Mike Wittenstein ‘get’s to the heart’ of customer experience. Here, the renowned speaker and customer experience pioneer, talks to Questback about customer storytelling, proactive feedback and removing the barriers to great CX.
Storytelling is a powerful tool for businesses today.
Not only does it change how people feel about your product or service, it also changes how customers feel about you. How they interact with you. And, most importantly – whether they come back to you.
Being able to create and tell your own story, then, should be high on your priority list.
Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Mike Wittenstein of Storyminers – the godfather of customer storytelling.
In this interview he shows you:
- Why it’s important to be authentic
- The business and personal barriers to a great customer experience
- The simple reason feedback should be proactive and not reactive
- Why you should never teach a pig to sing (yeah, you read that right).
Hey Mike, thanks so much for joining us today. You’re high up on the list of people our audience want to hear from – it must feel great to have such an impact on the way so many people approach their customers?
That’s kind of you to say and it does feel good, but I’m just one guy.
The real heroes are the tens and hundreds of thousands of front-line people touching customers, patients, guests, passengers, and clients every single day.
What happens on the front lines is what really gives birth to word-of-mouth and helps brands thrive. I’m really excited that customer experience is mainstream now.
When I started in 1999, it was just a faint idea; now it’s what everyone expects from the brands that serve them!
Your slogan is, “Get’s to the heart”. Do you think that’s something businesses don’t show their customers enough, the heart behind their brand?
You’re absolutely right.
Showing your brand’s authenticity (by letting your people show theirs) is part of it.
For that to happen, leaders have to get comfortable demonstrating this trait and not letting business processes punish people for being themselves. It’s easy to say and harder to do. I’m encouraged by the much greater number of companies that have taken on the challenge!
When it comes to client work, Gets to the Heart usually translates to creating more value for customers. That, in turn, fuels word of mouth, a brand’s reputation, and higher sales.
The other part of Gets to the Heart is about finding the right things to focus on. Finding the right problem(s) to solve, then the right solutions is what it means.
What do you think the biggest challenges to ‘getting to the heart’ is for businesses? And, how do you think they can overcome it?
In my opinion, the greatest challenge in getting to a customer’s heart is authenticity.
The brand has to communicate with a true and pure voice. It also has to make promises that the business can keep. Employees need to be ‘present’ in the moment and establish quick and lasting connections with those whom they serve.
The business challenges include:
- Out-of-date processes that steal front-line employees’ time which they could be spending with customers
- A culture of sales before service (it should be service before sales)
Personal challenges include:
- Talking to customers instead of with them
- Not listening enough
- The inability to create a helpful context for answering your customers’ questions
One of the best ways to overcome all of these challenges at once is to use illustrators to draw pictures of or professional actors to act out scenes of feasible experience scenarios.
This way, everyone can become involved, see for themselves how a designed experience comes across, then offer up their ideas on how to make it even better.
There’s a lot of mention in your work about the story – telling your own story, and enabling other people to tell it. How do you think that impacts the customer experience?
Sometimes, stories don’t just impact the customer experience. They are the customer experience.
Here’s what I mean:
When a customer enjoys the experience you offer them, they translate it into a story to share with their friends, colleagues, co-workers, family, etc. That story is based, in part, on the clues you have put into the experience and on the discoveries someone makes around them.
When the story is shared, clues intact, the friend or colleague receives it as an experience. They actually ‘live in the experience’ you had through the story you share.
It’s important to design experience with the right clues so that the stories get told well–and retold well.
Do you think there is a place for feedback – either customer or employee – to help you mould your own story for the better?
I think that feedback should be part of service design right from the start, not an afterthought.
I’m seeing more research businesses starting to offer near real-time, operationally actionable data (even advice) to their clients.
Atlanta-based VOC systems has a guest feedback system that lets people leave a message, about anything good or bad, to their hotel’s general manager.
The message is transcribed by software, checked for accuracy by a human, coded for emotion, and sent immediately to the person at the hotel who can handle the guest’s issue right away. They’ve all but eliminated the need for research by just making it easy to get things done!
I can only imagine what will happen as brands – with their customers- start exploiting the capabilities of the Apple Watch. That could be an interview all by itself!
How do you think the impact you’re having on your customers can be measured. Do you find, for example, Net Promoter Score, to still be relevant?
In my opinion, debating which of the existing measurement tools is best will take us down a dead end.
Any business that measures itself honestly will get better.
What’s missing – and I hope someone is working on this – are measures of the value a customer gets from working with a company, organization, or brand.
Most of the corporate attention is on how much ‘we’ made and how much ‘we’ saved. What about the customer? How much time did we save them? How much effort can they avoid wasting? Are they feeling more secure, hopeful, happy, or any number of other emotions.
Any business can only remain in business if it creates more value for its customers than they pay for. With more measures on the effect of a business on its customers, I think customer experience and business in general will be able to make quantum leaps over today’s standards of best practice.
You’ve got so much experience in customer service – you’ve been doing it since before I could walk – are there any businesses you’ve come across that just get it? That are doing customer service right in your eyes?
Yes, and the number is growing.
Everyone mentions Ritz Carlton and Virgin in the travel space, Apple and Nordstrom in retail, and Disney for entertainment. Discount Tire has one of the best high-value/low-cost experiences out there. Pirch has become a leading exemplar of customer experience in just six years. The Mayo Clinic has changed how they practice medicine so that customers/patients are at the centre (figuratively and physically).
The list is growing, especially among younger and recently formed organizations.
Your company, Storyminers, has a history of experience and service design innovations to its credit. What are you working on now?
Human Prototyping™ is our latest offering.
Simply, it’s a service that designs other services and experiences. Clients are using it to discover, design, and refine their signature customer experiences (as well as new revenue streams and cost savings opportunities) and we’ve discovered a palpable magic when you mix experience/service designers with professional actors. Everything gets so real. We’ve teamed up with the largest production theatre in the southeast, The Alliance Theatre, to bring this to market. It’s so much fun!
Mike, I really appreciate your time today. I’d like to ask you one final question, if that’s okay – What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever been given?
Marge Bell was my boss when I worked one summer at Martin Marietta Aerospace. She taught me two things:
The first one was “You can’t teach a pig to sing. It won’t work and it will piss off the pig!”
The more important one was this – “Find out what it takes to make someone else’s job easier and do it.”
It took me several tries to truly understand the value of that, but it finally clicked. I’ve used that gold nugget ever since.
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