Customer Experience News & Trends

Valuable advice from the world’s 6 best customer experience minds

Even if you know a thing or two about creating a great customer experience, you can learn something from these guys. They created business empires on great customer experiences – long before that was the vogue thing to do.

You know their products and brands. You know their names. And you might even know their faces. But do you know what they have in common?

They all built incredibly successful businesses around one important factor: doing what customers liked. Instead of centering their businesses on a product, image or innovation, they focused on their customers – in one case growing from a garage start-up to the most powerful technology provider in the world.

Leaders through time

These business leaders happen to be the world’s most famous customer service reps, too. They’ve led by example for decades, emphasizing from the boardroom to the front line that customers decide the future of their organization. In nearly every business conversation or media interview they have, they circle back to customers and their importance in the direction of the company.

So if you want to improve your customer experience, take advice from the likes of today’s modern-day customer service leaders: Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple’s late Founder and CEO Steve Jobs and Zappo’s CEO Tony Hsieh, as well as those who changed the landscape of how business was done in the last century, John Wanamaker and J.W. Marriott.

They come from an array of industries — some that must be customer-focused or they would fail, such as retail and hospitality, and some that may not need a heavy customer-focus but had it anyway, such as e-commerce and consumer technology. As a result, just about any business can learn from their customer experience advice.

Know customers from a first-hand experience

You can survey, gather data from a customer relationship management (CRM) tool and sit with a focus group of customers all you want, but it’ll never give you the insight that time spent responding to customer needs will. That’s what CEO Jeff Bezos believes.

That’s why Bezos asks thousands of managers at his online retail giant to attend two days of call center training every year. And he puts his money where his mouth is. He takes the training, too — listening to customer calls, seeing how reps respond to customer needs and using the experience to find new ways to make customers happy.

Tip: Open your contact center to all company leaders. Invite or require them to sit with reps for a few hours each quarter to hear customer calls and see emails, online chats and text exchanges.

Set the right expectations — and exceed them

Many competitors will have a hard time keeping up with trailblazing customer experiences. That’s why Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson has had incredible success within so many industries – recording, airline, mobile and healthcare. At the heart of every business venture has been his desire to please customers in unexpected ways. Heck, Branson even dressed up as a female flight attendant and served drinks on one of his flights to once again prove he’s in the customer service game.

He emphasizes, “The key is to set realistic customer expectations, and then not just meet them, but to exceed them – preferably in unexpected and helpful ways.”

Branson has tried — and almost always succeeded — to move customer expectations up, and then exceed those. It’s a competitive advantage that has made his businesses world leaders. The most recent example is Virgin’s new partnership with Delta, which increased the airline’s trans-Atlantic presence and market share – and the two companies are already emphasizing customer service.

“If you are seizing a new business opportunity, deliberately move your customers’ expectations up a few notches and consistently over-deliver on your promises. You will leave your competitors struggling to catch up,” Branson has said.

Tip: Tell customers what to expect at every turn. Train employees so they consistently tell customers what they can expect next. Then put processes into place so those promises are made and employees have the power to exceed that expectation.

Make it even easier to do business with you

Customers want the perfect balance of convenience and friendliness in their experiences. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, figured that out some time ago when he was a college student, and he learned to deliver that outstanding experience to co-eds with his first money-making idea. He sold pizza and burgers — eventually it was pizza exclusively because that’s what his customers wanted — to hungry dorm mates because he could get it out faster than the local chains could, thus increasing convenience for his classmates.

That idea of ease-of-business spilled over into this most profitable venture — Hsieh’s no-cost shipping and return policy nearly revolutionized online retailing. Today, research shows customers will buy more — and more often — if shipping is included. Zappos has legions of fans and turns incredible profits despite biting the bullet on shipping costs on every sale — and return. Hsieh knew: The easier it is to do business with a company, the more customers will buy.

Tip: Eliminate as many barriers, processes and loopholes between customers ordering and receiving their goods as possible. Regularly review all your customer touchpoints by going through the typical search-to-delivery process to uncover glitches, pain points and speed bumps. Then make hasty work to resolve those issues.

Never lose touch

The late Apple CEO Steve Jobs had a lot on his plate after he and Steve Wozniak launched the company out of his garage in the 1970s. He famously created products, kept a heavy hand in sales and marketing, steered all financial and business decisions, and helped customers. Seriously, if you shot off an email to, you might very well have received a response from the chief. And if you were in the wrong, he might tell you so — like when he called out one customer who called Apple a sham over a refund request. He briefly reminded her that she’d received nine refunds. “Who’s the sham now?” he asked her in an email response.

On the more positive side, Jobs also regularly thanked loyal customers who contacted him via email and even called some who needed extra help.

The bigger point is, Jobs kept his finger on the pulse of the customers — not vicariously through reports and data fed to him by marketing and customer service leaders within Apple. He never lost direct contact with customers.

Tip: Try the empty-chair approach at C-level meetings. Many companies leave one open seat at their meetings, signifying the customer. Before they make final decisions they look at the seat and imagine how their decisions will impact customers.

Do the basics well, do the exceptional better

Customers have some basic needs when they come to a business — a query or request they want fulfilled in a timely manner by a friendly person. That wasn’t good enough for John Wanamaker. He believed, “When a customer enters my store, forget me. He is king.”

Wanamaker built the first department store, John Wanamaker’s & Co., in Philadelphia in the late 1800s. By some accounts he did it so well because he was bothered by a merchant who wouldn’t allow him to make an exchange when he was a young man — and he didn’t want anyone else to have that poor customer experience. So he built a customer-centric retail empire on basic principles — advertise strictly the facts, keep all the promises made, guarantee the quality of merchandise and allow customers to return purchases.

From there, Wanamaker encouraged his employees to “keep up the old standards, and day by day raise them higher.” His approach to the customer experience changed the way people shopped. They didn’t come back out of necessity, they came back because shopping was enjoyable.

Tip: Do something in nearly every interaction to make the experience memorable, and customers will come back.

Treat your employees well

Nearly all of the smartest customer experience leaders believe in treating their employees well. John Willard Marriott was probably the first to put his beliefs in that philosophy on the line — and they’re still felt in his Marriott empire today.

Marriott, who started his hospitality business, Marriott International, after World War II by selling root beer at Washington, D.C. tourist sites said, “Take good care of your employees, and they’ll take good care of your customers, and the customers will come back.” He believed in paying them well, treating them better, empowering them to do what’s best for customers and moving them up the success ladder.

His philosophy holds true today: Marriott has been named to Fortune’s Best Employer’s List for more than a decade. Employees work cohesively to make customers first feel welcomed, then appreciated for being a Marriott customer.

Tip: Creating a great customer experience starts with paying customer-facing employees a wage and benefits in line with or above industry and local standards. From there, employers want to give those people continual training so:

  • they’re equipped to help customers under any circumstances with a toolkit full of planned and unique solutions
  • they know the company is vested in their success, and
  • they have opportunities to grow and be challenged by their career.

5 Essential Strategies for Managing a Multi-Generational Workforce in Your Contact Center

Take a couple minutes today and simply look out onto the production floor of your contact center. Chances are pretty great that you are seeing a diverse group of people that span across several generations.  Read more!

Subscribe Today

Get the latest customer experience news and insights delivered to your inbox.