For those of who have kept up with the blog, you know my family lost our beloved golden retriever, Lady Cooper, in February of this year. Cooper was an incredible dog, and she will always be remembered and missed. Fortunately, our family was able to bring a new puppy into our lives three months ago. Back in 2008, I had named Lady Cooper after my favorite astronaut, Gordon Cooper, but with three little girls at home, my wife and I decided to let them name our new dog. While spending time at Disney’s Aulani Resort in Hawaii this summer, my girls decided that they wanted to give the new family member a Hawaiian name and chose the name Luana, which means “Happy/Joyful” in Hawaiian. We call her Lulu for short. When Jennifer and I got Cooper, we were a solid team in training her, along with the help of our two cats, Guinness and Stella. Cooper learned very quickly to go outside, chew on only her toys, and how to sit and stay.

Things have been a bit different with Lulu. Becoming the parent of a two-month-old puppy, with three elementary school daughters trying to “help” has been an eye-opening experience. I learned from raising Lady Copper as a puppy nine years ago that consistency is everything when training a dog. We were focused on the basics of crate training, regimented meal times and potty breaks, as well as how to keep playtime safe by providing puppy toys vs. Mom’s favorite pair of shoes. Lulu is now just over five months old, weighs 40 pounds, and has mastered– for the most part– potty training, mealtime, sleeping in her crate, and chewing on only her toys. Of course, every day is an opportunity to accidentally reward a bad habit or start a new one if we aren’t a diligent team.

This draws a comparison to the world of CX. I have been a longtime fan of the theory that you teach customers how to treat you. When I took over the responsibility for managing the Oracle RDBMS customer support team in 1997, they handed me the ‘P1 Duty manager’ pager, which on a good day went off 75 times, and the ‘P2 Duty Manager’ pager, which went off about 50. My team of 26 and I rotated the pagers around to manage the workload of customers seeking to escalate to get what they wanted– because the standard process didn’t meet their needs.

Instead of hiring more staff to manage this problem, we looked at the cause for these escalations. More importantly, we studied the outbound and on-boarding communications we pushed to our customers, so we could better help them understand that the path to value wasn’t through the Duty Manager pager. Within a year this activity dropped by over 80% and ultimately, we retired the P2 pager. This same concept goes for crate training. I know Lulu thinks she would prefer to sleep in our bed, but we have taught her from the beginning that she would be far happier, safer, and more comfortable in her spacious crate. Now she recognizes it as her “safe place” and often hangs out in there when she is nervous or sleepy. As a team, my daughters and wife and I, had to teach and then reinforce to her the best path to value.

Meal times and doggy treats are a sore subject at the Smith house, as our dog is always ‘starving’ and my girls are constantly looking for ways to reward her with treats. I know they think it is helpful, but I am constantly reminding them that giving her treats all the time makes them less of a reward. There is a CX principal around fair and transparent reward systems that many companies use. They have loyalty programs and point schemes for returning customers. Depending on your brand promise, you might reward customers every visit, like with Khol’s Cash, Michael’s receipt coupons for 40% next visit, or Kmart’s blue light specials. You might also reward customers who complain on social media. These reward systems short-circuit the Value Perception/Value Recognition paths in your customer’s brains. It teaches them that your products and services aren’t worth list price– that they can always get the discount they are demanding, and in fact, they are “entitled” to it. If your brand is all about deep discounts, then I say embrace this reality, own it, and use it to your business and customer’s advantage. If on the other hand, the idea of special treatment means something to your brand, and surprise and delight are hallmarks of it, then it follows that providing everyone special treatment in every situation makes nothing special at all. Next time you find yourself in the business class upgrade queue and see that you are number 35 of 47 other passengers waiting for that one empty seat, you’ll see my point. If only I could somehow teach my 7 and 9-year-olds that when they are looking into Lulu's big puppy eyes while they hand her yet another treat.

Chew toys and frankly, the whole idea of puppy teething, has also been the cause of screams and delight lately. Chewing and teething is to be expected for a puppy. However, what she is allowed to chew on and what is puppy safe has been a learning curve for my girls. Teaching them not to leave their shoes on the ground, or to stop playing tug of war with their backpacks is a persistent conversation. They are still learning in an all or nothing phase themselves and will overcorrect, trying to stop Lulu from chewing on anything, which isn’t fair. It reminds me of high-tech companies, who throughout my career have purchased major technology platforms and go through extended professional services implementation, which at some point transition over to a customer service team as they roll into production. I can’t tell you how many times customers who learn to trust onsite resources and work with them daily, suddenly feel lost when their favorite service team member leaves and in his place is a 1-800 customer support number.
 Understanding that new customers need to be nurtured into the ‘new normal’ of post-sales customer support is a typical blind spot for most companies. It should be expected that the customer success ‘training wheels’ need to be in place for the first 3 to 6 months post production rollout. Yet many employees allow these new customers to overuse the escalation duty manager process, demand that their favorite worker come back on site to sort something out, or worse yet drag back in the sales team to deal with a bad situation. Teaching new customers, the path to value is by chewing up your partner channel or sales team to get what they need is just as dangerous as leaving Mom’s Tory Burch shoes laying near the food bowl.  Nothing good will come from this.

The joy of raising our new golden retriever as a lifelong family companion should be the same as nurturing customers for life.  If you do it properly – both parties will find value from the relationship for years to come.  But just like our little puppy Lulu – working as a consistent team the first six months is the most important investment you can make for the next blessed 12+ years.
I wish everyone a perfect holiday season, and a magical 2018.