Career trajectories, tech vs. design, and the first 90 days: Recent podcast lessons

I’m up to Episode 68 on my customer experience podcast, and while I’ve shared lessons from my guests in the past, I haven’t done it recently. I decided to go back to around Episode No. 50 and see what items I could pull together that may be of value to you or your career.

Growing Your Customer Base

This is all about repeatable, scaleable process, as Lexi Reese explained to me in Episode 50. First the executive team needed to be aligned and there needed to be some alignment re: the work.

First up: define the customer journey. Analyze different customer segments, map out the journey that specific customer goes through. This involved discussions with Engineering and Product. There are issues with payroll transfer — when someone comes on-board with Gusto, they usually have to pipe over their payroll info from another payroll company. What happens when the state government sends them a flag or issue because of errors with the piping over? All these concepts needed to be tested to understand the good/bad of customer experience.

Second up: put the journey together. This is experience + data + conversations. Where are you not as good? Those areas will get more exposed at 100,000 customers. Focus on ways to minimize those issues.

Third up: tie this to employee experience. This involves customer survey results, training, and interactions between leadership and employees.

The Initial Mission And Challenges

In Brad Olson’s first month at Peloton, he talked to tons of people internally — and to customers. One important aspect was vocabulary; he changed the term “customers” to “members.” He did that because he saw Peloton as a community, and the term “customer” can feel very transactional.

The first few months were about understanding member experience and member journey. He needed to ID some “moments of truth” and “pain points.” The company was about four years old, but had only been selling bikes for two years. (Relatively start-up mode at this point.)

In the early going, he drove focus in the organization with data. This allowed him to create situations where specific pain points didn’t seem like his opinion, but could be rooted in factual analysis.

What Changes Five Years Into Doing The Work?

“The role itself hasn’t changed that much,” admits Millista Anderson of FIS,  “in terms of moving the culture and working on process improvement.” Relationship-building is probably even more prevalent than ever before. Relationships are one of the only things that can get you through a conversation largely dominated by profit/revenue metrics.

One of the big changes in five years is a new mantra: “Defend the customer, not our process.” It’s too often to think “Oh, we told the customer this a million times, it’s their fault and not yours.” Well, that’s ultimately going to hurt revenue.

The Increasingly-Hybrid CMO/CCO Role

By now, many CMOs have come to understand that experience is a huge element of business, as Drew Neisser and I discussed. Sometimes, they don’t even own it — for example, a CCO might own experience, but if the experience is bad, it can ding the CMO on the incentive side. That’s why we’re seeing a hybrid CMO approach emerge. This allows the marketing side (the promise side) to be aligned with the experience side (the reality side).

Manny Rodriguez of the UC Health network became a hybrid CMO and created an excellent campaign that aligned marketing and experience. It’s called “Your Life, Your Story” and you can also view some of the assets on YouTube.

By the way, the interplay between “brand” and “experience” has been shifting since probably 2014, with experience now financially (bottom-line-wise) trumping brand as a key driver of success. That obviously has changed tons about the CMO role.

The other major aspect is tech; some CMOs that Drew interviews are spending more money on technology in their company than their CIO is spending on technology. That’s an amazing statistic which never would have been true 10-12 years ago, but now is normative.

Communication Needs To Involve Storytelling

Catherine Courage (Episode 59) has a background in psychology, and often speaks of the importance of communication and storytelling. One great story she tells in this podcast is the whole idea of email or posting. Oftentimes, people think “Oh, I sent this email or posted this update. I communicated.” In fact, they didn’t. They just sent something out. It might not be received at all. To communicate better, you often need to understand storytelling and what will resonate with people.

This helps with silos too, of course. Most of work is heavily execution-focused, especially at big, billion-dollar, scaled companies (like Google). Priority and context can fall through the cracks within communication unless there’s a degree of storytelling.

Catherine also talks a lot about impact and influence, which is mostly about engaging stakeholders — but more importantly, knowing what matters to your stakeholders so that the stories you use are concepts they’ll actually listen to.

In her managerial training (with managers that report into her), they often discuss the arc of stories and how to tell stories successfully. This is actually somewhat rare in high-revenue B2B spaces (as Google Ads can be), because oftentimes the focus there shifts to “Well, we’re driving a lot of revenue, so why should we care about something like the arc of stories?”

Your First Three Months Might Be Scary

Tom McCann of Aon largely had to understand the business model better, especially how revenue generation works. He spent the first 3-4 weeks just meeting with internal stakeholders, from secretaries to executives. After a month of these conversations buffered by reading, he turned to the member experience. (Members in this case is conventionally how we might view customers.) The first problem he found on the member side were the data systems — multiple, slow, not speaking to each other, etc. “It felt sometimes like sandstone and a hammer to chisel at it with,” he jokes. By the time he was about 2 months in, Tom had a much better understanding of the business model and the member base. That’s almost a full quarter, yes — but now processes and execution can scale and strategy can be set as well.

He tried to set up everything as “customer experience around shared value.” This helped him start the process of aligning the silos. If all the discussions come from this place of shared value, people relax some of their concerns and are more willing to work together.

How Should Technology And Design Interact?

From Episode 65: It all begins with a letter from the CEO, then Zvi presented to all the managers at a Q4 meeting. He called it “The New Era Of The Consumer” and showcased what he wanted to see from the stores. The message had to be spread to the managers. It can be challenging to manage these kinds of “outpost” customer experience situations, where a centralized hub (him and his team) need to get info to key stakeholders all over a country. They look at it like this:

  • Use technology to…
  • Listen to people, and then …
  • Design processes based on what the people said

Not brain surgery, but many get this order wrong.

The Tie Between CX And The Bottom Line

In Stephen Ingledew’s work at Standard Life, there was great growth in pockets (new customer acquisition). But at the same time, customers were leaving at a pretty high clip too. Many executives speculated that the departure could be about the product or the pricing of a competitor. But when Stephen’s actually talked to the departing customers, the No. 1 reason was “We don’t feel listened to” or “We don’t feel special.” They cited generic, non-customized communications and overall bad (or unmemorable) customer experience. This is exactly what we discuss when we say “customers as assets.”

A simple way to think about this is:

  • Growth is often viewed at “top of bucket” — customers streaming in, etc.
  • But you’re often losing similar money at the bottom of the bucket — retained customers departing
  • There are a number of growth strategies, but usually the main retention strategy is improved experience
  • Now you have a revenue tie between customer experience and the bottom line
  • Go work it

Rhonda Basler’s Tips For Change Creation

From Episode 66 with the Hallmark exec:
  • 1 on 1 conversations are the backbone of everything
  • Make sure you connect strategy to execution at the employee level, so they know why their work matters
  • They did begin remapping the customer journey at about the 12-18 month mark, although Rhonda herself didn’t micromanage it (her team built it out)
  • She had to link the employee and customer teams, which had been very silo’ed — although admittedly that didn’t begin until about 2.5 years into her tenure at Hallmark
  • The link (cross-functionality) of those teams was based around questions both had to ask for their “clients”
  • The thing to remember, though, is that a cross-functional team isn’t a be-all and end-all solution; if you don’t put thought into how you’re doing it, it’s almost like automating mediocrity

Hope to have you listen to a future episode!

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