Bezos Letter Describes Amazon’s Customer-Centric Blueprint

In his recent letter to shareholders, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos provides insight into a truly customer-centric organization. The letter demonstrates how Amazon operates with a long-term view of customer value. Here are some of the most powerful components of the letter:

Proactively delighting customers earns trust, which earns more business from those customers, even in new business arenas. Take a long-term view, and the interests of customers and shareholders align.

I frequently quote famed investor Benjamin Graham in our employee all-hands meetings – “In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run, it is a weighing machine.” We don’t celebrate a 10% increase in the stock price like we celebrate excellent customer experience. We aren’t 10% smarter when that happens and conversely aren’t 10% dumber when the stock goes the other way. We want to be weighed, and we’re always working to build a heavier company.”

Bezos understands the value of Amazon’s most critical asset, customer loyalty, which I’ve defined as the willingness to consider, trust, and forgive. That focus is what put Amazon.com on the top of the retail sector in the 2013 Temkin Experience Ratings. Great leaders focus on building that customer loyalty asset with the knowledge that it will generate the best returns for all stakeholders in the long run.

Here are some other components of Bezos’ letter that I want to comment on…

As regular readers of this letter will know, our energy at Amazon comes from the desire to impress customers rather than the zeal to best competitors… One advantage – perhaps a somewhat subtle one – of a customer-driven focus is that it aids a certain type of proactivity. When we’re at our best, we don’t wait for external pressures. We are internally driven to improve our services, adding benefits and features, before we have to.”

My take: Too many companies overly focus on their competition, a process that leads to collective mediocrity. Great companies focus their energies, from learning to innovating, on three questions: who are our customers? what do they want and need? how can we provide them even more value?

We build automated systems that look for occasions when we’ve provided a customer experience that isn’t up to our standards, and those systems then proactively refund customers.

My take: This type of proactive approach is not only great for building trust with customers, but it also establishes pressure within Amazon to do the right thing all the time. It creates an environment where mistakes are proactively found, fixed, and prevented in the future.

Our business approach is to sell premium hardware at roughly breakeven prices. We want to make money when people use our devices – not when people buy our devices. We think this aligns us better with customers. For example, we don’t need our customers to be on the upgrade treadmill. We can be very happy to see people still using four-year-old Kindles!

My take: If you want to align your interests with your customers, then create pricing models where you only make money when customers gain value. This is an increasingly important concept as more products and services are connected online where usage and value can be more closely monitored.

As proud as I am of our progress and our inventions, I know that we will make mistakes along the way – some will be self-inflicted, some will be served up by smart and hard-working competitors. Our passion for pioneering will drive us to explore narrow passages, and, unavoidably, many will turn out to be blind alleys. But – with a bit of good fortune – there will also be a few that open up into broad avenues.”

My take: Every company makes mistakes, but companies that build loyalty with customers also earn their forgiveness. That’s why Amazon scores so high in the Temkin Forgiveness Ratings. It also allows employees to have the confidence to try new things.

The bottom line: Customer-centric organizations are purposefully built

GM’s New Formula: Quality + Customer Experience

This week General Motors announced that they were combining the leadership of the Product Quality and Customer Experience organizations into a single role, a first of its kind move for the auto industry. Alicia Boler-Davis will be GM’s Vice President for Global Quality and U.S. Customer Experience and her primary focus is on strengthening the experience in order to raise customer retention, which by GM’s calculation is worth $700 million for each percentage point increase. In addition to the merging of quality and customer experience, GM’s plan includes:

  • Dealership renovations so that the showroom enhances customer confidence and provides a strong first impression to car buyers
  • Support experts to handle the dealer and customer training required by the growing integration of technology into vehicles
  • A team to proactively handle social media monitoring and response
  • New programs to empower front-line sales and service personnel to resolve issues quickly

My take:  I applaud GM’s combination of quality and customer experience. In My Manifesto: Great Customer Experience is Free, I describe customer experience in terms of total quality.

Why does this combination make sense? Quality efforts tend to focus on removing waste and building more consistent processes, but they often lack the deep external perspective of customer needs and desires. The push for removing waste can also squeeze out some important design considerations and overly focus on short-term savings versus longer-term loyalty gains. Customer experience efforts can fill in those gaps and benefit from quality approaches for process redesign and control.

In the 2012 Temkin Experience Ratings, Chevrolet – the only GM brand in our ratings – lead the auto dealer segment and was the only one to receive a “good” customer experience rating. So the big auto maker has a solid base to work with. We’ll keep an eye on Boler-Davis’ progress.

The bottom line: Quality and CX are two great tastes that taste great together

Leadership Principles for Changing Corporate Culture

I just read a couple of articles about an important topic, corporate culture. The first one, The Rise of the Chief Culture Officer, describes how companies are appointing “Chief Culture Officers.” Here’s an interesting quote from one of those new execs, Maria Gendelman, from North Jersey Community Bank:

I’m there to make sure that every single piece of paper that we give to the customer all looks the same, that our processes are efficient and streamlined — all of those things touch culture.

The other article is an interview with John Taft, CEO of RBC Wealth Management. Here’s what Taft says about culture:

Culture is everything when it comes to responsible, long-term business success… A leader’s job is to discover, communicate and reinforce culture. If you don’t get culture right, nothing else matters.

My take: Company culture is an integral component of long-term success with customer experience. In our recent research The State of CX Management, 2012, we found that one of the most significant things that distinguishes companies that are CX leaders from their peers is a heightened focus on culture.

Executives may be able to mandate a few activities within a company, but corporate culture determines just about everything else in one way or another. Leadership guru Arthur Carmazzi does a great job of describing the value of corporate culture in this quote that I used in the post Management Imperative #1: Invest In Culture As A Corporate Asset:

“The ability to do more than expected does not come from influencing others to do something they are not committed to, but rather to nurture a culture that motivates and even excites individuals to do what is required for the benefit of all.”

I talk about the intersection of culture and CX as Customer-Centric DNA, defined as:

“A strong, shared set of beliefs that guides how customers are treated.”

Here are some principles that execs should keep in mind about changing their corporate culture and building customer-centric DNA:

  • People generally conform to their environment (see 6 Laws of Customer Experience: Employees do what is measured, incented, and celebrated). So pay very close attention to the environment that you are creating.
  • Culture is very slow to move, because it often outlasts the senior executive team. Make sure you only attack the portions of the culture that you are truly committed to changing.
  • The first step of changing corporate culture is to fully understand the existing culture. It is important to frame the change in terms of explicit contrasts between the current behaviors and the desired future behaviors.
  • It’s likely that many of your existing leaders are reinforcing the current culture, in ways that they probably don’t even recognize. So changing your corporate culture will likely require some management turnover. As Pablo Picasso once said: “Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.”
  • Any leader who wants to transform her organization needs to adopt the three characteristics of transformational leaders: Communicate “why,” model desired behaviors, and reinforce change.
  • Use the 6 C’s of customer-centric culture as levers for change: Clear beliefs, constant communications, collective celebrations, compelling stories, commitment to employees, and consistent tradeoffs.
  • Finally, I’m not a big fan of the Chief Culture Officer position. I’d like to see Chief People Officers (heads of HR) step up to the plate and integrate culture as a core component of their organization’s work. Without culture in mind, how effective can an HR organization be at recruiting, hiring, on-boarding, reviewing, compensating, training, promoting, and outplacing employees?!?

The bottom line: Are you focusing enough on your corporate culture?

CX Reading List For Executives

Here’s a short list of posts that I’d recommend sharing with executives that want to get up to speed on customer experience:

  1. The Four Customer Experience Core Competencies. The path to customer-centricity requires mastering these four competencies: Purposeful Leadership, Compelling Brand Values, Employee Engagement, and Customer Connectedness. The report also has a self-assessment tool that execs can use to gauge their organization.
  2. The 6 Laws Of Customer Experience. Every executive should understand these fundamental drivers of how organizations deliver customer experience.
  3. My Manifesto: Great Customer Experience Is Free. Provides a perspective of how to think about customer experience management.
  4. 10 CX Mistakes to Avoid. Highlights common mistakes that inhibit customer experience efforts and provides advice for overcoming these obstacles.
  5. The Future of Customer Experience. Shows where customer experience is heading and identifies competencies and skills necessary to gain CX maturity.
  6. The ROI of Customer Experience. Shows the link between good customer experience and higher loyalty and revenues.
  7. Three Characteristics Of Transformational Leaders. Identifies what leaders need to do if they want to drive change in their organizations.
  8. Lessons in CX Excellence. Provides details of the customer experience efforts of 11 organizations that were finalists in Temkin Group’s 2012 Customer Experience Excellence Awards.
  9. 50 CX Tips: Simple Ideas, Powerful Results. A list of ideas that can make a dramatic improvement in your organization’s customer experience.

If your execs show interest in customer experience, then sign them up for the monthly CX Journal so they can continue on their CX learning journey.

The bottom line: An informed executive is a critical CX asset.

CX Mistake #1: Faking Executive Commitment

In this series of posts, we examine some of the top mistakes companies make in their customer experience management efforts. This post examines mistake #1: Faking Executive Commitment. It’s very easy for an executive to say that he or she is committed to customer experience, but it takes much more than words to drive sustainable change across an organization.

Without a strong level of executive commitment, companies can exert significant energy towards customer experience only to eventually fail. As a result, organizations revert back to their original behaviors without any sustained customer experience improvements, leaving behind a trail of unfinished efforts and frustrated, disheartened employees.

One of our 6 Laws Of Customer Experience is: You can’t fake it. Employees figure out what’s really important to their leaders and will eventually see through any veneer of commitment. Executives demonstrate their real priorities in their decisions and actions, the priorities they set, the trade-offs they make, and the way that they chose to spend their time.

Most organizations have a strong tendency to resist change. Since improving customer experience often requires changes across an organization, executive commitment is required to overcome the innate inertia.

Leaders, as it turns out, fall into one of five levels of commitment:

  • Opposers don’t believe in customer experience. These executives generally won’t support customer experience efforts no matter what ROI data they see, but can become passives when they see strong support from their peers.
  • Passives don’t really care about customer experience. These executives are willing to become toe-dippers if they see strong support from their peers.
  • Toe-dippers are willing to offer some time and resources for customer experience. These executives will increase their participation and can even become supporters if they see strong business opportunities.
  • Supporters are willing to give their resources to customer experience efforts and encourage their peers to do the same because they inherently understand the business value of these efforts. They use ROI results to strengthen their discussions across the company.
  • Advocates fight any battle to make sure that customer experience efforts are funded. They generally understand the impact that customer experience has to the long-term competitiveness of the company without any project-based ROI data.

How can you gauge the actual commitment of your executive team? We’ve created a checklist of eight signs of executive commitment that help identify the actual commitment of an executive. Advocates demonstrate most of these items.

Here are some tips for avoiding this mistake:

  • Communicate the four CX competencies. It’s easy for companies to think that they can make superficial changes and wind up with great customer experience. But it takes much more effort than that. Customer experience leaders can make sure that their senior execs understand the breadth of efforts required to build a customer-centric culture by explaining the four CX competencies: Purposeful Leadership, Compelling Brand Values, Employee Engagement, and Customer Connectedness.
  • Always refer to the journey. Customer experience change does not come overnight, so companies need to be prepared to hold their focus for several years. To help maintain this focus, try and frame your current customer experience efforts as part of a longer-term journey.
  • Teach execs how to transform their orgs.Many times I find execs looking for advice on how to drive the charge, so here’s some to share. The leaders that are most effective at leading transformation demonstrate three key characteristics, they: 1) Communicate “why” (making sure their people understand the rationale for change), 2) model the desired behaviors (showing commitment in their actions), and 3) reinforce change (continuously looking for ways to overcome inertia).
  • Locate a committed leader. While it will take the CEO and his/her staff to drive organization-wide change, individual operating units inside of organization can become more customer-centric. Look for a business unit leader who is truly committed and start the customer experience efforts in his/her organization. Success in that group can help to get other executives on board.
  • Make the business case. Some execs may be committed based on their belief that customer experience is a critical component of their organization’s success.But they need to continuously make trade-offs and convince others to focus on customer experience. To help these execs stay on course, it’s very helpful to provide them with compelling business cases and anecdotes about how customer experience is generating positive business results.
  • Appeal to the needs of senior execs.To fully engage senior execs, make sure to find ways to tap into their emotional needs. How do you do this? By focussing on two common areas: Their desire to be loved by customers (share direct negative feedback from customers) and their desire for greatness (paint a picture of how your efforts will help them make the company, and their legacy, great).
  • Match ambition with commitment. If senior execs aren’t true advocates for customer experience, then don’t try and make significant changes. While initiatives may start out okay, they will likely stall when changes are required across multiple internal organizations. It’s important to realize that not every company can or should focus on customer experience transformation.

The bottom line: You just can’t fake real commitment

Timeless Advice About Chief Customer Officers

It seems like there’s been a pickup of interest in the title of “Chief Customer Officer.” I’ve “studied” this role for a while and have worked with dozens of these execs (they often have a different “title”). Here’s my advice for companies that are considering this role that I published in 2007 in the post: Chief Customer Officer: To Do, Or Not To Do?

There’s a question that I’ve heard a lot that seems to stir up some debate: Do firms need a Chief Customer Officer? Well, I’ve run into zealots on both sides of the argument.

Those who say “absolutely yes” are convinced that companies can’t change without a senior executive who “owns” customer relationships, someone who can bring senior executive visibility to all of a company’s  customer-facing efforts. The argument is compelling — customers are certainly important enough to deserve a dedicated executive.

Those that say “absolutely not” are convinced that companies can’t just fix the problem by creating a new executive position.  They believe that this ends up being a superficial move — like putting lipstick on a pig. The argument is compelling — people often call for a new executive whenever they don’t know what else to do.

It’s an interesting dilemna when both sides of an argument are compelling. My position on this question is equally dogmatic: Absolutely yes and absolutely no.

To understand my position, let’s start by shifting the questin a bit. Instead of asking whether or not you need a person with the specific title of “Chief Customer Officer” let’s ask whether or not you need an executive in charge of a concerted effort to improve customer experience across the enterprise. If a company is truly committed to improving their customer experience, then an executive in charge of that change process will be very important. That person (who may or may not be called “Chief Customer Officer”) can lead a host of efforts like the establishing customer experience metrics and developing of a voice of the customer program.

But this type of position only makes sense if the CEO is truly committed to a significant change and will hold the entire executive team (not just the new executive) accountable for results. If the plan is to make the new executive responsible for “owning” the customer experience, then don’t create this position — it will only provide a handy scapegoat for executives who don’t make the required changes in their organizations.

While we’re on the topic of leading customer experience change, I’ll also point to a post from 2008: Corporate Customer Experience Groups; To Do Or Not To Do? Here’s what I discussed in that post:

Transformation isn’t easy. There’s a very strong need for a centralized group when companies are in a transformational mode, making changes that cut across the entire organization. This type of effort can’t be done without centralized support and facilitation. But companies that invest in centralized groups before the organization is committed to the journey are likely to either 1) completely offload responsibility for customer experience to these groups; or 2) stifle these groups through internal politics. In either case, they are likely to fail.

While these groups are important in some phases, they should never “take over” customer experience activities. Instead, they should facilitate and support transformational activities across the organization. In my research, I defined the following 8 categories of activities that these centralized customer experience organizations work on:

  • Customer insight management. Develop and support a voice of the customer program.
  • Customer experience measurement. Create and track key customer experience metrics and related management dashboards.
  • Employee communications. Make sure that employees are informed and engaged in the efforts.
  • Process improvement. Help the organization map interactions from the customer’s point of view and then redesign broken processes.
  • Customer advocacy. Make sure that customers’ needs are taken into account in all key decisions.
  • Culture and training. Actively work on cultural change and identify training required along the way.
  • Issue resolution management. Establish and support the process for solving customer issues that get escalated.
  • Cross-organizational coordination. Support the cross-functional teams and processes that govern the customer experience efforts.

The bottom line: Chief Customer Officers can be valuable in the right enviornments

Customer Experience Reading List For Senior Execs

Our research shows that an increasing number of companies will focus on customer experience in 2012. So there will be a new cadre of senior executives beginning to learn about customer experience. As they gain interest, they’ll look for materials for getting up to speed. Here’s a short list of posts that I’d recommend sharing with these CX newcomers:

  1. The 6 Laws Of Customer Experience. Every executive should understand these fundamental drivers of how organizations deliver customer experience.
  2. The Four Customer Experience Core Competencies. The path to customer-centricity requires mastering these four competencies: Purposeful Leadership, Compelling Brand Values, Employee Engagement, and Customer Connectedness. The report also has a self-assessment tool that execs can use to gauge their organization.
  3. My Customer Experience Manifesto Continues. Provides a perspective of how to think about customer experience management.
  4. Customer Experience-Loyalty Connection. This report uses large-scale consumer research to show the link between customer experience and customer loyalty, good for understanding ROI.
  5. What If Customer Experience Has No ROI?. This is a three-part post that explains the connection between customer experience and business results.
  6. Customer Experience Affects Attitudes And Behaviors. Shows how customer experience links to business and brand strategy.
  7. Three Characteristics Of Transformational Leaders identifies what leaders need to do if they want to drive change in their organizations.
  8. Improve “Purposeful Leadership” In 2011. Gain a deeper understanding of the role that leadership plays in transforming customer experience.
  9. The 8 Signs Of Executive Commitment. Gauge the commitment level of the executive team with this simple diagnostic.
  10. The Customer Experience Checklist Manifesto. Use this checklist of eight items to make sure that investments will improve customer experience.
  11. 8 Customer Experience Trends For 2011. These trends give a good sense of where things are heading, but keep an eye out for an updated list of megatrends.

If you can get your senior executives to spend 60 minutes reading through this material, then they should have a much better understanding about what it takes to build a more customer-centric organization. If they show some interest, then sign them up for the monthly CX Journal so they can continue on their learning journey.

The bottom line: An informed senior executive is a critical CX asset.

IBM’s Success Highlights Four Questions For All Execs

In case you’ve missed it, IBM is a hot commodity; during 2011 its stock rose from $147/share to $184/share.

A lot of the credit has to go to Samuel J. Palmisano, who just stepped down as IBM’s CEO after nearly decade of leading the IT behemoth.

Mr. Palmisano led the company using a framework based on four questions. According to Palmisiano, these four questions were a way to focus thinking and prod the company beyond its comfort zone and to make I.B.M. pre-eminent again:

  1. Why would someone spend their money with you — so what is unique about you?
  2. Why would somebody work for you?
  3. Why would society allow you to operate in their defined geography — their country?
  4. And why would somebody invest their money with you?

Palmisiano used this approach to redefine IBM as a smaller, more profitable company by divesting businesses like PC and disk drives and acquiring PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting among others.

My take: I like Palmisano’s questions; they point to an overarching theme: Value creation. I find that too many executives forget to ask themselves and their people about how they really create value. Even if they had a good idea of the answers to Palmisiano’s questions at one point in time, the world changes and they need to continue to ask — and answer — those four questions.

But there’s another key component to this type of framework: honesty. It’s tempting to view the world through the eyes of optimisim, but this gets in the way of good decision making. That’s why I often refer to a key lesson that I learned from Jack Welch during my days at GE:

Deal with the world as it is, not how you’d like it to be

The bottom line: Be honest: how will your company create value in the future?

Leadership Thoughts From Colin Powell

A couple of weeks ago, I attended The Premier Business Leadership Series in Orlando which was hosted by SAS. It was a pretty interesting agenda. The first speaker was General Colin Powell, USA (Ret.). I’ve seen Powell speak in the past and once again really enjoyed listening to his remarks.

Powell shared his take on leadership: “Give followers missions and goals and make sure their individual missions are consistent with the overall mission.” He highlighted a number of attributes of good leaders:

  • Passion
  • Selflessness
  • Ethics
  • Character
  • Moral courage
  • Take care of the troops, give them what they need to succeed

Powell also discussed the importance of recognizing people who are doing a great job. He sends a lot of handwritten thank-you notes. But he also said that you need to be prepared to discipline people as well. If it’s not working, then you need to “move, retrain, or fire” the people.

Powell talked about how he updated the technology across the US State Department. He shared his realization that technology wasn’t enough; he needed to change what he called the “Brainware.” He had to persuade State Department employees to use the tools and the knowledge and stop doing things the way that they were doing them in the past.

I loved this quote from Powell: “If you want to win the battle, then you need to get inside of the decision cycle of your enemy.” He emphasized getting good data and developing contingency plans. His advice: If something doesn’t work, change it. If it works, then exploit it further.

Another quote I liked was this one that he attributed to President Ronald Reagan: “Hard work never hurt anyone, but why take a chance.” Powell shared other stories about President Reagan, who he clearly admired.

Powell was very upbeat about the US, which he described as “the nation of nations, inspirational to the rest of the world.” But Powell was not as favorable about the US government; he chastised congress for not being able to compromise. He explained that the founding fathers were deeply divided on how to handle slavery, but they put those differences aside and figured out how to draw up the constitution.

The bottom line: General Powell is a very wise person.

CX Mistake #8: Forgetting To Celebrate Success

In this series of posts, we examine some of the top mistakes companies make in their customer experience management efforts. This post examines mistake #8: Forgetting To Celebrate Success. Customer experience leaders spend so much energy focusing on what needs to be improved that they often forget to appreciate the progress that has already been made.

Customer experience transformation isn’t easy. Leaders of these efforts must push through ongoing resistance over several years to guide their organizations towards being customer-centric. So it’s only natural for them to keep looking ahead, trying to anticipate and avoid the next barrier. This non-stop forward charge can cause some problems because it:

  • Accelerates burn out. Pushing up against barriers and resistance can be very tiring, which is why many customer experience leaders don’t last beyond a few years. Even if they go longer, they are often tired and frustrated.
  • Distresses stakeholders. Executives get tired of hearing that their organizations have problems or that they aren’t changing fast enough. Sooner or later they tune out to the message.
  • Limits organizational change. Identifying problems can drive initial change, but organizations get tired of facing an uphill battle of improvements. People don’t get emotionally engaged until they feel good about their efforts.

Here are some tips for avoiding this mistake:

  • Institutionalize success-seeking. One of the items that should be regularly on your agenda is “signs of success” where you discuss what’s working well. By putting this on the agenda, people will get in the habit of looking for, and thinking about, the progress that they’ve made.
  • Acknowledge your organization’s great work. One of the 6 laws of customer experience is “people do what is measured, incented, and celebrated.” So make sure to celebrate! The wins in the organization don’t happen on accident. Make sure to recognize members of the customer experience team that are making a positive difference.
  • Regularly communicate success. The organization wants to know that it’s succeeding. So make sure to communicate the signs of success. But don’t oversell. People will start ignoring messages that don’t match what they’re seeing.
  • Thank the organization. Don’t just communicate the success, but widely thank people across the organization for their help. This will make employees more anxious to be a part of the effort, in the hopes that they will also get the recognition.
  • Create customer experience awards. If your organization has quarterly or annual awards, then some of those accolades should be channeled towards customer experience champions. The people inside of your company that are making a difference deserve an award!

The bottom line: Focus on the future, but don’t forget to celebrate the past

Customer Experience Lessons From Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is stepping down as CEO of Apple. That’s a big loss for Apple. Jobs transformed Apple from a niche computer maker to one of the most influential technology/consumer product companies on earth. Under his leadership, Apple developed iPods, iPads, iTunes, iPhones, Apple Stores, etc. That’s an incredible portfolio. Thank you Steve!

We can learn a lot about customer experience and design from Steve Jobs. Rather than write a bunch of things, I decided to pull together a collection of Jobs’ quotes. There’s a lot to learn from his words:

  • Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
  • Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.
  • You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.
  • That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains
  • When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can often times arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions.
  • And it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.

The bottom line: There’s always a market for simplicity, focus, and good design

Quick 6 With Ian Golding, Shop Direct Group

In this feature on the Customer Experience Matters blog, we ask 6 questions of different customer experience leaders.

  • Name: Ian Golding
  • Title: Head of Group Customer Experience
  • Company: Shop Direct Group (the UK’s 3rd largest online retailer)
  • Length of time on the job: 6 years
  • Previous position: Lean Six Sigma Deployment Leader

1. What do you most like about your role?

The ability to influence and enthuse the whole organisation behind a cause that they can all relate to. There are not many roles where you are able to be evangelistic!! At the end of the day we are all customers – and in our case, all customers of our own organisation – I am in a privileged position to help our people really make a difference for ourselves, our customers and our shareholders

2. What are you most proud of accomplishing?

There are many things I can point to, but the number one is the creation of our Customer 1st Aid programme. In 2007 I suggested creating a closed loop customer experience issue resolution process – enabling all 10,000 employees to identify issues detrimental to the customer experience and feed them in to a centrally controlled resolution process. Customer 1st Aid enables every one of our colleagues to actually make a difference in improving the customer experience. Despite significant skepticism from our senior leaders (along the lines of – we do not want to know what all the problems are; how can we possible manage to fix any of them; it is too complicated; etc..) Customer 1st Aid has been one of the most significant stepping stones to transforming our organisation in one that continuously thinks about the things that we are not doing so well for our customers. This led to us winning a UK Customer Experience award in 2010 for the programme!

3. What has been the most surprising challenge?

Without question the biggest surprise to me has been the continuous debate around ownership of the customer experience. It is actually no longer a surprise to me that this is an issue as many other organisations have explained similar issues. In my 6 years in the organisation the experience has been ‘owned’ by our Chairman, Group HR Director, Chief Operating Officer and two different Sales & Marketing Directors!!! Not only does this highlight issues with organisational culture, as an influencer, you have the challenge of almost having to start from the beginning every time ownership changes – despite this, I am immensely proud that the evolution of our customer experience strategy is where it is – however, with more consistent leadership, it is possible we could be even further forward.

4. How would you describe where your company is on its customer experience journey?

I would describe us being 30% of the way there! For the first time in our organisations history (we are over 100 years old!!) customer experience is explicitly part of our business strategy – this is a real pinch yourself moment for a customer experience professional. After 6 years of sweat, blood and some tears, the business recognises the need to embed customer experience into our strategic decision making. This has led to the development of our customer experience strategic framework, held up by a simple vision that the whole organisation can get behind. However, this does not necessarily mean the culture and behaviour of the organisation has changed – it has a little, but there is a lot more that needs to happen here.

5. What initiatives are you currently most excited about?

We have a number of significant ‘fixes’ to our customer journey planned and scheduled – these fixes are as a result of 12 months work in responding directly to our VOC programme – it is also the first time that our executive board have committed to investing in fixing significant customer service issues – addressing them should see a real step change in the way our customers perceive our business.

6. What advice do you have for someone who is about to take on a similar role?

Patience, Persistence, Belief!! The three words I keep saying in my head every single day. You cannot change an organisation overnight; you cannot change an organisation by yourself. Turning around a business that was not designed with customer experience as its major reason for being is very often a lonely and depressing thing – build a strong network of customer experience professionals from a variety of industries – speaking to them regularly will ensure that you know you are not alone – as well as giving you great ideas you take to your own company. Membership of the CXPA is a great way of achieving this as well as getting credibility for your efforts.

Extra credit question: What would people be surprised to find out about you?

Not sure if it is surprising, but I am currently going through the classic male mid life crisis. Having never run anywhere in my life (except to catch a bus!), I have completed 16 half marathons in the last three years. I am not quite sure what happened, but I started running one day and now cannot stop!! A little like Forest Gump I suppose. I often feel that running long distance is a great analogy for being a customer experience professional – it starts out as a great challenge, starts to feel terrible half way through, but the euphoric feeling you get at the finish line is like no other!!

Quick 6 With Parrish Arturi, Fidelity Investments

In this feature on the Customer Experience Matters blog, we ask 6 questions of different customer experience leaders.

  • Name: Parrish Arturi
  • Title: SVP, Customer Experience
  • Company: Fidelity Investments
  • Length of time on the job: 1 year
  • Previous position: SVP, Personal and Workplace Investing Online Channels

1. What do you most like about your role?

Working across multiple areas to help the rest of our organization live up to our core value of “The Customer Is Always First”. Fidelity helps millions of people accomplish their goals and dreams, and having the ability to influence that in a scaled fashion is really powerful.

2. What are you most proud of accomplishing?

Getting the organization – from top to bottom – excited about transforming our customers experience and understanding that Customer Experience is not a project but something that needs to be in our corporate DNA.

3. What has been the most surprising challenge?

That at the end of the day this work is all about change management – it’s hard work getting multiple functional areas across different levels moving in the same direction. That said, it’s incredibly fulfilling when you hear others talking about customers and the difference they can make for associates and customers in their work.

4. How would you describe where your company is on its customer experience journey?

We actually have a great foundation from which to build, which includes having a legacy of innovation and committment to doing right by customers. We are mid-way in our journey – we have a solid strategy and program plan and are now in the midst of executing against it. There is a huge organizational focus to achieve our vision of providing the best customer experience in our industry, and it feels very real now that we have a number of tangible elements in place.

5. What initiatives are you currently most excited about?

I’m really excited about 2 things: First, is the work we’re doing around end-to-end process improvement, which includes everything from addressing chronic issues that customers and associates have told us about to diagnosing and making sure we are flawless in those moments that matter most to customers. Second is the internal and external communications work we’re doing to drive excitement with both associates and customers about the fact that we’ve heard their feedback, are turning that into action and are closing the loop with them.

6. What advice do you have for someone who is about to take on a similar role?

Take the time to create a gameplan and don’t get sucked into the latest issue of the day. People will assume that because your title or mandate is around customer experience that every problem is yours to solve. Having a gameplan for the elements of the business system that need to get established or improved, and being diligent about getting wins along the way, makes a huge difference.

Extra credit question: What would people be surprised to find out about you?

Before and after grad school I traveled the country with a friend in a beat up Jeep visiting most of the Major League (and some minor league) ballparks. And if you didn’t guess… I’m partial to Fenway.

Three Characteristics Of Transformational Leaders

I work with many companies aiming to become customer-centric organizations. These efforts are never easy, and they always require a multi-year journey. In order for an organization to sustain a change agenda over that span of time, the senior management team needs to actively lead the effort. What does that mean for those leaders?

In my work, I’ve observed that the most effective leaders demonstrate three key characteristics:

1) Communicate “Why”
The only way to get people to truly buy-in to change is for them to understand why it’s happening. Most executives tend to under-communicate. And when they do communicate, they often focus on “what” the company will be doing and “how” it will get done. Here are some ways that executives can improve their communications:

  • Develop a clear script about “why” the company is going through the change
  • Develop a clear script about “why” the change is good in the long run to your organization and its employees
  • Make sure that your direct reports fully understand why the change is going on and have their own scripts
  • Make sure that you regularly discuss the “why” in your ongoing communications

2) Model Desired Behaviors
Temkin Group’s 6th law of customer experience is simply: “You can’t fake it.” And we can all learn from New Jersey mayor Corey Booker’s mom, who once told the mayor: “What you do speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you are saying.” Your organization can tell what’s truly important by observing your actions. If people see that you haven’t changed, then they won’t change either. Here are some ways that you can model new customer-centric behaviors:

  • Look for new ways to use customer feedback; consider regularly calling out to customers
  • Find ways to incorporate voice of the customer data/insights into your decision-making
  • Start asking customer-centric questions like: who is the target audience and how will this help them?
  • Make the change a top item on your meeting agendas; even above the normal operational items.
  • Make choices about what meetings you attend or decisions you make based on the signal it sends to the organization about your support for the change

3) Reinforce Change
It’s very easy for organizations to fall back into their regular, “comfortable” routines. So you need to make sure that you continuously reinforce the changed behaviors. Here are some of the things you can work on:

  • Hold your direct reports accountable for change in their organizations
  • Make “leading and supporting change” a key objective that you use to measure your direct reports
  • Publicly recognize and call out people in your organization that are acting consistently with where the company is heading
  • Don’t promote anyone in your organization, even high performers, if they are not proactively supporting the change
  • Embed the new direction in the hiring and new employee on-boarding process
  • Ask people in your organization what you could be doing to more effectively support the change
  • Develop personal goals every quarter for how you will reinforce the change

The bottom line: Transformation takes strong, committed leadership.

Since this is a longer post, I’ve made a version that you can download in .pdf form. Feel free to pass it around.

Quick 6 With Ingrid Lindberg, CIGNA

In this feature on the Customer Experience Matters blog, we ask 6 questions of different customer experience leaders.

  • Name: Ingrid Lindberg
  • Title: Customer Experience Officer
  • Company: CIGNA
  • Length of time on the job: 37 months
  • Previous position: CMO Ceridian Benefits Services

1. What do you most like about your role?

My personal drivers are altruism and hedonism. I want to help people and have a great time while doing so. This role, and this industry, allow me to really make a difference in our customers’ lives and my team helps me to have fun while doing the work.

2. What are you most proud of accomplishing?

We know that a customer’s understanding of their benefits is correlated to how much they trust us as their health service company. And we know that the more they trust us, the more likely they are to participate in their health and wellness with us. We also know that if people are willing to enroll in health and wellness programs with us, we can help them live healtier lives. So - something as simple as simplifying the language of health care directly correlates to helping our customers’ live healthier lives. That’s why I come to work every day.

3. What has been the most surprising challenge?

I thought the culture change would be really hard – but we have thousands of employees who simpy were waiting for someone to help lead the way to a better experience for our customers. And some of the technology stuff that I thought would be really easy, coming from financial services, is in fact, really hard – due to the complexity of the benefits designs we support.

4. How would you describe where your company is on its customer experience journey?

I always know it is working when we have other “experience” groups and projects popping up all over a company. We now have multiple projects who have “experience” as a part of their project title, and we have “Experience architects” embedded in many projects across the company. It is amazing to me that in just a little under three years, we’ve gone from almost always talking about the b2b part of our business to almost always talking about the b2b2c part of our business. People ask and push and really advocate for what is right for the customer. I can’t get answers out fast enough..

5. What initiatives are you currently most excited about?

We’re doing some really neat work with our own employees that will teach us even more about our customers. As long as I can continue to learn more – I’m excited.

6. What advice do you have for someone who is about to take on a similar role?

Make sure you have a ceo who is willing to be out in front of you, leading the charge. It is one of the most important things I look for when I’m taking a customer experience role. I’m extremely lucky that my ceo, david cordani, is as passionate about customers and customer experience as I am.

Extra credit question: What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I’m a total introvert.

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