skip to Main Content

Be Your Customer’s Hero: The Secret Sauce To Great Customer Service with Adam Toporek | Ep. 173

BDD 173 | Customer Service


Nothing matters more than making people feel like they matter especially customers who are buying or getting your products or services. Adam Toporek, keynote speaker, workshop leader, and the author of Be Your Customer’s Hero, takes us into the world of customer service. Every customer is different from the other, and being a frontline employee may be a challenging job because you must know how to interact with each of them. Adam shares how you can win at customer service by being a hero to your customer, wowing them, and making them feel that they matter.

Listen to the podcast here:

[smart_track_player url=”″ title=”Be Your Customer’s Hero: The Secret Sauce To Great Customer Service with Adam Toporek | Ep. 173″ artist=”Jesse Cole” image=”” ]

Be Your Customer’s Hero: The Secret Sauce To Great Customer Service with Adam Toporek

BDD 173 | Customer Service
Be Your Customer’s Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines

Adam Toporek is an expert on customer experience. He’s a keynote speaker and workshop leader. He’s the author of Be Your Customer’s Hero: Real-World Tips and Techniques for the Service Front Lines as well as the Founder of the Customers That Stick blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast which I was honored to be a guest on. He is now with us to share the secret sauce of customer service. Adam, I’m pumped to have you on the show.

Jesse, it’s good. We’re doing the podcast in reverse. You brought the Bananas to Crack the Customer Code and that was fantastic. I am pleased and honored to be here.

Yes, I was pumped it to hear you speak at Customer Service Revolution. It was awesome. You had a lot of great stories and great messages. I want to start with your book first because one thing that it’s talked about a lot now is you want to make the customer the hero, yet your book is Be Your Customer’s Hero. Can you share with me the difference in what you mean by that?

I’ll step back and tell you about where the genesis of the book came because you will be able to relate because you deal with frontline employees dealing with the general public or more importantly working with the general public. You’ve got frontline employees working with the general public. I was in retail and franchising for a long time and what I found was that they just didn’t have the skills coming in. I live in Orlando. What would happen is when we’re hiring, if you saw a Disney on the resume, we’re like, “Hello, how are you?” We knew they were already trained with fundamental service skills, but the great majority of them didn’t have it. What I was searching for was what’s that one thing that’s going to teach them 85% of what they need to know about customer experience, customer service and working with customers?

How do I get somebody to have that mindset that is like, “I’m here for the customer. I’m not here to check them out. I’m here to make their day while I check them out?” That doesn’t mean going over the top of every experience of that. That’s where Be Your Customer’s Hero came from because what’s a hero? It’s somebody that is there for you when you need them. It’s not somebody that leaps over tall buildings or any of that. Anyone can be a hero and that was just the metaphor I took with it, which is that idea of we’re there for the customers and I know you do this with the bananas and with your team. Everybody’s there for the customers. You’re focused on all kinds of things around the customers and around the staff but on the customer side of it, you’re always there to wow. You’re always there to give them something.

You can be the hero but also you can try and make your customer the hero. It goes both ways, it sounds like.

To me, context is everything. If I had a metaphor, it’s context is everything. What does that mean to you, to make the customer the hero?

To everything, it’s about them. Everything’s about them and that they’re the hero of their own story. For instance, if we are the guide as Donald Miller in StoryBrand talks about, we are the one that’s going to help them be the best version of themselves, have the most success, whatever that product is we’re trying to serve. That’s one of the goals that’s talked about. Then also, from your perspective which I see 100%, we want to be that hero that helps them. It’s the hero and the guide. They’re interchanged. I’m trying to balance it in my head because I see both being very valuable and how to simplify what’s best.

I love the StoryBrand book and all of that. I wonder about that metaphor in certain contexts. What is the context of handing somebody French fries word or they’re the hero of their story? They just want French fries. I don’t know if that seems very abstract to talk to a frontline employee about in certain industries. Is that the best metaphor in every industry? If you are a personal coach or if you’re in the entertainment industry like you’re in where you really could say, “We’re not just going to hand the peanuts. We’re going to throw them and make it a contest.” It’s the best metaphor for every context.

You’re talking about frontline employees. Let’s give a little bit of the context. I know you’ve been an entrepreneur doing retail. Can you share a little bit of what you did before and now as you’re teaching this and how you really focused on the frontline employees?

[bctt tweet=”Emotion dictates essentially what type of experience we’re going to have.” via=”no”]

If you’re in retail, you realize very quickly that your frontline employees as a rule don’t have much experience in business. They don’t have much experience working with customers. It was great when we saw Disney on the resume here in Orlando. I was in a retail service franchise which means I was able to design the experience, but I also had to follow an experience that was designed for me. I had a lane in which I could design my own experience, but I also had to deliver service standards of the franchise. It was an interesting little box from somebody who teaches customer experience and teaches customer service now. I’m always saying, “You can do this and do that and here’s how you would push it.” You’ve created this thing out of whole cloth, The Savannah Bananas. In a franchise system, you don’t really get that luxury. You have to follow the playbook.

If you’re running a McDonald’s or you’re running a Gymboree or whatever franchise it is, you’ve got to figure out how to wow within the confines of that playbook, the rules, regulations, policies, procedures and all of that. One of the things we were trying to do with our frontline team was to make them customer-centric and also make them understand that we’ve got to follow this playbook. Here are the things we can do outside of the playbook. Here are the things we can do to be special. Here are the things we can do to be the best in our franchise network and to make our customers wow. We really look at it from a few things. One, what are the ideas, the systems? How do you create that? Two, and this is where we get into when you’re looking at frontline employees, what matters most? It’s getting them to understand the why and then giving them the tools to execute it.

The question I come from is, how? We have 150 game day staff and employees. They come in and it’s a summer job. With anything, it’s this isn’t a deep why. We would love for people to think, “This is my why. I want to be a part of this.” What are the practical steps that you have seen or that you teach to actually get them to have complete buy-in? We go through our fans first playbook. We share those meaningful stories. We get them in to understand that it’s more than just serving food. It’s how we make memories and create moments. What are those ways that you’ve seen that really makes an impact?

Some of the stuff you’re doing is absolutely amazing. We’ve talked about that on our podcast. When we talk about why, it’s not necessarily a macro Simon Sinek type where it’s the why of all meaning. Sometimes it’s, “Why is it important for me to give good customer service? Why does that even matter? I didn’t scream at him. I didn’t yell at him. What else is it you want me to do?” Granted, there’s a hiring process but hopefully you don’t have too many of those conversations to begin with but at some fundamental level, it’s getting them to understand and buy into that mission. You talked about your fan first playbook. Some of the techniques I’ve seen that have been really powerful is sharing customer stories. To me, that’s one of the most important things you can do, particularly in an onboarding process. The superstars, the people that have really created those wow moments, they understand the meaning.

Jenny, one of our customers, came in for a service two days after she lost her brother. Sheila gave her the service but understood and was empathetic. Everybody smiled and it just made her day. She wrote us a testimonial or wrote us a little note, whatever you want to call it, saying, “This place felt like home.” If you share that with somebody, you share that with your team on an ongoing basis, but you also share that in an onboarding situation and other stories like that. To me, that’s one of the most powerful things. We all know everybody talks about storytelling nowadays. You mentioned Donald Miller, how powerful stories are, but you can connect them to the end performance. Why does this matter? Because the reality is most of our jobs, we’re not EMS. We’re not the police. We’re not soldiers. You’re selling hot dogs and baseball, whatever it may be you’re going to say you’re selling, but that’s the environment. You look at those kinds of things. You’re changing moments. You’re not necessarily changing lives and you have to show how important that is.

I think that’s such a key point because how many times do business owners or leaders bring in their customers and actually have them talk about the impact that your business is making? A lot of these games really mean a lot to bringing families together, but yet we might get an email or a testimonial. Just talk to the group and understand what they’re doing really matters. Something that we’re looking to do is we’re actually going to film a fan from the beginning of the day to getting ready to going to a Banana’s game and highlighting them throughout the game doing a little documentary. Then maybe even honoring them on the field during the game. It’s similar to the idea a little bit of the day in the life that John DiJulius talks to but literally, this is our customer. This is our fan. We really personalize it for our staff to understand this is the impact that they’re making.

That’s fantastic. I can’t wait to see the video. John, he’s got that Chick-fil-A video that he’s done publicly. It’s ironic you bring that up. That’s the next step. You connected this why, why is it important to be customer-centric and to make that part of the culture and to get people into that. The next step is giving them the tools. I’m a how guy. I don’t spend a lot of time on the why. I’m not somebody who does a consulting on finding your mission and all. That’s important because I think this is where most companies fail. I think it’s easy to get on stage and give big pronouncements about culture and big pronouncements about putting everybody first and putting this first. What’s really hard is when you get back and actually have to do it. I shouldn’t say it’s easy to say that stuff. It’s not easy to do it but it’s really hard to execute it.

BDD 173 | Customer Service
Customer Service: If you don’t train your team on how to both interact with existing customer emotion and direct customer emotion, you’ve got a real challenge.


You’re talking about front line staff. That thing about every customer has a story, that’s an incredibly powerful thing from a training perspective because when we look at the research and what’s going on in the last twenty years, what we know about customers is that they are irrational. Also, we are irrational as well. Humans are irrational but we’ll focus on customers for a moment. They’re also emotional. Emotion dictates essentially what type of experience we’re going to have. We can dig into that. There’s a lot to that but the reality is when you look at that idea of every customer has a story, what emotion are they coming in to the business with? What emotion are they having when they’re there and what peak emotions are they going to remember?

If you don’t train your team on understanding these principles and how to both interact with existing customer emotion and direct customer emotion, then you’ve got a real challenge. Depending on your industry, this can be either an easy thing or a hard thing. I would imagine at the ballpark, it’s probably easy 98% of the time and you have some upset customers and we talked about that. Do you ever want to see a fun customer service job? Just go sit and Best Buy at the Geek Squad counter for twenty minutes and just watch the people come up because that’s a service resolution role. Every conversation they have is a problem and someone who’s having your problem. There are different levels of upset. What’s the training that enables them not only to solve what the computer is doing, whatever’s wrong with the computer or the iPhone or whatever it may be but to solve the customer emotion? To actually interact with empathy and good communication.

You talk about emotional connections all the time. I think the reality we look at is how do we map that emotional journey? You constantly think when you do something, how does it make our fans feel? We talk about happy tears because we’ve had seven-year-old kids crying because they were so happy because we took pictures with them and gave them signed bats and it was the best day of their life. We try to think about how do we map that? How do we create happy tears for our fans? My question for you is you talk about creating ordinary moments and making them extraordinary. If you think about frontline employees, they are dealing with ordinary moments every single day. Here’s a transaction, here’s making it extraordinary and creating this emotional connection. How do you teach that? What’s the best way to say, “We’re going to get this happening with our frontline employees on a consistent basis?”

One, be careful with the word extraordinary. I’d say the key is taking a moment, making them always above average, above expectations whenever possible or at least meeting expectations. If your expectations are already high, that’s very key, but be on the lookout for extraordinary. Did you hear me tell my Hotel Indigo story? I can’t remember if I used it in the speech you saw.

Was that the one in Asheville? Still, there are people that haven’t heard. If you wanted to share, that would be great.

I’ll give you the quick version. The quick version is my wife and I were booking a big birthday of hers. We booked it at the Hotel Indigo in Asheville. I mentioned her birthday. I wanted a window view, but I didn’t make a big deal. We show up two months later and we ended up waiting in the lobby. Eventually, they take us to the room and in the room, on the bed is a whole happy birthday thing. There’s champagne. They got chocolates. They got all this stuff. When you look at it, they took an ordinary moment and they made it extraordinary. Here’s the thing and this was very important. Stories do not scale. They absolutely cannot do this for every single customer that comes into that hotel.

They cannot find a way to make this wow moment for every single customer that checks in every day. It just can’t happen. You can’t scale it. You can’t be profitable doing that. What they did was they looked for an easy win. They documented it, number one. Somebody was trained enough to check the documentation before we got there and then they said, “What can we do?” We’ve all got these stories, but the thing is when the next person checked in, they didn’t have to do that. What they had to do was smile, offer them something really small and unexpected that they didn’t get at the last hotel they checked in at. They use some communication that was special, personalize something off a previous conversation, just in conversation. It doesn’t always have to be extraordinary.

[bctt tweet=”Excellent customer experience begins with adequate resources.” via=”no”]

Extraordinary can be small. It’s a dangerous word because I hesitate to have people think they have to do this big viral wow thing on every experience. It can literally just be a conversation and depending on what your business is, that may be all that’s appropriate. If you’re at a drive thru, what your job is speed. Your job is speed in getting the order right. That’s the fundamentals. What’s your wow there? Are you ever going to have a wow as that hotel has? Are you ever going to have a wow as you have at the ballpark on a regular basis? Probably not. Maybe if something goes wrong, you’re able to do something that’s wow, but your wows have to be in the moment. Your wows have to be, “How much better is my drive thru experience than the other 74 drive thru as far as they’ve been through in their life?”

The speed is actually extraordinary. In Chick-fil-A, you talk about the, “My pleasures,” and how they treat you but the speed you get through that drive thru versus any other drive thru, that’s actually extraordinary. You’re right. Extraordinary doesn’t have to be a huge thing but it is better than ordinary. We’re hiring part of our cast this year, a high five character. Literally on the back of his jersey, his name will be High, his number will be five and his job is to go around the entire stadium high fiving fans when they’re in line, in the parking lot, all around the stadium. We’ll have a goal, “Can you get 2,000 high fives? Can you get 2,500 high fives?” That’s his role.

The reality is, standing line at concessions, getting a high five from the High Five character could be extraordinary but it’s not crazy. How can you look at these little moments that are just a little better? A great person who I should connect you with, Darren Ross, is the CEO and Founder of Magic Castle Hotel. He says, “We listen carefully and respond creatively.” I think what you told about the Hotel Indigo, they listened. You said it was a birthday. You told them what to know and they responded creatively. I think going into this frontline, what you’re sharing, we just got to be able to keep our ears open and find those special moments. It doesn’t have to be everyone but one or two can really build a brand because people tell that story over and over again.

100% and that’s the cultural part. The cultural part is I’m not just checking the box of my job, I am focused on the customer. I am focused on what the customer’s telling me at any given moment. What opportunities are there to win? From a leadership perspective, we have a role in this too. You said you’re hiring a position. You’re putting someone on payroll to go around and give high fives. How many businesses would invest in that? That’s incredibly important. You talked about Chick-fil-A’s speed. Go to Chick-fil-A at lunchtime in any busy location. Most of them are busy at lunchtime for the record but if you go there at a busy time, what do you see? You see at the newer ones two drive thrus and two people standing in line talking to you before you even get anywhere. It’s not just teaching the frontline what to do from a leadership perspective. It’s actually the frontline in place to do it.

That goes into your idea of the three E leadership which you shared: Embody, Educate, Empower. I think that was powerful because we have to, as leaders, embody what we want to teach and then we have to teach it and then we have to empower people to do it. Share a little bit of that mindset, that three E leadership. I think it’s very powerful and a great takeaway on how to help our people be better at what they do and make an impact.

I appreciate that too. Let me step back on one thing with the three E leadership framework and to say where it came from. Where it came from is, I am completely what you would call an 80/20 guy or a Pareto principle guy. I don’t believe any of us have time to do it all and we certainly don’t have time to do it all well. I’d always try to find what are the things that are going to move the needle the most? What are the few actions to get the greatest results? The three E leadership framework from a customer experience leadership standpoint came from that because there are a million things as a leader and even as a customer-centric leader you can do to improve your customer experience.

Assuming you have a good culture in place that’s the baseline. If you have a good culture in place, these are the three things that if you put your time, then you will see outsized results. The first one is embody. That is very simply to walk the talk. We have all either worked at a company or dealt with a company or hired somebody from a company that had, “The customer is first,” and some little, “Hang in there, baby,” type of poster about the customers on the walls of the place and all those stuff. They did not live up to it. For whatever reason, one, they just were focused on other things. Two, they never meant it in the first place. Three, and this is the most common, they actually were incentivizing things that weren’t customer first.

BDD 173 | Customer Service
Customer Service: The high water mark of employee empowerment to say the least is when we can we loosen the reins a little more.


When I worked with sales teams, I have really deep conversations about this because if you want your sales team to be customer-centric and not just about closing sales, you’ve got to look at your incentives. You’ve got to put your money where your message is and that’s true. If you say, “Take care of the customers,” but you sit down for the monthly review and all you talk about is how many sales they closed, they get the message about what’s really important. They understand, and that’s just a very narrow example. Embodying is across the whole company. Are you truly doing the things that make people understand that customer experience is a strategic priority for your company?

That means also you’re investing in it. Put your money where your message. That’s not just about incentives. Is your CRM system fifteen years old and your people can’t get anything done? Are you perpetually understaffed? Because I can tell you, this is something you will not hear many customer experience people say. Great customer experience begins with adequate resources. It’s not sexy. It is not something you want to be inspired by. It is the absolute truth. You tell me one company that’s under resourced that’s doing a good job at customer experience over the long term, I want to know their secret because they probably don’t exist. All of these things are part of that embodying.

Next is to educate. Companies tend to really fail on education and there are a few reasons. One, it’s not urgent. The Stephen Covey urgent quadrants and all that, what’s urgent and important and all that stuff, it’s important but not urgent. It’s very much like, “Training, that’s great. We have a call queue that’s this long. It’s opening day, everybody’s about to show up. Whatever it may be, we don’t do it.” The second big failure in education is we only train half of what’s important. I have a dog in this hunt. I do customer service training. I will say this upfront but we only train, “Here’s how you sell a ticket. Here’s how you cook the burger. Here’s the process. We changed the process, the procedure, how to use the system, how to turn in your receipts.” We don’t teach communication, empathy, all the soft skills. What do you think an experience that only has the first half looks like to a customer or feels like even more importantly?

It’s a terrible transaction.

That’s the difference between the companies that are okay or good and great. They train both sides of that equation. The third one, and I know this is near and dear to your heart, is empowerment. The reality is we are all scared and if you’re not scared of empowering your employees, then you haven’t been paying attention. You need to do it anyways and the people who aren’t that scared of it are the people who have done it well and not seen many negative results. Because if you do it well, it’s incredibly powerful. It’s probably one of the most powerful tools you can have in customer experience.

You made the great example of General Marshall on how to empower.

I bring my stories from a variety of disciplines and one is about General Marshall. He was the Chief of Staff of the Army in World War II and he was essentially asked if he wanted to go do D-Day, “Do you want to run D-Day?” Whoever was going to run D-Day was going to be in the history books forever. Everyone knew that. Everyone knew we were going to invade. Marshall was a true citizen soldier and said, “I’ll do what you want, Mr. President.” He ended up in Washington. General Eisenhower became supreme allied commander. One day, Mes. Marshall is sitting in her room at the house in Virginia and gets a call from the Army saying, “Can I please speak to General Marshall?”

[bctt tweet=”The more we get connected on social media, the more we’re going to need to get out of that.” via=”no”]

Long story short, Marshall answers the phone, hangs up and starts to walk back to his garden because he’s messing with the carrots. This is the guy running World War II in the middle of World War II and his wife is like, “What happened? They said it was extremely important.” General Marshall says, “We invaded France.” She’s like, “What happened? You didn’t ask any questions.” He’s like, “I imagine that’s for Ike to deal with.” If you can be in charge of the fate of Western civilization and say that’s for my subordinate to deal with, that’s for Ike to deal with and go back to your carrot, that is the high water mark of employee empowerment to say the least. I’m glad you brought it up. I use the example because can we loosen the reins just a little more, Jesse, you and I?

That’s his micromanagement culture and no one wants it. It’s tough as leaders because we care so much and we have a challenge letting our people fail. Even me saying that, “I don’t want that to happen,” but as we say all the time, that’s where you learn. General Marshall, when he got into a spot where he was over micro managing, it didn’t work well. He didn’t trust his people enough. It’s a great story and a great example. As far as the empowerment, I love this quote from you. It’s, “To innovate customer experience, we as leaders should listen to our teams and create a safe environment for open dialogue.” That itself is empowerment. How do we open it up so our people can share their ideas and actually let them implement them?

That’s part of empowerment. We talk about smart empowerment for one thing, which doesn’t mean let go of the reins completely but the other thing we talked about is the difference between actual and psychological empowerment if you remember that from the speech. Actual empowerment as I say is, “You can do X, Y and Z. You couldn’t do that before. Now, you can do X, Y and Z.” Psychological empowerment is they actually feel like they can do X, Y and Z culturally and they’re not going to get in trouble or they’re not going to get questioned. That culture you were mentioning or that space for listening and innovation is if you’re going to empower an employee, you can’t eat their lunch if they don’t use it the way you want them to. You can coach them. You can’t let them do something insane, like take a baseball bat and hit your customer with it. There are limits to everything. Hopefully none of your people have done that. You’re empowered to play around but I didn’t mean beat them with the bat. In the real world, what can I do? You don’t want them questioning that. Take care of the customer. The Ritz Carlton empowers people. Is it up to $5,000?

It was. It was $2,000 at one point. It could be $50,000 now at this point.

Ritz Carlton empowers people up to $2,000 and that means the janitor. Why? Because the customer lifetime value of a Ritz Carlton customer is $250,0000. They know that they can just do that without any limitation. Here’s the biggest message for leaders. You are afraid about what they will do. What you really need to be afraid of is that they won’t use it.

They won’t do anything.

Exactly. You empower them. That’s the Hotel Indigo story. They were empowered to do it, but they actually did it. They used it.

BDD 173 | Customer Service
Customer Service: The real question is what are you doing to prepare for a downturn in your business?


That’s so smart. Your fear as a leader shouldn’t be necessarily what they will do. It’s if they don’t do anything. When you’re dealing with customers, if there’s a problem or if there’s a challenge and you don’t do anything, then you’ve lost a customer for life.

The whole point of empowerment is it’s more important today than ever because one of the biggest points of empowerment is that it is real time. You are solving a customer’s issue in real time. One of my few keynote speeches, I only have a handful of them, is literally called From Hassle to Hero. It is about how important it is to remove the hassle from the customer journey. What’s bigger than, “I can’t take care of that for you, let me go call my supervisor,” or worse, “I can’t take care of that for you. My supervisor is in on Tuesday. I’ll get back to you then?”

I do want to get into some fun games, but I think that transition to what you were saying, you have to give one of your hits because I think it’s such a great message in how to deal with a problem and a challenge. If you could give a little bit of the Universal story, I think that will resonate with the listeners.

I love the story and thanks for bringing it up because I never get tired of telling it. The good news is it’s embarrassing for my wife, not me. That’s the most important thing about this whole story. My wife goes with her family to Universal’s Islands of Adventure. This is summer in Orlando. If you haven’t been to summer in Orlando, there are a few circles of hell Dante had and it’s one of them. She’s in line for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This line is hours and hours long. They’re sweating. They’re dying. It’s just hot. It’s miserable and she drinks this stuff called Butterbeer. I’m not a Harry Potter person. I don’t know what Butterbeer is. I just know that before I go on a roller coaster, two of the things I don’t think about putting in my stomach are butter or beer.

Eventually, they get to the front of the line. They go in these little cars. She’s in this car with her niece, Emily. They go in and as soon as she gets inside, she realizes she’s in trouble because Harry Potter is not technically a roller coaster. It is a simulator ride. In a simulator ride, the car moves but they also use those screens to create the illusion of greater movement. She’s going and she’s getting sicker and sicker and sicker and finally, this dragon pops out. She yacks all over her niece, Emily. It’s all over her. The car is still moving so it’s everywhere. She is just mortified. She’s completely embarrassed. She threw up everywhere and what’s about to happen? She’s about to pull up to a few hundred people. They’re all waiting to get in a clean car and she’s going to pull up in the throw up teacup.

The worst part is they just pulled up to 500 people that all have cameras because everyone has a camera now. She’s mortified. She’s not having a good day and we talk about that customer’s emotional journey that we mentioned and you got to think about that. She’s covered in vomit. She’s brought her niece into this nightmare as well and she’s about to be completely embarrassed. The amazing thing about the story is that never happened. A Universal employee had seen the entire thing on the video camera. They stopped the car short before she ever got to that embarrassing moment in front of the whole crowd and they said, “Ma’am, we saw what happened. We have a place where you can get cleaned up. Please come with us.”

The Universal employee takes my wife and her niece to the secret room. There’s a secret room at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and they walk into this clean, well-lit room. The Universal employee looks at her and goes, “Ma’am, we’re so sorry about what happened. There are all those clothes on the wall. Take anything that’s your size free of charge. We’ve got a sink over there where you can clean up and wash everything. Also, here’s a bag. You could put your soiled clothes in it. That way you can enjoy the rest of the day at the park. We saw you speaking to the people in the car behind you. We’ve directed them to the exit you’re going to be leaving behind. You won’t have any trouble finding them when you leave.”

[bctt tweet=”Where you point your lens is who you are as a person, it’s what you achieve, it’s everything.” via=”no”]

I’ve given a little more detail in the speech. There are so many levels at which that experiences work all the way from the frontlines up through leadership. You talk about preparing and thinking through a customer journey. Universal built a room. If you haven’t done construction before, that means they had architectural. They had to go through permitting. They had to go through inspections. They dedicated this most valuable real estate in this organization to this small sub section of customers and their families who are going to have a bad experience. What do you think the emotional experience of my wife and her niece was after that?

It was literally a roller coaster for her. Even the emotional experience was a roller coaster for her. That’s amazing. I think you’ve said this before, “Your brain is only as strong as your weakest customer experience.” That could’ve been a very weak, terrible customer experience but it became a wow moment. I think all brands have an opportunity to create customers for life on those weak experiences, make them better and make them even more amazing. I think that’s what Universal story shares to me and I shared that with my wife right away afterwards. She was blown away as well. I think that’s great.

I do want to finish with some more rapid fire. You wrote about 21 ways to not make a good first impression, from not answering the phone, not having a clean parking lot and having a disorganized storefront. We’ll do a quick little back and forth game. I’m going to give a place to you, a type of business and you’ve got to say how would you make a good first impression. You could throw one back at me. Are you ready? Restaurant? What was something you could do at a restaurant to make a great first impression?

Greet them by their name if there’s any way possible.

It’s simple.

If you have the reservation, “Hi, Jenny,” but you’ve got to be careful.

Use people’s names. You can throw in a business or a type of business to me.

Home carpet cleaning.

They’re coming to clean the carpets. The first impression starts on the website, on the call. You really want to be unbelievably welcoming and nice but when you show up, how can you be dressed in a very unique, clean, unbelievably well-kept way? How can you hand them something? Maybe even, “Here’s a flower.” It’s like, “Is my home carpet guy giving me this?” Something that can actually be different because you want to not be a typical carpet cleaning guy. If you go into a house, notice those things that people care about and then maybe you write a letter that acknowledges something or does something that can add to their home afterwards. That goes past the first depression. That was good. You’ve already thrown me for a loop thinking about home carpet cleaning. What if you’re a teacher? A teacher’s first impression with students coming in.

First of all, I don’t have kids. I’m really talking out of school, but I would think anything that started with fun. You just make it fun. When they come in, maybe your High Five mascot’s there. They all get something to identify him personally. Everybody gets a funny hat. Anything that makes it fun immediately or sets a different tone. There could be a million things I think on that going off the top of my head. Everybody gets a funny colored hat.

You taught all the ways not to make a good first impression. It doesn’t have to be unbelievable wow, but what can you do that’ll make people talk, “That was a nice touch?” Remarkable is simply our people worth remarking about it. We think about the parking lots, the phone calls, how we answer the phones and walk in and I think that’s something that all businesses should think about. I’m so glad that you actually wrote 21 Ways Not to Make a Good First Impression. I do it every show where I flip the script. You are now the host. You have experience with this with your amazing podcast. You can ask one question to me.

My one question is a little on the negative side, not so positive. You’re a small business owner. I’m a third generation entrepreneur, so I think about this stuff. You’re a fun business. You’re all that. Is it an economically sensitive business? My real question is, what are you doing to prepare for a downturn in your business?

Economically sensitive, yes. I started in 2008. That’s when I first started running a team. No one was buying sponsorships and tickets. This is an extra type of thing. How do you prepare for it? It’s one of those things that I’m trying to realize that we are more teachers and entertainers more than just people running a baseball team. We are a transitioning into being more educators. How do we show and teach people? How do we put on a show, how to wow them? I think people will always need to be better at customer experience, at employee experience. Part of the transition is allowing us to be able to teach this. I think everyone needs fun. One of the things that everyone has a challenge with is everything’s online now. You can just stay in your home and watch Netflix. People need to connect with people. The more we get connected on social media, the more we’re going to need to get out of that.

We don’t have a digital school board at our stadium. It’s all about people engaging. We’re going to keep stressing that point about getting out with your family. Have fun and lose yourself. During our games, we have a 70-year-old and a five-year-old that are dancing and 4,000 people singing. We hope that you can escape. We are going to keep stressing the importance of getting together. Hopefully when there is an economic downturn, which is coming that we are positioned to just continue to deliver fun that people want and then also teach other companies how to do that. That was a deep question I’ve never got asked. Thank you for that as an entrepreneur. I want to finish here. We’re going to rock and roll. This is the rapid fire. What’s your favorite restaurant?

It’s called Plant. It is a high-end vegan restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina.

What’s your favorite part of morning routine?


Do you write every morning?

It’s my favorite part of my morning routine when my morning routine is executed the way I wanted to. I travel and I speak. On the road days are different than in the office at home days, so I won’t say every morning but I try to write every morning in my zip code.

What’s your favorite way to unwind at the end of the day?

It’s got to be playing with the dogs. I’ve got two big dogs. They could be challenging but they can also just help. When you’re in the zone playing with them, you just forget everything.

Other than your book, what’s your favorite customer experience or customer service book?

I’m going to tell you the most impactful book I’ve read in the last few years and it is truly in a sense a great book for customer experience leaders. It’s called Deep Work by Cal Newport. What that book is about is how unbelievably crazy these times we live in are and how the way to win is through the ability to find ways to do deep work. It’s essentially another way of saying how to focus.

It’s just important, even more so than ever now. Final inning, what’s one thing you’ve done to stand out in business and in life?

For me, at least in the current business I’m in, it’s being a real world, practical, realistic guy. What’s special about that? If you’re in the speaking and keynote industry, that’s actually not that common. That’s a little rarer. There’s a lot of, “Here’s how you can be like Zappos. Here’s how you could do this and do that. How are we going to do that? How are you going to do that at scale?” That’s really been my brand and you can tell from the conversation we’ve had. What are the practical things you’re actually going to be able to do if you have 50 employees, 500 employees and 50,000 employees that are still going to work?

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

We just circle back to it. To me, it’s you are what you focus on. To me, the focus is everything. Where you point your lens is who you are as a person. It’s what you achieve. It’s everything.

Finally, how do you want to be remembered?

To me, forget the macro and the micro level. I hope every person that I’ve come in contact with feels that I gave something to them that mattered, something that made an impact.

Nothing matters more than making people feel like they matter and that’s exactly what you’re doing. I’ve been impressed with how much work, how much content and how many pieces you have. I search about you and there are videos and so much content out there and you’ve been doing that and helping people for a long time. I’m so glad that we got connected. Thanks for having me on your show and then connecting back to Customer Service Revolution. How can people connect more with you and learn everything that you’re doing?

Home base for me is called You want your customers to stick around. Google my name, Adam Toporek, you’ll pretty much find me. I’m on social. I love connecting with people. I love hearing people’s stories about customer experience. There are all kinds of stuff we got going on and just feel free to reach out. Jesse, thanks so much for having me. It’s just been awesome getting to you and sharing podcasts experiences here. This has been awesome. I appreciate it

The pleasure is mine. Thanks, Adam.

Important Links:

About Adam Toporek

BDD 173 | Customer Service

Adam Toporek is an internationally-recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and frontline trainer who helps organizations get results by thinking differently about customer service. A third-generation entrepreneur with extensive experience in retail, wholesale, franchising, and small business, Adam understands the impact that customer experience can have on the bottom line.

As the author of Be Your Customer’s Hero, the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog, and the co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast, Adam regularly shares his customer experience and customer service insights with a global audience. He has appeared in over 100 media and is regularly cited as a top customer experience thought leader.

In addition to his customer experience work, Adam is an angel investor with an interest in entrepreneurs who disrupt the status quo through innovation. Adam lives in Orlando, FL with his wife Renee and his two dogs, Dalton and Talia.