How to Turn Customer Experience Vision into a Competitive Edge: Inside Scoop with Bruce Temkin

0
535 views

Share on LinkedIn

CustomerThink Founder/CEO Bob Thompson interviews Customer Experience thought leader Bruce Temkin about insights gained from recent award winners, including what it takes for business leaders to turn CX vision into a real competitive advantage.

Interview recorded March 12, 2013. Transcript edited for clarity.

Bob Thompson:
This is Bob Thompson of CustomerThink, and welcome to another episode of Inside Scoop. Today, my guest is Bruce Temkin, founder and principal of Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm. Bruce is one of the industry’s foremost authorities on customer experience, helping large organizations accelerate their journey to success, which is a big part of what we’re going to be talking about today. He’s also co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association, CXPA, a non-profit organization that I highly recommend.

Today I’m going to be talking with Bruce about how companies can be customer experience leaders. We’re going to draw on some lessons learned from Temkin Group’s recent awards program, along with his other research and consulting experience. Bruce, thanks very much for joining me on Inside Scoop.

Bruce Temkin:
Well, thanks for having me, and thanks for the plug for the Customer Experience Professionals Association, CXPA.org.

CX Excellence Awards

Bob Thompson:
You’ve been involved in the customer experience field for many years and done lots of research. One of the new things that you did fairly recently was a Customer Experience Excellence awards program. I was honored to be one of the judges. I thought we’ll kick off and talk a little bit about what we’ve learned from these award winners. Bruce, could you please just briefly describe how this awards program came to be and how the companies were selected and scored?

Bruce Temkin:
If you look the general media, there’s a lot of talk about when customer experiences go bad, they tend to make big news. Periodically, there are good customer experience stories, but there’s not enough talk about what does it take for an entire organization to deliver a really good experience. That was the genesis to the awards. Why don’t we create an award that’s focused on what organizations are doing to consistently deliver great customer experience?

We created the Customer Experience Excellence Awards to consider two things. One is what are the things that they did around the key competencies around customer experience? Temkin Group has identified four competencies, purposeful leadership, compelling brand values, employee engagement and customer connectedness. You don’t have to remember any of that. Just remember we have some competencies that companies need to master. We had the nominees talk about those competencies, and then also talk about the results because at the end of the day, if you’re not driving good results with customers and good results for your business, then it all doesn’t matter. We got an enormous amount of applicants.

Bob Thompson:
How many applicants did you get?

Bruce Temkin:
We had 12 finalists. We had somewhere in the high 20s of full nominations.

Bob Thompson:
The finalists that I judged were well-known companies—big companies, complicated companies that took the time to be involved in this process. Impressive.

Bruce Temkin:
Yeah, it was a pretty diverse group. You went everywhere from a large multi-billion-dollar technology company to an MBA basketball team. And so, I think just the breadth of applicants really reflects the broad focus on customer experience across industry, across sectors. I was pleased by just the variety of types of companies.

Bob Thompson:
Yes, diversity was really amazing. It was B-to-B and B-to-C, as well. We ended up with 12 finalists that I reviewed, along with the other judges. Again, you’ve mentioned competencies and results. Anything else that went into the final selection of the winners? We’ll talk about them in just a second.

Bruce Temkin:
No, that was pretty much it. We had the applicants talk about their lessons learned, and so there was some focus on that. But really, the majority of the judging and voting was based on what have they done and what results have they seen.

Bob Thompson:
This was released in a press release a couple of months ago. The winners were EMC, Fidelity Investments, Oklahoma City Thunder, Safelite Auto Glass and Sovereign Insurance of New Zealand. Did you get something directly from Kevin Durant?

Bruce Temkin:
Can I tell you a little Oklahoma Thunder story? Temkin Group actually gave really nice awards, physical awards to the winners, crystal beautiful things—and the Thunder got back to us and asked us could they get 15 more of them, which is sort of an unusual request for a winner. If you think about the Thunder NBA basketball team, the experience you have when you go to a Thunder game includes a whole bunch of their partners, the people who are selling food and the people who handle the parking. So, they have 15 partners that come together to create the experience at a game. They’re going to do a half-time ceremony where they actually give the Temkin Group Customer Experience Excellence Award to each one of their 15 partners.

To get back to the Durant comment, I said, “That’s cool. Can I get a picture of Westbrook and Durant holding one of our awards?” And they told me that’s probably not going to happen.

Bob Thompson:
Well, it was a good request! More generally, when you look at this diverse group of winners collectively, is there anything that kind of stands out in your mind that says, “This is the thing that really put them head and shoulders above the other nominations?”

Employee Engagement Virtuous Cycle

Bruce Temkin:
If you look across the winners and even some of the finalists, the focus on people, and really the focus on employees. One of the things that we always talk about, we have the Employee Engagement Virtuous Cycle. There’s a lot of data to it and a lot of lines in the diagram, but at the end of the day, what it pretty much says is that if you want to have good customer experience, you have to start with employees who are engaged. All of the winners, all of the winners did something very focused, very energized around how they get their employees in the mix. I would say that’s a substantive change to how customer experience had been focused on for years past.

I think in years past what’s happened is people tried to put a layer of good experience on top of their business or around their business. That’s not sustainable. You have to have your employees engaged because at the end of the day, they’re the ones who day in and day out, decision after decision after decision, millions of decisions per day in a large company, they’re the ones who ultimately are going to make sure that customers get a good experience not once, not just today, but over and over again into the future. I think that really sort of stood out, the amount of focus there is in building employees’ capabilities, building employees’ commitment to this ongoing delivery of great customer experience.

Bob Thompson:
Right, but you’re kind of hinting at another thing, which I think is important. I’m curious what you think about this, this notion of kind of empowering employees to make these decisions hundreds or thousands of times. Sometimes I think engagement is sort of dumbed down to well, let’s have happy employees. You’re really talking about more than that, aren’t you?

Bruce Temkin:
Yeah, it’s funny because I don’t even think empowerment is it. Let me say empowerment is a piece of it. There are a lot of buzzwords that people throw out there. At the end of the day, I think that you need to instill a sense of purpose in your employees.

Bob Thompson:
Right.

Bruce Temkin:
And that purpose needs to align with the purpose of the organization. Once you have that purpose, then empowerment makes sense. There’s a lot of studies that if you take a frontline employee and you empower them, but they don’t feel purpose, they actually can do bad things for your company.

Bob Thompson:
Good point. Again, we’re talking about a number of different things. You could be engaged in your job and have a job that’s not really lined up well with what your customers need.

Bruce Temkin:
Yes.

Bob Thompson:
You’re really talking about trying to connect all these dots, and that comes back to leadership and people, doesn’t it?

Bruce Temkin:
Yeah, absolutely leadership and people. We talk a lot, and I mentioned just a second ago, the notion of purpose. One of the four areas we look at is purposeful leadership. Really if you think about it, a leader’s role is not who they hire, it’s not who they go out and schmooze with, it’s do they communicate a strong enough sense of what the organization is about and where it’s heading so that everyone around them is marching in the same direction and is willing to do their best to try and help the organization achieve it. That’s the role that leadership plays, not only in customer experience. You need to provide a sense of direction so that other people can line up behind it.

Leadership vs. Ownership

Bob Thompson:
As long as we’re talking about leadership, let’s dig into another topic that’s been bouncing around our community at CustomerThink and some other places. Who should be that leader? If we could talk about business to business, that’s a flavor of CX that’s been debated recently, can you have an existing line executive that’s managing customer service or marketing or sales or some other group that has a functional job be that leader, or does it need the CEO, some CXO or a new customer experience officer or something like that? What’s your take?

Bruce Temkin:
I don’t think there’s one answer about what the exact structure has to be. It depends on the people, it depends on the situation. Let me give you some of my absolute evaluation elements to help decide the answer. I think first of all, the people who have the jobs associated with touching customers need to continue to have responsibility for the touches they have. If we think about B-to-B, I talk about three models of B-to-B. There’s sort of the small business, you’re selling small businesses, like consumers. The second model is you’re selling through intermediaries, whether they’re insurance agents or technology distributors. The third model, which I’ll touch on now is really the enterprise model, which is where you’re selling to large businesses. When you’re doing that, your customers are lots of different people.

You can think in an organization, you might have the actual buyer who might be a senior person in the organization who signs a contract. You might have a bunch of users of whatever product and service you have and they’re influencing. You might have a CFO, who actually has to be the economic decision-maker. You may have the people in accounts payable, who are the ones that actually have to pay you and interact. So, there’s a bunch of different types of customers. You should have someone responsible for owning an individual relationship with a large company.

Bob Thompson:
Right, that typically is an account manager?

Bruce Temkin:
That’s right.

Bob Thompson:
I actually had that job a couple of different times in my career at IBM. It’s a very interesting and challenging job.

Bruce Temkin:
If you think about it, you don’t want to bring in anyone else in the organization who’s ultimately going to be responsible for that relationship. What you want to do is bring in someone who’s going to help that person do a better job with the relationship. When we think about bringing in a chief customer who owns it, we’re never going to usurp the responsibility away from that accountant.

Bob Thompson:
Right, nobody’s suggesting that. The difficulties that I’ve seen out on the market in all the research suggests that most organizations—the vast majority of them, I believe—need some kind of concerted push, help, advocacy, pick your term, but they don’t seem to be able to get this transformation done within the current organization. Would you agree with that?

Bruce Temkin:
Yeah. I think you’re getting to the point where I want to make the distinction between an executive who owns customer experience—which I don’t necessarily believe in—versus an executive who is responsible for helping to drive transformation across the organization. If you step back and say, “Forget about whether it’s customer experience or something else,” if an organization is committed to make changes and committed to improve, and that improvement represents a significant change in the way that the company’s going to operate, then it absolutely needs someone leading and driving that change.

Bob Thompson:
Right, so leadership is the operative word, not ownership.

Bruce Temkin:
Exactly, exactly. Leadership of driving change because what happens is there are people who say, “We need a head of customer experience.” I don’t love that term because it is oftentimes misunderstood as being the person responsible for customer experience.

Bob Thompson:
Yes.

Bruce Temkin:
I believe that if you’re committed to serious change, you need an executive in charge of customer experience transformation.

Bob Thompson:
Right, this is all great in theory, but what do you see companies actually doing out on the market from our award winners or anywhere else? Are they putting a new job title in place or are they giving this change leadership responsibility to a CCO or a Chief Operating Officer? What’s happening out there?

Bruce Temkin:
I think most of the finalists have an executive who is in charge of driving transformational change around customer experience, not necessarily a Chief Customer Officer. That’s why I go back to I don’t think a Chief Customer Officer is necessary, but I do think that you need to have someone who has the ear of the executive team, who can get things done, who’s helping to drive change across the organization.

Bob Thompson:
Right, and are you finding this person as an existing sales executive, marketing executive, customer service executive, or is it somebody in the C-suite?

Bruce Temkin:
Generally, it’s not someone in the C-suite. Generally, it’s either someone who’s taken on this role and reports into the C-Suite, or it’s a senior person in B-to-B, a senior person on the account team. You might get the head of account management who is taking on this role of transformation because at the end of the day, what you’re really trying to do in the B-to-B enterprise accounts, you’re really trying to transform our relationship with enterprise customers. That’s what B-to-B really means in those environments, and it would be unnatural to do it without the account team.

Busting Rocks at Fidelity

Bob Thompson:
OK, that makes a lot of sense. Let’s broaden our scope a little bit and get back to some of these award winners. Maybe you could talk about one. All five are amazing because I got a chance to review all the applications in detail, and all well deserved. Maybe you could talk about one in particular that you think did some of the most innovative things in its customer experience approach.

Bruce Temkin:
I’ll echo your remark, which is I could have picked any one of the five and their incredible stories. Let’s go with Fidelity. I think if you look across the things that they’re doing, some of the stuff is really interesting and unique. One of them I like is they created this notion of rocks. They look at their operating processes through both employee feedback, customer feedback and data, and then identify problems, situations, issues that get in the way of delivering great customer experience. They call these problems “rocks.” They have a whole database of rocks. Once a rock is found, they track it, and then they track what happens to it and they have a whole action plan associated with all the rocks they find. Then they have great charting mechanisms, where they look at the rocks that come in, the rocks that get broken because when you actually fix it, it’s called busting rocks. They have a whole ongoing process for identifying, tracking and busting rocks.

What’s cool about it is not just that it’s a process around finding and fixing problems, but the whole metaphor and communication around rocks is something that the whole organization knows about. They’ve actually created these little play rocks. They look like rocks, they’re sort of foam things that are around the organization because they realize that it’s not only important to do the work, but it’s important for people across the organization to understand it and to use the same language.

Bob Thompson:
Well, it’s a great way of making visible something that a lot of times is hidden, right? These problems just are not visible to people day to day, but their customers may be experiencing it.

Bruce Temkin:
Exactly, and it gives the opportunity if you run into a problem, you say, “OK, it’s a real rock,” so it gives you the language to articulate it, as well. Lots of companies do ongoing process improvement, but the fact that they actually chart it, give it a name and communicate it is just really powerful.

Towards Innovation and Delight

Bob Thompson:
A lot of the CX case studies are about process improvement, customer service or quality. For sure, that’s very, very important in customer experience. But when you think about all of the experiences that people have with companies, especially as you get into digital and social, it’s not all about problems, right? People don’t like to deal with problems, but getting rid of them doesn’t necessarily mean you’re creating a raving fan. Is there anybody you feel has done a particularly innovative job in more of the—call it delight if you will—doing something that’s really unusual and delightful in experience?

Bruce Temkin:
Yes, I think we can pick out a couple of our finalists for that. I think Safelite does some interesting things. Safelite is an auto glass repair company, the largest in the country. One of the primary interactions—and maybe the most important interaction that customers have—is with a technician who oftentimes comes to your house to repair broken glass in your car. They’ve done a lot of work around that technician experience, so that technicians understand the impact that they have on the customer, and also understand what it takes for a customer to remember it positively. They actually created this thing they call the five T’s. The T’s are time—and that’s to make sure you call a customer in advance to notify them of when you’re arriving.

There’s touch—you should shake hands and make eye contact to engage the customers. The third T is technical excellence—do it right the first time, every time. Talk—tell the customer what we’re going to do and what you did. And then Thanks—show appreciation for choosing Safelite. So, by teaching their technicians the five T’s, which quite frankly, aren’t about the specific tools you need to fix a broken glass, they’re teaching them how to deliver experiences around the entire glass replacement that makes customers remember.

Bob Thompson:
That’s a great example.

Bruce Temkin:
Another one, let’s go to Oklahoma Thunder because they look at the patterns, the behavior of their customers. The key customers are the season ticket holders, so they know stuff about them, they know they have cards and they know where they do business inside of the stadium. And so, they might just go out and come up and bring some ice cream to a season ticket holder they know has bought ice cream in the past. It’s just a way to give them a surprise and delight moment they weren’t expecting.

Bob Thompson:
That’s fantastic. I’d like to wrap up and just talk briefly about what you’ve learned in the last several years. Part of the problem with customer experience is that everybody is excited about it. By that I mean that it comes up in surveys, 80 to 90 percent of executives say that it’s important, very important or even critical. “We’re going to succeed in our market by excelling at customer experience.” I think you and many others have blogged that obviously 80 or 90 percent of companies aren’t going to be equally successful. What is going to determine who these winners are? Is it a problem of avoiding the pitfalls and the potholes out there, or is it something else more positive, perhaps, that will make that distinction?

Bruce Temkin:
First of all, I think your observation is absolutely right. I think the excitement around customer experience is very good for the profession at large because it drives focus and attention, but it also brings with it some unrealistic goals and expectations. When I’m working with companies around customer experience, I never want people to have a customer experience strategy. Customer experience is one leg of multiple things you have to do in your companies to succeed. You can’t just be great at customer experience. If you have lousy products, a bad brand and a poor marketing approach, you’re not going to succeed.

I think the companies that are going to succeed are those that understand how to deliver the appropriate customer experience to deliver on their brand and business strategy. What’s interesting is that in the past, many companies, their customer experience hasn’t lived up to that. We’re living in a time now where lots of companies are getting to the point where their customer experience is now supporting their brand and business strategy. So, to achieve and succeed in the future, it’s not just about raising customer experience to this whole new level, it’s about how do we think about our entire business model and understand what role does customer experience play in that collectively? Those are the ones that are going to succeed. Any company that looks blindly at one narrow piece of their business, whether it be customer experience or whether it just be the products without customer experience or the marketing without either is not going to succeed.

Bob Thompson:
Do you feel like there’s been a lot of focus in the last couple years just on—you put it raising to a level? I would maybe phrase it a little bit differently. It’s basically fixing the problems in the experience, as opposed to doing something that really stands out above and beyond what was expected.

Bruce Temkin:
Yeah, I think that just looking at our ratings, both from the company side and from the customer side, there’s a lot of really poor processes that have become broken over the last decade or so. I think that there is now a lot of, as you describe, just fixing going on. You can’t talk about just delivering delightful experiences when you can’t deliver the basics consistently.

Bob Thompson:
Absolutely.

Bruce Temkin:
I think we are going through a period now of putting in the infrastructure of being able to deliver good experiences consistently.

Bob Thompson:
It’s a pleasure catching up with you, and congratulations on the great work you’re doing with the awards program. We didn’t talk about this, but you also published some recent research on top performing companies. And of course, there’s the CXPA. You’ve got an event coming up soon, don’t you?

Bruce Temkin:
Yep, May 14th and 15th. The Customer Experience Professionals Association, CXPA.org, we’re having our Members Insight Exchange in San Diego. I will say that just about everyone that attends that event leaves saying it’s the most unique event they’ve ever been to, and if they only go to one event next year, they’re going to come to that one. We try to make it a very highly interactive session, not a lot of keynote speeches, more about how customer experience professionals help each other.

Bob Thompson:
I attended last year and it was fantastic. I’m looking forward to attending again, and I certainly advocate that CX leaders and professionals join the CXPA and attend. Thanks for your time with me today on Inside Scoop.

Bruce Temkin:
All right, thanks, Bob.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here