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Home  /  Podcast   /  Amaze Every Customer with Shep Hyken – Episode #28

Shep Hyken speaks with Evan Hackel about Training for Great Customer Service. Shep is an internationally recognized expert on customer service, a top keynote speaker, and author of books that include Amaze Every Customer and The Cult of the Customer.





Announcer: Welcome to “Training Unleashed,” the show that will help you design and deliver training that’s off the chain and will make a difference. Now, here’s your host, Evan Hackel.

Evan: I have Shep Hyken with me today. He’s a professional speaker and author. He’s written such books as, “Amaze Every Customer,” “The Amazing Revolution,” and, “The Cult of the Customer.” We’re very fortunate to have him. Shep, why don’t we start off and have you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

Shep: Sure, Evan. Well, first of all, thanks for having me on this program. Where did I start? I actually started…my first audience, it was an amazing audience. My first paid gig if you will. There were only about 20 people there and they happened to be 6-year-olds. It was a birthday party and I was 12 years old and I was paid $16 to a magic show for these kids, and that was my first paid gig in front of an audience. And I very quickly built this magic show business up. I came home that night. My mom and dad were at the dinner table and my mom said, “What are you going to do after dinner?” I thought the right answer would have been, “Do my homework,” but, no. It was, “You’re going to go write a thank you note. You’re going to write a thank you note to that woman that hired you.” And then, my dad said, “And next week you’re going to call her and you’re going to thank her on the phone and you’re going to ask how you did, and then you’re going to ask about the little girl sitting in the back that must have been, you know, little Jimmy’s sister that’s probably got a birthday party.” And I thought, “Wow, that’s pretty cool.” I’ll do that and guess what happened? I booked another birthday party.

Before you know it, my birthday party business was booming, but here’s the key. At 12 years old, my parents were teaching me customer service. I was saying, thank you, at least twice. Obvious, I said it as I left and walked out the door, but you add the thank you note. You add the follow-up and then I was asking for feedback. You know, we always ask our audience members, “Hey, did you learn on a scale of 1 to 10? Did you like this or not like that, or how effective was the information?” And I think I was learning all of this at age 12 and didn’t even realize that this was called, “Customer service.”

Evan: Interesting. That’s great. Well, I think you know that the people that are on this call are people that are involved in the world of training.

Shep: Yes.

Evan: And I was wondering because you’re a person who spent a lot of time presenting, a lot of time educating. What kind of tips, what kind of things and advice would you give people in the training profession?

Shep: Sure. So, realize there was a big gap between that first magic show and then in 1983 when I started my true speaking business and speaking eventually turned in to a partially training. Even though, I specifically don’t deliver the training that we do. I have several trainers that work with me. I actually create the material, but one of the things as a presenter that I’ve learned is…and this is the best, I guess, advice that anybody could think of if you get in front of an audience. It’s be prepared. Preparation, I have never and I don’t ever want to feel that uncomfortable feeling. Back early in my career, I did prepare. I prepared so well, but for some reason I was still extremely nervous and uncomfortable getting up in front of people, wondering what am I going to miss? Am I going to miss this important point?

And what I realized after a while is that, you know, I became comfortable with the information. I know what it’s like to feel like I’m unprepared. I’m not sure I’ve ever walked on stage unprepared, but the fact is, I don’t want to ever want to experience that feeling. So, what do I do? My goal is to understand my content well enough and be able to narrow down an entire presentation. Be it a 30-minute program, an hour program or a 3-hour program, onto one index card with bullet points. That’s it. If I could look at one bullet point, I can take-off and that’s all I need because I know my material well and really important, I know who my audience is. I do a lot of work to understand that audience.

Evan: You know, it’s amazing. I talked to people all the time that say, “I don’t prepare because I’m better just off the cuff.” And I’m like, “Bullshit.” There’s no way and everyone has to be super prepared.

Shep: Well, you know, people argue, should I memorize or should I not memorize? And here’s the point. If you’re in the training side of things, you don’t necessarily have to memorize, but if you’re going to deliver a keynote in front of a larger group of people, you better be prepared and preparation might mean memorization or at least to a point where you know the material so well that something’s not going to trip you up. You know, I have ADD and people say that…a lot of people say, “Oh, yeah, I have ADD too.” But here’s what happens in my mind. I’m looking out into the audience. If somebody drops their pencil and goes to pick it up in the floor, and they’re in the fifth row, I see that. If somebody’s messing with their hair in the ninth row, my brain is taking this in and I’m getting all of this incoming data message all from the audience and what I have to do is I have to filter that out and get to a point where I can concentrate on what I’m going to deliver.

So, here, I use a speech coach. Actually, her name is Patricia Fripp. I don’t know if she’s going to be on this program or not, but you should have her. Patricia taught me something incredible. I always want to keep my material really fresh. So, my basic speech and by the way, the way I write my training is always a setup at the very beginning. It’s the, “Why.” It’s like, why are we here, why is this important, why are we doing it? Maybe I’ve got stats and facts to support it and then comes the, “How-to.” In a speech, the how-to happens, you know, the way I do it is I give, “Here’s five ways to do this,” or “Here’s 10 ways to get it, a list, a top 10 list.” In training, where you may say, we’re going to talk about 5 things today and we give 30 minutes to each one of those 5 topics instead of 3 or 4 minutes. But here’s the cool thing to do and I learned this a long time ago, and I didn’t realize how important and effective training technique to keep material fresh and that is, you got one through five, you don’t always have to do in that order. Mix it up a little and it seems fresh to you even though you’ve done the material maybe a hundred times putting number four in the first position and number two in the third position, and number three in the fifth, and it makes it new again.

Evan: Yeah, keeps it fresh.

Shep: Yeah, and I think keeping it fresh is important, but back to memorization because I think this is an important key. If you choose to work hard, to memorize your script in a speaking type of situation, you can improvise so much more effectively. If people say, “Well, if you memorize, how can you improvise?” It’s easy. You leave the script and you can come right back into the script where you left off. You’re that comfortable with your material.

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Evan: I, myself have seen so many things happen in the audience. I look out, oh, they’re not happy or whatever and you’ve got to be so prepared and so comfortable that you don’t worry.

Shep: So, let’s talk about that. People that aren’t happy in the audience. I was doing a presentation, oh gosh, many years ago and there was somebody in the front that just didn’t look happy and what I did was a mistake. I did everything I could to make that person happy, thinking, if I could make this guy smile, then everybody’s gonna smile and the reality is, this guy was not going to smile no matter what I did. I make the mistake of focusing on him where I still had 100 other people in the audience that I needed to pay attention to and I lost focus on them.

I don’t know if they noticed, but at the end of the speech I realized, you know what? That was a mistake. If I go look at my ratings, I like to throw out the top 5% and the bottom 5% because I know that 90% in the middle, that’s my sweet spot. Those are the people I want to hit and make happy. And I know that some people are going to love me no matter what I do and some people no matter how good I am are going to hate me because they just don’t want to be there. They hate life.

So, I’ve learned, don’t focus on that curmudgeon. Don’t focus on that one person that doesn’t look like they’re having a great time. That doesn’t look like they’re enjoying your program. Just focus on doing the best you can for that mass of the audience.

Evan: Okay, you also don’t know what’s happening in someone’s personal life. [Crosstalk 00:08:40]. They could have an ill parent. I mean there could be a million reasons why they’re distracted other than you.

Shep: Funny story, many, many years ago, there was a gentleman close to the front row who looked like he was falling asleep and I was so close to making a joke about that gentleman who had his eyes closed and his head was down, and I thought, “No, I’m not going there. Maybe he’s not feeling good.” Well, get this, at the end, I said. “Boy, I hope I did a good…there was guy that was sitting there.” “Oh yeah, he’s blind.” And can you imagine how uncomfortable and embarrassed I would have been if I’d have made a joke and made this person feel uncomfortable or maybe and worse, the people in the audience all of a sudden would immediately turn against me if I was making fun of this man. So, I don’t know if it was my professionalism or my…I don’t know what’s the word I’m looking for. I restrained myself because I thought it might be inappropriate and I was 100% right.

Evan: Yeah, that’s cool. So, I want to talk a little bit about you. What makes you different? What do you do that you think others don’t do?

Shep: Wow, in life or in business? So, I think that as a professional speaker with a very strong training business…by the way, we do live onsite training. We have virtual online training that we created, but I think the thing that I’ve done in my business is I’ve stayed in a lane. 1983 which is 30 some-odd years ago, I started my business and within a matter of a very short time, I said, “You know what? The only thing I want to focus on is this whole customer service concept.” At the time, there were people that were talking about it. It was becoming hot. And as I read articles and books about this, this is what I believed growing up. This is what my parents taught me with my magic show business. I worked in a retail environment as well. I understood hospitality. I worked in restaurants with my magic. I worked in night clubs. I started to see what customer service was.

So, getting out of college, I knew what it was. I just didn’t know what it was called. IBM was really strong. That was a big thing that they were doing and then the key with them is that they were…price was very high for a computer back then and their goal was to be so good that price became ineffective and not important. I mean, it was important, but not nearly as important.

So, here’s the point, I stayed in my lane. For the last 30 plus years, I’ve stayed in my lane. I haven’t deviated. I don’t talk about time management. You aren’t going to get me to come and do a sales training session. No, you want customer service training, your customer service programs or consulting, you’ll come and see me. I don’t do anything else. I suggest other people. I think that’s really important. Know your strengths. Great book, “StrengthsFinder,” are you familiar with it?

Evan: Yes, I am.

Shep: Okay, so in, “StrengthsFinder,” it’s kind of a misconception that a lot of people have. When you hire somebody and they’re really good at something, and then they show up and they have something they’re not quite as strong at. You put them in a class to try to get them to be stronger at what they’re weak at. The mistake is, you shouldn’t do that. They’re really great at something. Put them in a class to make them stronger at what they’re already great at so they can become a rockstar in that area and play to that strength. And I think that’s really important too is if you play to that strength, people recognize you for it and you won’t say, “Oh, I need to learn a little bit more on something else that’s really not necessary.”

Evan: I think that it would be good for us if you could just take a few seconds and just highlight a few of the key principles of customer service, the amazement factor.

Shep: Sure.

Evan: But then, help the people on the call understand how they can implement them in the system. I’ll bet a lot of people on this call think, “You know what? We have a pretty good program, but we can’t get people to follow it. We can’t get people to do it.” So, you know, maybe try to give people some thoughts on how they can implement too.

Shep: So, my head is swarming with ideas right now, with this question, but let’s take it from a philosophical point of view. Number one, for me, customer service is not a department. It’s a philosophy and it should be embraced by every single person in an organization, but I know that the customer service department that actually fields calls and complaints, and questions, that group needs to be trained a little differently than perhaps somebody in the warehouse that needs to understand where they fit in the whole customer service experience for the outside customer.

So, my philosophy is everybody’s involved. They have an internal customer that they support internally and ultimately, whatever they’re doing internally is going to be affecting the outside customer’s experience. So, I take it from a cultural standpoint. How do you get people and by the way, that’s the first big point. A couple other big customer service points is I believe it’s all about the interaction you have with people. It’s very much people focused. We’ve got a good system in place. I don’t care how good the system is. If good people aren’t driving that good system, it falls apart.

So, to me, service is so much about interacting with other people. Again, it could be your internal customer, someone you work with or somebody that you do business with on the outside. Jan Carlzon talked about something called, “The Moment of Truth in business.” And that is anytime a customer and I’ll add an internal customer as well comes to the contact with any aspect of what you do they form an impression and is it going to be good or bad? I call the bad ones moments of misery. We try to avoid those. There’s average and just satisfactory and I don’t like any company that thinks that they’re going to be making it big if they’re just satisfactory. That’s a rating. You don’t want to satisfy your customers. That to me is mediocrity. So, any interaction that’s average, I call that a moment of mediocrity and if it’s anything better than average even just ever so slightly better than average, I call that a moment of magic. The goal is to create moments of magic, positive experiences between people.

Because at the end of the day, people do business with people. And if you’re an internet company, people design that website to be used by people, your customers. So, look at how well Amazon has done. You go in to a regular department store and if you’re a regular customer, and your salesperson recognizes you they go, “Hey, Shep. It’s good to see you again. Hey, you know those shoes that you were looking at, we just got them back in stock. Do you want to try them on again?” You go on to an Amazon website and it’s, “Hey, Shep, welcome back. Here’s what you looked at the last time.” I mean, it’s pretty close to a true in-person experience as you can get while it’s online. A lot to be learned from that, but there are so many different areas that we can talk about. You mentioned the videos, if you want to get a general idea of my belief of how to create amazement, I tell a story about a cab driver and he is an amazing example of customer service. Just go to, There it is or go to my YouTube channel which is Where, by the way, there’s about 300 videos or more that I put on there including that cab driver story.

So, now let’s go to the next part of your question which is, how do you get people to use it and implement it? I think in order, especially in the training environment, you have to be able to track, measure and monitor the progress with people. So, you can do that a couple of different ways. In the actual session itself, if it’s a live training session, you just engage with your audience members. You force engagement. There’s a…on our online program, we even suggest to our clients that they have sit-downs with people that participate in the online program. I mean, a company could have 5,000 people and everybody could have a license to take this training, but obviously, there’s many different departments. So, maybe somebody in the department is the champion of customer service for that department or maybe somebody in HR is assigned to different groups. You meet with them in small groups. There’s a workbook and you say, “Look, we’re going to let you do this online at your own pace, but you have to have it done by the last day of the month at lunch time because on that last day of the month or last work day of the month, at 1:00 in the afternoon we’re going to have a meeting. It’s going to be an hour. Bring your workbook.”

And they bring their workbook and they better have the answers filled out because you’re going to randomly call on people and ask them how they answered their question. In online, of course, it’s a true learning management system you can track and monitor the progress that everybody is doing, but I think to make it stick, having that extra live session is really important and it engages people, and they’re forced to talk about it. In person, it’s obvious. You know, trainings are typically smaller than large audiences in speaking. So, there might be 25, might be 50 people in a group. They’re in roundtables. Force participation at some point from everybody there and tell them upfront, “Hey, I’m going to ask you. I’m going to call on you at any given time. Every one of you are going to be called on throughout the day. Some of you more than once. So, make sure that you’re engaged because you should be prepared and be involved.” And I think once they get involved and they start talking, and they start to interpret the material into their own way of thinking and their own ways of writing it down, I think it becomes more effective and it becomes a better opportunity for learning.

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Evan: It would be kind of interesting to reflect because when I think of customer service, I sort of see it as something that is constantly having to being stepped up and what kind of changes have you seen over the years, and how is it different today than it was yesterday?

Shep: Sure. Well, first of all, the customer is smarter than ever before. We have done a very effective job, we meaning business of training the customer on what good customer service is and as a result, they understand what bad customer service is. So, yesterday’s customer if you will or a few years back was willing to accept satisfactory service. Willing to accept, hey, that wasn’t a bad experience. There were no hassles. But if you could take it to the next level, bump it up a notch, again, better than average, create those moments in magic, I think you’ve got a better opportunity. So, what’s happening is your customers today are taking to look at other businesses outside of your industry. It used to be they would just compare themselves to whoever your competitor was, but now, let’s say, I sell the mouse. The Logitech mouse. That’s my business. If I do a really good job, great, but if I don’t do a good job, the customers are going to be thinking, “Wow, why can’t you be as nice as that server that took care of me last night at that restaurant? Why can’t you be as good as some other company that I work with?” Because we’ve done a great job. We’ve told people we’re going to deliver customer service. We told you about awards that we win. If we win a J.D. Power award for a customer service excellence we better deliver every single time because now, we have this award. We have to prove that it was worth going after it. We have to prove to the customer that we’re worth owning it.

Evan: Yeah, that’s true. That’s very true.

Shep: So, customers are smarter than ever before. I think that’s one big take away from that and the way to step it up is just be focused. Companies should become what I call customer-focused, customer centric. Some people call it [inaudible 00:20:23]. Every decision that you make should consider the customer. That doesn’t mean you have to do something. I mean, we’re all, “Well, we shouldn’t charge them because if we’re really focused on the customer, let’s just give it away for free.” No, no, that’s not what I’m talking about, but if you’re sitting down and talking about a pricing structure, you should say, “How is the customer going to react if we raise their prices? Is it going to be or if we raise them this much or this much?” Because then, at least, you’re taking customers into consideration based on what you decide to do even if it’s a decision that’s going to actually help and profit the company and might cost the customer more money. At least, you’re customer-focused in considering it.

Evan: You know, you said something earlier. I’m going to zip back to it now because I think it’s a really important point. You talked about internal customers.

Shep: Yes.

Evan: And maybe talk a little bit about the importance of that and how companies, because everyone on this call, all work in companies and think ideas the companies can do to better work with the internal customers.

Shep: Right. So, if most of the people on this call are professional trainers working within an organization. Your customers are going to be, whoever your internal clients or customer is that’s requesting the training. It could also be to a more even defined level. It could be your audience that particular day. The goal is you want them to want to do business with you. You want them to want to come to the program because you’re good, you’re nice and it may be required training. It may be something as exciting as sexual harassment training. And you know, it’s like, “Okay, we got to go through sexual harassment training. Once a year, we have to go and do this.” Well, you know what? Make it good for the customer. You could sit there and read from a manual, make them go through exercises, talk in adult monotone voice or you could figure out ways to make it a little bit more engaging, a little bit more entertaining, and sure the material isn’t all that much fun, but it’s important material nonetheless and they need to walk away with it. One of the best ways that you can probably get people to engage is through humor and it could be self-effacing humor.

Yesterday, I saw…I don’t know what his name is. I was up in New York and I saw a great speaker. He was on right before me. College professor from Yale and he talked about resiliency, and resiliency at all different levels from somebody that’s lost a loved one, from somebody that’s come back from a war that has post-traumatic stress syndrome. Any type of resiliency and it was fascinating although he wasn’t a great speaker, but he had slides and he would occasionally zing us with a funny slide just when you weren’t expecting it.

Now, I know this guy has got a sense of humor. It’s just he’s not very good at showing it, but it was just the perfect amount. And the hour that he was there, he kept us engaged because he probably had about a half a dozen little zingers. Now, I would like to see a little bit more than that in a typical presentation that I do, I want them laughing or clapping, or doing something that forces some emotional change in their behavior, at least, every few minutes, but he was on track. He did a great job. So, I think humor is a great way to engage and they’ll remember it better.

The other thing is storytelling. Is there a good story? So, if you’re going to make a point, find a good example to support that point and the story doesn’t have to be funny, but it just has to be visual in their mind. So, I tell that story about the cab driver. Everybody can relate to a cab driver. I’ve even been in audiences with teenagers. I don’t do young audiences very often, but I said, “How many have you been in a taxi cab?” Hardly anybody raises their hand and I said, “Okay, but if I mention the word taxi cab, let’s say word association. What city do you think off first?” They all say, “New York.” I said, “What color is the cab?” “Yellow.” Okay, whether it is or it isn’t, that’s in their mind. “Is the cab clean or dirty?” “It’s dirty.” Okay, “Does the guy driving the cab speak English or does he not speak English?” “He doesn’t speak English.” And then, I said, “Well, actually, he does. He just makes you think that he doesn’t speak English.”

So, anyway, we have fun with that. Even someone who’s never been on a taxi cab before relates to this image and you create a metaphor if you will. Jan Carlzon when he talked about moments of truth in his book, “Moments of Truth.” I don’t remember. He talked about the steps that customers or passengers take when they fly in this airline and I call it, “The moments of truth chain,” and I don’t remember if he used the word chain or not, but my interpretation is, is there’s all these links in a chain. And you’ve got somebody that wants to call and make a reservation, and then they show up on the day of departure to check their bags and they go in to the ticket counter. There’s all these chains, these links within the experience that that passenger has till they finally pick up their bags at the baggage carousel. And we identify each one of those links and we identify who impacts those links because sometimes and this is back to your original question about the internal customer, sometimes somebody on the inside never actually sees that passenger, but boy what they do impacts that passenger experience.

Jan Carlzon actually said, “If you’re not supporting the passenger, you’re probably supporting someone that is,” but I will go a step further. You may not be supporting even a person. You may just have an impact on that passenger’s experience. You check that bag at the curb. I live here in St. Louis, Missouri and I’m going to Los Angeles, California and I see it go down the conveyor built. The next time I see that bag is four or five hours later when I’m at my destination and I see it come out on a conveyor belt to the baggage carousel. There’s a lot that happens behind the scenes. Everybody behind the scenes had a job that impacted that moment when I saw that bag show up again and I call those behind the scenes, I call those, “impact points.” It’s the backstage experience that nobody ever sees.

Evan: I want to thank you. I want to thank the audience and again, Shep, that was fantastic. I really appreciate it. Everyone have a fantastic day.

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