The bookstore doesn’t have a copy of the novel you need to speed-read before tomorrow night’s book club meeting, but they can order it for you. The restaurant would be happy to replace your dry, overcooked salmon, but then you’d be late for the movie. We’ve all had customer experiences that left us thinking, “Well thanks, but that doesn’t really do me any good now.”
Brittany Hodak knows it doesn’t need to be that way. She believes the very best customer experience (CX) is one that can be noticeably improved in real time. Leveraging technology to ask simple questions for follow-up at actionable moments, Hodak has developed a client roster that ranges from Dolly Parton to Amazon.
Think about it: few customers are going to fill out a three-page survey after they leave a business. They are far more likely to respond, in real time, to a simple question that pops up on their cell phone. When a few seconds of feedback elicit an immediate, helpful response, they are going to be impressed — and they’re going to talk about it.
Which leads us to Hodak’s other career focus: helping companies create “superfans,” those satisfied customers who become (unpaid) brand cheerleaders. The secret to raising up superfans is not necessarily getting everything right on the first try — there will always be things that slip through the cracks. Instead, it’s how brands respond to those situations that gives them an opportunity to stand out.
Hodak and I recently talked about the kind of CX that produces superfans, and we kept coming back to this idea of “now.” For businesses that take customer service seriously, it only makes sense to fuse instantaneous communication technologies into daily operations. If CX is the soil in which superfans grow, real-time follow-through is the fertilizer.
Serenity Gibbons: Can you point to a specific moment where you realized you wanted to work in customer service?
Brittany Hodak: I grew up watching my dad serve people every day. When I was a kid, he managed a Long John Silver’s restaurant in Arkansas. When I was a teenager, he worked in sales and then customer service at car dealerships. My dad was also a really innovative marketer. Having a front-row seat to all of the initiatives he launched at the intersection of customer experience and marketing absolutely inspired my thinking on the subject.
I think we all experience those moments when we feel let down by the level of service we are receiving. And you can’t operate a business without dropping the ball on CX at least a few times. But I like to reverse the downward trajectory of poor CX and view it as an opportunity to, at a minimum, get it right for future customers. Today’s ubiquitous communication technology gives us not only the opportunity to make it right for future customers but to make it right — right then — in the actionable moment.
SG: What is a “superfan” and why is it important to the process of branding?
BH: A superfan is a customer who creates more customers. Superfans typically do this by virtue of their affinity for — and advocacy of — a business. They’re critically important for a few reasons.
First, it’s much cheaper — from a pure customer acquisition cost standpoint — to keep existing customers than it is to attract new ones. In my experience, too many companies place an outsized emphasis on acquiring customers but then have no processes in place for hanging on to them. Customer apathy is a huge threat to every kind of business.
The second reason superfans are important is because there is a high probability that others will act on referrals and recommendations, and not just from people they know. Studies have shown that Gen Z and Millennials are almost as likely to make purchase decisions based on online reviews as they are based on personal recommendations.
SG: How do you see technology impacting CX?
BH: The most exciting thing about the field of CX to me, personally, is that it’s changing so quickly. Legacy CX is all about the percentage of customers likely to recommend your product or service to a friend, long-form surveys, and the idea that learning things about past service helps design better future service.
By contrast, today’s CX is all about getting the right information to the right people at exactly the right time to make an impact. Not on a future customer, but the current customer! Personalized touches, at scale.
That’s the guiding principle behind Experience.com’s Experience Management Platform. We built it to get real-time customer feedback to everyone who needs to see it to be able to act.
SG: What is an example of real-time feedback you’ve experienced?
BH: Let’s say a customer checks into a hotel. That person receives a two-question text survey as soon as they enter the room using a key card. The guest is asked to make sure the room exceeds their expectations and how their check-in experience was with the receptionist.
That feedback is immediately shared with the receptionist, the on-duty manager, and anyone else who has the potential to impact the experience. Real-time experience management is centered on actively asking each customer how you can create an experience that is designed to turn that person into a superfan.
SG: You’ve previously stated that brands that don’t deliver superior employee experience “can’t win.” Why do you add employees to what most see as a customer-only focus?
BH: Because every CX necessarily involves at least one of your employees. Even if you’re interacting with a chatbot, human employees programmed it and are likely monitoring it.
Big picture, everything that every employee does will eventually impact your customers even if there is no direct interaction. Because of these two facts, employee experience (EX) and CX are intrinsically linked.
I’m a firm believer that employees will never take better care of customers than the care they’re experiencing internally. If your CX isn’t where you’d like it to be, take a long, hard look at your EX, and you’ll likely find a strong correlation.
It’s also important to recognize that even though EX primarily involves your paid employees, the same idea holds true for your partners, contractors, vendors, etc. A terrible outsourced shipping experience can ruin an otherwise great CX. Customers don’t ultimately care if the person responsible for the negative experience was one of your employees or a contractor. They just want issues resolved promptly and overall experiences that exceed their expectations.
SG: What challenges have you experienced as a woman in tech and what advice would you offer other women?
BH: I feel very lucky to work at a company where I’m not only surrounded by amazing female leaders, but also by male executives who would never tolerate bad behavior within our organization. After all, we believe that “Experience is Everything,” and that philosophy very much includes employee experience.
However, I think it’s important to remember that harassment or bullying of any kind, including sexism, is always — always — a reflection of the perpetrator, not the target. And in my experience, at least, people who have time to criticize or question your place will certainly be those doing less than you.
For any woman dealing with BS: Keep your head up, and remember never to let yourself be bothered by criticism from anyone whom you wouldn’t go to for advice. Everyone deserves to feel valued and appreciated in their job, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, age, or any other variable. People are people and should all be treated equally. Full stop.