You know, being all in on customer experience is definitely a good thing, but sometimes even that’s not enough.
And a lot of times when people are talking about customer obsession, they’re just using that to refer to the fact that, you know, they’re going to increase their focus on the customer, they’re going to try to elevate the experience of the customer. But, you know, when that term customer obsession was coined, the meaning behind it was a bit more than that.
Let’s look at what it means to be obsessed with customers, on this episode of The CX Leader Podcast.
The CX Leader Podcast is produced by Walker, an experience management firm that helps our clients accelerate their XM success. You can find out more at walkerinfo.com.
Hello everyone! I’m Pat Gibbons, host of this episode of The CX Leader Podcast, and thanks for listening. We believe it is a great time to be a CX leader, and on this podcast we explore the topics and themes to help leaders like you develop great programs and deliver amazing experiences for your customers. Chances are, if you’re a regular listener to this show, you at the very least have a healthy respect for customer experience and the value it brings to your organization. But there are a few brands out there that have a following like none other. Brands like Apple, Costco, Trader Joe’s, Chick-fil-A, and of course, one of my personal favorites is Chewy, the online pet supply retailer. These companies are obsessed with customer experience, but what does that mean? And how can you get your company to adopt that mindset? Well, it just so happens that our guest literally wrote the book on becoming obsessed with your customers. Marbue Brown is the founder of the Customer Obsession Advantage and author of “Blueprint for Customer Obsession.” Marbue, welcome to The CX Leader Podcast.
Pat, I’m really excited to be on The CX Leader Podcast with you, and thank you for having me. I’m looking forward to just a great discussion around something I’m passionate about.
Well, it’s clear I have. I’ve reviewed your book and it comes through in your writing and and the advice that you give. And, you know, we’re just happy to have you on the show as well.
So, you know, first of all, you have a very impressive resume when it comes to customer experience. You’ve been at this a while. Maybe you can give us a little background on kind of the roles that you’ve had and how you got into this business.
Well, hey, um, if I go back to how I got into this business, uh, right out of graduate school, uh, I went to work for a company, um, that, uh, sometimes people call the Bell Labs of the Baby Bells and, uh, you know, later on, it was called Telcordia technologies. But, um, there I kind of cut my teeth in customer experience and particularly in the measurement aspect of that. And, um, you know, we we got the opportunity to publish, um, some, uh, articles around the work that we did in that space. And, and, uh, people are still citing that work today. Um, so that kind of got me my start. But, uh, ever since then, I’ve been in customer experience one way or the other. When I was at Cisco Systems, I was in an organization called Customer Advocacy. Um, and Microsoft, uh, you know, I, I, uh, spent time there. And in my last role at Microsoft, uh, I headed up customer experience measurements. Um, then at Amazon, uh, I, uh, headed up something called the Customer Experience and Accord. And that remit was even expanded to, uh, worldwide defect elimination. And, uh, then I went to JP Morgan Chase, where I headed up customer experience for the consumer bank. Right. Which is, uh, the entire branch network and all of the pieces that come together to, uh, make that business. So I have been involved in this for, for quite a while. I’ve, you know, had the opportunity to see, uh, different movements come and go. But, uh, that gives you a little bit about my background and, um, you know, maybe some more will come out as we, uh, have this discussion.
Yeah. No, it sounds like, uh. Well, you and I both probably been in the business for a few decades, and, uh, so you’re right. We’ve seen a lot of change, uh, over the years. And, uh, fortunately, it’s it’s been good. It’s been great to see the industry and the discipline, uh, mature and see so many companies adopting these methods. And, you know, the little things, the big things, all that make, uh, you know, being a customer a much better experience at most companies. So.
Well, I tell you, um, just the whole notion of having chief experience officers or chief customer officers, um, you know, that’s more of a recent development. And so that tells you that the needle has moved from when it was almost, in some places, an afterthought to, you know, getting to be front and center. And that’s a good thing.
Absolutely, absolutely. So, uh, you know, I do have a copy of the book right here and, uh, it I’ve reviewed it. I really some great stuff, uh, in it. But tell me, why did you write the book?
Well, look, um, people talk about customer obsession. And a lot of times when people are talking about customer obsession, they’re just using that to refer to the fact that, you know, they’re going to increase their focus on the customer, or they’re going to try to elevate the experience of the customer. But, you know, when that turn customer obsession was coined. Okay. And Jeff Bezos kind of coined that expression, customer obsession when it was coined. The meaning behind it was a bit more than that. Right. And and so one of the things I wanted to do was to make sure that when people are talking about customer obsession, they have the same meaning and they understand all of the underlying principles that, um, you know, have to come to life for a company to truly be called customer obsessed. So and I I’d love to say, I mean, in the book we profiled ten companies. So even though that firm may have been coined, you know, by, um, in Amazon, there’s a lot of other companies that actually embody what it means to be customer obsessed. And so in the book, what we did was to lay out those differentiators, the things that all of those companies tend to have in common, that set them apart from other companies.
Yeah. No, I think it’s a great approach to it. Um, give us a highlight. I know that you highlighted, I believe it was eight different, uh, criteria. You just maybe highlight kind of how you how you did that, how you decided on those eight and maybe some of the flavor of a few of them.
Well, look, um, one of the things I actually the first differentiator that talked we talked about in the book is how customer obsessed companies bet the farm on extreme customer centric policies. Right? And, you know, if you take a look at these companies, they typically each one of them, you will begin to see something about them that is extreme, that other people will look at and say, why do they do that? Or being able to do that is is not sustainable or, you know, it doesn’t even work. And so I think of Amazon and, you know, I’m going to go way back a little bit because when when Amazon first started putting customer reviews on their site and they put negative customer reviews, uh, people criticized, uh, Jeff Bezos and said he doesn’t understand this business. You know, why would you say negative things about a product that you’re trying to sell? And he said, um, you know, we don’t make money when we sell things. We make money when we help people make great purchase decisions. So, you know, they continue to put those things out there. Now, when it gets right down to it, that creates a kind of customer trust, because customers know that you will put the bad things out there, as well as the good things about that product. They can go, they can look at it and they can search with confidence. Well, that’s one of the reasons that Amazon became the number one, uh, search destination when people were searching for products because they could trust that. And so that’s something that sets them apart. And, uh, you know, if you think about we go through different companies in the book like Zappos. Zappos is a company where their call center does not have any kind of average handle time metric that their customer service associates have to snap to. There’s no time limits on how long they can spend with.
Which is highly unusual, right?
It’s highly unusual because most people would say, that’s insane. You can’t operate a contact center without, um, average handle time metrics. But the flip side story, though, is that’s not dragging their financials down. Their numbers are going up. Okay. Like 75% of their their sales are repeat customers and 40% of the new customers are referrals. I mean, so you have these kinds of dynamics in these companies where they do these things that are kind of extreme. They bet the farm on these extreme policies and they’ve never bet wrong.
Right? So, um, you know, these these are the kinds of things. And again, I’ll say that people look at these, uh, scenarios and they think these are not sustainable, but these companies haven’t given up on their policies. They’re not going back on them. They keep executing them, and it keeps working.
Um, so even if I may, the other day, someone was trying to ridicule Costco for their return policy. Well, Costco return policy works and they’re not hurting, right? You know, they have over 100 million people who are paying to go and shop there. Right. And and that number keeps growing…
…year after year. Right.
And and I know you reference in the book there uh, membership renewal rate of I believe it was 90%.
Yeah. It’s it’s in excess of 90%, you know, so they they are doing um, you know, these companies with these extreme policies, they’re doing really well. And, uh, that’s, that’s one of the things that sets them apart. And, you know, we have many more in the book. And as we go along, we’ll bring out some more of those.
All right. Good. Well, obviously, any any time you take on, uh, authoring a book that’s a big effort. Um, and I think your book really demonstrates really clearly some of the practices that are consistent among these companies. But you also wanted to go beyond that. And I think you developed some, um, measurement instruments that took place, you know, even after taking on the book projects. Tell us a little more about that.
Okay. So let me, let me, um, let me say a little bit more about some of the principles in the book, and then I’ll talk about how we took that and turned it into a measurement instrument. Right.
So I want to encapsulate a little bit, because when I think about the customer side of things, you can break it into three major categories. Customer obsessed companies engage personally, they deliver exceptionally, and they connect emotionally. And so in the book we kind of break this down, um, at a deeper level. And so when we think about how companies engage personally, you know, they personalize touchpoints with their customers. Right. They give customers what they want before they know they need it. Mhm. Yes. They enable customers to engage when where how they want. So I just used it as an illustration because you know in the book we show, you know a lot of examples of how these companies, the profiled companies in the book actually make these things come to life, how they personalized touch points with their company even, I mean, with their customers, even in scenarios where people wouldn’t think that, you know, they could do that, but they find ways to to personalize touch points with their company and with their customers. I don’t know, I keep seeing company. Um, but in any case, uh, what we did was now we took that and we turned those kinds of ideas into a measurement instrument. All right to see, you know, how does this play out when we, um, you know, take companies from across the spectrum? And have customers give us their feedback on these practices that these companies do.
And what we found was something that was amazingly interesting. So we had 22 companies covered in in our study. We had, uh, 1200 respondents, you know, rate these companies. And um, typically respondents rated a couple of companies. And what we learned was that we could take these different principles, merge them into an index. Right. Those those responses.
And we found that the differentiation, the discrimination between the top categories and the bottom categories was just absolutely amazing. So some of the areas that that we found like, you know, like very huge differentiation was say, for example, one of the practices is whether a company empowers employees to make things right when something goes wrong.
Well, in the obsessed category. Customers said 98% of the time when they thought a company was customer obsessed, they would say that was a practice that that company had. But if a company fell into the indifferent category, only 10% of the customers said that employees were empowered. So you can see that’s like a huge discrimination between the top category and the bottom category. Or like take something else. Like if a company minimizes customer effort, if they’re in an obsessed category, 75% of the customers said that they did that, but only 1% of the customers in the um, indifferent category said that. So you can see that this measurement instrument, um, you know, it it takes it from, you know, talking about examples to going directly into empirical evidence of how these, um, practices really differentiate companies.
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So I know in in the book you talk about the customer obsession continuum.
Kind of the different levels. So how did the results from the the research kind of influence, you know, how that, uh, how that kind of progression worked out? Maybe you can explain a little bit about those different levels for our listeners.
So let me start off by by saying that in the customer obsession continuum, we had five categories, right. It started off with um, companies that are customer indifferent. Companies that are customer aware. Companies that are customer focused. Companies that are customer centric and then companies that are customer obsessed. So those those are the five different levels. Mhm. Um, frankly when we, when we did uh, the study, um, and it’s the first round of the study, so we, we kind of collapsed focused and centric into one category for now. Okay. As we develop more data, I think we’ll be able to to expand it out uh, further again. But what we did find was that there’s definitely, um, the continuum as we laid it out in the book, really does come to life when you, you, uh, do the analysis and look at the different categories, you can see that there is a steady progression in how much people execute these practices. You know, as you move from one aspect of the continuum to the next.
We can definitely see that. And and so when we look at the companies that are at the top of the list and we look at the companies at the bottom of the list for the Customer Obsession barometer, which is as what we call our measurement. You can see that if I pick any one of these categories like something I, you know, talked about just now, um, whether it’s empower employees to make something go right when something goes wrong or, you know, to minimize customer effort, um, you pick those and you can see how you go from one level to the next, and you can see more consistent application of this practice, um, among the companies that are customer obsessed versus companies that are at other stages of the continuum.
Were there surprises either overall or with an individual company that you said I thought they’d be better or worse or any overall reactions to it?
Well, let me tell you kind of what was, uh, a little bit of a surprise. I guess there’s two surprises, um, that, um, you know, we encountered one of them was that, uh, for some of these, we thought that the percentage of, you know, top box rating and top two box ratings might have overall been a little bit higher. Okay. But I would tell you that I think one of the biggest aha moments we, we had in this was that, um, what we did was we, we used the typical NPS question as our opening question.
So we use that, but we had some other, um, novel questions that aren’t usually asked, like we asked people, okay. In the last 12 months, how many times have you actually recommended this company? And we we gave them an opportunity to tell us about that.
So not yeah. So not just you’re likely to recommend but…
Have you actually done it. Right. And then we also asked people about when they were given an opportunity. Um, how often did they recommend this company. Was it almost always or, you know, never I mean like so so we gave them that. We we also, um, asked them about, you know, like posting on social media, what percentage of the time did they go and post that on social media. And then we asked them whether they would absolutely, um, purchase from this company again. And we had that spectrum. So now what happened was we built an index off their answers to the, um, the customer obsession practices. And then we took those, uh, those indices and we broke them up according to the, um, customer obsession continuum. Right. So customer obsessed, customer centric slash customer focused, customer aware and customer indifferent. We broke those up. And we found that when you look at this group of people who are in the customer obsessed category, or we flip the word and we call them obsessed customers. Over 80% of the time, those customers say that they’re very likely to recommend you. So that would be almost like your NPS kind of category.
But when we looked at what percentage of those people had, um, actually recommended five plus times in the past 12 months, that number drops into the 40s.
Okay. And the interesting thing is that when you ask people, you know, given the opportunity to share about this company, how often do you do it. That number was also in the 40s which is super consistent. And then we also found out like what percentage of these people actually say they go out and post something or they have posted something not, you know, they’ve actually done it and that number is in the 20s. So what we found was that, you know, if you take a look at that, that had some surprises in it because I kind of call it polls versus votes. All right. So let me go out and do polling. They go talk to likely voters. But likely voters don’t always go out and vote. All right. And so I think of, you know, um, likely recommenders don’t always recommend.
All right. So you’re taking it, uh, you’re taking it to a more specific granular level, it sounds like.
Exactly. And so now we’re saying, um, yeah, maybe you should be paying attention to the folks who already recommended the folks who already recommended five plus times. And that bar is a little bit high. And I’ll tell you something else about that. Right. Because, if you look at the, uh, indifferent customers, they never or rarely ever share their feelings about a company if they don’t esteem that company. Right. So it’s like they don’t talk about you.
Yeah. And those are, um, you know, those are the marketing opportunities. I know that that’s another point that you make in the book that, you know, a lot of these things, even though, uh, you know, even though you would look at it from a very practical cost level, you’d say, doesn’t make sense. You know, for Chewy to send out thousands and thousands of handwritten notes or to send flowers when somebody calls to suspend their subscription because their, their dog died, which is something they do. See, I’m working in my favorite story here. Um, you know, there’s a side of that where you’d say, well, that doesn’t seem to make sense. But, you know, if I was just to imagine the number of people that have shared those stories, I just saw one yesterday online, uh, whole story. Somebody posted it on LinkedIn with a picture of the flowers they received. You know, uh, that’s the kind of stuff that, uh, it’s it’s the marketing that is hard to hard to, you know, even put a price on.
It’s hard to put a price on. But, you know, um, one of the things that I like to get people to think about is the notion that when a customer spends time with, with, uh, a Chewy, um, associate, um, having one of these conversations and, and that Chewy associate actually takes the time to write a note or, or something along those lines. Right? It’s more than a 30 second interaction between those two people. Yet in the Super Bowl that’s coming up, I don’t know what the numbers are this year, but last year they paid 7 million bucks just to get a 30 second spot.
Just for the spot right?
Just for the spot. Not not for for the production of the actual commercial. And so this is an expensive proposition. Yet that interaction with that agent, which is more than 30 seconds, is a commercial to that customer that you don’t pay anywhere near as much, but especially if that customer then turns around and they give testimonials about what happened, and people see that and they know it’s genuine, they know, you know, that person wasn’t paid to go out and tell anybody about this. It has a whole, you know, a much bigger, uh, impact in, in, you know, like you said, it’s hard to put a price tag on it. But when you start looking at what people pay for advertising, what they pay for, you know, production of these commercials and stuff, you begin to see how much value actually comes out of, um, you know, this, uh, you know, this type of interaction that you allow to take place between your employees and your customers.
So one other thing that’s been on my mind is obviously you focused in the book on brands that people would be would recognize, they would be familiar with, which I think is is great. It’s, uh, kind of a great way to just talk about some things that they might be, you know, some of the practices they might be familiar with. But what do you say to kind of the skeptic that says, yeah, that’s great. I understand, you know, Chewy and Zappos and all of that, but I work for a manufacturing company or I work from, uh, for a technology company. And we have different channels of people that we have to maintain relationships with and all. I don’t know how we can do some of those things to make them obsessed. What, uh, you’ve you’ve worked at some of those types of companies. What’s your take on that?
Well, let me take let me say that it’s really a matter of imagination. You know, um, one of the principles that we have in the book is this whole idea of giving customers what they want before they know they need it. And I’ll tell you, a lot of times customers don’t ask for some of the things they want because they don’t actually think anybody would ever give it to them. But in these companies that are customer obsessed, they have a knack for using their imagination to go beyond the boundaries that are often considered to be the ones that are essentially untouchable. And because they have been able to do that, they have been able to create these wow experiences for, for people, um, regardless of industry. I mean, if you look at the book, it cuts across a lot of different industries. It’s got quick service restaurants. It’s got, you know, retail, it’s got air travel, it’s got a bunch of of different things. And even if you look at the Customer Obsession barometer, we cut across even more industries. But when it gets right down to it, it’s about folks having imagination. And, you know, one of the things I did in the book was to outline what I call the principles of wow, right. And, and and the principles of wow have to do with how do you create wow moments for your customers, you know, like by doing things for them, you know, like a wow moment happens when a company takes care of something that a customer needs to take care of, but they do it for that customer before the customer does it. Okay. So when you have those types, when you can create those kinds of scenarios for customers, you can always create those wow moments, regardless of what industry you’re in.
Yeah. So we have come to that point where we ask every guest to leave us with some take home value. So that’s one tip that ideally people can kind of put to use in pretty short order. So Marbue what is your take home value for today?
Well, my take home value I would say is, um, a great place for people to start if they want to jump start their customer obsession journey. A great place to start is to ask themselves to to do a policy review. And ask themselves, do we have any policy that is so customer obsessed that it would make our customers and even our employees do a double take? Because those companies that bet the farm on extreme customer centric policies, if you don’t have any of those, you’re probably not in that category. And then I’m going to flip the script and say, do you have any policies that are objectionable that actually your customers hate and your employees cringe when they have to implement those policies? Well, if you have any of those, you might want to rethink some of them. You might think you’re protecting your bottom line or something like that, but actually you’re setting yourself up for problems. And so that’s why I would say a good place to start, do a policy review, check for these things. And, uh, I think you’ll help yourself a lot in terms of jump starting your customer obsession journey.
Indeed, indeed, a good place to start. Marbue Brown is the author of “Blueprint for Customer Obsession,” and you can find a link to his book in the show notes of this podcast. Marbue, thanks for being on The CX Leader Podcast.
Hey, um, one last thing. If people want to continue this conversation.
Yes, that was going to be my next question.
See, now you have just demonstrated how to anticipate, you know, what the customer wants. You know, on the next buy. You know, you’ve just demonstrated how that works. So thank you for that.
Sure thing. But if people want to continue the conversation, um, the easiest way to get a hold of me is at customerobsession.net, not .com, customerobsession.net.
And uh, from there, you know, you can get to me on LinkedIn or Facebook or wherever else. But customerobsession.net is a place to go to.
Very well. And if you want to talk about anything you heard on this podcast or how Walker can help your business’s customer experience, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And remember to give The CX Leader Podcast a rating through your podcast service. Give us a review. Your feedback will help us improve the show and deliver the best possible value to you, our listener. And check out our website cxleaderpodcast.com to follow the show and you’ll find all of our previous over 300 episodes, podcast series, a link to our blog which we update regularly, and contact information so that you can let us know how we’re doing. The CX Leader Podcast is a production of Walker. We are an experience management firm that helps companies accelerate their XM success. You can read more about us at walkerinfo.com. Thank you for listening and remember, it’s a great time to be a CX leader and we’ll see you next time.