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The Modern Customer Podcast

The Modern Customer Podcast is a show exploring the intersection of customer experience, social customer service and content. We will also dive into related leadership topics. The show is hosted by Forbes contributor and customer experience strategist Blake Morgan and features guests that include practitioners, authors, influencers and other tastemakers.
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Jun 20, 2018

Business leaders, contact center employees and sales associates interact with customers every day and are faced with requests, questions and a wide variety of complaints and issues. The customer experience largely comes down to how they respond—is it with a rote reply or a personalized reaction?

Jeanne Bliss, president of CustomerBliss, bestselling author and a pioneer in the CX field, wants leaders and employees to pause before responding and remember the human side of customer interactions. Her new book asks the question, “Would you do that to your mother?”

The idea is simple—we take good care of the people we care about, whether it’s our mother, sibling or a close friend. In many situations, there is a difference in how we treat customers and how we treat our loved ones. But every customer we interact with is someone’s mother, sibling or friend and should be treated with the same humanity and respect.

Bliss says the work of customer experience can get unnecessarily complicated. By pausing and evaluating the situation before taking action, practitioners can connect in a more human way instead of being stuck in a sea of processes and regulations. After all, customer experience comes down to connecting with people, not just sticking to a rule book.

An example Bliss cites in her book is Vail Resorts, which outlawed phrases like “Our policy is”, “Not my job” and “I don’t know.” The company gave its employees freedom to deliver the experience of a lifetime to its customers and provided the training and trust to go along with it.

If your mother called in with a warrantee claim three days after the warrantee expired, you wouldn’t give her a lesson in your company’s warrantee policy—you would simply take the claim and make an exception. The same should be true with other customers. If a long-standing customer calls with a warrantee claim just after the warrantee expires, take care of them like you would your mother. If not, you put that customer relationship at risk and open the door for them to go to a competitor.

One of the reasons people often overlook the humanity of customer experience is that there is a lack of trust in many organizations. When leaders don’t trust employees, it leads to a poor experience that drives away employees and customers. We should trust employees and trust customers, just like we trust our mothers and other loved ones.

Bliss also shares the example of Cleveland Clinic, which realized more than a decade ago that it just wasn’t pleasing customers. The organization implemented rules that meant that no employee, no matter if they were a doctor or worked in the gift shop, was allowed to pass a customer requesting help. It also made all employees caregivers and gave them training and permission to stop and help every customer and patient they saw. The company got rid of silos for a more holistic approach to customer experience. You wouldn’t leave your mother in the hallway of a hospital, so why would you do that to a customer?

Customer experience is all about humanity. More than profits or growth, it really comes down to connecting with customers and meeting their needs. As we build and strengthen relationships, the growth and profits come naturally. As Bliss says, we need to add humanity to customer experience and really ask ourselves, “Would I do that to my mother?”

 

Jun 14, 2018

The world of small business insurance has always been riddled with hoops to jump through. Instead of spending valuable time growing their businesses, entrepreneurs are forced to waste time on the arduous process of finding insurance. In many cases, these people end up just purchasing a policy to be done instead of being confident that they made the right decision for their business.

Next Insurance is on a mission to reinvent insurance for small business, and it centers around updating the customer experience. When Next Insurance entered the market two years ago, it realized that the insurance experience was universally unpleasant across all small business industries. According to COO Sofya Pogreb, there was lots of room for improvement.

One of the biggest paint points was simply the amount of time the entire insurance-buying process took. Oftentimes, small business owners only had a few days before they needed to have a policy in place, but it took weeks of dense paperwork to make a purchase.

Next Insurance turned that on its head by removing most of the humans from the application process and leveraging AI and machine learning technology. As Pogreb said, the vast majority of customers don’t actually want to talk with a human if they can have a better experience working with a machine. Instead of weeks of paperwork, most Next Insurance customers can buy a policy in 5 to 10 minutes, and 93% of them never talk to a human. The company has agents available for customers who prefer human interaction, but the vast majority of customers simply want speed and accuracy, which is provided with the the help of strong AI algorithms.

One of the biggest holdups for traditional insurance companies is the fragmentation of the value chain. The agents interacting with the customers might not understand their small business industry, and the data of what customers want and need isn’t getting to the back end and product development. Without a flow of data, the product and customer experience aren’t optimized to best meet the needs of customers.

Insurance essentially comes down to three main decisions: the underwriting decision, or if a company will sell insurance to a customer; the rating decision of how much the policy will cost; and the claims adjudication decision, which decides if the claim is covered and for how much. Traditional insurance companies use humans for each of these decisions, which is often why things take so long, instead of using data to make the process more efficient.

Next Insurance enables data to move through entire entire value chain to better understand the customer. Data is updated in real-time so product developers and those focused on customer acquisition can know what is and isn’t working with customers on everything from pricing to coverage.

Next Insurance is also leading the charge in how it handles claims, which Pogreb calls the moment of truth in insurance. One of the biggest frustrations for customers filing a claim, only to realize that their policy doesn’t actually cover what they thought it did. Next Insurance focused on transparency with customers so that they know from the beginning what is and isn’t covered.

According to Pogreb, there’s a revolution coming to the insurance industry in customer experience and product quality. Next Insurance and a growing wave of insurtech startups are leading the charge, but soon all companies will have to transform their customer experience and product offerings.

May 30, 2018

Is your company running from the future or preparing for it?

Nearly every business leader knows the the future of work and technology will bring huge changes, but very few of them are actually doing anything about it. Companies that invest now to become future ready will be the ones that lead and withstand upcoming changes instead of getting disrupted and being pulled in multiple directions.

Wunderman Global CMO Jamie Gutfreund and her team recently undertook a major research project and discovered a large disconnect between companies seeing problems and actually solving them. Most people see change as an obstacle instead of an opportunity. And while Gutfreund agrees that you can’t predict the future, it is definitely possible and wise to prepare for it.

One of the main keys to becoming future ready is to be constantly evolving. As technology changes, it opens new doors for how brands connect with customers. Brands that are preparing for the future pay attention to new technology and find new, innovative ways to share their messages and connect with customers. It’s easier said than done, however. The research by Wunderman found that while the majority of brands say they are future focused, 70% of business leaders said they can’t sacrifice short-term gains for long-term goals.

The important thing to remember is that digital transformation and new technology isn’t just a trend. It’s a long-term game and a powerful tool for forward-thinking companies to have in their tool belts. Digital transformation isn’t a quick fix but rather something that needs to happen over time.

However, digital tools don’t matter if the messaging isn’t there. Gutfreund says that the most successful companies are the ones that have set themselves up to receive feedback from employees, customers, competitors and industry leaders. These companies can hear what is going on and put it into context of what their brand stands for.

Companies that are future ready can’t operate in a silo. They have to be exposed to what is going on with their customers and across all industries. Instead of simply competing against other companies in the same industry, technology and customer experience have made it so that all brands are competing against each other. Customers compare every interaction with a brand to their best brand interactions, regardless of if that means a bank or airline is getting compared to Netflix or Amazon. It’s in everyone’s best interest to make listening and customer experience a key focus moving forward.

Wunderman’s research also uncovered the idea of wantedness. Today’s customers have all the power. Instead of brands seeking loyal customers, they need to pivot and serve their customers as loyal brands. The vast majority of customers will only consider using brands that show they are interested and care about their customers. Customers want to feel wanted, and it’s up to brands to give them that special treatment.

So much of the buzz in the consumer world is around transparency and low levels of trust. Brands that can show they are invested in incorporating feedback and new technology and actually want to serve their customers will not only be ready for the future but will be the ones leading it.

May 24, 2018

A huge change is coming to Europe, and most businesses aren’t ready.

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, goes into effect May 25, and with it comes a power shift that allows customers more access to their personal data than ever before.

Customer data has long been thought of as a business asset. However, under GDPR, customers are now taking back ownership of their information and the power that comes with it. They can now choose what information companies have and delete their information from a company’s database for any reason. Companies that don’t comply with the new regulations run the risk of being fined up to millions of dollars.

However, the majority of businesses aren’t prepared for the new legislation. According to Jeff Nicholson, VP CRM of Pegasystems, most companies didn’t realize the impact GDPR would have until it was too late. That leaves companies scrambling to come up with a data solution that meets the guidelines of transparency while also preparing for a potential wave of customer data requests.

A new survey from Pegasystems found that 82% of EU residents plan to use their new rights to view, limit or erase their personal information that companies have on file. That means that not only will companies have to field the requests and share the information they have on each customer, they will also potentially lose customer data if customers request to erase their data. Companies also should handle the request in a way to adds to their customer experience.

Nicholson says it’s more a question of when, not if, the requests will come in. Companies must plan for large numbers of customers asking to see and potentially remove their data. GDPR doesn’t grant exceptions if there are too many requests for a company to handle in time, so all brands must be prepared for large volumes.

Nicholson says the best thing companies can do to be GDPR ready is to be proactive. The power and data shift is coming, and companies that ignore it or don’t plan accordingly run the serious risk of being blindsided by data requests and changes. Being transparent and creating reliable processes for customer data allows proactive brands the chance to build relationships with customers and gain a competitive advantage.

It all comes down to trust and transparency. Customers want to know they can trust companies to take care of their personal information and not sell it or use it inappropriately. Companies that can demonstrate customer trust will be much more successful than unprepared companies inundated with customer deletion requests.

One of the biggest downsides of customers electing to have their data erased is that it can no longer be used for data analytics. Losing data means companies won’t be as connected to customers or have as many insights into their preferences and habits. One of the most vulnerable industries with these changes is retail, which relies heavily on customer data for personalized recommendations and marketing. Companies need to learn to do more with less data to still provide a high-quality, personalized experience.

GDPR is a huge shift in the EU, and it has the potential to expand to other parts of the world, including the U.S. According to Nicholson, the implementation day of May 25 isn’t the finish line but rather the starting line to a long road of customer data changes. Companies that are proactive and GDPR ready will set the tone and can weather the shifting consumer landscape.

May 14, 2018

There are often two camps when it comes to customer experience: those who think automation and technology is the future, and those who think humans will still perform every task. However, perhaps the most likely scenario is one championed by David Clarke, Global CxO & Experience Consulting Leader, Digital Principal at PwC, who believes future success in customer experience comes from a combination of people plus technology.

One of David’s first suggestions to companies and one that he is constantly using in his own work is for companies to consider if they are transactional or transformational. Transactional companies treat their customers like numbers and are just there to get the job done, while transformational companies aim to really change their customers’ lives by providing a quality product or service and a great experience to go along with it. Although technology is a powerful tool for customer experience, relying on robots can quickly turn a company into a transactional company where customers only interact with the brand to make a purchase and move on. However, if things are too people-heavy, a company can lose efficiency.

The key is to find the balance between technology and people. David advises that changes don’t have to be massive. Brands don’t need to rush out and buy the latest automated technology, but should instead start with the technology they already have on hand. Small changes can create momentum. The journey to customer experience is never over, but taking small steps helps things grow and keeps the company moving to continual success. As David says, lots of good steps amplify each other and keep you moving in the right direction.

Technology can not only open new doors with customers but also connect with the second half of the equation: human employees. PwC focuses on mentoring associates to give them the individual tools they need to succeed. Transformational companies move easily between industries, and a lot of that comes from moving employees between disciplines. PwC focuses on building the right team for each project, which often involves bringing together employees from different departments. The goal is to find the right people to work together to extract the best from each person. Technology can help, but the work of a cohesive and diverse team of humans can’t be replaced.

This approach to the future of customer experience is reflected in a new report from PwC. One of the key takeaways from that report is that customers are willing to pay up to 16% more for a better experience. This statistic shows the power of customer experience—after all, not many other investments or marketing campaigns lead to a 16% price premium. The survey also found that 42% of people would pay more for a warm welcome, which is something that can’t be done by a robot.

The report also found that customers will walk away after one bad experience, and that the cost of earning them back is very high. In our connected society, customers have lots of sources of information and chances to judge companies, so brands need to always be focusing on customer experience and earning customer loyalty.

The future of customer experience isn’t about replacing people with technology. New technology only amplifies the human experience. More than half of customers surveyed said brands have lost their human touch. In order to make the most of customer experience, brands should focus on finding ways to complement the human experience with automation. Instead of simply becoming robot-controlled commodities, companies need to build the connection between people and technology to differentiate themselves.

Innovative companies stay ahead of the curve and are constantly moving forward. As David says, moving to the future of customer experience isn’t something you do once and are done with—it is a constant movement of small steps and regular innovation to find the next thing to please customers. There is always change, and that change comes from combining people and technology.

 

 

May 8, 2018

In a world filled with uncertainty, helping everyday Americans gain financial security has never been more important. That’s been the goal of Prudential Financial since it was founded in 1875, but the company has changed its methods with the times and is now leading the charge for innovation.

One of the big players in that charge is Chief Customer Officer Naveen Agarwal, who views his role as connecting the dots of every customer interaction. Naveen says the biggest challenge in customer experience, especially in the financial services industry, is that it is often organized by product because of how the business is managed internally. This creates a fractured experience for customers, who often have completely different interactions depending on if they are talking to someone in banking versus someone in the credit card department. Naveen’s goal is to connect the entire ecosystem and not let management silos define the customer experience.

Technology and data play a huge role in breaking down those silos. Before Naveen could create a customer-focused strategy, he had to look at the data to understand customers. Prudential’s more than 300 websites and 40 call centers provided plenty of data about why customers were connecting with the brand and where they were in the customer journey. With a base understanding, the team could then improve those interactions with technology.

In the financial world, customers work with either fast money or slow money. Fast money includes things that are done quickly, like account maintenance and credit card applications. Prudential is good at helping customers pay their money faster. On the other hand, slow money involves long-term things like investments and retirement. In these areas, people tend to be very uninformed and overwhelmed. Prudential saw a gap in the customer journey where people were avoiding these big decisions because they simply didn’t know enough. As a result, it created an online content library with resources broken down by subject to help people learn how to manage their money.

This is especially important for people who are left as beneficiaries of their loved ones’ accounts. Prudential’s goal is to educate customers in their times of need, and it does that with an innovative survivor center with content specifically tailored to people dealing with the financial aftermath of the loss of a loved one.

Even with more than 20 million customers across the globe, Prudential still aims to create personalized experiences. By tracking customer behavior, the company can understand each customer’s preferences and stage of life. The goal is that no matter how a customer interacts with the brand, Prudential employees always discuss each customer’s individual needs. In many cases it opens up needs and questions customers didn’t even know they had.

AI and machine learning have played a large role in transforming Prudential’s core values for modern customers. Prudential is one of the best examples of putting AI into action in a way that truly transforms the customer experience. It used to be that applying for life insurance required multiple meetings, tons of paperwork, and invasive tests, which was a drain on the company and its customers. The entire process could take up to 10 weeks before customers were properly assessed for their risk. Prudential moved to AI to turn the basic information provided by customers on their initial life insurance applications into an algorithm to predict risk. The model is 93% accurate and can produce a policy in two days instead of two months. As a result, the number of customers buying life insurance has shifted.

As Prudential moves towards the future, it will continue to put customers first and use the best data-driven technology. Customer-focused executives and team members should understand technology and customer needs because everything they do has a deep layer of technology. Prudential shows that even a long-standing brand can transform itself to serve customers with innovative data and technology.

May 1, 2018

In a world where many customers just feel like dollar signs or voices on the phone, one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world promises its customers they will be able to see the whites of its employees’ eyes. No matter the issue, there will always be someone there so closely involved in the situation that customers will know who they are and feel their presence.

It’s a powerful identity that Gary Adey, Commercial & Operations Director, Group Enterprise at Vodafone, has created for his team. Called Red Line, it’s an effort that showcases the importance of trust, ownership, and empathy in customer experience, especially when it comes to the operations team. Whenever a customer issue crosses the Red Line, the team owns it until it is resolved.

The Red Line identity is something that employees can connect with and that makes them proud to work for Vodafone. They then use that identity to drive positive interactions with their commercial and enterprise customers around the world.

Vodafone went through a transformation three years ago when it realized it needed to create a strong customer experience to match the high-quality network in which it had invested so much money. The company set a goal to be the customer experience leader in every market it operates in—a tall order considering Vodafone’s 500 million customers in 26 countries, including both consumer and enterprise customers.

Gary’s operations team plays a unique role in customer experience that isn’t seen in many other companies. At Vodafone, operations is an important piece of the culture that aims to create the optimum mix between people, technology, and process. Operations is directly connected to digital transformation and customer experience.

One way Vodafone drives customer experience is by focusing more on structure than on rules. Employees don’t have strict rules they have to follow; instead, they are given a structure and the autonomy to act within that structure to provide the customer what they need. Gary wants his employees to be empowered and passionate and not to be held back by rules or things they don’t have authority to do. Vodafone knows the importance of investing in customer experience, especially considering that it takes 12 positive customer interactions to undo the damage of one negative interaction. Investing in creating positive interactions from the beginning is more cost effective than risking a bad experience and having to fix it later.

This is especially important considering the wide range of interactions employees have with customers. On the consumer side, customers have questions about things like their bills, coverage, and upgrades. Vodafone has digitized many of those interactions so customers can engage digitally through the app for a more efficient and seamless interaction. On the enterprise side, the operations team supports large multinational customers who may have issues with their infrastructure that impacts everything about their business. Employees have to be ready to address a broad catalog of customer experience issues.

In the competitive telecommunications world, Vodafone sees customer experience as a sustainable differentiator that helps it stand out from the competition. It is easy to see the correlation between strong NPS and company growth. The company is focused on building trust with its long-term customers.

Vodafone’s operations team also stays on top of new technology and innovations. As trends and technology change, the company wants to be able to provide the best service and options to its customers, including an innovative program around the changing role of the retail store. This is particularly important in the enterprise space where many of Vodafone’s customers are going through their own digital transformations. By using new technology, Vodafone can have more data to create personalized experiences that can be scaled across countries and segments.

Operations plays a pivotal role in customer experience, as shown at Vodafone. By creating a team that owns the customer experience and is passionate about serving customers the best it can, operations can become the heart of any customer experienced-focused company.

 

Apr 23, 2018

Most CEOs don’t clean bathrooms, report to entry-level employees, or stop by stores just to chat with customers. Then again, Larry Sutton isn’t most CEOs.

Larry has turned RNR Tire Express into the fastest-growing tire franchise in the country with a humble and self-deprecating attitude. Larry doesn’t see himself as the head of the company; in fact, he’s actually turned the entire structure upside down. RNR uses an inverted version of the traditional pyramid hierarchy system. Larry reports to other executives, who report to regional managers, who then report to store managers and employees. As Larry says, the people who are doing the actual work are often the ones who have the best answers; if he wants to find out what kind of trucks to buy, he’s going to ask the manager who works with trucks all day instead of an executive who is removed from the actual work. It’s all in an effort to create a serve spirit instead of a service spirit. The CEO reports to everyone else because it is his job to serve them. That culture trickles down to customers, who can see a difference.

A serving attitude permeates RNR in how employees are treated. Larry believes that employees won’t be willing to serve customers fully until they are served and valued. That comes from working with them as a person instead of just an employee. Managers and executives help employees develop life skills so they can be the best husbands, wives, fathers, sons, neighbors, etc. they can be. RNR is a company full of changed lives in the business of changing lives. Focusing on employees and changing their lives spreads to customers and helps the company change their lives, as well.

Larry follows the Yes CEO mentality and has a goal to say yes more often than he says no. When an employee or franchise owner has an idea for something new, Larry almost always lets them try it, even if he doesn’t think it will work. The idea will either be a great success or serve as a learning experience for the employee and teach them more than if Larry had just shot the idea down in the first place. As long as it doesn’t hurt the brand, employees are free to try a lot of different things to create unique solutions to help customers.

Serving is at the heart of everything RNR Tire Express does. The goal is not to provide service, but to serve people. Multiple times a year RNR hosts events for employees and their families to connect and share the culture of the company. It costs a lot of money to put on events and offer rewards, but Larry believes it is worth it to serve employees. In an effort to build the culture of service, Larry has even turned down potential franchises who just didn’t fit the RNR culture.

Another way Larry stands out from the typical CEO is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He knows his employees and can connect with them on a personal and self-deprecating level. When he stops by the stores, he often checks to see if the bathrooms are clean. If they aren’t, he quietly grabs a mop and gets to work.

Larry also isn’t afraid to get feedback. It all comes back to the attitude of humility. He realizes that getting tires isn’t a pleasant experience for most people, so he welcomes new ideas of how to improve the experience. As Larry visits RNR franchises, he talks to customers in the waiting rooms about what could make their experiences better. When one customer suggested free Uber rides, four franchises started testing the idea. Other franchises are trying free pickup and delivery and mobile tire installation, and all franchises offer free refreshments and charging stations.

Larry truly believes that investing in customer experience pays off by creating an environment where people want to work and customers want to do business. His unique approach is working—RNR Tire Express has grown to a $130 million business since it started franchising in 2003. Thinking outside the box and serving with humility can make a big difference for companies across all industries, and it starts at the top.

Apr 12, 2018

When it comes to customer experience, many companies often overlook an important group of customers: their employees. According to Melanie Foley, EVP, Chief Talent and Enterprise Services Officer at Liberty Mutual, seeing employees as customers is key to creating a great experience. Just like customers can choose to buy your product or not, employees can choose to work for your company or not. Creating a culture of employee engagement helps drive a strong customer experience because employees are excited and prepared to interact with customers.

Treating employees as customers starts with the hiring process and delivering on the promises made in interviews. At Liberty Mutual, there is a large focus on developing engagement and loyalty by creating a culture that inspires employees to want to do the best they can for their customers. When companies provide an enjoyable atmosphere and make it easy for employees to do their jobs with the right technology and efficient processes, employees come to work because they want to, not just because they have to. There’s a definite difference between employees who are engaged and passionate about the work versus employees who are just there for the paycheck, and customers can sense that difference.

Treating employees like customers can also be measured. Liberty Mutual uses NPS to measure customer satisfaction and will soon be rolling out eNPS, or employee net promoter score, to all 50,000 of its employees around the world.

Strong companies anticipate and meet their customers’ needs, and the same needs to be done for employees. Liberty Mutual does this by encouraging empathy, dignity, and respect for everyone—customers and employees alike. Insurance can be a stressful business, and employees are often communicating and working with customers after they have had a devastating loss and are working to fix things. Although it has been a difficult and costly few years for the insurance industry, Melanie encourages companies to not nickel and dime their employees. Employees need to feel valued and won’t want to take care of customers if they feel the company is cutting corners on its customer and employee experience to save a few bucks.

The pace of change is increasing rapidly, especially in insurance. Strong companies are forward-thinking and try to get ahead of change. One of the best ways this can happen is by making sure all employees have change leadership capabilities and feel prepared to face change in their individual roles. Change can often lead to anxiety, so providing a space where employees can practice mindfulness is key. Liberty Mutual recently switched from a traditional wellness program for employees to a more all-encompassing well-being program that also encourages mindfulness, breathing, and taking time to calm down and reset.

In order to create a strong employee experience, leaders must be willing to have difficult conversations. Companies should be transparent and create spaces to talk honestly about important issues that are facing employees, especially with regards to themes like gender representation and making sure women are treated equally. Tools like employee resource groups and other discussion avenues can be powerful in making sure everyone’s voice is heard.

Every company exists to serve a customer, whether that customer is someone buying the product or an employee. Engaged employees make engaged customers. By focusing on building trust, innovation, and loyalty with employees, everyone in the organization, including customers, will feel engaged and satisfied.

Apr 2, 2018

When an insurance claim is filed, it means there has likely been an accident or some damage to a person’s car, home, or business. Understandably, most people aren’t thrilled to have to go through the claims process. However, customer experience is still vitally important in the insurance industry and can make the journey more pleasant for everyone involved.

According to Alex Glanz, global insurance practice lead at Medallia, the insurance industry is similar to other subscription businesses—customers pay in advance and feel the value of their purchase later. Customers use insurance all the time. Although they likely aren’t frequently filing claims, having the peace of mind that they are protected no matter what happens will improve the quality of life of a customer.   

In the insurance world, there is a natural tension between saving money and helping customers. Insurers want to provide a great customer experience and follow through on their promises, but they also want to manage claims efficiently and effectively, which can often be at odds with each other. Sometimes to create a good customer experience the claim needs to take longer to process, but that costs more money, just like making detailed estimates can hurt customer experience. In general, the better the experience, the higher the cost. The balancing act for insurance companies is to create fair outcomes while managing costs to best serve customers.

In order to do that, insurers should think about things from the customer’s perspective. This week’s guest on the Modern Customer Podcast - Alex Glanz - recommends using data to understand the customer journey and see the points where the company’s actions aren’t meeting the customer’s expectations and using those as areas for improvement. Truly providing a great customer experience comes from having a customer-focused culture. According to Alex, everyone in the company must be focused on customer experience. It needs to start with the C-Suite and spread through the entire company. The best companies democratize their data and get it into the hands of people who can take action. When everyone engages around customer experience, customers are satisfied and loyal to the company.

Alex preaches the importance of moving past operational customer experience, which takes a research-based approach, and instead focusing on an agile, emotional response. Many companies fall into the trap of doing research about customer experience, coming up with a strategy, and slowly rolling it out in controlled segments. However, the best customer experience responds to the needs of customers and is more flexible. Real customer experience grows as it is part of a company’s day-to-day operations and a living piece of what every employee does.

The goal of customer experience for a brand should be to remove friction, and that goal is critical in the insurance industry. As customers file claims during difficult times, companies should be looking for ways to make the process smoother and help make customers’ lives easier, not more difficult. Improving customer experience helps lower costs, which keeps things in balance. Although the insurance customer journey might be unlike that of any other industry, customer experience is still a vital part of the insurance process and can be developed by knowing and understanding customers.

 Disclosure: This is a podcast and post sponsored by Medallia

Mar 28, 2018

Zappos is considered a leader when it comes to customer experience, but it hasn’t always been that way. When Rob Siefker, now the Senior Director of Customer Loyalty, started representing the company at conferences years ago, he estimates only 10% of people had heard of Zappos. Now that number is around 99%, and the company has become a model of how to create a customer-obsessed culture. However, the road to Zappos’ success wasn’t without hiccups.

Zappos has been an evolving company from the start. When Rob started in 2004, he was working as a temp in the call center on a job that was only expected to last a few days. That didn’t end up being the case, and he has grown with the company over the last 14 years. As Zappos has grown, one thing that has stayed the same has been the company’s customer-obsessed mindset. Although customer trends, expectations, and technology have changed, Zappos has been able to stay true to its brand and respond to a changing environment.

One of the biggest changes for Zappos occurred when the company shifted to a Holacracy model in 2013. Instead of using the traditional top-down organizational system, Zappos wanted to encourage innovation and empower employees by flattening the structure and distributing power. Zappos is now a leader in Holacracy, and it has been a great fit for the company, but it there were challenges along the way. There were a lot of unknowns with the initial transition, especially because no company of Zappos’ size had ever tried Holacracy before. One of the things Rob said the company didn’t anticipate was how to process the natural tensions that come with change. The new system was a bit disorienting at first, simply because it was something employees had never experienced before. Some of the early growing pains could have perhaps been mitigated if leaders had better anticipated the challenges and taught employees how to use the new system to instigate change.

Rob suggests that other companies that move to Holacracy or make any sort of big structural change should recognize that people will likely have a hard time with a significant change and will need time to adjust. Rob recommends involving employees from the beginning of the process and answering their questions right away so they can see how the change will affect them before it actually takes place. Zappos considered its employees when moving to Holacracy and trained them on the new system, but it also wanted to move quickly, and there were areas where it could have been better to slow down and make sure everyone had a firm understanding of the new principles.

However, the challenges of moving to a new system only solidified Zappos’ customer-first culture, and the company came out stronger. Zappos Insights is a consulting arm where Rob and other employees mentor other customer service companies on running contact centers and putting customers first. The key thing for these companies to remember is that every business is different and there isn’t one single playbook for success.

Zappos has grown and evolved over the last decade, and it will continue to evolve as demands and technology change. However, Rob says that the focus always has been and always will be on building an emotional connection between customers and the brand. The company will continue to elevate its customer experience in new ways, including its Zappos Adaptive program that curates products for people who have disabilities or limitations that makes it harder for them to put on clothes and shoes. Zappos aims to provide better service to an underrepresented customer group and to all customers.

Although it hasn’t always been a smooth road, Zappos’ ability to focus on customers and empower employees has allowed the company to take risks and come out stronger and smarter than ever before. Although every business is different, every company can learn from Zappos’ customer-focused culture.

Mar 20, 2018

Many businesses know the importance of becoming “experience-led” and went to get there, but knowing where to start can be overwhelming. Adobe recently created a new customer Experience Index after surveying more than 1,500 people across the country. The results show powerful insights into the minds of customers and show areas where companies are excelling with customer experience and where they can improve.

 

Delight Me, Know Me + Respect Me, Speak in One Voice, Keep Technology Apparent

According to Tamara Gaffney, Strategic Insights Engagement Group Director at Adobe, the general findings of the study break down into four tenets of experience that businesses should have. The four include: Delight Me, Know Me + Respect Me, Speak in One Voice, and Keep Technology Apparent. These are general themes outlining where companies or industries as a whole can improve. Some companies are doing better than others.

One of the biggest complaints from customers across all industries falls under the tenet of Speak in One Voice. Many customer frustrations arise from brands not following through on promises and not being genuine about what they said they were going to do. Issues also arise when there are hidden fees or the brand isn’t transparent.

 

Experience Makers and Experience Breakers

Adobe classified certain actions as Experience Makers and Experience Breakers. Making the customer feel tricked is an Experience Breaker. Tamara said it is extremely hard for companies to speak in one voice, especially with all the communication channels that are available these days. In order to cut through the clutter and provide a consistent message and experience, companies need to break down data silos and focus on integrating internally so they can present a united and consistent front to customers.

 

Companies Can’t Rely On Data Alone

Data and technology also play a huge role in the modern customer experience, though Tamara emphasized that companies can’t just rely on data alone. Survey respondents said they were delighted with new tech offerings, especially when it comes to helping brands create personalized experiences. In the technology section, the highest scores were for the importance of personal service, but the lowest scores were for preferring to interact with a human over a computer. Essentially, consumers understand that there are times when it is easier and better to interact with a computer and times where a human can provide better service. When getting a basic answer or filing a form, consumers like to interact with computers for fast service, but when it comes to getting personalized recommendations or answering more complicated questions, humans do a better job. Customers like to have options of how to get the best service.

 

Millennials Are The Most Demanding Generation

Another theme throughout the survey related to customer feelings and expectations from different generations. The most demanding generation is Millennials aged 25-34, most likely because they are becoming much heavier consumers. Younger consumers age 18-24 are more aligned with the older generations when it comes to what they expect from brands. However, just because customers aren’t complaining doesn’t necessarily mean they are happy—consumers aged 50 and older are less likely to complain, but it’s often because they’ve given up, not because they really are happier with the experience. The key takeaway from this data is not to assume that quiet customers are happy and to work on creating a great experience for customers of all ages.

 

Use Surprise And Delight For Mundane Everyday Customer Interactions

There’s also a lot of talk in the customer experience world about the importance of surprise and delight. According to the survey, most companies are doing a fairly good job of surprising and delighting customers, but there is still room for growth. To most effectively surprise and delight, brands should focus on the things customers do most often. A surprise and delight experience for something they do once a year is nice, but it’s more impactful to put that effort into building a surprise and delight experience on something customers do more regularly.

 

If You Don’t Measure It You Can’t Improve It

Tamara advises all companies to measure how they are doing with customer experience. Although Net Promoter Score is widely used and helps measure customer satisfaction, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Companies that want to become experience-led need to use more detailed data by creating surveys, talking to customers, and looking on social media. They need to understand their own Experience Makers and Experience Breakers and invest resources into strengthening those areas.

 

Address Your Biggest Challenge Area First

Even the most experience-led businesses can’t do everything at once. As the data shows, there are areas where companies are excelling at customer experience, and there are also areas with potential for growth. The key is for each company to figure out and address the biggest challenge areas and then put an emphasis on surprising and delighting customers at the biggest opportunities. A strategic and informed approach to customer experience can change how brands interact with customers.

 

Disclosure: Adobe is a former client of Blake Morgan’s.

Mar 19, 2018

There’s no doubt that customer experience is changing. Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects is that it is changing so quickly. In order to keep up with the rate of change and ensure customers’ needs are met, companies need to embrace a new wave of technology.

In many cases, customer experience is only as good as a company’s data and communication system. Think of how we communicate: we use text, chat, email, phone, and more. If that’s how customers talk, it’s also how companies should listen. Yet many times communication is lacking and actually contributes to a bad customer experience.

Bryan Martin, Chairman and CTO at 8x8, likes to think of business communication in terms of waves. The first wave was on-premise and hardware-based with heavy infrastructure. Companies likely had a different vendor for each aspect of their communication and data storage, which meant things were disjointed and inefficient. In the second wave, point solutions moved to the cloud, which didn’t really solve any problems except for making the solutions less expensive. We’re now in the third wave, which is transforming how businesses operate, store data, and communicate with customers. In the third wave, companies have a single enterprise cloud solution that covers all customer and employee interactions. The single platform enables communication while also engaging with customers and storing data for the entire company to access. Taking advantage of the third wave helps companies accelerate their businesses, gain more revenue, and see higher NPS scores. According to Bryan, the third wave will continue to grow as more people realize that all communications need to be connected.

Using different tools creates silos within an organization. If the contact center uses one program to manage its phone calls and the digital team uses another program to manage social outreach and customer data, everything falls into different categories and can’t be connected to create a consistent customer experience. Imagine the frustration for customers who can’t have their issues solved right away and for employees who don’t have the tools they need to best meet customers’ needs. Those problems are fixed with a unified enterprise system.

Contact center agents are always on the front line of communicating with customers. However, these agents aren’t effective at their jobs if they don’t have real-time access to other parts of the company. For too long contact centers have been their own islands without any connection to a common corporate directory or shared information. However, by connecting the entire organization to the same cloud-based data system, contact center agents can not only be aware of the context of their calls and better serve customers, they can play a vital role in driving customer experience and increasing sales.

There are lots of different channels companies use to communicate with customers, but technology is the glue that holds it all together. With the vast amount of data available today, companies should be able to understand and process customer needs in real time and know the history and context of each customer interaction. With the help of connected technology, the entire organization can be constantly improving.

Many companies think that changing their system and moving to the third wave is complicated and expensive. However, companies like 8x8 provide a variety of simple options. Investing in a unified engagement system has a high ROI as it accelerates business and improves customer experience.

In today’s world, technology is a vital part of customer experience. As Bryan says, the data scientist plays as important a role in customer experience as does the contact center agent. Taking advantage of technology and breaking down silos to create a unified, data-driven system allows companies to put customers first and drive their own business towards the future.

 

Disclosure: This is a podcast and post sponsored by 8x8.

Mar 12, 2018

Not many companies end up highlighted on The Ellen Show, but that’s exactly what happened for Capital One, and it can all be credited back to the company’s customer-centric culture.

After her fiancé broke up with her and she moved out, a Capital One customer’s card was flagged for fraud when she ordered furniture sent to her new address. The customer called and explained the situation to contact center employee Tonya, who gave her 4,500 miles for a vacation after her rough breakup and even sent her flowers. The story went viral, but according to Doug Woodard, SVP Customer Operations at Capital One, things like that happen regularly.

At Capital One, a customer-centric culture starts with trust. Executives work to create an environment where they can trust employees, which gives employees freedom to help customers in whatever way best meets their needs. All employees are encouraged to look for ways to build a connection with customers. Doug considers it his job to care for those people who care for the customers. He aims to support the customer-facing associates and empower them to serve customers.

Capital One is so successful with its culture because it starts at the top. From the C-level down to entry level employees, customers are an integral part of the DNA of the company. A customer-centered culture means that customer experience doesn’t just fall on one department—it is the responsibility of everyone in the organization. Everyone has a responsibility to understand customer feedback and make improvements to customer experiences. At Capital One, that happens as leaders invest time in getting closer to customers by going to the call center, reading customer feedback, and sharing that information with their employees, no matter what department they are in. Employees are recognized publicly when they are a hero to customers, which reinforces the customer-first culture.

According to Doug, a customer-centric culture is also built on transparency. Companies have to mean what they say and say what they mean. Culture is transparent to customers, and they can quickly see through words that aren’t backed by action. A customer can easily feel if the employee they are working with hates their job because it will naturally come out in the employee’s attitude. Humility and accountability are also vitally important. It takes humility to really listen to customers and be willing to do what they are asking and listen to their feedback.

Framing is also key to a strong culture. Employees need to see how their work affects customers and the difference they can make. At Capital One, employees know they aren’t just answering the phones at a credit card company, they are helping people with their financial lives. Everything rests on building that sense of purpose, from training and accountability to the quality of the experiences. Identifying the metrics that will measure customer-facing actions can also drive culture and action. It might be tracking NPS or other metrics, but having something to measure makes people accountable and forces them to follow through so the actions are rooted in the culture.

Much of what builds a customer-centered culture starts with the mindset of the leaders and employees. As demonstrated by Capital One, having an attitude of serving customers can permeate the entire organization and lead to great success.

Mar 6, 2018

Culture has come to the forefront of many business leaders’ minds lately due to attention around issues like sexual harassment and diversity. The problem is that most leaders don’t know how to cultivate a corporate culture that is lively and sustainable, or else they are going about it the wrong way.

Denise Lee Yohn, author of the book Fusion: How Integrating Brand and Culture Powers the World’s Greatest Companies, says the thing most companies are doing wrong is thinking there is one just kind of culture they need to create. Many leaders see companies with great cultures and feel they need to imitate them exactly to create cultures that are warm and fuzzy with lots of perks for employees. That’s not the case. What really makes a strong culture is something that represents the brand’s mission and values. Yes, it should be a nice place to work, but the companies with the best results create cultures that are unique and represent who they want to be as an organization.

Instead of thinking as culture the same way as everyone else, leaders should find something that represents their brand and encourages employees to produce the results the company needs them to. That doesn’t always mean perks—as Denise points out, perks are just the tactics many leaders focus on instead of addressing the underlying foundation and strategy that makes a successful culture. Great snacks or a free gym might make employees happy, but it usually doesn’t truly engage them, and the appeal could soon wear off. True culture is long-lasting and goes beyond just nice things in the office.

Companies should be confident in their culture and own it. It’s misleading when a company misrepresents its culture, only for employees and customers to find out that things aren’t really how they seem to be. Organizations need to have an internal culture and outward identity that are aligned so they are authentic in all they do.

Intentional cultures start from the top with an executive team that takes responsibility. Culture isn’t built on its own, but rather requires a concerted and deliberate effort. The CEO and his or her team should think about things like the organization’s purpose, core values, and unique attributes. Those ideas can drive culture and allow the company to create something fresh that stands out from everyone else. A good culture is sustainable and creates a competitive advantage.

Denise shares MGM’s cultural transformation as a good example of how to create a strong culture that engages employees. MGM used to be thought of as an average Las Vegas hotel and casino, but the company wanted to transform into an experience-based brand. All of the company’s employees had to get on board with the transformation, so MGM brought in a training team to work with all 177,000 employees in person. Starting with leaders and working through the various departments, everyone was trained on the new culture so they could embrace the new brand identity. MGM wanted each employee to “be the show” and realize his or her place in creating a show for guests. Investing time in reaching out to all employees helped MGM change its brand and its internal culture into a place where employees feel valued and know they are contributing to something bigger. As a result, MGM has seen an internal transformation and financial gains.

Culture is vitally important to a brand’s success. It is strategic and something leaders should be focused on and very involved with. Instead of focusing on tactics that don’t work, Denise encourages companies to decide that makes them different and build a culture strategically. Creating a unique and sustainable culture can truly turn a business into a strong and successful company.

Internal cultures start from the top with an executive team that takes responsibility. Culture isn’t built on its own, but rather requires a concerted and deliberate effort. The CEO and his or her team should think about things like the organization’s purpose, core values, and unique attributes. Those ideas can drive culture and allow the company to create something fresh that stands out from everyone else. A good culture is sustainable and creates a competitive advantage.

Denise shares MGM’s cultural transformation as a good example of how to create a strong culture that engages employees. MGM used to be thought of as an average Las Vegas hotel and casino, but the company wanted to transform into an experience-based brand. All of the company’s employees had to get on board with the transformation, so MGM brought in a training team to work with all 177,000 employees in person. Starting with leaders and working through the various departments, everyone was trained on the new culture so they could embrace the new brand identity. MGM wanted each employee to “be the show” and realize his or her place in creating a show for guests. Investing time in reaching out to all employees helped MGM change its brand and its internal culture into a place where employees feel valued and know they are contributing to something bigger. As a result, MGM has seen an internal transformation and financial gains.

Culture is vitally important to a brand’s success. It is strategic and something leaders should be focused on and very involved with. Instead of focusing on tactics that don’t work, Denise encourages companies to decide that makes them different and build a culture strategically. Creating a unique and sustainable culture can truly turn a business into a strong and successful company.

Feb 28, 2018

Everyone wants to feel connected—it’s part of human nature. Whether it’s building relationships at home, in the community, or with friends, people like to feel bonded to each other. But perhaps it’s nowhere more important than at work. A connection culture in the workplace can impact customer experience and create a place where employees are engaged and excited to be.

Studies have shown that people who aren’t connected can actually get physically ill and fall into poor health, especially during times of stress. However, the opposite is also true, says Michael Lee Stallard, author of "Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work”. When employees feel connected to their supervisors or the people they work with, all the parts of their body work together so they can physically work at a higher level.

As an employer, it makes sense to want employees who are physically and mentally strong and engaged over employees who are dragging and stressed. Who would you rather have interacting with your customers?

Brands want their customers to be engaged and feel connected to the company. But it’s hard for employees to give customers what they themselves don’t have. A company won’t have energetic and enthusiastic employees who connect with customers if those employees don’t feel connected to the company.

According to Michael, there are five benefits that come from having a connection culture: employees have cognitive clarity, they give their best effort, they align their work with the organization’s goals, they communicate more, and they engage in creativity to fuel innovation. A culture of connectivity impacts everyone, and customers can feel if it is there or not. When employees are engaged and connected, they naturally want to share that with customers.

Michael tells the story of Admiral Vernon Clark, who was the Chief of Naval Operations just before 9/11. When Admiral Clark took over, the Navy was having a hard time retaining sailors because they weren’t treated well and didn’t feel connected to the organization or to each other. When he first joined the Navy, Admiral Clark had a Master Chief mentor him, which connected him to the organization and set the path for his career, and he wanted other young sailors to have a similar experience. Admiral Clark turned things around by talking to the Master Chiefs and encouraging them to mentor and train the sailors under them. It worked—by mentoring the sailors and building connections, the sailors became more engaged and connected to the Navy’s mission. In just 18 months, re-enlistment jumped from 20% to 70%. Creating a connection culture in the Navy ensured that it was ready for whatever came its way and could do its job to protect American citizens.

Similar principles are found at Costco, which is known for taking care of its employees. Because Costco is focused on doing the right thing, employees feel connected, and the company has a much higher retention rate than other retail stores. The result is employees who are happy to be there and serve customers in any way they can.

A connection culture builds long-term, sustainable performance, which creates a high-quality customer experience. When people don’t feel connected, they are only coming to work to get a paycheck, and it shows in their interactions with customers. Conversely, a connection culture helps every employee see how their role impacts the organization and makes them excited to provide a great customer experience each day.

Feb 7, 2018

Most anyone who has had a bank account for at least a few years is familiar with the traditional relationship between banks and customers—banks house the money, send the statements, and set the rules. Many people think of their bank as the “big bad wolf” who sets the terms of how money is used and comes after you with fees if you can’t manage your money correctly. It’s a necessary institution, but one that has long been feared by many customers.

Things are changing, and how we interact with banks and money is transforming into a much more customer-friendly model. Instead of being afraid of banks, customers can now work with them to conveniently meet their financial goals. One of the leaders of the movement is Zelle, a peer-to-peer payment system that allows users to instantly send money through a secure app. Zelle is actually owned by seven of the world’s largest banks with the goal of creating a consumer platform that is fast, safe, and works across banks. It’s a far cry from the old attitude of banks that only cared about how many customers they could get to open accounts. Today, banks care more about creating a good experience for customers and providing them with the tools to make banking easy and accessible.

In many cases, banks are pivoting to more advisory roles and expanding their services and relationships. The relationship between customers and banks is changing in large part because new technology allows banks to use various platforms to deliver services that are faster and more convenient for customers than they could have done in the past. Zelle and many other banking apps would not have been possible even just a few years ago, but with advances in mobile technology, it’s not only now possible but safe and convenient.

Technology also allows banks to provide more options to customers. It used to be that if customers had to do any kind of banking, their only option was to go into a physical branch and talk with a banker. Now, mobile and online banking make it much more convenient for customers to get their banking done on the go. Modern customers love to self-serve, and banking apps make that possible. Instead of having to talk to a teller to deposit a check or wire money to a friend, it can now be done with just a few clicks in an app. Of course, physical locations are still available for people who want face-to-face interactions or have more complicated issues, but just having the option to bank in a way that is convenient for each customer is a huge change in modern banking.

The evolution of money is far from over. Changing payment options will likely affect how customers make purchases. Rose Corvo, the marketing lead for Zelle, says her company’s main goal is for people to use less cash and checks and instead use instant peer-to-peer payments. As artificial intelligence grows, it will also become more of a force in the financial world. AI will be able to notice trends in a customer’s account and then initiate a conversation about how the problem can be fixed. For example, if AI notices that a customer keeps overdrawing their account, it can notify a human to call the customer or contact them directly to discuss options and other banking products to prevent future With new technology and options comes more opportunities for banks to advise their customers on how to be smarter with their money. Education is a huge goal of modern banks because educated customers are happier and more loyal to the brand. As technology advances and it becomes even easier to monitor and move money, banks will likely become a more convenient part of our lives.

Our relationship with money is changing for the better, and it will likely continue to change as technology finds more ways to put customers first.

Jan 29, 2018

It used to be that customers had one basic cell phone that they used just to call or text people, and they would contact the phone’s support center when things went wrong. Those days are long gone. Today’s customers have multiple devices that are constantly connected, and they can interact with tech companies for more than just support questions.

As the technology and mobile world changes, Samsung is also changing its attitude towards customer experience. Instead of what SVP Customer Care Michael Lawder calls the “break, fix model” where customers only came to the brand to fix their broken devices and then got on with their lives, Samsung is now focused on building lasting, meaningful relationships with its customers that go beyond the one-off service fixes. The idea is that as customers become more connected with their devices, they can also become more connected to the brand. More devices means there is more chance to build loyal Samsung customers for life.

Samsung does this by aiming for high-quality customer service through a number of channels. It recently unveiled its truck on the streets of New York City that can service customers similar to how a food truck operates. If a customer needs help setting up their device, their screen to be fixed, or just a place to charge their phone, they can come aboard the truck and get the service done for free. Samsung is also expanding its chatbot ability by using bots to efficiently direct customers to a real person who can answer their questions. Although Michael admits the technology isn’t completely there yet, the idea is that bots will be able to streamline support requests by texting customers a few questions to point them to the right human support agent. Future chatbots will be able to gather more information about customers, which will lead to more customized experiences.

Samsung’s new focus on the end-to-end customer journey means that the focus isn’t just on selling a product or fixing something when it’s broken—it’s on building relationships throughout the entire customer journey. Building relationships that solve problems and improve customers’ lives means that Samsung has to put resources into its programs. By delivering amazing experiences, studies have shown that customers invest more in the brand, which leads to a huge ROI. The internal Samsung motto for service is “Done plus one”, meaning that not only is the problem solved, but employees have the power and are encouraged to go above and beyond to delight customers and make them Samsung fans for life. It’s not just customers who are connected to the products—employees are as well. Samsung lets its employees, especially those in the service areas, use their products for personal use so they can fall in love with them and naturally want to provide amazing service. The hope is that employees will be fueled by their own passion for the brand and products and want to share that with customers.

Customers are more connected than ever before, and that connection will continue to grow with the IoT and as more devices become available. Companies like Samsung know the power of staying in touch with these connected customers to help them not only connect to their devices, but also to connect to the brand.

Jan 22, 2018

In 2017 I had a lot of great conversations with a wide variety of thought leaders. I gathered up some highlight clips from last year’s podcast interviews and put them into one podcast mashup. These clips show how customer experience can be defined and implemented, what it means for businesses in the future, and more.

The first interview I looked back on was with Mary Winfield, VP Customer Experience and Trust at Lyft. The company has to focus on two sets of customers: drivers and passengers. The entire business model is centered around making customers’ lives easier, from providing services people want and need to using technology that makes things simple and efficient. She describes the symbiotic relationship between employee experience and customer experience at Lyft.

Donna Morris is the EVP Customer and Employee Experience at Adobe. I visited the Adobe offices in San Jose, and we talked about the future of customer experience. She believes the role of customer experience is only going to grow. Digital technology will have a huge part in the future and will need to ‘emote’ as face-to-face interactions are going away. This will direct how organizations think about the customer experience and creating great experiences without the human element.

Under the direction of Adobe’s Chief Marketing Officer Ann Lewnes, the company created an attention-grabbing ad that reached out to customers and kept their attention. In this clip, Ann talks about the Adobe commercial that starts with a bank robbery and ends by showcasing digital technology and customer experience.

One of the hottest topics of 2017 was the chatbot. The next podcast interview is with singer, actress, and entrepreneur Christina Milian. Together with her business partner Josh Bocanegra, they created Persona, a tech company that builds chatbots for celebrities. Christina describes the value the chatbot brings to her brand, how it works, and how to get started when considering adding a chatbot to your company.

The future of marketing is not an easy thing to scale. Karin Timpone, CMO of Marriott International, is definitely up to the task. Marriott has a focus on Guerrilla marketing and jumps on real-time marketing opportunities via social media. One recent example was the Pokemon Go craze. Marriott’s social media team put its efforts on high octane and placed Pokémon monsters in pools knowing that guests photographed them and that they would possibly go viral. They got wind of one Pokémon Go super user and decided to sponsor him by sending him to Japan, Australia, and Europe to catch more Pokémon. Social media is a powerful way for marketing teams to engage with customers in real time, but it requires marketing to constantly have eyes and ears on the ground

Dec 30, 2017

In today’s work landscape, people aren’t limited by what corporate position they hold or what their job title is. Everyone can piece together their dream career with initiative, hard work, and a little luck. Perhaps there’s no better example of that than Jacob Morgan, a leading author, speaker, and expert on the future of work. He also happens to be married to me.

After a few disastrous jobs in the corporate world, Jacob realized he wanted the freedom to work for himself and push himself in new ways. Instead of just getting coffee for executives, he wanted to be guiding them and helping them create good environments for their employees and customers. The path from recent college grad to a successful speaker who now travels the world wasn’t easy—Jacob started out speaking for free and hustling to make his voice heard, but his career has grown and gained momentum over the last decade and put him in a position to continuously expand and grow his brand.

Jacob’s formula for success as a professional speaker and author, or really as just an entrepreneur with a voice, is to “Be everywhere all the time”. To him, building a personal brand comes down to three things: consistency, visibility, and frequency. You need to pick a topic as your expertise and be as consistent as you can with it. Instead of bouncing around and addressing a number of business-related topics, Jacob writes and speaks only about the future of work and employee experience, which has built his brand and made him the go-to expert in those areas. To be visible, Jacob says you have to be everywhere in the most seen places, which includes making podcasts, writing articles, attending conferences, and more. And frequency means doing it all the time. Between the articles, blogs, videos, and podcasts, Jacob’s content is always being published, which keeps him fresh in his viewers’ eyes; the same principle applies to anyone building a personal brand—be frequent to keep content new and fresh.

Building a personal brand is a continuous effort, but it can eventually open doors to new possibilities. In Jacob’s case, it has led him to writing three books and now working with his spouse where he and I can find the crossover between their respective work with employee experience and customer experience.

Between Jacob’s personal experiences working in the corporate world and his research and travels that have taken him to organizations around the world, he has become passionate about organizations building effective employee experiences, which play a huge role in the future of work. As technology grows and the workforce changes, employers need to change their mentality around work to focus less of tasks and more on people. To create a company where people want to work, executives need to be aware of the people who work there, which means getting out from behind their desks and actually interacting with employees and customers. Leaders need to start a dialogue with employees about what they like and dislike and what can be improved. Employees also need to get engaged and join the conversation—if they want to help build a human-centered organization that can withstand changes to the workplace, they need to stand up and make their voice heard.

The future of work is changing and opening doors to new opportunities for people in all industries. To prepare, employees need to build their personal brands and get involved in their organizations. If there is something you are unhappy with, follow Jacob’s example and either fix it or get out. With involvement and dedication, you can better your organization or create your own opportunities to build a career that is perfect for you.

Dec 21, 2017

The world is changing, and consumers are changing right alongside it. That’s the biggest takeaway from the 2018 Looking Further with Ford Trends Report. With political unrest, natural disasters, and a growing spotlight on social inequality around the world, the tone of this year’s report is much different than previous years. Sheryl Connelly, Ford’s futurist and the lead of the report, says consumers are feeling the pace of change.

Sheryl and her team talked to 9,000 people in nine countries and identified trends that will shape how consumers think, act, and buy in 2018.

The Edge of Reason

There’s no doubt that recent global changes have affected everything we do. 75% of respondents around the world and 80% in the U.S. agreed that people are growing increasingly intolerant of opposing views. These changes can be overwhelming and can greatly contribute to the fabric of our global society, especially with such polarized opinions.

Activist Awakening

Perhaps one of the positive elements of the recent change and unrest is that people are realizing they can no longer be complacent. The vast majority of people in the survey said they are overwhelmed by the changes that are happening. But nearly 75% of those surveyed said they believe individuals can make a difference in the world. Consumers are recognizing the importance of understanding what is going on around them and taking a stand to make the world better in any way they can.

Minding the Gap

One of the biggest hot-button issues is inequality in everything from education to employment and living costs. More than 80% of adults around the world said they are concerned about the large gap between the rich and the poor. A growing number of entrepreneurs and companies are looking for creative solutions to narrow the gap between the privileged and the underprivileged.

The Compassionate Conscience

Our modern society has made it easier than ever to know what is going on around the world, which consumers feel is both good and bad. Half of all adults say following the news daily is stressful, and the majority of people surveyed said they are overwhelmed by the suffering in the world. It’s hard to escape the bad news, but people have learned to ease the pain by being compassionate. More than 75% of respondents also said that they think their actions can lead to positive change.

Mending the Mind

Lately there has been a lot more attention on the link between physical and mental health as consumers realize that they can’t have a healthy body without strong emotional well-being. An increasing number of companies and governments are starting mindfulness efforts, and employers are starting to recognize that if they want employees to be productive, they need to think about the whole picture.

Retail Therapy

Consumers have longed turned to shopping as a way to relieve stress and other emotions, but lately they have been re-thinking how effective shopping really is to bringing them happiness. For many people (66% of adults globally), the experience of shopping is more enjoyable than the actual purchase. Because of this, many leading companies are creating experiential stores to showcase the brand without actually having any products for sale.

Helplessly Exposed

Big data is a huge part of how companies do business, but more than three-quarters of survey respondents say they find it creepy when companies know too much about them. The recent push has been towards privacy and transparency—most consumers don’t mind that companies have some data on them, but brands need to be open about what data they have and not have too much or use it in inappropriate ways.

Technology’s Tipping Point

Technology is advancing at a rapid pace, especially in areas like artificial intelligence and automation. The views on these developments are split with 52% of adults saying they think AI will do more harm than good and many people saying being inundated by new technology is overwhelming.

Singled Out

Instead of following the traditional path of marriage and parenthood, more consumers are staying single. In fact, half of the U.S. population is single, and there are now more single people than married people in the U.S. for the first time ever. The majority of adults surveyed around the world said they believe single people are treated differently than married people.

Big Plans for Big Cities

Cities are growing, and 75% of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas by 2050. To make things more efficient and showcase the potential of cities, they need to be made smarter. Nearly 90% of people around the world think cities need better transportation options, but smart cities also include creating healthier and happier places through master planning, connectivity, and numerous industries working together.

Dec 13, 2017

It’s a business leader’s worst nightmare—a natural disaster is headed for your area, and you need to keep your family, your customers, and your business safe. How do you manage customer communication to make sure everyone is aware of the situation and customers stay happy? That was the dilemma faced by South Carolina Federal Credit Union recently as Hurricane Irma threatened landfall. Its experience can be considered a case study of how to manage real-time customer communication in difficult times.

Customer communication is always important and plays a large role in the overall experience, but it perhaps is never more important than when companies need to share information with their customers during a time of crisis. Circumstances can change quickly, so being able to deliver accurate, quick, and concise messages is crucial.

As the hurricane neared, South Carolina Federal Credit Union had to share when it would be open and how customers could access their money and other financial services. According to Beth Jaskiewicz, Senior Vice President of Marketing, the best thing to do for a crisis is to be prepared. The credit union has a business continuity plan and started planning on how to put it into action about two weeks before Irma was scheduled to make landfall so that customers could still manage their money and wouldn’t have their financial services interrupted. The widespread plan included everything from the possibility of delays in delivering cash to ATMs to power outages and setbacks in running the business. Senior management met with the business continuity team daily to stay updated and fine-tune their plans as weather forecasts changed.

Throughout the entire process, credit union employees considered what it would be like for customers if the hurricane did hit. What would customers need to know, and what would the credit union need to do to make them feel safe and secure? During a crisis, a consistent message is key so customers didn’t feel they were getting a different story depending on the channel they are using.

Choosing the right channel to communicate with customers is important. During times of crisis, it is easy for people to get bogged down with too much information, so the most effective communication from a company involves just the basics of what customers need to know. In the case of South Carolina Federal Credit Union, this involved sending short text messages and emails with updates about when the branches would be open or closed and then directing customers to the website or social media channels for further updates. Companies should also consider who needs to know the information. During Hurricane Irma, all customers needed to know, but other crises and situations might call for smaller, more targeted groups to be notified.

Effective customer communication during a crisis really comes come to organization and collaboration. Beth recommends planning before disaster strikes and walking through various scenarios with key leaders to put a plan in place. Everyone in the organization should have a clearly defined role with a backup person in place in case something happens. Some disasters, like hurricanes, provide some sort of warning, while other crises can happen without any warning.

Crises are unexpected and can wreak havoc on companies, but having a plan in place to communicate with customers seamlessly can make all the difference and turn a potentially chaotic situation into something that is calm and organized. Staying on message and being concise can help strengthen your customer experience, even during difficult times.

Nov 30, 2017

Technology has changed and improved the customer experience over time, but the most recent transformation with the growth of augmented reality is sure to lead to greater change than ever before. According to Jay Samit, Independent Vice Chairman at Deloitte, augmented reality has the power to revolutionize customer experience in every industry. Our modern world has connected us with devices like smartphones, which puts a world of possibility right in our pockets. But even with smartphones we still have to search for answers. Instead of customers having to seek out information, that knowledge can now be embedded in the environment in a way that anticipate customers’ needs and helps them find solutions where they already are.

Imagine a world where you can wear glasses that look just like normal glasses but that have AR technology that can be customized to match your lifestyle and provide the most applicable information. According to Jay, these glasses are right around the corner and will make it much easier to incorporate AR. Instead of getting lost in a store, AR could light up a path on the ground to get you to the item you need. AR could also help customers see inside a resort before they book and provide glimpses into what the view and accommodation would be like or instantly translate a conversation or signs when users are traveling abroad. AR could also transform the in-store experience by having coupons or product recommendations pop up depending on where customers are in the store and what items they are looking at. Companies around the world are already implementing AR and seeing great results in customer experience. A zoo in Japan has created an augmented reality experience where visitors can use their phones to see a path show up on the streets to get them from the subway stop to the zoo. It’s a fun way to make things easier for customers instead of them wandering around until they find the zoo. Beauty counters have also seen an influx of AR-powered mirrors lately. The technology allows users to virtually try on makeup and see how it would look on their face, plus the mirror remembers what a customer has used and can recommend products based on their preferences.

Over the last few years, there has been a huge growth in customer experience online. However, AR has the power to surpass the internet and offer a better experience than customers could ever get online. Things like virtual inventories, side-by-side comparisons, and being able to see things in 360-degree views will totally change how customers shop and interact with brands. Instead of having to go into a store to try items on and ordering things online and hoping they fit, AR will allow customers to try things on virtually, see them from every angle, and easily compare them to other items.

Augmented reality is immersive learning that hits customers at a different level. It is the extra things that anticipate needs, improve problems, and make interactions with customers just a little bit better. AR is being able to get what you need when you need it and creating seamless experiences that make life easier, more efficient, or more enjoyable. The future of customer experience is strong, and it’s due largely to AR.

Nov 17, 2017

When customers choose a clothing brand, they take a lot of things into consideration, including price, style, availability, and brand reputation. It takes the perfect mix of fashion and function to draw in customers. But the clothes won’t sell themselves, so a strategic marketing mix is also required.

In an increasingly data-filled world, many companies rely on analytics for every customer decision. However, TechStyle Fashion Group, which operates brands like Fabletics, Just Fab, and Shoe Dazzle, has expanded beyond just data to find the right combination of strategic data and human connections to maximize its marketing efforts. The company shows that a good marketing mix involves not just data but also personalization, technology, and a strong connection with the brand.

Each of TechStyle’s brands works as a sort of subscription service—customers share data with the company and agree to visit the site on a monthly basis to see the new collections. Having detailed customer preferences, buying habits, and sizes in a huge database makes it easy for the company to create products it knows customers will buy and love. While the traditional retail model creates products it only hopes customers will purchase, brands like Fabletics use data to know exactly what customers want and sell a staggeringly high 90-95% of their products.

With so much data on their customers, it would be easy for TechStyle brands to sit back, watch the return customers flow in, and treat everyone the same. But instead the company works to authentically reach out to customers to build a strong brand connection.

When it comes to getting first-time customers, TechStyle relies on a wide variety of marketing methods. Because the brands are so data-driven, the marketing approach is also very personal. It adds to the brands’ values of working with each customer to create a great experience. Shawn Gold, TechStyle’s Corporate Marketing Officer, says that in the last year the company did around 24,000 different Facebook ads, 600 different versions of its websites, and 6,000 different emails. In many cases, the company uses existing data to find target markets and customers and then tailors the approach to best reach them.

Added to the marketing mix is a strong word of mouth referral program. TechStyle’s brands tend to have very strong net promoter scores, with customers telling their friends and family about the services. This is due to not only have a convenient service that exceeds customer expectations, but also by building a culture that puts the customer first. Prioritizing an effort to keep customer involved builds customer loyalty, which contributes back to the marketing efforts. TechStyle regularly holds focus groups and even visits the homes of its customers to see what is in their closets and how their clothes match their lifestyles. Data helps the company ask the right questions, but the answers come from the customers themselves. Showing genuine interest in customers and finding better ways to match the product with what customers really want is incredibly effective and keeps customers coming back for more. Every Fabletics employee also has to work in the store so they can talk with and really get to know the customers.

In an increasingly technical world, TechStyle doesn’t rely completely on automation. While there are some issues that are solved with machines, much of the customer service efforts are led by humans. The company has found that customer satisfaction results are more than 20% higher when humans are involved in the process because its customers love having a personal connection.

Data plays an important role, especially in the ever-changing fashion world, but it isn’t everything. Creating brand-loyal customers comes from a unique marketing mix that puts customers first and makes them central to everything the brand does.

Nov 9, 2017

The healthcare field is changing, and customer experience is right at the center. Gone are the days of customers feeling inconvenienced and doctors having to spend long hours to catch up on their work—today’s healthcare revolution is all about empowering customers and helping everyone get the care they need. That change means the industry is becoming more competitive, and customer experience in many cases is the deciding factor for where patients go to get care.

In the old way of thinking, doctors were central to everything. They set when appointments were available, who could be seen, and what treatments were available. However, consumers now have myriad choices of ways to get personalized care and attention, from apps to websites and concierge healthcare services, and the industry had to change. People no longer automatically go to a doctor when they are sick or need a checkup, and healthcare companies now have to compete more to bring in patients. The key factor patients are looking for is personalized care—they want someone who treats them like an individual, takes time to answer their questions, and makes it easy to be seen and get the care they need.

At the core of the new healthcare movement is service and a dedication to making a difference. According to Arra Yerganian, Chief Marketing and Brand Officer at Sutter Health, when healthcare employees realize that they all want to serve customers and improve their lives, it is easier to build a culture centered around customers. That culture can shine through in every interaction between the brand and customers. Sutter is known for its great customer service and constantly receives feedback from patients that they feel special when they interact with Sutter doctors and nurses. Arra says that isn’t a coincidence—people are trained to be that way and encouraged to tap into their natural caring abilities to create great experiences for patients.

Part of building a strong customer experience in healthcare is taking advantage of new technology. In many cases, innovative healthcare technology allows providers to see more patients, be more effective with their time, and provide better diagnoses and treatment options. The growth of telehealth has allowed customers to be seen virtually on their own schedules, which has been a boost to customer experience. Sutter recently partnered with Augmedix to allow doctors to wear smart glasses that can pull up a patient’s chart and notes on the screen during the appointment. The device saves doctors time of having to stay late to write notes because it is done in real time and provides a more personalized and interactive experience for patients. The growth of data has also provided more opportunities for healthcare providers to gain insights on their patients and create strategic, personalized experiences.

Arra says the key to standing out and creating a strong customer experience is to find a way to connect with patients. Instead of relying on differences in quality or expertise, the best customer experience providers lean on something that tells a unique story and builds a connection. The best organizations take risks and make unique choices to stand out.

            Customer experience makes a huge difference in the healthcare space, and it is a driving factor in the new approach to the industry. By focusing on people and personalization, healthcare providers can go above and beyond to create satisfied patients.

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