Keep Leading!® Podcast Episode 010: Be Your Customer’s Hero

Keep Leading!® Podcast Episode 010: Be Your Customer’s Hero

Adam Toporek
Customer Service Expert, Keynote Speaker, Author, Podcast Host, Trainer and Strategic Advisor
Be Your Customer’s Hero

Adam Toporek is an internationally-recognized customer experience expert, keynote speaker, and customer service trainer who helps organizations transform their relationships with their customers through better strategy, training, and communication. A third-generation entrepreneur with extensive experience in retail, wholesale, franchising, and small business, Adam understands the impact that customer experience can have on the bottom line.

Adam is the author of Be Your Customer’s Hero, the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog, the co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast, and the creator of the virtual training course, How to Deal with Difficult Customers. Adam is regularly ranked as a top customer experience thought leader and has been cited in Entrepreneur, Forbes, AMA, and over 100 other media.

Website
https://customersthatstick.com

Crack the Customer Code Podcast
http://crackthecustomercode.com

LinkedIn
https://www.linkedin.com/in/adamtoporek

Twitter
https://twitter.com/adamtoporek

Leadership Quote
“You are what you focus on.”

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Transcript

This podcast is part of the C Suite Radio Network, turning the volume off on business.

Welcome to the Keep Leading Podcast, a podcast dedicated to promoting leadership development and sharing leadership insights. Here’s your host, the Leadership Excelerator, Eddie Turner.

Eddie Turner:
Hello, everyone. This is Eddie Turner, the Leadership Excelerator, host of the Keep Leading Podcast. Today’s episode is going to be focused on customer service or rather I should say customer experience. What’s the difference, why does it matter, and what does it have to do with leadership? I’m going to be speaking to customer service expert Adam Toporek. He’s going to explain all of this to us and more, right after this.

This podcast is sponsored by Eddie Turner LLC. Eddie Turner LLC delivers executive and leadership coaching, professional speaking, facilitation services, and management consulting across the globe. Eddie Turner LLC also creates voiceovers, serves as a master of ceremonies, as a panel and event moderator, and provides national media commentary. Visit EddieTurnerLLC.com to learn more.

Eddie Turner:
Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Keep Leading Podcast, the podcast dedicated to leadership development and insights. I’m your host Eddie Turner, the Leadership Excelerator I work with leaders to accelerate performance and drive impact.When was the last time you had a great customer service experience? Far too often we see good customer service disappearing and when we do receive it, it’s refreshing because it’s just no longer the norm. My guest today is a customer experience expert. He helps companies get it right by creating great customer service experiences. I’m happy to have with me today. Adam Toporek. He is the author of Be Your Customer’s Hero. He’s the founder of the very popular Customers That Stick blog and co-host of one of my favorite podcasts Crack The Customer Code. He also has created the virtual training course entitled How To Deal With Difficult Customers. Adam is ranked as a top customer experience thought leader and has been cited in over one hundred media outlets including such big names as Entrepreneur and Forbes.

Adam, welcome to the Keep Leading Podcast.

Adam Toporek:
Hey Eddie, thanks so much for having me. So excited to be here.
Eddie Turner:
Adam, I got to tell you this is such a delight. Number one, I go back to when you when I met way back at NSA in 2016 at a breakfast with the amazing Jeff Hayslett talking about podcasting. And at the time I really wasn’t excited about podcasting but actually at breakfast I had a new way of thinking.
Adam Toporek:
There were so many amazing podcasters in the room. I mean, just like you, even though I had a podcast at that point, I was just soaking up knowledge from the other podcasters. It’s definitely a great way to be motivated and inspired.
Eddie Turner:
Yeah, that literally changed the game for a lot of professional speakers in room. That day birthed, I wish we could actually get an exact number from Jeff, but I want to say just off the top of my head 20 podcasts on that day. And then numerous countless guest appearances because you invited me to be guest on your podcast that day. And I think that was my very first podcast that I’d ever appeared not.
Adam Toporek:
Really? Well, you know what, here’s the thing. For everybody listening to the Keep Leading Podcasts, you would never know it because you’re episode, Eddie, of Cracking The Customer Code, you sounded like a pro from beginning to end. So it was fantastic. So that was your first one that I was scared to see the heights you were going to go to.
Eddie Turner:
Well, you’ve matched your kind. I enjoy you and Jeannie Walters, your co-host, You all just have such an amazing chemistry and the banter between you two, I loved it. So I definitely want to courage listeners of the Keep Leading Podcasts to check out the Crack The Customer Code podcast as well.
Adam Toporek:
Thank you. And we have a great time.
Eddie Turner:
You also are one of the founding 100 C-Suite Network advisors and you’re doing some great work on C-Suite Radio. So we want to definitely let folks know about that as well.
Adam Toporek:
Shout out to C-Suite.
Eddie Turner:
So, Adam, listen, I’m not sure folks really understand what good customer service is anymore. It’s so rare that we don’t even know what it looks like or feels like sometimes. So can we start by you defining what good customer services?
Adam Toporek:
Really. And I’ll even expand the term. So good customer service, a lot of times now what we’re really talking about when we use that term is good customer experience. And that means the entire journey a customer has from beginning to end, every interaction with a brand or an organization, every touch point along the way is the entire customer experience. And one of the big shifts in the last twenty years or so has been understanding that totality of experience, not just focusing on customer service which is a little narrow but very important. And what is a great customer experience? What is a hero class customer experience as we say? It really is in the eye of the beholder but I like to look in three things that are sort of fundamental to integrate customer experience. First is you either meet or exceed expectations. That’s the baseline. Whatever your customer expects, you want to at least meet it. And it’s okay to meet it. You don’t have to exceed it every time or exceed it when you can. Second is create a hassle-free friction-less experience, an effortless friction-less experience in which the customer really experiences no hassle, it’s smooth, it’s easy, it’s convenient. And the third one, and this is the hard one, is do those first two things consistently. And if you do that and if you can execute consistently across meeting or expectations and providing a hassle-free friction-less experience, that will create an incredible customer experience 98 times out of 100.
Eddie Turner:
I like how you differentiated between customer service and the customer experience, two different things. So thank you for that. Now, do you have any examples?
Adam Toporek:
Of what? Great customer experience?
Eddie Turner:
Yes, what companies out there are getting it right, that you are dealing with?
Adam Toporek:
Obviously, there are a ton of companies that do amazing with customer service, customer experience. Everybody uses the same example. So I try to use examples that aren’t Zappos or whatever, just to mix it up a little bit. So this is called the Hotel Indigo in Asheville, North Carolina. And what happened was it was my wife’s birthday and we decided to go to the mountains and celebrate her birthday. So we booked the hotel a couple of months out. And I mentioned in passing if we could have a nice view, it’s my wife’s birthday, that’d be wonderful, whatever. Didn’t make a big deal. Just mentioned it once. Booked the reservation. So a couple of months later we show up and we’re waiting on the room, waiting on the room, and when we finally get taken up to the room, what is there is a spread on top of the bed of like champagne, letters that say “Happy Birthday”, like a whole thing. And here’s why it’s a really incredible customer experience. I never called back. I never called back and said “Hey, it’s my wife’s birthday,” like the day before. “Can you do something?” None of that. I had mentioned it two months before. That means one, the person who took the reservation remembered, actually took the time to notate that in the notes. Two, another employee most likely months later read those notes and actually went out, we were actually a little delayed getting in the room and what happened was I ask “Can we get in the room?” and they said “Well, the concierge is out getting stuff for your wife’s birthday.” So they had checked the notes and sent a concierge literally out of the building to buy some of these things for my wife’s birthday.
Eddie Turner:
So your delay was for good cause.
Adam Toporek:
Exactly, yeah. And I do a whole sort of funny story about it when I’m on stage, which really wasn’t. It would have been too long for our venue here but, yeah, it’s really quite interesting because of the customer experience. One, they had systems in place. Two, they had training. People were actually one, put the notes in and two, look for notes when we were having the reservation later. Three, there was empowerment. They had empowered people to do things on behalf of the customer. So there are so many layers to it.
Eddie Turner:
Well, that is a great example indeed. Thank you for sharing that with us. Now, how did you get interested in this aspect of business? Tell us a little bit about your background, if you would add, Adam.
Adam Toporek:
Absolutely. I’m a third generation entrepreneur. I grew up in and around small business. My grandfather had a main street shoe store. My mom had a children’s clothing store. My dad had a wholesale musical instruments distributorship. So I literally grew up in business. Then what I got in my working here as I opened businesses of the my own, one of the things that’s important for the customer experience was to everything, how it was central to every other part of business. I have two business degrees and I’ll tell you I didn’t learn that in either of my degrees. I didn’t learn that in undergrad and I didn’t learn that in MBA. Nobody talked about customer experience back when I went through there. They’re starting to now but this just was very sort of old school and profit and all this kind of self and not understanding the importance of experience. So when I was out there in the real world, in retail, on the front lines, I was seeing how important customer experience was, how it generated more profit if done well over the long term, how it generated referrals, all that kind of stuff. So what happened was I ended up starting blogging about it. This was 2011. So I just started a blog and over time people just started listening and gaining traction and I got deeper and deeper into it. Then I wrote a book Be Your Customer’s Hero. And now I’m a keynote speaker and I do it fulltime.
Eddie Turner:
What a fascinating background. I just love the title of your book, by the way. I don’t think it gets any more simpler or powerful than that. So kudos to you.
Adam Toporek:
Thank you. Well, you’re hero of mine, Eddie, and I’m not exaggerating. You’re just like one of the most genuine people I know. Everybody loves you. So, it’s like that. Eddie, you’re like a walking example of what I teach in the book, honestly.
Eddie Turner:
Well, you’re very kind. Thank you, Adam. The feeling is mutual, absolutely. Well, we got to just know each other over the last four or five years and it’s just been fascinating to watch the work that you’re doing and the incredible example you’re setting and it’s just when we see each other, it makes my day.
Adam Toporek:
And likewise.
Eddie Turner:
Glad you’re here. So tell me, as we’re thinking about leadership, is there any relationship between good customers service and experiences and leadership?
Adam Toporek:
I’m trying to think like a really fun way to say that. That’s what the kids say, right? Yeah, it is essential, it is fundamental to great customer service that you have great customer experience leadership. And you can get isolated instances of good customer service, good customer experience without good leadership because you can have employees who care and who want to take care of the customer despite being in a bad culture, despite being in an organization that doesn’t support that vision. So it can happen but here’s where it can’t happen. It can’t happen consistently. It can’t happen across the organization without great leadership. And really if you talk about the companies that have great customer experiences, they first and foremost have a customer centric culture and the only way you can do it is leadership. I mean, I know you obviously teach leadership on the Keep Leading Podcast. I mean, you know that if there’s one culture that’s sort of coming down from the top … A leader can’t create a culture but they can ruin a culture, right?
Eddie Turner:
Absolutely.
Adam Toporek:
Yeah. So I mean, if the leader’s not supporting customer service or customer experience, if they’re not saying “The decisions we make always take into account or, more importantly, focus on the customer first,” then you’re not going to see the impact or the effect downstream.
Eddie Turner:
Very well said. So thank you for sharing that with this, Adam. What we’d like to do right now is to pause for a sponsor break.

This podcast is sponsored by Eddie Turner LLC. Organizations who need to accelerate the development of their leaders call Eddie Turner, the Leadership Excelerator. Eddie works with leaders to accelerate performance and drive impact. Call Eddie Turner to help your leaders one on one as their coach or to inspire them as a group through the power of facilitation or a keynote address. Visit EddieTurnerLLC.com to learn more.

Hi, this is Connie Pheiff, the Founder and CEO of Talent Concierge and host and producer of the Connie Pheiff Show and you’re listening to the Keep Leading Podcast with Eddie Turner.

Eddie Turner:
We’re back. We’re talking today with Adam Toporek, the customer service expert. He’s a keynote speaker, author and podcast host and he’s telling us all about customer experiences.So, Adam, in your book Be Your Customer’s Hero you created an essential tool for frontline customer service teams and that is proving invaluable by all accounts from what people are saying but as we think about leaders, sometimes the challenge is different. How can leaders inspire, educate, and empower their teams to succeed?

Adam Toporek:
Absolutely. And that is really my 3Es. You hit two of my 3Es. So I have a 3E Leadership Framework which we use for leading customer experience. Be Your Customer’s Hero, as you pointed out, is for the frontlines, it’s for the people face-to-face, phone-to-phone, chat-to-chat with customers but for leaders, it’s a different set of principles, it’s a different set of consideration. So we teach the 3E Leadership Framework. First one is Embody and that’s what we talked about a little bit earlier where you must have a customer centric culture coming from the top. And Embody is about walking the talk because, Eddie, I’m sure you’ve seen it in your work history. Have we seen a lot of companies that say they care about the customers and then don’t really execute on it?
Eddie Turner:
Absolutely.
Adam Toporek:
Well, exactly. And often that’s not intentional. Sometimes it’s intentional, right? They just say it and then they move onto squeezing every nickel out of every transaction but often it’s unintentional because things happen, such as incentives.
Eddie Turner:
Are you saying that it is just rhetoric, Adam?
Adam Toporek:
You know what, it some companies it is, 100%. And in other companies it’s just a lack of focus and a lack of understanding that they’re sending mixed messages. They’re not walking the talk. So if an employee sits down for their monthly review and you’re talking about how important the customer experience is in your newsletter and you’ve got a poster on your wall but when they sit down for their monthly review, it is “How many sales have of closed? How many tickets you processed? How far below the budget are you?” and you don’t mention the customer and all their incentives are tied to that, maybe that’s the message, right? You’re incentives send a message. And so there’s a lot of ways that leaders can be disconnected from sending the right messaging around customer service. So that’s Embody.Second one is Educate. I had an experience as customers where a customer service rep or a sales associate did not know what to do, right? They didn’t know how to check us out or they couldn’t check us out and they didn’t know where to find the information, they didn’t know … All this is training or even worse, if you want to really get into it, we had a sort of a difficult situation, shall we say, and they didn’t know how to talk with us. They didn’t know how to communicate well. So that’s training. That’s understanding that if you don’t give your team the tools and resources they need, they’re never going to execute at the level you expect.

And then the third one is in some ways one of the ones leaders have a lot of trouble with and its Empower. And it’s the idea that the more you can empower employees, the more you can solve customer issues in real time and that becomes a win-win-win. One, it absolutely helps with the customer service itself because what happens when you can’t solve an issue in real time? Well, it spirals, you wait for more information, you’ve got a delay. This is how things escalate. If you can solve something on the spot, you can prevent escalation. Second thing, it empowers, it gives ownership to employees. So employees feel better about their job. They feel like they’re not trying to serve a customer with somebody holding them back. And then the third thing, it’s more profitable, right? One of the greatest ROIs you can have in customer experience, Eddie, is a difficult situation that you prevent from happening in the first place.

So if you can do those three things – Embody, Educate, and Empower – those are sort of the 80-20 of customer experience leadership.

Eddie Turner:
Excellent. Thank you for sharing that. So 3E experience, I like that, and that’ll be something that no doubt our leaders who are listening will be able to use to improve the level of customer experience that they are delivering in their organizations.Now, what is the right approach or I should probably ask what is the approach that organizations you’re dealing with are getting backwards when training their employees?

Adam Toporek:
Well, I sort of alluded to it a little bit already and it is the difference between training for knowledge and training for skill. And what I particularly mean is think about the training that maybe you did if you were ever in retail or food service or in one of your early career type jobs or what you’ve seen in the companies you’ve worked with, often the training that frontline associates get is how do you check them out, how do you log a ticket? It’s how to use the system, it’s how to process the basic operational functions, if they get any training, and even that is often underdone and not done as thoroughly or as consistently as it should be. The training that is much less common is the soft skills training – How do you communicate with the customer. How do you communicate with a customer who’s upset? How do you understand customer emotion and work with it? How do you manage our own emotions when you’re faced with a customer who’s upset and maybe is not being that nice to you? And here’s the thing, Eddie. We’re wired for reactive customer service. We are not wired to get yelled at, screamed at, cussed at and then go “Thank you, ma’am. How can I help you?” right? So this takes training. We have to overcome our natural instincts, our natural reactions, and we have to understand not only how to do that on an emotional level but what words, what language, how to communicate. And that’s usually one of the biggest areas were companies tend to fail with training?
Eddie Turner:
Well, said, Adam. It is definitely something that a person has to learn how to deal with those type of volatile situations. I often cite my time in Apple, it was very brief time, many years ago working at Apple, I really never had a retail job, but the Apple specialists – they don’t call them salespersons but they call them specialists but essentially that’s what you’re doing is sales – I received more training at Apple just to be in a store than many corporations offer. And the idea of everything you just described are being taught. There were the technical skills about how to use the technology to process transactions but then there was this whole set of experiences, training around the customer service experience, and they take it very seriously, so much so that there were two full weeks of training before I could even touch a customer.
Adam Toporek:
That’s what we’re talking about. And that’s hard for a lot of companies to do, right? I mean, we’re in a sort of short format here but when I work with companies and talk about training, we talk about the real world. I get it. I was in retail. You want somebody on the floor yesterday, right?
Eddie Turner:
Exactly.
Adam Toporek:
When you’re hiring, there’s a gap. So I’m not saying it’s like easy and yet when we dig it further, we talk about the reality of “Okay, how do you do it?” That’s amazing in the way you just described the two weeks.
Eddie Turner:
Yes. And so they’ve got it down to a science. And it’s often something that I wish I did with other retailers that they would copy. I’ve dealt with a couple of brands who I’ve had brain loyalty to for the better part of 20 years most recently and some of the experiences that I’ve experienced have caused me to leave these brands and it’s pretty sad because it really does boil down to that experience.
Adam Toporek:
Exactly. And real quickly, those brands, they can do it. They maybe can’t do two weeks of isolated training but can they find a way to … employees for the first two months on the job, can they do two days? There’s ways to do it. Not everybody can be Apple, as you and I both know, but I think what happens is they throw up their hands as opposed to looking for a creative way to solve it.
Eddie Turner:
Yeah because what they’re not looking at … they’re looking at the front end cost versus what they lose on the back end in terms of a customer who takes their business someplace else.
Adam Toporek:
Exactly.
Eddie Turner:
So that’s a bigger loss. And, of course, in this age of social media, not just one customer taking their business but then they tell their friends and they take their business someplace else.
Adam Toporek:
Exactly.
Eddie Turner:
So, Adam, what else would you share with our listeners when it comes to this idea of delivering or being a hero in customer service because I’m hearing you say that customer centric leadership is really about focusing on key actions that produce results? Is there anything else we’re missing?
Adam Toporek:
It’s really understanding your why. That’d be probably the only major thing, I think, we haven’t covered which is if you want to lead a customer centric organization … And not everybody is customer focused, your utility company may or may not be customer focused, they may be productivity focused, right? That may be their primary driving … So one, you have to decide if you’re going to be a customer centric organization. Not every organization will be. I would recommend that you are and I would make an argument that the ROI is there even if you don’t have competition because it is simply more cost effective and you get a better return from good customer experience but you’ve got to decide the why that you as a leader are truly committed that “We’re going to have a culture, we’re going to have an organization in which the customer is always central to the decisions we make.” And the rest of it, the 3E Leadership Framework, the other aspects of it we haven’t discussed, the rest of it is execution and strategy but you’ve got to know your purpose and your why first.
Eddie Turner:
Well said. Thank you very much, Adam.Well, on the Keep Leading Podcast, our leaders are always interested in knowing how they can keep leading. What words of wisdom would you share with our leaders?

Adam Toporek:
Words of wisdom. Well, there’s a quote I know pretty well. I don’t even know where it came from, just sort of a saying. It’s called “You are what you focus on.”
Eddie Turner:
I like that.
Adam Toporek:
When you’re talking about business today, I truly believe no one has enough time to do it all. I mean every organization I work with, they don’t have enough time. They don’t have enough resources, they don’t have enough staff, whatever it may be, but certainly it’s hard to find the time to fix everything, to improve everything. So what do you focus on? 80-20, so to speak, approach. It’s what are the three things that are maybe the most important in customer experience leadership. And if you focus on one, what’s going to drive customer experience the most and two, how customer experience manifests itself in your organization, if you’re always focused on the customer, this impact our customers. Somebody walks in your office and says “Hey, boss, I’ve got a way to save 5% next year,” if you don’t ask in the first part of that conversation “Well, how will this affect our customers?”, then you’re not leading a customer centric organization. The idea of focus is really one of the most important things we have in today’s distracted environment.
Eddie Turner:
Well, I appreciate you sharing that and you’re absolutely right. Where can our listeners learn more about you, Adam?
Adam Toporek:
Absolutely. You can find me at CustomersThatStick.com. I am also all over social media. There are not too many Adam Toporeks. So you can find me. I always love connecting with people. Let me know you heard me on the Keep Leading Podcasts so I know you are awesome already. And I love to connect with people. So CustomersThatStick.com is my home base.
Eddie Turner:
Excellent. Well, we’ll be sure to put that in show notes so folks can find you and connect with you.Adam, thank you so much for being on the Keep Leading Podcast.

Adam Toporek:
Oh, this was fine, Eddie. Thanks so much for having me. Super excited for your new venture here.
Eddie Turner:
Thank you.And thank you for listening. That concludes this episode. I’m Eddie Turner, the Leadership Excelerator, reminding you that leadership is not about our title or our position. Leadership is an activity. Leadership is action. It’s not the case of once a leader, always a leader. It’s not a garment we put on and take off. We must be leader at our core and allow it to emanate in all we do. So whatever you’re doing, always keep leading.

Thank you for listening to your host Eddie Turner on The Keep Leading Podcast. Please remember to subscribe to The Keep Leading Podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen. For more information about Eddie Turner’s work please visit EddieTurnerLLC.com.

Thank you for listening to C Suite Radio, turning the volume up on business.

The Keep Leading!™ podcast is for people passionate about leadership. It is dedicated to leadership development and insights. Join your host Eddie Turner, The Leadership Excelerator® as he speaks with accomplished leaders and people of influence across the globe as they share their journey to leadership excellence. Listen as they share leadership strategies, techniques and insights. For more information visit eddieturnerllc.com or follow Eddie Turner on Twitter and Instagram at @eddieturnerjr. Like Eddie Turner LLC on Facebook. Connect with Eddie Turner on LinkedIn.