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15 Must-Read Books About Customer Experience Steven Van Belleghem - June 16, 2021

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As I’m always looking for ways to inspire my followers, I decided to draw up a list with 15 of the most popular and useful books about customer experience. This is of course far from an ultimate list, as there is no such thing. But if you feel that I forgot to mention some quintessential ones, let me know. I’m always fascinated to hear what inspires you.

Invent and Wander: The Collected Writings of Jeff Bezos – Walter Isaacson and Jeff Bezos

Few companies are as obsessed by customer experience as Amazon. Which is why the collected writings of Jeff Bezos – from his unique annual shareholder letters to numerous speeches and interviews – that gather his core principles and philosophy are a gold mine for CX leaders.

These are just a few of its inspiring insights:

  • The importance of a Day 1 mindset
  • Why “it’s all about the long term”
  • What it really means to be customer obsessed
  • How to start new businesses and create significant organic growth in an already successful company
  • Why culture is an imperative
  • How a willingness to fail is closely connected to innovation
  • What the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us

The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google – Scott Galloway

But companies like Amazon also excel at mythologizing their own story. Bezos might talk about the importance of culture for customer obsession, but we have all also heard about the disastrous conditions under which Amazon warehouse workers operate.

Galloway’s book is the perfect counterbalance for this mythologizing. He asks both fundamental and highly critical questions about the power and staggering success of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google and deconstructs the strategies of the Four that lurk beneath their shiny veneers. He shows how they manipulate the fundamental emotional needs that have driven us since our ancestors lived in caves, at a speed and scope others can’t match. And he reveals how you can apply the lessons of their ascent to your own business or career. Because whether you want to compete with them, do business with them, or simply live in the world they dominate, you need to understand the Four.

Delivering Happiness – Tony Hsieh

This ultimate CX classic from 2010 tells the story of Tony Hsieh and his company Zappos. It’s about how thinking long term and following your passions first can lead to not just profits, but a happy life for you, your employees, and customers.

The core of Hsieh’s book is that both company culture and customer service are the keys to a successful business. Everyone is looking for happiness in life which is why a company can be successful by finding ways to make its employees, customers, and partners happy. This is achieved through extraordinary customer service and a company culture that is unique, one that employees believe in.

In case you missed it, I made a video with the 5 CX lessons that I learned from Tony Hsieh, when he passed away much too soon at the age of 46:

This is marketing – Seth Godin

I had the honour of talking with Seth Godin at the UBA Trends Day very recently (Check the recap that Peter Hinssen and I made here) and yet again, he proved that he is a god amongst men when it comes to branding, storytelling, marketing and customer experience. In ‘This is Marketing’, he offers the core of his marketing wisdom in one compact and very accessible package.

Great marketers don’t use consumers to solve their company’s problem; they use marketing to solve other people’s problems. Their tactics rely on empathy, connection, and emotional labor instead of attention-stealing ads and spammy email funnels.

Here are some of its core insights:

  • How to build trust and permission with your target market.
  • The art of positioning–deciding not only who it’s for, but who it’s not for.
  • Why the best way to achieve your goals is to help others become who they want to be.
  • Why the old approaches to advertising and branding no longer work.
  • The surprising role of tension in any decision to buy (or not).
  • How marketing is at its core about the stories we tell ourselves about our social status.

The Customer of the Future: 10 Guiding Principles for Winning Tomorrow’s Business – Blake Morgan

Blake Morgan is one of the most renowned customer experience futurists and one of the top speakers at my company nexxworks’ Mission CX program. In The Customer of the Future, she outlines ten easy-to-follow customer experience guidelines that integrate emerging technologies with effective strategies to combat disconnected processes, silo mentalities, and a lack of buyer perspective.

Tomorrow’s customers will insist on experiences that make their lives significantly easier and better. Companies will win their business not by just proclaiming that customer experience is a priority but by embedding a customer focus into every aspect of their operations. They’ll understand how emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and analytics are changing the game and craft a strategy to integrate them into their products and processes.

The Nordstrom Way to Customer Experience Excellence – Robert Spector, breAnne O. Reeves

This one is a true classic, but it has a fully revised and updated edition from 2017. Its authors explore the core values of the culture that have made Nordstrom synonymous with legendary customer service. These essential values have enabled Nordstrom to survive and adapt to dramatic market shifts regularly since 1901. It is a book about how underlying values such as respect, trust, compensation and, even fun, are the building blocks of a culture where employees are empowered to consistently deliver a world-class experience to customers.

Nordstrom believes that the employee experience determines the customer experience, and that when you attract and reward people who are comfortable in a service-oriented culture, then everyone succeeds – both individually and collectively. No wonder Nordstrom is one of only five companies to make Fortune’s “Best Companies to Work For” and “Most Admired” lists every year since those surveys have been taken.

Friction – The Untapped Force That Can Be Your Most Powerful Advantage Hardcover – Roger Dooley

Annually, $4.6 trillion of merchandise is left in abandoned e-commerce shopping carts. Every year, the U.S. economy loses $3 trillion dollars in productivity due to excess bureaucracy. Red tape and over-complicated licenses have contributed to China’s GDP exceeding India’s by $82 trillion over the span of just three decades. These statistics are the stuff of nightmares for business leaders. According to science-based marketing and business expert Roger Dooley, they illustrate the real and growing threat of “friction,” which he defines as “the unnecessary expenditure of time, effort, or money in performing a task”.

In today’s high-speed, customer-empowered world, the levels of speed and efficiency of business transactions will determine ultimate success or failure. In his book, Dooley writes about the inevitable points of friction in an organization, and he provides the tools and insight needed to eliminate them. Friction takes the reader step-by-step through the process of:

  • Empowering frank conversations
  • Guiding individual and team behaviors
  • Getting ahead of friction
  • Optimizing the customer experience
  • Building a frictionless corporate culture

The Apple Experience: Secrets to Building Insanely Great Customer Loyalty – Carmine Gallo

In The Apple Experience, internationally bestselling author Carmine Gallo details the principles and practices behind this total commitment to the customer and explains how a brand can achieve outstanding results by delivering this same high standard of service.

Carmine Gallo interviewed professionals at all levels who have studied Apple, and he spent hundreds of hours observing the selling floor in Apple’s retail space and learning about Apple’s vision and philosophy. Using insights and data from these sources, he breaks down Apple’s customer centric model to provide an action plan with three distinct areas of focus:

  • Inspire Your Internal Customerwith training, support, and communications that create a “feedback loop” for improving performance at every level
  • Serve Your External Customerwith irresistible brand stories and dedicated salespeople who embody the APPLE five steps of service– Approach, Probe, Present, Listen, End with a fond farewell
  • Set the Stageby ensuring that no element is overlooked in creating an immersive retail environment where customers can see, touch, and learn about your products

User Friendly: How the Hidden Rules of Design are Changing the Way We Live, Work & Play – Cliff Kuang and Robert Fabricant

It seems like magic when some new gadget seems to know what we want before we know ourselves. But why does some design feel intrinsically good, and why do some designs last forever, while others disappear?

User Friendly guides readers through the hidden rules governing how design shapes our behaviour, told through fascinating stories such as what the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island reveals about the logic of the smartphone; how the pressures of the Great Depression and World War II created our faith in social progress through better product design; and how a failed vision for Disney World yielded a new paradigm for designed experience.

Building For Everyone: Expand Your Market With Design Practices From Google’s Product Inclusion Team – Annie Jean-Baptiste

Establishing diverse and inclusive organizations is an economic imperative for every industry. Any business that isn’t reaching a diverse market is missing out on enormous revenue potential and the opportunity to build products that suit their users’ core needs.

The economic “why” has been firmly established, but what about the “how?” How can business leaders adapt to our ever-more-diverse world by capturing market share AND building more inclusive products for people of color, women and other underrepresented groups? The Product Inclusion Team at Google has developed strategies to do just that and Building For Everyone is the practical guide to following in their footsteps.

Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers Kindle Edition – Jay Baer

The near-universal adoption of smartphones and social media has fundamentally altered the science of complaints. Critics (“haters”) can now express their displeasure faster and more pub­licly than ever. These trends have resulted in an overall increase in complaints and a belief by many businesses that they have to “pick their spots” when choosing to answer criticisms. Bestselling author Jay Baer shows why that approach is a major mistake. Based on an exten­sive proprietary study of how, where, and why we complain, Hug Your Haters proves that there are two types of complainers, each with very differ­ent motivations:

  • Offstage haters. These people simply want solutions to their problems. They complain via legacy channels where the likelihood of a response is highest—phone, e-mail, and company websites. Offstage haters don’t care if anyone else finds out, as long as they get answers.
  • Onstage haters. These people are often disappointed by a substandard interaction via traditional channels, so they turn to indirect venues, such as social media, online review sites, and discussion boards. Onstage haters want more than solutions—they want an audience to share their righteous indignation.

Hug Your Haters shows exactly how to deal with both groups, drawing on meticulously researched case studies from businesses of all types and sizes from around the world.

The Airbnb Way: 5 Leadership Lessons for Igniting Growth Through Loyalty, Community, and Belonging – Joseph A. Michelli

Over the past decade, Michelli has guided businesses in human experience transformation and has revealed how Starbucks, Zappos, Mercedes, and other top companies design and execute the strategies that made them the undisputed leaders of their industries. In this book, he turns his attention to major disrupter, Airbnb. In The Airbnb Way, he shows how innovative leaders have managed to build an unique brand by inspiring and engaging a community of hospitality entrepreneurs―a feat unparalleled in the shared economy. Inside, you’ll find:

  • Airbnb’s strategies and practices that drive customer engagement and loyalty
  • How to provide phenomenal customer service in the shared economy
  • Proven principles for getting the most from all stakeholders―including those who share resources and services
  • Exclusive interviews with Airbnb leaders, hosts, and guests that provide invaluable information for your business

The shared economy is the future, but it introduces business challenges never before faced: How do you serve a broad range of customers across varying geographies through a distributed network of “partners? Michelli shows how Airbnb seems to have solved that puzzle.

I’ll be back – Shep Hyken

Shep Hyken is a renowned customer service and experience expert who wrote many brilliant books about CX. His latest book “I’ll be back” maintains that delivering an amazing customer service experience that keeps customers coming back for more is everyone’s job. Customer service is not a department. It’s not just for people on the front lines. It’s the responsibility of everyone in the organization, from the CEO or owner of a business to the most recently hired employee. It’s the result of a customer-focused philosophy that must be baked into the culture. And it is what separates companies from their competition. In this book, you’ll learn how to turn customers into repeat customers and turn repeat customers into loyal customers.

These are some of the key insights:

  • How to design and create an experience that gets customers to return, again and again
  • The one trackable trend that leaders must monitor every morning
  • The difference between repeat customers and loyal customers
  • How to build the I’ll Be Back culture
  • How delivering an amazing customer experience is within reach of every organization
  • The two simple words that are the secret to every customer service program
  • Why most “loyalty programs” fail to create customer loyalty
  • How to personalize the customer experience
  • Why setting up or expanding self-service and digital customer service choices are a must, not an option
  • Ten loyalty killers that can terminate your relationship with your customers

Service is a Superpower: Lessons Learned in a Magic Kingdom – Louie Gravance

When I started drawing up this list, I knew that I had to include a book about Disney which is my all-time favorite company in the world and a true king of CX. In this book, Louie Gravance writes about his personal journey through the realm of customer service. Part memoir, part self-help manual for businesses big and small, Gravance interweaves his tales of life at Disney theme parks with practical guidance gleaned during the course of a thirty-year career in the service and entertainment industries.

Gravance teaches us that the importance of delivering the finest service experiences possible is not just crucial for the livelihood of a company it also leads to developing a culture of respect and responsibility that is so coveted in the corporate world today. Throughout the book, Gravance crafts an intriguing tale that demonstrates how working at Disney theme parks changed the way he viewed customer service, and elucidates the transformational effects it can have on those who provide it.

The Offer You Can’t Refuse – Steven Van Belleghem

I hope that you will forgive me if I shamelessly add my own latest book about CX, “The Offer You Can’t Refuse” to this list. In it, I write about how great products, great service and a competitive price have become the norm. They are a minimum demand. In the course of the past decade, digital convenience has become more and more important. Today, we can conclude that digital convenience has become a commodity. If you have it: fine. If you don’t: you are in trouble as customers have a sort of zero-tolerance for digital inconvenience these days. So, having great products and great digital interfaces is important, but it doesn’t make you stand out anymore.

To make a difference, companies will have to play an active role in their customers’ life journey. As a company how can you help consumers’ dreams come true and eliminate the obstacles in their day-to-day lives? And finally, companies have the opportunity to tackle concrete world problems together with the customer. The world is facing unprecedented challenges: climate, healthcare, government budget deficits, mobility… How can a company involve its customers in the solution to these problems? The combination of automation, being a partner in consumers’ lives and solving actual social issues will be the guiding principles for the successful business of the next decade. For consumers, the combination of all these elements constitutes an offer they can’t refuse.

So, that’s it for now. Don’t forget to let me know which are your personal favorite books about CX!

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Steven Van Belleghem

Steven is an expert in customer focus in a digital world and in how our customers will behave in the Day After Tomorrow. He is a popular speaker at home and abroad. In his keynote...