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Episode: 165 Creating Raving Fans to Drive Business Growth—with Jon Picoult

Deb Zahn: I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting podcast. So this podcast, we are going to dive into something that is actually make-or-break-it for your consulting business. And that is customer experience.

We're going to look at it from two different perspectives. One is for your business and how prospective clients and clients experience your business and how you can choreograph that in such a way that you're more likely to turn them into life-long fans and ambassadors for your business. But we're also going to look at it from the perspective of the clients that you work with and the types of things that you might be able to help them understand so that they're ultimately doing better because they understand the customer experience from a very clear and expansive way.

So I brought on an expert in this. Jon Picoult, who just wrote the book From Impressed to Obsessed, which I loved. And basically, in it, he goes through 12 principles for doing exactly what I said, taking your customers and even your employees if you have them, and turning them into life-long fans, which is critical for you to be able to build the business you ultimately want. So let's get started.

I want to welcome to my show today, Jon Picoult. Jon, welcome to the show.

Jon Picoult: Hey, Deb! It's good to be here with you.

Deb Zahn: So let's start off. Tell my listeners what you do.

Jon Picoult: So I'm the founder and principal of Watermark Consulting, which is a customer experience advisory firm that essentially helps companies to impress their customers and inspire their employees, creating the raving fans that fuel business growth.

Deb Zahn: Love it. And that is absolutely relevant. So anybody who's listening, think about this from two perspectives, and we're going to dive into both of those, which is, as consultants, you are business owners. So you need to think about customer or client experience from that perspective, but you also work with companies and organizations who also should be paying good, careful attention to it. So we're going to use the word customer, but just know it could mean either one of those things or even as the book goes into, if you have employees, it includes them too.

So let's start off. So people hear customer, they immediately go to customer service. What's the difference between customer service and customer experience?

Jon Picoult: They're definitely not synonymous terms. And that's an important thing for an organization to recognize. Customer service is really but one part of the broader end-to-end customer experience. The customer experience really encompasses every live print and digital interaction point that people could possibly encounter when they're interacting with your business, even before they were a customer. So the customer experience begins before people are a customer. It begins during the pre-sale phase, it even persists longer than you'd imagine. You hope you never have a customer that defects from your business, but if they do, I'd argue that point of defection deserves to be managed as carefully and deliberately as any other touchpoint within your customer life cycle.

So when people think customer service, their head goes to this traditional call center, contact center environment. But I think that what great companies understand is that the real focus needs to be on customer experience and thinking broadly about the entire universe of interactions and touchpoints that really shape people's impressions of your business.

I would also add one key difference. One other key thing that underscores the difference between customer service and customer experience is that in many types of companies, the mere need for customer service indicates a problem with the broader customer experience. So nobody wakes up in the morning and says, "I can't wait to call my credit card company." Or, "I can't wait to call my cable company or my insurer." And so when you look at these types of companies where you don't want to have to deal with them, when you do have to reach out to them, it suggests that there was some problem in the broader customer experience.

Maybe I got a cable bill and I don't understand why it's different from last month. Maybe I got a mailer from my insurance company with a new policy declaration page. And I was like, "What is this and why was it generated?" Those are examples of opportunities to change things upstream in the customer experience, how a bill is designed, how communications are crafted so that you could potentially obviate the need for people to reach out to you for service downstream. So that again is an example of why customer service and customer experience are really two different animals.

Deb Zahn: So we have to mention your book, which I read

Jon Picoult: Yes. Thank you. I forgot that in the introduction.

Deb Zahn: Right. That's so important. And I read it and loved it. I think it should be required reading for anybody who has clients or customers.

Jon Picoult: And it's called From Impressed to Obsessed: 12 Principles for Turning Customers and Employees into Life-Long Fans.

Deb Zahn: Which is a fabulous title. So it's more than just like, "Yeah, that was good." But I love how you talk about touchpoints, which I know that a lot of consultants, when they're thinking about their own business, they aren't necessarily thinking of that. They're thinking, "I show up, I say smart things, I show them that they should hire me. I'm nice. And then that's it." So if you're thinking about, first of all, what are touchpoints, and then how do you think about choreographing them in the way you describe to create that gorgeous customer experience?

Jon Picoult: The way I like to think about it is that there is the entire customer experience and it's really comprised of a series of episodes. And so, for example, for your listeners one episode might be the exploration phase where potential clients are talking to you about maybe engaging you on a project. And that then might go to the proposal episode or the contracting episode ultimately to an execution episode. And then within each of those episodes, if you drill down a little deeper, that's where you've got touchpoints.

So in an exploration episode, one touchpoint might be the initial call, the initial Zoom or phone call that you're having people. Another might be a high-level sketch of the types of services that you provide. So going back to that definition of customer experience, there is all these live digital and print interactions that are comprising these touch points that comprise these larger episodes, which then comprise the whole experience.

What I think is critical for any company to understand, and this is certainly the case with people in consulting, is there are a lot of times where companies think that they disregard certain touchpoints as being almost administrative. It's not part of the experience. It's just paperwork, if you will. And what's really important is to understand that sometimes that paperwork, for example, is actually a really important part of the experience to your current customers or your potential ones.

And so in the consulting world, some examples I would give you of what you might call unsung touchpoints, these interactions that people in the consulting business gloss over, I'd say, to their detriment. Take, for example, their response to the initial inquiry. When you get an email or a call with an initial inquiry, you want to think about being super responsive to acknowledge that inquiry and immediately set up time to speak with that person.

It is human nature, this is very dangerous, human nature. And this happens all the time in the consulting realm. People are like, "Well I want them to think that I'm really busy. I'm on the road. So I'm going to give it a couple of days and then I'll get back to them. Maybe I'll say, Hey, sorry. I was traveling, whatever." That is the wrong path to take. Because you have an opportunity to impress people with your responsiveness.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Jon Picoult: And it makes it more likely they'll immediately have a better impression of you. If they get an email back from you within a matter of minutes, as opposed to days saying, "Hey, thanks for contacting me. We'd love to set up time to chat, to talk about this." That's an example of a touch point where you have an opportunity to excel.

A second example I would give you within the consulting arena is within the proposal stage. Many consultants feel like the proposal is a piece of paper and it's my quote, it's got my list of services, but the proposal is actually an opportunity. You can imbue it with the qualities that you really want to exude in your customer experience. That proposal could be a model of clarity, a model of simplicity. It could just signal all the attributes that you want to show your potential client, "Hey, this is the experience that I'm going to be delivering to you."

So that's how you go about choreographing these great experiences, is really thinking at a very granular level about each of these interaction points and being very careful that you never disregard any of them as being unimportant because you always want to put yourself in your client's shoes or your prospect shoes, and really evaluate the potential impact of that interaction from their perspective through their eyes.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. I love that. So one thing I say all the time, my listeners probably have turned it into a drinking game at this point. I say so much is that every experience that a client or a prospective client has with you tells them what it's going to be like to work with you. And so if scheduling is a pain, if you're not responsive, all the things that you just said, you're signaling whether you know it or not, this is what you get.

Jon Picoult: Yeah, that's exactly right. Just earlier this week, I had a prospect reach out to me and I responded to their message within an hour, and this is the CEO of the company. And he wrote back to me and said, "Wow, you sure know how to deliver a great customer experience." And that's exactly the reaction that you want to elicit. And the amazing thing is Deb, think about how simple that is. That does not cost a lot, right? Even if you are on the road, you can rattle off a quick message on your phone just to say, "Hey, just wanted to acknowledge, I got your message, getting on a plane right now. I'll contact you later today, we can set up some time to talk." It's very simple to leave that great first impression at that touchpoint.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. I love it. And I do love thinking about it every single time that you have some type of interaction with them, even the proposal all the way through, and I know you talked about this in your book, what happens afterward, but let's get some of the bad stuff out of the way. So what are you seeing as some universal problems in how folks are approaching the customer experience?

Jon Picoult: So I think that one that has certainly been highlighted recently is the role of the employee experience in delivering a great customer experience. So if you look at what's happened in our pandemic era, now there's really been a shift in the balance of power between employers and employees. And I think that one, there aren't many good things that have come out of the pandemic, but one I would argue is really highlighting the dignity of all work.

If you think about the early days of the pandemic and lockdowns, and if you think of the people who were keeping things running, the grocery store checkout folks, the UPS and FedEx drivers, the healthcare workers, I think that there was this newfound appreciation for the role that everybody plays in delivering an effective customer experience, regardless of where you sit in the organization.

And I think that really sowed the seeds for what we're seeing now, which is where employees are flexing their muscles because they have power given the nature of demand and supply right now in the employment arena. And so the reason that this fits into a common pitfall in customer experience management is I think that many companies in the past neglected to consider how the, what I'll call the backstage work environment in contrast to the onstage customer experience, the things your customers can see feel here and touch the way that backstage environment can influence the quality of that onstage experience. I think that's something that many companies in the past have glossed over. And I think that's becoming even more apparent with the new dynamics where employees have gained more power.

And I think as a result that companies are starting to and are going to need to focus more on the quality of the environment that they're creating for their employees because let's face it. If your employees are not engaged, inspired, and equipped to deliver a great customer experience, then that's it, the game is over you have no hope of making that happen. And so I think that is one common pitfall. And then the second common pitfall that I would mention is, it's really rooted in arrogance, the arrogance of companies, and executives who believe that they know what their customers want. They don't need to ask them. They don't need to observe them. And what that results in is a great deal of Naval gazing within the organization where we're making decisions and judgments based on our own internal view of the world.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Jon Picoult: And then once you realize, gee our view of the world and what thought was important to our customers, actually, doesn't it jive with their view of the world and what's important to them. Too often, companies realize that, and it's already too late. The ship has sailed and a competitor has already eaten your lunch. So I think that's the second common pitfall is, in arrogance of, "Hey, we've got this covered. We know what our customer's like." As I talk about in the book there are just those substitutes for going out and observing your customers in their natural habitat, and going out into the wild and having in-depth conversations with them, watching them use your products or bastardize your products to get it to do something that wasn't designed to do. Inevitably, if you go through that exercise, you're going to come back to the office with a host of innovative ideas on how to take your customer experience to the next level. But unfortunately, many companies don't dedicate time to doing that.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. And from a consultant's perspective, so you give a great example, that's a healthcare experience. Of course, I'm a healthcare consultant. So it completely worked for me. But if I could, I want to give a brief example that brings together the two ideas that you just said, but why it's important for consultants to understand this? So years and years ago in a healthcare setting, we were brought in and the CEO said, "We need to do marketing. We don't have enough patients and it's killing us, et cetera, et cetera." And we could have as consultants just accepted that at face value and said, "Yeah, yeah, we'll put together a marketing plan for you." But something didn't sit right with us. So we said, "Tell you what, before we do that, let's do a small engagement where we're going to do an observation."

So we went into the wild and we sat in the waiting room and literally tracked everything that happened and timed everything that happened. They didn't have a marketing problem. They had a customer experience. People were waiting for three hours. They were getting up and leaving. There was one physician who literally was spending an hour and a half with people and didn't care that people were waiting. They weren't putting people in the exam rooms. They were making them wait outside. All of this nonsense gave people poor experiences. And then they didn't come back. But they thought they had a marketing problem.

So as consultants, our job is not to go in and say, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'll, I'll do whatever you're going to give me money for." It's to try and get to help them get at the heart of what the problem is. And so as I was reading your book and hearing what you just said, I wanted to give that example for consultants to try to shake up their thinking and what they might do when they walk in. So when you walk in because, of course, you're an expert at experience, what are some of the things that you're asking that will enable you to dig into what's actually going on?

Jon Picoult: Well one question that I often start off with is, how do you currently gauge the quality of your customer experience? Because then you immediately get a sense of whether the organization is relying on internal lore. Just the internal anecdotes of what the experience is like, or are they more disciplined and do they have formal processes for actually capturing that external voice of the customer and using that to complement their internal gauges of performance? So that's certainly an example of a question that I ask.

I also like to ask, not of the executives of a company, but the people on the front line who are interacting with customers on a day-to-day basis, to sit down with them and ask their view of what do you think are the highs in the current customer experience? What are the lows? What annoys and frustrates your customers and what delights them?

And the reason that is helpful is that the people on the front line are arguably the ones who are most knowledgeable about the current state of the customer experience that the company is delivering. You might say, "Well, aren't the people in market research or customer research the most knowledgeable?" And not to knock them. I think that they have good intelligence, but I've just found that there's no substitute for sitting down with the people who are actually interacting with customers on a day-to-day basis and asking them for their opinions. Again, this goes back to a common pitfall in terms of senior executives' reluctance to carve out time in their schedule, just to sit down with frontline staff and have that conversation, have that dialogue.

So that's another example of a question and a constituency that I would target in order to really get a sense of what is the current state of affairs. And also, how could it be different? Because those people on the front line often have great, innovative, and very realistic ideas about how to enhance the experience that's being delivered. And Deb, if I also might just go back to your comment about that healthcare example, is it a marketing problem or not? That is a really great example. And I think that you're right, that it illustrates for people in the consulting arena that sometimes you need to understand your job is not to be a yes man, a yes woman, it's not. Sometimes your job is to challenge your client, respectfully challenge and get them to open their eyes to the notion that there might be something there they haven't thought about.

And what you were talking about with that particular client illustrates a really important point, which is that you cannot market your way to a great customer experience. Many companies think that they can. Many companies just invest thousands, if not millions of dollars in articulating their brand promise without ever recognizing, "Hey, we're not investing in making sure we fulfill that brand promise." And that is a huge issue because there is often this chasm between what companies promise to their customers and what they actually deliver. And ultimately, people's repurchase and referral behavior is not going to be based on what they hear and read in the marketing and in the advertising, it's going to be based on the actual experience that they have.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. And if you can't fulfill that promise, you're actually in a worse place than you were if you never made it.

Jon Picoult: That's right. You would've been better to never market anything. Right. Yeah. Deb Zahn: That's right. And then people walk in and you say, "Hey, you get what you get."

Jon Picoult: Yeah. That's right.

Deb Zahn: So one of the things that I think is really relevant for consultants and you share 12 fabulous principles, and you go deep into those principles in the book, which I very much appreciate, but that get to, that beautiful customer experience that creates those life-long fans, one of my favorite is making it an effortless experience for the customer. So thinking through how that might work for consultants. And we touched upon it a little bit in terms of thinking of the quality throughout every touchpoint, but how can you make it effortless?

Jon Picoult: Just to define that, customer effort really refers to how much time and energy do your customers need to invest in order to accomplish something with your business and all of us as consumers know, the sad fact is that it's pretty rare that you come across a business that it is consistently effortless to work with. Not just easy but effortless. And that's why, when you do create that, it really creates a peak in the experience that people remember and drives their loyalty towards you. And so you really want to look at your world through the lens of customer effort and think about where are you settling your customers with unnecessary avoidable effort, and then how can you chip away at that? Because every ounce of effort you take off of their shoulders, they're going to be that much more likely to be engaged by the experience you're delivering to them and loyal to you as a result.

In the consulting arena, let me give you two specific examples of how you can make it more effortless. One is, going back to that initial exploration phase with the initial discussion, right? Think how you can make it effortless for people to schedule time with you. One thing that's high effort is, well, I got to go back and forth with emails. "Well, is this day good for you?" "No, no, no." "How about this time?" "Yeah." That's a lot of effort.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Jon Picoult: An alternative is to use a service like Calendly or something like that, where your schedule's online. You could give your potential clients a link. They can go and they could schedule themselves. Or at the very least, you send them an email that says, "Here are some blocks of time that I'm currently available. Just let me know which one works for you and I'll reply back to confirm." Done and done. So that's an example of making it more effortless for your potential client. But you also want to think about effort. And this goes back to the definition of customer experience because customer experience, isn't just about the processes that are involved as your customer engages with you. It's also about the things that they need to do in their world that are tangential to their engagement with you, the consult. And I'll give you an example of what I mean by that.

If I'm going to hire you as a consultant, one thing I'm going to want to do is probably communicate to my organization, "Hey, we're engaging this consultant, here's who it is. Here's what they're going to do for us. Here's why we've chosen to engage with this consultant." If you're a good executive, you're going to communicate that to your workforce so they understand who's this person coming in.

Well, that is a task that falls on the shoulders of your client, right? And you would think, does that really have anything to do with me as the consultant? But here's the thing, that's something that adds effort to your client's life, right? They need to scribe this message to their workforce and explain, here's what we're doing with this consultancy, here's why we're hiring them. Well, now imagine what if, as part of your services as a consultant, if at the start of the engagement you actually gave to your new client, a sample communication of what they could send out to their workforce to explain this engagement. It could be fully editable, right? In a Word Document, they could change it, however, they wish, but suddenly you've reduced some effort on their part.

Now they don't need to sit down and craft from scratch some message for their workforce explaining this engagement, they've got a starting framework from you. So that is another example in the consulting world of a small thing that you can do that I would argue not only makes it more effortless for your client, but I'll tell you, that's going to turn their head around because they're going to be like, "Wow, that is not something I've seen before."

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Jon Picoult: And that's the thing that they're going to remember about their experience with you.

Deb Zahn: A hundred percent. I love those examples. And one of the powerful things that you talked about in the book that really made me pause and think is that folks are comparing you to other consultants, but they're not just comparing you to other consultants, they're thinking about their experience across different industries and their expectations are set outside of the realm that you're offering services. Say a little bit more about that because to me, that was a moment that really made me pause and took my breath away as a way to think about the experience.

Jon Picoult: I think that over time, if you look over the past years and maybe a couple of decades, I think that there has been a change in the consumer psyche, where people are no longer evaluating their customer experiences within an industry framework, they are borrowing expectations that are forged in other industries, and they're carrying those with them when they interact with businesses in other sectors. And the example that I'll give you is, if you look at Amazon, Amazon or Domino's actually, are two good examples of companies that have invested a lot in digital tracking of orders and processes, right? So you've got the Domino's pizza tracker so that I know after I order that pizza where is it in every step? When is it out the door and ready for delivery? With Amazon, I can track my package through every step in the process, right through to seeing a picture of it once it's delivered to my front door. And so you have to think about how that hones people's expectations.

And so then when I go to my auto repair shop and I bring my car in for a major service that's going to take an entire day, there's a piece of me that says, "Why can't I just go to an app and check and see where are they in the process? Just like I can with Amazon or with Domino’s? Are they at the tail end of the final quality check where I'll be able to pick it up within an hour?" And so that's how you have to think about the expectations that your customers are coming in with. They're not thinking, "All right, right now I am in the consulting realm. Yes. I'm hiring a consultant. And I know that that experience typically sucks. OK, I'm all set now, I've got my expectation set."

That's not how they're going to come at it. They're actually going to be that the bar for them, whether consciously or subconsciously, is going to be set by the interaction that they had yesterday with Amazon or last week with Costco or the week before with Apple. And so that's why people in the consulting arena, you need to set the bar that high, you need to think of the framework that your clients are coming to the table with because it's not going to be forged by their historical interactions with just the consulting industry.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, absolutely. I love that. The example that comes to mind is, sending a PDF of a contract that somebody needs to download, sign, scan, upload, and send back. That's one step up from carrier pigeon.

Jon Picoult: Right.

Deb Zahn: Is how people are experiencing that.

Jon Picoult: That's right. Yeah. That's a great example of high effort, like we were talking about, it's a way to make it more effortless. But you're right. It's so out of character with everything else that people see today in terms of digital signatures with other companies and whatnot. Yeah.

Deb Zahn: So I'm going to let you pick one of your other principles because they're all good and juicy ones, but pick one that you want to share that you think would be really helpful for consultants to think about.

Jon Picoult: So the one that I would highlight and this is like asking you to pick your favorite child.

Deb Zahn: I know, right?

Jon Picoult: Like you said, there are 12 principles and I love them all and I hope everybody will explore them in the book. But the one that I would highlight for you is stirring the motion. That's one of the 12 principles. And the reason I highlight that for you is that one fundamental tenant of customer experience is that people's impressions of your business are going to largely be influenced, not by their rational, logical evaluation of the interaction, but it's really going to be more influenced by the emotional reaction that they have, the emotional resonance, really how they feel after that interaction, after that experience with you because we are emotional creatures at heart. And it's very easy in business to just start focusing on tasks and nuts and bolts and whatnot.

And those are all critically important. But if you lose sight of how this actually feel to my customer, then you're probably not going to elicit the kind of reaction and build the loyalty that you are hoping to. So I'll give you two examples in the consulting arena, of how you could potentially stir a motion. One goes back to that unsung touchpoint during the exploration and the proposal stage. And we talked about how that proposal is this unsung touchpoint that many companies, and many consultants neglect. My advice to anyone in consulting would be, when you are in those initial stages, talking with a potential client and they ask for a proposal, they ask for a quote, I would encourage you to think not about delivering a quote, but rather delivering confidence. A quote is a number, confidence is an emotion.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Jon Picoult: And this gets to this idea of stirring emotion because what you want your prospects to come away with is not a logical understanding of how much this is going to cost me. What you want them to come away with is, an emotional reaction that says, "Wow, you know what? Jon really understands my needs. He clearly listened very carefully during our exploratory conversations. That's reflected in his proposal. He's outlined an array of services that perfectly align with the challenges that we're trying to overcome. I feel supremely confident that Jon understands what we need to accomplish and that he's providing services that are going to allow us to realize that ambition."

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Jon Picoult: That is a very different place to be than just having a number that people evaluate to decide, is this within my budget or not? So that is one example of stirring a motion is the notion of "Focus not on the quote, focus on confidence." The other, and I don't know, this might be controversial with you Deb

Deb Zahn: Here we go. Let's do it.

Jon Picoult: ...or with your listeners. But I am not a fan of per diem or hourly rates in the consulting arena or in the legal arena, or in any professional services arena.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Jon Picoult: And this has a tie to emotion. And here's how, when you are charging people on an hourly basis, you might not realize it as the lawyer or as the consultant, but that creates emotional angst with them. Because they're sitting in their office and they've come across something. And they're like, "Gee, I know Deb could have really helped me with this, but gosh, I know if I call her up, the clock goes on and I'm going to start racking up the billable hours, the hourly charges."

And so what does your client do? They refrain from reaching out to you and they just perpetuate their own struggle and try to navigate those waters on their own. That is the last place that you want your clients to be. You want them to feel supremely confident and comfortable reaching out to you for assistance. And so I am a big fan of project-based flat fee engagements because what that does emotionally, is it gives your client confidence first and foremost, that they know exactly what this engagement is going to cost. There aren't going to be any surprises, no gotchas when they receive the bill at the end of the day. Of course, that means you have to be very clear around scope and deliverables. But I think that is very much within the realm of possibility to do that. Just takes some time to do due diligence.

But once you itemize all of that, you can provide this flat fee, and so your client has confidence that they know what they're going to get and they know what it's going to cost. And then in addition, they know that I can pick up the phone and I can say to Deb, "Hey, you sent me that report about the deliverable from last week, and I actually had a couple of questions about it." And they will gladly call you because they know the clock is not started, and the billable hours aren't accruing. That is a very different type of experience than one that is focused on billable hours or per diem charges. And so that's another example in the consulting arena of how you could create a better emotional resonance to the experience.

Deb Zahn: And not controversial because, darn it, I totally agree with you. And so I have clients who I switched from hourly to the retainer and they're still used to hourly where they're like, "Oh, is it OK that I'm calling you for this?" And I will just say, "That's a benefit of retainer." And they just sigh and feel comfortable doing it. That's a fabulous example, but people wouldn't think there's an emotional reaction to anything that you do along the lines of pricing.

Jon Picoult: Right.

Deb Zahn: Love it.

Jon Picoult: Yeah.

Deb Zahn: So I want to hit one last thing, which is, that mistakes happen. So there are times when your customer experience standards do not work, and something goes awry and somebody's upset, somebody's mad, whatever version they show up in. How would you encourage consultants to handle that in such a way that they're not just resigned to, "Well, someone's mad at me. I now am going to lose someone or I have a detractor."

Jon Picoult: And this of course, alludes to one of the other 12 principles in the book, which is about recovering in style. And the reason that this is so important is that, as you say, every company has failures in the customer experience. Even the legendary ones, the Costcos, the Apples, and the Ritz-Carlton's of the world, all have failures at one time or another, but what's different about those companies is that they recognize that when a failure occurs in the experience, they need not resign themselves to creating a dissatisfied customer or even a vocal brand detractors. What they realize is that if they overcorrect on the recovery, if they knock the ball out of the park on the recovery, they actually have an opportunity to create a peak in the experience that can eclipse the negativity of the failure itself.

And as the book describes when you look at how we remember our experiences and how our memories are formed, that's really important because when you create that peak at the end with that recovery, it actually has the potential to erase from people's memories, all of the negativity of the failure that initially occurred. This has been studied so often, that there's actually a term for it. It's called the service paradox. And it refers to this phenomenon where after a well-executed recovery, you can end up with a more loyal customer than you had before the failure which is really a wild idea to think about. So when something does go wrong, my advice is, first and foremost, you just want to be very quick and responsive in terms of acknowledging the issue, reaching out to the client, and addressing it.

And one important thing is before you start moving immediately to the solution, you want to listen, you want to empathize. This goes back to the stirring emotion. One thing when there's a failure in the experience, one thing that your clients probably are going to want to do is they're going to have a need to vent a little bit, and you want to give them the chance to do that. You want to hear it from their perspective, what's wrong. What is the impact on you and your organization? And you want to take that all in, and then you want to move to create a solution, and you want to just be pristine in your execution of that recovery, right? You want to make sure you don't want to drop the ball on the recovery because then that's adding insult to injury.

But beyond that, what I would encourage people to think about is what can you do after the dust has settled? What can you do to end that recovery on a really high note? Something that might be unexpected on the part of your client? Maybe it's a handwritten note that you send to them at the end of the entire recovery. Just apologizing again, for what happened, maybe describing the changes that you're making within your own organization to shore procedures up and make sure that doesn't happen again to either that client or any other, maybe you even go so far as offering a token gift of appreciation for their patronage, despite that failure, whatever that token gift might be, a gift certificate to a local, nice restaurant or something, maybe you actually offer them some free additional service that would be valuable to them, but maybe doesn't break the bank for you to deliver.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Jon Picoult: And the reason that you want to think about these things is that you have to really approach recovery, thinking about the lifetime value of your client. Because think about how much additional business they could do with you in the future, what is it worth to you to keep them engaged, to keep them excited about working with you? Because if you think of that number in your mind, then whatever you spend on that gift certificate to a nice local restaurant, or on that free, additional service that you provide to them that the return on that could be pennies on the dollar because if they're coming back for future engagements or referring you to others, that's a really good investment to make in that recovery.

So that's how you really want to approach it when things go wrong is, as you said, you don't want to resign yourself to just creating that dissatisfied customer. You want to think about using that point of failure as a chance to flip the script on people and show them, "Wow. Yeah, Jon did us badly and there was a problem, but boy, once we brought it to his attention, they were all over it and they made us whole plus a hundred percent."

Deb Zahn: Yeah. I love it. I've actually given someone an apology pumpkin that I grew and they just

Jon Picoult: Apology pumpkin. I've not heard that one before.

Deb Zahn: We called it the apology pumpkin. And that became our inside joke to a nice long-lasting relationship. And they said, next season, "I want you to do something else wrong, but this time I want in corn." So, Jon, this is all fabulous stuff. Obviously, anybody listening to this has already ordered the book, but in case they haven't, where can they find you and figure out how to follow you to get more good stuff.

Jon Picoult: Sure. So if you want to learn more about the book, the best place to go is to the official website, which is That's impressed the number two And if folks would like to learn more about me, they can go to my website, which is That's And from there, you can jump to my own personal speaker website, as well as my company's website, Watermark Consulting. And also you can follow me on social media, Instagram, or Twitter, @JonPicoult, as well as on LinkedIn.

Deb Zahn: And I'm going to make a plug for folks to watch your videos because I've watched several and there are just so many juicy nuggets in it. It's very much worth it. So let me ask you my last question, which is, that you're doing all this good stuff with experience, but you have your own experience. So how do you bring balance to your life? However, it is you define that for yourself.

Jon Picoult: Yes. So you're right. It is important to bring balance especially when you're your own boss and sometimes that means working longer and longer hours. So two things I like to do is one to get outside. I find that that helps to recharge my batteries, even if it's just a walk in nature, a hike somewhere. And the second thing I like to do is to spend time with my family, my wife, and kids that might sound trite, but I find that they energize me and inspire me. And after spending time with them, I can come back to work the next day and feel refreshed to get started again.

Deb Zahn: That's wonderful. Well, Jon, I appreciate you coming to the show. There is so many good stuff here. There's even more good stuff in the book. So thanks again.

Jon Picoult: Thank you, Deb. It was my pleasure.

Deb Zahn: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode or you've enjoyed any of my other ones hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up and a lot of other great content and I don't want you to miss anything. But the other two things that I'm going to ask you to do is one is if you have any comments, so if you have any suggestions or any feedback that will help make this podcast more helpful to more listeners, please include those. And then the last thing is, again, if you've gotten something out of this, share it, share it with somebody you know, who's a consultant or thinking about being a consultant and make sure that they also have access to all this great content and all the other great content that's going to be coming up. So as always, you can go and get more wonderful information and tools at Thanks so much. I will talk to you on the next episode. Bye-bye.

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