We all want to believe we’re working towards something meaningful and that our actions have a lasting impact. And while it’s easy to believe that only certain people are positioned to drive that change, everyone has that power in them.
From the CEO and the management team to the intern fresh out of college, every employee or business owner has unique qualities that position them to bring excellent customer experiences to life. It’s all about having the right mindset, taking ownership of your abilities, and doing what’s in your power to drive positive experiences for customers. And for Elizabeth Dixon, even the smallest action can cause ripples that turn customers into loyal advocates.
Elizabeth currently leads Strategy and Research and Development for Service & Hospitality at Chick-fil-A and has been a professional speaker for over a decade. She has worked with brands such as Disney World and The Gap, and just last April, she published her first book: The Power of Customer Experience: 5 Elements To Make An Impact.
Elizabeth believes we don’t always recognize the impact we can have on someone’s experience, but the more we put customers at the center of all operations and understand the culture of the organization we’re in, the more we can chime, create better processes, and bring experiences to life that truly impact people.
In today’s episode, we sat down with Elizabeth Dixon to chat about her book and how to design customer experiences that have a lasting impact.
If you’re short on time, here are a few quick takeaways:
Our mindset dictates our thoughts, which motivate our actions. When it comes to CX, we must shift our mindset around adding value to the customers, not just extracting it.
When you put customers at the center, understand their needs, values, motivations, and design the experience with that in mind, they will end up making you successful.
For Elizabeth, the employee experience becomes an overflow onto the customers – the customer experience is never going to be better than the employee experience.
First, find out your differentiator, the quality that uniquely adds value to the marketplace or the customers. Then, figure out how to properly resource and amplify it.
Success isn’t stationary, and organizations need to keep innovating and adapting to new trends and customer needs if they want to keep being relevant in the future.
If you enjoy our discussion, check out more episodes of our podcast. You can follow on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube or grab the RSS feed in your player of choice. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the episode.
From ballet to Chick-fil-A
Liam Geraghty: Elizabeth, I’m delighted to have you on the show today.
Elizabeth Dixon: I am so honored to be here. Very excited.
Liam: Before we get into customer experience, can you tell us a little bit about your career journey up to this point?
Elizabeth: Well, it all started, interestingly enough, at the age of five. My parents gave me a Fisher-Price ironing board and a little plastic ironing board set. I think most little children or maybe little girls would’ve used it to pretend to iron, but I used it to pretend to stand behind and speak like I was a public speaker.
“While in college, I started my first business. I thought that’s how everybody operated – they would see a need and create a business for it”
I had no idea that was just a natural interest that started so young. Another big milestone point for me was in college. I was trying to decide what to major in, and my dad asked me a great question. He said, “Well, Elizabeth, what do you love to do?” I was a ballet dancer growing up, and thought, “Well, I love the human body and how it works and the cause-effect of muscles and joints.” And so he said, “Well, can you major in that?” I said, “Ironically enough, Exercise Science is a major, so I can,” so that’s where I chose my major. While in college, I started my first business. I thought that’s how everybody operated – they would see a need and create a business for it.
So you have this combination of public speaking and entrepreneurship and the Exercise Science field, which led me to a company called Chick-fil-A, which used to be predominantly in the Southeast, but now we’ve expanded to Canada and Puerto Rico. I’ve been there for almost 20 years now. I helped start a wellness program, I worked in HR, I’ve been in marketing, and that cause-effect of muscles and bones went from the human body to business and strategy. So, I’ve been sitting in the business strategy space and research and development, concept testing futuristic elements that might eventually be in restaurants.
Liam: That’s fantastic. And I love hearing people’s journeys because it’s never what you think it’s going to be.
Elizabeth: True. There are always some unexpected twists and turns.
A trip to the mall
Liam: Now you’re an author as well. Your new book is called The Power of Customer Experience: Five Elements to Make an Impact. It’s a fantastic read, and growth-minded people are going to love it. There’s a bit in the opening of the book where you talk about a trip to the mall with your daughter that just wonderfully illustrates the power of customer experience. And I was wondering if you could tell us that story.
Elizabeth: Yes, I would love to. My husband and I have a seven and an eight-year-old, and the four of us do a lot together. But in this particular Saturday, my husband and son were offered tickets to go to a college football game, and that left my daughter and me with a full day that we could do whatever we wanted to do. I decided it would be a fantastic idea, in a world where most of my shopping is done online, “I’m going to take her to the mall,” and underlying that, I had an ulterior motive that I really needed to get a new pair of pants. And so I was like, “You know what? We’ll have a good old time and I’m going to find those pants.”
“I started to verbally vomit on her like, ‘I’m just trying to find this pair of pants and I really wanted to have this special day with Ansley, and oh my goodness…’ And she was like, ‘Girl, I got you'”
I am telling you, it was impossible on this particular day. After we’ve been to a number of stores, we ended up going into Nordstrom, and both of us were done. And I don’t know what this beautiful woman saw on both of our faces, but she came over, and she was like, “Hey, how can I help you?” I just started to verbally vomit on her like, “I’m just trying to find this pair of pants and I really wanted to have this special day with Ansley, and oh my goodness…” And she was like, “Girl, I got you.”
She ushered us into the biggest dressing room, and Ansley jumped up on what felt like a little stage in front of three different mirrors, and she starts singing “Let it go” at the top of her lungs which was creating its own moment. And Linda brings in all of these pairs of black pants, many which I would’ve never picked out, and one that she picked out ended up being the one I bought. She walked us through this whole process. Redemption had occurred because Ansley was singing and performing, I found the pants I needed, and we were having a great time.
I went to check out and there was a cash register that was really close, but I was like, “No, I want to find Linda. She has helped make this moment and this whole day for us – I need to find Linda.” So I go across the department store, I find where she was at her cash register, and I tell her, “Thank you so much. I really love the pants.” And we started talking about accessories and belts and what’s in style, and all of a sudden, she pauses and goes, “Oh my goodness, I am so sorry.” I begin to freak out a little bit because that’s what you say when your customer’s credit card gets declined, like there’s an embarrassing thing on my side. And I’m thinking, “No, I know this should be fine.” And she says it again, “I am so sorry.” And I said, “What?” And she says, “I don’t have any tissue paper,” the fluffy paper they put in the bag to make it look all fancy. And I was thinking to myself, “Oh girl, I don’t care about tissue paper, I have a smiling child, I have my new pants, all is right with the world in my book.” And she goes, “But this is Nordstrom,” and you could hear the pride in her voice, like, “Elizabeth, it doesn’t mean that you would need it or even expect it, but I’m Linda, who takes pride in my work, and a part of our signature is to put this tissue paper in the bag.”
“Yes, it is a choice, but do we see it? Do we see that it’s right in front of us?”
It really caught my attention because those are the incredible employees working for these great brands who bring experiences to life that truly impact people. And what Linda did for me on that day, catching me when we were fumbling into the store and ushering us into the larger dressing room because it happened to be available at that moment and then all the way down to the littlest detail of wanting to have that signature tissue paper in the bag… I thought, wow. The power we have as individuals is massive, and I don’t know that we always recognize it, but Linda made a huge impact on our lives. And we all have the opportunity to do that for everyone.
Liam: I love to use the word power there, that we all have the power to give this customer experience and that it’s a choice.
Elizabeth: Yes, it is a choice, but do we see it? Do we see that it’s right in front of us? Or are we wrapped up in all the things going on in our day and our minds and our worlds that we miss it? When we don’t miss it, and we take advantage of it in the little and sometimes big ways, we get to make a positive difference in our world and in the people right in front of us.
Liam: I was going to ask your definition of customer experience, but I feel the story has just given it.
Elizabeth: Yes. It’s all of those experiences that a customer has with the brand. For us, that day, it came down to all of the details. The store was clean, they had beautiful music playing, the escalator was working, and then Linda. Linda made it all come to life, and it’s all those experiences that we have with brands. It can really run the gamut of any experiences we’re creating for people around us.
Choose your mindset
Liam: You’ve come up with five elements to help make an impact, and there’s so much information around them in this book. I’d love to just get an overview sense of them. The first one that you talk about in the book is about choosing your mindset. Why is that so crucial?
Elizabeth: Well, mindset determines what you get. Mindset is an established set of attitudes or beliefs. We all walk around with them, and those mindsets are going to become a filter for how we behave, so it’s critical that we recognize that because if we don’t, we’re not leaning into the fact that our mindset is dictating our thoughts and our thoughts are motivating our actions. Upstream from our actions is our mindset, and it is a difference-maker in how we think, how we act, and then ultimately, the results we get.
“The customer experience is never going to be better than the employee experience”
Liam: Absolutely. And creating your culture is the second element. I love culture – we have a fantastic one here at Intercom. You say that the customer experience will never be better than the employee experience. Can you explain why that’s actually helpful?
Elizabeth: Well, here’s the thing. The customer experience is quite simply the overflow of the employee experience. The customer experience is never going to be better than the employee experience. So often, we spend our time thinking about the customer experience, which is great, but not if we neglect the employee experience. We have to be really careful that we’re thinking about both because the employee experience becomes an overflow onto the customers.
Liam: You have a great example in the book about how Shake Shack has really gone out of its way to preserve its culture.
“It creates a shift of, ‘I get to go to work, I get to do this, I have the privilege of this,’ and not ‘I have to’”
Elizabeth: Danny Meyer outlined in an article a few years back the things they are really diligent about in their hiring. I list some of those in the book where you can check those out. But it’s critical that we go, “Hey, our culture is going to be impacted by the things we’re modeling, the things we’re creating, and the things we’re allowing.” Allowing comes down to who we’re selecting to be a part of our organizations, and who we’re allowing to stay as a part of our organizations to make sure that they remain healthy.
Liam: And it really makes such a difference. We can’t convey just how much a difference happy employees make to this.
Elizabeth: Absolutely. I mean, you just talked about the great culture at Intercom. As you say that, you’re probably thinking of the people you love to work with. When we bring the human element to life in our jobs, that becomes magnetic. Those people that we love to work with, the people that we care about, the people that we want to go and see. And back to the mindset, it creates a shift of, “I get to go to work, I get to do this, I have the privilege of this,” and not “I have to,” where it’s begrudging and a downer. No, “I get to be a part of this team, and we get to make an impact on people.” That is huge. When the mindset impacts the culture, it really starts coming alive, and it overflows onto the customer.
Customer at the heart
Liam: Speaking of the customer, that’s element three – knowing your customer. Can you tell us a little bit about why customer-obsessed companies win in their industries?
Elizabeth: I think that, for ages, companies have been intentional about who their customer is, but what Jeff Bezos did with Amazon set a whole new standard for all of us as organizations for what it looks like to really be focused on the customer. And I talk about this in the book, and some quotes he made in the early days of starting Amazon are fascinating. He showed us that when you put your customer at the center and you truly seek to understand them, to know them, to know what they value, to know the role that you play in their lives and how you can add value to it and when you design your experience with the customer in mind, the customer ends up making you successful.
“I was 20 years old, and I remember him saying, ‘If you find a need and you meet it, your people will make you successful.’ And it has stuck with me ever since”
We’re continually seeking to know and understand our customers and how we can evolve with them because needs and values are constantly changing within our culture. We need to make sure that we’re staying up with what customers want and how we can deliver that experience or product or service to them in a more excellent way than we did the year before.
Liam: 100%. It’s one of the chapters I really enjoyed in the book, and that whole concept is one of our values. We have it written down that we obsess about our customer’s success and, I suppose, it’s just that love of solving your customer’s most important, most urgent, and most valuable problems and creating and delivering meaningful results.
Elizabeth: I love that. There was a leader I used to work for when I was an intern after or during college in Dallas, Texas. His name was Kenneth Cooper. Back in the ’60s, he coined the term aerobics. It wasn’t a commonly used term, at least in the states, and he really put preventative medicine on the map. Before then, a lot of it was reactionary and more about giving medicine to ailments instead of trying to get ahead of it and being preventative. I was 20 years old, and I remember him saying, “If you find a need and you meet it, your people will make you successful.” And it has stuck with me ever since.
When we find needs that we can meet for customers, when we know what their needs are and how we could add value to their lives, and if we do it well and with excellence, ultimately, our customers are going to make us successful. Henry Ford said, “It’s not the employer who pays the wages. The employer just handles the money – it’s the customer who’s paying the wages.” And again, that links us back to culture and mindset. We have to have the mindset that the customer in front of us is the one enabling us to have the job we have. And so, we want to serve them and know who they are and how we can meet their needs as best as possible.
“It’s important to know how we are unique and what sets us apart in our industries. And then, how do we make sure that we resource and amplify those things?”
Liam: Moving on to the penultimate element, “define your differentiator,” what role does this one play?
Elizabeth: Your differentiator helps you stand out – it’s how you’re different. This comes down to individuals and teams and organizations. What is it that you uniquely bring to your job? What do you uniquely bring as a team to your organization, and then, what does your organization uniquely bring to your industry or your marketplace that adds value to the customers? Knowing what that thing is is really important because if you don’t know what it is, unintentionally, you might downplay it or under-resource it, especially as individuals. Going back to college, I thought, “Oh, everybody starts businesses, that’s just how everyone’s wired.” No, it’s not. You and I and everyone listening have unique gifts, and the way we get to express those can really add value and set us apart.
Oftentimes, there’s this temptation to downplay the things that are natural to us, our natural gifts and strengths. When we downplay them, when we under-resource them, it’s like a crime. People don’t get to fully experience us if we downplay those superpowers. It’s the same for organizations – if we downplay or under-resource the ways we are uniquely adding value to our customers, our organization will never be as healthy as it could be. It’s important to know how we are unique and what sets us apart in our industries. And then, how do we make sure that we resource and amplify those things?
Liam: And then, finally, you say to pursue innovation and iteration because success can make you think you’ve made it and there’s nothing more to do, right?
Elizabeth: Yes. I think Bill Gates was coined for saying, “Success is a lousy teacher. It makes smart people think they can’t lose.” A lot of times, when we get to this place of success — we’ve been scrappy, we’ve been fighting to get to number one, to get to this place where we can really thrive as organizations —, it’s easy to get exhausted and tired and to start smelling our own perfume and be like, “Yeah, we are number one.” And I think both of those elements can put us in a place where we’re not scrappy anymore. As someone said one time, “We might be up by 10, but we’re going to play like we’re down by 20 as though it’s a sports game.” We have to stay scrappy, we have to play hard and keep that going.
Innovation gives us that edge when we’re constantly exploring and pursuing what’s next. What extra value could we add to our customers? What is the next trend that we need to pay attention to? And it might cause us to reinvent our organization. The more we have that mindset and culture around us, where we’re looking ahead more than we’re looking behind, where we’re thinking, “How do we improve this and make this better?” and not just resting on our laurels thinking that we’ve attained enough; the more we pursue innovation, the more we help our organizations stay protected in the future. Plenty of organizations do this really well. They’re constantly coming out with new innovations, they’re iterating and making some of their existing offerings just a little bit better. The more we look to those and get inspired by those, the more we can stay curious to keep pursuing what might be coming next.
“Oftentimes, we jump in with a solution and don’t let the tension get built. I’ve found that it’s helpful to say, ‘Hey, have you noticed this? Have you felt this to be a problem?’”
Liam: As you say in the book, everyone has the opportunity to innovate one small innovation at a time. You don’t have to be the CEO, just like you were talking about Linda. No matter where you are in the company, you have those opportunities.
Elizabeth: Yes, you do. And knowing your own culture helps you understand how you can elevate those ideas for ways to make things better, faster, smoother, and more seamless. One way I find really helpful if you’re in an organization that is open to elevating those ideas is starting with language such as, “Hey, have you noticed that when…” and you fill in the blank with the problem that happens. “Have you noticed that our customers have to wait two days before they get an answer?” “Well, have we ever thought about potentially making this one change that could reduce that from two days to two hours?”
Oftentimes, we jump in with a solution and don’t let the tension get built. I’ve found that it’s helpful to say, “Hey, have you noticed this? Have you felt this to be a problem?” And then, when they really feel that tension, if I can then offer a solution, “here’s what we could do to solve it,” it helps the idea move along the process a whole lot better than if I just walk around and say, “We should make this change.” We’re all a bit resistant to change. We want the effects of change, but we don’t necessarily want the process of change. So if we can make it feel a little bit better and add a little bit more vision for what the potential could be, it helps it move along a lot better.
“We have to enjoy each step of the journey and recognize that we can celebrate today’s successes while also pushing ourselves for tomorrow’s ideas”
Liam: I suppose we’re saying that customer experience is a journey, right?
Elizabeth: I think so, and I don’t think we ever fully arrive. Right when we think we do, something changes – for example, a new business that comes on the scene and disrupts and redefines the way things will be done in the future. We have to enjoy each step of the journey and recognize that we can celebrate today’s successes while also pushing ourselves for tomorrow’s ideas.
Liam: Before we finish up, what’s next for you? Do you have any plans or projects for 2022?
Elizabeth: I do. I always love to have a something exciting around the corner. I have a video series coming out to pair with the book so that groups can create a book club experience. It’ll be seven videos from seven to 12 minutes each, and also a user guide to help groups facilitate conversation. I’m really excited and proud about the book, and I get even more excited about the conversations and ideas that are sparked, and the life change that comes when groups internalize it and talk about it, so I’m super pumped about that. I’m also working on getting it on Audible. I love listening to books, and I think it’d be fun to offer that. And then, in two weeks, I’m going to a surf camp. My husband and I are going to go to Costa Rica and challenge our balance and agility on the waves. So I’m sure I’m going to learn a lot about myself and even my physical ability during that trip.
Liam: Well, those are probably the best plans I’ve heard in a long time. And lastly, where can our listeners go to keep up with you and your work?
Liam: Perfect. Well, Elizabeth, thanks for chatting with me today, and enjoy the waves.
Elizabeth: Oh, thank you so much. It’s been such an honor.