Worried about customers leaking out? Learn how a remarkable customer experience can be your best marketing and sales strategy.
We’ve always heard the best defense is a good offense, but perhaps that doesn’t apply all that well in business. For Dan Gingiss, at least, investing in your defense – the customer experience – is the smartest move you can make.
Dan Gingiss is many a thing. A licensed bartender (who, we’ve been told, makes a mean gin martini), a vintage pinball machine maniac, and a die-hard Chicago Cubs and Chicago Bears fan. He’s also a keynote speaker and CX expert with over 20 years of experience in the field, having led teams in social media, marketing, and customer experience at companies such as Humana, McDonald’s, and Discover.
In 2017, he wrote Winning at Social Customer Care: How Top Brands Create Engaging Experiences on Social Media about how companies interact successfully with customers on social media, and now he’s back with his new book, The Experience Maker, How to Create Remarkable Experiences That Your Customers Can’t Wait to Share.
Over the years, Dan noticed a lot of companies were experiencing the phenomenon of a leaky bucket, spending all of their energy and money on acquiring new customers, but often neglecting them as soon as the deal was done. In this episode, we sat down with Dan to learn more about creating remarkable experiences that don’t just wow your existing customers and keep them coming again and again, but actually turn them into a salesforce that helps you get even more.
Here are some of our favorite takeaways from the conversation:
1. Retention over acquisition
It hardly matters how many customers you sign if you keep losing them a few months later. With a leaky bucket, all of your acquisition efforts and resources end up going towards replacing older customers, which reflects poorly on your bottom line. For Dan, it’s important to sort out the reason why they’re leaving and allocate just as many resources to making sure the ones who stay have a great customer experience:
“It might be that marketing or sales are over-promising, and that’s a big problem. (…) Or the rest of the organization is simply not delivering the kind of experience that the customer wants. If we spend all this money to acquire customers, but we don’t spend anything to keep them, that acquisition money gets wasted. If companies are being honest with themselves when they look at the cost to acquire, they’ve got to take into consideration the cost to keep. Because if you end up acquiring three customers to keep one, then that one customer just became a whole lot more expensive”
2. Turn your customers into advocates
Not too long ago, Dan noticed a bumper sticker on a pickup truck that said “our clients are the best salespeople.” And for him, that’s what all companies should work towards. Because an honest review from your customers – someone’s colleagues, friends, and family – is much more persuasive than any sales pitch or ad you’ve got. By wow-ing your customers and creating great experiences for them, they become, in a sense, a part of your salesforce:
“When people talk about us, it is so much more genuine and authentic than when we talk about ourselves. If you tell your audience I wrote a great book, that sounds a lot better than me saying I wrote a great book, but yet that’s what brands do every single day. They say, ‘Look at us. We’re awesome. Come drive our car, come to our store.’ That is advertising (…) But when we hear that a friend went out to a restaurant last night and had an amazing experience, what happens next? We want to go”
3. Be part of the conversation
To create remarkable customer experiences, Dan likes to employ the WISER model: the experiences should be Witty, Immersive, Shareable, and Extraordinary. Once you create striking experiences that your customers can’t help but share and discuss, on or offline, you need to be Responsive and join the conversation:
“If I get off the stage after a keynote and somebody comes up to me and says, ‘That was a great speech. I loved it,’ and I just keep walking and don’t acknowledge them, that’s kind of rude and they’re not going to think very highly of me. And yet, every single day, millions of customers go onto social media to sing the praises of the brands they love and those brands don’t answer. I want companies to understand how important it is to engage with customers. (…) Responsive is about answering questions, it’s about responding to compliments, and it’s about handling complaints”
Caught your interest? We’ve gathered a list of articles, videos, and podcasts you can check out:
- The Experience Maker Show
- A Clear Path Forward to Better Experiences at the Experience This! Show
- Shep Hyken on getting customers to come back again and again
- Customer retention is the new conversion
This is Scale, Intercom’s podcast series on driving business growth through customer relationships. If you enjoy the conversation and don’t want to miss future episodes, just hit follow on iTunes, stream on Spotify, or grab the RSS feed in your player of choice. You can also read the full transcript of the interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity, below.
Putting the customer at the heart of it all
Liam Geraghty: Dan, delighted to have you on the show. Thanks for joining us.
Dan Gingiss: Well, thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor to be here.
Liam: Could you give us a little bit of a background on yourself and your career so far?
Dan: Sure. I spent more than 20 years in corporate America, mostly in marketing roles and evolving into customer experience roles. I worked for some pretty big companies: McDonald’s, Discover Card, Humana, across a bunch of different industries, and eventually decided to go out on my own at the beginning of 2019. I like to say that I like working for the Dan better than I like working for the man. And so, now I’m an independent speaker and coach on the topics of customer experience and customer service and marketing as well. I love what I do because I get to work with great companies every day and really get other people as excited about the power of customer experience as I am.
Liam: That kind of brings us perfectly to your latest book, The Experience Maker: How to Create Remarkable Experiences That Your Customers Can’t Wait to Share. Firstly, what is an experience maker?
“As companies grow and become more siloed, you need somebody who sees the entire journey from above – the 30,000-foot view, if you will”
Dan: An experience maker is anyone at an organization who is focused on the customer with every decision they make. And what that means is that, of course, we’re going to make business decisions that make us money or that reduce cost or improve revenue. But when we make those decisions, we have to make sure that we’re using the right customer filter, and we ask ourselves, “Well, how is this going to impact the customer?” Because it might make us more money, like, let’s say, charging a fee for checking our bags on the airline, but it also might have the adverse effect of irritating a lot of customers who may decide to go do business elsewhere. An experience maker is always trying to make the customer’s experience better, to find those improvements and remove the barriers and pain points.
“It’s not just the frontline customer service agents or the person at the front desk of the hotel or the waiter or waitress at a restaurant that’s in customer experience, it’s really everyone in the organization”
Liam: So is an experience maker, or can an experience maker, be the whole company, as opposed to one person?
Dan: That’s a great question. Lots of companies are organized in lots of different ways, but what I always recommend is that there should be a centralized customer experience department. The reason for that is that as companies grow and become more siloed, you need somebody who sees the entire journey from above – the 30,000-foot view, if you will, and can see all of the transitions and all of the different ups and downs of the journey. But we also need to train and empower all of our employees to understand that they’re in the customer experience business, too. It’s not just the frontline customer service agents or the person at the front desk of the hotel or the waiter or waitress at a restaurant that’s in customer experience, it’s really everyone in the organization. Even if they never see a customer, because their job ultimately affects customers. You might be in the finance department and your job might be in billing, but you are designing invoices, which means that it’s your responsibility that those invoices make sense to people and that they understand what they’re being charged for and they understand the line items. You’re probably in charge of the different payment methods that your company accepts. And so, you’re the person that ultimately decides whether we take certain credit card brands, whether we accept cryptocurrency, whether we accept PayPal, or whatever it is. All of these decisions have a big impact on experience – it’s just that most people’s jobs have not been defined that way.
Liam: Right. So it’s almost like a philosophy or a way of thinking.
Dan: Absolutely. It is a way of thinking. And it comes down to, I think, a very simple fact, which is that, for every company, if you look at what their number one asset is, it’s their customers. And a close second might be their employees. But if we don’t treat our customers like our best asset, then we’re going to lose them, and they’re going to go somewhere else.
Fixing the leaky bucket
Liam: 100%. You said that the customer going out the back door and not telling us why they’ve left is a dangerous customer, and I was wondering what you mean by that.
Dan: Sure. In the book, I share this concept of the leaky bucket. What’s leaking out? Our customers. Customers are leaving most businesses every day. Sometimes they leave in a big ball of flames and you know exactly why they left, but most of the time, customers just switch. And the reason for that is it’s become so easy to switch. It used to be that we’d get tied down by multi-year contracts with our cable company or our phone company or whatever it is. And today, you pretty much can pick up and move to a different provider no matter what industry it is. It could be a dentist, it could be your favorite restaurant, it could be a retailer. It’s so easy to just find someone else that what customers have realized is, “if I don’t get treated well by this company, I’m going to go find a company that does treat me well.”
“They’re so busy focusing on getting more customers. It’s like this mantra of, ‘If some are good, then more must be better'”
And the most dangerous customers are those that leave and never tell you because you don’t know what it is that you did, right? I’d much rather someone say, “Look, Dan, I’m never going to work with you again because you X, Y, Z.” And then I know, at least for the next guy, “Don’t do X, Y, Z.” Right? But the ones that just leave and never tell us about it are really, really difficult. And so, what I try to do in the book is teach people how to plug that leaky bucket, how to make it so that customers don’t want to leave. In fact, they want to stay, they want to spend more, and they want to tell their friends about you. And that’s how we can organically grow our business.
Liam: So, focusing on the customer leads to profitability. It seems like an obvious statement, but why do so many companies not focus on the customer?
“If you end up acquiring three customers to keep one, then that one customer just became a whole lot more expensive”
Dan: They’re so busy focusing on getting more customers. It’s like this mantra of, “If some are good, then more must be better.” And there’s never an end, right? I’ve worked with sales teams and their goals go up every single year. It doesn’t matter whether they exceeded the goals or met the goals or failed to meet the goals – the goals go up every year. If we brought on 10 customers last year, we need to bring on 12 this year. And the problem with that is that all the money and all the resources go towards acquisition. But then, once customers are there, there’s very little money or resources being attributed to making sure that they have a good experience. We see lots of customers show up, we’ve spent all this money to acquire them, and then, in the first couple of months, they’re already gone because we didn’t live up to their expectations.
That can be the fault of a lot of different places. It might be that marketing or sales are over-promising, and that’s a big problem. We promised the moon and we’re not in charge of delivering it, so we let it be someone else’s problem. Or the rest of the organization is simply not delivering the kind of experience that the customer wants. If we spend all this money to acquire customers, but we don’t spend anything to keep them, that acquisition money gets wasted. If companies are being honest with themselves when they look at the cost to acquire, they’ve got to take into consideration the cost to keep. Because if you end up acquiring three customers to keep one, then that one customer just became a whole lot more expensive.
Liam: In the book, you talk about why you want to get customers to share their experiences. Why is that important?
“Shouldn’t that be what every company strives for, our own clients and customers to be our best salespeople?”
Dan: When people talk about us, it is so much more genuine and authentic than when we talk about ourselves. If you tell your audience I wrote a great book, that sounds a lot better than me saying I wrote a great book, but yet that’s what brands do every single day. They say, “Look at us. We’re awesome. Come drive our car, come to our store.” That is advertising, and people respond one way or another to that. But when we hear that a friend went out to a restaurant last night and had an amazing experience, what happens next? We want to go. It’s just human nature, right? If I’m hearing it from my friend, from a business associate, from a family member, it holds a lot more weight.
The book is about how we get more intentional about creating experiences that people want to talk about and share, because then they end up doing the marketing for us. My hope is that companies can relieve some of the pressure on acquiring new customers because existing customers become part of their salesforce, and they can use that money to continue to develop better experiences for their existing customers.
After I published the book, I was driving behind a pickup truck. They’re a building company – they do homes and stuff. And the back of the truck said, “Our clients are our best salespeople.” Shouldn’t that be what every company strives for, our own clients and customers to be our best salespeople? That’s what customer experience can do. There’s no reason that this guy’s clients are recommending him if they didn’t have a good experience with him. He’s obviously doing something that is causing people to not only be happy with their home but also to want to tell other people about it. And that, to me, is where the magic happens.
A word to the WISE(R)
Liam: And at the center of the experience maker is your WISER model, which I love. So could you explain it to us? What does it stand for?
“The four letters of WISE stand for witty, immersive, shareable, and extraordinary. And those are four elements of remarkable experiences”
Dan: So, I took all of my experience, 20 plus years in corporate America, plus the three years or so that I’ve been working with clients independently, and came up with five themes that, when put together, really create and maintain the best experiences. It starts with the concept of being wise to customer experience, which means being aware, focusing on your customer. The four letters of WISE stand for witty, immersive, shareable, and extraordinary. And those are four elements of remarkable experiences. And remember, I used the word remarkable intentionally. It means worthy of remark, worthy of discussion, worthy of talking about.
Witty is about being clever, using language to your advantage, and refusing to be boring. It doesn’t necessarily mean being hysterical. You don’t have to bring humor into the game necessarily, but it is about being a little bit different and creative. Immersive is about making sure that the entire customer journey is consistent and fluid. As our companies grow and become more siloed, each individual silo owns a different part of the experience. And they might each be creating great experiences, but they don’t go together in the customer’s view, so it feels very choppy to the customer.
“No one has ever said, ‘Let me tell you about the perfectly average restaurant I went to last night.’ But that is the reality of most experiences”
Shareable is about being intentional about finding places in your experience where people are going to want to share. They’re not going to share the entire experience, but when we create that moment that people have no choice but to share… We’ve all been there, right? We reach into our pockets or our purses, and we grab our phone to take a picture. Nobody told us to do it. We’re doing it because we’re in the middle of something we want to record and share. How do companies do that intentionally without having to say, “Follow us on Instagram and tag us and take a picture of this and be sure to do it with this filter,” and blah, blah, blah? People don’t want the level of instruction because they want it to feel spontaneous. Where do we find those moments that we just know people are going to share?
And finally, extraordinary is about being just a little bit better than ordinary. Because after all, most of the experiences that we have are ordinary. No one has ever said, “Let me tell you about the perfectly average restaurant I went to last night.” But that is the reality of most experiences. Our millennial friends like to call them meh, right? Which is just neither here nor there, and that’s not shareable. Being extraordinary is about finding the place in your customer journey where you’re ordinary, where you look like your competitor, where you’re doing it like everybody else is doing it, and finding an opportunity to do it better.
“When you become WISE to customer experience and people start sharing about your brand, that’s when I want you to be WISER than the competition”
And none of these, by the way, have to be expensive or difficult. In fact, because I spent so much time in corporate America, I know how hard it is to get stuff done. I know how difficult it is to get budget approval and legal approval and management approval. All of the examples shared in the book are meant to be simple, practical, and inexpensive so that you can just go do them. You don’t really need to jump through all those hoops.
When you become WISE to customer experience and people start sharing about your brand, that’s when I want you to be WISER than the competition. And the R stands for being responsive. As people are talking about us, we need to be part of that conversation, particularly in social media. If I get off the stage after a keynote and somebody comes up to me and says, “That was a great speech. I loved it,” and I just keep walking and don’t acknowledge them, that’s kind of rude and they’re not going to think very highly of me. And yet, every single day, millions of customers go onto social media to sing the praises of the brands they love, and those brands don’t answer. And it’s just the digital version of that. I want companies to understand how important it is to engage with customers. Today’s customer base wants that. They want a relationship with the brands that they spend their hard-earned money at. And responsive is about answering questions, it’s about responding to compliments, and it’s about handling complaints.
Liam: I love some of these. They’re fantastic. The Southwest Airline #RescueTheDress.
“If you tracked the flight, instead of a plane, it was like a little dress flying through the sky”
Dan: There are so many great opportunities. Southwest just responded to a person who, by the way, I’m not even sure if she’s even a customer. But basically, her story was that she had flown to a friend’s wedding in Costa Rica and had forgotten her bridesmaid dress. And so she asked Southwest on Twitter whether they would fly the dress to her as a passenger. Southwest picked this up and made this amazing marketing [campaign] out of it where people could track the dress. If you tracked the flight, instead of a plane, it was like a little dress flying through the sky. I mean, they totally milked it, but it was amazing. And it turned out to be great marketing. There are also fantastic examples of tweets or Facebook posts that start off as being detractors.
The person’s actually upset with the brand in some way, but because the brand responded and did something, they turned the person from a detractor into an advocate, maybe in a matter of minutes. And there’s no other channel where we can do that, that I know of. Some of the examples are ones that I experienced firsthand. When I worked at Discover Card, for example, we had some amazing examples, and they just continue to surprise and impress me all these years later because it really isn’t that difficult. We’re just asking you to have a conversation with your customers.
Drink your own champagne
Liam: Something else I’ve heard you say is, “Become a customer of your own company.” What do you mean by that?
Dan: I think this is so important, and it’s such a missed opportunity. Executives are so used to sitting at their mahogany desks in their offices, far away from everybody else. And not only are they not engaging enough with their own employees to know what’s going on, but they’re not engaging with their customers. So many of us work in organizations where we’re selling something that we’re not a customer of. And that’s okay. You don’t necessarily have to be in love with the product you sell, but becoming a customer of your own business means going through the process you’re asking customers to go through yourself.
“Why do we do that to people when it would annoy us?”
Let’s say you’re a credit card company, and you have to create an account online. I want every employee to create their own account, to go through that process. And what they’re going to find is that process isn’t as clean as they thought it was. There are parts of that process that are confusing, that are difficult, that maybe break. And you’re never going to really find this out unless you do it yourself. The joke I always make to people is, “If you want to do just one thing, go through the forgotten password process of your company.” Because we all know that’s a really sucky process in most cases.
If you’re not listening to your customers, which you should be, becoming a customer yourself is the best way to really know what customers go through. After all, we’re all consumers in our real lives, so we all know what we like and don’t like. We all know what irritates us. Have you ever talked to somebody that says, “I really love pop-up ads on a website?” Right? Nobody. And yet, companies still throw tons and tons of pop-up ads, sometimes more than two or three on the same page. Why do we do that to people when it would annoy us? That’s what becoming your own customer helps you figure out.
CX in the age of COVID-19
Liam: I was wondering what you made of COVID-19 and how that’s affected customer experience. Where do you see customer experience going?
Dan: It definitely shined a really bright light on both customer experience and employee experience, and I think companies will be forever changed because of it. The reality is that customers figured out pretty early on in the pandemic which companies were going to be there for them and which companies weren’t. Nobody was really prepared, but some companies were more prepared than others, and lots of companies just did the whole check-the-box thing.
“I got an email from my brokerage firm and their email was completely different – it didn’t talk at all about enhanced cleaning procedures, and it didn’t direct me to the CDC website”
Now, what literally seemed to happen was that one company started this, and then every other company scrambled and said, “Wow, we better do this, too.” And they copied and pasted the same email, sent it out, and they said, “Okay, now we’ve done it.” Then, I got an email from my brokerage firm, and their email was completely different – it didn’t talk at all about enhanced cleaning procedures, and it didn’t direct me to the CDC website. It said, “Dan, we know that you must be nervous about a volatile stock market. And so, we have all of these tools in place to help you through this difficult time.” And that is exactly what I want from my brokerage firm when the times are tough. I want them to show some empathy, and I want them to give me a solution for that, which happens to be a whole suite of tools they offer that I didn’t know about. Now the customer says, “They were there for me when the chips were down. They were there for me when times were tough. I’m going to be loyal to them forever.” And that’s what companies learned the hard way.
Earlier, I was talking about how the switching costs are so low, and we also saw a record number of people switching brands during the pandemic because of what we talked about. It’s so easy to switch. And so, companies that were disappointing, that weren’t there for them when we needed them, we just said, “Forget it. I’m going to go find somebody who can help me right now. I’m out.”
“Safety is going to be a mantra in customer experience and employee experience. And not just safety from a virus, but all sorts of safety – physical safety, emotional safety, digital safety”
As to what we’re going to see going forward, a couple of themes, I think, definitely arose. One of them is that we have to focus on the customer and understand their needs. In the last two years, it has been easier to be empathetic than at any time in human history because we were all going through the same thing at the same time. There was no excuse to say you didn’t understand what your customer was going through. You were going through the same thing with your family, with your kids, with your schools being closed.
But also, more tangibly, we learned a lot about how to keep our employees and our customers safe and how important that is to them. I believe safety is going to continue to be a mantra in customer experience and employee experience. And not just safety from a virus, but all sorts of safety – physical safety, emotional safety, digital safety. Customers are not going to do business with companies where they don’t feel safe, and employees are not going to work at companies where they don’t feel safe. So that, I think, is going to be a key takeaway.
And then, finally, one thing I really enjoyed seeing was that so many companies realized that digital transformation didn’t have to be a 10-year process – they could make some big changes in a really short amount of time. A lot of this innovation is going to outlast the pandemic because it made things better. One of the examples I love to use is the curbside pickup. I’m actually a guy that likes grocery shopping, believe it or not. I like pushing the cart around, I like seeing what’s on the shelf, I like picking my own fruits and vegetables. But in the pandemic, I learned that I could save two hours every weekend by just doing curbside pickup. I kind of like those two hours. And I can think of better things to do during those two hours than going grocery shopping. And so, I believe that’s a great example of an innovation that is going to stick, that people are going to want to continue to use even after everybody feels a hundred percent safe going back to the grocery store.
Find what you love
Liam: Absolutely. So then, before we wrap up with the experience maker, what do you want readers to take away from your book?
Dan: I want readers to feel inspired and empowered to make a difference at their own company. Customer experience does not have to be a years-long, multi-million dollar, transformational process. It actually is just a series of a lot of little things. If you start to observe the little things and attack the little things, to get rid of the pain points and customer irritations, to add things when you can to make them better, and to turn them from ordinary into extraordinary, you’re going to wake up and you’re going to see that you’ve already been transforming the experience, even though you didn’t feel like you were part of a massive transformation project.
The idea of the book is it’s filled with real-life examples that should be inspiring to people. I want people to read an example and go, “Why aren’t we doing this at our company? I could do this tomorrow.” Great. Go do it. That’s what I want. If I can create a whole bunch of experience makers around the world at companies, then I really feel like I’ve done my job.
Liam: Just before we go, this series is all about hearing how companies scale their growth. Before we finish up, I’d love to know about a key event in your career that helped you scale professionally.
“When I started working for myself, I realized I had been chasing all the wrong things in corporate America”
Dan: That’s a great question. I haven’t been asked that one before.
Liam: Just to put you on the spot.
Dan: No, that’s great. It took a while to go off on my own. What really changed for me was that when I started working for myself, I realized I had been chasing all the wrong things in corporate America. I had gotten swept up in climbing the corporate ladder and measuring myself based on salary and bonus and stock and my title and how fast I was moving up and all these things. And what I wasn’t paying attention to was job satisfaction, happiness, mental health, et cetera. Now that I work for myself, I realize that I can do both. I can make a lot of money and also be really excited about what I do every day. I’m not a morning person, so I always measure my job satisfaction by the number of times I hit the snooze button on the alarm. Now, I wake up, and I’m excited to go to work every day because I’m doing what I love.
To me, that’s been transformational and has helped me scale because it doesn’t feel like work. Even though there are some nights where I’m working till two o’clock in the morning, it doesn’t feel like a burden because I’m doing what I love doing. And I think that is such an eye-opener. Although I did like a lot of the jobs that I had in corporate America, I wish I had learned that earlier and had focused a little bit differently because I think my career path would’ve been different if I had.
“I’m not a morning person, so I always measure my job satisfaction by the number of times I hit the snooze button on the alarm”
Liam: I love that. Lastly, where can our listeners go to keep up with you and your work and find your book?
Dan: Well, you can go to dangingiss.com. That will link you to everything about me and anything that you want to learn about me. I’m also very active on LinkedIn and on Twitter. One of the things that I pride myself in is I practice what I preach. So if I’m going to talk about responsive in my book, I promise I will be responsive to you if you reach out to me. So feel free to do so, and I’d love to chat.
Liam: Excellent. Everyone, go tweet Dan right now.
Dan: Challenge accepted. I will respond.
Liam: Dan, it’s been great to chat with you. Thanks for joining us.
Dan: Thank you, Liam. I really appreciate it.