The Value Of Building Bridges For Customer Experience, with Curtis Kopf [CB7]

Quick Episode Overview

I talk with Curtis Kopf in this episode. Curtis was deeply embedded with customer experience at Alaska Airlines before moving to Premara Blue Cross. We discuss the value of building bridges, listening tours, asking the right questions, using analytics wisely, and how conversations drive customer experience. 

About Curtis 

Curtis is a visionary leader and digital innovator who has built industry-leading customer experiences at Alaska Airlines, Microsoft and
Curtis KopfAs Vice President of Customer Innovation for Alaska Airlines,Curtis built award-winning mobile apps and customer feedback programs, as well as pioneered such innovations as online bag-tags and the use of biometrics. In June 2015 Future Travel Experience named Curtis as one of 25 global innovation leaders in the airline industry. Curtis has held a variety of leadership roles in his career -from serving as Amazon’s first General Manager in the UK to developing curriculum and teaching at the UW’s Mobile Business Strategy Certificate Program. He has an undergraduate degree in English from Brown University and a master’s degree in writing from Johns Hopkins.
Curtis is a member of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound Board. You can connect with him on LinkedIn, as well.

Key Takeaway Messages For The Audience

  1. This work is about building growth for the business. We need to be earning the right to continue to do the work. It’s not just a Kumbaya circle. Customer experience doesn’t make sense unless it’s tied to growth and tied to how the business produces revenue — or how it could produce additional revenue in the future.
  2. Smash silos. This is a must. Bridges must be built and relationships must be formed. Without that, CCO work seems isolated as its own silo — “Oh, that’s the customer service guy.” If you’re viewed in that way, your work will not be transformative. It will likely be transactional.
  3. Be data-driven. Prove your points and connect them to ROI.

“Walking In Their Shoes”

One of the major things we discuss is Curtis’ process of actually talking to customers — both actual customers and customer-facing employees. Curtis also called customer centers and used the website — as well as having his team do those things. Without that context and first-hand knowledge, it’s very hard to understand the pain points. “It’s such a simple concept,” Curtis says, “but one of the simplest things we can do is simply remove the distance between us and our customers.” In his current role — an insurance company — this is more powerful than in previous roles, because customers oftentimes don’t fully understand insurance.


This can sound like a buzzword to many, but it’s crucial in CCO work. Curtis walks through a few specific examples in this podcast, including:

  1. Creating an innovation lab at the Alaskan Airlines terminals in SEA-TAC when he worked there (his team’s offices were adjacent to the airport)
  2. Consider reaching out to your customers wherever they are.
  3. Embrace the idea of “hack-a-thons.”

The Simplification Of Health Insurance

Because of the complexity of a good deal of health insurance vocabulary, Curtis and his team wanted to simplify the terms to deliver a better customer experience. So, they went out and talked to customers directly — and the results will end up benefiting other teams like communications, marketing, et al.

“What I Know Now That I Didn’t Know Then”

Curtis actually provided four answers to our end-of-every-interview “pay it forward” question:

  1. Know the business. Everyone on his team needs to understand how they make money.
  2. Constantly find ways to build bridges and collaborate. If you haven’t built relationships, it’s hard to succeed in a large company.
  3. Be very data-driven. Customer experience can be seen as fluffy if not backed up by data.
  4. Network with your peers. Do this constantly.

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