Colin Shaw, Founder & CEO, Beyond Philosophy LL, 7 X Best-selling Author, Podcast Host, The Intuitive Customer

Colin Shaw is a LinkedIn ‘Top Voice’ with a massive 283,000 followers and 85,000 loyal subscribers to his ‘Why Customers Buy’ newsletter. Shaw is named one of the world’s ‘Top 150 Business Influencers’ by LinkedIn. His company, Beyond Philosophy LLC, has been selected four times by the Financial Times as a top management consultancy. Shaw is co-host of the top 1.5% podcast ‘The Intuitive Customer‘—with over 600,000 downloads—and author of eight best-sellers on customer experience, Shaw is a sought-after keynote speaker.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with CXO Outlook Magazine, Colin shared his professional trajectory, what sets Beyond Philosophy LLC apart from other market competitors, the significant takeaways from his bestselling book, the secret mantra behind his success, future plans, words of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Hi Colin. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path in customer experience?

Effectively, I have had two careers. The first was working in corporate life ending up as a senior exec, leading over three and a half thousand people in contact centers globally for a telecommunications company. During that time, the CEO called me into his office to ask me to improve the customer experience but to do it at the least cost. This was in 1998, so some time ago! I spent the following three years working on projects to improve the customer experience and learning a lot about implementing this theory. In 2001, it was clear to me that customer experience was a big business differentiator. Most people hadn’t even heard of the concept at that point.  Therefore, I decided to start a second career and start my own consultancy business, Beyond Philosophy LLC, in 2002. I wrote the first of my seven books, Building Great Customer Experiences, Palgrave McMillian, in 2002. This book was one of the first to address the subject of Customer Experience.

As you can imagine, leaving a highly paid corporate role and starting your own business is a challenging decision as our financial commitments for our family were at their height with kids at universities, etc. My wife and I had fascinating conversations about whether this was a good idea or not. We agreed to take the risk as we thought there would be a good market here. In hindsight, that decision has proven to be one of the best decisions we have ever made.

In your opinion, why do so many companies need help with making CX a priority? What are some common mistakes companies make?

Since 2002, I’ve seen it all. Too many organizations have just jumped on the bandwagon of trying to improve their customer experience without understanding what it takes or being committed to following through. One big issue is that customer experience professionals must be much better at creating a return on investment for improving the CX. Businesspeople want to see their investment provide a return; CX professionals need to show how their work will provide this.

In addition, the organization usually focuses on the wrong thing. They become obsessed with what is going wrong in a customer experience rather than looking at the opportunity areas as well. Being very customer focused myself, I find it ironic to say that sometimes customers don’t know what they want. For example, Disney knows when they ask their customers what they want to eat at a theme park, Disney knows that people will say they would like to have the option of a salad. Disney also knows that people don’t eat salads at theme parks; they eat hot dogs and hand burgers. Therefore, looking at what a customer does rather than what they say they will do is vitally important. Also, this means embracing what drives value, (revenue, profit, NPS, etc.) is key and these areas may not be rational, i.e.: Price etc. but emotional. Do they care for me as a person. Do they value me as a Customer.

Beyond Philosophy LLC has been recognized by the Financial Times as one of the leading management consultancies for four consecutive years. What sets it apart from other market competitors?

In the first part of my career in corporate life, I saw many consultants come in and pitch me from a theoretical standpoint to improve an aspect of the organization. When I asked them how I implemented what they suggested, their answers were less convincing. As an operational guy I needed to implement their suggestions practically.

Therefore, I promised myself that for my company, Beyond Philosophy, we would make sure this never occurred and that all ideas were baked in ways to implement things practically. One thing that differentiates us from our competition, outlined in our name, is our belief that you must have a ‘philosophy’ or a strategy, but you still need to go ‘beyond’ that and do something. Also, whatever you do needs to produce ROI; otherwise, why are you doing it? Hence Beyond Philosophy as our company name.

We also strongly believe in the emotional and behavioral aspects of the customer experience, and my book, The DNA of Customer Experience: How Emotions Drive Value (Palgrave MacMillian 2007), has proven to be a bestseller. This book outlines the 20 emotions proven through research with London Business School over two years to drive value ($). We now show how evoking Customer emotions can have a positive or negative effect on the customer in $$$.

Can you please share the significant takeaways from your bestselling book, ‘The Intuitive Customer’ with our readers?

The major takeaway from my book is that a customer experience is more than just the Rational aspects like price, product delivery, etc.; it is more than just the 20 emotions that drive value ($); it is about understanding how and why customers make decisions. This means understanding ‘Behavioural Science.’ In the book, I wrote with Professor Ryan Hamilton, who teaches behavioral science at Emory University and is now the co-host of my podcast, which is by the same name, The Intuitive Customer. We look at how Customers make decisions and outline why people do things. We outline seven imperatives’ organizations must understand and implement to improve customer experience.

For example, one of these is on memory. We know that Customers can only be loyal customers if they remember previous brand interactions. Therefore, understanding how memories are formed is vital to improving your customer experience and gaining loyal Customers. We know from academia that memories are formed by the ‘Peak-end rule’ (Professor Daniel Kahneman et al 1993).  The peak and end refer to the peak emotion a person feels and the end emotion a person feels in an experience; these form memories. This begs the question: where is the peak emotion in your experience, and what is the end emotion in your experience your customer is feeling? Do these drive value $$$. This is just one example of the areas we discuss in the book.

In your experience, what are the three critical components of improving customer experience and business performance?

  1. Be clear about which part of your experience drives or destroys value in your experience.
  2. Creating a simple plan that everybody can understand and get behind.
  3. Creating the measures and incentives for these to be achieved.

Going forward, what trend will be most impactful in (your niche of) the CX space over the next five years?

Over the next five years, the most significant trend will be AI, but it is not rocket science to predict that.  What will be vitally important is understanding the context of how customers make decisions and building that into AI. Therefore, the behavior science aspect we are experts on will become increasingly important in developing AI and interpreting its results. It’s like the film Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In the book, a supercomputer called ‘deep thought’ was asked the ultimate answer: ‘What is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?’. After seven and a half million years of computing, the answer came back, and it was 42! People didn’t understand the context of the answer.

The same is in danger of happening with AI and customer experience. People need to ask the right questions to understand how Customers make decisions in the first place. AI will see the patterns of behavioral science and provide them, but employees need to learn the context of what Ai discovered and how to interpret these results to be useful. That is why people need help understanding the basics of behavioral science outlined in the book and our podcast, The Intuitive Customer.

You have received numerous prestigious awards and recognitions, including being a Top Voice & Influencer in Customer Experience & Marketing. Our readers would love to know the secret mantra behind your success.

Looking back on my career, the secret is, there are no secrets, just a lot of hard work.  Success only comes when you realize where you are starting from. For example, after implementing CX in my corporate life, I recognized that I was an expert on customer experience, but my issue was my potential Customers didn’t know that! Therefore, this focused me on ensuring I got out a simple message through conference speeches, books, etc.

I would argue that to be successful, you’ve got to have an opinion; you have to be prepared to ‘zig’ when others ‘zag,’ i.e., be different.  Unfortunately, today’s customer experience marketplace has become an echo chamber, and there are limited new thoughts that this is unhealthy.

What is your leadership philosophy, and how do you keep your team engaged and motivate them?

One of the most critical things is to avoid getting caught up in your hype and ‘success’. I am not the cleverest person on my team, far from it. I surround myself with extraordinary clever people. One of my biggest leadership tasks is keeping people engaged. I live by a phase which I love. ‘None of us are as clever as all of us.’ This means that I don’t necessarily need an answer to everything, and we need to tap into the collective brain to find the best answers. I encourage people to disagree, debate things with me, and realize when my opinion is wrong. The richness of insights comes out in this debate and discussion. This motivates people as they see their points of view, ideas, and suggestions are essential and equally valid to mine. This can’t happen if you believe in your hype and think you are better than you are. You need to stay grounded.

What has been your most career-defining moment that you are proud of?

The career-defining moment that I am most proud of is when others start saying we are an expert. The reality is that in the world, anyone can claim anything. It’s only when others say you are that expert that you truly are, and you know you have truly arrived. I’m proud that our team has been recognized with many awards, but I also consider these to be more of a team award than mine alone.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

The advent of AI will make the next five years exciting. I love technology, and I think that we are on the cusp of moving from a reactive Customer Experience to a truly proactive experience. I will continue to have opinions on things that may not be fashionable or in line with whatever everybody else says in the industry.

If you could give any advice to someone striving to be a CX Leader, what would it be?

Only take a role in CX if you think the organization is truly committed to taking the necessary actions. Focus on producing ROI, and when you do, make sure everyone knows. Watch what Customers do, not what they say they will do. Don’t just look at the things that are going wrong; look at enhancing the Customer’s experience as well.

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