The Support Automation Show: Episode 16

In this episode of The Support Automation Show, a podcast by Capacity, Justin Schmidt is joined by Stacy Sherman, Keynote Speaker, Author, Podcaster, Mentor at Doing CX Right. They discuss how businesses can perfect the balance between humans and automation to accomplish future goals and why effective communication with the customer is crucial to achieving that. 

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Justin Schmidt: Welcome to The Support Automation Show, a podcast by Capacity. Join us for conversations with leaders in customer or employee support who are using technology to answer questions, automate processes, and build innovative solutions to any business challenge. I’m your host, Justin Schmidt. Good morning, Stacy. Where does this podcast find you?

Stacy Sherman: Hi. Yes, I am in the United States, East Coast, and happy to be here.

Justin: Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to have you. Stacy, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey to where you’re at now in customer experience and employee engagement?

Stacy: Yes, I am a corporate leader, a keynote speaker, an author, and also a podcaster about doing customer experience right. I’ve created a heart and science framework that accelerates customer loyalty, referrals, and revenue. I believe that people buy based on experiences much more than price alone. I am walking that talk both in my corporate world and by night with my passion projects.

Justin: I love it. The intersection of those two factors is definitely something that I think supports function and really beyond support functions. You look at just the way we do business in the modern world. Having both the heart and science side of the equation is definitely something that we need to keep in mind as we move forward, as we adapt to how the world’s changing and the new challenges that are in front of us. It’s very interesting to me that that is the area you have spent so much time focusing on.

What’s really interesting to me too is that the topic comes up a lot on this show and you’re in a perfect position to expand on this because of the work you do with speaking and some of the material you’ve created. It’s on the top of the mind of everybody in CS and CX. When do you think that dichotomy really started to become something that CS and CX leaders had to constantly keep in mind?

Stacy: Customer service has been around forever, and that’s what people traditionally think about in business. Who do I call? More recently online chat too. Where do I get help? That’s customer service. That’s something new. How we handle the calls, how we train the reps has improved, but customer experience is relatively new and as a practice and a framework. That’s definitely where the marketplace is hungry for expertise and how do they differentiate their brands beyond just customer service, one piece of the journey?

Justin: Right. Exactly. When you think about that journey, do you think of the journey as from the earliest touchpoint in the marketing cycle all the way through the customer that’s been a customer for 10 plus years kind of thing? Or are you looking at the journey more specifically on the customer side of that timeline? How do you view that journey?

Stacy: The answer is both ways. Absolutely before they become a customer, how someone is going to learn and become aware of your products and services, marketing is the beginning, the awareness. Then you have all these other micro-moments of purchasing. Is it easy? Is it hard? What’s that whole experience in that part? Then getting what they want and using it and paying your bill.

All of that is the journey that I’m talking about that’s so important to map out and validate that you’re meeting the customer needs based on what you actually designed, but yes, then when you have a customer, there’s a journey. How they can go online to a portal and upgrade and pay their bill online as the customer and continue to interact with the brands. There’s the buying journey, but then also there’s this loyalty journey as well.

Justin: Yes, the journey is definitely longer than I think a lot of people in both customer and marketing and sales want to think it is. We get not blinders, but we’ve become very focused on our portion of that continuum, of that journey. When I say “our” I mean me as a marketer and Sammy as our VP of customer success here at Capacity. We each have our purview there, but both of those sets of eyeballs, marketing, and customer pre-sales and post-sales,  are all part of the same thing.

Being able to manage and measure the touchpoints with your prospect through the customer journey, through the sales journey, into the deep customer hood, if you will. That is more important now than ever because of all of the different avenues and places and media formats, and types of messaging, and all the different ways that we as marketers and we as customer success leaders have to look at that journey.

You end up in this situation where your prospects could be interacting with your brand in 50 different channels that you don’t have any control over. Whether that be a community conversation somewhere, that be a Facebook group, or maybe your brand ended up mentioned on a TikTok video that you had no idea existed. These components of the messaging are influencing that journey of the customer, and as much as we can, should definitely keep a wide purview on that journey and how to manage those touchpoints.

When we were going back and forth a little bit about coming on this show, and having this conversation, one of the things that you suggested talking about was communication is a great topic and reason for most customer detractors scores. Let’s talk about how to balance human and automation to achieve 2022 goals and beyond. Really interested if you could double click on communication, why that’s the reason for most customer attractor scores?

Stacy: Yes, communication is why brands fail or succeed. If you go back to what we were just talking about, how customers interact with brands and multi-channels, what happens if companies have leaders in the different departments. You have your online channel, your retail channel, you have your customer service and chat group. What happens is when there are silos, the customer looks at the brand as one company, but internally they operate not that way. That’s where so much failure happens. The customer gets mixed messages, non-consistent experiences, and thus unhappy and often leaves because of it.

Justin: Do you find that that dynamic of communication is fundamentally the same across industries and pricing segments and business models subscription versus one-off purchase, for example? Or do you think there’s specific nuances that should be called out depending on the nature of the relationship?

Stacy: The fundamentals are the same. We’re all humans. I don’t care what the product is, we’re all humans, and we’ve got to do the basics right in terms of communicating within teams and across teams on behalf of the customer. Yes, I do believe in personalizing when possible. For example, I used to work for Verizon and other telecom companies. If I know that you are an iPhone buyer and when you come to the store or to the online channel, and especially if you’re logged in, I should not send you or show you android products or accessories because you’re an Apple user. Communicating is important, but communicating also in a meaningful way is the game-changer.

Justin: Let’s use this as a pivot into the meat of why we do this show which is to talk about how automation and technology can exist in this world where– I’m 100% in agreement with you that human-to-human meaningful interactions are more important than they have ever been, and they’ve always been very important in business. Especially today when so much of our lives are shopping online versus going into a store. Getting on Zoom meetings instead of meeting in person. The list goes on and on, on the how different modern humans interact with each other.

Automation and technology clearly enables a lot of this and can help a lot of this. When I say “support automation”, that term, what does that mean to you?

Stacy: Automation in general means getting out of manual tedious initiatives to free up time. I’m in favor of that especially for salespeople in the front line. We’ve got to free up time and make it easier for them to go service customers. What we have to be cautious about is that automation doesn’t replace the human factors. Some companies are doing well in balancing and others are not and those are going to be the ones who win, in the long run, are going to be the ones that balance. Technology enhances customer experiences, but by no means can it replace the human relationship and connections and picking up the phone and letting customers know they matter.

Justin: Yes, the balance is very important. What do you see as an example of that balance being applied in a good way? Because in your position as going around and speaking, you’ve probably met a lot of people, seen a lot of different ways of implementing this. What are some of the characteristics of organizations that typically do it well?

Stacy: One, they first start out by talking to the customer and understanding what matters to them. How do they want to be communicated to? Then building that capability versus the other way around, building it and hope it meets the customer needs. That starts with everything. In terms of automation- Here’s where I say in doing it right versus wrong. -many times people don’t want to call 800 numbers so the ability to go online and chat is helpful and valuable.

Very common right now are these bots. Let’s start the conversation. Now, when I type in my question if the bot can’t answer it, which depends on the question. If it’s simply a, “What are hours of operation for my local store?” That’s quick, that’s easy, done. If I have a problem especially if it’s a high-cost product or service then frustration happens when the bot then puts me into this circle.

Even when I type, talk to a representative, if I can’t get there I’m going to get so irate. You got to avoid that. Likewise, let’s say that I do get to an online human chat, there’s times where I have to repeat myself again because I’ve been transferred a few times, how aggravating that is.

That’s where I say that you can use automation then get to the human element, but make it a low level of effort where that conversation gets transferred, and that rep then can pick up where the other left off and hurry to get me out of this chat with a solution.

Justin: When you’re recanting that example, I was smiling because it’s fascinating to me. I’m saying this as somebody who works to bring part of capacities, product mix is chat. I sell and market some chat products here. One of the things that I just found interesting about what you said because it’s absolutely true. The scenario you described where you say, talk to an agent and it doesn’t connect you to an agent is the exact same experience we were having 10, 15 years ago with phone system menus.

Where you’re just like, talk to an agent, speak to a representative you hit zero on the phone, it doesn’t bring you to an agent. You finally get to the agent and you explain your entire situation, they then transfer you to another department and you have to explain the entire situation again. It’s very easy despite the technology and the advances in AI and NLP and chatbots that can hand off back and forth between humans and an AI. It’s very easy to still allow the same thing that was happening 20 years ago to happen now and still be able to create that loop of frustration that people have.

I say this to say that you’re touching on something which I think is extremely important, and also something I want to ask you about because I know you do a lot of work with the inside of an organization too. Not just how customers are treated but also how employees are managed in all of that as well. I want to tie these two together because you have to be able to design these systems in such a way that your customer service reps who do end up on the phone with a customer are well-armed, well-informed, they’re not tired and cranky from answering the same question 750,000 times that day, and they’re empowered.

When you think about the customer experience and how the employee experience feeds that customer experience, what are some of the hallmarks that you’ve seen of organizations who empower their people properly to create that best-in-class external experience?

Stacy: The technology that we equip our employees with makes or breaks the experience. Oftentimes, the technology that we give to employees was not created with the best user experience in UX best practices. That’s where a lot of companies fail. They check the box and they say, “All right, we enable our employees to be able to have this app and do what we expect.” Meanwhile, the employee can’t figure out how to do what they have to do, nobody asked them, their input was not part of the design. It’s the same thing that we expect of customers where built from the inside out instead of the outside in.

My recommendation to people is you have to talk to customers, and users of the technology internal and external if you really want it to enable people to really deliver excellence.

Justin: One of the things that I see from my vantage point where we’ll do a speak engagement at a conference or we’ll have our webinar that we’ll promote through customer contact week or CMSY or whatever it is. I see sometimes that you’ll have leaders that have an issue: NPS score is low, turnover inside the contact center, or whatever is high.

That they’ve got some specific issue.

There tends to be this, “Let me go get the one tool or consultant or whatever to Band-Aid this one particular issue” and not thinking about the whole process holistically. My question to you is, is there a framework or a first step that you would recommend? What I’m getting to is, if there’s a customer success leader listening to this show today and is like, “You know what? I do have one particular issue, but I don’t necessarily know where to get started.” What is step one for understanding that entire continuum, internal or external? Where do you start?

Stacy: If you’re an existing business versus starting brand new, let’s just assume you’re an existing business. I would bring the people across the organization, the marketing, the finance; bill and pay a huge part of the customer journey. There’s different departments that I would intentionally bring together in a room. I workshop with people and do this where I am, that you map out the customer journey, the way it’s designed today. Then where the magic happens is then you take that journey and you validate it with real customers, and you understand, where’s the gap? Where did you actually meet their needs? Where did you miss the mark? That’s the beginning.

Justin: You’d have a particular customer story case study advocate lined up to each step in that journey so that when you say– I’m just making this up. When you get to billing and paying, these things are important, and here’s an example of a customer of yours articulating why this step of the journey was particularly arduous or good for them. Then you’ve got a face to the concept, so to speak along that journey. Am I summarizing that accurately?

Stacy: Yes. The departments that are responsible for that experience, again we’re using paying your bill and invoicing and questions. There’s a whole journey within that. The ones that created that experience have to be the ones that have to be in the room to be able to define, “This is how we made it for the customers today.” Let’s say that customers want to be able to pay electronically and you don’t offer that. You wouldn’t know unless you actually talked to the customer. Let’s say you do have something digital, but it’s difficult to use, it’s not a low level of effort as we like to score in the CX world.

You have to bring the responsible parties to the table in the design phase and then optimize that from the customer feedback.

Justin: Got it, makes a ton of sense. One of the things about you that was really interesting to me when we first reached out to have you on is in addition to CS and CX. You’re also heavily involved in diversity, inclusion, and bringing representation into the workplace. You’ve got a whole section on doingcxright.com about it. It’s an obvious connection between having a diverse workplace and those ideals and all the benefits that come from diversity, inclusion, and belonging done properly in the workplace and how that makes its way out to customers.

How did you first get into specifically making that a core part of what you teach and what you write about?

Stacy: It’s really simple. If your employees feel valued and included and appreciated, they pay it forward. It’s human nature. It makes a lot of sense to give attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion. It all goes hand in hand. It’s not separate. It’s integrated. I believe in 2022 and beyond, there are specific roles in companies for diversity, equity, and inclusion, leadership. The CX team and that team have to really work closely together. That’s the opportunity and I see a lot more of that happening.

Justin: That was my follow-up, was, in the years you’ve been working in this field. Do you feel progress is being made? To me, it feels like we’re absolutely in the right direction, there’s still a ton of work to do, but it does feel like we’re going in the right direction. Do you share that sentiment?

Stacy: Yes, absolutely. We have a long way to go, but we’re making great progress because we’re having uncomfortable conversations at work. I love that we’re no longer saying “happy holidays”, like this blanket statement; rather when it’s somebody’s holiday, I actually can go to someone and say, “Tell me more about it, teach me.” That’s how I know progress is happening and they’re doing the same with me.

Justin: That is so true. It’s a little philosophical, but I think this is important. If you can have open and honest conversations with people and you learn about Rosh Hashanah versus Easter versus Kwanzaa, and you bring in and you’re open-minded to these diverse sets of ideas and why someone’s off for a holiday that day. You really do open yourself up to additional perspectives, which translates very, very literally into being open and receptive to customer feedback.

It’s a very obvious line to me and I really appreciate that you are calling this out specifically in your work because it is important and I love to see it. Do you have any advice to CX leaders who are looking to bring technology into their organization? Specifically AI, because a lot of automation and a lot of the software and tools that we rely on today, there’s a big AI component in this, and bias in AI can absolutely be a real problem.

If you’re working on diversity inclusion efforts and creating an open workplace, but you have a potential bias in a tool or technology, which is going to happen, you’ve got to manage that. I’m curious if this is something that you’ve dealt with in some of your mentoring or writing?

Stacy: Yes. Diversity and inclusion comes into play; a couple of thoughts: One, when you’re designing personas, your target audience for the journey maps that you create, you’ve got to make sure there’s diversity. You can’t just have the old-fashioned White male as your persona. That’s something that you easily, quickly can implement and be aware of as you’re designing experiences. Same with the Artificial Intelligence and the robots that are coming.

Don’t have it look like what you think is– Again, it’s the diversity that’s going to capture people’s attention and belief in what you’re selling and marketing. Then again, you have to be cautious because the robot or automated solution is not going to care or take time to get to know my holiday or your holiday. At the end of the robot, at the end of the day, there’s a human behind that design and that’s where we have to change the mindset from old patterns.

Justin: I love it. We’ve covered a lot of very interesting topics in our conversation today, Stacy and I really appreciate you coming on. This has been a treat for me because in the year or so we’ve been doing this, we don’t usually get into this relationship between employee experience and customer experience. Usually, it’s one or the other. I’m especially grateful for the work you’re doing on diversity and inclusion. Specifically to tying the through-line between those efforts and the ROI that businesses achieve by embracing that stuff. I’m very grateful for that.

I want to wrap up today with one final question, then we’ll get into our quickfire round. When you think about the future of automation and support, what excites you the most?

Stacy: What excites me the most is the ability to become more efficient. I’m obsessed with being productive and not wasting time. I believe that technology is allowing us to accomplish more so that we do have more ability to connect with people. If we don’t have to focus on that administrative mundane work.

Like I said, we need this movement where people matter, people feel like they matter. That’s the secret sauce. We need advocates to make sure that’s not lost.

Justin: Love it. Okay, let’s wrap up with a quickfire round here. I’m going to throw you a softball here. What’s the book you recommend most often to people who want to improve customer experience and the results of their CS team inside their organization?

Stacy: I’m not going to answer that with a typical customer experience book because God knows there are so many out there. My favorite keynote speakers are all wonderful. I’m going to answer this with a book that’s typically more of a self-help book, but I’ve actually translated it to the business world and have a blog article, perhaps you’ll add to the show notes. The book is called The Four Agreements.

Justin: Okay, I haven’t heard this one yet.

Stacy: It is life-changing. There’s four agreements: don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, always do your best, and I’m going to leave the last one out so people go find it.

Justin: I love it. It’s by Don Miguel Ruiz and Janet Mills, The Four Agreements?

Stacy: Yes, it really applies to work, it really applies to leadership, and how we show up, and how we can make sure that we deliver truly excellence every day. I recommend it. Like I said, my blog article gets into. How do you really apply it to customer experiences and employee experience leadership as well.

Justin: That’s awesome. For those of you listening, Stacy also contributed to a book called Customer Experience two that you can find on Amazon. I just added The Four Agreements to my Kindle library here, it’s on sale. Thank you for that. It sounds very, very, very interesting. You said you like to be productive, and one of the things that I do once a year, and I need to start preparing my 2022 version of this shortly. Here is a big webinar on all the different productivity hacks and tips that I’ve learned in the past year. I’m going to ask you, what’s the best productivity tip or tool that you use every day?

Stacy: Called Things. It’s an app called Things. It’s one of the best to-do apps. The reason is because it’s very simple, great user experience, and it helps you bucket what you have to do now, soon, later. It’s intuitive and it synchronizes across all my different phones, iPads, computers. Again, we have so many things to do. It’s really well done in how they make it easy to track your to-dos. Again, there are so many to-do apps. I’ve tried so many. I continue to go paper and paperless, but I always come back to this one. I can talk more about it. It is my favorite conversation, productivity.

Justin: Things is a great app. I think that was one of the first apps on the App Store. That’s something that those– I think it’s a German company that makes it, they’ve been working on that thing for a very long time, and have distilled what that thing does, pun intended, to the most purest form. I 100% agree with you, that is an absolutely amazing app. Shout out to Cultured Code, I think is the name developer of that.

If you could recommend one website blog, Slack community et cetera for leaders in your field, aside from doingcxright.com, what would it be?

Stacy: Oh, I was going to say that.

Justin: I took away your chance at a softball for this one.

[laughter]

Stacy: I would say, God, I have so many favorites, and lucky they’ve been on my podcasts. I would say Shep Hyken, Dan Gingiss, Jay Baer, oh my gosh, the list goes on. I can’t pick a favorite.

Justin: No, that is an honest and diplomatic answer. For the listeners out there, doingcxright.com is very, very good. I’m not just saying that to appease my guest here. Stacy has loaded this website with blogs and podcasts and links. It’s almost too much information. There’s so much great stuff on here. You’ve done a fantastic job putting this together and I highly recommend everyone add this to their readership, and it looks like you got a newsletter that we should get everyone subscribed to as well.

That’s the challenge for everyone listening out there, subscribe to Stacy’s newsletter, and start reading doingcxright.com. Okay, last question for you, Stacy. If there’s one person that you could take out for coffee or a cocktail, depending on the time today to pick their brain about becoming a better leader and a better mentor and more effective in the roles that are in here. Who would it be?

Stacy: Oprah Winfrey.

Justin: Good answer. She’s amazing.

Stacy: She is who I aspire to be. She keeps it real. She’s authentic. She’s an amazing interviewer, which is now what I study as a podcast host and I do a lot of panels, where I’m the interviewer. She’s also a great speaker, and I gotta see her in person. Most importantly, back to what we were talking about before is that she really pulls out the uncomfortable conversations to make it comfortable. I’m doing that to my best ability for the greater good.

Justin: Yes, she really is remarkable. There is something amazing about someone who has been that successful for that long and you never hear a negative thing about her. Do you know what I mean? It’s like, she is exactly who she presents as being, right? That woman has created so much value for so many people over the 30 years or however long it’s been she’s been doing it. She’s remarkable.

Stacy, this has been a great conversation. Thank you so much for giving us some of your time today. I really appreciate it. Where can people learn more about you and what you do?

Stacy: Yes, I spend a lot of time on LinkedIn. I’m also on Twitter and Instagram a little less often, but there. doingcxright.com is my home away from home. Yes, my newsletter really will keep you updated on everything you need to know to build your skills, and really Doing CX Right is your brand differentiator.

Justin: Well said thank you so much and have a wonderful afternoon.

Stacy: Thank you so much.

Justin: Cheers.

The Support Automation Show is brought to you by Capacity. Visit capacity.com to find everything you need for automating support and business processes in one powerful platform. You can find the show by searching for Support Automation in your favorite podcast app. Please subscribe so you don’t miss any future episodes. On behalf of the team here at Capacity, thanks for listening.

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