Differentiating Experiences To Dominate Your Industry
Stacy Sherman interviews Stan Phelps, author of the Goldfish series, about how to gain a competitive advantage and achieve bottom-line impact.
Stan explains “Your brand today is no longer what you tell people it is. It is the differentiated experience (DX) your employees deliver. It is what you stand for and how your customers feel about you. And most importantly, your brand is what your customers tell others about their experience.” See podcast transcript below for details on topics and key takeaways.
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Differentiating Experiences To Dominate Your Industry
Stacy Sherman: Hello, Stan Phelps. Welcome to the Doing CX Right show.
Stan Phelps: Yea, thanks for having me, Stacy.
Stacy Sherman: We have known each other a really long time and life just keeps us coming back at different stages of our life. And I have to say, I feel really lucky.
Stan Phelps: Thanks. Good to reconnect.
Stacy Sherman: Yes. So I of course know who you are and how magnificent you are, but tell the audience a little bit about yourself professionally.
Who are you? What do you do?
Stan Phelps: Yes, Stan Phelps. I am a certified speaking professional. I’ve written an entire series of books called the Goldfish series, which is all about this idea of creating a DX, and I really spent a lot of time looking at. Brand strategy, customer experience and employee engagement.
Yeah. And then I write and do keynotes and workshops for a living.
Stacy Sherman: Why what’s your why behind this whole DX experience management, we’re going to dive into DX. So we’ll, won’t go there yet, but what’s your passion? Why?
Stan Phelps: Yes, great question. So I spent over 20 years over two decades working in traditional marketing. And I started out on the agency side in sports with a group called IMG. And then I spent time on the brand side, about a decade with Adidas and the PGA of America. And then I went back to the agency side where I worked with a number of brands and I worked specifically in experiential marketing.
So this idea of creating an experience for, for customers, a brand experience, and what I realized back in 2006, 2007, that marketing was rapidly changing, Stacy. It used to be that it was a one-way conversation, kind of a tell and sell. And I realized that the through social and through the web, today’s customer has much more access to information.
They have much more impact on the overall experience. And so it led me to really think about what I was doing was not what I thought should be happening going forward. And I, and I had this kind of moment of truth in New York city where I realized this idea that I think the greatest myth we have is the idea of simply
just meeting the expectations of a customer we serve. And so, that started me on a quest of starting to look for companies that purposefully put an emphasis on the experience and did little things to differentiate their brand and promote word of mouth. And that quest led me to the first book, which was purple goldfish in the city.
Stacy Sherman: What’s one thing that many people might not know about you personally or professionally?
Stan Phelps: Well, I so I’ve written 17 books now in the series, but though the one book, it’s not a goldfish book, it’s the only book I have. That’s not a goldfish book. It’s called Bar Tricks, Bad Jokes and Even Worse Stories.
And so yeah, so I, I absolutely love a bar trick is not like a magic trick. You know, a bar trick is something that you do amongst friends and you always show how the trick is done. And I’m a, I’m a fan of storytelling and, and, and jokes. So that was just a fun little passion project.
Stacy Sherman: Awesome. What a great answer.
So let’s dive into, first of all, because it’s Doing CX, Right. What does CX, what does customer experience mean to you now? Cause I know it’s changed over time. So where are you today in your, in your mindset of what it means?
Stan Phelps: Everyone has their own definition. Of CX. I was fortunate enough back in 2014 to create a course for the ANA around customer experience design.
And I did it with a guy named Mike Wittgenstien and Mike shared something with me that is stood with me to the day he looks at it kind of as an equation, that customer experiences, everything that your brand does, for the customers that you serve. So all the value that you bring, but the equation is this it’s minus all of the things that you put your customers through all the business processes and what it’s like for them to deal with you.
So you got all the pluses, which is the value you got the minus of what it’s, you know, the things that you put them through, and the, the equation at the bottom is essentially how the experience makes them feel, right? It’s the feeling that they get, and more importantly, it’s what they share with other people.
Stacy Sherman: Love that. What is, DX? Not a lot of people use that, that term. So please share what is DX and, and why is it important?
Stan Phelps: So the DX is simply a stands for differentiated experience. So I think, I think about everything that we do a lot of times we focus on CX, not realizing that employees are a huge part of the.
A lot of times we focus on CX and not realize the overall impact it has on the brand. So during, during COVID and the pandemic, I actually created in what I call my DX manifesto. I’ll share it with you, Stacy it’s you know, your brand today is no longer just what you tell people it is. It’s the differentiated experience your employees deliver.
It’s what you stand for and how your customers feel about you, and most importantly, your brand is what customers tell others about their, their experience. And I am the manifesto with all else is derivative of this and only this.
Stacy Sherman: Yes. So now speaking of that and so many companies, I don’t care what size they are.
They want to differentiate. They want to differentiate their products. They want to differentiate their brand, and we know that price is not the way to do it.
Stan Phelps: Right.
So here to your point, research shows that 70% of people will pay more for a better experience. And so to me, if you try to stick with the other 30%, it’s simply a race to the bottom, right?
Because whoever can be lowest is the one that’s going to win. I think what smart brands have realized is that they want to compete with the 70% who will pay more for a better experience. So to me, it’s about two things. One it’s about ways that you can add value to elevate that experience. In a unique way.
And second, it’s about what I call maintenance, which is what is it like to have to deal with me? So some of the things that you can do can be, how do you manage and become more convenient to do business with? How do you manage waiting as part of it? How do you do any type of added service that again, removes friction and makes it easier?
And so what I think brands need to do is realize, look, it’s important for us to stand out. We know that our best marketing vehicle are the customers we actually have. And, and I know you had Jay Baer on recently, Jay Baer will tell you that over 90% of companies will say, word of mouth is the number one thing that drives their business.
Yeah. When he asked those companies, which how many of you actually have a word of mouth marketing strategy 1% do so to me, thinking about and understanding that the experience that you provide needs to be differentiated, it needs to be that thing that gets people talking about that brand.
Stacy Sherman: Well, it’s so much research is out there.
And people like you and Jay Baer and others are continuing to emphasize the point of taking care of your current customers. And why are companies falling short of that, ignoring that, and so focused on going to get new, new, new, why do you think that is?
Stan Phelps: A couple of things. I think one of the worst things we do,
frankly in terms of being, trying to be different and create these strategies is we get, we get caught up in benchmarking, right? We look at whoever is the leader within our category, right? And we start to break down the things that make them a leader. And then whether we want to admit it or not, what do we do next?
We start to emulate and do a lot of those same things and that doesn’t lead to being different. That leads to being more of the same. So I think what the challenge is that it’s not a matter of either or you certainly always need to keep people coming into your funnel, but it’s almost looking in that funnel
like Joseph Jaffe says like a bow tie. So you have the top part of the funnel, but what are you doing with those customers once they become part of your brand. And what I, what I think the great brands do is that they exude both high warmth. So their customers understand why they do what they do. But two they’re also very good on the competence part of the equation.
They’re reliable. They say what they’re going to do. They’re easy to do business with. And it’s not much harder than that.
Stacy Sherman: Get the basics right. Well, talking about that, I want to bring up one controversial topic, which is about keeping your employees engaged. Some are proponents of tying your customer satisfaction metrics to linking, to pay to bonus.
And others are very against it. What is your perspective on motivation and this topic?
Stan Phelps: Yes. I’ve written an entire book on this, which is called The Green Goldfish. And that was the second book in the series. So I, the first one was all about the customer. I’m a marketing guy. I thought the sun rose and set on the customer.
Right? But what I realized from studying over a thousand companies that did signature little things to differentiate their experience, is that the ones that truly got it, that did multiple things, Stacy, actually put more emphasis, on their employees than they did on their customers. And it’s not a hard concept to understand if you don’t have engaged bot in employees, you’re never going to be able to deliver that, that great experience.
So one of the reasons I call it Green Goldfish is to me, it’s about going beyond dollars. And what studies have shown is that money is not a long-term motivator for getting people to change their behavior. And so I, I, you know, I studied again another thousand companies that do signature little things beyond compensation to reinforce their culture and drive engagement.
And, and so for me, I do think it’s important to measure it, but I don’t think necessarily that compensation is the right way to, to reinforce it. How about you, where do you fall on that?
Stacy Sherman: I’ve been on both sides of the fence, where I’ve been in an organization where I was the only one with CX metrics, tied to my performance and pay. And, everyone around me did not. In one scenario in one job. And one of the problems with that was that when I brought important customer insights to those people, they didn’t make it a priority. And that shouldn’t be the case. It shouldn’t take money, but once the next year that everybody shared the same metrics as I did, behaviors changed. So, I don’t like that answer, yet that’s what happened. I experienced one year with, and one year without, and we need to get to a place where it goes further than that because it’s the right thing to do.
Stan Phelps: Yeah. I was going to say one of the things I think individual, not so good tying metrics to the organization as a whole,
I am in favor of that. But I think sometimes when you get it down to the individual, you start to throw in gaming into, into the mix and people start to game the metric, and that’s really not why you’re measuring it to me, there should be a higher purpose behind it.
Stacy Sherman: Yes. And organizations need to make sure that all of the goals are aligned,
in other words, this is the worst experience, I’ll put myself in the customer’s shoes when you buy online, and then you want to return something at a store, and they say, sorry, you have to return that to the online group. We can’t take it back. And I’m like, you’re one company. But so what happens is that they don’t share the same metrics and therefore everybody is working in silos and even their own customer experience metrics don’t match.
It’s that’s a recipe for disaster. Probably spend the whole time just on this topic, but, but it’s, it is controversial if it is.
Stan Phelps: Yea.
Stacy Sherman: So I want to go into more about leadership because forget the numbers. If you don’t have them, if you don’t have the right leaders in place, no one’s going to meet any goal, individual or a team.
Now, Colin Powell just passed and a big leader model. What’s your perspective? What can we learn about leadership from such an icon?
Stan Phelps: Oh God, I think there’s so much we could learn from him. In fact, I wrote an entire thing, kind of five big takeaways that, that I, I, you know, just admiring him from a distance and looking at some of the quotes that he shared.
One of the things that I think. The biggest influence from him is that he said, no battle plan ever survives first contact on the battlefield, right? You can have the best strategy, right. But it’s, once you start to put it in place, you have to have the ability and flexibility to adjust that plan. So that’s one big takeaway.
I also appreciated the humility he had to admit that he acted on bad, bad information and, and didn’t do exactly the right thing in the humility to be able to admit that not making excuses for it is something rare. I think it’s rare we don’t see from leaders. How, how about you as you look back on his career in life?
Stacy Sherman: I agree. And I like what you just said. Keeping it human and not trying to be above anyone else. And I think that actually customers and employees expect that from us, you know because if we try to look perfect and not be transparent, people see through it. So there’s an advantage to, keeping it human and, and owning it and being real.
And, you know, I, I was at a Qualtrics, a big event a couple of years ago, and I remember Obama was speaking and, and this was not about politics. This is not about who you like and who you don’t like. It’s about, he said he always surrounded himself around people that were smarter than him. I thought that was fantastic because it takes a strong, confident leader to say that,
Stan Phelps: Right.
Stacy Sherman: and also to choose to be around people that can constantly teach you and you give value but keep getting value and learning you’re never done, and so I think there’s a lot of leaders out there that can do that and, and, and, and embrace that mindset.
Stan Phelps: Yeah, I love, I love that you talked about this idea of being authentic, that the, my most recent book is an update to Pink Goldfish.
So it’s Pink Goldfish 2.0, and the whole concept is the idea that our flaws and our imperfections are actually the things that make us interesting and awesome. Or as we say flawsome, and so flawsome is the acronym for, it used to be seven ways, but we added the E, and specifically the E is what we call exposing.
So not being afraid to kind of really open things up and admit your mistakes or to own your negative reviews. Right. And I think people appreciate that. You, when a brand is even acting in a human way, right, and being transparent and being authentic, you know, it really stands out.
Stacy Sherman: I think companies need to think about how to apply this now more than ever as we’ve hit this,
I forget the term, the world’s calling it the big rags resignation. Like so many people are leaving companies right now everywhere, and, now leader’s get a chance to really walk the talk and self-reflect and figure out why and do exit interviews and close the loop with it more than ever than before,
and I don’t know that it’s happening everywhere, but that is a huge opportunity.
Stan Phelps: My friend Marcy was talking about this the other day, Marcy Raider, and there’s a great term for it. It’s called outboarding. No, we spend a lot of time thinking about how do we get new people and onboard them into the organization.
We should also be thinking about outboarding. So how are we handling them as they’re going out and managing that? I think it’s both. I think you’re going to get a certain amount of turnover. I don’t care how great you are as an organization right now. It’s going to force everyone to kind of raise their game.
And so I think it’s a matter of rethinking onboarding in a more hybrid world and also managing that outboarding process to make sure that you’re changing and addressing things in real time.
Stacy Sherman: But then it also goes back to what we talked about employee engagement, because really we, it needs to be very conscious to keep your A-players.
Stan Phelps: Yeah. Now you’re talking about, my third book in the series. It’s called the Golden Goldfish, and that really is about understanding who your top 20% of customers are and your top 20% of employees. Because not, I used to think you should treat everyone fairly and I no longer believe that Stacy, everyone brings different value
to an organization, all your customers are not created equal, and so you, you treat everyone, you don’t treat them the same, you treat them fairly based upon the value that they provide. So absolutely understanding who your key employees are being proactive to make sure that they understood how valued they are.
It’s investing in your leadership and making sure your leaders are engaging. You know, one of the craziest stats that I’ve seen is that 70% of people who voluntarily leave an organization, so people that quit do not get fired. 70% of the people who quit an organization do not quit their job. They quit their boss.
Stacy Sherman: That’s a huge number.
Stan Phelps: Yeah, and here’s the thing, I mean, the studies will show you that people don’t really start leadership training, with managers within their organization. And I remember seeing the stat, it was like the average age was like 36 before they really start to invest in management training.
The average age where they’re putting people into those positions is like 28. There’s just a big disconnect between what you’re asking people to manage people and the skills that they have to be able to do that correctly.
Stacy Sherman: Speechless. I am. We can dive into each of these topics at great length.
We only have a few minutes left. So let me ask you these two final questions. One is if I had all the CEOs and big leaders and entrepreneurs in my room right now, what is the most important takeaways from everything you said today, what do you want them to remember?
Stan Phelps: I’ll go to the first part of the manifested. Your brand today is no longer what you tell people it is.
You know, it’s what your customers experience. It’s how they feel, and most importantly, it’s what they tell other people. And until they realize until CEOs realize that there’s a huge difference between a traditionally acquired customer and one that comes via referrals, because that referred customers up to four times as valuable to the organization until they put an emphasis on the customers that they already have for me in my, in my kind of purpose, what drives me,
my work will never be done.
Stacy Sherman: I like that. Now last question. If you could go back in time to your younger self, what would you tell 20 year old Stan that you didn’t know then that you know now,
Stan Phelps: You’re are much more capable than you realize, and you should take bigger leaps quicker.
Stacy Sherman: Is it because fear gets in our way? Do you think that’s the shared common human factor?
Stan Phelps: I don’t know so much as fear is sometimes you’re looking for others to be able to validate who you are and the older we get, I think the better we understand who we are and what we bring to the table, and, and so, yeah.
Stacy Sherman: Yeah, I think as also we get older, we also recognize the importance to speak up, to have a voice.
Stan Phelps: Right. The other thing I would tell CEOs is don’t try to fix, you know, your weaknesses, right? Everyone tries to do the same thing. They try to play to the same strengths, they try to correct the weaknesses they have. Behind every weakness is a corresponding strength.
So instead of this is personal as well as brand, instead of trying to change who we are, right? And try to hide those things, what my co-author Dave and I try to tell people is those may be the things that truly make you special. And instead of trying to hide those things actually shine a light on them, and aluminate those imperfections because, you know, interesting we’ll be perfect any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Stacy Sherman: Perfectly said. Even when it’s flaw, flawish?
Stan Phelps: Flawesome. Thank you awesome Stacy.
Stacy Sherman: And now I got it. Well, thank you for being awesome with your flaws and perfections and keeping inspiring people for so many years, where can they find you?
I’ll add the links to the show notes, but for those listening?
Yeah, so I spent a lot of time on LinkedIn and can find me there. I write each day under a hashtag called #the1299. #The1299 and then my books, all the Goldfish series books are on Amazon. And then my site is stanphelpsspeaksstock.com.
Well, I know people are going to look for you, and thank you for being here today.
Thanks for having me, Stacy.
About Stan Phelps:
Founder of PurpleGoldfish.com, a think tank based out of The Frontier in Research Triangle Park. He is a TEDx speaker, former Forbes contributor, IBM futurist, and Certified Speaking Professional that focuses on the future of customer and employee experience. Throughout his career, Stan held many marketing leadership roles with Adidas, IMG, the PGA of America, and Synergy. He’s the author of the Goldfish Series of books. They all focus on the little ways to drive differentiation, increase loyalty, and promote positive word of mouth. He has spoken at over 500 events in 16 countries. Stan holds a JD/MBA from Villanova University and a Certificate in Achieving Breakthrough Service from Harvard Business School. He lives in Cary, North Carolina with his wife Jennifer two boys Thomas and James.
About Stacy Sherman: Founder of Doing CX Right®
An award-winning certified marketing and customer experience (CX) corporate executive, speaker, author, and podcaster, known for DoingCXRight®. She created a Heart & Science™ framework that accelerates customer loyalty, referrals, and revenue, fueled by engaged employees and customer service representatives. Stacy’s been in the trenches improving experiences as a brand differentiator for 20+ years, working at companies of all sizes and industries, like Liveops, Schindler elevator, Verizon, Martha Steward Craft, AT&T++. Stacy is on a mission to help people DOING, not just TALKING about CX, so real human connections & happiness exist. Continue reading bio >here.