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November 23, 2022 | 25 Mins Read

5 Elements of Exceptional CX

November 23, 2022 | 25 Mins Read

5 Elements of Exceptional CX


Elizabeth Dixon, who previously led Strategy, Hospitality, and Service Design at Chic-fil-A Corporate and recently authored the book The Power of Customer Experience: Five Elements to Make an Impact, joins Sarah to talk about what exactly it is about those companies who are known for their standout customer service.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. Welcome to the Future, of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today we're going to be talking about five elements of exceptional customer experience. We know customer experience and customer satisfaction are top of mind for every service organization. And I'm excited to be joined today by Elizabeth Dixon. Elizabeth spent 20 years in leadership at Chick-fil-A and is now the executive director of the Trilith Foundation. She's also recently published a book and I found her doing one of her keynote speeches at the Service Council Symposium in Chicago in September. Elizabeth, welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast.

Elizabeth Dixon: Thank you. I'm so glad to be here, Sarah. Thanks for having me.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. I'm excited to have you. So before we get into some of the elements of customer experience, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, your background, your journey, anything you would like to share.

Elizabeth Dixon: Well, I'd love to. My favorite things in life to talk about and the people to spend time with are my best friend and husband, John. And then we have two little kiddos, seven and nine. And so they are so much fun and full of life and energy and so that takes a lot of our time and our hearts right now. And then when it comes to me and my gifts and what I love to do, I love to create new value. So a lot of times that's entrepreneurship. It's creating unique businesses and then a lot of times it's been intrapreneurship, it's creating new things, it's refining processes within broader organizations.

And so I love doing anything that's going to impact people's lives and make a difference. And like you said, I got to be at Chick-fil-A for about 20 years and then just a few months ago, our chairman, Dan Cathy called and said, Hey, I want you to come and work for me on some new projects. So it's been an absolute blast to use those gifts of creating new value and doing it in a totally different context in a creative and film industry. So it's been a total blast.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, very cool. And I think that creating new value is a really good way to frame what service organizations need to be thinking about today. So when we think about the customer experience, we often think about expectations we need to live up to, but we really should reframe that to thinking about new ways to create value and look at it as an exciting opportunity instead of something that everyone is tasked with. So you were the principal lead for strategy, hospitality, and service design at Chick-fil-A. And I'm sure in that role you had a lot of experience, like you said, creating not only new value but refining things that were existing within the business and always looking for ways to do better. You're passionate enough about customer experience that you wrote your book, which is titled The Power of Customer Experience: Five Elements to Make an Impact. I'm curious, what inspired you to write the book?

Elizabeth Dixon: So, I had a lot of great resources. I was surrounded by incredible mentors. There are incredible books to read when you're thinking about the actual design and the strategy behind customer experience. But one thing that I found there was a need for was being able to have a book for the frontline employees, not necessarily just knowing what to do because that can change based on the industry, but truly understanding the impact that they could make, that there was purpose and a paycheck within their job.

And I found that when brands were able to make sure that the frontline employee understood that there was meaning in the moments that they were creating, that they actually had the power to cause customers to love or hate a brand, those were the companies that won. And I thought, man, what if we could have a resource that would help the frontline employee make that connection for themselves and then ultimately help the brand do well? Because you can design a great customer experience, but if it's not brought to life on the front lines the way that it needs to be, nobody wins. So that was the hard part of it was like, what if we could do that? And what if we could help the front lines recognize the impact that they could have? Not only would brands win, not only would they win because they would be more fulfilled within their jobs, but also the customers would win and we'd be able to have a culture that's a whole lot nicer.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, I love that. And that was one of my favorite things about your presentation in Chicago was really reinforcing that message that whether you are working for an organization that changes people's lives or whether you are a leader in a different type of business or whether you are a frontline employee, we all have the power as human beings and individuals to make a difference and make an impact on people. And I think that's a really good message to reinforce. I know for myself, when I was in grad school, I had plans or intentions to get into non-profit work. That was kind of what I saw myself doing. And then life took me in a bit of a different direction and for a while I had to reconcile this feeling of if I went into the corporate world, I was missing that opportunity to do something philanthropic or to have make a difference in that way.

And then I realized, no, first of all, your career doesn't define all of you. It's a part of you. Secondly, so I do volunteer work on the side, so that's one way I can kind of scratch that itch. But what I've also learned over time is I have an opportunity every single day to make a positive impact on people's lives. Whether that's colleagues, customers, people in the industry, we all have that power no matter what our role or title or industry is. And so I really, really loved that message. So thank you. All right, so I don't want to spend too much time on the five elements because I want people to go ahead and find you and find the book and read the book. But if you can just run through them for us at a high level just so people kind of understand the things that you're touching on in the book.

Elizabeth Dixon: Absolutely. So there are five really principles and each of them have a definition and stories and application for how they show up. But these are the five. The first one is to choose your mindset. The mindset above all things is where we have to start because our mindset determines what we get. The second is to create our culture. The customer experience is simply an overflow of the employee experience. So we have to focus on what is the employee culture that is going to then overflow onto the customers. The third is we have to know our customer. We have to know so much about them, what they want, what they value, what they want next, what role we play in their lives in order to bring those experiences to life. The fourth one, we have to define our differentiator. What's going to set us apart as an industry, as a business, as an organization?

And then we have to make sure that we are staying fresh and on the cutting edge of how that's going to evolve into the fifth principle, which is to pursue innovation. So the book is really written for that frontline employee, for these five elements to come to life. And actually I'm working right now on the sequel that compare with it that will be for the leader around how do you truly accelerate your customer experience in the seat that you hold as the leader? And when you pair those together, when that leader is looking into the future, there's a great quote. "When your memories exceed your dreams, the end is near."

We have to constantly be thinking about what's next and not let our memories exceeding our dreams for what's next. When the leader is thinking about how to accelerate and grow and become better so that you can become bigger and have the frontline employee recognizing the role they play and how their mindset, the way they impact culture, the way they understand the customer, that they bring to life that differentiation and then the way that they're pursuing innovation on the front lines is critically important for us to be successful and win in the customer experience space.

Sarah Nicastro: I love that. And it definitely takes both sides. I think that there's sort of a transformation going on in leadership and in company culture that is really a recognition of the need to be less possessive and more collaborative. I mean, there's kind of like this old school leadership mentality where it's a lot of taking credit for success and just a very individualistic type of role. And I think that's really changing because there's a recognition that there's so much knowledge and capability within the entire organization that needs to be harnessed. So there was a number of points you made during your presentation or of anecdotes and stories you shared that really struck me. And this is where for me, I've been doing what I do for quite a long time and I've been at conferences like the one we were at so many times. And there are obviously themes that are consistent.

So customer experience is a theme that someone's always talking about, right? Because we know it's important. So to me, it's often the stories that stand out because that's what makes a presentation like yours unique and memorable. Okay. So the first thing is the point you made that I just think is such an important point to park on for a moment, which is the fact that companies need to remember that their customer experience is the overflow of their employee experience. So let's talk a little bit about this and how you sort identified that fact in your own work in your career.

Elizabeth Dixon: The first part that really caught my attention, it was actually Horst Schulze, the founder of the Ritz Carlton, I was very blessed to be mentored by him consistently for a year. And I admire and respect him and his wife Sherry so much, and they've remained friends. But during that mentorship, there was a season where I was talking to him about leading and lagging indicators, pre and post kind of indicators around customer experience. And one of the things that I love about him, and he has an incredible book, Excellence Wins. He has this ability to take very complex, sometimes overwhelming elements and make them very, very simple. And it was in a conversation we were having where I said, all right, well Horst, what is it that I need to look at that's going to be a measure that I'm going to see drop before our customer experience is going to drop?

Because nobody wants to get to where the customer experience measures are dropping because you've lost it. It's too late. It's really hard to pull it back, especially when you're a really big organization. And we've seen those organizations that whether it was a leadership change, whether they got to the top and were number one and were exhausted by that, and they kind of pulled back a bit. When their experience started to drop, a competitor swooped right in and took over. I said, so what is it? What is that leading indicator I should look at? And he said, "It's the happiness of your people.  Simply."

And this light bulb went on for me of whoa. So often we talk about the lag, we talk about that thing that actually is just that overflow because you're doing something else really well. And that's not to say that we don't have to be prescriptive and detailed and super intentional about the design of the customer experience. We do.

But if we're only doing that, we'll never get to where we want to be because all of that is the overflow of healthy, happy, contented employees who are in a great working environment. So that was the moment where it was a light bulb for me of, man, we spend so much time talking about this, but if we're not focusing on the cultural elements of what's happening in our organization, those are the leading indicators that when we start to see scores going down that I'm not satisfied in my job. I don't feel cared about by my boss. I don't feel like I'm able to bring my whole self to work. I don't see that I'm able to accomplish my purpose in life here in my job.

And some people might be listening and they're like, oh, all that sounds so fluffy. But to the individual, it's not. They will be fully harnessed when they're able to bring their full self to work and they wake up to go fulfill a purpose. People don't jump out of bed just for a paycheck, they jump out of bed because there's a purpose, there's a clear path for growth and development. And they got to be paid too. So those were the light bulb moments for me of these are the leading indicators. And if we don't obsess about the leading indicators, we're never going to have the lagging scores that we talk about and want and will ultimately help us get to where we want to be as an organization.

Sarah Nicastro: So, here's interesting about this to me, and I think you'll find this interesting too, how it relates to the audience of this podcast. So, Ritz Carlton is known for exceptional customer experience, Chick-Fil-A as well, to be honest, I mean that's one of the reasons people love Chick-fil-A. My pleasure. That pleasant, good vibes you leave with when you go through the drive through. So those are both though customer service centric industries, so consumer-centric industries. And so when you compare that with some of the other types of organizations that would be listening to this podcast that are in sort of traditional field service industries.

So whether that's commercial service or even residential service, but you would think of a appliance repair person or a home security installation or utilities, whatever that is, they are often organizations that traditionally haven't had that expectation of really focusing on customer experience. So what I've recognized in my we'll say 15 years in this space is when I first started in this career, every conversation you had with a field service organization was around driving cost reduction because that was the focus. Field service was seen as a cost center. So it was all about just maximize efficiency, productivity.

Then the world of consumer experience including brands like Ritz Carlton, Chick-Fil-A, but also things like Amazon and Uber. All of these different things that have happened in our personal lives over the last 15, 20 years started to creep into the expectations customers have of all types of service organizations, even those that traditionally haven't really been that customer-centric, customer experience type situation. So what I think is that, or what I've seen, is that companies recognized now we see field service as a potential profit center if we focus more on the customer experience, we look at how to create more value and not just have a break fix transaction, et cetera.

But I think many of them became so hyper focused on the customer experience that they never really connected that dot of the employee experience. So I think right now the industry as a whole is sort of taking a step back because that recognition is coming into play of wait, we can't really accomplish this customer experience, customer satisfaction objective we have without considering the experience and the emotional engagement of the frontline workers that we ultimately rely on to deliver whatever brand promise we are trying to create.

And so where that acknowledgement in a company like Ritz Carlton came a long time ago, I think in field service it's really just begun. So companies are having to dig back in and reflect on how do we evolve our culture, our leadership style, our processes, our technology use, our soft skill building, our training and development, our career path-ing so that our employees are happy and bought into the mission that we are trying to achieve. So it's really interesting that point you're making that you were helped to recognize by your mentor I think is a point that in our space a lot of people are just coming to and kind of thinking, oh shit, okay, if we need to accomplish this, we really need to look at what is happening inside because we can't just force it. What are your thoughts on that?

Elizabeth Dixon: I think it's exciting. I think it's exciting because what it comes down to is humans and people treating each other well. And when we do, we love it. We talk about it to other people. I had some furniture cleaned. That's not an industry that you're like, when I get my furniture cleaned, I just feel like I'm treated like a queen. No, I mean, it's like ugh. People are having to come clean something that you didn't want to have had happened, whether that's a child sculpting something or a dog doing whatever. And so I had these chairs cleaned and this young man, Joel was amazing.

He was so thoughtful, he answered all my questions. He was very courteous for how he was going to bring the equipment into the house. I remember it. And you know what I did? I sent the link to a bunch of my girlfriends of, "Hey, if y'all need to get anything cleaned anytime soon, this company is amazing. Why is this company amazing? Yes, they got the stains out of my furniture. But Joel. Joel's the reason that it's amazing for me." And when we can have consistent Joel like experiences, and we can do that in industries that aren't expecting it, that is ripe opportunity. I mean, think about gas stations. Sarah, have you been to a Buckee's yet?

Sarah Nicastro: No.

Elizabeth Dixon: You got to go. I'm telling you. When you think about a road trip and you think about driving down the interstate, inevitably someone in the car at some point is going to have to use the restroom. And the last place that you probably want to stop is your typical gas station. I mean, I remember one time, I'm not even going to go there. You just don't want to stop. And so Buckee's heard that, and they've been around for a few decades, but have really recently super intentionally focused on the biggest pain points. You pull up to these. I mean these are plazas, they're like the shopping center of gas stations. They have so many pumps for you to pull up. They've said they wanted to design it so that everybody felt safe, which isn't always the feeling I have at a gas station, but I was in one a few months ago and I'm telling you these bathrooms are pristine.

They have staff that are constantly making sure the bathrooms are clean. They have art, like art for sale on the walls. I walked into one of the restrooms and there were two ladies that was in good old South Georgia and they're like, honey, I think that would look perfect in your baby's nursery. You should buy that. And I'm like, who buys art in a restroom of a gas station? At Buckee's, you do. And you walk out and they're like, "Bruce, get on the block." And they're chopping up fresh meat. Who would've thought when you can do something around the experience that causes people to be surprised and you're in an industry where people aren't expecting it, that is go time. That is so exciting because you can disrupt it. You can set the standard, you can be the standard for what it can be.

So when I hear you say that, I personally get really excited because it means that, one of the companies listening is going to go game on. We're going to accelerate this. We're going to win at this. And when you do, you get to be the Amazon, you get to be that name that people associate with being the best. And then once you are, you just got to keep pursuing innovation in a way to know what your customer wants next, just like Jeff Bezos has done to go got to stay scrappy, stay at that front lines of what's next and how can we deliver it more effectively than anybody else.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Now another point you made that I really liked is you were talking about differentiation and you made the point that if it isn't consistent, it isn't a differentiator. So do you have any advice for people on how to land on what is their opportunity for differentiation, but also something that they can achieve consistently?

Elizabeth Dixon: Yeah, absolutely. A lot of times I think the things that our organizations are really unique at or really good at, we can start to take for granted because we've either focused on it for a long time or it's come so naturally to us. I think we can do that sometimes as individuals too. The natural gifts that we have, we can kind of take them for granted a little bit, like I thought everyone could do that. So I think the first question to help is what is it that we uniquely can do better than our competition? What are those levers that we have that others don't? For Chick-fil-A, it was back in 2008 and there was a massive recession happening and one of the unique strengths that we had was our people. And it was in that season that Truitt and Dan Cathy decided let's really emphasize that.

Let's use what we uniquely have better than our competition and let's find a way to elevate that. So what is it that you uniquely can do better than the competition? And then what is it that uniquely can do that's going to add more value than your competition can? So often you referenced this earlier, it's really natural to, in our organization, start thinking about how do we reduce costs? I think where it gets dangerous, that's good. Where it gets dangerous is when we start extracting value from what the customer is going to receive. When we start removing services, when we start removing the quality of the products that we're offering in order to reduce those costs. Because ultimately we're extracting value from the customer. The more we can think about how do we be more efficient, more streamlined, how do we reduce costs by making things easier on the back end so that we can add more value to the customer. When we're thinking about how do we add value, and I don't necessarily mean it has to come at a cost.

When you think about some of the simple things that some brands do. At Nordstrom, they might walk around the counter to hand you your bag. At Chick-fil-A, they say “My pleasure.” That doesn't have to cost a lot to add more value, but there can be behaviors that are going to add value that your competition isn't as uniquely positioned to be able to do it. So those are the first two questions. And then the last would be around the moment, how do we define the moments that are creating our experiences? And in the book I outlined three major types of moments that I think are important to unpack. The first is signature moments. It's like the Nordstrom or the Chick-fil-A example. It's kind of like your signature of your company. It's unique to you. Everybody consistently does it, but it doesn't have to cost more.

The second are surprise moments, the ones that just catch people by surprise. And there's some fun examples in the book. And the last is solvable. When something happens, something goes wrong, whether you caused it or you didn't cause it, you just inherited the problem, what do you do with that? And a lot of individuals don't want to step into a problem with a person, but the great brands are going to be the ones that say, oh, I see your problem and I'm going to come alongside you, and I want to help you solve that. So what is it you uniquely can do? What is it you uniquely can do that's going to add value compared to your competitors? And then how do you break down those moments of signature surprise and solvable to be able to add that value to your customers?

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, I love that. So this next question, it might be maybe unfair way for me to ask for a little sneak peek into the next book, but you talked in your presentation about expanding curiosity. And so I think this is really important and I guess I sort of pair curiosity with creativity. And so if you think about some of the evolution within the folks that listen to this podcast, there are organizations that I spoke of, I think there hasn't been a lot of room traditionally for curiosity and creativity. It's just kind of been here's what we do, here's the process, follow it, be efficient, boom, we're done, right? And now we're entering this era of more creative thinking around how do we create more value? How do we evolve our value proposition? How do we change maybe how our brand is perceived or what our identity is, et cetera?

And so I know you said that the book we're discussing is more geared toward the frontline employee. I personally think that the frontline employees have plenty of creativity and curiosity. I just think they've stifled a lot of it because it hasn't been accepted or nurtured by leadership. So my question is, how do leaders within these organizations foster the ability to welcome more curiosity from their frontline employees?

Elizabeth Dixon: It's so good because when we can unlock that, it's unlimited potential for the future. And I think you're exactly right. I think it's very natural that creativity gets stifled. Number one, it gets stifled from when we're children and we're taught to color inside the lines and do it this way and sit and learn, et cetera. When we're young, the most curious person is a four year old girl asks the most questions imaginable. And I have a seven year old and sometimes my husband and I are like, seriously? Could there be more questions? But if we can lean into it and recognize that those individuals who are naturally curious help us be more curious. And here's the thing about curiosity and creativity, which is so exciting, is that creativity is the ability to understand what is. Acknowledge it, recognize it, and also to anticipate what could be and merge those things together to get to a meaningful result.

And I think when we are overwhelmed, when we are stressed, when we are at capacity, it's really hard just to accept and understand what is. And I think what can happen in a lot of our organizations, and I don't think it's intentional, is that we feel overloaded. And when Curious Carl comes along with, I've got an idea, we want to shut that thing down because we see it as a threat. We don't see it as an opportunity. We see it as a threat to the status quo. We see it as a threat to our full plates. What else? How can I handle something else? But what's amazing is that the frontline employees typically are going to be the ones who come up with the very best solutions and they can anticipate the problems faster than anybody else. Why? Because they're dealing with it. And they're the ones who are thinking you know how we could do this better?

And so if we can go ahead and in that moment when someone comes along and says, "I have an idea," and we want to be like, shut it down, the best thing as leaders we can do is to just say, tell me about it. Open up the space. Give enough oxygen in the room for people to share the ideas that they have. We don't have to act on it, but let's at least be able to talk about it. And once we can talk about it, if we can then move to the place where we can actually have a system and a process for collecting pain points and solutions and making those connections better, and finding those people who are great at identifying the pain points and finding the solutions and put them in positions to be able to do that more often, then that's the next level.

And then the third level is where we can overtly celebrate curiosity, where we can overtly celebrate finding problems that need solutions and where we can take risk. And risk means we're not going to nail it every time. We're going to fail. And being able to celebrate actually pursuing those risks, knowing that sometimes this is what is important. Sometimes what we thought could be the solution for a problem, it's not going to end up being the solution, but it could spawn 10 other ideas that could be game changing within our industry. So there has to be enough room and it starts with us at least just responding with tell me about it, instead of trying to shut curiosity down and push away an idea that ultimately could change our industry.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, I love that. Okay, so I mentioned at the beginning that one of the things that I really appreciated about your presentation is the reminder that we all have the power to make positive impact and leave an impression on people's hearts and make a difference. You shared a story about Jim and that was kind of what hit that message home for me. And I'm just hoping we could leave the audience with that gift of that perspective as well. So if you don't mind sharing that story, I would love it.

Elizabeth Dixon: I'd love to. So this story is a great applause to Starbucks. And I heard this story from the former president of Starbucks, Howard Behar, and it's a story about Jim. So Jim visited his local Starbucks daily. He went literally every afternoon and he ordered the same thing each time. It was a blueberry muffin and a coffee. And eventually the team at Starbucks, the baristas, they all got to know Jim and he'd come in the door and he would be greeted enthusiastically. And they even went out of their way to start writing notes on his coffee cup and on his muffin bag. And sometimes the muffins would go faster and they would set aside a blueberry muffin for him because they wanted to make sure when he came each afternoon that he would get his drip coffee and his muffin. And he lived across the street.

And so he would come over from the nursing home where he lived, and one day he didn't come in and they were perplexed like, where's Jim? It's afternoon, like he's supposed to be here. And so they said, "Hey, when it slows down a bit, let's go take his blueberry muffin and drip coffee over to him." And so a few of the team went over and they walked in and they said, "Hey, we're here to bring Jim his coffee and muffin." And they shared that with the receptionist. And the receptionist looked up and she had a tear streaming down her face and she said, "Jim died last night." And the team was like, what? They went back and poured out the coffee and threw away the muffin. And they were also disappointed because Jim had created a special culture within that team because of who he was.

We all have that space where we get to show up and make a difference in people's lives. And Jim did that for the team and they were bummed, like they lost Jim. And the next day, Jim's daughter came into Starbucks and she said, "Hey, I want to introduce myself. My dad came in here a lot in the afternoons." And they're like, "Jim, you're Jim's daughter." And she said, "Yeah." She said, "We're having a time for my dad, a funeral for my dad tomorrow. I'd really love it if you guys could come." And the manager figured out a way to organize the schedule so that that team in the afternoon could all go and honor Jim's life. And what's amazing is as much impact as Jim had on that team, they had no idea that when they walked into that funeral, there were three large round tables, like those large round tables that you sit at a banquet with eight or 10 other people.

And those three large round tables were filled with every bag and every cup that they'd written a note to Jim on. They had no idea that his afternoon time in gave him so much life because he got to interact with them and he knew how much they cared about him. And what's so powerful about making an impact on people's lives is its synergistic. And when we get to pour into somebody else, whether it's just a smile and I hope you have a great day, whether it's taking a moment to help somebody out, they feel better and we feel better. And it all starts to cycle around. And I think out of all the things going on in our country and our world, I think we could use a little bit more of that with each other where we just take the time to say, "Hey, you know what? You matter and I want to make sure that you know that by the way that I treat you today." And we get to do that in our jobs and it gets to make a really big difference in people's lives.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, I love that story and I think it's such a good reminder to us as individuals that the things we maybe do without thinking much of it can mean so much to someone else. And also it's a good reminder for leaders of looking for ways to empower your employees and give them the space to be themselves and make those connections because those are the things that make such a huge impact. So I love that story. Thank you for sharing it. I know we are out of time. Last question is just where can folks find the book?

Elizabeth Dixon: Oh, Amazon, the Power of Customer Experience right off Amazon. You can get the ebook version or hard back or soft back. And then on my website,, there's a great video series that you can do with your teams to create a book club experience. There's a user guide and then seven videos that you can do to set up conversation. So everyone can read the book and then have seven segments where you have conversation. That's where the real power comes, is when you can start taking these principles and ideating together, what could this look like for us? What does our mindsets need to be? Where are our opportunities to improve our culture, et cetera, et cetera. So those can be found on the website,

Sarah Nicastro: Awesome. Everyone check it out. Elizabeth, thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it.

Elizabeth Dixon: Thanks for having me, Sarah.

Sarah Nicastro: You can learn more by visiting us at You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter at the Future of FS. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at As always, thank you for listening.