Issue 16 | February 2016

Three large, black-and-white photos hang on one of my office walls (see below). Together, they provide an amazing perspective on change and progress.

The first is a picture of four children on a beach in France in the early 1900s, looking up in wonder at Louis Blériot's monoplane (he was the first to cross the English Channel in an airplane). Thirty years later (1930s), those kids could get on a 28-passenger DC-3 and fly across a continent. And thirty years after that (1960s), they could board a 200-seat, jet-powered Boeing 707 and fly to the other side of the world.

Aviation may or may not be your thing (it's been an interest of mine for years). But think of any endeavor or industry that interests you; consider how much it is changing. Progress is inevitable. It happens in good economies and bad, in times of peace and war, and often in ways that are subtle—until you look back and see just how profoundly things really do change. It is no different in the realm of customer service, where advancements are best measured in months rather than decades.

I hope you enjoy this issue.

Warm Regards,

Brad Cleveland

Please enable pictures on your device for full story

I'm writing this from an eastbound Delta flight, 37,000 feet over northwest Colorado. The onboard wireless service, provided by Gogo, is enabling me to track flight progress and catch up with some research and email.

Gogo is, as of this past week, being sued by one of the airlines for "slow service." The suit claims that better technology from another provider enables quicker transmission speeds, giving the carrier an "out" to their contract. (Gogo says it is also improving technology and deserves the chance to respond.)

Blériot monoplane


Boeing 707

While I don't care for lawsuits as a way to resolve disagreements, I find myself amused. My, how long ago was it that we came to expect wireless—fast wireless—on flights? This is just one example of how quickly customer expectations evolve.

Many leaders are whispering concerns about their organizations falling behind in customer service. (And for good reason—studies such as the National Customer Rage Survey suggest customer satisfaction continues to decline overall.)

All of which begs the question: What levers best drive innovation in customer experience? Where should you focus development efforts? Any list is going to be fallible—the late Steve Jobs reminded us that customers don't know what they want until they see it, use it; then they demand it. That said, there are four areas I am convinced will present enormous opportunities for innovation:

  1. Open up access channels. Do you have channels that make it easy for your customers to contact you? Are you staffed to meet workloads and respond promptly? Early movers can reap big rewards. In 2010—only six years ago, but still early in the evolution of social media—the U.S. division of Samsung integrated social links into its website, enabling customers to tweet questions to the Samsung team, connect with other users, etc. The results: a 113% increase in Twitter mentions, a 445% increase in Facebook likes, and a 22% increase in time spent on Samsung's website, among others. Today's customer service frontier includes text, mobile, advanced self-service, video, and related developments.
  2. Listen to your customers. This is so oft-repeated, it almost pains me to write it. But it's a timeless truth. Consider the classic study at Marriott International that sought to determine which guests would be most likely to return to a Marriott hotel. Of those who had no problems during their stay, 89% were likely to return, with 69% of those who had an unresolved problem likely to return. Interestingly, 94% of those who had problems that were resolved were likely to return. By listening to its customers and acting, Marriott was able to measurably increase loyalty.
  3. Listen to your employees. Yep, also oft-repeated, also true, and, unfortunately, also too often neglected in the day-to-day hubbub. Standard Chartered, an Indian bank, got a suggestion from a female banker: staff the branches with women to cater to the predominantly female customer base. Management gave it a go in New Delhi and Kolkata, and saw revenue over the following two years increase by 127% and 75%, respectively. (See this Harvard Business Review article for Standard Charter and other examples of involving employees in innovation).
  4. Think (and act) beyond service. Your customer-facing services provide immediate visibility on the effectiveness of the organization's products, services and processes. When captured and shared, this intelligence can boost R&D and help every part of the organization improve. Simple example: a company new to this principle discovered that 11% of customer contacts on a niche cleaning product stemmed from a child-proof cap that was hard to remove, often sheering off the spray nozzle; their packaging supplier reengineered the cap, eliminating the contacts and, more importantly, improving the product. Higher-end examples include everything from redesigned marketing to new product categories based on what was learned through service delivery.

This is an exciting and important time of innovation. My encouragement is to embrace it!

Recent Issues

  • Loyal customers are 5x as likely to repurchase; 5x as likely to forgive; 7x as likely to try a new offering; and 4x as likely to refer. (Temkin Group, 2015)
  • 76% of consumers say they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. (Aspect, 2015)
  • Most customer experience successes are dependent on customer service: customer service was pleasant or helpful (35%); customer service was very knowledgeable or well-trained (27%) and customer service was empowered to help properly (24%). Only great product quality ranked equally high as these satisfying customer service experiences (25%). (SDL, 2015)
  • 97% of global consumers say that customer service is very important or somewhat important in their choice of and loyalty to a brand; 62% of global consumers have stopped doing business with a brand or organization due to a poor customer service experience. (Parature, 2015)
  • 60% of consumers have higher expectations for customer service now than they did one year ago. (Parature, 2015)

Assemble a small team for a 40-minute brainstorm: Spend 10 minutes each on how your organization could innovate in the four areas mentioned above. (Keep it fast and flowing, with no editing and nothing off-limits.) Then take another 20 minutes to asterisk the three to five ideas that jump out the most. These ideas merit more attention within the next 12 months.

*Brad delivers many private keynotes, workshops, and executive briefings to organizations and associations. For more information, contact

Brad has devoted his career to maximizing the value of customer-facing services. As a speaker, consultant, entrepreneur, executive, and president/CEO, he has seen change from many perspectives and has a deep understanding of the critical importance of customer service delivery to an organization's success. He has worked across 45 states and in 60 countries, and has been privileged to assist in the evolution of service delivery for clients such as American Express, Apple, Coca-Cola, USAA, and others, as well as for governments across the globe. Brad serves as a senior advisor to the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), and is an in-demand speaker and consultant.

To inquire about consulting or speaking, connect through any of the channels below.

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