Anne Herman is the Chief Customer Officer for MSA – The Safety Company, the world’s largest manufacturer and distributor of safety equipment. If you’ve ever seen this specific hardhat on a construction project or road crew, that’s MSA:
Anne began her career as an engineer, moving to global quality and operations. In her role, Anne not only leads the customer experience transformation for MSA, but she also holds responsibility for running the quality, delivery and support operations for MSA globally.
She is an emerging breed of CCO doing double-duty as both transformist and operator.
Anne is the third Chief Customer Officer for MSA. The original MSA Chief Customer Officer, who I had the privilege to work with, moved from the President of the Americas to the Global CCO for the corporation.
After he retired, the second CCO gained significant traction and then he was promoted to run a branch of the organization. In MSA, he CCO role is one that leads to promotions — and is only given to the most seasoned and highly regarded leaders in the organization.
In my conversation with Anne, we discussed her path as she took on the role.
Passionate About Transforming
That’s how Anne defines herself. (Many top CCOs say this.) She believes the transformation process usually needs to come from the customer. It was interesting given her background in chemical engineering (A changes to B) that she’s so passionate about change.
Even though MSA is a B2B company, one of the interesting things about their transformation efforts is that they look to “The Amazon Experience” — B2C — as a model. She believes the ease of those B2C transactions is influencing how B2B companies need to do business.
Configuring CX Leaders
MSA has an Americas and International division, with seven regions. Each region has a CX leader, and then there are CX champions in each country — i.e. Brazil, Chile, etc. It’s a fairly robust network.
Anne also began meeting with international leaders in marketing, engineering, and other key departments to get everyone on the same page.
Under her predecessors, there had been customer journey mapping and proactive driving. But two years into the process, it felt like momentum had been lost. Some in the organization seemed to think CX workers were over here doing some random thing, and didn’t see the connection between that work and year-end surveys. One of her first goals was to get back that momentum.
She did have a good start on aligning the C-Suite, though — had about 15-30 minutes of any given senior leadership meeting. It also helps that customer feedback and customer experience are tied to executive bonuses, as well as being listed as a growth strategy internally.
One year into being CCO (which she assumed in October 2015), she also became head of Operations. One of the drivers for this was that the company gets measured on “delivery,” and for years those scores had been low. They needed to bring more of a customer voice to delivery/operations, so she undertook that role.
She’s now responsible for 12 manufacturing plants, 20 distribution centers, global functions for supply chain, logistics, continuous improvement, developing manufacturing processes, and more. She’s tied to almost 2,000 people worldwide in her headcount chain.
How You Unite Those 2,000 People
She leveraged them with the CX leaders as a start.
She also redefined a lot of KPIs for 2017 so as to be more customer-facing. The internal focus was too high; for example, internally many thought they were good on delivery, but the survey scores were not there.
Operations and CX leaders went through each category — safety, quality, delivery, and cost — and said, “How does this impact the customer?” They wanted to close the gap between a metric they used and the customer satisfaction around it. In 2015 in Brazil, for example, they had really high internal scores on delivery — but only 8% of their customers gave them a top-two box rating on the year-end survey. There was clearly a disconnect.
She instilled higher degrees of accountability, too. Manufacturing plants meet as a group and there’s a board in place. The board shows customer data from the previous day — i.e. orders shipped. You begin to think more about it in this way. If you hit 95% of customer orders, that seems really good — but then you realize that you’re missing 20+ orders a day, and you need to figure out why and what that means.
She’s also instituted monthly surveys where the feedback is shared cross-functionally.
Finally, she’s “storyboard’ed” some of the work that different CX teams do. You get to see the team, the customer problem, what the team did, and the KPI outcome. It’s a more visual way of explaining this work out of the main CX subculture.
Customers Want To Have An Easy Experience
This is more and more of a shift in B2B. (See The Amazon Experience context above.) Anne has created new customer experience tools and continues to work with concepts like a virtual wallet that allows the sales team to more effectively work with customers and channel partners.
What’s a virtual wallet, you ask?
It’s essentially a self-serve platform where customers can research products, place orders, and see the status of their orders. (Kind of like Amazon tracking.) They can download information they need right from the platform; this also means MSA has to print fewer product catalogs.
This overall shift is making MSA less of a “product provider” and more of a “solution provider.” That’s a seismic shift in terms of legacy B2B.
The Metric Issue
Critical point here. The CEO of MSA was used to seeing one set of metrics, and when some of the CX models changed, he was inherently going to see a new set of metrics — and the numbers might not as high or as good initially. She explained that to him but also explained that it would be a better indication of where the business was actually headed. Having that metric context — and having leadership willing to listen and adapt instead of yelling about drops in numbers — is crucial to doing this work properly.
The Pay It Forward Question
“What do you know NOW that you wish you knew THEN?”
- You can’t be the only cheerleader: Make sure you get others engaged and enthused so that you’re not doing it alone (and/or traveling all the time).
- Focus on turnover issues: When they occur, it makes you lose traction and stability. Develop people into disciples and give them real access to the work (not shallow task work) so that you can develop champions and rotate people into leadership roles. This will reduce turnover issues.
- Give awards: MSA has several tiers/levels of employee awards based on going above and beyond for customers. This also helps with engagement, motivation, turnover, and grinding through the busy seasons.
- The power of metrics to drive behaviors: We live in a data-driven world now, and this is crucial when thinking about both customers and executives.