Steve Curtin, a customer experience consultant and author, was a guest speaker at this year’s CXweek. In this guest post, Steve will answer five of the top questions attendees submitted in response to his webinar “Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service From Ordinary to Extraordinary”.

  1. What are the top 3 things leaders must do to create an environment where voluntary actions happen?

Leaders must first identify motivators that promote voluntary acts of service, such as expending the discretionary effort required to delight customers, supporting coworkers,or achieving corporate goals. These motivators include a sense of purpose (meaning), relationships with others (connection) and developmental opportunities (learning).

Next, leaders must design jobs that connect employees’ daily duties and tasks to the organization’s purpose (promoting meaning), allow employees to develop friendships and exchange support (fostering connection) and provide employees with opportunities to solve problems and acquire skills (learning).

Finally, leaders must sustain employees’ commitment and performance by expressly valuing desired behavior. Recognition, for instance, only motivates people when their efforts are important to the group providing the recognition. Leadership must also consistently model (not mandate) desired behavior. In the absence of pressure, employees are more likely to feel personally responsible for their decisions to take initiative or expend discretionary effort in the moment of choice.

  1. Can you give an example of how to effectively reward customers? 

I recently read about a Canadian hospital that had a unique approach to hip and knee replacement surgery. Prior to being formally admitted for surgery, patients were accountable to meet a specific weight goal and, post-surgery, they were required to walk up and down ramps to get to and from physical therapy rather than ride in wheelchairs and elevators.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Steve, I asked for the best example of rewarding customers, not penalizing them! Wouldn’t patients prefer to be admitted to the hospital on their own terms, regardless of weight? And wouldn’t recovering patients appreciate being wheeled to and from physical therapy?” Yes, they probably would — just like many nights I would prefer to lay on the couch watching Undercover Boss while consuming a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream. While there is a time and a place for TV and ice cream, the reality is that, long term, you and I are rewarded by being active and eating well.

While patients may feel frustrated with the hospital’s protocol early on, their satisfaction soars by the time they’re discharged (which is, incidentally, when they’re asked to evaluate their treatment experience). Besides lowering their healthcare costs by reducing the length of hospital stay and recovery time, by actively engaging hip and knee replacement patients in preparing for surgery and rehabilitation, the hospital improved the patients overall health and quality of life. Is there a better reward?

  1. Can you give examples of how you apply these principles B2B?

These principles apply equally whether B2C, B2B, or U2ME (or ME2U). In other words, while we tend to think of “customers” as end users (consumers), customers can also be the business across town to which we sell a product or service, the company down the hall with which we partner to secure joint business, a colleague with whom we work (internal customer), or even a friend, neighbor or significant other. All of the aforementioned “customers” benefit from our enthusiasm to serve.

Just yesterday, I noticed that my neighbor had two dozen bags of garden soil in the back of her car. After retrieving a dolly from my garage, I helped her bring the 40 lb. bags of soil around to her backyard garden. Doing so was a voluntary act that demonstrated a genuine desire to serve my neighbor, Carolyn.

Here’s an example of how this applies B2B. One of the more memorable stories from my 20 years at Marriott International involved a high-level sales meeting between Marriott and United Airlines executives at a full-service hotel in Denver. Marriott was competing with a number of local hotels for a significant number of airline crew room nights for the upcoming year.

While the hotel’s director of sales and general manager were making their pitch from the front of the boardroom, a cell phone began to ring from the inside pocket of the general manager’s suit jacket. At first, he seemed to ignore the call and continued his presentation. When it was clear that the phone was distracting the group’s attention, he pause, reached inside his pocket, and removed the phone.

His executive team sat mortified. Not only had he forgotten to turn off his phone, but he was actually going to accept a call in the middle of a crucial sales presentation, to the dismay of the United Airlines executives. At that moment, the general manager answered his phone, looked at the senior United Airlines executive, and, with a wry smile, said, “Excuse me, sir. I have Bill Marriott on the phone. He’d like to personally ask for your business.”

Wrapped up in that illustration are several examples of providing exceptional customer service: expressing genuine interest (Bill Marriott wanted to personally ask for United Airlines’ business), complimenting the customer (by validating his position of power), providing unique access (to the CEO of Marriott International), using appropriate humor (by adding a bit of levity to an otherwise staid business meeting) and providing a pleasant surprise.

Each of the above behaviors can be applied to any customer, regardless of type.

  1. So, if these behaviors are all voluntary, how do you convey the importance of practice to employees?

Practice is developmental, whether something is mandatory or elective. An example that comes to mind (probably because the kids and I watched a Chopped marathon on Food Network over the weekend) is that of a chef. Most chefs practice both mandatory procedures (e.g., proper food handling/storage techniques) that adhere to strict codes and standards as well as voluntary techniques (e.g., culinary fusion and presentation techniques) that highlight their individual uniqueness and flair.

Another good example is are elite athletes. They’re elite, not because of what they HAVE to do, but because of what they CHOOSE to do (e.g., arrive to practice early and stay late). Frequently, during interviews with their teammates, these elite athletes are lauded for consistently demonstrating a work ethic that teammates aspire to emulate. In the business world, this is an important leadership trait: model desired behavior.

  1. I work for a non-profit so there is a clear mission that is our purpose. However, how can I create a more personalized purpose for my conference and events department?

The purpose is the purpose. Do not alter it. Instead, determine how the members of the conference and events department can actualize the non-profit’s stated purpose. This is best done by enlisting members in one-on-one conversations that include the question “Would you describe for me, from your perspective, what you do – what your job entails?”

Make a mental note of what you hear or formalize the interview by toting a clipboard and recording responses. Either way, compile a list of all of the individual responses. I guarantee the list will be dominated by job functions. I would then address the group, perhaps at a regularly scheduled department meeting, and share the results of your poll. This will be a great segue into a group discussion about job essence, the other half of every employee’s job role. And since your non-profit organization has already done the heavy lifting of defining a clear mission that is your purpose (your highest priority at work), then it will be easy for you to link job essence (e.g., pay attention to detail, display a sense of urgency, anticipate needs, follow up, etc.) to the organization’s purpose.

This exercise will reaffirm in team members’ minds that they not only have duties and tasks to work ON, but a higher purpose to work TOWARD.


Bio: Steve Curtin is the author of Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary. After a 20-year career with Marriott International, Steve now devotes his time to speaking, consulting, and writing on the topic of extraordinary customer service. He lives in Denver with his wife and their four children. Follow him on Twitter at @enthused.