In this #SmallBizCX19 session, Nate Brown discusses how to gain customer experience momentum and how to make customer experience the cornerstone of your company.
We're here with Nate Brown. Nate is very passionate about customer experience. He's a co-founder of CX Accelerator, and we'll talk a little bit about that. So, why don't you introduce yourself, Nate?
Yeah, sure. My name is Nate and I do love customer experience, jumped into this about 2014, has been doing customer service for a number of years, and feel a bit of a victim of all the things rolling back down into the contact center and really wanted to get proactive. It's like, "We can solve these problems, we can design a better experience for our customers." And then enter the glorious world of customer experience and it was really the "Effortless Experience" that accelerated that for me.
Oh yeah, that's a great book.
Oh man, it's the best. I love Matt Dixon. He's been a wonderful friend and mentor to me over the years, and I just love the space. I mean, and really, if you think about what customer experience is, I mean, it's making people's lives better and easier. And that really is what it comes down to for me, and like man, I want to do that, I want to commit myself to that work. So it's been a fun few years doing that and just learning everything I can and sharing what I learned.
Great. Great. Okay, so we can jump in straight to our first question.
So let's talk about foundational disciplines of customer experience.
Yeah. Okay. Yeah. So I see this, it's a huge topic. So, I mean, you've got customer experience is the thoughts and perceptions that your customers have towards your brand is as Forrester would define as my favorite. And when we talk about customer experience management, it's like what are the practices that we actually do to make those perceptions the best that they can be? I love talking about it and four realms or territories of how we do customer experience management. And the first is that strategy and leadership piece of let's figure out a good strategy that's custom to our organization on how to best engage our specific customers, and get the right leadership in place to make this possible. So, I mean, that's the first stage of this. Then you morph into that Voice of Customer realm, and many of you probably heard this term of VoC or Voice of Customer. I mean, this is where you start to really make customer experience magic starts to happen. It's where the rubber starts to hit the road because you're gaining the insights, you're getting understanding of the hearts and minds of your customers. And then and only then can you know what things change that will actually improve the customer's journey over time. And that improvement stage is what I like to call Experience Engineering, a term adopted from the Effortless Experience, and it's that cycle of applying a change management methodology based on your Voice of Customer insights, to improve the customer's lives. And then last but not least, it has to all be anchored and force the employee experience and that cultural component of your designing an experience for your employees that is ultimately going to be mirrored and consumed by your customers.
Yeah. So what are some specific steps for an organization that organization should take to really make customer experience a cornerstone of absolute operations?
Yeah, and I like that word that you all are using with cornerstone because I mean, that's a neat way to think about your business. We know that customer experience has the power to be this competitive differentiator and if you make it the heart of your organization. If we think about how to actually do that, how to make an organization be customer-centric, customer intimate, which, you know, for those of you that have read the three disciplines of market leaders, we have the product innovator, we've got that operationally efficient, and then we have that customer intimacy model, and more and more organizations are moving towards that customer intimacy model. So how do we do it? And it really started In my mind with Voice of Customer. Do we respect and honor the voice of our customers by actually doing something about it? Are we aggressively pursuing our customer's voice? Are we positioning ourselves to be where our customers are talking? Are we able to listen where our customers are talking? And then as we inherit this voice, how much of that is depicting our reality into the future? Are we respecting our customer's voice by making it a part of our product and service evolution over time, and really making the focus being on making their lives better? And that's what a great organization looks like. It's being proactive to get that customer's voice, and then it's doing something about it.
So from that, would you talk a little bit about some tools that we can use to get active with our listening, whether it's social media listening or real work, whatever, what are some best tools for us to get that idea of what our customers need?
Yeah, a great question, Natalya. You need to think about where your customers are. I mean, rather than trying to be all things to all people and put your ears everywhere, think about where the most valuable customer feedback is going to be happening. In today's day and age, I mean, well, there's a lot of conversations happening about our brand that we no longer control. I mean, if you think about the old days of customer experience, it was all about surveys, and the fact that the brand would extend an opportunity for the customer to express feedback about them. And it was through a structured channel, while today's voice of customers is very much unstructured. It happens inside of these third party communities like Slickdeals, or like Reddit. Oh, I mean, I'm sure you will-- I don't know if you're a gamer to tell you but we had some brands have been destroyed in Reddit threads recently. So, I mean, that's not a controllable environment by the brand but yet they have to respect and honor that.
So the tools that we use to take on this customer feedback has to be as flexible and agile as what the customer's voice has become. like It gets very unstructured. So I'll give you one example that we've done in my current organization, we use these little, just Voice of Customer buttons. It's just a simple little USB web key that any employee that gets any feedback, it could be sitting next to a customer on an airplane, it could be a contact center employee who just got meaningful customer feedback as part of a support transaction, or it could be an email. Whatever that feedback is, they can hit that button and easily captured and centralize that feedback into a point where we can then tag it, process it, use some customer sediment analysis on it, and get that correlated in back into our structured Voice of Customer data. So you want to think about how can we put ourselves where our customers are to listen and then how can we capture that feedback in the best way possible?
How does it to work so far about it?
Can you talk more about that button you just--?
Sure. Yeah. I mean, it's just, I mean, it's literally just a USB web key button. I mean, you can buy them on, I think I got mine off ideastage.com and they're like $350 a button. Yeah, alright, 350 a button, and you customize them to where they go to whatever link you want. So for us, we just created a really simple voice of customer form, that would marry into the rest of our survey data so that we could bring our structured and unstructured survey data together. So, you want to think about where's the best repository where we can bring all this voice of customer data into, create an entry point of link into that, and then something like this, and it doesn't have to be a USB web key. I mean, it could be an electronic version of that, this just on your desktop as an example, where anybody can get to that point really quickly. Because I mean, we all know that easier we make it for the employees to do the right thing, the more likely it is that they're gonna capture that customer feedback.
Absolutely. Yeah, that's a great point. Another, I guess platform for customer feedback that companies can't really control is obviously reviews, online reviews. Can you talk a little bit more about that and how we can actively use that feedback to change things that are going wrong?
Yeah. I mean, in a retail environment, I mean, reviews are life, right? I mean, they're gonna be your legitimacy in terms of if you have a quality product or not. They're going to be the likelihood that your product really extends beyond the scope that your marketing would allow, and get into the hands of more people. So, your ability to be super proactive on the management of those reviews. I mean, when I go in and I started looking at reviews, I'm not dissuaded by a handful of negative reviews. What I'm dissuaded by is if I go in there and I don't see the company being responsive to those, and in demonstrating that they're trying to learn from that feedback and that they're assisting those customers. If I see a customer or rather a brand that's being aggressive to monitor those reviews and to act appropriately towards those customers, I'm gonna have a great deal of confidence to purchase from that organization.
Great. And yeah, I agree with that. I think it's also a great point because as a person reading those reviews, you can connect with-- the company holding itself accountable and really responding to those reviews. So, that's really, really important.
And let me add one more note on that and such too, I think that as much as we can try to centralize that conversation in an environment that we facilitate, the better. And I love when organizations create a vibrant user community that they own, that they control, that they can give meaningful feedback out to their customers, get their customers participating in product integrations and things like testing and things like that nature. So, in many cases, you can preempt negative reviews and still get the benefit of all that feedback, but in a more controlled environment if you create it.
Yeah. Yeah. One more point on those reviews. I think it also adds a little bit of a human connection because you can see that, you know, the company is not striving for perfection and when things go wrong, they really respond in a human and effective way.
Great, great. So my next question is, how can management inspire and encourage its employees to focus on the customer and the customer experience? What can start that momentum, what can inspire that initiative?
Yeah, I'm gonna start with a mistake that I see organizations make, and that would be to like, create a customer experience function, and to endow them with the full responsibility of doing customer experience for the organization. And the reason I say that is because that almost like cuts everybody else off at the knees in terms of their burden and their responsibility to be a part of the customer experience. So, you want to be really careful not to functionalize this particular type of work, because it's really everybody's responsibility to do it. So, you need to have clear leadership over your CX strategy. But that group of leaders is working to awaken customer experience inside of every employee in the organization in a meaningful way. It's correlating their daily work, to the way that they can enhance the customer's life and making that bridge really clear through things like journey mapping, and through things like Voice of Customer insights, and correlating that to actual business priorities. So, if we do that, and we did demonstrate how every employee has a great power to make the customer's lives better and easier, then customer experiences is gonna become part of that culture, is gonna be embedded in the culture. Whereas if we take CX and we hire in a group of people over here on the side of the organization to do that for us, it can be very damaging to you.
So, again, to bring that culture of-- to make journey mapping really a company-wide initiative, what are some steps management can take to really get the employees to care?
I mean, for me, at least in my journey, like I've really seen this happen in the area of Voice of Customer with the employees. And let's think about the intrinsic motivators. I mean, generally assuming we're hiring the right people, we want to serve customers well, we want to help each other. But we become a victim of bad process and other things that get in the way of that. So, if the organization really respects the voice of the customer, and that endows the employee with the responsibility of when you get meaningful customer feedback, you got a hot potato, you got a tiger by the tail. We have the ability to learn from that and to do something with that and to generate a more loyal customer or more engaged customer, based on that feedback that you receive. And you have that, you get to do that and be a part of facilitating that.
So, make sure that your employees, number one, that they care about that voice of the customer so much, and that your organization has the supporting process, to then take it and close the loop meaningfully with that customer and that the employee gets to be a part of that. Instead of just sending it off into some, you know, centralized vacuum somewhere and then they never even know if the customer was served well. Let the employee help to guide that and facilitate that and celebrate with the customer. When there are things that happen based on their feedback where your products and services get better because of what you learn from the customer, let your employees be a part of that celebration and that relationship building.
Can you give an example that working successfully?
Yeah, I mean, so we started a group very cross-functionally called The Customer Commitment, and it was a CX change coalition is what it was. I mean, to go into John Coder's logic, I don't know if you ever read Leading Change by John Coder, which is still absolutely my favorite change management methodology, but it was bringing people together from these different groups who had different needs and different priorities. But then enlightening all of us together, I mean, it was a learning journey together, how can we put the customer at the center of a lot of this? How can we together enhance the lives of our customers instead of us being so focused on our functional goals and priorities? And so really taking that conversation up a notch and we started doing this thing called a customer-first meeting, and just really rallying these different groups towards success in this area, and redefining what success looks for us.
And give it a funny example, I mean, you know, a lot of times you've got groups of people that aren't necessarily customer-facing, and all of this world of CX is kind of new to them. I was working with an IT manager who got really hot and heavy into the whole Net Promoter Score thing, to the point where even on internal helpdesk tickets, he started adding a Net Promoter Score to the bottom of those internal service tickets. And one day he comes into a meeting and he's touting this like, plus 95 NPS score. I'm' like, "How did you do this? How did you accomplish that?" He was like, "Well, every time that they didn't fill out the Net Promoter Score question, I just defaulted it to a 10." Like, "That's brilliant." [laughs] So, I just I love getting even people that aren't necessarily customer-facing every day, getting them involved in this dialogue and learning about NPS, and about what the customer experience initiative is and our strategy, and then having them bring it back into their groups and making a more meaningful correlation happen.
Okay, so my next question has to do with really just differentiating a company from a competitor with customer experience. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, if we think about what customer experience does for us in terms of marketing, I mean, it's just phenomenal how much marketing has changed in this age of the customer. And you talked about it too, I mean, just the power of reviews, the power of word of mouth. I mean, there's a comment that a friend of mine from InMoment made a mention of that. "Our brand promise is no longer what we tell the world, it's what one customer tells another," which is fascinating. I mean our own power to set our brand promise has been delegated out to the customer level, which is the greatest thing that could happen in terms of being accountable to our customers, the very people that we're trying to serve. But our customers, I mean, this is an entitled age to some degree, our customers expect great things because they've seen great organizations. When? In this age of the customer, and they won't accept an organization who is trying to be as an example, product-centric, or operationally excellent if they don't have this foundation of customer experience also built-in. So it's almost become a necessity and a requirement in this age of the customer because it's so quick to dismiss one brand and move right on to another. There's more competition that's out there. It's more accessible, it's easier to find in this globalized economy. So, I mean, if we're not serving our customers really well and focusing on generating their loyalty, their recurring loyalty, we will not win long term.
So what do you recommend companies focus on when it comes to difference really? What is really the heart of it?
So I mean, I would say, whereas before we would generate on or we would think most about how can I just provide a solution to a customer and just drop the mic and go away? I love the rise of customer success as a function, which puts supreme value on adding value to the customer throughout the entire customer lifecycle. It's like a really proactive, aggressive sales approach of, "We're not gonna solutionize you and go away." Now it's like, "We're going to add value in every stage of your journey to us and we're gonna be proactive in that, and we're gonna be learning from you the entire time. We're gonna be engaging you the entire time." So, It's a totally different approach to sales and marketing and to operations, and it's difficult. Like it's hard to scale that and it's hard to be-- It's hard to fake that. I mean, we've got some great automated capabilities and some tools where we can get good insights in. But when it comes to actually developing that relationship and facilitating these touchpoints, it's gonna require a customer internet approach to your operations.
So once we start this customer experience initiative, what should a company do to keep that momentum going?
Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, I mentioned John Coder. I feel like there's kind of been a little bit of a thing that's happened in the CX space, and there's some research that supports this from Bob Thompson and from Gartner, where I met a lot of CX initiatives are failing. You know, they put it out there and they develop a new program. I think program is kind of a bad word. I love Net Friends came out recently and talked about the danger of programizing your CX initiative because a CX change is a culture change. It takes like three years to generally see any meaningful results from a CX initiative. So we got to have that long term approach. And if we select a change management methodology like John Coder, or like Lean, I mean Lean is incredibly powerful. I'm reading a book right now called "The Lean Transformation", and I mean, I'm amazed at the overlap into customer experience. I mean, the author right away, Rohe Brian, talks about how Lean, it's the purpose of it is to maximize the value back to the customer.
So, when we can harmonize the organization to speak one language, in terms of the way that we facilitate change, and we can generate this excitement in this energy around Voice of Customer, then there are no limits to what the organization can achieve because you're gonna improve the insights that you're getting from your customers, and you're going to improve your ability to actually do something about those insights that you're collecting, and generating that customer-centric mentality, through your culture, through your employee experience. So if you want to talk about gaining momentum and collecting lasting momentum, put yourself on a change management approach like a John Coder and stick to it, and give yourself the time and the patience to do it right over the course of several years.
Okay, so, again, once it starts, what are some specific steps? Can you go into a little more detail about that?
Sure. So, let's look at Voice of Customer as an example. So, we want to improve the funnel of the insights that we're getting from our customers. So you want to think about what's all the ways that our customers are giving us feedback? It could be win-loss. Your customers then aren't renewing with you. I mean, you should take that very personally as we view these customers as assets, as Jeanne Bliss would say in her brilliant book, "Chief Customer Officer 2.0", which if you're doing CX work is like the first book you pick up after the "Effortless Experience". Those are the two greatest books in the stage, in my opinion. You would develop those listening paths to where you're putting yourself where your customers are, and all those different ways, so that you can expand that funnel out. And then you take those insights and you do some meaningful things with them.
So we talked briefly about journey mapping. So that's you, putting yourself in the shoes of the customer and visually depicting what their journey looks like over the course of these touchpoints. And these touchpoints are where the customer meaningfully integrates with your brand, where it touches your brand. And you want to take a very focused approach on what can we do better on each of these touchpoints that would help us to overtime improve the overall customer experience. And there's a treasure trove of experience engineering that can happen inside of every one of those stages. I mean, if we look at customer support as an example, we have the ability to really look at effort reduction. I mean, customer support is like the defense team, right? Because if somebody's having to engage your support services, it means a problem has occurred. There's been a design flaw in the customer experience, right? Something's gone wrong. So, how can we mitigate the damage of that and reduce the effort to them getting a quick and easy resolution to that problem? So, it's a very different way of thinking about then as an example, like product management. So, there we were really want to focus on something like a software usability score, for we can really think about what is the UX? What is the user design that we have on this product to ensure that they're gonna accomplish their objectives in the best possible way, and that we're gonna honor the customer's time as they look to fulfill a need within the software, within the implementation cycle? I mean it's really thinking about depth of knowledge. You want to make the product sticky to them and equip them with all the tools and capabilities that they need to have to be successful with your product or service within that implementation stage. So, customer experience gets to take a different approach inside of each of those touchpoints, which is why it's impossible to do it inside of this little CX group over here on the side. You're unlocking and embedding CX into every part of the organization. So, I mean that would be some examples of how we start to think about a customer experience management approach. You have to take a very customized approach. But you want to think about these different touchpoints, how can we improve the journey here, and here, and here, and execute on that plan?
Sure. I think it's probably important to also note that customers need change. So like you said, it takes three years to implement a CX initiative, but then in three years customers might have different needs, so that's kind of how you keep it going, right?
Yeah, that's a great point, you're listening. [laughs] I mean, it's a constant evolution. So the comment on three years is it's probably going to take statistically speaking, it's probably going to take somewhere up to three years from the start of a customer experience initiative to be able to demonstrate meaningful results back to the business in terms of like a return on investment. Because a lot of times it takes that long to build up the Voice of Customer engine and to actually let the cycle of change happen to where we learned this from our customers, we made a change. Now we can measure that the customer experience was better. So, I mean, that takes a long time to let that whole cycle play out. But during the course of that entire cycle, you're gonna be learning new things from your customers throughout that entire three year period and beyond. So there's not anything like a start line and finish line to this work. I mean, this is just a new way of doing business with a greater customer focus.
Okay. Could you give some examples of companies who continuously doing this, who are implementing CX initiative and keep going with it, and it's lasting them years and it's what's making them successful?
Yeah. Yeah, I know. I love it you all are doing the Small Business summit, so I was trying to think of some small businesses. My favorite place to go get treats with my daughters in my little town of Smyrna, Tennessee is Janarty's. I mean, because they have been so intentional about-- from the moment you walk in the door, they are so intentional about what they've designed beyond just the product of their ice cream. I mean, it's like, they have this whole just incredibly welcoming environment that smells really good. They know your name. They're telling you about how they make the ice cream. They're engaging with the kids. So, I mean, it's just a very different approach to their overall experience and I mean, it's paying great dividends for them.
But one, and this is a franchise, I wouldn't really call them a small business, but another example is Jersey Mike's in this area Voice of Customer. I mean, I love out here working in Franklin, Tennessee, I love going to Jersey Mike's that's right within walking distance of my office because it's so consistent. And if we look at customer experience, I mean, a lot of times it's about consistency, because we know that we can trust a brand to deliver unexpected outcome to us on a recurring basis. So we're loyal to that brand because we can trust them with that consistency. So I mean, I have that with the story here. But I went to a different franchise in my hometown and didn't have quite the caliber of experience that I would have expected. But the funny part is I didn't have a bad experience. I wasn't like an over the top of the tractor. So I did do a survey, which I know a lot of people don't fill out surveys anymore. In this case I did and I was just kind of a middle of the line. Yeah, I had an okay experience. But Jersey Mike's was so tenacious, to follow up with that and to really engage me on that result even though I was like six on the NPS scale, I wasn't a detractor. But, they were so intentional, anyway. And they're like, "We want to get you back in that store, have a free sandwich on us. Get back in that store and we want to make sure that you have an experience that is to the same caliber that you would expect anywhere. And sure enough, they got me back in there, and I had a wonderful experience when I went back in there and my trust is restored, not only restored but extended. I mean, the fact that they cared that much about just my one marginal experience to restore my faith and went to that extent, I mean, that's what great brands do. And that's honoring the voice of the customer being personal follow up with that close the loop on that to restore my trust. And now, I mean, here I am, I don't know how many people have told that story to have", Men Jersey Mike's really cares in the area of Voice of Customer.
Well, more people now is, you know, the live. [laughs]
So, I mean, is just like, you know, I mean, brands that do a great job in this area of Voice of Customer, I mean, it's amazing the dividends that that can pay and the loyalty that it can generate. And what I'll give you one more example, TWRA. So, I'm a fisherperson and I'm a terrible fisherman. I don't know why even bother, I probably catch a fish like one in every five trips. But at one point last year, I was literally standing on the side of a river and realize I forgot to renew my fishing license. And so you're probably thinking, "Oh, well, you probably just fishing." Well, I have a big like, I don't know if it's like an OCD tendency, like I could not put my line in the water until I had done the correct thing to get this fishing license. So I was like, "Well, I guess I'm out of luck today." Well, no, I went on their Twitter account on a Saturday morning, and was like something about, "Hey, how can I go and renew this license?" They engage with me immediately over social media and got me into their online quick, simple online form to renew that fishing license, literally on the side of a river within a couple of minutes. And the fact that they had a social rep, they're on call on a Saturday morning? They probably didn't. They probably didn't have anybody that was working, but they've got an employee at the TWRA that cared enough. There was like, "Oh, we got to get this person fishing. I gotta get them in there." They went above and beyond for me that morning. I was just completely blown away by that.
Well, they did the right thing because here you are talking about.
One last question is, as a customer, obviously, you can drive the CX as a customer, especially, I mean, not you personally, you're so much more because you work in this area. But what can a customer do to really spark that initiative for them?
Yeah,I mean, giving good feedback to a brand, giving meaningful feedback to them and giving them a chance to do something with that feedback, I think is the biggest gift that we can offer as customers. I mean, I definitely am not like a survey fan, but I do try and find a way to give meaningful feedback to a brand whenever I can. And I really try. My wife has really helped me on this. I don't just do negative either. Firehouse Subs. There was an employee that was just hustling, just hustling one night, and I just tweeted out to them. I said, "Hey, Ethan is out here busting his butt to serve your customers really well at the Smyrna location of Firehouse Subs." And the next thing I know, they're like sending my family hats, just saying "Thanks for giving us that feedback." And then they in the coolest part by far is, by the way, we hooked Ethan up to and gave him something special. Like, man, I mean, that's really cool. So when we as customers take some time out to really honor an employee that's doing a great job and is representing the brand really well, I think that's a great gift that we can offer, but then to balancing that out when a customer fails, or when a brand fails us, not just blowing them up. Don't go immediately to Twitter. That's like dropping the new killer bomb, in my opinion. Engage on a private channel first, give them a chance to reciprocate. And if they don't, that's when it's time to-- they probably need to know more publicly at that point. [chuckles]
Great points, great point.
All right, Nate. Well, thank you so much for joining us today.
Thank you, Natalya, great questions.
Thank you. Thank you and enjoy the rest of your day.
Nate Brown loves all things customer. He has a sweet spot for helping companies understand the customer journey and how employees play in role in improving it. Nate's expertese include customer journey mapping, survey process and analysis, voice of the customer programs, employee engagement and more. Nate is a co-founder of CX Accelerator, a propfessional customer experience improvement and networking tool.
"I think giving good feedback to a brand, giving meaningful feedback to them and giving them a chance to do something with that feedback is the biggest gift that we can offer as customers"