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The Modern Customer Podcast

The Modern Customer Podcast is a show exploring the intersection of customer experience, digital transformation, and the future. We will also dive into related leadership topics. The show is hosted by Forbes contributor and customer experience futurist Blake Morgan and author of the new book The Customer of the Future: 10 Guiding Principles for Winning Tomorrow's Business. The show features guests that include practitioners, authors, influencers and other tastemakers.
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Now displaying: Category: Business
Nov 22, 2019

A company that rose out of tragedy is now a leader in experiential retail. Painting with a Twist was started 10 years ago after Hurricane Katrina to give people a safe haven and fun escape during a difficult time. Customers flocked to the chance to enjoy an evening painting and drinking with friends to escape from their cares and worries, and one of the first experiential retail businesses was born.

Today, Painting with a Twist has more than 300 locations across the country and has created the sip and paint industry. The company encourages groups and friends to come together to paint a picture and enjoy drinks and snacks. Everything about the night, from the painting itself to the easy-going attitude of the artist instructors, encourages guests to let loose and have a great time. Aside from simply teaching guests to paint, the artists tell jokes and play games with the class. The goal isn’t to teach people to become world-class painters but rather to inspire them to have fun with the people around them and try something new.

One of the main target demographics are groups of women looking for a unique way to spend time together without going to a bar or restaurant. Painting with a Twist quickly learned that everyone can enjoy a carefree escape, even if they aren’t going through a tragedy. CMO Katherine LeBlanc says that focusing on why the company exists and delivering on a great, unique experience keeps people coming back because they feel relaxed and free to enjoy a great night with friends. The company competes against other entertainment brands, including movie theaters, restaurants and even escape rooms, but has built loyal customers by offering personal connections and a truly unique experience.

Painting with a Twist continues to expand its carefree experience with new offerings, including pop culture paintings of favorite movies and nostalgic TV shows. It also hosts birthday parties, family days for younger children and trivia programs. Franchises are encouraged to build partnerships with local businesses to make each store unique and reflect the local area. LeBlanc says the company is also developing partnerships to create new experiences, such as adding music with local bands or other pop culture painting options. All experiential retail brands can learn the power of creating an immersive experience from Painting with a Twist.

No matter if the group is a ladies’ book club, kids’ birthday party or corporate retreat, Painting with a Twist aims to deliver a unique and consistent experience and create an environment where people know they can relax and enjoy a carefree escape with their loved ones. Delivering on that promise creates an experiential retail brand with loyal customers.

Nov 12, 2019

Some companies let customer experience come together on its own, while others take a more intentional approach. At Slack, the thoughtful, intentional approach has made it leader in customer experience as it constantly evaluates and updates its experience to meet customer needs.

The thoughtful approach starts internally. Ali Rayl, VP Customer Experience, has been with the company from the beginning. As Slack experienced rapid growth, Ali and other leaders realized it was too big for one person to know everything. Slack customer service representatives now specialize in certain areas of the program and become specialized experts. Employees benefit from taking ownership over certain areas, and customers can be served more quickly by automatically sending their question to a specialist in that area instead of moving aimlessly through the service department.

Rayl encourages her team to start conversations with customers and facilitate seamless transactions. Because Slack is a workplace communication tool, customers contacting the brand offer the company a unique opportunity to showcase what the product can do and to highlight how easy and smooth it can be talk to someone at work.

The thoughtful approach is driven by data and analytics. Customer service agents track the type of questions and calls they get to understand who is asking for help and what questions they have. From there, the service department works closely with the product and engineering teams to look for ways to change the product. Rayl sees two ways to look at customer problems: to either manage them through the support team or to solve them through engineering. The key to a quality experience is to find balance. Some common issues can be changed through engineering, while it’s easier to simply manage other issues. No matter how their issue is solved, Slack wants all customers to feel valued and heard.

A thoughtful customer experience comes from more than just solving problems. At Slack, it involves listening to customer feedback and looping it back to make the product better. Involving the entire company and building strong relationships with customers turns customer experience into an issue that impacts everyone and that everyone can contribute to. A thoughtful approach to customer experience changes with customer needs but always puts making the customer’s life easier at the center of everything.

 

Nov 5, 2019

Is your company operating in chaos or clarity? The difference often comes down to creating a knowledge-rich culture.

Modern customers and employees want information on their own terms. In order to best educate employees and provide answers and tools to customers, many customer-focused brands create knowledge-rich cultures. These cultures pride themselves on offering learning and growth opportunities for employees while empowering them to solve customer issues. However, Dave Hare, principal consultant at ServiceXRG, says too many companies have knowledge-rich cultures in silos, which creates chaos and lost opportunities.

When knowledge is kept within departments and not shared with the rest of the company, it creates more escalations of customer issues. A customer could call the contact center with an issue that could be easily fixed by someone in the engineering department, but without that information being shared across the entire organization, the customer’s call is escalated and takes longer to answer. Hare says that companies that build cultures of knowledge sharing solve more calls on the first contact and do it faster with fewer escalations.

When silos are broken down and information is shared across the entire company, employees and customers benefit. Employees have the tools to help customers right away or know where to send customers to answer more technical questions quickly. That knowledge creates job satisfaction for employees and instills confidence in customers that the company knows what it is talking about. For customers, a knowledge-sharing culture creates less frustration as issues can be taken care of accurately and much more quickly.

Hare says one of the biggest aspects of customer experience is making the customer successful without regression or pain. That can only be done by instilling confidence in the customer that the employee is their advocate into the company. Employees, no matter if they are in the contact center, finance, engineering or anywhere else in the company, need to use every resource to resolve customer issues. That comes from building a strong culture of sharing knowledge.

Customer experience is the most powerful tool companies have. When customers sense chaos at a company, they will quickly take their business elsewhere. To turn that chaos into clarity, brands of all sizes need to build a knowledge-rich culture that breaks down silos and shares information across borders with employees and customers. Sharing knowledge and instilling confidence benefits everyone in the organization.

This episode of The Modern Customer Podcast is sponsored by Squelch.

Oct 25, 2019

In a world where more customers want to stay at home and have products and services delivered to them, a company in the pet industry is mixing things up with experiential retail.

Zoom Room Dog Training is an indoor training gym for dogs that is turning the traditional training model on its head. Instead of focusing solely on each dog’s experience like many pet companies do, Zoom Room focuses on the experience of each human. The company’s motto is “We don’t train dogs, we train the people who love them.” Instead of customers dropping off their dogs for a one-time training session to fix a specific issue, Zoom Room builds relationships between dogs and dog owners to encourage socialization and improve skills and agility. At Zoom Room, clients are always with their dogs and have the responsibility to look after them. The company creates a secure setting and screens dogs for sociability before allowing them to join the group setting so that everyone feels confident about their dog’s surroundings and safety.

Millennials are the largest pet spenders of any other group and a demographic that loves experiences. CEO Mark Van Wye and his team designed the company and its programs to pay attention to every aspect of the human experience to change the dog training model. The results are incredibly impressive, and Van Wye reports that many dogs and their owners make Zoom Room training sessions a part of their weekly routines. Zoom Room has a very impressive Net Promoter Score of 90 and retention rates in the high 80s.

In experiential retail of any kind, data and personalization are key. Zoom Room is data driven to provide the best experience to each person. Each client is tracked and their preferences and history are recorded so they only receive specific communications that apply to their needs. Zoom Room also appeals to millennials by taking photos and videos of dogs during their training sessions, which it then shares with the owners on a platform that integrates into social media. Dog owners share the impressive pictures to showcase their dogs, and it also adds to the Zoom Room brand and experience.

By embracing experiential retail and creating an environment where dogs and owners can bond with each other and others like them, Zoom Room is turning the dog training space upside down. The company shows that great experiences can come in all industries and that providing a data-driven, personalized experience resonates with customers.

 

 

Oct 18, 2019

For years, Australia has had with a well-established culture of customer experience. In general, companies seem to connect with customers better and offer more personalized solutions than they do in other parts of the world, including the U.S. However, many Australians have hit experience roadblocks with big companies lately, especially when it comes to the contact center. Having trouble waiting on hold or not being able to talk to a human isn’t new, but it can have a serious impact on the overall experience.

In the 1980s, many companies started using IVR, or interactive voice recognition systems, to corral people through their phone systems. These are the phone trees that have customers push buttons for certain types of calls, but that really just end up pushing customers’ buttons with a frustrating experience. Over the years, many companies have continued with the IVR mindset by becoming abusive to customers and mismanaging relationships. Instead of looking for innovative solutions, they hold on to decades-old technology that is frustrating and ineffective.

Many companies, in Australia and all over the world, have the idea that customers will keep coming back no matter how they are treated. That’s not the case. As more companies put humans back in customer experience, they separate themselves from the companies that cut costs and rely on impersonal technology. Research has shown that customers want more human interactions and less technology in their brand interactions. Companies that don’t offer personalized interactions with real humans are losing customers to brands that offer quality service and connections.

Customer experience in Australia will continue to evolve in coming years. As companies turn back to humans in our data-centered world, there will be a greater focus on personalized experiences and real relationships. Data and customization will help brands create one-to-one experiences instead of interactions that appeal to the masses. More companies will also turn to self-service tools to give customers power to solve their own problems and answer their own questions without contacting a bot or contact center.

Although customer experience in Australia may have hit some bumps, many companies still focus on what matters most: customers. By turning back to humans and offering convenient and personal interactions, those companies will build great experiences and lead the way to the future.

 

Oct 8, 2019

It may seem glamourous to fly around the world, deliver speeches to adoring fans, and bring in a big paycheck. In reality, the life of a professional speaker is much less glamorous and much more demanding. But even with the long flights and rejection, it can still be incredibly rewarding.

My husband Jacob Morgan worked his last full-time job more than a decade ago. When the boss who had promised him great career opportunities out of college had Jacob running to get him coffee, Jacob left and didn’t look back. He didn’t set out to become a speaker, but instead focused on consulting and working for himself. As he built a personal brand focusing on the future of work, he started getting invited to conferences and his speaking career took off. Today, Jacob is a best-selling author who travels the world to speak at conferences and to top executives. But he says for every one speaking gig, there are 10 that didn’t work out. Jacob responds to speaking requests and negotiates his own contracts, which requires a huge amount of work and time for every speech.

From his years of speaking experience, Jacob offers three pieces of advice to aspiring professional speakers:

  1.     Build credibility. Before you get asked to speak anywhere, you have to build your personal brand. Jacob has a blog, podcast, books, online courses and much more to establish himself as a thought leader. No one will want to hire you to speak if they don’t know who you are and what your message is.
  2.     Deliver an engaging speech. Jacob thinks of speaking as a performance. Aside from delivering useful content, he also wants to connect with the audience, make them laugh and surprise them. There’s a huge difference between someone who just reads their speech and someone who is genuinely interested in the topic and engages the audience.
  3.     Know your worth. One of the biggest mistakes speakers make is not charging what they’re worth and accepting everything that comes their way. When Jacob was starting he took nearly every speaking request, but now he charges what he’s worth and isn’t afraid to walk away from a deal if a group isn’t willing to pay his rate. Know the value you bring and don’t compromise.

Starting a professional speaking career can be full of long flights in coach, uncomfortable hotel beds and paltry paychecks. But building your brand, delivery and experience can create a strong speaking career that opens doors across the globe.

 

Oct 1, 2019

Buying a car can be stressful and time-consuming. It’s not a task that most consumers look forward to. But Carvana is changing the experience by giving power back to customers and letting them find their perfect car from the comfort of their own home without having to haggle with salespeople.

Co-founder and Chief Brand Officer Ryan Keeton points out that the car-buying process hasn’t changed in more than 70 years. Carvana set out to create “Amazon for cars” to provide an amazing experience for customers to find their perfect used car. Using a wide array of technology, customers can peruse Carvana’s 15,000 cars (a much larger inventory than the typical dealership) and get a complete and accurate view of the inside and outside of each car. Once they choose a car, it is either delivered to their home as soon as the next day or available to pick up at a car vending machine around the country. In perhaps the biggest innovation over the traditional car buying experience, customers have a seven-day window to return the car with no questions asked.

Everything about Carvana is designed around the customer experience. Keeton and the other founders wanted to save people money and use technology to reduce friction. By removing many of the extra people and layers of the dealership buying experience, customers have more control and transparency into the process. Instead of salespeople, Carvana has customer advocates who answer questions about the process and specific cars. Customer advocates don’t fight the customer to haggle for a deal, but are on the same team and work with customers to find the perfect car.

In order to create an amazing experience, Carvana relies heavily on technology and data. The company invested heavily in photo and video technology, as well as logistics to be able to deliver cars to people around the country as soon as the next day. Technology also auto-populates many of the contracts, which turns a multi-hour car-buying experience into a 10-minute transaction. Data helps Carvana measure its progress and target its approach to potential customers.

Disrupting such a large industry hasn’t come without its ups and downs. Keeton says many customers, especially those in new markets, think Carvana is too good to be true. One customer even had 20 co-workers waiting with him when his car was delivered. They had a bet on if Carvana was real and if the car would even show up. To combat skepticism, Carvana works to surprise and delight customers with amazing experiences. Continually delivering on its promises helps Carvana stay close to its brand and customers as it continues to spread its message.

Carvana shows that even well-established industries can be disrupted with a renewed focus on customers.

Sep 26, 2019

The telecom world faces constant change and evolution. A decade ago, smart phones didn’t exist, and now they’re the core of every company. Through the change, one company has seen incredible growth of 20-30% year over year to become a $1 billion-dollar company. Its secret? Focusing on customer service.

John Marick started Consumer Cellular with a goal of bringing cell phones to people all over the world. As the industry changed and his company grew, it honed in on an often-overlooked market: seniors. The company’s simple approach to creating happy employees and exceptional customer service has led it to earning the top spot in customer service for non-contract providers six times in a row by J.D. Power.

Seniors need phones for communication and safety just like everyone else, but providing an exceptional customer experience to seniors is different than serving any other demographic. Instead of measuring how fast contact center agents can resolve customer issues, Consumer Cellular encourages its employees to take their time with each customer. Employees want each customer to get the most value from their cell phone, so they are willing to spend time helping them learn to use their phone and work through any issues as they transition to a cell phone. Instead of trying to beat a time resolution goal, agents instead are focused on helping customers feel comfortable with their phones and service. That extra effort makes a huge difference as customers feel valued instead of just being pushed through the line.

Personalization and data play a huge role in customer service. Customers should be engaged and feel happy they contacted the company, even if it was for an issue with their cell phone. Consumer Cellular tracks formal and informal metrics, including surveys, attrition levels and outside recognition, to measure its progress. Its flat internal structure also means that executives are involved in day-to-day operations and customer service.

Marick says Consumer Cellular aims to be there when customers need it. The company is working towards being more proactive and using customer data and feedback to find new ways to help and provide an amazing experience. Even as the industry continues to change, Consumer Cellular can hold strong to the customer focus that is ingrained in its culture. By staying engaged with its partners and the industry, Consumer Cellular feels confident that it can continue to evolve and serve future customers.

In the last year, the company has expanded into other services related to caregiving to better serve its target market. By building strong relationships with seniors and their families and taking the time to provide personalized service, Consumer Cellular can continue to grow and build its legacy of customer service.

Sep 17, 2019

In a company as large as AT&T, most customers will only ever interact with field operations technicians. That means that creating a strong experience in the field is vital for both employees and customers. Jennifer Robertson, AT&T’s President of Field Operations, mixes technology with human decisions to create an efficient experience with a strong human touch.

AT&T has thousands of technicians in the field every day. Robertson and her team recently introduced the CODE initiative to help field employees make good judgements about customer care. CODE is an acronym for Care about the customer, Own the experience, Deliver, Exceed expectations. Instead of detailing how to handle every situation, AT&T provides its employees with the framework to make their own decisions to best serve the customer. The four driving principles allow technicians to do what they think is best for each customer. CODE has become a rallying cry for employees, who appreciate being empowered to meet each customer’s unique needs.

Empowering employees and building human interactions is powerful, but the field experience still needs to be efficient. AT&T’s daily field work is a feat of logistics. Customers want to know when technicians will arrive, and technicians need to maximize the number of customers they see every day while limiting drive time and gas consumption. Last year, AT&T launched its Dispatch Learning Engine, an AI-powered platform that considers real-time information like traffic, fuel, technician skills and customer history to identify the best routes and schedules for each technician each day. With all of the factors, Robertson says there are 2.3 trillion options for every 300 jobs to assign—no human could match the machine’s ability to create the best routes for employees, customers, the company and the environment. The Dispatch Learning Engine has earned rave reviews from technicians and dispatchers, and customers have shared positive experiences of knowing who will service their issue and when they will arrive. AT&T has also reduced its miles traveled by more than 20% and saved 51 million pounds of CO2 emissions by creating more efficient routes.

Field operations is a crucial part of customer experience. It’s where the rubber meets the road. By properly training employees and giving them freedom to use their best judgment, AT&T has built a global team of empowered technicians. Combined with innovative uses for AI, the company streamlines its operations to be as efficient and sustainable as possible.

Sep 10, 2019

In 2020, ecommerce logistics company Pitney Bowes will celebrate its 100th anniversary. It’s safe to say the company has seen tremendous change in its 100 years as it evolved from a postage company to a global technology leader. But instead of just reflecting on the past, the company is looking towards the future of ecommerce and preparing for what comes next with a digital transformation.

Over the past five years, Pitney Bowes has undergone a massive digital transformation, both internally in how it operates and externally in its products and how it interacts with customers. The company broke down silos and developed company-wide analytics. Client data is now stored in a central system that all employees can access to make faster and more strategic decisions that meet customers’ needs. Pitney Bowes also created a common cloud, as well as targeted clouds for each department, that send tailored, automated messages to clients at just the right times. According to CMO Bill Borrelle, the digital transformation set the foundation for a client experience transformation. By streamlining internal systems and uniting the company with machine learning and data, employees are empowered to better serve customers and deliver a consistent, forward-thinking experience.

Borrelle believes transformation is all about culture. Pitney Bowes’ culture created the transformation because employees understand that the client is at the center of everything. That mindset led to a need for new technology and common tools to best serve customers. The digital transformation allows Pitney Bowes to continue to evolve as client needs and technology change. Borrelle encourages employees throughout the company to practice data hygiene, or keeping data clean and accurate. The better the data, the better the client experience.

Data also plays a large role in the future of ecommerce. Pitney Bowes is at the forefront of the changing ecommerce landscape and releases a consumer survey and thought leadership piece every year to measure the changes. Borrelle says changing customer demands will greatly impact ecommerce as the industry continues to grow. The biggest purchaser of online goods is the millennial male, in large part because of subscription boxes. Consumers, especially younger shoppers, want fast delivery and convenient service. The speed of fulfilment and delivery, as well as the popularity of subscriptions, will only continue to grow.

The next 100 years could see amazing changes in ecommerce. The fast-paced industry could look dramatically different in even just a few years. Creating digital solutions and focusing on customers will prepare ecommerce companies to deliver amazing, data-driven experiences no matter what the future brings.

Sep 5, 2019

Instead of just being employees, Honeywell employees are now considered Future Shapers. It’s part of the company’s digital transformation and move to create a smart, convenient future for its customers. Future Shapers are dreamers and doers. As Ken Stacherski, Honeywell’s VP Enterprise Transformation, shared, the company’s internal motto is “The future is what we make it.” With those words in mind, Future Shapers are transforming Honeywell inside and outside for their customers.  

The move towards Future Shapers starts with Honeywell employees who make the future a reality. Stacherski said that as the new initiative took hold, a storm of energy went through the company because employees were so excited to embrace the concept and create the future. They wanted to work for a company that rewarded risks and innovation.

Future Shapers extends from employees to more widespread digitization efforts. Honeywell’s digital transformation helps connect the dots across its 35 business enterprises to build more efficient processes and systems internally and externally. By streamlining things internally, Honeywell can also offer its B2B customers more streamlined services. The goal is to create a forward-thinking and connected company that is easy to do business with.

Stacherski shared Honeywell’s three focuses as it expands digitization:

  1. Differentiated customer experience. Honeywell aims to interact with customers consistently through the buying cycle. That means creating consistent experiences starting with digital awareness and moving all the way to after-market support.
  2. Data-driven decisions. Honeywell hopes to standardize processes with strict data governance and a coherent IT structure. With a solid and consistent data framework, it can make informed, timely decisions for employees and customers.
  3. Operational efficiency. By cutting through red tape and replacing outdated systems with more efficient models, Honeywell can work more accurately and provide a better experience for customers.

The three goals show the shifting power towards customers. As Future Shapers work to define the future, they are expanding Honeywell’s customer-centric culture and connecting with customers from end-to-end touchpoints.

In the future, Honeywell hopes to continue on its digital transformation path. The Future Shapers initiative puts the company on the cutting edge of new technology and empowers employees to create the future instead of being disrupted by it. Focusing on customers and driving innovation creates a powerful company that could transform how companies do business.

 

 

Aug 28, 2019

If you had great intentions of playing the guitar but gave it up after your first lesson, you aren’t alone. As many as 90% of new guitarists quit within their first year. But that might not be the case much longer. Fender Digital is building a thriving subscription model that teaches guitar skills that people actually stick with—and so far, 100,000 people are on board.

Fender is known for its iconic guitars, but customers are much more valuable if they actually stick with the instrument instead of making a one-time purchase and giving it up. By reducing churn of first-time players by just 10%, Fender has the potential to double the size of the entire industry.

The challenge was in how to reduce churn and teach novice guitarists with short attention spans who are always on the go. The subscription model of Fender Digital allows musicians to learn at their own pace while also addressing many of the issues of why people quit. According to Ethan Kaplan, GM of Fender Digital, one of the most common reasons people quit playing the guitar is because it hurts their fingers. As a result, the first thing taught in Fender Digital is how to play without it hurting.

The basic model of Fender Digital is a subscription that moves students through a variety of guitar learning modules. The course is based around data and customer feedback to teach basic skills and more advanced concepts. Students get immediate value once they join and have access to the material. The subscription model is also enticing for customers because it automatically updates with new content instead of requiring people to have to buy new versions of a course. Kaplan says that most people are linear learners and work through the modules in progression, but Fender Digital also allows people to jump around and focus on the skills or songs that are most interesting to them. Giving power to the students can go a long way in keeping them engaged and motivated with the guitar.

A subscription model really comes down to providing continual value. Fender has found that when a company provides value, people want to subscribe. The key is to continually provide value for guitar students at all levels. For Fender Digital, that means opening channels for communication with users and regularly editing and adding new content. Testing the content to help people if they get stuck and putting themselves in students’ shoes helps create a high-quality experience. The product is constantly evolving to match what people want to learn.

Fender Digital also complements the main Fender brand. Kaplan says the two sides work together to create a lifetime of engagement for loyal customers with everything from products to services and experiences.

The subscription model is growing increasingly popular because it provides more ways for customers to connect with brands. Fender Digital is taking subscription services to the next level by providing value and strong content.

Aug 20, 2019

How does a 100-year-old company continually reinvent itself to change how the world works? By relying on and driving a high-quality customer experience.

IBM’s current success is built around its historic roots and the customer-first culture that has existed from the beginning. For CMO Michelle Peluso, that means standing on the backs of giants while also looking towards the future.

The goal of IBM’s customer experience is to create more one-to-one interactions and move away from mass marketing and experiences. Peluso says the most important thing is seamlessness. Silos are common in large companies like IBM, but IBM avoids them by creating agile teams that are focused on a common goal. Each agile marketing team has a mix of specialists from different areas, such as IT, marketing and product design. The teams are tasked with thinking about how to sell a particular IBM product. Bringing together different backgrounds and skillsets for a common goal allows for unique perspectives and a seamless approach to customer experience across the entire organization.

Marketing plays a large role in making sure the client journey is well instrumented so that IBM gets feedback when things aren’t going well. The right client feedback at the right points highlights areas for improvement.

IBM’s customer experience is driven by data and includes new technology like AI. Peluso’s agile marketing teams use IBM Watson to get proactive alerts each morning about areas where they are underperforming. Watson also gives the teams reasons for the lack of success and suggestions for improvements. Instead of the human employees having to manually dig through endless amounts of data, Watson’s AI capabilities provide proactive alerts that allow teams to move more quickly and accurately.

Peluso says emerging technologies give customers more control and puts them in charge of their own experiences. This will only continue to grow in the future of marketing and customer experience.

Along with AI and agile teams, Peluso believes blockchain will have a large impact on the future of customer experience and marketing. Instead of moving through a complicated process like media buying with numerous moving parts and limited accountability, blockchain could potentially connect different parts of the supply chain with one record of the truth. Media buying could potentially be more accurate and targeted to provide personalized customer experiences.

A high-quality customer experience doesn’t come from a single action or person, but from the collective efforts of many people working towards the same goal. At IBM, that translates into leveraging new technology and ideas while still holding strong to brand values from the past to continually driving forward-thinking solutions customers crave and expect. 

Aug 13, 2019

Taking a relaxing trip by rail or hopping on a high-speed commuter train to the next city is common in Europe and Asia, but it’s a foreign idea for most Americans. Virgin Trains USA is hoping to change that by bringing the future of train travel to the U.S.

The sweet spot for train travel is between highly populated city centers that are within 200 to 300 miles of each other. It’s a distance that most people drive instead of fly, but the trip by car can be full of traffic, construction and detours. Instead, the goal of Virgin Trains USA is to create a network of high-speed passenger trains along busy highway corridors so that travelers and commuters can get where they need to be more in a way that’s quicker, easier and more eco-friendly. Virgin Trains USA president Patrick Goddard says trains are 90% safer than cars and provide faster and more reliable travel.  

Virgin Trains’ first big foray in the U.S. is revamping an old rail line in Florida. After updating the line to connect Miami and West Palm Beach, Virgin Trains is now endeavoring on phase two to extend the line to Orlando in the next few years. Trains that can reach speeds of 125 miles per hour will soon be zooming past people stuck on the freeway on the three-hour drive between Miami and Orlando.

Virgin Trains also has plans to build a train route between Los Angeles and Las Vegas that could cut the three-hour trip to just 75 minutes, as well as other potential sites that could link neighboring cities.

But Virgin Trains is hoping to gain a following not just for its speed, but also for its experience. As the company expanded in the U.S., it brought it architects, designers and visionaries to create an amazing experience in the station and on board. Goddard taps into his hospitality background to ensure the experience disrupts and changes the status quo of train travel in the U.S. and around the world.

A large part of that is the digital experience. Virgin Trains strives for a digital experience that will ultimately involve as little interaction from the user as possible. That means keeping things seamless and simple, such as integrating all forms of transportation from start to finish in a single booking and allowing passengers to order food to their seat from the station or the train. Train travel has the potential to give passengers their lives back instead of being stuck in stressful traffic jams.

The future of train travel is here, and as Goddard says, it’s not your grandma’s train service. A modern network of high-speed trains could transform how people travel and do business as it connects cities and passengers with amazing experiences.

 

Aug 6, 2019

How do you take on an industry giant and deliver innovative solutions? With a customer-first culture that becomes a competitive advantage.

Mike McDerment created FreshBooks when he couldn’t find a great accounting solution for his small design business. He designed the product for business owners, not accountants. Now, the company has over 10 million customers and is the #2 small business accounting software in America, after giant QuickBooks.

From the beginning, FreshBooks had a customer-first culture and focused on building close relationships with customers. McDerment and his team focus on building customer proximity where the people buying the product aren’t far-off numbers, but rather real people who are always the center of the company.

Every new FreshBooks employee spends their first month working in customer service. They learn about the products and then spend time answering phone calls and chatting with customers. McDerment says starting all employees with the customer service background helps them understand the products and keeps them close to the customers so they remember who they work for. The customer service team even designed and runs the onboarding process because it is that central to the culture for new employees.

FreshBooks has always invested money in customer service, even before many other companies caught on to the need to do so. McDerment says that customer service isn’t a cost center, but rather an opportunity. Some companies view investing in customer service as a necessary evil, but it should actually be viewed as a revenue generator because of all of the gold found in customer experience. McDerment says that if you listen carefully, the customers have all the answers, from where to focus the company’s effort to what products to design for the future. Customer service is a valuable feedback loop that helps FreshBooks get insights to pass on to the correct teams to put into action.

Aside from its unorthodox approach to customer service, FreshBooks also used a unique method to build the next version of its product. Knowing that competitors would be watching to see what FreshBooks would do next, the company built a seemingly competing product under a different brand name so that no one would steal its ideas. Once the new version was proven, it became the main FreshBooks product.

Building a successful company comes with its ups and downs, but McDerment says that focusing on innovation and remembering to put customers first makes all the difference. The biggest factor to success doesn’t show up on the balance sheet; it’s the culture that makes all the difference.

 

Jul 30, 2019

Most people don’t think about their luggage when travelling. The goal is to focus on the experiences themselves instead of the product that’s carrying your clothes and supplies. Samsonite is a staple in the travel world. As Chief Digital Officer Charlie Cole says, the goal is for customers to talk about the vacation and not about what they’re packing. A good suitcase quietly gets the job done without adding headaches to the trip.

The growth of the experience economy in recent years has led to more people traveling than ever before. Samsonite has updated its approach to customer experience to reflect a new wave of travelers. The company may be 110 years old, but it has a fresh digital approach.

One of the reasons for its current mindset is the fact that Samsonite pays attention to changing trends and technology. Cole says it’s important to embrace change instead of resisting it. Samsonite acknowledges things that are changing and then decides how it will attack them, which can either be by reallocating internal resources or adding an outside acquisition to its diverse portfolio. Samsonite is actually an entire portfolio of travel products and websites, including Tumi, American Tourister and Ebags.com. Staying brand-aware and constantly self-assessing helps Samsonite recognize what it needs to do to change and stay ahead of the industry.

Samsonite leverages data to provide a strong digital experience.  Cole says the importance of data will continue to evolve. Samsonite aims to use data in a way that helps the organization be more efficient and customer-focused. Staying in tune with what customers are looking for helps the company create the right products and market them to the right people.

Another impactful trend for Samsonite has been the growth of D2C businesses. Samsonite has strengthened its own D2C role in recent years to match other D2C companies. It built out its entire D2C capability, from systems to people, to create a powerful way for customers to get exactly what they need straight from the brands. At the same time, Samsonite maintains its wholesale relationships with suppliers like Amazon and Kohls to keep another arm in the industry.

Samsonite bridges the gap between a long-lasting company and an innovative startup that is constantly evolving. Leveraging data and creating a strong brand portfolio helps the company be prepared for whatever happens next as it continues to build a strong digital experience.

Jul 23, 2019

For years, customers have traded their personal data for digital services, rewards or promotions. In order to gain access to a new program, get discounts from a company or connect with friends on social media, we’ve given up much of our personal information. But is it a fair trade?

Data privacy issues have been growing in intensity for years, leading to a world where customers aren’t in control of their own data and trust between customers and companies continues to erode on a daily basis.

Countless questions face technology and business professionals today, but perhaps none are more important than those surrounding data security, fairness and trust. Data used to not be worth anything, so customers gave it away freely. They didn’t think anything of giving out their email address or personal information in exchange for services and information. But over time, companies like Google and Facebook turned personal data into currency. Now, that information we used to give away freely is incredibly valuable, but customers are no longer in control of it.  

Stephen Messer, co-founder and vice chairman of Collective [i], says it all comes down to the tradeoffs customers are willing to make. In general, customers love the personalization that comes from data, but they’re concerned about how their data is used and shared. Most people are willing to share their data with Netflix if that leads to personalized show recommendations, but they likely aren’t as willing to share their data with an unknown e-commerce company just to get a small discount. Each person’s tradeoff value is different.

Many of those tradeoffs involve not understanding how companies collect or use customer data. A major contributor to the lack of trust is that companies aren’t transparent or careful about how they use data. Messer says trust is the hardest thing for companies to earn, and it’s nearly impossible to gain back after it’s been lost.

But how can companies regain trust and help customers feel secure about their data? Messer says it starts with companies being open about how they’re using data and the safeguards they use to protect it. Google, for example, anonymizes its data. It doesn’t care who the data is from; it simply wants customer data to make its products better. If more customers were aware of those types of safeguards, they could possibly be more willing to share their data. Customers need information so they can make choices and have control over their own data.

Tom Wilson, president and CEO of Allstate, believes trust should be considered in terms of relationships. Wilson suggests having a global standard of three data sharing agreements, ranging from restricted data use to open data use. Depending on what the data will be used for, customers can opt in to different levels based on their comfort level. If a customer wants to be in complete control of their data, they would select the restricted option, but if they’re willing to share data in exchange for certain recommendations or perks, they could select the controlled or open options. Another solution would be for companies to charge customers to control their data. A small monthly fee could potentially allow customers to opt in to protected data on social media sites.

Wilson and Messer agree that data privacy and trust are complicated issues. No matter the solution, it starts by being transparent and giving power back to customers. Providing them with resources and information can create more informed customers and make a large step towards regaining trust.

 

Jul 17, 2019

There’s a lot of talk about innovation in the business world. But innovation is more than just a buzzword—it should be the culture and mindset of customer experience professionals. The best customer experiences push beyond the norm to provide creative, unique and memorable experiences and services for customers.

According to best-selling author Josh Linkner, customer experience is a platform for creative expression. Every single person is creative, and one way we can manifest it is through finding creative and innovative customer solutions. Innovation will ultimately drive value for the brand. Linker recommends thinking of customer experience as a blank canvas and finding new ways to win.

In order to do that, brands need to examine every touchpoint they have with customers and look for ways to improve the interaction and outshine the competition. Creativity doesn’t always mean trying something out of left field. In many cases, innovation happens with simple ideas that challenge what’s always been done. Linkner gives the example of a company in Korea that started packaging its bananas based on ripeness so that customers could work their way through the package and have a ripe banana every day. The simple, innovative solution led the company to charge three times more and crush the sales numbers.

Many companies fall into the rut of focusing on efficiency instead of encouraging innovation, but efficiency can only get you so far. In our fast-paced world, we can’t rely on models of the past. Customers crave innovation and new solutions. Creativity is the one thing that can’t be outsourced or automated. It can become a powerful competitive advantage.

Many companies overestimate the risk of trying something new and underestimate the risk of standing still. Leaders and employees at all levels need to encourage creative ideas—both good and bad—to get people talking. Removing judgement and building resilience can create an environment where innovation thrives.

An innovative mindset can also help companies evaluate existing processes and mix things up from what’s always been done. Ben and Jerry’s does this by holding a funeral for retiring flavors and literally burying them in a casket. It isn’t a mark of failure that a flavor didn’t sell well, but instead a celebration of what the brand accomplished and a signal to start fresh with a new idea. All it takes is one person to look at something they’ve seen 100 times with a creative point of view to find a new solution.

Innovation is the root of customer experience. Stale and stagnant experiences don’t build strong relationships with customers and will get overlooked for innovative ideas from the competition. To lead the pack and best serve customers, Linkner says individuals and companies must bring their creative souls to the surface and see what amazing results ensue.

Jul 9, 2019

How does a company that has been around for more than 100 years still provide innovative and customer-focused service? For Nordstrom, it comes down to understanding customers and evolving the experience to meet their needs and exceed their expectations.

Shea Jensen, Nordstrom’s SVP Customer Experience, says the brand’s goal is to make customers feel good and look their best. But what sets Nordstrom apart is how the brand meets the customer where they are. Many other companies think of themselves as channels, but Nordstrom provides a complete omnichannel experience by considering itself a brand, not a channel.

Nordstrom’s digital transformation revolves around finding ways to win with customers in a digital world. The seamless experience between channels allows customers to get the great quality they depend on from Nordstrom no matter how they shop.

However, digital transformation didn’t mean completely abandoning physical stores. Instead, Nordstrom updated its physical locations and added extra services to make the experience as convenient and easy as possible. The goal is to provide access to the brand and its products at a time and place that works for customers. Nordstrom stores are for discovery and inspiration. Jensen says 35% of online purchases begin with moment of discovery in store and around 85% of customers who shop in store started their journey in some digital capacity. The company currently operates three Nordstrom Local stores that serve as service hubs with personal stylists, online order pickup and alterations that are right in the neighborhoods where customers live and work. Nordstrom Local customers spend twice as much as customers who don’t shop at Nordstrom Local. Jensen says the convenient touchpoint becomes part of their daily lives.

Nordstrom Local and traditional Nordstrom stores also use well-trained employees as personal stylists, but the services are often augmented with AI and new technology. The Style Board function allows salespeople to curate an assortment of products for a customer, send it to their phone and then be available for a live chat. When the customer is ready to purchase, it’s as simple as shopping on Nordstrom.com. The experience moves between channels in a way that makes sense for customers.

At Nordstrom, customers are in control. They choose how, when and where they shop, and Nordstrom works to provide a high-quality and personalized experience every time. The shopping journey is no longer linear, but creating a digitally driven omnichannel experience puts customers in the drivers’ seat and gives them control.

Jun 28, 2019

What’s the secret sauce to successful businesses? How do the best companies continually innovate and grow?

According to Tiffani Bova, Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce, there’s not one secret to success. Growth and success don’t come from just focusing on employees or building a customer-centric culture or going through a digital confirmation—it comes from a combination of all of those things and many more.

Bova created the idea of Growth IQ from her more than 20 years as a sales and marketing practitioner and academic. Her framework is designed to help companies looking to accelerate growth or recover from a growth stall.

The foundation of the Growth IQ is based on three principles:

  1. Pause and get context. Before growth can begin, practitioners and companies need to understand the context of their market. They need to know their competitors, what’s happening in the market, why they’ve won or lost in the past and their strengths as an organization. Taking time to look at the industry context creates a strong foundation instead of barreling forward without a full view of what’s happening.
  2. It’s never one thing. Growth doesn’t come from one path or action in isolation. Sustainable and meaningful growth is a combination of multiple growth paths that creates a flywheel to drive continued growth.
  3. Sequence matters. The order that companies do things in helps them have a better likelihood for success. The steps matter, but the order they are taken in is also crucial.

These growth principles are extremely important as industries change and are no longer protected from outside competition. Technology has made a huge impact on all industries, but Bova says the modern connected customer is more disruptive than new technology. That means companies need to focus on creating a customer-centric culture by putting their employees first. When the culture is right, everyone knows their roles in delivering meaningful customer experiences. That’s when real growth starts to happen.

Employees also need to be on board because everyone owns customer experience. However, Bova says someone needs to set the strategy that all employees follow. If the CEO isn’t involved in the employee first, customer-centric culture, those ideas won’t become integral to the company’s DNA.

Sustainable growth doesn’t come from just one area. It’s more than just putting employees first and creating a strong customer experience, although those definitely play large roles. The challenge is knowing where to focus first. But Bova says once a company decides, they need to stick with it and commit. True change and lasting growth is a process and don’t happen overnight. Committing to Growth IQ allows for a real impact on employees and customers, and ultimately on the bottom line. 

Jun 13, 2019

Embarking on a full-scale customer experience transformation is a huge undertaking, especially for an organization as large as Cisco. The company has made huge strides recently as it evolves its customer experience to build on its existing customer-first culture. Cisco Live is the premier event for education, inspiration and making connections for technology professionals. This year had 27,000 in-person attendees and more than half a million online views of the keynotes and sessions. Cisco Live is also a great opportunity to showcase and celebrate Cisco’s ongoing customer experience transformation. It’s rare to see a large company make such bold moves on customer experience. But as Cisco Senior Vice President Ish Limkakeng says, the goal is to become the best customer experience company—period. One of the reasons for Cisco’s success is the clarity of vision from executives. According to Jason McLaurin, Managing Director, Customer Experience – Japan, the bold moves from leadership help customer teams move quickly and keep up with changing trends and demands. That laser-focus on customers starts from the top, and sharing the vision with all employees creates an energizing culture ready to make positive change. Mike Adams, Vice President, Learning at Cisco, says successful change starts when executives commit to sticking with the transformation during its ups and downs. Empathy is vital to driving customer experience. McLaurin recommends spending time in the customers’ shoes and consuming their technology. Learn what it really means to live their work for a day. Find their end goal and trace back the requirements. Customer experience should be outcome-based and driven by a strong vision of how to help customers achieve their goals. Part of helping customers reach their goals is providing useful solutions. Many of Cisco’s products have transitioned to subscription and cloud-based models in recent years. Adams says those updates change how the company engages with its customers and pushes the need to add value at every stage of the customer lifecycle. The goal is to create a friction-less renewal process because customers see the overwhelming value of the products. Limkakeng says Cisco aims to help customers realize the full value of their investments. Culture plays a huge role at Cisco. Employees are encouraged to innovate and put customers first. Customer experience is ingrained in the culture and is part of everyday life for all employees. Limkakeng also lives by the principle of explaining to employees what’s in it for them so they can see how what they do every day fits into the overall business strategy. When employees know their role in the puzzle, they are more engaged. Cisco’s customer experience transformation is one of the biggest in recent decades and can be summed up in five words: move fast and move big. Cisco is well on its way to becoming an experience leader across all industries.

Jun 13, 2019

Embarking on a full-scale customer experience transformation is a huge undertaking, especially for an organization as large as Cisco. The company has made huge strides recently as it evolves its customer experience to build on its existing customer-first culture. Cisco Live is the premier event for education, inspiration and making connections for technology professionals. This year had 27,000 in-person attendees and more than half a million online views of the keynotes and sessions. Cisco Live is also a great opportunity to showcase and celebrate Cisco’s ongoing customer experience transformation. It’s rare to see a large company make such bold moves on customer experience. But as Cisco Senior Vice President Ish Limkakeng says, the goal is to become the best customer experience company—period. One of the reasons for Cisco’s success is the clarity of vision from executives. According to Jason McLaurin, Managing Director, Customer Experience – Japan, the bold moves from leadership help customer teams move quickly and keep up with changing trends and demands. That laser-focus on customers starts from the top, and sharing the vision with all employees creates an energizing culture ready to make positive change. Mike Adams, Vice President, Learning at Cisco, says successful change starts when executives commit to sticking with the transformation during its ups and downs. Empathy is vital to driving customer experience. McLaurin recommends spending time in the customers’ shoes and consuming their technology. Learn what it really means to live their work for a day. Find their end goal and trace back the requirements. Customer experience should be outcome-based and driven by a strong vision of how to help customers achieve their goals. Part of helping customers reach their goals is providing useful solutions. Many of Cisco’s products have transitioned to subscription and cloud-based models in recent years. Adams says those updates change how the company engages with its customers and pushes the need to add value at every stage of the customer lifecycle. The goal is to create a friction-less renewal process because customers see the overwhelming value of the products. Limkakeng says Cisco aims to help customers realize the full value of their investments. Culture plays a huge role at Cisco. Employees are encouraged to innovate and put customers first. Customer experience is ingrained in the culture and is part of everyday life for all employees. Limkakeng also lives by the principle of explaining to employees what’s in it for them so they can see how what they do every day fits into the overall business strategy. When employees know their role in the puzzle, they are more engaged. Cisco’s customer experience transformation is one of the biggest in recent decades and can be summed up in five words: move fast and move big. Cisco is well on its way to becoming an experience leader across all industries.

Jun 4, 2019

Many companies think of customer service as just what happens when a customer calls with a problem, but Cisco has transformed customer experience to include the entire customer journey. According to Alvio Barrios, SVP Americas Customer Experience, the goal of customer experience is to proactively engage with customers and help maximize the value of whatever products they’re getting from Cisco.

As the market transforms, Cisco’s products and services have also transformed. The same is true with customer experience. Customers want to get to market faster and be competitive, which means Cisco must proactively help customers and find opportunities to better optimize their solutions.

A number of factors contribute to Cisco’s customer experience transformation. It starts with a commitment from executives across the company. Customer experience impacts all functions of the company, so all executives need to be on board. Employees must also be engaged in customer experience. At Cisco, employees understand what’s happening in the industry because they’re experiencing it themselves. Part of Barrios’ job is to leverage customer focus and turn it into customer obsession to create an open, customer-first culture.

Customer experience transformation must happen fast because trends and technology are constantly changing. Cisco uses a feedback loop to listen to customers and find ways to improve its products and services so it can deliver a better experience in the future. Cisco also uses analytics and insights to find potential challenges and opportunities. Barrios says the most important thing about moving quickly is to be bold and totally committed. Challenges will arise, but a deep conviction and bold actions can help push through the trials.

Transformation doesn’t happen overnight. Change takes time. Cisco celebrates the small wins and works to eliminate silos with a company-wide customer experience blueprint. Getting all employees on the same page and being honest will help everyone see success and the purpose of customer experience.

The best customer experience is proactive and comes from companies that are obsessed with their customers. Cisco shows that like the customers themselves, the experience should also be constantly transforming to provide amazing, proactive solutions.

This podcast is sponsored by Cisco.

May 30, 2019

Imagine having a human assistant to look after your money 24/7 and proactively find ways to save more and keep your money secure. It may sound like an impossible dream, but Capital One makes the same service available for its customers with a virtual assistant named Eno.

Capital One has always been a pioneer in conversational AI. It was the first financial company to launch an Alexa skill that allowed customers to check their balance with a voice command back in 2015. In 2016, it introduced Eno as a text bot. Now, the revamped Eno is more intelligent, responds to conversational text and voice commands and even makes proactive recommendations and alerts. If you made an unusual charge that could be fraud, paid an astronomical tip that’s out of the norm or spent more in a certain area than normal one month, Eno will send you an alert. The bot not only reaches out, but also allows customers to quickly take action right within the channel instead of having to log on to a computer or call customer service.

The goal of Eno and Capital One’s dedication to conversational AI is to remove friction and have real conversations with customers. Before Eno, Capital One had an SMS fraud alert system that would text customers to confirm or deny unusual charges. However, the company realized that half of the responses weren’t confirmed or denied. Customers would respond with things other than the Y or N that the system recognized. They were interacting with the service, but not in a way that the machine recognized.

The move to conversational AI allows humans to talk as they normally would. Ken Dodelin, Capital One VP Conversational AI Product Development, says it’s a move to teaching machines to talk like humans instead of the old method of trying to have humans talk like machines, which was ineffective and frustrating for everyone involved. Eno’s conversational AI technology allows it to understand more than 99% of customer queries and responses—a major jump from 50% just a few years ago. Customer expectations are changing, and how brands design systems must also change.

Conversational AI isn’t something to take lightly. When done well, like in the case of Capital One, it can be a major component of the company’s overall strategy. Dodelin says it’s important to have humility when designing the program. Customers don’t always act how companies expect them to, which means teams have to be agile to find what best matches what customers will actually do.

Eno’s proactive approach has resonated with customers and had a very positive reaction. Eno and Capital One show the power of conversational AI to build bridges and improve the customer experience. Dodelin says that no matter the company, the goal of AI should always be to be helpful. The right technology can create extremely helpful solutions for busy customers.

May 22, 2019

Planning a vacation is often so exhausting that you need the vacation just to recover. Choosing a destination, planning the itinerary and scheduling all the details can take up a huge amount of time and energy. But a new company takes away the need for travelers to plan their own vacations and taps into the experience economy to create unique adventures.

Manifest is the brainchild of Jeff Potter, the former CEO of Frontier Airlines and Exclusive Resorts. From his decades in the travel industry, Jeff learned the importance of getting away on vacation. Millions of vacation days go unused every year, and a major reason is that people don’t have the time or desire to plan their own trips. Modern travelers are also leaning more heavily to experiential travel and want to immerse themselves into the places they travel instead of simply staying in a resort.

Manifest plans group travel expeditions throughout the U.S. Instead of long, international trips, these vacations are more manageable for people to fit into their busy schedules. Customers join a local chapter, pay the annual fee for the travel club and then can sign up for as many trips as they want. Because of Potter’s connections in the industry, the cost of private aircrafts, luxury accommodations and exclusive experiences actually ends up being close to what people would pay for booking a business class trip on their own.

Group travel also brings people together in a unique way. With Manifest’s model, the people travelling together in a group likely live in the same city and have similar interests. The specialized trips range from an upscale Sonoma wine tasting weekend to whitewater rafting through the Grand Canyon. Potter calls it “tribal travel” as the groups consist of likeminded people who share a passion for experiential travel.

Manifest is built around creating amazing experiences and building trust. According to Potter, what customers want more than luxury experiences is authenticity. They want to truly experience their travel destination. Manifest plans excursions that are often off the beaten path and something travelers might not find if they were making their own arrangements.

To ensure guests are satisfied with the arrangements, Manifest customers complete a short survey when they join the travel club, which includes details about their preferences and activities. The company listens to customers to offer a wide variety of experiences to meet everyone’s needs.

In our modern world, customers tend to value experiences over things. They’re investing more in travel than ever before, and Manifest takes advantage of the need for convenience, experiences and community by creating unique, personalized travel opportunities.

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