Sidney Evans is an international expert and thought leader in branding and communications. He has published numerous articles in such publications as Branding Magazine, Forbes, and Oracle Marketing Cloud.
Sidney is a pragmatic strategist and expert communicator. He helps people develop and communicate their unique brand through clear messaging and by implementing sound strategy. Sidney Evans was selected to join the Forbes Councils, whose members are hand-selected, to become part of a curated network of successful peers and publish thought leadership articles. Most recently, he was asked to contribute to the Oracle Marketing Cloud blog. Sidney is a senior columnist and moderator of the "C-Suite" for Branding Magazine.
Globally focused, Sidney helped mentor start-ups and young entrepreneurs in Stockholm for "Start-Up Stockholm Weekend" powered by Google for entrepreneurs. Sidney was also a featured speaker for the "Personal Branding Day" conference that was broadcast internationally from Poland. Currently, he is completing his first book on personal branding, "How To Build A Powerful Personal Brand".
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[00:06] Mary Drumond: You're listening to Voices of Customer Experience. I'm your host Mary Drumond, and on this podcast we shine the spotlight on individuals who are making a difference in customer experience. We also proudly bring you the very best of customer experience, behavior economics, data analytics, and design. Make sure to subscribe or follow us on social for updates. Voices of Customer Experience is brought to you by Worthix. Discover your worth at worthix.com.
[00:35] MD: Our guest today is Sidney Evans. Sidney is an international expert in branding and communications. He's published numerous articles and publications such as Branding Magazine, Forbes, and Oracle marketing cloud. He holds an MBA from the University of Miami. He's a senior columnist and moderator of the c-suite for Branding Magazine where he's interviewed some of the world's branding leaders. Currently, he's completing final edits on his first book about personal branding, 12 Pace Setting Steps to Build Your Personal Brand. Co-hosting with me today is James Conrad, CCO of ethics. Thanks for coming onto the show, James, and welcome Sidney.
[01:13] Sidney Evans: Hey. Hi Guys. How are you?
[01:16] MD: Thank you so much for being on today. We're really excited to talk to you. Starting off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, about your career, your background? I know that you have a super interesting background where your life kind of pivoted a couple of times. Can you tell us, give us a quick rundown and, and just tell us about what you do?
[01:37] SE: I will try to be as brief as possible. I started in sales for a fortune 50 company, ended up being a corporate trainer. I'm well versed in sales and customer experience. In fact, I taught thousands of sales reps how to sell. From that I pivoted to, believe it or not, I took a break left corporate, became a voiceover artist, believe it or not. So I learned branding from a different angle. I've ever reported, you know, hundreds of commercials. So again, I got to understand what brands really we're looking for from that perspective. I was the voice of Dodge, I've done ESPN and AT&T and from that, you know, I decided to go back and get my MBA really put some meat on the bones around sort of technical knowledge and the ability to help brands really sort of take things to the next level. So I went and got my MBA and came out and decided to start writing, just trying to add some value and I literally just started writing it, got picked up by a number of magazines, with the mission of really focusing on what's next. So my whole mantra is what's next and I really tried to help brands figure out sort of what's coming next and how to prepare for that. And so that, that's a quick synopsis, a very quick synopsis of me.
[02:59] MD: And what was the thing that inspired you to write about customer experience or what is it about customer experience that fascinates you and attracts you the most?
[03:07] SE: I am obsessively concerned about how things happened. I wouldn't say critical, but I'm observant. And so anytime that I go into any organization, restaurant, I am looking at every detail. How could things be better? Because I firmly understand that there are a lot of small things that add up to big things, and oftentimes brands miss the small things. And they balloon into problems later. And so what I've been sort of focused on again is what are the small little things that you can do differently. And so for me, customer experience has been a really big thing for me. Especially I'm, and I'm also a Foodie, so I go to a lot of restaurants, and I see a lot of disconnects with how the restaurant necessarily portrays himself online and then you get inside and their faux pas whatever that might be. And so for me, I just think it's a lot of small things that brands can do to ensure that the customer experience is robust.
[04:08] MD: It's kind of a curse, isn't it? I do the same thing where I can no longer enjoy a single experience because I'm always looking for the angle. I'm always looking for either whether they're going to do a really good job and then I can talk about it or write about it or whether they're going to screw it up and then I can write about it or talk about it.
[04:27] SE: I have a great story for you about that later.
[04:29] James Conrad: Yeah, it's been really interesting. And Sidney, I came from the brand and advertising world for most my career and I've also pivoted to customer experience over the last several years. One of the things that's fascinated me is, you know, thinking about how brands spend all this money to set up these expectations and then the customers come in and experience and have these expectations when they come into the restaurant or the hotel or the airline and oftentimes what you experience as you've mentioned isn't what you expected based on the TV ad, or what you read online. And I've been concerned and question, you know, why aren't brand folks more connected with CX folks in organizations. And I wondered from your perspective and the work that you've done in helping companies around branding, what are your thoughts and what have you seen that around the integration of brand and CX, and have you had conversations with brand folks? Are CMOs about the importance of, of delivering against all those expectations that we set?
[05:32] SE: Absolutely. And that is a really great question. And so there's a fundamental problem that I think is happening and so to your point, brands put out this imagery on what they would like the customer experience to be and I really fundamentally believe that the disconnect is around touch points. And so I speak about points in the oracle article and the reason that I brought that up is because there are thousands of touch points, right? So if you think about, you know, you're, you know, you're walking into the restaurant, they are greeting you, you go to the bathroom isn't clean or dirty, where you see the properly is the waiter or waitress, you know, given the proper amount of attention it, there are so many different touch points that have to be taken into account. I think that's the misalignment that's happening with brands is ironic because I had the opportunity to sit down with David Rockwell from Rockwell group, which was amazing world class architect and I spent four hours with him.
[06:29] SE: And I'm telling you, he is obsessed with the small details. Even just in his office, from serving me green tea to how his office is set up, his sort of integration of staff, speaking to every person asking you to what happened today, who did you speak to, what, how can we do it better, it really is important that brands learn to ask open ended questions and understand that we are in the age of the consumer, and the consumer now controls the experience.
[07:00] MD: Do you think it's possible for organizations to control that much of the experience? I mean, how, how can you even do that? Is that through like really detailed customer journey mapping? What do you think? What is the secret to being able to control so many variables in the customer experience?
[07:18] SE: Listening. So I think what happens is, and to your point, and I think it's a really great point, can you control it? Right? And so consumers are human, right? We're all human, so people don't want perfect. They want to be heard. I think that if you have a problem, you listen, you correct, you move forward and the story I was going to give you. I was just in Spain, I was at the Marriott in Spain, in southern Spain and we had a interesting experience I should say, and so I spoke to the general manager, well first I went to the front desk and I asked for the general manager. He wasn't there, but he immediately scheduled to come meet with me the next day. Immediately the next day we sat down and I said, you know, this is not about getting someone in trouble because that's what happens. We're not punishing people, right? These are opportunities. These are opportunities for brands to grow. And when I positioned it that way, he was incredibly open to hearing what I had to say. Well guess what? I felt better, you know, and so people just want to be heard. So listening is important.
[08:18] MD: How about like actually constructing or making sure that nothing in the process fails? Is that even possible?
[08:27] SE: I'm not sure if you can say nothing in the process will fail, but what you can do is set up metrics to mitigate failure. Right. And so if you set up metrics, journey mapping, sort of analyzation tools to understand feedback loops. Right. I can't tell you how many brands I speak to, they have no idea what a feedback loop is. They have no idea how to construct one. And by the way, you know, there are simple feedback loops and are there more sort of complex. I'm sort of just basic questions, you know, what do you like about the product or service, you know, does it offer value? Um, you know, what's the alternative that you might use and why would you use that alternative versus our product and service. These are basic questions, but not only do you have to ask the questions, you have to capture the data and analyze the data. So that's the best way to mitigate.
[09:18] JC: Yeah, it's a really interesting point. Your experience at the Marriott. We've also been talking in the podcast over the past weeks and months about these feedback loops, and I wonder sometimes about the danger of providing an avenue to give feedback and then whether the organization acts or doesn't to change what's happened. So if you think about the experience you had at the Marriott, you sat down with the general manager, what if the next time you went there, you had a similar experience, you know, how would that make you feel, and how can companies ensure that if they're going to have these mechanisms in place, that the information gets to the right people to ensure that they take action, that they don't end up? I think I always feel the worst thing that can happen is we give feedback and then we experience the same things that we had an issue with and nothing's really changed.
[10:08] SE: Great point. And so I always say feedback as an aggregate. Okay. It's an aggregate and so you're wanting to get the internet, right? The democratization of information you're wanting, you're wanting to get, you know, some just want to complain. What I always say is that the person that gives constructive feedback, and again, you have to, it's a case by case basis, but again, it's an aggregate and so this is where you have to have training and this is what I spoke to the manager about. It's ironic because as I stated to the manager, I said, you know, I know that people often complain, I started with these are the positive things that happened, right. And so I think that if you, if you have sort of framed in analyzing the feedback and again, you look at the aggregate of the feedback, I think it helps you move in a positive direction.
[10:57] SE: To your point, if I came back and the same experience happened, I'd be disappointed, but I would also understand, I mean, again, I have experience in this, but I would also understand it could be a breakdown in training, right? So the brand has to take more responsibility outside of just the feedback. Right? So my point is this, if you have 30 people giving feedback and 10 around the same issue, not this exact same issue, but in the same zone, right? So the outside dining experience was all right and that's what happened. We know that we can correct some things in the outside dining experience. Right. And so again, it's the aggregate of the feedback, so it's specific feedback, but it's also the aggregate. That's helpful.
[11:45] MD: You mentioned in the article that you wrote for Oracle, you talked about how at times companies cherry pick feedback and talk to me a little bit about the dangers of doing this and what are some of the consequences that can be generated for brands that they decide to issue perhaps the feedback that doesn't fall into whatever their strategic planning is and just keep the ones that kind of go along with it.
[12:04] SE: It's authenticity and credibility. Is everyone's saying great stuff about us all the time? Absolutely not. How would that be authentic or credible? Right. And so the whole notion that, you know, a brand within these, and by the way I have this term, when I say savvy brands. Savvy brands understand it is the aggregate maybe, brands that are newer because new is not necessarily a determinant of what a brand does because there are some newer brands that are doing things right from this, from the start. But it is vitally important from my perspective when I go online, just as a consumer take boy, Sydney branding just as a consumer when I go online and see that a brand has had a, I wouldn't call it a negative experience. That's why I say to the Marriott, the GM, it's a coaching opportunity. That's what I used to always say. It's an opportunity to coach. I had an issue at a Starbucks in Miami. It's an opportunity to coach. When something happens, brands have to understand that things always happened, good and bad, but you have to learn and you have to coach. This is your chance to coach your staff to increase the experience, if that makes sense.
[13:25] MD: Voices of Customer Experience is brought to you by Worthix. If you're interested in customer experience, behavior economics, or data science, follow Worthix on social media or subscribe to our blog for the best content on the web.
[13:43] JC: So you've talked about training and coaching. I love this angle. We haven't talked a lot about it in previous podcasts, but what have you seen as some best practices of the information flow from collecting the feedback, whether it's through the insights team or research and getting that to the right people to then develop and feed that into training programs. What have you seen in your travels, Sidney, have some things that you think are real best practices?
[14:11] SE: Well, I think the first thing is having the right people to analyze the feedback. And so part of my experience in a few establishments is that you're often times speaking to someone who's not a trained or equipped to even deal with the feedback. To give you an example of that, they just go, oh, well, you know, I hope things are better next time, or well I'm sorry you had a bad experience that that's not an answer, right, that's not a solution. Right. And in fact it feels like a brush off and so it's first and foremost having the right people to analyze and look at that feedback. I think it's key. I think two, it's having in place. So I would always say savvy brands are proactive, not reactive, and I think it's about also first of all, what are our values, what do we want to be known for, and how do we execute those values across all channels, even across customer experience.
[15:09] SE: So do we want to be known like Zappos? Zappos hears a baby crying in the background, they send a baby blanket, right? Some employees have been known to do that, right? Zappos sort of, that's their model. That's not gonna work for everybody, right? It is not going to work for every brand. So brands have to figure out the metrics that work for them when they get the feedback, because this is the thing. Danger is you now have all this data, by the way data is is your biggest strategic advantage at this point. Right. But to have all that data and not being able to analyze, use it and have the right people sort of executing is your biggest detriment. So it's worse to have that and not be able to analyze or use it.
[15:56] MD: That leads me to my next question, which is once you, let's say you have a really good program to collect feedback, once you have all that feedback, what do you do with it? How do you use it properly, how do you use it correctly, how do you make sure that data will go into improving the process and improving the experience and not just some feedback loop where it's a person apologizing for the poor service or you know saying, oh, so sorry that happened to you. We'll do better next time. Right?
[16:29] SE: Right. That's a good point. And I think that implementation is key. So I think that really, really savvy brands. She always said, you know, you have to hire right first. So having the right people, like I said, but two I think, and I wrote an article for a magazine in the beginning of the year on the dominant branding trends, and I think artificial intelligence is going to come into play here. I think having the right technical sort of back end is going to come into play here. So the human factor, it's important, but I also think that you're going to get so much feedback at this point, you're going to have to utilize maybe AI or other other technical things to aggregate that feedback and to say hey listen, give example.
[17:18] SE: So if you get 100 feedback items, right, have some mechanism or some, you know, a data program to pull the ones that you think will have the best benefit for your company to be able to analyze that. Right? Because the thing is is that you want to analyze as best as you can to get the aggregate of the feedback in order to help you move forward as a brand. So I think there's going to be a technical component there that'll help as well.
[17:50] JC: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. One of the challenges I've been hearing lately is there isn't a shortage of feedback. There is lots of feedback that challenges how do we sift through all this feedback and not only I have a way of understanding and aggregating, as you said, Sidney, what you know, what people are saying, but also what's really important, what matters versus just the volume that we get. Maybe a lot of people complain about the menu, but actually what really matters is how the waiter or waitress treats them in the restaurant, for example. So it's finding ways to really understand what matters and what really impacts whether they're going to come back or they're gonna say nice things about us in the future.
[18:35] SE: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I mean, it's such a great point, right? Because again, and this is another point I wanted to bring up, so you could actually, and brands should really understand this as well. It's not a zero sum game, right? So let's use the restaurant example because I liked that. So if I go into to a restaurant and the Maitre d is really busy and doesn't greet me properly, I'm talking about pop, we're not talking about Denny's, right? But if I go into a five star restaurant or whatever, a risk or something and I'm not greeted properly or I feel you still have an opportunity that chance to correct it. Right? It's not that it's not. Listen, well I remember that of course, but you still have an opportunity to break that. So I think also too, it's empowering and it's funny. They have an amazing. I'm actually speaking at the Ritz Carlton in Cairo, November and December. They have an amazing, amazing program where they empower and they empower their employees. A hammer with the dollar amount is to correct stuff on the fly.
[19:40] MD: They give them a budget, right? That they can use per day?
[19:43] SE: I don't remember what the number is, but they have a budget, something crazy. Again, every brand can't do that. But that's what you can do. You can empower your manager at the restaurant to say, "Hey, let me send you a glass of wine because the way you were greeted was not proper this time." You know, that's the front of the house manager's role at a restaurant, especially if you are spending 50 or 60 bucks on an entree in my opinion.
[20:12] MD: Well if you take it to the other extreme, you know, if you go to Denny's for instance, Denny's also has no shortage of customers even though they're not providing a $60 per entree experience. So what is it that Denny's offering that is still somehow worth it to their consumers? So they found a way to complement it in some other fashion. So either by and making it more on like price point, having a better price point to that sense or somehow making people feel at home like they're having breakfast in their home. They have got their drivers that somehow managed to keep the customers flowing as well. So maybe at the Ritz Carlton, if maybe you know, you weren't greeted properly on the entry, um, there could still be some way to maybe add quality or add an experience, like you said, sending a glass of wine. Have the guy on the piano play a special song. Anything that might outweigh the bad experience somehow, right?
[21:16] SE: And to your point, it's not just price elasticity. No, no, no. That's not what it is. Because if that is your standard, then why is Chic-fil-A doing so well, right, versus some of the others. I went to school in Florida, I mean Chic-fil-A is a machine. Well, and actually, I know one of the owners of Chic-fil-A in Orlando. This guy, I mean man oh man is he, I mean he is one of the models of customer experience in my opinion, because you go to Emily Culp's point, CMO of Keds, you have to hire the right people, it is training. And by the way, this is what I always say, right? As a former corporate trainer this is my little pet peeve. How much does it really cost to train people right?
[21:56] MD: Definitely less than having to deal with the outcome of bad service.
[22:01] SE: Exactly. It's like you train them wrong on the front end, and by the way, I trained for, fortunately there's metrics to check training. We gave scripts out to check what people are saying, help them coach them, move them forward. Don't say it that way. That's not, you know, but my point is this like how much does it cost you for one mistake, for bad training. That's the question, right? How much does it cost you? A lot. So great point.
[22:29] MD: Wrapping up because we're out of time, what would you say like if you were to sit down with someone helping them plan their strategy or how to improve their brand or their customer experience, what would you say are some of the things that we could improve starting now in voice of customer and in retaining feedback?
[22:53] SE: So what are some of the things that brands can do now?
[22:55] MD: Mhm so first step, how to improve your voice of customer feedback cycle. What's the first thing that you can do?
[23:03] SE: I think the first thing you should do is take an account of where it is now. Do you have anything in place to capture feedback effectively? The second thing, and I'm going to throw this in from a branding perspective, but really go back to what's the value proposition is. I know it sounds so basic, I know it sounds generic, but it is like I literally challenge every brand to go back and fully understand your value proposition, your vision, and your mission.
[23:37] MD: And whether it is updated or not, right?
[23:42] SE: Did you start with one thing and has it shifted? Right? Because I see a lot of people, I'm kind of a nerd, like this way, like I read mission statements, I read a statement and I'm like, that's not what they do now. In my opinion, that's not their vision. And so I think that moving forward it is going to be vitally important. So I didn't where you are now, you know, what's your value proposition when the feedback comes in? I think you corrected based on that, right? So you see you're correcting it based on what you want the consumer to see. It's really about perception of like, you know, what, what are we, what do we want to be known for? And so if you don't have a baseline of those two things I think is virtually impossible for you to even start impossible offer a better customer experience. But I think that you were really misaligned with offering the customer experience the proper way.
[24:36] JC: Absolutely. No, totally agree. Totally agree. Also Sidney, you've put a book together recently and I wanted to hear from you on that. What's got you excited about it? Where can people find it? What have you covered? If you could let our audience know sort of what's happening on that initiative.
[24:52] SE: I never disclose the name. A book of personal branding and it's 12 steps to building a powerful personal brand. It is been a labor of love for the last two years and part of my travels was actually spoke to different people in different parts of the world and actually aggregated stores and put stories in around that. It really is a guide. So let me just say this. When I rebranded myself, I had to rebrand myself. And so I give you a toolkit on how to do that, but I do it in 12 steps. The 12 steps of course equates to once a month. And I hope that it will be a book that people utilize when they need to rebrand themselves and to give tools and strategies to do so.
[25:41] JC:That's great. It sounds exciting. What, when do you think we'll be able to see it?
[25:45] SE: It's being edited now. I'm hosting rebels and rulers conference in Bucharest in October. I should have it by the time I get back.
[25:53] JC: Awesome. Well we look forward to seeing it.
[25:55] MD: Great. And if our listeners want to follow you, Sidney and hear more about what you have to say and maybe even talk to you about it, how can folks reach you?
[26:04] SE: Yeah, I hope they want to follow. You can find me @sydinc on Twitter and Sidney Evans on LinkedIn.
[25:55] MD: That's awesome. That's great. Thank You so much for being here. It was a pleasure speaking to you today.
[25:55] SE: Absolutely. You guys are great. By the way, you got me fired up today. That was awesome.
[26:33] MD: I could hear you feeling really emphatic about it and feeling really passionate about it. I love that.
[26:38] SE: Thank you guys so much. I really appreciate the opportunity.
[26:44] MD: Thank you for listening to Voices of Customer Experience. If you'd like to hear more or get a full podcast summary, visit the episode details page or go to blog.worthix.com/podcasts. This episode of Voices of Customer Experience was hosted and produced by Mary Drumond, co-hosted by James Conrad, and edited by Nic Gomes.