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Exploring the World of Customer Service – An Interview with John Dijulius

Sterling Sweeney

Last Updated:  

18 October 2023

8 min read

Don’t make excuses about why your customer service isn’t world-class

Today Survey Sparrow had the opportunity to chat with  John Dijulius, a US customer service expert who is redefining the rules of the game. John has written numerous books on customer service, including The Customer Service Revolution and  The Relationship Economy.

In addition to being at the helm of The DiJulius Group, John also has a chain of spas named John Robert’s, where he gets to test out his findings in real-life customer-facing situations. Let’s jump into the interview.

SurveySparrow: Hi John, thanks for taking the time to speak with the Survey Sparrow audience today. You’ve been an active leader in the world of customer service for quite some time now. Where do you begin your research when brainstorming ideas to help you make advances in customer service? 

John: Everywhere, it is both an obsession and a curse. Every experience I have, from going to the dentist, out to dinner, flying, traveling, you name it. I also read every day, books and articles on customer service/experience. The key thing business leaders need to think about when they have a poor experience as a customer is why did this happen and is my business guilty of doing something similar. You always have to bring it back to your business.

SurveySparrow: Changing the way companies think about customer support processes is surely no easy task. Yet, year after year, this is exactly what you do. What’s your guiding vision? 

John: It started about 27 years ago when I opened my first business, John Robert’s Spa. In the early 90’s the salon industry was not known for great customer service. Furthermore, we were suffering from the “3 No’s”; No money, No customers, and No employees.

Likewise, there were a dozen other salons within a mile of us. How were we going to compete? We simply decided to offer an experience that people would not receive from another salon.

So we had a mission statement that read “To enhance the quality of lives around us” and a service vision statement that was and still is “To be the best experience in our guest’s day.” Early on it was easy, because 50% of our staff was my wife and I. As we grew delivering that experience consistently from every team member at every location became a lot harder.

So that is when I had to start researching how the best in the world did it. I started reading every book and attended places like The Disney Institute to see how the great companies did it. I would bring all of that back to my business and implement everything I was learning into our training program.

We made sure every single employee got trained and was held accountable. Not just once a year. We would talk about our service vision and going above and beyond for our guests every day in our pre-shift huddles.

Another key was the core team of employees that believed so passionately about our vision. Most of them still work for us today i.e 20+ years later. Some still in John Robert’s Spa, some in my other two companies, The DiJulius Group and Believe in Dreams, a non-profit organization that helps the deserving children realize their dreams.

SurveySparrow: Interesting. Let’s talk about John Robert’s Spa for a moment. How did the fact that you were able to test out your theoretical knowledge first-hand help in coming up with your material and ideas for perfect customer service?

John: Being a practitioner was everything. I wasn’t just telling people how to do it. I was living it every day, dealing with 100+ employees, customers, trying to make a profit, putting out fires, etc. This is how my speaking business got started. Because of the excellent reputation, the spas had for world-class service, organizations started asking me to speak.

Originally I was flattered and I did it. Every time I spoke, 2-3 people would come up and ask me if I would speak to their companies. That is how the speaking started to grow. In 2002, I wrote my first book, Secret Service – Hidden Systems that Deliver Unforgettable Customer Service. After that came out, my demand for speaking dramatically grew and I started The DiJulius Group and was no longer in the day to day operations of the spas.

SurveySparrow: You’ve been a public speaker for quite some time now. Your presentations are well known for being high-energy experiences where you discuss the ten commandments of customer service. Tell us more about how you came up with these commandments. Can a company ever complete the commandments in their entirety?

John: The X Commandments are a result of over 20 years of research from working with and studying the best customer service companies all over the world. That became our methodology. We found that every world-class customer service company has those X commandments in common, they are constantly working on. Those X commandments are a lot of work and the work is never done. There is no ribbon-cutting ceremony for being world-class. You never arrive. It is a constant.

SurveySparrow: What will be the next big tech changes we see in customer service/experience? What’s the importance of online survey tools in customer experience and service?

John: Today’s illiterate are those who have an inability to truly make a deep connection with others. Today we are living in the “digital disruption era.” Technology is changing the world. For all the benefits it is bringing to businesses, it is coming at a significant cost.

The cost is weaker human relationships that are vital to customer experiences, employee experiences, and happiness. Focusing strictly on a digital experience will eliminate customer loyalty and emotional connection to a brand. As a society, we are now relationship disadvantaged.

Those who understand that human touch is the most important part of any experience—especially a great customer experience, will flourish. Personally and professionally, success is about creating and building human connections. Make no mistake about it – The lack of social skills our society has is the problem of business leaders to solve.

For anyone and any business to thrive in the future, they will have to master the art of relationship building. Organizations now need to reinvent their business model to marry digital and human experiences in the best way possible. This is why I just wrote my newest book The Relationship Economy – Building Stronger Customer Connections in a Digital World. It just came out in October and hit #1 on Amazon.

Commandment IX Is called Measuring The Customer Experience. What gets measured gets managed.

It is critical to use a scientific method to measure your customer’s experience and satisfaction, providing benchmarks for performance in each location/department. Your goals must be measurable, tied to a specific metric that lets you measure: how satisfied your customers are with you, who is clearly doing it, who is inconsistent, are you keeping your Service Brand Promise to your customers, how effective your service recovery is, and how do you stack up against your competition.

SurveySparrow: You’ve worked with some of the biggest names in the retail world today, from Harley Davidson and Marriott Hotels to Starbucks and Lexus. What are the main differences (if any) between customer service provided by a large company compared to the smaller ones?

John: Small companies are trying to be big and big companies want to deliver the experience of a small company. There are pros and cons to each. The bigger you are, the more layers of management you have, the more departments working in silos. Communication became diluted.

Larger companies typically have resources like having a customer service department/team to work on the X Commandments. However, wanting to make changes in a large company is like turning a yacht in a bathtub. It is extremely hard and time-consuming.

My biggest frustration is no matter the company, large, small, franchise, company-owned, public, or private, they all make excuses and think that their specific model is different and is why they can’t achieve world-class customer service. The best companies don’t make excuses, they prefer to look outside their industry for best practices. They don’t want to think and behave like everyone else in their industry, they want to disrupt their industry.

The only way you can disrupt your industry is by thinking totally different. That is why I studied Disney, and The Ritz-Carlton and Southwest Airlines. I didn’t study other salons.

SurveySparrow: One of the main points you’re making is that with a booming economy, there’s always lackluster customer service. How is the increased need for employees affecting the customer experience, and how can you prevent poor customer service from happening in those instances?

John: Employee turnover is at an all-time high. There are more jobs available than people looking for. So when it appears that it is an “employee market”, companies panic and they reactively hire, hire the best candidate that applies, which doesn’t mean that is the best person to hire. They compromise by keeping poor performers because they are understaffed already.

We don’t have a labor shortage, we have a turnover crisis. Companies aren’t creating a world-class employee experience. What happens on the inside will be delivered on the outside. Companies need to treat their employees better, build a relationship with them, train them better, give them opportunities to grow.

SurveySparrow: How do positive and negative aspects affect the customer service of the company and the individual are providing to the end-user? Are there any proven ways people can change what type of energy they are emitting?

John: One of my favorite words is Energy. Science has proven that energy is exchanged between people every time we come into contact with each other. We literally give and receive energy. But that can happen in two ways. You can be an “Energy Giver,” bringing positivity and leaving people feeling better for having interacted with you, or your negativity drains them, and you are known as an “Energy Vampire,” also called energy suckers.

I love what Mark Moses, founding partner of CEO Coaching International, says: “The CEO is the Chief Energizing Officer.” In fact, the greatest leaders are the best energy givers all of the time. Their presence can change a room. After conversations with these types of leaders, employees get excited about themselves and the critical part they play in the company’s success. Leaders with energy make those around them better.

Ask yourself if you are an energy giver or an energy sucker. Just because you high-fived someone this week doesn’t make you a full- time energy giver. You have to do it consistently. It has to be a conscious decision, an intentional choice.

Energy Givers:

  • Raise the confidence of everyone they come in contact with.
  • Improve morale, chemistry, and performance.
  • Constantly show gratitude and thanks.
  • Give everyone else the credit.
  • Believe in others.
  • Are there for others when they struggle, fail, or are going through hard times.
  • Are their employees’ biggest cheerleaders constantly find out what their employees’ goals are and help them achieve those goals.
  • Are great listeners.
  • Always build strong relationships and build emotional capital with those around them.
  • Will walk through fire for those on their team who give more.

It is just as important to reflect on the type of people around you. Are you surrounding yourself with energy givers or energy vampires? How do they compare to the list above? Are you hiring and promoting energy givers?

SurveySparrow: You’ve written a significant number of books. As an avid writer, what would you say are the advantages of using written material to live and situational training? How is theoretical knowledge about customer service bettering the overall customer experience?

John: You need all of it. People learn differently. Some are visual, some learn better at doing, some won’t be bought in until you have proof of concept, i.e. data, stats, best practices from books, articles and studies. The one thing that differentiates the best customer service companies in the world with everyone else is their training. They train on soft skills just as much as they do on operational processes. They make it hard to get hired, and even harder to get through orientation and training. You have to test out, you have to know their service vision, pillars, non-negotiable standards, how to show empathy and compassion, how to make a brilliant comeback.

SurveySparrow: John, thanks for sharing your story with us and teaching us more about the value and impact of excellent customer service. Are there any last words you’d like to send out to our readers?

John: Act as if today is the day you will be remembered for how you treat others.

John, thank you for taking the time to speak with our blog audience today. To our readers, if you’d like to learn more about John and his revolutionary approach to customer success, you can do so here.

Sterling Sweeney

Sterling Sweeney is a growth hacker and the founder of WhalePages, a SaaS marketing agency which is a platform designed to help SaaS companies scale.

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