Empower Your People to Drive Customer Experience ROI: Inside Scoop with Tammy Weinbaum of American Express

2
1,091 views

Share on LinkedIn

CustomerThink Founder/CEO Bob Thompson interviews Tammy Weinbaum, AMEX Senior VP and GM, regarding the company’s journey to create “the world’s most respected service brand.”
 

Interview covers the following topics (click to jump to section in transcript):
Tammy Weinbaum, American Express

You can also listen to the audio here:

Interview recorded Jan. 5, 2012.

Transcript

Bob Thompson:
Hello, this is Bob Thompson with CustomerThink. For this episode of Inside Scoop, I am thrilled to have as my guest, Tammy Weinbaum, who is Senior V.P. and General Manager for the American Express service centers in Phoenix, Arizona and Salt Lake City, Utah.



Tammy has been with American Express since 1990, when she joined as a customer service rep in Florida. Over the years, she’s worked her way up through the ranks and has compiled a very impressive career résumé. She’s served in a number of leadership positions including risk operations, telephone servicing and merchant servicing. You’ll notice quickly that service is a very important part of everything that she’s done in her tenure at American Express.

So Tammy, welcome to Inside Scoop! It’s great to have you on our program.

Tammy Weinbaum:
Thanks, it’s great to be here!

Bob Thompson:
I really enjoyed meeting you last year at the RightNow conference in Colorado, where you were a keynote speaker. We’re going to be exploring some of the things that you talked about in your speech there. Specifically, I’d really like to discuss the journey that American Express has taken to improve the customer experience, especially over the last five years or so, and the important role of leadership and the customer service professional.

Before we get into that, could you give our listeners a quick snapshot of your current responsibilities?

Tammy Weinbaum:
Absolutely. So as you mentioned, I serve as the Senior Vice President and General Manager for the Phoenix, Arizona and the Salt Lake City, Utah service centers, and it really involves the day-to-day leadership and daily operations of both those service centers. My role, day in and day out, and I believe the role of everyone at our company, is to help us achieve our vision to become the world’s most respected brand. So, I do my best in my daily activities to make sure everyone has their tools and empowerment to be able to do that.

Bob Thompson:
All right, so I think it’s fair to say that you’re – excuse the expression – where the rubber meets the road, in terms of making service come to life for your customers. Could you share a few statistics with our listeners about just the scope of the operation that you manage? I thought it was quite amazing, the size of it.

Tammy Weinbaum:
We have several thousand employees here in the Phoenix service center, and Salt Lake is comparable, as well, so we have many people really dedicated to providing extraordinary service every day. Really at the end of the day, that’s where the rubber hits the road, as you would say.


Raising the Bar

Bob Thompson:
All right, so I have a quote from – or maybe I’m paraphrasing slightly – but in your speech, and to kind of kick off this discussion about customer experience, you said that this journey began roughly five years ago, and something to the effect that there was an assessment made within American Express that the company was not fulfilling the vision of becoming the world’s most respected service brand. There was basically a renewed focus on that vision. I don’t think it was a change in your vision. You just realized you weren’t quite hitting it. Is that a fair statement?

Tammy Weinbaum:
I think a renewed focus is a fair way to say it. When I talk about service – and as you said, I’ve been with the company since 1990, so I’ve seen how important service has always been — it’s always been at the core of our company. And while we believe our performance at the company level was always good, we knew that we wanted to do more to raise the bar. And as I mentioned, our vision at American Express has always been to become the world’s most respected service brand. And you can’t do that by being complacent. So, we really looked at it as room for improvement, and that’s what really led this journey.

Bob Thompson:
Right, and so was there anything in particular that precipitated this renewed focus, especially to focus on the customer experience around five years or so ago?

Tammy Weinbaum:
I think again that when you’re doing a really good job that you want to be the best, when you talk about the service brands that we are thinking about in putting our name next to, there’s always room for improvement. So, we began on a journey to really transform our servicing organization.

Bob Thompson:
Were there any management changes, in terms of your top leadership, anything like that that kind of added some fuel to the fire, so to speak?

Tammy Weinbaum:
No, I think our key, when we talked about the servicing change, it really has always been to start with our front line, our customer care professionals as we refer to them, making sure that we invested in them and we enabled them to deliver the superior service. And I think management supported those changes, but it really started with the focus and investment in our front line.


Customer Experience Strategy

Bob Thompson:
OK, let’s talk about that because I think the one thing that really stood out for me in listening to you at that conference is that you spoke so much and so passionately about the important job of customer care professionals. So, leadership is important, strategy is great and technology, you need that — but the front line professional is critical. And so, how did this job of the customer care professional change to support this more intense focus on providing a great customer experience?

Tammy Weinbaum:
We, one, asked them for their feedback because we knew that, in order to deliver extraordinary customer care, we had to hear from them. And so, we started as all sound initiatives do, with some research, and we asked for both feedback from our customers and our employees. And then based on that feedback, we were able to create a strategy and really focus on that feedback.

Bob Thompson:
Can you share an example of one kind of “a-ha” that came out of that research?

Tammy Weinbaum:
There’s really four themes that resonated from the research and the feedback. And what we did is we really focused on four different areas.

The first theme that we heard loud and clear again from both our employees and our customers was that we needed to make sure that we understood that both customer and our front line care professionals need to feel valued. When you think about the interactions, hundreds of millions of interactions and then opportunities create an emotional connection, we wanted to make sure that we created that genuine, authentic, and made sure that connection felt real for both our customer care professionals and our customers. That was the first theme.

The second one that was clearly evident as we spoke to our employees is we needed to empower them. This is a people business, and our extraordinary people deliver extraordinary care every day. Let our people be extraordinary. Unleash the power and the talent that we have, which obviously translates into extraordinary service.

Thirdly was around enablement, creating this global – as you know, American Express is a global company – making sure that we’re able to deliver on our customer promise through, and leveraging as you mentioned earlier, technology, people, all of those experiences that really cut across from how the customer’s viewing it.

And then lastly, engaging. Everything we did, we had to make sure that we put the customer first. Every interaction is an opportunity to engage that customer with a different strategy and a different approach. And by listening to that customer, the voice of the customer as we refer to it, we started to change our business model, and we built an infrastructure to measure the voice of the customer.

Bob Thompson:
I’d like to come back and talk a little bit more about your voice of customer program, but this idea of engaging and creating this emotional connection is something that a lot of companies talk about, but relatively few are able to pull off. Can you give me an example of how a conversation might go with a customer care professional where they’re being more emotionally engaging, as opposed to just getting the job done? Somebody’s calling up to take care of some particular problem that they have, and how would they make that more of an emotional connection?

Tammy Weinbaum:
Well, we look at really our servicing ethos as being relationship care, and our employees, our goal. And really, they listen to the customers, and on each call, the customer dictates what that call might translate into or what the conversation might be. And it really is based on what the customer needs. The employees’ goal is to listen to them and then build a connection with them and provide them with whatever services or be able to answer the question, based on that servicing philosophy. And so, it really isn’t scripted and it really is based on what the customer’s looking for.

Bob Thompson:
So you really do need empowered employees. It can’t be like “ask this,” “answer this,” and tell them exactly what to do. You need people who are smart, that can think well on their feet, so to speak, and really take care of the customer in a more human way.

Tammy Weinbaum:
And that’s really what we’ve found that at the end of the day, it was about our people, and we needed to provide them the freedom to really deliver on that promise. We had to train them, we had to make sure they were knowledgeable, but then we had to give them the authority to do that and also hold them accountable. We were very clear about that, as well.



Rewards and Accountability

Bob Thompson:
That was another question that I had — how do you back up these good intentions? A lot of companies talk about empowerment. But there’s two sides to that empowerment sword, I think it’s fair to say. One is the reward, and the other is accountability, right? Sometimes things don’t go right, sometimes they do. But you want people making those decisions and working more on their own, as opposed to coming to the boss and asking is this OK to do to take care of this particular problem? How do you back that up with measurements and rewards to make sure that you are getting the business performance that you want in the end?

Tammy Weinbaum:
As you said, I think a big focus for us and a big investment was on this measure and this voice of the customer. And we asked a simple question and we communicated it to our organization, as well as to our customers. At the end of every interaction, we would ask them, “Would you recommend American Express to a friend?” So we knew off that servicing transaction what the results would be, and then we communicated and we made sure that the organization knew that we were committed to that and we were willing all the way down to rewarding and incenting our employees based on that. So, I think communication, again making sure it was a priority and making sure we follow through, as you said, based on rewards and incentives.

Bob Thompson:
OK, so your key measurement is this recommendation metric, is that right?

Tammy Weinbaum:
Exactly. Customer satisfaction or RTF, as we call it in our organization.

Bob Thompson:
All right, so you don’t use net promoter score? That’s kind of a derivative of it would you recommend?

Tammy Weinbaum:
Right. I would say as a customer care professional, we just found that this was really the best metric to hold people accountable for the work that they’re doing. So, there’s some similarities to that at the organizational level. We do track Net Promoter, but RTF (Recommend To Friend) is our measure that we really focus on.

Bob Thompson:
And so how does this translate into a reward? Rewards could mean a lot of things. It could mean money, it could mean a pat on the back, your name up on the board. How do you make the employee feel like wow, we really did the right job and we got recognized for it?

Tammy Weinbaum:
It’s all of the above. It’s recognition, but there’s also monetary awards, as well. It’s a monthly incentive program for our customer care professionals, for our leadership. So again, it is monetary, but we also do recognition where there’s non-monetary awards and recognition involved.

Voice of Customer Program

Bob Thompson:
Fantastic. Let’s talk just a little bit more about voice of customer. Can you share a little bit about how you go out and actually collect this data? Is it via the phone, surveys? There’s lots of channels now that you can use to get feedback, including social media, so what are the techniques that you’re using?

Tammy Weinbaum:
We do all of those. We use social media, but probably the majority of it is through an e-mail survey after the transaction that we reach out to the customer and ask them for their feedback, based on that recent transaction.

Bob Thompson:
And what kind of response rates do you get for that?

Tammy Weinbaum:
You know, I don’t have the specific response rates in front of me, but we’re very pleased with our sample size and again, it is statistically valid, so we’re very pleased that our customers are willing to give us that feedback.


The Bottom Line

Bob Thompson:
Great. All right, so let’s look at the big picture. We started by talking about this five-year journey and this renewed focus on customer service and the customer experience. What would you say has been the biggest change from then to now?

Tammy Weinbaum:
We talked a little bit about making sure that we invested in our front line, and I think that’s probably the biggest change is making sure we listened to our employees to understand the tools that they needed, we invested in them. And then we, importantly, recognized them and rewarded them for that.

Bob Thompson:
OK, and the other $64,000 question — or maybe it’s millions of dollars these days — is what do you get for that? Leaders of publicly traded companies and really all companies want a return on the things that they’re doing, things they’re investing in. What has American Express found to be the “ROI” on improving the customer experience, and specifically investing in the front line?

Tammy Weinbaum:
I think when we started this, we felt like gathering the feedback from our customer was really the single most defining thing for us to really move the organization towards that. And as we used the customer feedback to improve servicing, we were able to then turn those around and look at some of our business metrics. And we’ve absolutely seen improvement in key metrics.

When we started the journey, we wanted to make sure that we really thought big. And so, we said that we wanted to double our position and improve our RTF scores by double. And we’ve delivered on more than that. We also saw a 20 to 25 percent growth in our average spending on our American Express cards. If you think about it, customers that are getting the service that we’re providing today are more deeply engaged, and that’s driving shareholder value for them.

We’ve also seen a reduction in our customer attrition as a result of this focus and improvement and satisfaction. And in a world where it’s incredibly competitive, retaining our customers has always been a priority for us, so this is another great metric that we’re able to see improvements in.

Benchmarking Great Service Brands

Bob Thompson:
OK, that’s great. Those are wonderful metrics. I remember one other thing that you said in Colorado is that you really think about not just competing within your own industry, but really thinking about what kind of great service experiences are happening in other industries and really pushing American Express toward that. The financial services industry – and I think you made a comment like this when we talked in Colorado – is not exactly known for being, broadly speaking, customer-friendly. We’ve had the issue with Bank of America fees and all kinds of issues. Now your goal is to be the leader in this particular industry, but what about other industries? Is there some other sector or some other brand that you feel American Express should aspire to to really separate yourself from the pack?

Tammy Weinbaum:
I think that’s exactly the point, and we even communicate that to our employee that it’s not enough just to be the leader in the industry. We want to be the leader in all service brands. I think it depends on our customers’ viewpoint, who they think about, but oftentimes when we talk to our employees, we think about brands like Apple, Ritz Carlton. When those names are mentioned, people think about service at a different level. And that’s really how we’re thinking about our service improvements, and as I talked about, our vision to become the world’s most respected service brand. So, it all really supports that.

Biggest Lesson Learned

Bob Thompson:
All right, last question. Again, thinking back since you’ve been involved with this for quite a long time now, thinking back over the last five years or so, what’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned that you can share with our listeners? Many of them are leading customer experience or customer service initiatives in their own firms. What kind of insight could you share with them to help them on their journeys?



Tammy Weinbaum:
It’s a great question. I already knew this, but a constant reminder as I think about the last five years is the power in your people. Relationship care here at American Express is our servicing ethos, and we can’t fulfill on that without our people, so at the end of the day, the people who represent your brand are invaluable. The passion and the caring people behind the brand are critically important to who we are and what we stand for. So, service has always been and always will continue to be the constant for American Express, and because of our people, we’re able to deliver on that.

Bob Thompson:
So, keep investing in your people, empower them. I think it’s kind of interesting to note that I’m noticing more companies that are popping up really stressing the personal touch. There’s been maybe a little bit of a pull back from just trying to automate everything in sight. People do want efficiency, we all know that, but the personal touch really adds a dimension that’s just hard to imagine in technology. So, we’ve seen Zappos, even some financial services firms — smaller ones than American Express — really putting this focus back on people, and I just think that’s fantastic. None of us like to feel like a number.

Tammy Weinbaum:
And I would say the second part that I would just talk about in that question – it really relates to what you’re saying – is the voice of the customer is key. So, what we’ve learned is you can never be comfortable, you can’t be complacent. You can always improve, and the best way to do that is ask for feedback. And really, the voice of the customer for us has been critical.

Bob Thompson:
Well, one thing I would say just in closing, Tammy — as I’ve interviewed executives over the last 10 years or so — the one common denominator that I’ve found in the firms that really stand out is they’re never satisfied. So, even if they’re leading their industry, they sound a lot like you. It’s like, “we’re not doing that great.” “We can do a lot better.” They always set their sights higher and just are never really satisfied with how things are going. So, I think that seems to be an attitude of true leaders.

Tammy Weinbaum:
Absolutely.

Bob Thompson:
Tammy, thank you very much for spending time with me today on Inside Scoop. I really appreciate it.

Tammy Weinbaum:
My pleasure, thanks, Bob.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Great interview Bob and Tammy,
    Given to achieve increases in customer satisfaction and reductions in attrition etc come from a change in employee behavior, I am interested to know more about how AMEX measures the shift in employee behaviors (i.e culture)?

  2. One of the key ways we measure our success within the World Service Organization is by customer satisfaction. Ensuring our employees are engaged in putting the customer first and practicing the culture of Relationship CareSM is essential to realizing this goal.

    The fact that we have seen a steady increase in customer satisfaction (as measured by Recommend to a Friend scores,) as well as a fourfold decrease in Cardmember attrition since we launched our journey to transform our servicing organization supports our confidence that our employees are continuing to embrace Relationship CareSM and that our customers and our business are benefitting as a result.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here