The Support Automation Show: Episode 21

In this episode of The Support Automation Show, a podcast by Capacity, Justin Schmidt is joined by Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Speaker, Author, and Writer at Shepard Presentations. Shep shares valuable insights about the impact of automation on customer service and customer experience.

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Justin Schmidt: Welcome to The Support Automation Show, a podcast by Capacity. Join us for conversations with leaders and 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. Shep Hyken, good morning, and welcome to the Support Automation Show.

Shep Hyken: It is great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Justin Schmidt: Where does this podcast find you?

Shep Hyken: Today, I am in my office in St. Louis, Missouri.

Justin Schmidt: Likewise.

Shep Hyken: I know you’re not too far from me.

Justin: Always fun to talk to someone local. Shep, you’re the Chief Amazement Officer, speaker, author, writer at Shepard Presentations. You’ve written a bunch of books on CX and the customer journey and how customer service is a revenue driver for organizations. If you don’t mind, maybe give us a little history on how you got to where you are today.

Shep: Sure.

Justin: Maybe the Cliff Notes version of that story and we can get into the meat of the show.

Shep: Well, the real short version, actually I’ll go back to when I was 12 years old, started my first business, which was a birthday party magic show business where I’d perform for screaming little kids. It was a Wednesday afternoon, I did my first show, and my mom picked me up after school. I’d perform for all these little kids. I get paid on the way out. That night at dinner, my mom says, “What are you doing after dinner?” It was a school night, so I thought the right answer was homework, right?

Justin: Yes.

Shep: That night, she says you’re going to write a thank you note to the people that just hired you. I thought, “That’s a great idea, mom.” My dad, who always one up my mom, said, “Great idea but let’s take it to the next level.” “What’s that, dad?” He says, “Call them in a week. Thank them again, the parents, and then ask them how’d you like the show? And tell me specifically what were your favorite tricks?”

My dad told me that if I do enough shows, and I ask that same question, I’m going to hear the same tricks over and over again, but what I’ll also not hear are the tricks they don’t talk about. Those are the tricks to get rid of and keep replacing them with tricks that they’ll start to talk about. I go, “Oh, wow.” Now little did I know that that is customer service, showing appreciation, asking for feedback. Now our survey, I should have– back when I was 12; this is back a long, long time ago, “Can you tell me on a scale of zero to 10, what’s the likelihood you’d recommend us?” On the NPS question.

Justin Schmidt: Yes, I have taken NPS surveys.

Shep: Because my dad said, “You should ask them if they like the show, are there any of the parents in the back, could I get their phone numbers so I can call them for more shows?” Anyway, my dad was right, because I started to hear what tricks people liked and what they didn’t talk about, and I made a better show. That’s called feedback and then activating the feedback, process improvement, if you will. Now I’m learning about service and experience, and I’m not even aware that that’s what it’s called. All I know is this is what you’re supposed to do in a business.

Here I am getting out of college and by that time, I had graduated the nightclubs and working corporate events and didn’t want to be a magician all my life, but graduated college. I decided to become a professional speaker. After seeing a couple of motivational type speakers, I went and started to research, and I wrote a speech about customer service. That was many, many years ago. Here I am today.

I have worked for the most incredible clients in the world, all over the world, great names, brand names, Fortune 10 companies, and written eight books and just having the time of my life and I’m thinking, “Wow, I wish I would’ve known what I know now 30-35 years ago, I’d be further along. That’s the short version, kind of.

Justin: I love it. What started as just the Pavlovian response of finding out which tricks they talked about and cycling more of those in and testing to find new ones that people would talk about. 35 years and eight books and countless appearances on stage and training sessions and everything later, here we are.

Shep: Yes. Very blessed.

Justin: It’s an awesome journey. You’re a particularly interesting person to ask this question to, and this is the question I ask everybody at the start of the show. Given that you have seen and lived CX customer success effectively your whole life now, when you hear the phrase support automation, what does that mean to you?

Shep: Well– By the way, I love Support Automation. It’s the idea that it’s a digital experience that is supporting the customer to get their answers as quickly and effectively and efficiently as possible to make them even happier. I also believe it is something that happens internally with some companies, that they’ll use that automation to support an agent who lives with the customer so that the agent’s job is easier as well.

Justin: I couldn’t have said that better myself, and I might have to incorporate some of that into the Capacity Marketing. Thank you for that. Getting aside though, you’re right, there’s a world where support isn’t just the customer to organization experience. That is also the experience of the people providing that support within that organization. That support could be B2C or could be B2E.

Shep: That doesn’t matter.

Justin: It doesn’t matter, right? There’s still the service and success mindset of a relationship, and it’s the management of that. You have written a bunch of books, and there’s also this 2021 version of Achieving Customer Amazement Study.

Shep: Yes.

Justin: One of the books that you have written is The Amazement Revolution, and a follow-up, I believe as a follow-up, forgive me if my series of events is off here, but The Convenience Revolution is another one.

Shep: The Amazement Revolution was written, gosh, almost 10 years ago. The Convenience Revolution was written about three years ago. By the way, I think it’s important to state that in my opinion, I know we’re talking about automation, digital, pretty advanced technologically interesting topics, but I don’t believe anything has really changed in customer service.

Justin: That’s exactly where I was going, but please double-click on this. This is great.

Shep: Okay. Then, I want to get back to convenience as well because that’s really important to talk about, because today, what used to be something really special and stood out as a differentiator, has become an expectation, really pretty much thanks to the pandemic that happened. When it comes to this automation, that is something that happens in the middle of what customers want and expect based on the support and experience that they have.

What I mean by that, let’s just take general customer service experience. I have a question, I have a problem, maybe it’s a complaint, and I reach out to the company, and it doesn’t matter how I reach out to the company, but at the end, I want that question answered, that problem resolved and that complaint taken care of properly, I want to be happy. If you think about it, I don’t know when the first customer support call ever took place, centuries ago? I don’t know.

There is actually– I wrote an article about this probably about 10 years ago. They found some stone that people carved in, that was like the first complaint letter of all time, it’s hieroglyphics, I don’t know. Anyway, I digress, I think if we look 100 years from now, 200 years from now, the same thing. People, they’re going to have a problem. They want it taken care of.

Now, what happens in the middle is what’s changed, but the beginning and the end have not changed at all. We need to keep that in mind. What we’re trying to do is get to that happy ending where people say, “The experience was great, and I can’t wait to come back and do business with them again.” I talk about creating loyalty and the emotional connection.

There’s a word that I use that everybody uses: when they’re happy with the company, they do business with it again and again. “Why do you like them?” “They’re always so friendly.” The word “always.” “They’re always so knowledgeable.” “I always get my information quickly.” The word “always” is followed by something positive. Anyway, I know I’m pulling back on the technology and automation side of what we’re talking about, but it’s important to understand that as advanced as we get, the beginning and the end have never changed.

Justin: Right. There’s a line in the ACA that I was reading through this, and I thought this was really interesting.

Shep: I hope I remember this.


Justin: Well, I think you will, because it’s in a bold call-out. It’s this phrase, “Don’t confuse willingness with preference. While 67% of consumers are willing to use self-service tools, 59% would prefer to call, keeping in mind that there’s a difference between willingness and preference.”

Shep: I wrote that, ah?

Justin: Yes. It’s beautiful. Beautiful stuff.

Shep: Wow. I’m looking at the report right now. Cool. Thank you.

Justin: Page 15. Shout out to You can download your copy today.

Shep: By the way, it’s free. If you go to, you can get it. Tomorrow, I have a meeting with the survey organization that manages the whole– It’s a big task to go out there and get this type of report done. They manage the whole setup. They’re reporting my findings tomorrow to me, and I’ll be writing the 2022 report next month.

Justin: Oh, I can’t wait to see that. That’s a great segue or bit of a supplement to where I was going with my question, which was, in the preceding portions of the report, we get into this where younger generations seem to want maybe a little more of a digital experience, where maybe some older generations want to do the phone call.

One of the promises of automation, AI, et cetera in support and service is to either, A, deflect most of what ends up becoming a phone call or even fully automating the voice conversation in and of itself. That willingness and preference, do you see that changing as technology gets better or do you think there will always maybe be a bit of a preference for human contact when it comes to these issues?

Shep: There’s always going to be somebody that wants to talk to a human being. I think if issues get too deep and too complicated, at least in the short term, I don’t see this changing in the next five-plus years. I think there needs to be a backstop. You can automate 90% if you want, but there’s always going to be something where it’s just that, “I’m not getting the answer I want.” It may or may not be the automation’s fault. It could be user error, it could be defective, whatever, but you’re going to have to talk to somebody.

I highly doubt the phone is ever going to go away or at least the human-to-human interaction, but what we do see over time is that more and more people are willing to go the digital route versus the people route. As I look at the report right now, let’s see, the number one way people want to connect with a company is still the telephone. If you look at the survey, 41% choose digital first, 59% prefer to go to a phone first, but if you look what’s skewing it, you’ve got your Gen X and your boomers, the older 45 to 56 and 57 to 65– Actually, it’s probably a little bit older now. The report has been on for a year, so it’s a year older.

What’s happening is 80% Gen X, 88% boomers, these generations are skewing the results a little bit because when you go down a little bit further, you’ve got email, online chat, forget about in-person texting. Brand apps and social media are actually down toward the bottom, which surprises me because so many companies are spending money on trying to create social media experiences. If you want, we can get into that, but here’s the point, is that every year, the number is getting more and more– It’s getting better for automation.

Think about this. Let’s go back to the airlines. 20 years ago or so whenever they decided, “Hey, let’s make it easy for people to make a reservation. They can go online and book their ticket.” Well, that took a long time before a tipping point where critical mass was using the online version of booking a ticket. What it took was incentives. “Hey, if you book online, we’re going to give you an extra 500 miles. If you decide you want to use a live reservationist, it’s going to cost you an extra $25,” so people are going to go, “Okay, I’ll try it.”

The consumer that was typically uncomfortable with automation or websites or whatever, became very comfortable because it was a good system, very intuitive.

If you go from American Airlines to Southwest, to Delta, to United, you’re going to see differences in the way the websites are designed, the user experience, but they’re not so different.

They’re still somewhat intuitive, and once you learn it, it’s fast. Think about PayPal years ago. The first time you did a PayPal transaction, where you’re going to transfer money from here to there, I remember, it took me like 20 minutes. I was checking everything. The bank account had to be perfect because I’m worried I’m going to give away my entire life savings if I hit the wrong button. Today, I can PayPal and Venmo you in like 26 seconds [laughs]. It’s comfortable.

This is the point. We need to train the people who are using it to try it, and use it and like it. Oftentimes, and I tell my clients this, what we’re talking about, how can we get people to start using the digital and automated experience versus calling in? Train them to do it. You get somebody that calls in, help them on the call, and then, while they’re on the call, ask them to open up their computer and show them what to do next time.

Justin: Yes, this is an interesting topic because usually, when you hear the word training under the auspices of customer support and service and customer experience, it’s more agent-employee training, but you are right, there is also a user and customer training. The influence of guiding people down a particular path. Now, you can anchor the bias towards digital by hiding the phone number in the bowels of the website and–

Shep: That is not a good idea.

Justin: That’s exactly right, because in my view anyway, you’re creating this– It’s basically distrust, like, “I don’t want to give you the phone number to call somebody because I don’t trust that you’re going to use that phone number for something that actually is worth my agent’s time.” There’s ways to design the system to guide people towards automated solutions and make those automated solutions delightful such that they use them again versus some more heavy-handed approaches.

Shep: Amazon is a good example of that. You won’t find a phone number on the Amazon website. At least, I don’t think you will. If it’s there, it’s not easy to get to.

Justin: It’s a lot of clicking.

Shep: You will find it when you get to a point, they will say, if you want, we’ll call you, but keep going. Let’s see how far we can go before we call you, and then, by the way, put your phone number in. You hit the enter button, and I swear the phone starts ringing before you take your finger off the mouse click. It’s somebody from the Amazon support world or it’s a recording saying, “Your agent will be with you in just a moment,” and 20 seconds later, boom, there it is. It’s an amazing system, and it works really well.

What they’ve done is they’ve really pushed customers or consumers to use the automated system and oftentimes, getting exactly what they want without having to have human-to-human contact. That to me is the best of both worlds. If you put it into a real generic or basic sense, if you go to a grocery store, there’s the checkout lines that you’re typically used to seeing your entire life, and then, over here, there’s six self-scan checkouts, those are starting to be used. There’s a line that’s starting to form here where a year or two years ago, you didn’t see that line.

Here’s what’s really interesting, there’s always an employee nearby to help somebody that can’t figure out, “There’s no barcode on this fruit. What am I supposed to do?” That’s the point. There should always be a backup, a seamless transition from whatever the digital or automated experience is into a human-to-human experience. On top of that– I wish for the companies to do that, that it’s an omnichannel type of experience where, when I leave automation and I do talk to a human, I don’t have to start back at the very beginning. They can pick up where I left off, where my problem began.

Justin: In AI, we call it the human-in-the-loop or the graceful handoff or the graceful failure to humans. In a lot of your writing, at least in my cursory research before our interview here, I see the phrase, “Moments of magic.” What is a moment of magic and how’s that measured?

Shep: Well, it’s not a magic trick I did at a birthday party when I was 12, but the idea behind it is derivative, because when I started to look at my business and starting it, there was an article that I read in the early 1980s and it was titled Moments of Truth. Since that article came out, a few years later, a book was written titled Moments of Truth by the same gentleman that wrote the article, Jan Carlzon. He was, at that time, president of Scandinavian Airlines. He talked about managing the moment of truth, which is, every interaction the customer has. Basically, he talked about customer journey maps before there was ever the term journey map.

He said a typical customer of the airline, a passenger, makes a reservation– He’d actually go all the way back to, the passenger sees the billboard that says Scandinavian Airlines, an ad, whatever, and that compels them to use Scandinavian Airlines. Pick up the phone, call, make a reservation, go to the check-in at the curb with your bags, go to the ticket counter. There’s this journey that the customer makes. Every one of these interaction points, Jan Carlzon said, “If they’re managed well, customers come back.” He says they can be good and they can be bad. I’m going to come up with fun names for these, and by the way, I added a third one.

Bad ones, I call moments of misery. The average, satisfactory, boring, mundane, never going to get you anywhere really other than that moment, that is a moment of mediocrity. Unfortunately, I will tell you, many companies reside in mediocrity. Not because they’re not– They’re not bad, but they aren’t consistently better than mediocre. Once in a while or maybe half the time they are, but they slip into mediocrity enough that customers don’t feel connected to them the way they should. You’ve got misery, mediocrity, and then, a moment of magic playing off of my world of magic.

That moment of magic is any experience that’s better than average. Sometimes it’s way above average but typically, it’s just the tiniest bit above average. The surprise, “You called me back quickly. Wow. That was easier than I thought it was going to be,” and it should be. It’s things that are happening– They’re basically meeting basic expectations, but because so many times, instead of calling you in within an hour, I call you by the next day, “Well, it wasn’t bad, but it would’ve been nice if you’d called the same day.” That’s that moment of mediocrity.

Justin: Got it. Going back to Amazon as a good example of this, I’m sure we’ve all had this experience with them, where if you need to return something, they run a quick calculation and decide it’s not worth the logistical cost of processing the return, and they just gave you the money back and say, “Keep it.” That is definitely a delightful thing when it happens, even if I don’t necessarily want the whatever it is I was trying to get rid of, not having to box it up or take it to Whole Foods or bringing it down to UPS or whatever, is definitely a great experience.

Shep, I could talk to you all day about this, but I know our time is limited, so I want to be respectful of your time. When we think about the future of automation and the customer journey, what excites you the most?

Shep: I think we get so much better at making things easier, quicker, faster. Voice authentication gets me excited. I’ve been hanging around the experts and the people that have created this for probably 10 years. I’m starting to see more and more of that, so I don’t have to give you answers to three, four questions, including my grandmother’s maiden name and her social security number, whatever. I don’t have to do any of that anymore. That gets me excited because we’re starting to say, “Let’s use this to really make it easier for the customer.”

I love how there’s the intelligent assistant, which is the ability for a computer to step in where a typical agent might do that. It’s getting to be not just better at giving the answers, it’s getting to be almost lifelike. I don’t feel like I’m often talking to a computer. It’s still not perfect, and I don’t know if it ever will be, but I think that gets me excited.

When I was a little kid, I remember watching science fiction shows where the star of the show, Captain Kirk was talking to the computer and the computer would talk back just as if it was a human-to-human experience. We’re getting closer and closer to that. That doesn’t mean it’s going to replace humans, but for the support that it gives, it’s going to give a very comfortable experience that makes customers happy.

Justin: Yes, we’re definitely getting closer, and the question in my mind is not will we ever perfectly recreate the human-to-human service experience but can we get it close enough to where it doesn’t matter, right?

Shep: Yes. That’s a good way of putting it.

Justin: Thank you. There’s a fascinating anecdote here of the GPT-3, sort of NLP and linguistic AI, that’s a tool that does some pretty fascinating things. In the latest version of it, you could ask– This was the example I heard on Eric Schmidt of Google, gave this example on a podcast. I thought this was fascinating. He asked, “What is a piece of technology from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey that I could buy today?” The answer is a tablet. Like they have the little tablets in it.

That is such a deep, like a lot of thinking concept to sus that out and offer that as a suggestion. The fact that we’re there, we are getting very close to it being, like I said, close enough that it doesn’t matter. It is very exciting for thinking about the future, not only because it’s cool to think about new technology but the amount of value the businesses are going to be able to unlock with that kind of technology, helping and buttressing the efforts of their best people, really going to make some spectacular results.

Shep: Yes. Isaac Asimov had some quote– No, maybe it was Stanley Kubrick who did 2001, one of these guys that are really in the sci-fi world, is technology being indistinguishable from magic.

Justin: From magic, yes.

Shep: Yes. I’m going to look this up to see if I can find it– First, I have to be able to spell indistinguishable.


Justin: Just slam some letters on your keyboard and the red squiggly line will..

Shep: I know. It’s happening. Let’s see what that– Yes. Okay. In 1962, Arthur C. Clarke.

Justin: Arthur C. Clarke, yes.

Shep: All right. Profiles of the Future. This is what he said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Justin: It’s exactly true. There’s magic all around us these days just like there was when you were 12 and starting on this journey that has led you here today and this wonderful conversation we just had. Shep, I thank you so much for your time. Before we go, let’s do our quick-fire round.

Shep: Okay.

Justin: What is the book you most often recommend to people and you don’t get to pick one of your own?

Shep: Oh, darn. Okay, that would be an easy one. My favorite book in the customer service and experience space is the Experience Economy by Jim Gilmore and Joe Pine.

Justin: Love it. Shout out to Gilmore and Pine. You’ve spent a lot of time with leaders and people across a variety of industries. I’m sure you’ve met some incredible people along the journey. You’ve learned a lot of lessons from those people. What’s the one tip or hack, I’m using scare quotes for those of us listening, in terms of being productive and managing your time well that you’ve taken into your daily practice and has stuck with you?

Shep: Wow. Again, there’s a technology that I use that saves me hours a week, and it’s called SaneBox. It’s an email program that I can train my emails to go to certain– The inbox. From the inbox, it goes into the box that I wanted to do or it goes into what’s called the Sane Black Hole, never to be seen again. Anybody that I put over there, I will never see their emails, it goes.

That is a great technology. I think one of the things, all of the things we’re talking about, what they do is they allow us as humans to be more efficient, more productive, get things done quicker. If you called me for something that a computer can find in literally a nanosecond and it takes me 60 seconds to do the research to find the answer, that’s where the automation comes in. Anything we can do to make people more productive, I think, is a very powerful utility.

Justin: It really is. SaneBox is a great application. Shout out to the folks at SaneBox. Shep Hyken, thank you so much for spending your morning with me and chatting with me about support automation and all things, customer journey and moments of magic. I hope this show is a moment of magic for all of our listeners, much appreciated. If someone wants to find out more about you and Shepard Presentations and what you do, where can they find you?

Shep: Same place we talked about before, H-Y-K-E-N. You can download the report, the research, and everything you’d want to know about me is there.

Justin: Yes. Then also on Amazon, just search Shep Hyken and you can find one of eight highly reviewed, well regarded books on the topic.

Shep: Well, thank you. One other idea is I have a YouTube channel, very easy to get to, just go to You’ll get all of my– I have 600 videos. Many of them are customer service tips and clients or friends or companies, whatever, all over the world, just show these at their meetings, and there’s no charge for it. Everything I’m thinking about, I put into an article or on a video at some point.

Justin: That is a fantastic resource. Shep, thank you so much for coming on the Support Automation Show, and I hope you have a wonderful afternoon.

Shep: Well, thanks for having me. Cheers.Justin: The Support Automation Show is brought to you by Capacity. Visit 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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