Today’s conversation features Curtis Kopf, the Chief Experience Officer at REI. Curtis is a seasoned leader and CX practitioner who’s worked across several different industries during his career. He spent time at Amazon in the early 2000s, Microsoft, Alaska Airlines, and Premera Blue Cross. Curtis definitely knows a thing or two about how to develop a customer-first strategy.
In our LinkedIn Live interview, Curtis and I discuss thought processes and strategies that go into navigating successful CX transformations. We chat about the ways to set yourself up for success through skill set and relationship building, understanding company goals, and always figuring out how you can build around customer satisfaction and experience.
Join us for this conversation in which I’m sure you’ll find plenty of useful gems!
1. Develop a Customer Obsession
When Curtis was at Amazon, he learned what it was like to “ work at a company that eats sleeps, and breathes customer obsession.” “I saw how Amazon built that into everything they do,” says Curtis. This way of operating helped set the foundation for him in terms of looking at business through the lens of the customer, a practice that he embedded in his subsequent leadership positions.
2. Understand the Strategy of the Business Model and Make Your Case
Curtis shares that when he was at Premera Blue Cross, he was starting a customer-focused strategy from scratch with the CEO. The organization was in its early stages of building a CX discipline and he had to go on a listening tour to understand what was happening internally before developing a company-wide strategy. During this phase, he realized how important it is to understand the strategy of the business model before recommending suggestions. Understanding the culture and business model helps you determine how to put the pieces together that feed into the larger growth strategy.
According to Curtis, this phase is also important because you have to be able to work with the C-Suite during this process to get funding for the changes that are needed to implement. He explains that understanding the inner workings of a highly-regulated industry such as healthcare is extremely important before conducting any major overhaul. Curtis had to clearly connect the dots for the executive and leadership teams so he could make the case to get funding. It was important that he understood the readiness of the people he was working with.
He found that working in this environment taught him a lot about engagement, because his work was about figuring out how to contribute to better health outcomes, reduce costs, and improve the experience in a very complicated system.
3. The Customer Journey Needs to Focus on Digital Engagement
When he first started at REI, Curtis came in as the Chief Digital Officer, and while in this position, he saw customers interact digitally with REI more and more—and that the digital experience had to be planned around them. He also took learnings from Premera Blue Cross regarding understanding the business model before developing a strategy; at REI, he had to understand how REI makes money, how to keep the stakeholders happy, and how to acquire and retain members. REI is a coop which is member owned and membership is the core of their business.
Once Curtis spent time with his peers, understanding their needs, problems, and their perspective—he started listening to customers and employees so he could connect the dots across the board. He understood his role in becoming a chief storyteller and making the voice of the customer more visible and present in the organization.
4. Ensure Your Outreach to New Audiences Aligns with the Big Picture
“In the last year or two, we’ve realized the outdoor industry is not very diverse. Our job is in our mission is to make the outdoors accessible for everybody,” says Curtis. In this realization, Curtis and his team had to strategize around how to reach BIPOC entrepreneurs in the outdoor industry. This is currently a big investment for REI, and in focusing on this initiative they shut down their international business. Since this portion of the business was only relevant to a small portion of their customers, they realized they weren’t working towards the company’s larger mission to make the outdoors more accessible to the average person. It’s important to constantly re-evaluate initiatives and programs to ensure they lead up to your big picture strategy and mission.
What Do You Know Now That You Wish You Knew Then?
“I think it’s so important for people doing CX to make sure you understand the business; take the time to go find people who understand how your organization makes money, what the strategy is, make sure you have a clear understanding of that.”
About Curtis KopfCustomer-obsessed executive who has built industry-leading customer experiences and multi-billion dollar digital businesses at REI, Amazon.com, Microsoft, Alaska Airlines and Premera Blue Cross. More than 20 years’ experience pioneering digital and customer transformation for inspiring, mission-driven brands across multiple industries, tech and non-tech.
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