blue.png Customer Service Interview With Shep Hyken (Part 2 of 2)

Authored by Kayla Brehm
Published on November 18, 2014

This is part two of's interview with Shep Hyken. Part one was posted last week. team member Graham Moreno recently got a chance to sit down with Shep Hyken to talk about customer service. Shep is a speaker, thought leader, and evangelist of customer service who has been in the industry for thirty years. Below is the interview where we discuss everything from Shep’s favorite companies for customer service, his preferred metrics for companies to track customer service, and where he gets his clothes. Enjoy!

Shep Hyken Interview (Part 2 of 2): 

Graham: That’s something that you talk about a lot, customer amazement. What is, in your mind, the difference between customer amazement and just good customer service?

Shep: I don’t want people to think that amazing is over the top. Whenever there is a chance to recover, you always have the chance to go above and beyond. As a company you don’t want to put yourself in a position of constantly recovering, for your customer service scores to be high.

My definition of amazing customer service is simply to be better than average all of the time. Even if it’s a little bit better than average, it’s that consistency and predictability that make it amazing.

When a customer can predict that their experience is going to be above the norm, they will come back again and again. They’ll think “Wow, I love doing business with them, they’re always so friendly, and they always have what I need” and so on. The key word is always.

Graham: Funnily enough, I had an epiphany walking to work the other day that my apartment does that. I never realized how much better they make my day until something happened that made it clear to me. That kind of consistency can sneak away from you if you don’t watch for it.

Shep: Yeah, it will. That’s really important to keep in mind.

Graham: A great question for someone like you, that I love asking, is: What are three companies that have earned your business with their customer service? You’ve written ten books, given a lot of amazing talks, and been involved in customer service for thirty years. I imagine that any company who has earned your business must provide really great customer service.

Shep: You're going to laugh, but where do I love to buy my clothes? There are two department stores. The first is very obvious. One of the greatest department stores on the earth. What is it?

Graham: My guess would be Nordstrom.

Shep: Exactly! I love going there. I moved about a year ago and at my old Nordstrom I had a woman who I shopped with for a long time, and when I have time I still like to go there. I have a different Nordstrom just down the street from where we live and if I’m going to go clothing shopping I love to go there if I’m in a hurry.

There’s another store in St. Louis called Sam Cavato Men’s Wear. This is a higher end store; it’s where I like to buy my really nice clothes. A suit or whatever. Their attention to detail is amazing. They are expensive, and Sam Cavato, the owner of the store, has this great quote that I use all the time. It’s a quote from Aldo Gucci (of Gucci luxury brand). Gucci said, “Quality will be remembered long after price is forgotten.”

The joke I have with Sam is, “Oh, you’re having a sale; looks like you're marking everything down to retail.” It’s expensive, but at the same time you get what you pay for. I have two suits that are in my closet that are ten years old and they’re in great shape.  I wear them all the time. It’s a quality product. If I need tailoring or repair, I take it back to him. It’s amazing how great the service is. They pay such attention to the detail.

I think it was Da Vinci who said “detail is no detail.” I’m not sure it was him, but I really like that quote.

Graham: I really like that; I’ve never heard it before.

Shep: You can interpret it different ways, but for a lot of companies it means that that’s the norm. They pay such attention to details so you don’t have to.

Graham: You mentioned Nordstrom. One of my favorite things about them is how well they treat their employees. I think that’s a huge part of how they create such superb customer service. What do you think about that?

Shep: That’s such a key part of any company's service initiative. Of course, you always start with the end in mind, saying “Let's make sure the customer is happy,” but once you decide that that’s what you want as the outcome, let’s step back and see where that takes place.

It takes place internally. It starts with the people you hire, the way you train them, the leadership’s initiative and so on. It’s what Nordstrom has done well and Zappos too.

Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, has his core values. He hires for his core values, he fires for his core values. The point is that it’s all about the people, the training, and the way you set them up.

An interesting thing about Nordstrom is that if you ask them how they train their people they say, “We don’t train our employees. The parents train them. We just take what they already have and make them work for us.”

Graham: I like that a lot. When we were looking at interviewing them, we learned that they don’t do interviews because they say they still have a lot to learn.

Shep: Isn’t that cool? I think they have a lot to share so I wish they’d do more interviews. Whenever there is an article from anyone in the Nordstrom organization, I love it. Same thing with Jeff Bezos from Amazon, Tony Hsieh, and other people like them.

I always love sharing their articles with my community, and I basically say, “Hey, any time one of these folks has something to say, we should listen.” For me, Sir Richard Branson is another guru of how to take care of customers.

Graham: Richard Branson and how he conducts himself is a great example of my next point. You talk about this a lot in your book so I’d love to hear a little bit more: Customer service is a lot of fundamentally logical ideas that are incredibly difficult to apply.

What do you think it is about customer service that trips up so many companies? Many companies have the resources to be good at it, but then you have the ACEs of the world that are incredible at it.

Shep: I love the idea that customer service is common sense that’s not always so common. At least from the people to people experience. That’s where most customer service falls short.

The statistics you read haven’t changed in the last twenty-five years. 70% of customers will leave because of indifferent service. Not poor service but just apathy. That’s a big stat. The flip side is that you can fix a lot of that really really quickly.

Most companies that are failing feel that customer service is common sense. What they don’t realize, and you just said it, is that “common sense” doesn’t mean it’s easy. Being simple is very difficult sometimes.

The process needs to start with leadership. Customer service needs to be trained, be reinforced, and everyone needs to demonstrate it, so they can become role models for everyone else in the company. Then, when you see success, you need to celebrate that success with your employees. If the customer is happy with the way the company is working, it needs to be communicated to the employees, so they know they’re on the right track and be excited about it. 

Graham: A lot of the trainings you do are centered around customer loyalty. I don’t want you to give too much away, but when you’re talking to different companies who are looking to increase loyalty, is there a consistent or common set of issues that you find they're having? Do you find that there's a solution that works for them across all channels? 

Shep: There’s nothing I’ll hold back. I’ll give away everything. We’re only talking here for a half hour/forty five minutes. By the way, I’ve co-authored five books, and written five of my own. You said I’ve written ten and I want to give credit where credit is due.

I have a really simple solution for loyalty.

There has to be the element of great service, so great service, plus confidence equals potential loyalty. I’m going to make one assumption: the product/service the customer is buying is doing what it’s supposed to do.

Great service  + confidence  = potential loyalty.

I want to talk really briefly about a great product. A revolutionary product, a product we both love. Cable TV. When I was a kid there were 4 channels. Now there are 500 channels. You can watch what shows you want to watch when you want to watch them. You don’t even have to be there at the time they come on any more. It’s amazing. When you have it installed in your home, though, that’s where the customer service breakdown takes place.

They say, “We'll be here at x time.” Then they’re an hour late and you call and say “Where’s the guy installing my cable?” They say, “They’re running late; they’ll be there in twenty minutes.” In twenty minutes they’re still not there. Or maybe they tell you to take a four hour block of time during the workday, and of course they show up at the end of that block and you can’t go to work.

Those things all contribute to a negative customer service experience. I’m generalizing and maybe I’m stereotyping the industry, but, unfortunately for that industry, they have some of the lowest scores of any industry for customer service.

Great product, not so great service. Can you imagine if Nordstrom, or ACE Hardware, or Amazon, or Ritz-Carlton got into the cable industry and treated cable customers the way they treat their current customers. Guess what would happen? People would be willing to pay more because they know they’re going to be taken care of.

Graham: What’s fascinating about a company like Nordstrom is that their service is so great that people have written books about them.

Shep: Yeah, you see the same thing with ACE Hardware. If they do something really well you can learn a lot from these companies.

Graham: One of my favorite companies as far as innovative training techniques, which is my next question for you, is They have an Australian speech coach as well as a psychologist who works with their customer service teams.

Shep: That’s great! I like in the sense that I have bought product from them. I like their service, they do a great job, and I’ll continue to buy from them the next time I need another headset. I haven’t studied them so I can’t speak to their customer service methodology.

I imagine the psychologist is on staff to talk to a rep who’s having a hard day, or who can help if they’re having an interaction with a customer who is being confrontational. They can talk them through it and discuss how to do it better next time. That’s probably a good person to have on staff.

Graham: They’re based out of San Diego. They do sessions with reps over the course of the year. During hiring, each rep goes through seven interviews. I love how seriously they take staffing that team.

Shep: That’s what the best companies do. They take the time to hire right, staff properly, and train the people at the highest level. Soft skills are extremely important.

Graham: To that point, is there any company that you’ve worked with who, with your help, has developed a hiring technique that you like that isn’t the standard technique that you typically see (apply, interview, hired)?

Shep: I’m not a hiring expert and I would never present myself as such. When we talk to companies and we get into the hiring component we talk a lot about attitude. The personality has to mesh with the culture of the company.

I’d say before you even start hiring people get the culture defined, make sure it’s in place, and then start hiring for the culture.

Graham: Do you have a company in mind that excels with that?

Shep: is a great example of that. When an employee gets hired, they go immediately to training. After a few weeks Tony Hsieh walks in and says, “Hey, is everyone happy? If not, let me know and we’ll pay you to leave.” I think it’s about $2,000 to leave and go work somewhere else if you’re not going to be happy. Hardly anyone leaves because they’re so good at hiring, but that’s a great example. They hire right, train properly, and make sure that the right person is in the right job.

Graham: Shep, we’re winding down, and I want to be considerate of your time. I’m going to ask one final question and then we’ll wrap it up--does that sound good?

Shep: *laughs*  I hope I have a good answer.

Graham: You’ve been in customer service for thirty years. At this point, customer service has hit a seeming golden age in terms of public awareness of its importance. Is there an innovation in customer service that you’d like to see that maybe hasn’t been addressed as fully as it could have been?

Shep: Wow. That’s a great question. I’m going to throw this out there--if you ask me this next week I might give you a totally different answer.

I think one of the coolest things a company can do is educate the customer on how to do business with them. At one point, I called it customer education, and the idea was that we’d teach people not only how to use the product better, but how, if you had a problem, to best work with us. We want to create something called a demanding customer. The concept is that if someone were to go elsewhere they’d demand the same level of service they’re getting from me right now at this company. If they can’t get service at that level, they’ll come back to me.

There are a number of companies doing this now. In insurance--health insurance, let’s say--a young person with health insurance doesn’t typically deal with their company on a regular basis. So they have no idea how good their company is.

I work with an insurance company, and I can’t tell you who they are because I signed an NDA. They do what some of the other insurance companies do, but they do it so well relative to the norm.

As soon as you decide to do business with them and engage with them, they have someone who’s assigned to you and that person calls you. It doesn’t matter how old you are, this person becomes your concierge.

Even if you’re a healthy person, the concierge will make suggestions. Something like “Hey, we’ve got a deal with a health club in your area, and even though you’re young and healthy, we’ll subsidize your membership.” That’s creating value for the customer beyond doing business. That’s not so much technology as a whole philosophy.

Graham: Yeah that’s great, that’s creating value outside of a solution. Shep, I want to be conscientious of your time. For those of you who didn’t hear it at the beginning, Shep is a customer service speaker, a NYT bestselling author, and a customer experience coach. His website is Thanks a lot, Shep, and have a great day!

Shep: You too; bye!

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Thoughts or questions about the interview? Let us know in the comments below or @helpdotcom.



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