Customer-centric Companies Are Employee-centric

As we head into the new year, I ask that you revisit this podcast episode from a few months back where you’ll find many valuable gems from REI’s Chief Experience Officer—and my friend—Curtis Kopf. Your business (and your customers) will thank you.

“Most customer-centric companies you and I can think of are employee-centric,” shares Curtis Kopf, CXO at REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.).

When Curtis appeared on the Human Duct Tape Show a few months back, he offered some invaluable insights picked up during his fascinating years at Amazon, Microsoft, Alaska Airlines, Premera Blue Cross, and in his current role as CXO at REI, the largest consumer co-op in the U.S. One critical insight he shared: Be employee-centric first.

Employee-centric companies ensure that staff voices are heard and staff input is valued. In his time at Alaska Airlines (2010–2015), Curtis noticed that “in general, when you talk to the airline’s agents and flight attendants, they’re happy… their voice is heard.” And happy employees equal happy customers, right?

But how does Curtis tune in to employee voices? By spending time with them in the reality of their everyday tasks—something that not only helps employees feel seen, heard, and understood, but also gives Curtis, as a leader, a chance to get a clear view of the day-to-day experiences of both workers and customers.

“Because I was REI’s first Chief Digital Officer, when you parachute into a company, and you’re the first CCO/CDO, you need to go make friends. I spent a lot of time with my peers, understanding their needs, their problems, their perspective.”

Get Grounded in the Reality

Curtis is no stranger to actively watching and listening to what’s going on on the frontlines. “You’re not going to find the truth sitting at your desk. Go out to the employees who serve customers every day and you’ll get a dose of the truth—that sometimes you may not want to hear—but I think that is so critical to a customer-centric company.”

You're not going to find the truth sitting at your desk. Go out to the employees who serve customers every day and you'll get a dose of the truth.”—Curtis Kopf, #CXO @REI #CX Share on X

He stresses that frontline employees are, first and foremost, your BEST source of knowledge for really understanding the customer experience from start to finish. “When you’re accountable for hundreds of employees serving customers every day, you have to get grounded in the reality,” he urges. Surveys and data can only reveal so much.

Empower Your Teams

Another key practice Curtis strongly recommends is empowering your employees. He advises that leaders “push decisions to the teams closest to the customer” as much as possible.

Push decisions to the teams closest to the customer.”—Curtis Kopf, #CXO @REI #CX Share on X

In this podcast episode, a great anecdote Curtis shares about empowering an employee is when a young team member spear-headed the development of curbside service: “When we launched curbside… a young product manager on my team basically said, ‘I know how to do this if the organization will support us,’ and we empowered the people closest to the work, and they delivered curbside in about three weeks.” Impressive!


About Curtis Kopf

CurtisKopf Customer-obsessed executive who has built industry-leading customer experiences and multi-billion-dollar digital businesses at REI,, 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.

The presenting sponsor of the Chief Customer Officer Human Duct Tape Show is Help Scout. Help Scout’s customer support software was named a leader in multiple categories in G2’s Winter 2022 Report, including easiest to set up, easiest to use, and best ROI. If you’re unhappy with your current support software, switch to Help Scout, and they’ll even buy out your existing contract. Learn more at

This partnership ensures that I can continue these shows that you’ve shared such positive feedback on. Thanks so much to Help Scout! Enjoy the show!

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