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CX Spotlight: In conversation with Tony Johnson

3 min read
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Customer Experience
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CX Spotlight is a weekly series where we meet with CX professionals and practitioners to find out about their journey, ideologies, inspirations, and more.

Today, we meet Tony Johnson – the founder of Ignite Your Service. Tony’s mission with Ignite Your Service is to help companies – be it startups, small businesses, or large enterprises – develop customer-centric strategies, optimize customer journeys, and also enhance employee experience. 

Author of ‘Recipe for Service’ and ‘Together We Serve’, Tony believes in empowering employees – with the right tools, resources, and training – to drive CX outcomes and deliver world-class customer service. His expertise includes designing training programs, accountability tools, social media strategies, culture-building activities, and more.

Tony comes with over 15 years of experience in CX, having worked with various Fortune 200 companies across multiple verticals – ranging from Sports and Leisure to Healthcare, Retail and Restaurants. 

We caught up with him to find out more about his passion for customer service, how he built a career in this niche field, and the fundamentals of providing great experiences, among other things.

1. What made you passionate about Customer Experience?

What draws me to customer experience is the fact that every service moment is a chance to make someone’s day a little better and a little brighter. When you execute a great experience for a customer, you can solve a problem, make a memory, inspire great work, and ultimately, make their lives easier. And honestly, this is a great career option where you have an opportunity to make people happy.

2. What do you think is the most important soft skill in CX?

That’s got to be empathy, without any doubt. Empathy is key to really understanding your customers and guests, anticipating their needs, and creating experiences that solve their problems. 

The best live customer service staff are masterful at interpreting body language and verbal cues to personalize a service experience. We’ve all had the restaurant server who knew just how long to stay at your table, when to fill your drinks, when to clear your table, and when to bring the check. It seemed like they were reading your mind, didn’t it?!

3. How important is organization-wide buy-in for the success of a CX program?

You can’t deliver great customer experiences without end-to-end buy in. The C-Suite team has to endorse and champion the CX vision. Then there needs to be robust training and recognition to bring this vision to life (hopefully by including a dedicated CX executive to lead the mission). Finally, your frontline leadership and associates have to be ready to deliver on goals aligned to this vision – and be held accountable.

The one thing that is often missing during annual goal-setting meetings is reviewing customer satisfaction. Most companies are focused mainly on financial metrics. While that’s completely fine, you also have to be sure to have KPIs around employee retention, customer satisfaction, and leadership development. 

One last thought here: if you have a CX executive leading your mission and inspiring your team, they need to have a reporting structure directly to the C Suite in the company (preferably to the president or CEO of the organization)

4. AI Customer Support vs Human Customer Support. And why?

Both play an equally important role in providing great customer service. I was recently locked out of one of my accounts and used the chat feature to reset my pin. That’s a great example of self service and AI. 

Moreover, as I travel a lot, my hotel often sends me a check-in note every time I arrive – again, that’s enabled by technology.  But if I ever raise an issue with my room, a live agent seamlessly steps in (either via chat or call) and ensures it’s resolved on time. In such instances, talking to a real person is quite reassuring. 

As long as tech isn’t used to keep customers away from live agents intentionally, both can co-exist in tandem.

5. One book you’d recommend everyone to read

My personal favorite is Creating Magic by Lee Cockerell. Lee is an inspiration to me and to so many when it comes to delivering great guest experiences.

6. What’s your go-to productivity hack?

Not multitasking. I’m a huge believer in the OHIO (only handle it once) approach to doing things. When I start a task, I don’t switch to another one until I’m finished with it.

It’s fine to have a stopping point or sit on something for a while so that you can come back and review later, but don’t jump around from screen to screen on your computer – it feels good but you accomplish far less by doing that. 

7. 3 brands that come to mind when you think great CX

Disney, Chick-fil-A, and Books a Million. 

Disney has done a tremendous job with health and safety measures while reopening in the post-lockdown phase. Chick-fil-A brings just a little extra to the experience each time with their fast drive-thrus, staff courtesy, and of course, the whole “my pleasure” signature style of theirs. 

Given that I’m still a lover of book stores, Books A Million always delivers for me. They have a great selection of books, helpful staff, and an atmosphere in their coffee shops that makes you want to hang out and enjoy the day there

8. Who has been the biggest inspiration in your professional life?

The late Mark Farner. He was one of my first bosses at Aramark (an American food service, facilities, and uniform services provider). 

A fantastic leader who taught me how to treat people and be accountable. He just passed away not too long ago. But even though it’s been 20 years since I worked for him, I remember many of his lessons.  

Making sure that your team knows how to complete their tasks, inspecting constantly for quality, and not skimping on recognition are the 3 biggest lessons I’ve learnt from Mark. They have remained important to me in every industry that I have worked in and every role I’ve held.

9. What do you usually do on weekends?

I usually play tennis with my wife or head to the beach. I’ve an interest in drones and so, you can find me exploring the skies and coastlines of central Florida. I also love making cooking videos with my nieces. 

10. What advice would you give someone who is starting their career in CX?

The most fundamental thing is to acquire operational and real world service experience before taking up a CX role. This is important because customer experience as a function is quite demanding – you will have to set a vision for your company, train your team, lead frontline teams, and influence executives to get buy-in across the organization, amongst other things. 

And you can’t learn to do all that just with theory. I spent 2 decades in hospitality where I directly served customers and gained hands-on experience managing teams – this kind of prior experience is necessary to build credibility with your front line teams. Moreover, there will be a lot of coalition building and silo busting needed to be done when you take up a CX role. Again, these are skills you acquire by leading teams over time.

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SaaS enthusiast who also happens to rap, play football, binge watch Nordic TV shows, and indulge in conversations about burgers and existentialism.
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