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“Customer Experience is not just about

passion. It is about profitable results.”

~Lior Arussy

Interview with Lior Arussy on Exceptionalize It!

Posted: Nov 14, 2012 by Lacey Stephen

Lior Arussy’s recent book, Exceptionalize It! is a wakeup call to stop accepting mediocrity and average performance; to stop accepting mediocrity and average performance; to stop simply knowing what we should do and instead to start doing those things.

1. What was your motivation for writing Exceptionalize It!?

Over the years, during my work with clients across many industries, I have found that one of the hardest things for leaders is communicating with their employees. When their messages do make it to employees, the message oftentimes has lost the intensity and commitment that was originally intended. How can managers effectively communicate with employees and tell them how much their work makes a difference?

I truly believe that because of the empowerment we give customers these days, employees have much more power too. This book is the direct call manifesto to each of these employees. At the end of the day, it is the sum total of all the personal choices that employees make that will create the overall customer experience.

2. You are a role model for many customer experience professionals. Can you tell us who your role models are?

It’s difficult for me to think of only one, because there really are so many. My role models are the flight attendants and the hotel reception staff who decide to smile sincerely and show they care. My role models are the ones who endure difficult work and still find the time and willingness to take the extra step and take care of their customers. I’ve encountered hundreds of them throughout my travels and I love feeling like they appreciate me and care about my well-being.

That is the essence of Exceptionalize It! Life is not just about the “big stuff” we accomplish; we are really the sum total of the small things we do every day. When we think about things in that way, we begin to realize how much of an impact we can have on each other.

3. In the book title, you give a call to action to stop boring customers, employees and yourself. What company or companies do you think is/are currently exemplifying this?

There are always the classic ones like Apple and Starbucks, but the one that I personally like is The Ritz Carlton. They are running a “let us stay with you” campaign, where they collect the exceptional stories and memorable moments from their employees (who are only referred to as “ladies and gentlemen”). They are creating memories; one customer at a time, one experience at a time. No formula or process could have created the experiences that “stay” with their customers. They are truly inspirational.

Strativity Group has had the privilege of working with Mercedes-Benz and we hear stories all the time about their employees creating wow stories for their customers, even those who aren’t Mercedes-Benz owners!

We heard one story of a Mercedes-Benz customer who needed service on his car and was taking a loaner for the day. The customer requested a particular spacious and comfortable car which was not available in the dealership’s loaner fleet for that day. After finding out that the customer needed a car that would drive smoothly because he was in a great deal of pain due to daily cancer treatment, the dealership not only arranged for an upgraded car, but sent it along with a driver for the day to take him to and from his treatment center.

People underestimate the power of one moment of truth; one interaction between an employee and a customer can truly leave a lasting impression. The Ritz Carlton and Mercedes-Benz are proving that great companies don’t accept success by resting and patting themselves on the back. My hat goes off to companies who never rest. They think, evolve, and are never afraid of showing that they are human.

4. The book is grouped into four dimensions: the customer, you, manager and success. Tell us more about why you chose these four categories.

First, in the customer section, we tried to articulate that we live in moments of truth; we can’t ever forget that. At the end of the day, there is a customer who will judge each and every interaction with you or your company and decide if it wowed him or her. We need to focus on our real purpose, the customer. We need to place them at the center of everything we do.

Next, we wanted to remove the excuses on the individual level. Too many times we hear people saying, “I can’t do that because I don’t have the right access,” or “I don’t have the tools to do that.” We could probably write a book full of only the excuses we’ve heard. When we hear people complain about what they don’t have, we try to redirect their focus to what they can do with the power they do have. At the end of the day we are all in the customer business, and it is up to not only our companies, but us as individuals, to create lasting and powerful experiences for those we meet.

Then, we can look at the role of the manager as a developer. Many executives assume that their employees are naturally passionate and proud. Managers must realize that it’s their job to not only provide tools and process training, but to foster employees’ pride and passion for what they do. This doesn’t require huge budgets, but personal investment from the company’s leadership.

Last, we chose success because we’ve seen that for many organizations, success is the surprisingly one of the worst things that can actually happen for them; it is often the beginning of the decline. We wanted to make sure to articulate that the moment of truth in which you excel – don’t take it for granted. Let’s make sure we are continuing on the journey and not letting success become an obstacle to our future successes.

5. In the customer dimension, you say we are “in the customer choice business.” What do you mean by that?

In the business of customer choice, or choice management business, we all want to have more and more customers choose our business, regardless of what we “sell”. To get there we need to provide them with the exceptional choice – leaving them with no choice but to use us. That only comes when our employees make the choice to deliver above and beyond. Employees will not smile sincerely – you can force them to smile, but the sincerity comes from employees truly being engaged.

6. In Exceptionalize It!, you describe cynicism as “a form of self-preservation.” What advice would you give the cynics reading this?

Start by looking at the power you do have, and the impact that you can make on an individual customer. If you would focus on that power, and not the power you wish you had or the bureaucracy, you will find that you ARE able to deliver amazing experiences. You will discover one thing – there are people who will live in the consequences of your actions. If you are not willing to face them and bring your best, find out where your heart lies. But give yourself a chance and focus on finding encouragement and inspiration from the impact you can make.

7. You propose a shift in thinking about the Millennial generation. Tell us a little more about your suggestion to change the name from “Gen Y” to “Gen Why”.

By changing the name, I am forcing an expansion of the traditional Gen Y definition to include all the cynics who don’t traditionally fall into this age group. I refuse to look at Gen Y as just an age; I look at them as a group. The change that I’m proposing is to understand that this generation was raised on different values. We cannot apply the values of the previous generation to this generation. The previous generation worked because they needed a job and to pay the bills – very simple. Generation Why was raised on values – they live for the sake of making a difference. It’s a different target and we need to shift with them. Treating them the same as the previous generation isn’t going to unlock the performance within them.

8. One item you discuss is the tendency of startups to be more open and flexible than more established companies. Why do you think openness and flexibility is a critical component of being Exceptional?

Startups have that flexibility because they have nothing to lose. Established companies have business that comes naturally and without a lot of effort. The importance of evolution- personal and business – is critical because what was exceptional once is no longer. If we don’t spoil our customers, someone else will. We need to constantly evolve and deliver something new every time. It is almost imbedded that in delivering an exceptional performance the customer’s expectations will increase – we’re creating a spoiled environment. We cannot wait until it’s too late. We cannot wait for a competitor to come and out do us.

9. What advice would you give to readers who want to be exceptional, but are overwhelmed with where to start?

Start with an authentic smile – don’t tell me you need a budget. An authentic smile can light up the day for a tired traveler. A simple attitude of helpfulness and genuineness can go a long way. We get caught up in the tools that we don’t’ have. When you look in the mirror at night, who do you see? Strip all your excuses away – the management, the leadership, the tools, etc. You are there, the customer is there – are you going to make their day or not?

10. How do you describe Exceptionalize It!?

This is the anti-book /antidote. I didn’t want to take several hundred pages to make one single point, to cover one topic. If you do not make your point on every page, you will lose people fast. We are living in the Twitter era – people’s capacity to read and digest huge amounts of information is limited. I have taken the book in the opposite direction – I have one chapter on every page. It is short, concise and to the point. From a style perspective, it’s a direct talk between me and the readers to challenge them to assume the commitment to “Exceptionalizing” customer experience.

Exceptionalize It! is available at amazon.com and at select stores nationwide.

About Strativity Group, Inc. Strativity Group, Inc. is a global customer experience transformation firm, changing the world one experience at a time. Join the next CEM Certification – January 2013 – www.CEMcertification.com

For updates from Lior and the Strativity team, find us on: Twitter: https://twitter.com/LiorStrativity