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Podcast from Customer Support Leaders with Charlotte Ward on Building a Truly Customer Centric Culture with Michael Hinshaw

In this podcast we unlock the secrets to fostering a customer-centric culture in support scenarios. Discover the importance of empathy, empowerment, and autonomy in delivering extraordinary customer experiences. Learn how to nurture an environment where support staff thrives and customer interactions flourish, drawing on insights from Brené Brown. Explore the delicate balance between autonomy and accountability and how it translates into business success. Don't miss this enlightening episode on critical dimensions of customer support and elevate service to an art form with Michael Hinshaw. Plus, explore Michael's latest book on the "Experience Operating System" for more insights!

Enjoy the full Transcript of the Podcast

Charlotte Ward: 0:12
Hello and welcome to episode 261 of the Customer Support Leaders podcast. I’m Charlotte Ward Today. Welcome Michael Hinshaw to talk about building a customer-centric culture. I’d like to welcome to the podcast today Michael Hinshaw. Michael, lovely to have you join me for the first time. Welcome.
Michael Hinshaw: 0:40
That’s great. Thanks, charlotte, pleasure to be here.
Charlotte Ward: 0:42
Thank you so much for coming. So would you like first to introduce yourself and then we’ll dive into what we’re going to talk about.
Michael Hinshaw: 0:49
My name is Michael Hinshaw. As Charlotte noted, I’m a founder and president of a company called M-Corp CX, based in the San Francisco area, but throughout the United States, and do work also in Europe and UK. I’ve been a customer experience and employee experience expert for 20 years, founded this firm in 2002. Customer and employee experience is all we do and all we’ve ever done. We’re a boutique experience consulting firm and we help organizations of all sizes, types and kinds, but with a real focus either on the Fortune 50, who tend to find us to do work with them, or mid-market and mid-market companies, the kinds of firms that we typically go after specifically. We also have a small smattering of startups and early stage ventures, primarily because of my passion for startups and early stage ventures. I’m a teaching fellow at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, which is the local university here in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I’m teaching innovation entrepreneurship there for about 10 years, so wow.
Charlotte Ward: 2:02
That just I think you might be one of the most qualified people I’ve ever had on the podcast.
Michael Hinshaw: 2:09
I don’t know if there’s that a little more.
Charlotte Ward: 2:15
No, no, I mean, there’s. Wow, that’s some experience. Thank you for joining me and bringing all of that to this conversation. So what are we talking about today?
Michael Hinshaw: 2:27
Yeah, I think, particularly based on the focus of your podcast and what I understand listeners are interested in, it’s really building a customer-centric culture in the call center and beyond. How do you get those frontline employees and managers of those employees, who all sign up on the phone a lot, to effectively connect with customers in ways that are meaningful and improve customer experiences and, as a result, help to drive business outcomes and business value?
Charlotte Ward: 3:00
I love that phrase you used there connect with customers in ways that are meaningful, because I think that just is everything that we need to do. That’s the only thing we need to do to drive a successful customer experience, isn’t it?
Michael Hinshaw: 3:14
And that’s a huge piece. I mean, as the thing is, we’re all customers, so we intuitively get it when companies aren’t doing things right. What’s interesting, and I don’t know because the right word for it, but oftentimes people inside organizations don’t see how they’re treating customers, even when, intuitively, as a customer, they’ll figure it out immediately.
Charlotte Ward: 3:40
Yeah, it’s very true. One thing I often say is I’m in support. I’ve been in support for 30 years, I’m sorry to say. I’m also very pleased to say that, but it’s a long time, and one thing I’ve said for most of those years is that support people make the best customers because we understand what is being done on the inside to deliver an experience, both when things go really well but also when things go horribly wrong. We understand that the constraints that are often being placed on the people on the phone who are doing their best, often to try and fix a problem for you, or if they’re clearly not doing their best, then I think we also kind of intuitively understand where things have gone wrong organizationally that has put this person in that position.
Charlotte Ward: 4:27
So I like to think of myself as a good customer. I’m not difficult, I’m understanding, I’m grateful, I will work the system with them rather than fight them, all of those things. But even then, yeah, as I say, you do get the agents who are disconnected, who are dissociated from your experience as a customer, from getting you the results you need, etc. And that’s really what you’re talking about, isn’t it? How do you build that on the front line and create the ecosystems and the organization to support that. I suppose.
Michael Hinshaw: 4:58
And the front line, as they say. They’re on the cold face, right. Yeah, they’re dealing with the customers every single day and I don’t know that we’ve come across support staff that actively think they want to annoy customers. Yeah, we may have a doctor who might have sensed that occasionally, but in general, typically organizations don’t provide a framework within which support staff can thrive as customer centered employees. There’s customer centered representatives of the company and that’s where things fall down, because people get, you know, burnout. It’s like, you know, I’m not given the tools, I don’t have the authority. I’m told to do all these things, but you’re not giving me the ability to do these things, and that’s when it gets difficult is because, you know, as humans right, support people are humans too there’s a, there’s that disconnect which is like yeah, yeah, absolutely, and I think that’s a really good point, that you know no support person sets out to make a customer have a bad day.
Charlotte Ward: 6:09
But you know, and I would bet good money, that no support person delivers a poor customer experience at nine o’clock in the morning, or very few. But once you get to the end of a day, if you’re fighting this ecosystem all day, it’s pretty hard. Well, you know the end of your shift, whether that’s the end of the actual day or not, but but yeah, I mean that’s when you get the sense of like tired, angry support staff who are who’ve almost given up doing their best, right.
Michael Hinshaw: 6:36
Because they’ve been fighting for hours, yeah, week or all month.
Charlotte Ward: 6:40
Right, exactly yeah.
Michael Hinshaw: 6:41
Exactly. Yeah, I’m not. I’m not sure if this is your experience and it’s not typical, but you know I was talking to a head of support a few weeks ago who said that, depending on the issue customers have, that their support staff can will have to access up to nine different systems to answer. Wow.
Charlotte Ward: 7:01
Yeah, yeah. Right, I would say nine systems it’s yeah, yeah, it’s making everybody work hard, isn’t it too hard? And I wouldn’t say that’s unusual. I mean, nine is a lot, but but it’s rare for a support person just to have one place to check.
Michael Hinshaw: 7:18
Yeah, it would be nice.
Charlotte Ward: 7:19
Michael Hinshaw: 7:20
But you think realistically. You know when we work with. You know companies to improve customer experience you know, systematically and organization-wide. We don’t just focus on the customers themselves.
Michael Hinshaw: 7:36
We also focus on the employees that are supporting those customers so that when you’re doing you know a simplification or systems improvement. If you can reduce the amount of time that takes an employee to get a customer to answer, if you can reduce the friction in the internal systems, simplify internal processes, it directly affects the experience your customers have. So if you help right, simplify customer facing systems and the systems that employees interface with customers use, it gets, it does get better. That’s a significant area of focus.
Charlotte Ward: 8:11
It’s so true. It is really really hard to deliver a good customer experience. If you’re fighting the tooling, it’s just really hard, and I would say that’s true of the simplest customer service and the most complex technical support. You know, I think if you’re fighting it on the inside, then then it’s really hard to make sure that that carries through with a smile to the customer.
Michael Hinshaw: 8:34
Yeah, yeah.
Charlotte Ward: 8:36
So so I mean the number of systems, the number of checks and balances that any customer needs to have, any and touch, internal touch points that a support person has to do to get the answer for a customer is one part of that. What else is there that you know, you in your experience, has, let’s say, you know, a significant impact on the ability to connect meaningfully, which is what you said at the top to connect meaningfully with customers.
Michael Hinshaw: 9:05
So there’s two areas that are probably most common and there’s a bleed over. There’s a big Venn diagram, right, it’s very messy, lots of, lots of crossover, but I’ll tell you both of them and then we can dig into one’s empowerment and one is empathy.
Charlotte Ward: 9:24
Right, yeah, yeah, yeah. So so you know I’m going to dig into. I’m going to dig into empathy first. I’ve talked about empathy on this podcast quite a lot, but the reason I’ll dig into that first is because I think that that seems like the easiest to fix. Like, don’t you just like? I can see you smiling, right, and I know why you’re smiling, yeah, but I think I think the simplistic view of empathy is you just hire empathic people and it magically happens. What’s your, what’s your view on that?
Michael Hinshaw: 9:59
Not so much, not so much.
Charlotte Ward: 10:02
What does empathy really mean?
Michael Hinshaw: 10:04
Why don’t we just hire the right people? Are you familiar with Bernadette Brown?
Charlotte Ward: 10:08
Michael Hinshaw: 10:09
Okay. So we use when we teach educate probably better word we help educate, impart knowledge, empower. In this particular area, you know support staff specifically. There’s a whole bunch of different things that we use, but one of the things we use is several or I should say several Bernadette Brown’s videos and some of our concepts, and it helps teach what empathy actually is. And so, for your listeners, if you’re not familiar with Bernadette Brown and you have an interest in empathy, great place to start right, some great resources widely available online. But what we also see is that A big component of empathy is giving employees the tools they need to look at the relationship with the customer from the perspective of the customer.
Michael Hinshaw: 11:11
What is the customer trying to accomplish? Recognizing that where the customer is, where you think they are, it’s really important to understand how they got there. And I’ll just use insurance as an example. If you’re filing an insurance claim and you’re really upset or there’s something happening, maybe you can be short and emotional as a customer, and particularly in insurance companies, the support staff they’re like okay, great, what can I do? I’ll get you your claim number, and really good about doing those kinds of things.
Michael Hinshaw: 11:47
But, less awareness of how do they get there, what is happening? Was it just okay? It was a fire? The house burned Great. We know what kind of loss that is. We know all those other things we think about the emotional context of losing a home, the emotional context of somebody breaking your car and stealing something, emotional context of a car accident, all the things which, again using insurance as an example, there’s industry-specific examples in every industry. But your customers got to you because they went through something or they’re trying to accomplish something and they’ve in many cases, been unable to accomplish that on their own or they have to talk to you if like insurance, right, you have to talk to around the world.
Michael Hinshaw: 12:32
But in many industries they get to you because they’ve tried to solve their problems themselves and they can’t. So we call it an outside-in view. It’s putting yourself in the shoes of your customers and providing some of the tools. Another component of it is recognition that people communicate differently. Some people it’s like look, just give me three bullet points to summarize the entire thing.
Charlotte Ward: 12:56
I really don’t want any more.
Michael Hinshaw: 12:57
Right, let me go. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And other folks want to have an entire conversation. They want to, I can actually. They want to engage. And if you’re in the kind of company that says you know you got to clear your calls in 28 seconds on average, or whatever that number is, I don’t have time to talk to this guy or this gal or whatever, and some people communicate through stories, et cetera. So, recognizing that there’s pattern matching that you can do, even if you’re primary, if, as a support person, your primary mode of interaction is your vote point person or a storytelling person, you can adjust, you can identify and adjust and all of a sudden things go better.
Charlotte Ward: 13:36
Right yeah.
Michael Hinshaw: 13:38
It’s just that outside-in recognition and tools you can use to make that human connection, like recognizing different communication styles.
Charlotte Ward: 13:46
Yeah, yeah, I’ve often called this kind of empathy and support a cognitive empathy. It’s detached in a way, in that you don’t get emotionally involved, but you are working the problem, as you said, almost from a different point of view, so you’re not feeling all of the feelings. This isn’t. It’s definitely not. It’s not sympathy in that sense, you know, but it’s. I’m going to walk with you rather than I’m going to fix it from where I am. I’m going to call yeah.
Michael Hinshaw: 14:23
You’re not crawling down in the hole with them all the way, yeah Right, but neither are you trying to solve by throwing things over the fence at them, seeing if they catch them.
Charlotte Ward: 14:31
Exactly, yeah, exactly, exactly.
Michael Hinshaw: 14:34
I like that phrase, I think cognitive empathy is a great one because, particularly in any situation where there’s true, real human pain on the end of the line, you can’t just as a Right, yeah, and some of these roles are it’s too much?
Charlotte Ward: 14:51
Yeah, and some of these roles are dealing with, under some of those circumstances you describe like real trauma, really traumatized people, and they might deal with 10 or 20 of those in a day and you have to. I mean, this is where a lot of the health services and the emergency response we can learn from, can’t we? Because they obviously see the extreme end of that and repeatedly.
Michael Hinshaw: 15:14
but still have to be able to that’s a challenge is having tools in place so you can leverage and recall what those things are, because it’s easy. I have a family that are in police, for example, and they have friends, associates and other relatives that dissociate completely and that eliminates empathy. It’s like if you’re so dissociated it’s like.
Michael Hinshaw: 15:42
I can’t take it anymore. Then you start to do all the things that make it difficult to connect with folks as human survivors of those circumstances. So it’s a tough balance. I mean it’s not a revolt that I envy.
Charlotte Ward: 15:56
Yeah, absolutely, and that dissociation, whether you’re talking about emergency service, like the frontline responders, or whether you’re talking about support service, it is a barrier to empathy and therefore it’s a barrier to delivering those more feeling and human experiences for sure. So, talking about tooling, then I’m going to take a stab that that’s one key element. When it comes to the other thing you called out, which was empowerment, is it more than tooling? What do you mean by empowerment?
Michael Hinshaw: 16:28
So Speaking in general terms, we’ve worked with support teams where the ways that the team members were able to interact or tightly prescribed by the organization they work for. Yeah, yeah, right, you have a script. Follow the script. Always follow the script. By the way, we’re recording you to make sure you follow the script. There might be 14 different branches on that script. You just make you got to follow the bouncing balls as a support person to make sure that you’re doing it, because that’s one of your metrics, right? Did you follow the script? Yes, no. Did you close the call out in this period of time? Yes, no. All the myriad other KPIs, metrics that call center staff and manager are held to account for. So those are the kinds of things that are set up for the benefit of the company, because the company wants to control things and the turnover and support staff, as you know, is really high for most organizations For those kind of organizations particularly right.
Charlotte Ward: 17:39
And yeah, and I guess, and that is because it’s all focused on the company, those measures and those processes, they’re only there for predictability and cost saving, aren’t they? There’s no real other benefit to them.
Michael Hinshaw: 17:52
Yeah, and that’s it’s a mentality, it’s an organizational mentality, that’s true, organizations that want to be customer centric. On the other hand, we’ve seen companies that have gone overboard then pulled way back. It’s like, oh no right, our metrics are gone, we’re losing, spending way more money, or losing money, whatever that might be.
Charlotte Ward: 18:08
Michael Hinshaw: 18:12
Like I’ve heard the story, I think I think it’s BMW. It’s been a little bit since I’ve heard this story, but at one point in time, as a BMW rep, you were individually empowered to do anything, up to and including giving someone a new car.
Charlotte Ward: 18:30
Wow, wow.
Michael Hinshaw: 18:32
Right to make them to solve the problem. Yeah, yeah, that never happened Because as as not because the ability wasn’t there is because, as stewards of that brand, as stewards of BMW and as representatives, they’re not going to just do that because they know that would be silly, right? Otherwise you’d be giving cars away right away. So what organizations that really do a good job with this do is they have you ever played kiddie bowling or seen kiddie bowling where they got little bumper rails on the side?
Michael Hinshaw: 19:03
Right, yes, yes, yes, right, yeah, and so no matter what happens, you throw the ball down and it goes bing, bing, bing, bing, right, mm-hmm, but it always ends up with the pins at the end and the companies are really good. They describe those borders.
Michael Hinshaw: 19:17
They’re soft borders, but there are but there are borders, yeah, but they’re there, yeah, and within this you can do what you need to do, right. You don’t have to be off the phone 28 seconds. The goal is first call resolution, for example, also common, but a much better metric, and from my perspective, because you’re solving a customer’s problem in the moment, mm-hmm. So the empowerment is giving people not only the latitude, but giving them the ability to solve the problem, you know, so that it doesn’t have to be every single time I get on the phone with a customer and I’d say let me talk to my supervisor.
Michael Hinshaw: 19:50
Like actually you can do this, this and this without talking to supervisor. Yeah, this one you probably should, but you don’t always have to. But beyond that, yeah, you got to talk to. You got to talk to a supervisor, and so the empowerment is giving people clarity on what it is, they have the ability to do and, frankly, it’s trusting your people, mm-hmm. And if folks aren’t able to stay within that, then yes, it’s a teaching moment or a, you know, get a new job moment.
Charlotte Ward: 20:19
Michael Hinshaw: 20:20
Yeah, yeah, yeah yeah.
Charlotte Ward: 20:24
I love the visual of, you know, the kiddie bowling. It reminds me quite vividly of another support leader who I heard many years ago talking at a conference, who I went and asked a question of, after which was you know they were talking about empowerment and giving their they didn’t use quite that language, but like giving their agents freedom to serve the customer rather than meet the metrics. And so how do you ever keep anything on track? I hunted him down for this question afterwards. You know, how do you ever keep it on track? Right, and the bumpers is interesting, but the way he put it was that well, we have processes and we have expectations, but people have the freedom to zigzag across the process, which I just thought was a really good way of putting it. So he’s still getting down the lane, but you can zigzag in a different way. Same visual right, different language, but like you’re still. You’re still heading for the pins, but you’re zigzagging down there, potentially.
Michael Hinshaw: 21:24
Yeah, another phrase, or a couple of phrases that we often, often used to describe that are alignment and accountability. Right, so as long as everyone’s aligned around serving customers and that is important to the company, because some companies, frankly, it’s less important right, we’ve all interacted with and some of us have worked with those companies. But if your company, you know, does put the customer front and center, it’s important to be able to align around that concept. As long as we all agree this we’re trying to accomplish, then the question is within those bumper rails, how do you hold your people accountable for solving customer needs?
Michael Hinshaw: 22:07
There’s a lot of different ways that you can do that, of course, but that alignment and accountability is top-down in organization. Everyone’s pointed in one direction. We’re going to serve customers. Then it’s to be a lot easier.
Charlotte Ward: 22:19
Then the question becomes how, not if, yeah, I think the boundaries, then, are quite contextual and explicitly defined for the service that you’re trying to deliver. I think that it’s about product, it’s about commercials around it, the type of customers and the type of support interactions you’re typically seeing. Those boundaries aren’t one-size-fits-all, are they? Have you got some good examples of them? Most of them, for instance, and most of them financial.
Michael Hinshaw: 22:59
I have to say that the linkage is when there’s a direct linkage between support and finance, it tends to focus on cost containment. Again, I have limited experience. I’m not a customer support expert, I am a customer experience expert. Yeah, as you think about that cost containment the organizations that are more mature tend to do, is they link experienced value so that they know the value of improving the customer experience, of satisfy customer. For example, if you’re able to solve a customer’s problem and retain that customer on an average another 11 months beyond the typical customer lifetime, value increases, the positive word of the mouth increases, share a wallet, frequency of spend, things like that, that those things perk up. If you as a leader in support organization or in a broader company and say the value of customer experience is directly linked to us doing these things well and our customers will spend more with us and stay with us longer. If we do that Well, it turns out pretty quickly and pretty unsurprisingly. Delivering great support when a customer has a need is a key input to that better experience.
Charlotte Ward: 24:23
That makes sense.
Michael Hinshaw: 24:24
It’s beyond loyalty. Yes, loyalty is a great metrics, customer satisfaction is a great metric, but those alone aren’t going to point towards value.
Charlotte Ward: 24:33
Yeah, that guides essentially how much you spend and where you spend it, whether it’s on more support agents or whether it’s on empowering those support agents to deliver a certain value of refund without having to go through hoops to do it or sending free gifts, things like that, all the easy things.
Charlotte Ward: 24:55
I mean, yeah, I think that’s really powerful as a concept. Actually, just that direct like I’m gonna, this is what I want to be able to do. These are the guidelines that I want. You know, those boundaries that I want to give my team. What’s the? What are the financial limitations, the cost limitations on those? What’s the ROI Ultimately? I mean, we’re always saying that about CX right, you have to demonstrate the ROI of it, otherwise, actually, what are you doing? You’ve got to prove your value to the business all the time, and the same is true of support as any other sort of customer facing organization, I would say.
Michael Hinshaw: 25:33
There’s ways of essentially through research and analytics and defining linkages from based on data, the ability to track the value of customer experience all up and of individual interaction points across. For example, support journey is. It’s not simple but it’s pretty straightforward to do. You need to have access and you need to understand what your customers are saying. You know what the value of your customers are, and so many of the organizations have a hard time putting value to CX or the funds are most caught up in the inability to do that. It’s it’s because of the fact that they don’t have the data they need to be able to track that. Then they fall back on things like well, customer satisfaction, yes, yeah, and CSAT is nice, but it’s ultimately pretty fuzzy unless you’re able to link that directly back to customer retention and spend, et cetera, et cetera.
Charlotte Ward: 26:30
Yeah, yeah, absolutely, absolutely. As a standalone metric, csat is irrelevant, frankly, in my experience.
Michael Hinshaw: 26:38
Oh, CSAT’s 86 versus 84. We did a banking study a number of years ago that showed that 30% of customers surveyed is highly satisfied in the three-month period left. Yeah, they’re satisfied, but they’re not thrilled.
Charlotte Ward: 26:59
Yeah, right, yeah. And CSAT is so easily influenced by so many things that actually aren’t a direct line to whether your customers are going to stay with you or spend more money with you, which is exactly what you’re just saying. But you know, the quality of the question, you know, is not least the biggest problem with CSAT. Right, yeah, I could do it. I could do eight more shows on CSAT. This has been super interesting. Will you come back and have another conversation with?
Michael Hinshaw: 27:32
me another time.
Charlotte Ward: 27:34
I will do that would be awesome. Thank you so much for this and, yeah, great, great to chat to you. Let’s dive into. I think I want to talk a little bit more about empowerment, because I think I think you know there is like so much practical stuff we could get into. Like I would really love to dig into some examples, not just give people a free BMW, though I’d love to be able to do that.
Michael Hinshaw: 28:00
But like, yeah, it doesn’t happen. Yeah, it doesn’t happen anymore. That doesn’t really happen.
Charlotte Ward: 28:06
I’ve never been given a free car. That’s all I can say.
Michael Hinshaw: 28:09
I don’t think many people have no, no.
Charlotte Ward: 28:12
Well, let’s dig into that, and I’m sure there’s plenty more we can talk about soon. So thank you so much for joining me, michael.
Michael Hinshaw: 28:18
My pleasure, Charlotte. Thanks for having me.