How do we deliver customer experience in a way that’s meaningful and that people want to listen to? When average seems to be not cutting it, we need something that makes us stop and think and grabs our attention. Customers demand it, organizations demand it. As professionals, we should demand it as well. Adrian Swinscoe, the author of Punk CX, talks about an in your face customer experience that gets down to the brass tacks. He dives into the process of writing his visual extravaganza book, and touches on resilience, KPIs and metrics, effective leadership, and the Law of Three Craps.
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Punk CX: Customer Experience In Your Face with Adrian Swinscoe
It is another great show and thanks for being with us. Our guest is Adrian Swinscoe. He is the author of a couple of books, but the one that actually brought me to his attention is called Punk CX. It’s a visual extravaganza. This book is absolutely amazing. It’s a short read and it’s designed to be read in chunks. For people who don’t know, CX is customer experience and this is customer experience in your face. This is what every Wall Street, three-piece suit Armani-wearing guy should be reading and should be listening to instead of these nicety books because this gets down to the brass tacks. How do we do customer experience in a way that’s meaningful and that people want to listen to? Adrian, welcome to the show.
Ben, how are you doing?
First of all, I love the title, Punk CX, because you’ll look at this book and it’s bright yellow with a pink background. It’s shocking. It’s in your face. It’s one of those things where if you saw it on a bookshelf, you’d sit there going, “Huh?” Either you’d be compelled to grab it or you’d be repulsed by it. That was probably the point of it, is that it’s going to be for some people, it’s not going to be for others. The people who get it, the people who sit there and read it are better off because of it. Tell me the story, Adrian. What brought you to this point? This isn’t your first book. Where have you come from and where are we now?
Thank you for that. Those are some nice words. The cover is designed intentionally as an homage, tipping my hat to Nevermind The Bollocks, the Sex Pistols cover, which was the same colors as the cover, the bright yellow with a splash of pink, white and black. There’s the punk reference. It’s an homage. I’ve written a couple of books. One was back in 2010, but the one before the Punk CX was a thing called How To Wow. That was a bit more of a comprehensive look at customer service, customer experience across the journey. It was a bit like a pick and mix stand at a cinema. You’ve got all these choices of all these ranges of sweets that you can go in and choose as per your appetite. That was fun. It was a bit of a manual, how-to type of thing. That was great and it was great to write that. That was back in 2016 it came out and then at late 2017, I happened to have arranged to meet out with a friend of mine, Oisin, who also helped me edit the book. Oisin Lunny is a great guy and a good friend of mine. We happened to meet up and we were in a pub called The Basket Makers in Brighton where we both used to live at the time.
We’re having a bit of a chat about stuff and I got into a rant about the state of experience. I was bemoaning to him the idea that there’s all this stuff, all this talk about customer experience, but didn’t seem to be getting any better. That’s why with all the span, all the effort and all the rhetoric, nothing seems to be changing. Over this pint of Guinness, I was getting increasingly frustrated and I said, “I want somebody to do something a bit more punk, break out, do something to change the script a little bit.” The idea sat with me for a while. I didn’t mean anything other than a bit of a drunk-fueled inspiration.
That’s when the best inspiration comes. It’s usually over a couple of pints.
I call it a moment of clarity. It stuck with me for about six months and in the summer of 2018, it popped back into my mind and I start to rethink about it. I started thinking about punk music and the evolution of where punk came from and the evolution of musical genres that led up to punk. What’s fascinating is it made me think about how punk exploded at the back of prog rock in the 1970s. Prog rock was also a popular musical genre which was also accused of being overly elaborate and self-indulgence. It’s not interested in its audience. It was all about intricacy and how fancy you can make things. It had long, elaborate solos and all that stuff. Punk exploded out in the back of it because it was this DIY, back to basics, democratic approach to music where it’s about energy, about motivation and about daring to be different and not having to have a PhD in music to be able to play. Anybody could play and that was the attractive thing about it.
The thing that struck me was that I was thinking about customer experience, then I was thinking about prog rock and I was thinking, “The customer experience space is looking a lot like what prog rock looked like in the 1970s. It is overly complicated, dominated by all sorts of choices, technology, metrics, frameworks, maturity scales and all these different things. There are similarities here. They have the same characteristics.” There’s a danger as well of prog rock of disappearing up its own ass. It’s becoming more interested in itself and losing sight of its customers, the people they’re supposed to be working for. That made me think, “If the CX currently is looking a little bit like prog rock in the 1970s and punk rock exploded out the back of prog rock in the 1970s then, what would hypothetically a punk version of CX look like?”
That brought me to this idea, “What would that look like?” That set me up to think about the book and what I could make of that idea. I then started thinking about it and thinking, “A punk version of CX, how would it be epitomized? How would you deliver it?” Hence, I wrote the book, which is very short of words, slightly profane, a little bit shouty, probably slightly controversial in places, but also incredibly visual. I thought, “Why don’t we try and keep it as close to a musical format, almost structure it like an album, almost like, ‘Here’s an image or a title and here’s a set of lyrics that go with that.’”
What was on the B-side? It was deciding what was on the A-side and what was on the B-side. That’s the toughest part.Average is not good enough. Click To Tweet
Absolutely and then theme it around different things. The idea is if you don’t like punk music, it’s going to feel like you’re getting in a boxing ring. Somebody’s got to keep punching you. If it makes you stop and it makes you think, if it annoys you, then so be it because average is not good enough as far as I’m concerned. Our customers demand it, our organizations demand it, we should demand it as professionals. This is a visual slap in the face for the customer experience industry. That’s all where it’s come from.
I’m a big believer about internal versus external customers. I don’t believe there’s such a thing as an employee. They’re internal customers and external customers, but we’ve overcomplicated everything with this over-reliance and over-fascination with metrics. Everything has to be measured and everything has to be digital. There’s this propensity to grab as much information as humanly possible and not ever look at it. We throw it into the AI, we throw it in the machine learning and it’s like, “If that’s what AI and machine learning says, it must be true.” It doesn’t matter if black is white and white is black. If the machine is saying that’s what it should be, that’s what our customer experience should be.
We need to go back to the world where we talk to our customers, where we sit there and have conversations over coffee in the convention hall, at the trade and exhibition, to be able to sit there and say, “What do you think? What are we doing well and what aren’t we doing well? What could we be doing better for you?” That’s what I got out of your book. That’s what I fell in love with because that’s my vision. We need to stop over-complicating life, business and everything and go back to the point where we talk to people.
There is a piece of reference in the book and it’s about a study that a professor of marketing at Darden produced. He was interested in this idea of the quantified self. He was looking at how does that affect heart monitors, step monitors, Fitbits and all that stuff. He said he wanted to understand from an academic research-based perspective what happens when you measure stuff. It wasn’t a big study, but it was an interesting study. They had two groups, a measured a group and then a control group. What he found interestingly enough was the group whose activity was measured over a period of time, you find that while the quantity of the activity went up, the level of engagement with it went down.
That made me think that it’s like a personal dimension phenomenon. If you took that idea and took it over and dropped it into an organization and going, “We’re trying to measure the hell out of everybody here,” then yes, that might have a positive impact on outputs, but there may be a negative impact on the quality of the outputs. It could explain some of the productivity challenges that we’re having because we’re trying to measure the hell out of everything. My purpose in that was to ask people to ask themselves, “Just because you can, it doesn’t mean that you should. More metrics doesn’t mean better metrics. Pick the metrics that are going to matter and that requires understanding your business and understanding what works.”
Adding another KPI or another element to your scorecard doesn’t mean to say that you’re guaranteed to get more out of it because that over measuring stuff can be almost overbearing through your measurement of people. Maybe having the completely opposite effect of what you desire. We’re defaulting to our ability to gather data and to measures stuff rather than engaging our noggins to actually go, “Let’s be smart about this. Let’s be smart by the input that we’re putting into the systems that we’re building. Otherwise, if we’re dumb, we just build dumb systems.”
There are two things that I got out of that. One is we need to decide what we want to measure and does it move our business forward? Are we measuring the things that matter to us as a company, not the measures to IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Amazon or Walmart? What are the things that matter in our company? If all you care about is dollars in my pocket after tax at the end of the year, why do you measure stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with that? I looked at that. If you want a case point on how you’ll over metrics makes people miserable, look at salespeople. If you ever want to see a miserable salesperson, look at the person who has to write their monthly, weekly or daily reports. This is a group of people that do not like paperwork mentally.
Case in point, if you’re a good salesperson, I don’t care if you’re a man, woman or whatever, you hate paperwork. You want to be out in front of the people. You want to be able to do your thing. You want to have that relationship where you’re one on one with people. Sitting there at a computer having to fill out a report at the end of the day, month or quarter is the most miserable thing in the world. Businesses have to realize that. They have to sit there and say, “We need some information, but how do we do this in a way that’s not going to make our people miserable by doing it?
It’s fascinating that years and years ago, people in business, particularly if it was business-to-business, used to talk about rainmakers. Rainmakers were like magicians. Stuff just happens. They show up because you believed in people. You trust that things were going to happen and you can’t measure a rainmaker. You hire them because you know that things are going to happen and you’re going to take a chance on them. We think that we’re losing some of that magic now. I’m not being a Luddite and saying, “We shouldn’t be data-driven in terms of helping us to make decisions.” In the words of Rory Sutherland, he said that measurably means it’s mediocre rather than immeasurably brilliant. That is the danger that we end up getting. As I talk about in the book, we lose the art in it because it’s the art that makes the difference.
It’s the art that makes us human. The reason why I want to talk to you or I want to talk to somebody else or I want to engage with somebody else is because I find the person interesting, engaging and fascinating and they’re fascinated about me. That’s what customer experience in the end is all about. Customer experience is making people feel that they’ve been listened to, they’ve been understood and they’re valued. Whether that’s an internal person or an external person, that’s what customer experience is all about. The metrics have got to support that or else they’re useless.
On my wall, there’s a chapter in the book which says, “Customer experiences is about more than crap.” If we don’t start to believe in it, if you don’t start wanting to put a bit of heart and a bit of emotion into it, then how can we expect our customers to put heart and emotion into it? That’s almost by design. The book is also meant to be a bit shouty, a bit profane and a bit emotional because it’s there to go, “Come on, pull your socks up. We’re in a good space. We’re doing good work. We’ve been asked to do good work so let’s be down with it.”
In your book, there are a lot of great stories, but the one story that resonated with me was the bathroom story. I probably won’t do justice and I’ll let you go in. It’s more the fact that says you have this beautiful restaurant, this elegant service, the customers are coming and the toilets stink and the bathroom’s a mess. You’re missing the whole process. All of a sudden, you’ve taken their entire customer service and customer experience and you’ve thrown it out the window because the bathroom stinks. I’ll let you get into that but that’s brilliant.
The point of that is that experience is a whole business game. It’s a team sport. The point of the story is imagine yourself in a situation where you booked yourself into a restaurant with either your friends or loved one or whatever. You’ve been waiting a long time to go there and then the day shows up and you go to the restaurant. You’re welcomed at the door and shown to the table and it’s packed full of people. The ambiance is great. There’s great music. The maître d’ is super helpful. The sommelier comes across and shows you the wines. Everything is going brilliant. The smells are wafting through from the kitchen. People are enjoying their food, it couldn’t be going better. You order some stuff, they come super efficiently and everything else. You have your starters and it’s all great and then you excuse yourself and go to the bathroom. You go to the bathroom and it’s an absolute tip. It’s smelly, it’s slimy, it stinks. It’s grimy and horrible.
In that moment, everything changes because in that moment you’re going, “I was having that experience over there. Everything was going great. Now, I’ve seen this. That makes me potentially think about if their bathroom is like that, then how’s the kitchen? How’s the food storage? How’s everything else?” All that stuff. You start to question all of these different things. The point of the story is to say, “It’s not good enough to have a fancy shop front or a great new website or whatever. If your complaints department is garbage or your delivery is outsourced to some surly guy with a bad attitude or the packaging of your product when you send it through the mail is not adequate stuff.” The point is your experience is only ever as strong as your weakest link and you have to see the whole thing.
This is not just for consumer businesses. This is for all businesses. It’s like crumbs. Thinking about B2B, one of the biggest things that they suffer from is their billing processes and invoices. It’s like if people can look at the bill and then they get back to the salesman and go, “This bill, what is that? Did we buy this? What was this language on here? It is like a foreign language to me. That number doesn’t seem to be right. You didn’t explain it to me.” Those are very simple examples, but the point is you have to think about this holistically. Despite all the work that you’re doing, if someone hits that pothole, whether it’s your billing department or whether it’s your section desk or it’s the state of your bathroom or your checkout process on your website. It’s the attitude of your staff in stores or whatever it might be, it doesn’t matter. All these different things are in this one pothole. If you have a pothole, then in all these other places, you are done.
My favorite saying is that your brand is only as strong as your worst employee on their worst day. Your brand, whether it be can be sabotaged either by somebody inside the company, outside the company, whatever, based on the experience that one person has. It’s not just the experience they have, it’s also how you recover from it.
I’m not saying that we have to be perfect all of the time because we do have emotional credits. You have an emotional bank account with you. Good brands who offer predominantly can have great experiences across the board will accrue emotional credit over time with people. People are human and they understand that people have bad days and sometimes things go wrong and that’s fine. If something happens and they’re annoyed by it, you’ve got enough credit in the bank to allow for that. The next time they come back to go, it’s highly expensive. They’re like, “That was an aberration. Now service is normal, service is resumed as it were.” If you’re not at that level, then you don’t have that resilience built into it. If you don’t have the resilience built into it, it doesn’t matter how much money you spent over here because the link and the chain over there isn’t as strong, then you might only get one chance of this.
There are two conversations. The conversation is between you and a couple of friends of, “I went to this company, I did this and I had this horrible experience.” The other conversation is, “I went to this company and something happened. I had a horrible experience, but they made it right.” Those are two completely different stories. The second is a hero’s journey. Everybody is going to make mistakes. Everybody is going to mess up every once in a while. Everybody is going to have an off day. In Disneyland, every once in a while, you run into a cast member that’s having a bad day. It breaks the magic up, but they do everything within their power, first of all, to make sure that doesn’t happen. Second of all, if it does happen, they make it right. That’s where you’re talking about the emotional bank. It’s saying, “We’re all going to make mistakes. We’re all going to do things that we shouldn’t do. We’re all going to do things that will piss people off. It’s how we recover and how we teach our people within our company that every single one of you is empowered to be able to make things right.” Great companies do that.
Let me get onto that because this is one of the things that bugs out of me. It’s in the book as well. I talk about frontline people and how I think they are superheroes. They are people that are your front line, the cast members at Disney, the people that work in retail stores, the people that are in contact centers or that run in your help desk or your support desk or connect whoever it might be or even running your delivery. The people that stand face to face or talk voice to voice with your customers, they are superheroes, but here’s the thing. In most organizations, despite all the rhetoric of, “Customer service and customer experience are important to us. We value our people,” they’re still the least well-respected, the least well-treated and least well-rewarded people in the whole organization. It doesn’t make a huge amount of sense given that they are your brand ambassadors. It doesn’t make sense in that I don’t think we are necessarily recognizing the work that some of these people do. They are absolute rock stars, superheroes. It’s the amount of stuff that they go through every day in terms of dealing with stuff over and over again.
They get called all the time how wrong they are. Very few people tell them how right there are and how much they’re appreciated.Front line people are superheroes, but they're the least well-respected and well-rewarded people in the whole organization. Click To Tweet
I told somebody about this. Wouldn’t it be nice if we started a campaign which said, “Can we get a few people to call up something in customer service or customer support to say, “My name is Adrian, I’m a customer, I wanted to say thank you for the work that you do?”
I think that would go a million miles, especially customer service people, whether it’s face-to-face or on the phone or whatever. Nine times out of ten the phone call they get is something’s wrong. Someone’s angry and belligerent and somebody is taking it out on them because they’re the person on the other end of the phone. 99.9% of the time, they did absolutely nothing wrong. The difference is some companies give these people the power to make things right and the right tools, the right systems, and the right training to be able to make things right and a lot of companies don’t. The ones that don’t, from what I can see anecdotally, have an enormous turnover.
They have burned-out employees, disengaged employees, belligerent employees, wherever you want to go with this because they don’t have an outlet. They don’t feel that they are listened to, understood or valued by the company or by the employees. They’re being beaten up day after day. This is going back years and years ago. One of the girls in my office and this is before I went out on my own, came into our office and she was crying. I said, “What’s going on?” She says, “One of the customers laid into her.” I said, “Who was it?” She goes, “I’m not going to tell you.” I said, “Who was it?” I picked up the phone, I called the president of that company and I fired them.
I fired them because I said, “You have no right to talk to my people like that. If you have that big of an issue with us as a company, you should be talking to me but berating my people and making them feel small, insignificant and less than dirt because it satisfies your ego, I don’t want you as a customer.” I’ve done that once in my life but to me, it was probably one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done because no one had the right to bring this girl to tears for something that wasn’t her fault.
Coming back to the book, there’s a thing in the book that I think captures a whole bunch of the stuff that’s going on there. I liked it because I always wanted to make up a law as it were. Few people talk about the law of this and the law of that. Adrian’s law is otherwise known as the law of three craps. It was something that occurred to me as I was riding on the train or something. I was like noodling away on my side. The first version of the law was do good crap, keep doing good crap and crap will take care of itself. I shared this with my friend and my friend was going, “There might be another version of this.” They said, “I wish that we worked on it.” They said that version two is also in the book and it is, “Do good crap, ignore the crapsayers and crap will take care of itself.”
Those two things speak to a lot of the stuff that’s going on in this space, whether it’s engagement or whether it’s experience or whatever. It speaks to two major psychosis that grips many organizations. Version one is the lack of discipline and commitment to a cause to do something and to keep doing it. The other one is this hang-up around what other people will think, what their peers will think as this social phobia thing. It means that you end up looking like or acting like that dog in the film, Up, where he goes, “Squirrel,” and it’s the next thing.
My big challenge for organizations is can you evidence that you are disciplined enough to commit to a court and you’ve done it consistently over time? Can you also evidence that you’re doing that despite the fact that some people might think that it’s slightly crazy or you’d do different things and it’s out of the unusual and not of the norm and so on and so forth? You’re willing to be an outsider to play a long game. If you can get those two things, if you can say yes, then you’re already in that differentiated punk space because most people are dominated by these two things.
I think you can sum all that up in one word, leadership. It comes down to effective leadership. People sit there and say, “I’ve got a vision. This is what my vision is. If it doesn’t mesh with our vision, it’s outside our wheelhouse. This is what we do. This is what we believe in. These are the people that we saw solve problems for. This is how we solve their problems. This is why people care about us. If we can figure that out and install that into all of our people and say, ‘These are the people we help and this is how we help them and we’re going to empower you to do that,’” you’re right, things happen.
The thing within that as well is you almost have to have a thing where you have to be brave and stick to your principles and your belief in the understanding that it might not work and you might have to pay the consequence of it. If you believe in what you’re going to do, then that’s what good work requires. Otherwise, you’re just hedging your career.
There are two things, one is at the back of your book, you have a list of companies and people that you say are the definitions of Punk CX. I’m honored because you’re number three on your list that I actually got to interview on this show. The two other people are Stan Phelps. Shout out to Stan Phelps because Stan was the one who put us in touch with each other and the other is Seth Godin. You’ve got a great list of people. I’m honored that you’re number three that I got to do it. Let’s pick one number. Why do you think Nike makes your list?Do good crap, ignore the crapsayers, and crap will take care of itself. Click To Tweet
It’s predominantly because of what they did with the Colin Kaepernick campaign because they were going, “This thing is not acceptable. We believe in sports. We believe in the athletes. We believe that athletes can have rights. It can’t be plus-sized one way and not the other way. We believe in equality, diversity, inclusion and all these different things. If you don’t like it, tough, but we’re standing with it.”
If you burn my shoes, go for it.
It’s about taking a stand and going, “That does not work for us. We are taking a stand with Kaepernick based on that issue. If you don’t like it, that’s tough. If you never buy our shoes or never buy our products ever again, we don’t care because you’re not one of us.”
The last thing I ask every single guest, as you walk out the door of a meeting, you get off the stage, you get in your car and you drive away, what’s the one thing you want people to think about you when you’re not around?
What a great conversation and I like the guy’s energy and it’s positive. I feel like I want to go and do something different.
You took the words out of my mouth. I have enjoyed this conversation. We have had a great time. Adrian, thanks for being part of the show. Thanks for everything you do. I can’t wait to shout this out to the audience.
Ben, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for reaching out and featuring myself and the book. Also thanks to big Stan for putting us in touch because that’s what makes the world go round.
It’s AdrianSwinscoe.com. Adrian, thanks for everything.
About Adrian Swinscoe
I’m a huge fan of organizations that do great things for their customers and I’ve been helping many to achieve their own level of greatness for over 20 years now via consulting, writing, speaking, and workshops in the areas of strategy, customer service/experience, customer insight, marketing and business development.
My driving passion is helping create, develop and grow businesses that take care of their customers in the best way possible and create the great teams that are required to do that.
I’m a former teacher, economist, manager of businesses and leader of teams. I’m also a lover of simplicity and advocate of the human touch with a bit of really useful technology thrown in.
Originally from Scotland, I have been lucky enough to have lived and worked in a number of places around the world and over the years, I have had a varied career that has taken in teaching in the UK and overseas, working as an economist, working in and with a number of large corporate institutions such as Shell, FT, and The Economist Group to consulting to hundreds of entrepreneurial businesses and SMEs to help them improve their profitability and growth through customer-centric strategies. The main theme that runs through my career is that I help people and organizations achieve greater potential and results through building better relationships with those people around them whether they are leaders, team members or customers.
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