Customer Experience Undercover Boss for All Employees


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Customer experience can be brought to life through an Undercover Boss approach to rolling up your sleeves and walking in others’ shoes. Each of us who has seen the Undercover Boss TV show has likely marveled at how eye-opening it was for a company’ s top executive to try out various front-line and behind-the-scenes jobs — as a result, the executive typically makes sweeping changes to improve the employee experience. And this concept can also be applied to any employee to explore and improve the plight of external customers’ experience, as Adobe has been doing for a while now. In my interview with Barbie Fink, a Customer Experience Transformation Leader at Adobe, explained: “We recognized that the experiences that our customers faced were not just about the touch-point of support, but were really part of an overall ecosystem of the end-to-end customer life cycle and all of the different touch-points that customers faced along that journey. So that was a big part of really wanting to change the way we thought about customer experience. What we needed to do at that point was to bring our cross-functional teams together to understand the customer experience, to walk in the shoes of the customer themselves.”

To gain a firsthand appreciation for what customers go through, several small groups of employees who work together meet in a workshop to completely immerse themselves in the customer experience as if they were someone without inside knowledge of Adobe. A specific scenario is provided to each group, with a time constraint a typical customer would have in their work. A scenario could be about a customer wanting to transition a magazine from a printed to a digital publication, or a customer who is managing the finances for their company looking at all of the different invoices they’ ve received over the past year to figure out total costs. Based on a list of the customer’s priorities or goals to accomplish, the group is told to suspend all of their insider knowledge, and use only the resources available to customers, to determine how their needs will be met in the most cost effective way.

“They can pretty quickly see where they’ re going to get stopped along the way, or where they’ re not going to be successful in being able to answer those questions. ” She added:. “And for our customers, if they couldn’ t find the information that they needed in that time, it’ s likely that they would disengage. So by taking people through that kind of scenario, they really quickly get to see what it’ s like. “

Building Customer-Centric Culture

Initially, this customer experience immersion was conducted in one-to-one sessions with company executives, so they could obtain personal knowledge of customer pain points along their path of buying and using Adobe products and services. “They saw where customers really couldn’ t be successful because of some of those really complicated experiences that we had in play,” said Barbie. Eventually, management decided they wanted all 11,500 employees at Adobe to gain empathy for customers. The company started with directors-and-above so they can inspire their teams to take action to improve the customer experience. “It really made employees think differently about the jobs that they have. What we’ re doing now is focusing on different groups across the company, thinking about the impact that those groups can have, and developing scenarios that are relevant to that employee base so that they can then drive improvements and take action.”

Although the first goal of customer experience immersion was simply to build empathy for customers, this powerful tool has been impacting customer-centric culture. “At first this was about raising awareness and visibility of the experiences themselves,” she continued, “but now we have complete leadership buy-in and support for changing the face of our company and looking at our company more holistically from a customer experience perspective. ” At the company’ s all-hands meeting in January this year, “our executive vice president of sales spoke to everyone about the end-to-end customer life cycle and what that looked like, and how there were specific issues. He talked about top issues in the mix aligned with the customer life cycle. So what had happened is that not only do people understand now, but there’ s also this really, really big drive to create more customer focus around the company itself. I love hearing that the CEO and president of our company and all of his direct reports, our op-staff, are talking about this on a regular basis with their extended team.”

Improving Customer Experience

“It’ s no longer just about empathy, it’ s about how do you drive action,” Barbie says. The first small group scenarios were part of a Customer Experience and Engineering Excellence Summit, and debriefing sessions were conducted to review the groups’ findings and insights, and to prioritize issues, and enlist owners to act on them. In subsequent workshops, attendees and management began thinking a lot about the effect of current processes and policies on the customer experience, as well as the website and backend systems that affect what customers experience, and how all the pieces come together in an end-to-end ecosystem.

“As issues are identified, groups are much more quickly working toward solutions. It used to take months of gaining alignment, getting people to trust the data behind the situations that you are facing, ” said Barbie. Now as groups across the company are creating something new, tackling an issue, or deciding which path to take, they seek out ways to understand how customers are being affected. “We are giving people the tools to understand where they can go to listen to customer experience so that they can identify and understand the top scenarios that customers face. ” Some of these places include the 800-number call center, customer forums, direct posts from customers, social media feeds, and chat sessions between customers and support reps. “And once you identify the themes, you don’ t have to have numbers to back it up, because you’ re looking at a hundred different types of listening, specific examples of things, and you’ re already starting to do that mental categorization that says: This is a real issue that we need to solve. And it’ s really about getting to a place where you know enough about the data behind it to determine root cause, and then identifying improvements that you could potentially make and doing some piloting to test some of those improvements.”

If you’re thinking about achieving similar results, here’s Barbie’s advice:

  1. Don’t wait until you have a full-fledged program developed: think about the level of maturity within your company, and start there.
  2. Understand what matters to your different customer segments.
  3. Recognize that there’s going to be variety across your company, so as you look across your company some individuals are going to get this and understand it more, some groups are going to be more engaged, but start out where you have that engagement and then bring other people along the way.
  4. Develop scenarios that reflect common customer pain points, and then if you really take the step of starting with a customer journey map, then map the scenarios that you’re using to the phases within the customer lifecycle.
  5. Always consider your audience and use scenarios that are going to increase their awareness about issues where they can make a difference.
  6. Sometimes it’s great to have a single group of people so that they can talk about their area of the business, but so many of the issues that impact customers the most are complex and cross-functional, so sometimes it’s also useful to bring together individuals from different teams to help promote insightful discussion there.

How have you helped employees at all levels and functional areas relate their job to the customer experience?

To hear the full interview between Lynn Hunsaker and Barbie Fink, see Customer Experience Transformation via Employee Immersion at the Customer Experience Optimization online talk show page:

Contact the author, Lynn Hunsaker, to find out how to customize these tips to your situation.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Lynn Hunsaker

Lynn Hunsaker is 1 of 5 CustomerThink Hall of Fame authors. She built CX maturity via customer experience, strategic planning, quality, and marketing roles at Applied Materials and Sonoco. She was a CXPA board member and SVAMA president, taught 25 college courses, and authored 6 CXM studies and many CXM handbooks and courses. Her specialties are B2B, silos, customer-centric business and marketing, engaging C-Suite and non-customer-facing groups in CX, leading indicators, ROI, maturity. CX leaders in 50+ countries benefit from her self-paced e-consulting: Masterminds, Value Exchange, and more.


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