Episode 39: A Fresh Perspective On Customer Service & Customer Experience with Alex Mead
James: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of Spamming Zero. This month’s sponsor of the podcast is Gorgias. If you’re not familiar with Gorgias, Gorgias is a help desk but it’s specifically meant for e- commerce brands or D2C brands. I love, love, love, love their mission. Listen to this. We believe that the next version of commerce should be more open and anyone should be able to be a part of it. As a merchant or a customer, we believe decentralized commerce is better for everyone. Their core values, maximize your impact, customer first, strive for excellence, take extreme ownership and 100% honest. I love what they do. Gorgias is one of our favorites. They work with brands like Steve Madden, OLIPOP and others. Too often, customer service gets a bad rap, and Gorgias helps make sure that that gets a better rap. Here’s a testimonial from a CEO and founder at Darn Good Yarn. Gorgias gives us a holistic view of our customers. This way, we can provide them with fast and personalized help. Love it. Check them out. If you’re not familiar with their website, it’s G- O- R- G- I- A- S. com. Check out Gorgias. I’m James.
Brian: And I’m Brian.
James: And this is Spamming Zero. What’s up, everybody? Welcome to another episode of Spamming Zero. We are joined by Alex Mead, who is a customer experience leader. He’s been across many, many different industries and different companies. Super excited to have him here because he is somebody that I highly recommend you follow on LinkedIn, write some amazing stuff, has a great point of view. And in my opinion, it’s actually a point of view that a lot of customer experience professionals don’t have. It’s a unique one and that’s what I love about it. Alex, welcome to the show.
Alex Mead: Thank you. You missed out the word service, customer service experience. We’ll talk about that, I’m sure, why that’s an important word for me.
James: Yes, absolutely. So Alex, one of the reasons why, I’ve been following you for a long time, but one of the things that caught my eye about two weeks ago, you posted on LinkedIn. And one of the things that you posted was telling really the customer experience world and customer service world, hey, let’s slow down with AI just for a second and all the ChatGPT stuff. It’s amazing and it’s great, but why should we slow down? Give the rundown that you gave on your LinkedIn post.
Alex Mead: Okay. So I actually look back. I think 11 years ago, I wrote about my EPIC framework that basically says customers, when they have a service question, issue or need, and that can be any lifecycle stage, before you’ve bought something, you’ve bought it, you want to know when it’s coming, you want to return it, you can’t make it work, etc. Customers want easy, personalized, and then the next two letters, intuitive and contextual. Chatbots have forced customers into, it’s easy to talk to a chatbot, of course. You can in theory get a personalized answer, but is it intuitive and contextual? Absolutely, it’s getting worse because a chatbot won’t say, ” Alex, I can understand your big picture situation. I can understand that flight you’ve just missed was one we booked for you to connect to another flight. So actually, we better sort this out rather than just make it impossible for you to talk to a human being.” So easy, personalized, intuitive, contextual. I think maybe five years ago, we weren’t getting anywhere near my vision of that but we were getting better. And then I think the chatbot, the boom of chat tech VOC surveys has just made people forget, okay, easy does not mean we force the customer down a particular channel. We force them to talk to a chatbot first. Easy should mean they can choose their channel and we’ll make it easy for them based on the context of the situation. I may have run it two weeks ago. I may have written it two years ago. I think I’ve first preached about it 12, 15 years ago and we’re getting further away from it, which is crazy with the amazing tech we have that we’re getting further away from that.
James: I love this simplicity of the EPIC framework that you just laid out. I think it’s beautifully done. I would love for you to talk to the listeners a little bit about what are the foundational pieces that you think are missing? We’re getting further away from this. So what are the areas that, let’s say, brands are dropping? Where do they need to pick those pieces up and fix?
Alex Mead: Yeah. Honestly, I think if I had to put the order easy, personalized… There’s not an order. It’s not easy, personalized, intuitive and contextual. All four are interlinked. But I think you could probably park intuitive and focus on contextual. Intuitive is as soon as you reach out, we say, ” Hey, you’re probably reaching out because of X, Y and Z.” Well, let’s park that. Let’s start with the basics. I think too many companies are using the amazing AI, forcing people down channels without understanding, okay, what is it the customer wants or needs? So don’t force them to use a chatbot, a call center, a messenger. First of all, hey, Mr., Ms., Mrs. Customer, how can we help you? And it should be as easy… There’s too much effort put on the customer these days with all this amazing tech. It should be as easy as a customer saying, hey, airline X or retailer Z, where’s that pair of shoes I ordered last week? That’s all. Or hey, that flight I’ve got book, can I get some options for one three hours later? That’s how easy it should be for a customer. And then the context should say, okay, that pair of shoes, we did tell you they were going to be delivered yesterday. And we’ve just realized we’re already behind the curve on that, but you know what? When you told us you were ordering that pair of shoes, it was your father’s 50th wedding anniversary golf shoes. Oh my, god. We really have dropped the ball. So before we talk to you about a self- service channel, we’re now going to say, right, this is a customer with a high context. He’s a loyal customer and the situation is actually very important. So let’s not say, well, that shipping can sometimes be four or five days late. Let’s say this is a golden moment. Someone now pick this up and do something special with it and phone Alex and say, ” Okay, that pair of golf shoes, they’re not going to be with you, Alex. That’s the reality. Here’s what we can do. Here’s some money for a retailer or we can get you another pair very similar in 24 hours.” That’s obviously less than 1% of most interactions but you’ve got to start with whether it be that example or a simple, ” Hey, my utility bill. Can I change the billing date? Or hey, can I add an upgrade to my Netflix?” Establish the context and then give the options. I can’t think of a single company where the first thing it says is, ” Hey, what do you want, dude?” They may play at it. They may give you icons. They may give you IVRs, but that’s why I think ChatGPT, Bard, the amazing AI can be awesome. I should be able to say, ” Hey, company. I’m stressed.” ” Okay, Alex. Wow. We can see why you’re stressed. We can see we told you it was in stock. It’s out of stock.” You shouldn’t have to make the customer tell you what their issue is. I think that will be in 10, 15 years when our kids are finally running the world or my grandkids. Please God, no. I keep telling them wait, wait, wait.
James: I don’t know, Alex. I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s going to be that long.
Alex Mead: I don’t know exactly, but what I do know is I said the exact same thing 10 years ago. That’s the only reason I’m saying because I think the reality is the world of Instagram and WhatsApp and Twitter and Facebook. That’s another thing that I think companies are screwing up. Why are you spending five, 10 years to integrate Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp? Why don’t you make your app, your website or your mobile the equivalent of that so I can send you a message?
James: Why don’t you get what you already have working first?
Alex Mead: Most definitely. I will start on your website, your social media page or your app, and then I’ll go to WhatsApp and say, ” You bloody losers. Why can’t I do the equivalent of WhatsApp in your app? So let me message you by a synchronous messaging, by send you a video, send you my location, whatever.” To answer your question, the basics. Oh my, Lord. We’re still forcing people into call center queues before we even know what the hell their question is. And the airline industry, I think they just gave up, didn’t they? Okay, you’re going to have to sit in a queue for one hour. The agent will say, “I really can’t help you either, mate. Why don’t you send an email to customer relations and you’ll never get a reply.” Some companies have just given up.
James: It’s sad because…
Alex Mead: It is sad. Yeah.
James: We call this at Flip these golden moments. And these golden moments are when you as a brand have the almost undivided attention of a customer and you screw it up.
Alex Mead: Absolutely.
James: It’s a golden moment because it’s a moment that you can either turn into a positive or it can have a negative impact. And that negative impact-
Alex Mead: Sorry. I have my EPIC framework for customers, but for customer service employees, whether they’re be in a call center, a retail store delivery driver, I have another four letters. They need time. The first T stands for time. Let me focus on this customer. If there’s 50 in the queue, I need to focus because the customer will tell when I’m not. They need information. Even the great Amazon, ” Oh wow, it’s with our shipping company.” I didn’t order from UPS or DHL. I ordered from you so you get the information. They need motivation. Why the hell should I care a damn? And they need empowerment. The biggest thing, I try and change so many things when I have my leadership roles. I’m not a consultant. I go into companies and lead the operation. And the first thing I do is chuck away metrics based on speed of answer, answer rate. I create metrics based on solving customer issues. And honestly, it’s never easy. The executive board never want to back. ” No, Alex, we like the comfort of AHT and SLAs. If you do it a different way, how will that affect things?” I pilot it or I prove it, but I love being able to say to a customer service agent, contact center agent, ” You’ve just spoken to James. Okay. Tell him you’re going to own it. Take the headset off. If you need to go and walk to another department or you need to phone the delivery guy, you can do that and phone James back.” That’s almost opposite to every customer service contact center these days though, isn’t it? They’re all, ” Oh well, I can’t”-
James: It’s true. It’s resolution time. It’s response time. It’s time in the queue, all that stuff. It is all about time. And I love the fact that you’re using that as an acronym as well.
Alex Mead: But actually, sorry to back to the start of that though. If you’re giving customers the context, ” Hey, let me tell you what my question is,” 95%, I think probably even higher, 100%, they don’t want to talk to human being. So if you’re making it easy for them to get the easy answers rather than forcing them into these queues and the more complicated or emotionally tough stuff you’re letting the agents be empowered to solve, it’s got to be a win, isn’t it, on both sides of the fence? I once had Deloitte, PwC, EY, Accenture, look at the way I was doing things and they said, ” Oh my, God. It actually is more cost- effective to do it Alex’s way as well because customers don’t phone so often. We resolve things.” And by the way, your acquisition and retention go up. It’s so frustrating this damn industry the way it could be done.
James: What’s interesting too, though, Alex, and I’d love for you to unpack this a little bit because some of the foundational pieces of them having information, for example, as part of your acronym of TIME. To get that information, a lot of times they need the infrastructure to have the information, and that infrastructure is oftentimes built on technology that sometimes the contact center itself doesn’t necessarily own. It’s done by a vendor, for example, like a CRM.
Alex Mead: Yeah.
James: I think that a lot of areas of customer experience fail right there.
Alex Mead: Absolutely.
James: It’s them being able to have access to the information. And then your second part of your acronym or your last letter, which was the empowerment piece, those two in my opinion go hand in hand because you can have great tech but if you’re not pushing that information on to people, whether they’re being passed from department to department, that information needs to go with them because it helps empower the next agent to be able to do their job. I can tell you firsthand with my experiences, there’s nothing that drives me more wild than when I have to give my personal information more than once on the phone. I don’t know a single person alive that does not get just absolutely mad about that.
Alex Mead: Actually, there’s a great subtext to it. I’ll read the question into that. I sometimes post a few controversial comments about superficial thought leadership. I don’t go into companies and put a poster up and say, ” Hey, we need EPIC and TIME.” I say, ” Right, okay. My job as your CX leader is to get you the information. That’s my job. So whether you’re in an airline sector, logistics sector, financial services, I believe we should never not be able to answer the customer’s question unless it is confidential or it’s really complicated.” And then we should be able to say to a customer, ” I don’t have that right now. Leave it with me. I’ll get back to you.” When I stand up in front of the sometimes thousands of people, ” Okay, I’m your leader. Here’s my vision. I want EPIC and TIME.” They go, ” In your dreams, mate.” They never believe me. I say, ” No. You tell me all the questions you get asked by customers that you can’t currently answer.” There was a great example. I worked for a company that delivered over half a million parcels a day and there was two large contact centers. 50% of the calls, what time is my parcel coming? 40% of the calls, you said you’d try to deliver. I was in all day. Nobody came to my house. There were literally hundreds of thousand plus calls, 50%, when is it coming? And the 50%, when is it coming? By the way, we fixed it by proactively telling the customer when to expect their parcel. We were the first to do that. That was really cool. God, it was tough to get 3, 000 drivers to adhere to a route. It was a car crash. But the second part, your tracking information is wrong. You say you tried to deliver or you’ve left the parcel with a neighbor. These guys, these customers would phone the contact center, and the agent would say, ” Oh, I’m sorry. What we’ll do is we’ll try again tomorrow.” We’ll try? No, your tracking says you tried to deliver. I think you’re lying. And the agents hated having… They knew the driver hadn’t been. They couldn’t categorically prove it, but they could phone the depot who would then take 20 minutes to answer the contact center call whilst the customer is on hold, believe it or not, and say, ” Yeah, he didn’t actually go.” But you can’t tell the customer that. Tell them they did try but there was a road traffic accident or something BS. I realized, okay, it’s not information. It’s a culture. This is a nightmare. So two things I did is I virtualized everyone in a depot customer care team with the contact center team. There were one port… Originally, there were 500 people in depots and about 500 in contact center. Contact center guys, you’re getting asked questions where you have to phone the depot to get the answer. It’s crazy. Let’s virtualize you all. Well, we don’t have a virtual telephony platform. Well, we got one. And secondly, they would say, ” Well, our customers only like talking to local. Our business customers, they only want to talk to their local depot.” Well, I think they’d talk to anyone that can answer their question, if they can answer it faster than the 20- minute current speed of answer you’re offering now. Again, my god, it was a nightmare. But we come back to the point we changed the world where every customer service agent in a depot or a contact center had realtime access to the GPS position of that driver, their route, where they had been, where they were going for the rest of the day. Again, I have so many fights with the marketing guys in my roles. I said, ” This is such an opportunity. We can be known as the parcel delivery company you can trust. So if we screwed up, we’ll be honest about it.” And I literally put contact reasons on our website, on our app. Again, make it easy for a customer to contact us where a customer could click. Your tracking information is wrong. You say you tried to deliver but nobody came. They could click that, believe it or not. And I’m like, ” Oh, please, work. Please, work.” It was the most commonly clicked thing. But because I didn’t just want to create noise, what we did is every one of those issues was linked to the consignment number to the driver and we could see categorically, did they go to the address? And we were able to see 50 to 60% of the TIME, the driver had not been to the address, and we could tell you which driver, which depot. And suddenly, everyone is like, “Oh, okay, Alex. All right. You may be right, but let’s just slow down.” But the change in atmosphere and environment in the contact center and the depots where they knew they would not be asked a question. If the driver had screwed up, they could say, ” Yeah, I’m really sorry. Our driver hasn’t been to your address.” But because that was still awkward conversation, what we made sure happened behind the scenes is every one of these 3, 000 drivers knew that that was their strike. If you don’t go to a customer’s address without… We created a simple alert on your phone to say, ” I can’t make it to this customer’s address. Here’s the reason.” They’re sometimes valid reason. They would get a warning. And if they had three warnings, they wouldn’t get their bonus. So suddenly, drivers are adhering to every route. So information, as you said, is about empowerment as well. It’s not as. And that’s why again, superficial CX leadership, you can journey map VOC. I love it. I agree, it’s great, but it’s not as simple as that. I wish it was.
James: I love it, Alex. You’re dropping some real truth bombs on this episode. What’s interesting to me is when I read your article that you wrote about, it was in 2022, it’s along the same framework. And one of the things that you had mentioned was just this context aware thing. And I want to unpack this for a second because it’s fascinating that you bring this up and this is why I say maybe we’re not as far from this as we might think. I think there is an absolute obligation for vendors to listen to this next part. I’m talking about tech vendors. I’m talking about AI vendors. We have an obligation to the people that we are serving, the brands that we are serving-
Alex Mead: Absolutely, yeah.
James: …to provide the right type of AI so that there is context and so that it can empower the agent. It is not always the business’ job to figure that out. If you are bringing technology into an organization, you have to figure it out and you are responsible for doing it as well. There’s too many vendors out there that bring a little, tiny piece of the pie. They throw it over the table to a brand and they’re like, ” Have at it.” And then the brand has to figure it out and they have to spend millions of dollars on engineering and coding and they can’t figure it out. And then we’re left with bad experiences. So take some damn ownership, vendors, and figure this out for the brands that you’re trying to help.
Alex Mead: James, this is the first time we’ve spoken. You are literally touching all my sweet spots here. Another thing, customer success is an area that I’ve crossed. And first of all, anyone who says, ” Hey, CS.” I say, ” Don’t you dare abbreviate customer success as CS. That’s customer service. It always has been, always will be. Call yourself customer success.” But as you said, it’s not just the small vendors. Even the big Salesforce, Microsoft, Oracle, Pega. I’ve worked with every one of them and they will sell me the sales cloud, the service cloud, the marketing cloud, the experience cloud. But back specifically on we actually had a live AI project last year where we had a website knowledge management from one CRM vendor, a chatbot from another, and the agents were using a different service desk console. I was like, oh my God. And that was not linked to the ERP, the back office platforms. So I gave all four vendors my problem statement. Not one of them was able to say, ” Okay, here’s the big picture and how we can help you with that.” I tracked them all in a cork board because I said, ” Yeah, I also want to integrate voice, so we’re going to talk to a voice vendor, so make sure you consider that.” It was like I’m talking to, I don’t want to be detrimental, but they were, ” My platform can do this.” I don’t care. You’re asking me a question. I cannot compute the answer. I’ve never worked as a customer success leader, but I’ve worked with COM vendors, BPO, and I always have to give them the answer, and it’s so frustrating. What I need you guys to do, okay, so a specific answer. If you’re an AI vendor, so what we need to do is first of all, make it easier for us to understand what the customer wants. So natural language. Surely you can help us with that. You must have great algorithms and natural learning, machine learning. Okay. So that’s the first part. The second part, when you’ve helped us establish what they want, we want to think how your AI engine can link to our CRM platform, our ERP system, our POS, our GDS to give us some context. AI has said this is an angry customer. Well, they may be angry. The angry customer should not get preferential treatment over those that are calm. But actually, we can see they’re an angry customer who we’ve just downgraded their flight, lost their bags, and they’re stuck at an airport in Helsinki and they’re quite rightly furious. And by the way, it is a first class flight. So AI guy, don’t just take, hey, it’s an angry customer. Think about all of that, and then I want you to help us think about what we can do in that situation. So there’s a thing called next best action. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, where an agent desktop, the AI can say, ” Hey, right. This is our customer. Here’s the context of this situation. Here’s the last four bits of feedback.” That stuff, feedback that we spoke about so amazingly two years ago. Yeah. The last three bits of feedback were amazing. The last flight, they told us the feedback, this is our last chance to get something right. So agent, when you’re talking to James, bear all this in mind. So AI, machine learning company, help me with that. And actually, what I want you to do is also if the customer phones us, I want you to turn the voice to text in realtime and turn that into next best action. And there’s tech for all these things. I literally remember I gave a speech. It wasn’t airline. It was just similar to that. And they were looking at me like, ” Wow. That’s amazing, Alex. What a vision. Leave it with us.” They never came back to me with anything substantive. So we had to do what you say, cobble things together. And you’re right. A great customer success leader should be allying with other partners as well or saying, ” Okay, I understand you’re a big IT estate. This is how we can fit into that. And by the way, what you’re asking for, you can’t deliver with your IT estate even if we add in our solutions. We can help you with other partners. We can help you fix your problem.” They don’t fix problems. They sell licenses to them. Not all of them. There are some great people, of course.
James: This is exactly why at Flip, we decided to focus on our partner ecosystem right here because if we’re going to go into a brand and they’re going to use our product for voice, we want to make sure that it helps empower every other channel that they’re working on. And you can’t do that if you’re just going into that brand with the singular vision of what our product can sell for.
Alex Mead: Absolutely.
James: So it’s actually this big added value. By the way, if you want some real truth to this from a vendor’s perspective, it’s big added value for our customers.
Alex Mead: Absolutely. Yeah.
James: That’s one of the biggest reasons why they love working with us, is because we do have this 80- plus integrations across many different vendors that are specifically meant for e- commerce. So these brands have very unique technologies that have to be leveraged. Your help desks are sometimes different. Your CRMs are sometimes different. Your BPOs, all those things, even the phone system.
Alex Mead: Absolutely.
James: And you have to consider all those things when it comes to voice. It’s funny that we bring up this context to wear stuff because, not to plug Flip here, but literally two months ago, December timeline, we released a new part of our product, which is literally word for word called context to wear conversations.
Alex Mead: I like it. There you go.
James: And this is exactly what we’ve been talking about.
Alex Mead: You’re not paying me. I’m not paying you. So that is a coincidence.
James: That is true. That is totally a coincidence.
Alex Mead: Well, it’s also an encouraging coincidence. Hopefully, we’re both on the right lines. We’re either fools never differ or great minds think alike. It would be one of the two. You never know.
Alex Mead: But the point you just raised as someone more… I’ve been on your side of the fence, vendor BPO side, but 90% of my career on the client side. I always go in and within three months, I have my EPIC and my TIME. It’s not something I put that it’s relevant for each customer. It looks very differently. EPIC means this in this customer. This organization, it means that and then you have to take by customer type, customer situation, customer persona, but that’s my vision. And then when I get the vendors in, tell me how you can meet that vision. It’s like I’m talking Chinese to a Japanese person. Please, you may get one. Please just focus on how… What I always respect is absolute honesty and transparency from any vendor. Okay, Alex, we can help you with that part of it. The other stuff, do you know what? I’ve got some great partners as you said. That’s again, some companies will have lame partners that they say are great partners. Don’t BS me. Oh no, straightaway. Okay. If you want to say this is our sweet spot, okay. Now can you help me figure out the other parts? If you can, great. If you can’t, that’s okay because I’ve still got my part of the jigsaw. I like you guys for that. So the amount of BS. Whether it be Zendesk, Freshworks or the big boys, they’ve got so many partners and some, okay, if you are going to recommend a partner, make sure it’s one that actually will meet my vision. And oh yeah, we’ve got a great voice integration partner but it can’t do screen pop. What the hell? Why are you wasting my time? And they even set you up a call with the CEO of the company like, oh God. Just be transparent and honest. But the thing that great companies, I’m sure like yourself, is you should have network of experts throughout the world, shouldn’t you, people? And I love actually… Too many people. Show me the way you’ve done it before or some of my ideas are new. Okay, I don’t care. Show me how we can go about this. I get the nuts and bolts. I love creating things that haven’t yet been created. There are so many dumb things we can create still. That’s what excites me.
James: I love it. It’s so interesting because there are some true foundational pieces that I know we haven’t necessarily totally unpacked one by one, but one of the things that I also think is oftentimes missing when it comes to the customer experiences is we tend to think and we get this tunnel vision of our brands. I’m putting myself in the shoes of a lot of companies out there that are trying to tackle customer experience and customer service. And one of the things that I think too many brands do and too many people do is they get this tunnel vision of, okay, my business is so unique to anyone else that I have to customize every little thing. Here’s what I’ll tell you. In the short time that I’ve been here at Flip, one of the things that we do is we serve the e- commerce industry. A lot of these brands will come to us and they’ll be like, ” Hey, we want to do A, B, C and D.” And we’re like, ” That makes total sense. We’ve literally built this out of the box solution for e- commerce.” And then we tell them we have over a hundred and tenths with a voice solution. And they’re like, ” Yeah, but is it going to be unique to us?” And then we show them, we’re like, ” What’s the number one reason why people call?” And they’re like, ” Well, we don’t have data on that. We don’t collect data on that.” Well, okay, well we can help get you the analytics on that, so turn it on for a little bit and we’ll show you why people call. And we bet you, we bet you that the number one reason why people call is they’re asking where their order is.
Alex Mead: Absolutely.
James: And then the second reason is they want to return an order. The third reason is they want to cancel an order.
Alex Mead: Both is when’s it coming?
James: Yeah. And when’s it coming. And there are these common inquiries that people have when it comes to when they’ve purchased products. And we have to stop thinking that just because our business is unique and we want to provide a unique experience for them, that the reason why people are calling is unique. It is not. It is the same stuff. And when we standardize that, we can build a foundation to where in your article you call them wow moments of making them amazing experiences. You can create those wow moments and you can create those amazing experiences which can amplify those situations and make them even better.
Alex Mead: Sorry. Yeah. So again, the scenario you’re describing, I’ve been through so many times. I don’t know if there’s a scientific proof around it, but even before sentiment analysis, we can tell you every keyword a customer is using. Way before that, over a decade ago, I would get into a role and I’d sit with contact center agents. I’d get them in a room. I’d have a beer with them. What are the reasons customers call you or email you or message you or chat you, whatever channel it was? And we’d end up with I do, do white- boarding. Oh my, god. I’m one of those after all. We’d get every single contact reason on a board, a wall. Okay, yeah. When is my order coming? And we realized, okay, we can now group them. So customer says, ” I want to change my delivery address. I’m not going to be in. Can I leave it with a neighbor?” Okay, it’s not when is my order coming? It’s can I do something about my order that’s coming? So that’s one primary category. Or where the hell is my order? Is it late or not? It’s two different scenarios and we literally create, it’s nearly always, it’s a strange law in every role. There’s never more than six to eight primary reasons a customer wants to contact you. Is it about an order you’ve placed, an order you’d like to place, an order you’d like to return? In that simple scenario. And then you click so you think about, okay, a customer should never have to phone you as the first channel. If they want to, sure, we won’t stop them. So they should go to the website or the app and be able to sign in and say, unless they’re a prospect, assuming they’re an existing customer, sign in and go to a place called my orders or my quotations, whatever. Okay, I’ve got a question about this order. Okay, I click on that. And then you can have a big icon that says, is it a question about delivery day? Is it a question about changing your delivery, question about returns, blah, blah, blah, or how do I use it? Technical support. You click on that. We should definitely give you every piece of information we have about that particular product and that delivery. And that’s where still the basics on that. Okay, if you click on about my delivery now, 99% of companies will say, yeah, our delivery timescales are typically three to five working days. No, it’s a customer. I click on that delivery. I want you to tell me where the hell it is right now and when is it coming. Because that doesn’t exist, people go in a call center queue and they talk to an agent that says, ” Oh, well I don’t know either.” So you have to take everything back to, as you said, why do customers need to get in touch with you? And then if you take it back to the missing I, the intuitive, easy personalizing, when a customer goes to your website or app, it should straight away say, ” Hey, Alex. I can see we told you that delivery would be here today. We’re really sorry it’s going to be tomorrow. But by the way, here is 20 pound discount or refund of your next door, la, la, la.” I’m amazed how many companies still think people want to phone. Yeah, of course, if I want a phone, let me, but I’m convinced my personal experience and nearly… I don’t think, hey, I want to talk to someone on a voice because it’s cool. I have to because you don’t give me any other options. But that’s your point, because 75% plus of companies force you to call. That’s where the nuggets are as to why they need to reach out to you. So you have to mine that and then reverse engineer everything up to what is your reason for contact. We’re coming full circle with the AI, the machine learning. You shouldn’t have to click on an icon about my order. You should just be able to say, ” Hey dude, that order I placed last week. Hey, man, I want to auto pair of trainers. If I ordered them today, will they be here by Thursday?” It should be as simple as that. So we’re so far-
James: Or even having the AI recommend something that…
Alex Mead: Absolutely. So you’re touching on my last… We won’t have time. I could talk all day about it. So customer experience. So right at the start, I said I’m customer service experience. To me, the growth of the phrase customer experience has ruined customer service. We now have all these, ” Hey, CX is everything.” Yeah, it’s everything. But based on my experience and my instinct, customer experience is two distinctly different things. It’s brand and marketing experience. Show me your advertising. Show me your products. Personalize your emails to me. When I’m browsing, pop up an offer. Even the packaging, the way you ship things to me. All that is brand and marketing experience. And there’s customer service experience, and customer service experience is a question or need I have at any lifecycle state so I want to ask across the channel I want to and I want to choose self- service or agent. And that second one is where customer experience is a car crash now, and that’s because we’ve created these chief customer officer roles in the last decade, filled them with marketeers, who have great random marketing experience. They don’t have a clue about contact centers, about AI, about CRM. So I forgot what the point I was making was, but customer experience is not… When people say to me, what do you do? I always say customer service experience because to me, saying customer experience is saying, ” Hey, I do business stuff.” In CX, what do you actually do? Is it brand of marketing? Which is again a hugely… And I think the brand of marketing has got amazing. It’s got better every year. You have virtual reality AI but whilst the customer service experience is plunging every year. So I really wish… I think I put a poster maybe yesterday or even today. I lose track where I put my posts. In an organization, I’m reluctant to take a role where I’m the CX guy or call me CX as you want, but I have to be an equivalent level of the marketing guy. And too often, the marketing guy and you have some poor CX schmuck who just can’t get anywhere. So let me own your customer service experience, have a brand and marketing guy, own the brand and marketing, and between us, we will be awesome. And without one, that’s why businesses are failing so much, I think.
James: I actually completely agree with you. I have actually seen this firsthand since the economy has dipped quite a bit. I have had many conversations with CMOs that are now having to take on that customer experience role. They’re having to look at retention rates more than ever before and own the post purchased cycle of a customer more than ever and they don’t know what the hell they’re doing.
Alex Mead: They don’t know. Absolutely right. They have no idea. And I lived it firsthand. I had one role maybe over 10 years. Only once I’ve ever reported into a CMO and I said never again because he had two budgets on the table. There was me saying, ” We don’t have a CRM system.” They had a huge outsource contact center in India. They’re one of the first in the UK to do it. And customers would go to the website, be forced to phone a number or email us. The emails went to Mumbai. The phone calls, 80% would go to Delhi, 20% to the UK. I said, ” We have to make sure the right customers with the right questions don’t go to India.” Not a racist comment. Purely they don’t have the skills or the understanding to be able to deal with these complex financial services issues. Here’s how we can do it. Invest in CRM, segment, blah, blah, blah. That was my option. The other option was a brand and marketing campaign on the subway saying how awesome we are. He chose option two, and I literally were like, ” Adios. I quit.” That was after many months of yeah, oh… because he didn’t know the power of how important it is for a customer to easily ask the question. But it’s all back to that gold, and golden moments aren’t always huge, big deals. They can be simple things, can’t they? And the more we get frustrated with the simple thing, the more I’m not going to give you my trust of anything slightly complicated. So it is as simple as that, I think, simple and complicated that-
James: I do find it fascinating how there are so many people out there that don’t want to use phone, but here’s where I might think a little differently about this. So I don’t think it’s people don’t want to use phone. I think it’s more that the phone channel and the experience there has been so bad for so long that they don’t want to use it. This is something that we’re again … I’m not trying to plug Flip at all. I don’t do this ever, Alex.
Alex Mead: It’s okay. Don’t worry.
James: It’s so relevant that we are trying to literally change the way people think about the phone channel, and here’s one reason why. So if I took my Flip hat off for a second, here’s what I will tell you about the phone channel, and in particular when we’re talking about voice. It is the most accessible channel. And when I say accessible, I’m talking about one out of every four people in this world have a disability that only voice can serve.
Alex Mead: Absolutely.
James: So from that perspective alone, it will never go away and it won’t always be one of the most popular channels for that reason. So I do think back to one of your original points when we were talking about don’t force somebody on a channel that they can’t go down. I think accessibility is something that’s not talked about enough when it comes to customer service, and there is a whole big market out there.
Alex Mead: Absolutely.
James: Big, big market. And just for me personally, I’ve struggled with my vision for my whole life, spent four years of my life completely blind. I needed voice to survive. And I can tell you firsthand that there are millions and millions of people that, one, can’t read so how is SMS and chat going to work for you? How is an FAQ going to work for you? They still have money.
Alex Mead: Let me reassure you though. I actually agree. So I worked for almost two years for a digital startup bank, which I think will be launching next year, two years later than when they hired me. We’ve been ready a long time anyway. It’s a digital bank. And I said, ” Okay, on every page of our” … It’s like Monzo and Revolut. There’s no physical stores. Every page of our app, I want the customer to be able to press a button and get contextual help. So I’m on a money transfer page. I want to know where my credit card is coming or better still, I’m in a restaurant, I tried to pay for dinner. My boss is here. It’s declined. This is hugely embarrassing. So you tell us the context, then you choose your channel, and you can 100% … The four channels we said is request a call back, call us, send a message or chat. I’m not going to send a message or chat. I might press request a call back, but I don’t trust you’ll call me back faster than if I phone you now. That natural filtration process by the customer, only 5% of people are going to do the inbound call and align to that. What we have is every agent in my contact center must be able to talk to a customer across every channel. And the inbound voice channel is the one top of the queue, obviously priority. So in my model, any customer that needs to talk to a human being via voice will get an answer quickly because they don’t go through to the press one for this, press two. We already know the context before. So I absolutely agree. And the other thing I’ve thought of a lot, back to the other point, is call center voice. Why can’t I leave a voice audio message and send that to you? Hey, company X, Y and Z. My credit card was just declined. The boss is here. Please get back to me. I can’t stay on the phone. Message me as soon as you got a solution.” Imagine that. So I can’t be in the toilet for two minutes whilst you sort out my credit card thing. That’s where again, the AI can understand the context, okay, customer is emotionally distressed. We can just see his credit card got rejected. It’s because the restaurant isn’t affiliated to our payment scheme. We can do a workaround for that quickly. Good news, Alex. Your bill will go through if you try again now. Imagine that. And that is voice again and you shouldn’t have to-
James: A hundred percent.
Alex Mead: Yeah, I agree. And I wasn’t aware of the statistics you mentioned, but of course, if I want to call someone, there are still times where you do want to talk to a human being. But I think the people over egging the pudding that customers want to talk. No, very rarely do I do. But when I need to, that, as you said, needs to be so slick and quick and easy. I don’t want a bloody IVR at all. I want you to know why I’m probably calling.
James: Exactly. They want the answers so quick, especially if they phone. That’s the channel you have to do the fastest in.
Alex Mead: And then will talk to the empowered agent who can help them.
James: A hundred percent. And by the way, Alex, I’ve loved this framework that you’ve put together, EPIC and the TIME, talking about the context about a conversation. We are at time and before I let you leave, I always like to ask our guests a couple of questions to just rapid fire and get some fun in there. Alex, tell us about an amazing experience or a really bad one that just left you with your jaw dropped.
Alex Mead: I’m afraid it’s the company that used to brand themselves as the planet’s most customer- centric company, a big river in South America. There are multiple, but there’s one specific example where I ordered… I’m in Bahrain. I ordered 10 gifts for my children and my family to be delivered in the UK, guaranteed between 18th and 20th of December. I ordered them first week of December. There can’t be any lit… And half of them literally, I got an email on the 17th of December. They could argue it’s ahead of the 18th saying the items you ordered will now be delivered between the 4th and 10th of January. That’s it. You’re giving me that information and these are gifts that are hard to find. My God. That alone was enough for me to go ballistic and, trust me, I wrote to executives behind the scenes and made things happen. And that’s one of the powers of LinkedIn to be honest. But the second part was, where did you deliver them? We left them on your doorstep where your kids live. Oh, that’s not that. Can you prove that to me? You’re going to have to phone UPS. It wasn’t UPS. FedEx or one of those guys. I’m going to have to contact them. And I said, ” I’m not going to do that.” So I contacted executives from UPS, FedEx, whichever one it was. But I realized all these shortcuts I’m taking, I can’t believe your poor people are having to say that to me as a customer. Yeah, well, I’m really sorry. We can’t give you any more information. They will now be there in January. If I think about every aspect of my EPIC framework and TIME framework, they’d fail in every single letter. And I was so furious and I said, ” Yeah” … Amazon ultimately refunded every item. Their get out of jail is we will refund you. And they even said, ” We can’t refund you until January the 20th. It has to be X days after our failure date.” I literally now I am so against Amazon. I still use them of course because there’s times you can’t avoid it. But I think whoever runs… Well, Jeff Bezos’ creative was amazing. Whether it’s a coincidence he’s left, but I think their customer experience is now shockingly bad. Maybe not if you’re in the US, US to US potentially, but for me, I order things in the UK, Middle East and 50% of the TIME, there’s an issue of some sort. It just drives me-
James: I think it’s because of exactly what we’ve been talking. Even though they’re one of the biggest companies in the world and probably have done some of these areas of the experience better than most, we can admit that-
Alex Mead: Yeah.
James: The infrastructure is still a little bit messed up. Wen you think about it, there are so many different vendors that actually go on Amazon to sell their products and the distribution side of the house and the supply chain side of the house is actually not done through Amazon. But for us as a customer, it looks that way, right?
Alex Mead: Really, yeah.
James: So that’s where it fells. It’s that infrastructure piece that we’ve talked about on here.
Alex Mead: Absolutely. There are many excuses they can give, but you and I work in CX. We know the reasons. I never ever shout at the customer service agent even though those that are just so… They’ve have some that have been trained to say really bad things lately. I’m sorry, sir. If you don’t keep up your turn, I’m going to disconnect you.” You think it’s okay to let me down for 10… Anyway, but I never take it personally against the poor people. But most consumers don’t care who’s delivering it. I’m Amazon. You’re Amazon. You’re the one I ordered from. And their lack of ownership is… I hope there’s an Amazon competitor coming up, there are some potentially or they turned it around, either way. It’s got to change.
James: Completely agree. Alex, it’s been an absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you so much for joining us.
Alex Mead: Thank you. It’s been good fun. Thanks.
James: If you have not yet subscribed to the podcast, please do so. We would love to hear from you also. So if you have any topics that you want us to cover on the show, reach out to me on LinkedIn. Love to cover those topics. Or if there’s a guest that you want to have on the show, let us know. We’d love to have you. Thanks.