An Interview with Donna Cutting — The Celebrity Experience

I am looking forward to Donna Cutting’s webinar on Thursday, September 14, at 2pm EDT: “Rolling Out the Red Carpet — Creating an Intentional Student and Customer Experience.”

Donna will share her expertise on customer service and how it applies to your school. I believe that every should leader should read her books and learn from this webinar.

If you haven’t registered yet, there is still time for you. In addition, the webinar will also be recorded for those that register.

In anticipation of Donna’s webinar, I recently asked her some questions for this blog post. I know that her responses and insights will get you excited about her presentation and applying the celebrity experience in your school.

Tell us about yourself and how you became an expert in customer service.

Several years ago I was working in a senior living community and was involved in improving our employee engagement and retention.  We were successful in our efforts, and I started to speak about it outside of work. My first speech topic was “Bring Joy to Your Job!” (Gosh, that was so many years ago.)

Before long, I was speaking full time and my expertise began to evolve. Customer service and employee engagement go hand-in-hand, after all. I spent several years keynoting at conferences and in 2006 or so, I had the idea for my first book, The Celebrity Experience: Insiders Secrets to Delivering Red Carpet Customer Service. “What if we treated customers as if they were stars?”  I did a lot of work and research with companies that served celebrities and those who served their customers like celebrities! That book was published in 2008 and that’s when Red-Carpet Learning Systems was born.

What is Red Carpet Learning Systems?

So glad you asked! We are a team of experts who work with organizational leaders many different fields to help organizational leaders engage their teams to improve the customer experience.

What motivated you to launch Red Carpet Learning Systems?

For many years, I was strictly a professional speaker. After The Celebrity Experience was released, people called my office wanting more. They had questions about training and implementation of the concepts presented in the book.

I started Red-Carpet Learning Systems because of customer-demand. Thankfully, I have a team of experts I work with who can design curriculum, leadership training, supervisory training and more. In this way, we are able to help leaders create a culture of service.

We like to say we’re the one-stop-shop for Inspiration, Information and Implementation when it comes to customer experience.

In your first book, you discussed the Celebrity Experience. What is the Celebrity Experience?

To provide someone a Celebrity Experience means to treat him or her like a star. It doesn’t mean give them whatever they want whenever they want without consequences. (That would be the negative side of celebrity). Instead, it means to treat the person in front of you right now as if you really know their significance; in a way that makes them feel important and special.

Why is the celebrity experience important for school leaders, faculty and staff?

This is an interesting question, because there is so much debate about whether customer service belongs in education. Obviously, no school is Disney World, nor should it be. You are primarily there to educate and help your students become intelligent, contributing members of society. Of course, that means setting boundaries, saying no at times, and challenging your students and parents rather than always making them happy.

At the same time, there is a middle ground between “we’re not customer service” and “Disney World.” You can still focus on the intentional experience you create for students and their families. For instance, you can work on being more responsive. You can train your team on the importance of eye contact, smiles and friendly greetings. You can think about how you say something so that people still feel important and special, even as you are challenging them.

Why is this important? It’s important because families have louder voices and wider choices than ever before. Your online reviews have become critical to your success, and the loss of one family could mean the result of millions of dollars (in some cases) to your school.

In this case, every leader, faculty member and staff member has a critical role to play in enrollment and retention.

I always refer to the examples you gave in your book about High Point University. How did they develop a culture of “Wow” in their university?

The example of High Point University continues to be a favorite in both of my books. I asked their President Nido Qubein that very question and here’s what he said:

  • Create a vision for what you want the experience to be, in a way that is so specific there is nothing vague about it.
  • Create an experience that is congruent with that experience. This takes both strategy and tactics. (The welcome parking sign is one of the most repeated tactics by readers of my first book)
  • Interpret it for everyone involved. This means messaging throughout your organization, new hire orientation, training, etc.
  • Hire people whose gifts and values are in alignment with that vision.

You recently provided training for the team at Eastern Christian School. Can you share with us what you did for them?

We love Eastern Christian School! They actually are part of our Red Carpet Experience! They formed a book club around my latest book and generated many ideas to take their school experience to the next great level. I personally got to do a kick-off presentation for the group that’s focused on customer experience. They also licensed our red carpet customer service training and sent two of their wonderful staff to our Train-the-Trainer program in Asheville. This year, they will take all that they learned and implement it in their school with some additional support from us. Rudi Gesch, the Director of Marketing and Enrollment for EC, is truly enthusiastic about the possibilities and he is working with an amazing team of people, so I know whatever they do will be phenomenal!

On Thursday, September 14, you will be presenting a webinar for school leaders. Can you give us a preview of some of the content you will share?

Yes! I’m so excited about this, Rick! Your audience can expect to walk away with immediately implementable ideas for taking their student/family experience to the next great level. We’ll lay some groundwork by talking about the 3 levels of service and the 5 service behaviors, as well as some case studies.

Then I’ll make sure they leave with some ideas for taking their school tours to a red-carpet level, improving first and last impressions, and with a model they can share with their team for turning upset customers into raving fans!

Thanks Donna! I am looking forward to your webinar and I know that school leaders around the world are looking forward as well. Don’t forget to register for the webinar on Thursday, September 14, at 2pm EDT.