what gets recognized and rewarded.

      • Robert Boris

        Yes and no. In my experience, typical “Wow” reps/agents are those that have already been providing consistent great results. It is difficult to have a average/poor performer jump from average/poor straight to Wow. Wow typically happens to the reps/agents that understand what the culture is and have become accustomed to providing the consistent levels of good support. They drink the “Kool-Aid” and I find it is natural progression for the consistent reps to find that Wow. The worry comes in when you can’t get to a good balance of consistency. If I may add on the recognition piece, I forgot to mention that we also should strive to recognize those that have made progress and not just those that go above and beyond. :>)

        • Jill Soley

          So this suggests perhaps focusing on getting the basics right (consistency) but trying to hire people and create an environment to support the “above and beyond”?

          Totally agree on the recognition – continual feedback to help them improve and recognition of improvement is important – not just calling out the best and worst. This is true for all employees – not just support reps.

          • Robert Boris

            Yes, sounds wonderful! Now if we could please find me 70 of those people, that would be great! :>)