Do you have support from your fellow colleagues and the C-Suite while managing your organization’s CX transformation? In today’s episode, I’m highlighting portions of two conversations that I had with guests during the height of the pandemic: Michael Kuenne, Chief Customer Officer at Extended Stay America, and Aparna Khurjekar, who at the time, was the CCO of Verizon Consumer, and is now, President of Verizon Business Markets.
Both of these leaders have unique experiences with improving customer experience in the B2C realm. Michael and Aparna had the support of their CEOs in leading their CX transformations, and both shared tactics that helped them build internal partnerships while navigating this work. In these conversations, I think you’ll find useful questions to ask yourself and your colleagues, which will help you strategize ways to put the customer first.
1. Inspire Others With Your Passion
Michael is the first CCO at Extended Stay, a hotel chain across the nation that offers guests the opportunity to book long or short-term stays. He shares that his CEO already had a desire to focus on customer-centric strategies, which is why the role existed. Michael goes on to say that he had a supportive relationship with the CEO, and conversations would start with the CEO asking, “What do we need to change? What are the shortcomings and how can we improve?” Michael says, “It was really him saying, ‘Well, okay, all this stuff makes sense, but I hear the way that you talk about this, and the passion in your voice of how you do it. So I want you to go do this.”
Through his own drive for the desire to focus on the customer, the CEO recognized Michael’s urgency to get the work done. Michael also goes on to say, “It helps to surround yourself with people that have done it in the past, and also not being afraid to say, I don’t know, but we’re gonna figure it out. And we’re gonna go find someone to help figure it out. That’s a big thing, because I think sometimes people think you need to have all the answers.” As leaders, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to carry the load all on your own.
Additionally, Michael shares that the strong partnerships he developed has helped him continue to make the customer-focused work a company-wide endeavor. He works with the chief commercial officer who’s responsible for marketing and sales and revenue, the operations team, franchise leaders, and of course, the head of HR, since that is who will be coming in contact with new hires and even current associates.
2. Work Smarter
When it comes to the nitty gritty of getting the work done, Michael shares that they didn’t necessarily make a lot of changes, but they focused heavily on repackaging pre-existing processes. He wanted to ensure that they were building quality and reliable experiences.
Michael mentions that they dedicated more time towards educating associates on the mission and updating training. Their mission was to improve the everyday experience for customers, and this included keeping associates engaged, ensuring there was comprehensive signage around the hotels, an inviting front desk, and appropriate uniforms for associates. He shares that it’s important to listen and talk to the associates. Because ultimately, they’re the ones at the frontline who are going to deliver the experience that you’ve strategized around.
Find the full conversation with Michael Kuenne here: Have You Built a Culture of Reliability Into Your Experience?
3. Focus on the Customer Value Proposition
Aparna Khurjekar held a variety of roles at Verizon, and spent about 2 years as the CCO of Verizon Consumer. Like many other leaders in customer-focused roles, she shares that her biggest learning experience came when she had the opportunity to truly think through the lens of the customer.
She tells of a time where she was working on a product that wasn’t growing and was losing money. Though her CEO told her to shut down the project, she wanted to spend more time understanding the product and its true value proposition. When she shifted gears and put the customer first by thinking about their needs, she developed messaging that clearly stated the customer benefits. After bringing the appropriate value proposition to the front, she shares that the product grew in triple digits within the first two years. Even though the technology remained the same, similar to Michael Kuenne’s experience, they needed to repackage something that already existed.
“It was really about what it is that the customer is looking for and marrying what we bring to the table with it. That was a huge moment for me in understanding that consumers are looking for value,” says Aparna. She expresses that making decisions from the customer’s point of view is ultimately more beneficial than thinking about the numbers and bottom line first.
4. Grow Customer Experience Efforts with a Top-Down Approach
Aparna shares that the customer-focused approach was led by the CEO who believed that you have to think about customers as much as you think about the shareholders, employees, and the society. “These four need to come together,” she says.
Also similar to Michael’s experience, Aparna had internal support, saying, “This was something that was coming top down. Our strategy office was completely tied with me in saying, ‘Okay, this is how we’re gonna grow. We’re gonna grow through experience, we’re going to improve our bottom line through experience, and what are the key things we want to be doing to support that?’”
It’s worth noting that Aparna explains that ultimately, the team started looking at their overall strategy differently, stating, “We evolved to become an experience brand.” This shift forced them to look at the role that internal silos played. As the leader of the customer experience strategy, Aparna had to work with the other teams to ensure everyone was aligned to the same vision. She shares that this meant presenting the CX vision with other department leaders and working together to develop synergies that led to the ultimate goal.
Find the full conversation with Aparna here: Improving the Omni-Channel Experience by Humanizing Digital at Verizon Consumer
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