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Customer experience pioneer, thought leader and author Jeanne Bliss has published a new book that challenges companies to create a higher, more human standard of customer service. 

With Would you do that to your Mother: The ‘Make Mom Proud’ Standard for How to Treat Your Customers (Penguin/Portfolio), Bliss offers a simple blueprint for making better customer-facing business decisions. Pause, think about what your mom means to you, and imagine how your decision might impact her if she were the customer. The book includes 32 case studies that demonstrate the value of living by this standard, along with practical toolkits companies can use to put Bliss’ powerful “Mom-isms” into action. 

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Bliss about her new book, the philosophies and stories that informed it, and the #MakeMomProud movement.

What inspired the themes and ideas in Would you do that to your Mother?

This book is a natural progression of what I’ve put out to the world and our community in terms of how to lead a customer experience and cultural transformation. [The inspiration came from] coaching leaders and writing around the role of chief customer officer, and seeing that the work is getting more complicated, that it’s becoming more challenging for people to do the right thing.

I wanted to go back to my roots – and all of our roots – to offer a very intuitive and personal way for people to lead this work. I also wanted to write a book that tells the story of what binds us all as customers – our experiences, the good the bad and the wonderful. This book is my gift back to the community to say, “Here’s a simple way to think about this.” Thinking about your mom or someone else you love at the end of your decisions is a metaphor for the fact that we often get so wrapped up in our work that we forget that there is a human on the other end of the decisions we make.

I also had a responsibility to make the book actionable. This is absolutely not a Kumbaya book. It is an action plan, and again, because I’ve been doing this work for so long, it gave me the tools to write about the human [concepts] in a way that can be operationalized.

How do you operationalize those concepts? How can contact center leaders operationalize them?

Well, it’s not just about telling your frontline customer service teams to go be nice. You have to remove the barriers that prevent them from being nice, or that make them policy cops. The book is organized in a manner that addresses not only the [customer-facing] human condition but also the influencers inside our organizations that drive what customers feel throughout their whole journey.

You have to enable employees to deliver value and bring the best version of themselves to work, enable them to act at work with congruence of heart and habit. For example, the first case study in the book is Cleveland Clinic. In order to enable caring, they implemented something tactical that united everyone because it was so simple. They created a no passing rule. Nobody can go by a patient’s room if their call light is on – whether you’re an executive, nurse, tech or janitor – without going in and honoring that the person’s light is on, and either helping them or getting someone to help them immediately. So, what’s your version of the no-passing rule in the call center? Is it not handing somebody off? Is it answering a call within three minutes? As a company, you have to decide that you won’t do this action that says to customers “we don’t care about you.”

The other thing that’s important for call centers is trusting employees to make judgement calls. It’s about providing the frontline with information about the value of a customer and brainstorming before-hand – because you already know what customers are asking exceptions for – and then hiring the right people. Once you hire the right people, trust them to make judgement calls that can’t be covered with one simple blanket policy, and free people from being policy cops.

Speaking of freeing people from policy, your book also explains how companies can turn “gotcha” moments into “we’ve got your back” moments in customer service. Can you give an example of what that looks like? 

Vail Resorts has eliminated the words “it’s our policy” from the language of the frontline, and there is a series of other terms they cannot use because they convey the message of  “we’re just following the rules.” The Columbus Metropolitan Library is the first urban library in the United States to get rid of late fees.

Managing “gotcha” is about getting rid of that fine print that customers don’t understand. It’s about enabling your frontline to have the wiggle room and to trust that they don’t always have to say to the customer, “Sorry, you’re two days out of warranty,” but instead, “We can wave that for you.”

What is the impact of this type of philosophy, and empowering employees to live by the “Make Mom Proud” standard?

It drives growth and profitability for businesses. Cleveland Clinic is now considered the No. 2 hospital in the U.S., and their recommend rating is in the 90th percentile of all hospitals. And they did it in only 8 years!

There’s also a story in the book about Oberoi Group, a hotel company based in the Middle East. They hire employees according to what they call their “Dharma,” which is their code of conduct. Their NPS moved from 81 to 86 when they established a process to give the frontline the authority and the ability to make judgement calls on the spot.

How did you choose the case studies featured in the book?  

I’ve been doing this work for so long, and I’ve come across a lot of people I have been lucky enough to interview, but I also read case studies and did research for three and a half months. What was important to me was the storytelling. When you read the book, it reads like a story more than a business book because it’s about humans. As you read the book, you get drawn into it as a customer of the world. Every story is a case study to make mom proud.

The chapters are Mom-isms. For example, there is a chapter called “Put others before yourself,” and it’s all about redesigning how we do business based on what customers are trying to accomplish versus what we’re trying to get from customers. The last chapter is called “Take the high road,” which is where we talk about those gotcha moments. It has one of my favorite stories. Virgin Hotels got rid of the hellacious pricing on mini bars and implemented what they call street pricing – so no more $7 bottles of water or $10 Snicker’s bars. If you can get a Snicker’s for a $1.75 at the local market, that’s how much you’ll pay on their mini bar. They believe bandwidth is a service not a revenue stream, so they don’t charge guests for WiFi. It was all about an attitude shift, and their first hotel in Chicago was named the No. 1 U.S. hotel by Conde’ Nast Readers’ Choice.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about your book or the movement or this approach to customer service?

It’s taken me 35 years to be able to write a book like this, which is a blend of humor but also guidance that simplifies the ideas. It’s actionable and visual. Each case study is a mini tool kit to help you change your company, your experience and your culture. Many of the actions you can take don’t cost you anything. They just cost you an attitude shift, focus and being committed.  

What is the #MakeMomProud movement and how can companies join?

The idea of the movement is, and what I’ve learned from people doing this work all these years, all over the world, is that we grow by standing on the shoulders of the people that came before us and through the hope that this work can be done. Transforming to become this kind of company doesn’t happen overnight. It’s one action, then another action, then another action. So, the movement is about hope, encouragement and cheering each other on – and honoring your mom in the process. And you can join, too. Go to http://www.make-mom-proud.com to post a picture of your mom or someone who was like a mom to you. Then tell your story about something you’ve done for customers or employees that would make them proud! We look forward to sharing your story and tribute. 

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