Jeff Toister, Author, Trainer, and Consultant

Scaling Up Services - Jeff Toister

Jeff Toister, Author, Trainer, and Consultant

Jeff is an author, trainer, and consultant who helps customer service teams unlock their hidden potential.

As an author, Jeff has written three books, including Getting Service Right, Customer Service Tip of the Week, and the bestselling The Service Culture Handbook.

He also writes the popular Inside Customer Service blog, which Feedspot has named one of the Top 50 Customer Service Blogs on the Planet.

As a trainer, more than 140,000 people on six continents have taken Jeff’s training videos on LinkedIn Learning and He was one of the first people to receive the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) credential from the Association for Talent Development.


[00:00:01] You're listening to Scaling Up Services where we speak with entrepreneurs authors business experts and thought leaders to give you the knowledge and insights you need to scale your service based business faster and easier. And now here is your host Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt.

[00:00:22] Are you a CEO looking to scale your company faster and easier. Checkout Thrive Roundtable thrive combines a moderated peer group mastermind expert one on one coaching access to proven growth tools and a 24/7 support community created by Inc award winning CEO and certified scaling up business coach Bruce Eckfeldt. Thrive will help you grow your business more quickly and with less drama. For details on the program visit That's E C K F E L D slash thrive.

[00:00:58] Welcome everyone this is Scaling Up Services. I'm Bruce Eckfeldt and I'm your host our guest today is Jeff Toister. And Jeff is an author around customer service. We're going to hear a little bit about his books. We're going to hear a little bit about his background in philosophy and exciting program. I think this is a topic that many businesses struggle with whether you're in the customer service business or whether your business has a customer service element. Thinking about that thinking about it strategically that's what that program today is all about. And with that Jeff welcome to the program.

[00:01:27] Hey Bruce. Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here and doubly excited because we're talking about customer service and in my experience businesses as they're scaling. Don't talk about customers enough. So thanks for having me.

[00:01:40] Yeah good. And I think this is a key aspect to that growth process. I think a lot of company is that kind of get customer service right at an early stage often end up mis stepping because they fail to really see the importance of making a strategic priority and figuring out how they're going to do it at scale because oftentimes they're doing it at scale is quite different than doing it at the beginning.

[00:01:59] So I'm excited for the conversation. Why don't we start with a little bit of your background. How did you get into the customer service world. I mean you've written several books on the topic now. What what happened for you professionally that put you down this path.

[00:02:12] I think I'm I was very lucky in that my very first job and my very first customer pushed me to where I am today. So when I was in high school I worked in a retail clothing store. And the first customer I had walked up to me and I'll never forget he asked Do you carry Dockers. And I was 16 I was nervous. I didn't know the answer. The person who is supposed to be training me. It's been about 15 minutes with me and then went on break left me alone. I hadn't even met my co-workers yet. And I said something that we all know you should not say which is I don't know. Now you know that your listeners know that's the wrong thing. I knew that even at 16. But here's the catch I didn't have the experience and skill yet to prevent my mouth from saying exactly what my brain was thinking because I don't know. And the customer hears this gets upset mutters something about you know kids these days and then storms out of the store. And of course I feel like an idiot and I'm I'm kind of an introspective person so when I experience something like that I try to figure out what went wrong what happened. How do I prevent it. Because I don't like feeling this way. And I realized two things really clearly one I didn't do a good job. And specifically I didn't know the product and I didn't know how to better handle that type of situation but to I was not in it. Put in a position to succeed the person who was training me should have been training me until I was capable of answering that question at least at a minimal level. So from that moment forward every job I've ever had has had some combination of serving customers and customer service training helping employees learn to be their best and helping leaders unlock their employees hidden potential.

[00:03:57] I love it. I love it. And what why is it so challenging. I mean I think that you know at some level you know customer service can be kind of natural but I think that you know many many companies struggle with it. What are the what are the kind of the fundamentals or the challenges that make getting customer service so hard particularly as a company grows and begins to scale.

[00:04:17] So there is a few really big challenges in the first I'd say is we think it's way easier than it really is. I think executives are often kind of flippant about how easy customer service is. And so if we if we are overconfident then we tend to spend less time there. I mean this is company scale what are executives consumed with their consumed with product strategy funding. They're rarely talking about service and how do we connect with customers retain customers improve service quality. So the overconfidence already says that we're going to under invest in it. The second challenge is in particularly as companies scale and I've worked in a company that was growing and I experienced this firsthand when you are a founder you probably have some sort of vision in your mind as to what customer service should look like. Hopefully no other way that you've got your problem different episode. How do you how do you how do you hire people to that vision how do you train people to that vision how do you create systems to make it easy for people to have that same vision. Because. Guess what. Your employees don't share your same hopes and desires.

[00:05:25] And if we're gonna be honest with each other I'm pretty sure when you were a kid I know when I was a kid you know I didn't play customer service with my friends. I didn't have customer service heroes posted on my wall. It wasn't a dream for me right. So we're hiring employees we have to respect that. I think the third challenge is that we are not naturally good at customer service and what I mean by that is there are all sorts of obstacles that get in our way and many of them were not even that aware of. And so when you have a give you a group simple example. When you deal with an angry customer the advice that I was always given and you've probably heard this is well don't take it personally. And there's good intention behind that advice. It goes counter to our human instincts in any other situation where someone's upset and angry. We experienced the fight or flight instinct which is to fight with them hopefully just argue with them not physically fight but argue with them or flee flight so get away from them. And in customer service we're not supposed to do either.

[00:06:31] We're supposed to take it and smile and then help them feel better. So that's a skill that takes a lot of practice because our instinct is to do exactly the wrong thing in his head.

[00:06:42] Curious if this is something that you find is pretty universal with everyone or or some people just wired to be better at customer service than others.

[00:06:50] I mean is this is this a DNA anything or is this a life experience and training thing. Or what percentage do you attribute to which factor.

[00:06:58] The percentage part is going to be pretty tough because it'd be held I guess I would say that it talent certainly has something to do with it. What is by far more important is the structure systems and processes that we put people in and I learned this in my last corporate job I was working for a parking management company and we had about 500 different locations throughout the US. And so I was able to see firsthand how different location managers would run their teams and what was going to lead to success versus what would lead to failure. You know we had a pretty consistent hiring profile but then you put them in with a certain manager and that average person suddenly becomes great and you put someone else in with a really low performing manager and that person with all that potential in the world consistently underachievers. So I think more of it has to do with the systems and processes how do we make it clear what we want our customer service employees to do. Do we make it clear what great service looks like and do we make it easy for our employees to do that.

[00:08:05] I like that because I think the other thing that that kind of accentuates her that that brings up is that customer service is very much a function of kind of your business and your business strategy and the brand and what you want to like what you want to convey and the experience based on how you want to position yourself. I think you know I'm sure there are good general customer service principles but that idea that a company needs to actually define what its customer service mean to them based on their core customer or their ideal customer and the product or service that they are are conveying. Talk to me a little bit about how how strategy for you ends up impacting decisions around sort of customer service or customer experience design and how to train or how to set up the right system for professionals to be successful from customer service point of view.

[00:08:53] So the starting point is defining what I call a customer service vision which is a shared definition of outstanding service that gets everyone on the same page and in truth a lot of companies have already done this. They just don't connect it to service so they might create a corporate mission statement or vision or they might have a brand promise and they spend a lot of time and money creating this brand identity but they only reflect it outwards. They don't really think about how our customer service team has way more authentic interactive touch points with our customer than anybody else. Maybe they should be ambassadors of that brand identity as well.

[00:09:30] So that's the first point we really have to create the shared definition of outstanding service get everybody on the same page which leads to number two.

[00:09:39] We need to make sure everyone understands it and knows how they can contribute and think about that as the company scales wouldn't you like every employee you have to understand the business strategy and be able to use that as a compass when they encounter difficult decisions on a daily basis. You can't plan for everything you'd like people to say you know here's what we should be doing. You know example that there's a startup I work with called Cleo it's a legal practice management software company and they define their vision that since they sell to lawyers they want to create a product and serve customers in such a way that their customers will be very loyal because it helps them run their. This is better but be so loyal that they're actually vocal about it. They become brand ambassadors. So think about someone on the frontlines of customer service understanding that vision. And I remember listening to some customer calls and there was a customer called and ask for a specific feature. Now in the software world that's always a challenge because most the time we don't have many times you don't have the feature. The customer wants and what do you tell them. This employee understood that it wasn't just about well we'll log a feature request. He understood that the ultimate vision was helping this customer become an ambassador so he asked a few more questions and try to understand what the customer's end goal was and ultimately was able to provide a solution that fit within the software feature set.

[00:11:05] What was actually better than the idea the customer had and so the end of the call instead of just saying no and we'll let our development team know he was able to guide the customer to a successful resolution. So that comes from engagement I'm making sure people know that. Which leads to really the third step in the strategy is pointing. Everything you do as a business towards that vision and a lot of times startup companies and companies as they scale make decisions that are counter to what they're trying to achieve. Like I work with a company that was trying to cater to a market of collectors a very niche market so people who would know a lot about their products and services yet they paid almost minimum wage for their contact centre staff and skimped on training and outsourced about half of their calls to an outsourced provider who knew nothing about their products. So it was completely counter to the vision they were trying to achieve and of course it eroded the customer experience.

[00:12:01] How much do you sort of advise or when you approach these kind of customer service strategies or helping a company with their customer service. How much of this is kind of prescriptive like you know call and response or kind of you know in the situation say these things you know sort of discussion guides or playbooks around how to respond to common questions and things like that vs. general principles and rules of thumb that they can use to kind of guide their decision making in any situation knowing that you know you never know what's going to come out you we can't script everything.

[00:12:33] What is the I guess how do you approach that or what's the combination of those and how do you make that work.

[00:12:39] It's always a set of principles that we apply to the unique organization and the unique culture and we try to consistently iterate to learn and improve. So we'll go back to the software example know in any company your customer service team you're going to get difficult questions you find are tough to answer but if you start with a vision and say well this is our vision we have to recognize the vision is going to be different in every single company. So there's not one answer though work in every in every organization. The second is you it's a very iterative exercise to work with your team and say okay what are what are some of these difficult questions that we struggle to answer.

[00:13:15] And there's a really simple exercise we'd say OK well who's answered it successfully in a way that's an aligned with our vision and certainly someone's thought of something that worked you share that with the team and say All right let's go out we're gonna try this and so that kind of becomes the way to do it until someone else figures out a better way to do it. So it's a iterative process. You might ultimately come up with some best practices that you share but putting anything set in stone is usually it's a danger because there's not one right way to do things.

[00:13:48] Yeah. And I think that it probably can also come across as disingenuous if if people are reading off scripts or it feels like to a customer that someone's reading off a script I'm for that kind of that that goes against the whole the whole point of creating a good experience.

[00:14:04] I guess one question I have or one as you were kind of talking about the examples that I realized is I guess to what extent is having a customer service strategy I guess who do you focus on in terms of is this just for your frontline customer service representatives who are taking calls in and that are handling kind of issues and customer service issues specifically.

[00:14:25] Or is this everyone in the organization and how how do you approach it or do you approach it differently depending on what part of the organization you're speaking to.

[00:14:33] It's pretty fatal if you just think it's for your front lines. And the classic example is you know marketing things up a really great promotion and they communicate it to everybody but they forgot to tell the front lines.

[00:14:47] And so now we get blindsided with a volume of calls that we didn't expect. And by the way you don't know how to handle it.

[00:14:54] It really needs to be across the entire organization. We might depending on your role approach things in a different way. But one of the one of the reasons companies develop silos is that each team and department has its own set of metrics that aren't necessarily compatible with another department's metrics. And if you take that away and say we're all going to be customer focused. So as an example what. Practice I've seen a lot of customer focused organizations do as is they do. Customer listening and customer empathy exercise so they'll have everybody in the organization spend time either directly communicating with customers or doing what's called right along which is you know they might sit next to somebody in the customer service department and work with them to better understand exactly what customers are saying what their pain points etc are and they'll go back to work then and they'll be better informed as to how customers are actually interacting with their products and services and what those feelings are that those products and services generate.

[00:15:55] And if you're a developer that you're going to develop better products if you're in accounting you're going to understand that it's not just numbers that there's people at the end of these financial decisions if you're an operations you'll understand what delivery looks like versus shouldn't look like. It really informs your decision making no matter what part of the organization you're working in.

[00:16:15] And I think this you're mentioning something here that I think was an interesting idea in that customer service is not just something you do to kind of field questions or deal with issues sort of post delivery or post sale but can actually be kind of a source of insight or even a strategic tool. You mentioned that kind of the ride along as you know sitting down with customer service professionals or people that are dealing with customer service issues and listening in for needs and opportunities or you know how to handle some things I guess I do you see or have you seen good examples of companies using sort of quote unquote customer service experiences to actually generate industry insights or product insights that roll into kind of innovation or development of new products and services is that do you have any good examples or I've seen companies do that.

[00:17:03] Oh apps Absolutely. So I'll give you an example another software company that that I was working with and they had the development team kind of released things based upon what they perceived the market wanted.

[00:17:17] Yet you would get this volume of wealth a wealth of information from your customer interactions.

[00:17:23] And by the way stuff you don't necessarily capture very neatly in a survey. It's really just listening and sampling what our customer is actually saying. And often your customer service team will say we'll be able to tell you very quickly and clearly Oh these are the things they like. These are things they don't like. And the customer support leader was able to take both qualitative and quantitative data to the development team and say look these are the top complaints that we're getting about this new release and this is not only what they are we're going to listen to some samples of phone calls you can hear what customers are specifically saying but here's the impact in terms of contact volume in terms of potential lost revenue of customers are canceling their subscriptions that impact customer return and if and when they're able to bring those both qualitative and quantitative data to the table that really capture some attentions and help the product development team re prioritize their commitments. And so that's just one example by Etsy. Company after company do this at another company I talked to that was a they manufactured products that painters use so they would be selling these to professional painters or they'd sell them through you know a big box hardware stores. They realized that they were getting over a million dollars a year of what's called preventable returns. In other words the product worked fine. So we're just couldn't figure out how to use it. And the challenge there is if a customer is returning the product are probably not going directly to the company going to the retailer that sold it to them. So their customers would in a way was the retailer you know better product packaging better product support because if the product's working fine and the customer still thinks it isn't. That's a huge perception gap that's a user design problem. We need to be able to take that data and find a way to not only save million dollars but prevent those customers from being so frustrated because when they return that product they're not going to buy another one of ours. They're going to a competitor.

[00:19:18] Yeah. And then maybe tell three or four friends and they're going to go tell them. Yeah. So what are some of the other classic I guess step mistakes or missteps that you see companies take as you begin to scale around customer service or customer service strategy. Because I think there's I certainly see there's a lot of challenges that come up. You know companies start to grow and they need money and they need to find new talent and they need to kind of refocus on strategy and all these things. But I guess what do you see as being kind of the customer service related challenges that come up as a company begins to grow.

[00:19:50] So there's there's quite a few. And I think we've touched on a couple but they probably vary capping just a moment. One is not having a clear vision for what great service should look like. Not engaging our employees with that not aligning our organization around that vision.

[00:20:05] Some specific ones that I see as companies scale a lot of times companies will outsource their service component for cost reasons and capability reasons which is fine. There's nothing inherently wrong with outsourcing service. The challenge is. If I outsource it it doesn't mean I don't have to manage it. That's so if I've hired another company to take care of my customers I need to make sure I'm giving that company all the resources possible so that they understand the right way to take care of my customers and in a lot of outsourcers frankly are rules based so there operate based upon a set of metrics for example there was an outsourcing of their one of their metrics that they were contracted with was kind of this how fast can I close a support ticket. Well guess what happens when you have metrics like that. They're really really easy to monkey with. So what they would do is the customer would would contact them and say Hey I got this issue and they'd be like Well here's the solution I'm closing your ticket. The ticket closing speed looked fantastic. The outsourcing got paid. They're contractually obligated bonus. Customers have to call back again or submit a new ticket because she was not resolved to create this cast. Classic service failures. Outsourcing is a problem. I think that the second thing is is organization scale. There tends to be a lot of cost consciousness especially if our cash flow is not where it should be our burn rate is a little too high.

[00:21:32] And there's something that is really counterintuitive when it comes to service organizations are really generally good at understanding their baseline servicing costs how much I pay people per hour how much a contact costs what is the cost of service but what they don't fully understand because it's not really apparent on the piano is the true cost of service. So the example would be I know it's five dollars per contact to serve this person so I'm going to try to get that down to 450 by let's say putting a time limit on how long someone should talk to a customer. Yeah well what happens is if I put a clock in front of my customer service rep they're naturally going to go too fast one rep confided in me she said You know I have six minutes to take care of this customer. I don't have time to make them feel better. I just have time to tell them what to do now. And so what when that occurs you've reduced your cost per contact to four dollars and fifty cents. But that customer is to call back. So now your cost per problem jumped from five dollars to say nine dollars or thirteen fifty and you won't see that on your panel. So as companies scale you really have to look carefully at the true cost of service and are you causing more downstream problems that tend to hide on your piano. Yeah.

[00:22:48] You know you mentioned this outsourcing one too and I see this happen again and again. And you know that company is essentially what happens I feel as a company try to outsource the problem you know and they they can't figure it out internally. They're struggling with an early so they go and outsource it. And honestly anytime you think this is true for pretty much anything you outsource particularly customer service you know you outsource and you just exacerbate any problem that you currently have by at least 10 which does you now have people not in your company trying to struggle with those and if you haven't if you haven't solved this and come up with a good strategy you know outsourcing is just gonna get worse. And I think that's a classic mistake going to happen. What happens with sales at Apple is customer service basically any department any function as you as you take it outside the organization. It's just gonna be harder harder to get right. So you know certainly getting it really working at figuring out what the strategy is asking you know asking and answering all those questions and then going to an outsource provider you know with a very clear precise way of doing things you know is gonna be critical if you want that process to work.

[00:23:45] So let's talk a little bit about in the organization who owns this.

[00:23:49] Who should be the person and you know we can talk about sort of earlier stage and then as a company grows and larger company is who is accountable for customer service across the organization who generally do you see is in the best position or ultimately ends up having the best position to be able to solve these problems.

[00:24:07] Do you mean the c suite level.

[00:24:10] Well it could be. I mean if you think it should be at c suite then let's say that doesn't C suite. But if you don't then we can talk about that. Do I have some opinions but I'll let you. OK I'll let you give your take.

[00:24:19] Well so there is a there's a challenge here because if we designate someone as the vice president or director of customer service or experience or whatever we decide to call it everyone in the organization says OK that person's in charge of it now I'm not. And so I think you run into a potential internal perception problem when you designate someone in charge of the customer service function. It's not inherently wrong or bad. You just have a byproduct that you have to deal with. So you know who's the champion ultimately it's the CEO and it's the CEO doesn't champion customer service at some level the organization itself will not.

[00:25:00] So the CEO is the champion. Even if the CEO is not the one on the front line serving customers that's fine but that's usually the person that says OK everybody has to align around service. And so someone has customer service in their title. That means that's part of their function. It doesn't absolve everybody else of. Being customer focused and that's where we talked about earlier kind of silo busting by sharing goals and objectives that are customer focused having people in other departments spend time with customers so that they really get good insights. Those helped those things. I think a company in companies as they scale tend to be more guilty of this than bigger companies which is why we come up with trendy terms for things and it doesn't really change anything. I think it might even obscure our true intentions. As an example there's a lot of customer service teams that are now renaming themselves customer experience teams. Yeah I've definitely seen that there's the challenge with that is customer service and customer experience are truly two different things. Customer service is a subset of customer experience. Customer experience really is all of the touch points that a customer might have in the organization. But if you rename a department from customer service to customer experience and do not change their job functions you just come up with a fancy word that really waters down what everybody else is doing. The other one is customer success. We hear that a lot. Those are a little different too but again if you're taking the same function and just giving it a new name I think you're watering things down rather than making things better.

[00:26:34] Yeah yeah kind of putting putting lipstick on a problem as we say. So I know you've got a new book out. I think it came out very recently.

[00:26:42] Getting service right. Tell us a little bit about the book.

[00:26:45] What's the focus of this one and what are some of the takeaways are the things in it that people will find it really came out of this frustration of what I call an executive disconnect where executives consistently undervalue service and feel it's it's almost. It's way easier than it actually is. And so I wanted to investigate Well what are some of these obstacles that we face in the workplace when we're trying to serve customers. And I I uncovered 10 really big ones and I'll emphasize these aren't the only 10 that are just unfortunately unfortunately not yet. And so the book it shares real service experiences real service failures and then dives into why did this service failure happen. How could this service failure be happening in your organization. And what if some company is done to figure out how to resolve it. And it's I think of it as kind of a cookbook if you will to figure out how can I get my customer service team to reach their true potential because they do some good things sometimes and other times I'm smack my forehead going why are they doing this why are they saying this and getting service right helps you figure that out that Why. Behind those actions so that you can help them consistently deliver better service.

[00:28:05] It's great. So we're gonna hit time here. But if people want to find out more about you about the book what's the best way to get that information.

[00:28:13] I'm really easy to find. You can find all of my contact information as well as my book and even get my free weekly customer service tips at Oyster solutions dot com that's T O I S TR solutions dot com. The book itself getting service right is at service right.

[00:28:32] Book dot com and you could go there and grab the first chapter and you'll read all about that. That story I just shared with you about my first experience serving a customer. You'll also read about a customer experience I had where a cashier looked me straight in the eye and said I hate people like you.

[00:28:49] And the reason he said it is because I gave him a five dollar bill for a meal that cost four dollars and five cents. That's what precipitated that exchange. Me a long time to figure out why he said that and why he got so angry.

[00:29:04] That's right. There's a great Chris Rock video. I don't know if you've ever seen it about him negotiating for a small portion of drink and then he pays about 100 dollar bill and if you haven't you should watch it. I have not but I'll take that check it out. I'll put I'll put the link to your your Web site to the book. Maybe I'll find Chris Rock's video. Put that on there. Now it's out of whatever they showed out so people can click through. Jeff this has been a pleasure. Thank you so much for taking the time.

[00:29:32] Bruce thank you as a lot of fun. I appreciate you having me as a guest.

[00:29:37] You've been listening to Scaling up Services with Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt. To find a full is a podcast episodes. Download the tools and worksheets and access other great content. This is a Web site that scaling up services dot com and toll free to sign up for the free newsletter scalingupservices/newsletter.