Winning Back Customer Love, the Role of the Chief Customer Officer: Inside Scoop with Jeanne Bliss

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CustomerThink Founder/CEO Bob Thompson interviews Jeanne Bliss of CustomerBLISS about the role of the Chief Customer Officer and her advice for achieving success with this critical executive position.

 

Interview covers the following topics:

Interview recorded May 16, 2012. Transcript edited for clarity.

Bob Thompson:
Hello, this is Bob Thompson with CustomerThink. Today, I’m delighted to have as my guest on Inside Scoop, Jeanne Bliss. She is the founder of her own firm, called—and I’m very jealous about this—CustomerBLISS. It’s the most awesome name you can have in the customer-centric world, and unfortunately, she’s got it and not me!

Jeanne is really an amazing professional in this world of customer-centric business, so I was very anxious to talk with her today about the Chief Customer Officer role. She’s got an amazing background in a leadership position at five large US market leaders: Lands End, Coldwell Banker, Allstate, Microsoft and Mazda. Jeanne has been in the trenches trying to help companies move forward to being more customer-centric and more successful.

In the past few years, she has been in a consulting role. She’ll tell us a little bit more about that in just a second. Jeanne is also co-founder of the CXPA, which is all about customer experience, and does a lot of speaking and working with senior executives all around the globe. Jeanne, it’s absolutely a pleasure to have you on my program today.

Jeanne Bliss:
Thanks, Bob, it’s really terrific to be here and chatting with you about all this great stuff.

Bob Thompson:
Tell me a little bit about what you do and also this role with the CXPA, the Customer Experience Professional Association.

Jeanne Bliss:
Sure, you bet. And just to clarify, my role in my own business is separate from CXPA. The CXPA, Customer Experience Professionals Association is a not for-profit association that my partner, Bruce Tempkin, and I decided to start because, like you said, customer experience is a hot topic, but there’s all kinds of little blister activities going on. What we wanted to be was, if you will, and pardon this large aspirational goal, the American Medical Association for the customer experience profession. We think about the work as inclusive, not competitive, meaning that we want to bring everyone in together to create a forum and a place for practitioners to glean information, support, vendors who can help them, and really organize ourselves around what is customer experience, how do you drive it and what is successful? He and I aren’t paid a nickel for doing this, it’s all a labor of love, but we believe that by improving the industry, everyone will improve this area, which I’m personally a zealot about, which is about driving customers as the asset of the business, along with employees.

In my own business, CustomerBLISS, I, as you mentioned, was graced to have these really terrific roles for these five big corporations. And so, the large part of what I do is as people are named into these customer roles, I kind of coach them off the ledge and into success quickly to ensure that they don’t become the glorified customer service department or get randomized by everybody and their brother saying, “Hey, the customer, that’s your job now.”

Bob Thompson:
OK, so you do some consulting, coaching, speaking for companies that either are investing in their Customer Experience or Chief Customer Officer position, correct?

Jeanne Bliss:
Yes, and they tend to be the large, large corporations, who find that the experience is randomized for a couple of reasons: one, multi-channels, and two, multi-silos.

Bob Thompson:
OK. All right, so just for our readers benefit, I want to give a plug to Jeanne’s books. These are two awesome books for those that are in these customer leadership roles. I wholeheartedly recommend “Chief Customer Officer,” which has a great subtitle, “How To Get Past Lip Service To Passionate Action.” And then, more recently, a book of case studies, which is just fabulous. It’s called, “I Love You More Than My Dog.” The case studies are the kind of thing that you just can’t find anywhere else.

Jeanne Bliss:
Yeah, and that book is really about the subtitle, which is, decision-making. It’s “Five Decisions That Drive Extreme Customer Loyalty In Good Times and Bad.” The case studies are written in such a way that companies who grow in good times and bad, deliberately decide how they will grow, and also choose deliberately how they will not grow. It is that difference that makes them stand out in the marketplace.

Role of Chief Customer Officer

Bob Thompson:
All right, well let’s get into this topic. I know there’s some confusion in the market, at least in my mind, about what is a Chief Customer Officer or a Chief Experience Officer? How are they different, what do they do? Can you talk a little bit about the job and the two variations?

Jeanne Bliss:
Sure, yeah, and I think that’s what the most important thing is, is what is the mission of this role? When I coach, my clients have a number of titles, Chief Customer Officer, Chief Experience Officer, Senior VP of Customer Success, whatever it might be. The title is less important than the mission. The mission is we’re a corporation, we’re growing, or we fail to grow, we aren’t experiencing organic growth anymore, we need to pull our organization together and unite our efforts to deliver a deliberate customer experience. And in that, also deliver a culture where our employees feel they’re a part of delivering this great experience and feel real value in being part of an organization that does that. So, it’s more mission-based. There’s a variety of titles.

Bob Thompson:
Are you seeing any trends in the market, especially of late, companies beginning to lean more toward the Customer Experience Officer title?

Jeanne Bliss:
We’re seeing kind of a mix of Chief Experience Officer and CCO. What I am seeing is an influx of these kinds of roles brought on by two forcing functions. One is social media, which I applaud greatly because companies can’t hide from the experience they’re delivering any longer. And so, what they’re recognizing is that their customers are out there talking about it. They need somebody, at least for a time, to unite the organization and bring it together.

Bob Thompson:
Could share one of your great stories about a brand, a company, where the CCO or CXO, whatever this great new role, where that person really made a difference and helped move that company along this journey that you’re so passionate about?

Jeanne Bliss:
I would be happy to. It’s a client of mine; they’ve just made amazing really great progress. It’s not in the book, but it could be. And it’s interesting because it’s a B2B example—Bombardier Aerospace. They have an aviation division. We’ve all flown on their planes. They also have a private plane division. They took on an initiative, an approach called Amazing Customer Experience. As you might imagine, when you take on something like that, lots of people will interpret it differently.

We got together and defined what it would mean for Amazing Customer Experience. We defined the stages of the experience, the touchpoints, the moments of truth that were most critical, and determined from a competency standpoint and a requirement standpoint what the customer intersection points were and what those quality indicators needed to be for each part of the customer experience. It has become a very important growth engine for Bombardier Aerospace.

Is the CCO a Permanent Job?

Bob Thompson:
Do you think that this function is going to be a permanent thing in companies over the next 10, 20 years, or do you see possibly that it might end up just being absorbed? As companies really become customer-centric, they’ll say, “We’re all together making this happen. We don’t necessarily need a facilitator in this job.” What do you think is going to happen?

Jeanne Bliss:
Well, what I write about and what I’ve always coached my clients on is this is a job that ideally, you should actually work your way out of. In the beginning, it’s around helping the organization do two things: One is uniting the silos on experience reliability, competencies that don’t exist naturally for people to work together. And the other one is embedding into the DNA how you innovate, where you innovate and how you change annual planning.

As this gets embedded into the operation, into the annual planning cycle, into how you process, fix customer experiences, over time the need for this very large-scale orchestra leader should go away. Then what would be left are some specific action items, such as voice of the customer and other mechanical things that need to be kept on. But I believe that it should be embedded in the DNA. And within a five, six, whatever year period of time, based on the company, you should no longer need that large, large-scale role.

Bob Thompson:
Right, so if you look at an individual company and they’ve been successful moving along, they might find this senior leadership job as really not as necessary. They might need maybe a staff function or something that really provides this sort of central clearinghouse for customer sat data and so forth?

Jeanne Bliss:
Right, you’re going to still need to have a place to drive accountability. We know that embedded in the quality and the Six Sigma or the lean parts of the organization that competency exists. You’re going to need, to your point, the voice of the customer engine and how you disseminate that out to the organization. But right now, that is a failure for united customer experience. We do a good job gathering data and we send it out to the silos, but each silo kind of chips away within their own operating area and what they’ll work on. And we don’t have a united approach to systemically solving and improving the key moments of truth.

Bob Thompson:
Right, it’s this multi-channel thing. I’ve been studying this, myself, for the last few years. It seems like whether it’s multiple channels or multiple silos—channels on the customer side, silos internally—that the combination of these two is really deadly. You’ve got a lot of room for things to go wrong, and customers not get the experience that they really want.

Jeanne Bliss:
It really is, Bob, and that’s why I’ve called it the human duct tape role. And part of this is the way our metrics and our scorecards are. We build scorecards so that we can ensure success, which is a good thing. But there are barriers and boundaries on each side of those scorecards that don’t naturally require us to collaborate with other silos. And, therein, becomes the customer experience failures. It’s those hand-offs that aren’t architected.

Bob Thompson:
Yeah, it seems like that’s really a key role for top leadership, whether it’s the CCO, or the CEO, but if there’s not somebody that’s really looking at the coordination of the silos, the job functions because let’s face it, we’re not going to get rid of those any time soon.

Jeanne Bliss:
That’s right.

Bob Thompson:
You do need silos, you need specialization, but somebody’s got to be looking at the bigger picture and say, “All right, if we’ve got 10 metrics per silo—just to make up a number here—we ought to have one or two of them that are shared between silos that really ought to be working together, and not just each kind of marching to their own drummer.”

Jeanne Bliss:
That’s exactly right. There was some talk a while ago saying, “Gosh, as part of this, should we reorganize our business?” Well, those competencies exist for a reason. What should change is the starting point from which action occurs. So, rather than everybody doing their own thing, we should all come together and decide on what parts of the experience we’ll improve. For example, the biggest test out of this for success is: does your annual planning process change? Meaning, you all start in a united way, leader to leader and define what the priorities are, agree on what you’re going to work on, and then pull the money back out, based on who owned the piece of that united approach.

Measuring Success

Bob Thompson:
Yeah, metrics and how you reward people are really at the heart of how organizations do their thing. So, let’s talk about that a little bit. If a CCO is going to be successful, there’s got to be some measure of that success.

Jeanne Bliss:
That’s right.

Bob Thompson:
So, what have you found in practice that really works out there? Is it using things like Net Promoter Score? Is it something else? What’s been your experience?

Jeanne Bliss:
Well, I don’t like pinning a score like Net Promoter Score on the back of a person like the CCO because the CCO, unless they own the function, themselves, upon which they would have their own operational metrics, the CCO is about building the engine and embedding the competencies. There’s these five competencies that really need to be built inside of the organization, uniting the organization to define the customer experience consistently. At some point in time when that happens, that’s a success behavior that the CCO has created. Instead of the president report out going around market operations sales, you now start talking about the on-boarding experience, the delivery experience.

And another one is customer listening. Have they been successful in creating the customer listening engine that doles out information across the silos, down these operational customer experience points? Are they creating a united approach to customer experience process improvement? So, it’s when these shifts in how the organization behaves occurs that I believe the CCO, or whatever the title is, should be measured on. The outcome measure such as net promoter will come when the CCO participates and is able to enable these changes to occur. But they don’t own the operations that drive the results.

Bob Thompson:
Right, but you can make them accountable for these more progress measurements in the shorter term.

Jeanne Bliss:
That’s right.

Bob Thompson:
But eventually, in your experience, does it take a year, two years? How long does it take to see, to really move the needle on these top line customer loyalty metrics?

Jeanne Bliss:
I prefer to initially look at things like the trending and tracking of complaints, as well as operational metrics specific to customer experience touch points. And sorry, I diverted your question, but if we look at those first, you can start moving the needle on those within the first year. And that will give you success because we’re quarterly inclined. Part of the problem of this work and the CCO creates it is lack of focus. If we can focus on two big broken customer experiences and within a six-month period, reengineer those and re-implement those experiences, you will see within the first two or three months of those being implemented that your complaint counts are going to drop. And also what you’re going to see is the operational KPI, the key performance indicators such as cycle time, delivery, number of customers on board, the default rates, those will start dropping immediately. Those are the things that you can attach your wagon on early on and people will see success and you can celebrate those. The outcome metrics are lagging and are going to take a year, two years to catch up with all of that because remember, customers give you NPS, for example, on the total relationship.

Bob Thompson:
Exactly, yeah. There’s a lot of moving parts in all of that. I’ve seen some examples, myself, where with new leadership and kind of a new commitment or a renewed commitment to the customer experience. Sprint’s one of my favorite turn around stories . . .

Jeanne Bliss:
Yes.

Bob Thompson:
. . . over a period of two to three years, they went from really trailing the bottom of the pack in the mobile telecom industry to being at least competitive.

Jeanne Bliss:
You bet, and that’s two to three years is the operative word there. I know that what they did was they started with these operational kinds of things and earned the right to the bigger score.

Bob Thompson:
The reason I wanted to talk a little bit about measurement and progress is that I think that people get a little scared off. There is a lot of short-term pressure. But you’re saying that you can see progress within six months to a year and get some feedback that hey, the things we’re doing are working. And then really, the real payoff is over a longer period of time. To me, that means that the leadership has to be in it for the longer-term.

Jeanne Bliss:
Yes.

Bob Thompson:
It’s not a 20-year plan, but it’s not next quarter either.

Jeanne Bliss:
That’s right.

Burning Platform for Change

Bob Thompson:
I’m just wondering what you’ve found. Is there a key ingredient that causes either a new leader to come in, get fired up about really getting behind this, or maybe somebody that’s been there that said, “Wait a minute, we have to change”? What is the spark to get going and really stay committed to this?

Jeanne Bliss:
There’s a couple things that I use as secret sauce, and we’ve seen it to be successful in every kind of business. One is to have our executives call customers who left. What happens accidentally is that we are so numerically oriented around our data, is that we talk about customers in spreadsheet format. The minute you take that away and you have your executives calling people to people—and it doesn’t have to be highly scripted; I prefer no script—”We’re so sorry you left. Can you tell us what happened?” And they talk. Now you’ve got the voice of a customer—it’s human.

Then what we do is we call a variety of more customers, so we have a mass. And we attached those lost customer issues and reasons to the stages of the customer experience. Then what we do also is a little bit of customer math where we talk about and actually create a numeric value for new customers and lost customers. And now what we’ve done is we’ve numerically assigned this customer work to our aligned profitability. And this gets their attention, and this drives action, and this helps them to realize this is not “Kumbaya, we are the real world.” But rather, this is around how to profitably grow this.

Bob Thompson:
But I want to go back to what happens before that. What is going to cause an executive to even want to invest in the work required to put the math together that you just described? Does their company need to be going off a cliff? An example of Sprint, maybe they weren’t off a cliff, but they were in trouble. What’s that burning platform that would say, “We’ve got to do something”?

Jeanne Bliss:
So, here’s a couple things. One of the reasons I love social media is that it will immediately identify for you that you’re not loved in the marketplace, and far from it in many cases. There are enough angry customers or frustrated customers out there giving you feedback that you didn’t ask for that you have to pay attention to. We’re finding that’s very much one of the things.

The other is that growth isn’t occurring as rapidly as it should. In fact, trying to acquire new customers in organic growth is declining, which is one of the reasons we do customer math. Sometimes, the CEO doesn’t see that and it has to be kind of packaged in such a way that it becomes compelling. And then the other thing is that what we know is in mature marketplaces, growth slows down very rapidly, and we’re finding that’s another reason to implement this role or start to reenergize the market.

Bob Thompson:
All of these things you’re describing are basically dissatisfaction with the state of the business, not growing, having customer problems. Maybe getting more personally in touch with customers that are leaving would certainly help raise the awareness, but fundamentally, it should be, “Look, we could be doing better,” right?

Jeanne Bliss:
It should be, it should be, and you’re right, I think that’s a big differentiator. In some companies, you’ve got some very enlightened leaders that get that, and they are initiating this for that reason, as well, but they are fewer, unfortunately.

Getting Off to a Fast Start

Bob Thompson:
All right, well let’s wrap up and help our readers who are heading down this path. Maybe their business results are not exactly what they would like them to be and they think that this is the right way to go, get a Chief Customer Officer or Chief Experience Officer, whatever the title is. As you say, the title’s really not that important. But if they’ve got this mission that you’ve described, what are some things that you would suggest that that leader do in the first, say, 90 days?

Jeanne Bliss:
It’s a great question. To your point, you have to show progress pretty swiftly so people understand the role, first of all because some people are going to feel threatened by it. One of the first things we do is build out what we call complaint categories, on needed customer feedback. You’ve got customers giving you feedback on a regular basis. Align how you organize and categorize that information because that’s going to be an immediate leading indicator. You need to get that done.

The second is figure out your customer segmentation so you know the value of your customers by segment value. Again, connecting this to the ROI.

The third thing is get those executives to call lost customers, and then attach those lost customer issues to your moments of truth and touch points. So, this is around, to your point initially, creating action—911—what’s happening and why. And in doing that, people will understand why you exist and why what you’re doing unites the organization.

After that then in the third month or so of the 90 days, it’s about then formalizing those things, creating more of an operational consistency around complaint trending, building a traditional loss review meeting, and starting to build, for example, your first cross-functional team for fixing the top five things that are broken.

Bob Thompson:
Right. Well again, to our readers, this is a very key job and it’s not an easy job by any means. That’s why there’s a couple of great books that I would recommend from Jeanne, as I mentioned. But there’s also a chart, Jeanne, that you sent me, and I’ll go ahead and make that a part of the transcript for this interview, so that people can look at this first 90 days’ roadmap that you put together. I think the one thing I would like to leave everyone with is that you can make progress. Yeah, it’s a long-term journey. It’s certainly been my observation over the years, that turn arounds don’t happen in a couple or three months. It usually takes years to really see the full force of it. But you can make progress and you do need to make progress in the early goings. And first impressions are really important, so I think this chart will help people with that.

Jeanne Bliss:
Yeah, glad that we have that to offer.

Bob Thompson:
Just before we wrap up, do you have any other quick tips for the brand new CCO who is all fired up about making a difference, anything else that you’d like to mention?

Jeanne Bliss:
It’s a couple things, it’s about your personal passion, and it’s about action, not mugs and buttons and marching bands.

Bob Thompson:
OK, so you’re not a big advocate for those banners on the walls and things like that unless there’s something backing them up?

Jeanne Bliss:
You got to prove it, yeah.

Bob Thompson:
All right, well Jeanne, it’s always a pleasure to talk with you. I appreciate you taking the time today to share your insights about this very, very critical job of Chief Customer Officer.

Jeanne Bliss:
Thank you, it’s great to be with you, Bob.






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