How to Respond to Customer Outrage with CEO David Ewing

Responding to Customer Outrage with CEO David Ewing

In this week’s episode of the Leadership Habit Podcast, Jenn DeWall talks to David G. Ewing about how to respond to customer outrage. In today’s challenging business environment, customers are more demanding than ever. When it comes to customer service, it can feel like it’s Us vs. Them. Join us for an important discussion of how to approach customer service to turn customer outrage into customer loyalty!

Meet David G. Ewing, CEO of Motiv

David G. Ewing is the innovative CEO of Motiv. He has revolutionized the realm of customer service since 1998. With a keen understanding that altering customer attitudes drives ideal behaviors, David has transformed this insight into substantial revenue growth for over 500 clients. A Harvard cum laude graduate in Engineering, his leadership acumen has not only propelled Motiv to the Inc 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing companies but has also generated millions in additional revenue for their clients. 

Beyond his professional prowess, David’s leadership extends to the community as the president of The Entrepreneur’s Association, Austin Texas Chapter, where he’s committed to unlocking every entrepreneur’s potential. Outside the boardroom, David is the proud coach of his son’s robotics team and cherishes his 19-year marriage, considering it his crowning achievement.

What is the Real Challenge with Customer Service Today? 

As the episode opens, Jenn DeWall introduces David Ewing to the audience, and they dive right into discussing the challenges of customer service in today’s competitive business environment. Jenn notes that David has more than 20 years of experience in the realm of customer experiences and asks for his thoughts on what has (or hasn’t) changed since he began. 

David explains that people try to reduce customer service experiences down to numbers, units or anything other than an emotional connection. That’s where it goes wrong. Customer service is all about emotions. Excellent customer service is truly about making an emotional connection, it’s about creating a human experience. 

David gives an example of the pet products delivery service, He had learned from someone that when their dog passed away, they stopped ordering dog food from Chewy. Chewy then figured out that the dog had passed away and sent flowers and condolences to that customer. He notes that this was probably deduced by an algorithm or AI, but Chewy used that data to show empathy and compassion. By doing so, that customer will always be loyal, and when they tell their story, they become an ambassador for the brand as well. 

Customer Support in the Age of Outrage

Jenn then brings up a recent article in the Harvard Business Review about Managing in the Age of Outrage. The article points out that many people are feeling uncertain about the future, unable to prosper financially, and socially divided in a number of ways. She notes her own feelings of being just a number to most businesses. For example, we’ve all been left frustrated by automated phone trees and trying to get help from chatbots. 

Meanwhile, customer service representatives often face angry or impatient customers, verbal abuse and difficult working environments. With customers feeling neglected and representatives feeling abused, how do we overcome the outrage to create a great experience? 

The Passion Paradox

David replies, “Here’s the beautiful thing about the outrage moment, is that it is a, uh, the what’s called the passion paradox, right? Because the love and hatred of, uh, of a situation is really just, it’s just at one end of what I would consider extreme emotion as opposed to the other end, which is apathy. 

There are so many things in life that we’re apathetic about, but when you go find people who are outraged about something, what you find is that they really care. And every time you’ve got somebody in a situation where they really care, you’ve got an opportunity to swing that outrage into absolute adoration.” 

He gives some examples of making something unpleasant into something beautiful and explains that with sensitivity and creativity, you can change an angry customer into a loyal customer. 

You Can Get a Customer– But Can You Keep Them?

Later in the episode, Jenn and David discuss the importance of creating lifetime customers to increase the value and sustainability of your business. David explains that leaders must put the right systems in place to set their employees up for success. He has 2 suggestions for leaders struggling with customer retention. 

First, every business owner needs to implement a system for tracking customer problems and bad experiences. Once you have that data, you can get to the root cause and prevent issues going forward. Jenn notes that one of the most demotivating things for customer service workers is having to solve the same problem over and over without being able to prevent it from happening. 

The “Dim Sum Budget”

Second, David suggests giving your team a “Dim Sum Budget.”  He shares a story, “No matter how strategic you are about stomping out problems, you’re gonna have new ones, right? You’re gonna be innovating, you’re gonna be creating new things, new offerings, new services, and sooner or later, you’re gonna disappoint customers. 

So what do you do at the moment of disappointing customers? That is where you really have to make sure that you’ve got a playbook for your team. The team has to have an understanding of what they need to do. I’ll give you an example that inspired us at Motiv. We were at a dim sum restaurant, and we were watching the dim sum carts go around, right? So at a dim sum restaurant, you know, they just come around with carts, and you decide, you just pick and choose which ones you want. 

Well, we noticed that occasionally people were dissatisfied with either their service or what happened or whatever the problem was. And each dim sum cart operator had a little coin box where they could essentially give you free stuff. By giving you the food, and then moving one of their coins from one coin box to the other so that they had like a little budget for the amount of free food they could give just to smooth over kind of any problems with delivery. It was a great simple little system. It’s just the dim sum budget.” 

He explains that they took that idea back to his company and empowered their consulting team with a budget and the authority to fix customer issues in the field without consulting anyone first. This way, they have their “dim sum budget”, and they can smooth over problems right on the spot. 

When Can You Dump the Customer? 

Later in the episode, Jenn asks David to discuss a difficult challenge: knowing when to dump the customer. She brings up the unpleasant truth that sometimes the customer is not only wrong– they are a jerk about it. She shares an example of someone she knows who is struggling with a client who brings in a lot of business but is incredibly rude and disrespectful to the staff. Now the company is facing losing some valuable employees because they don’t want to deal with this client’s behavior anymore. She asks David how to know when it’s time to fire your customer to keep your talent. 

David replies, “That’s a great question. It is an absolute gut-check moment for the leadership team. And I can tell you that more than once, we have sat around our table and we have uttered this one line that comes from Ben Horowitz’s book, the Hard Thing About Hard Things. And that is: ‘Take care of your people, take care of your customers, and take care of your profits– in that order’. 

That is the north star at Motiv. Take care of your people, take care of your customers, and take care of your profits in that order. And that does mean that your people come first.” 

He shares a personal story about how he learned that lesson the hard way and lost some very talented people on his team by not getting it right. He now pays closer attention to similar situations and reminds the audience that if it is a top client, it is the leadership’s responsibility to handle the problem. Bottom line– difficult resolutions come from the top, or they just don’t happen. 

Final Thoughts

As the episode wraps up, Jenn asks David Ewing for his final thoughts. He shares that the number one thing for leaders and customer service teams to remember is the importance of self-forgiveness. Everyone is trying to innovate, to do something new, to provide a great experience. Sometimes things go wrong. Don’t give up. You can fail a hundred times, and no one will remember once you get it right!

How to Connect with David G. Ewing

Thanks as always for listening to The Leadership Habit! Be sure to listen to the whole episode to learn more!