CX at the World’s Largest Manufacturer of Eyeglasses, With Diana Helfinstine – CB43


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Bliss Essilor

Episode Overview

Like many of the CCOs I interview on this podcast, Diana took on what was essentially a new role in her organization. She had to shape the role internally. Now she’s been there (and in the role) around five years, so it seemed like a good time for reflection on what she’s been able to achieve and how she went about doing it.

About Diana

Bliss DianaFrom her LinkedIn:

Essilor is the world’s leading manufacturer of eyeglass lenses, recognized as one of the top 25 Most Innovative Companies in the World by Forbes for the past two years. (While predominantly B2B, Diana notes that B2C is always in the back of her mind.) A global company, Essilor provides corrective vision across 54 countries, driven by the mission to “Help The World See Better” for over 160 years. As the VP, Customer Experience, my role is to compliment our award winning products by creating and implementing customer experience strategies that further differentiate our services, creating greater value for our customers and their patients.

Her Path To Customer-Driven Work

Diana worked for a Chamber of Commerce early in her career, and had an inside sales team and an outside sales team in that role. She saw the outside sales team out-selling the inside team 2-to-1, thought that was interesting, and started learning the business more and more. She worked for PageMart (remember pagers?), which unfortunately “didn’t jump on the cell phone bandwagon,” and then she became a consultant. After two mergers with Caremark, she didn’t want to go through another merger (this is a typical attitude), so she ended up at a subsidiary of Merck. At this point, she had been call center operations for a number of years, and having the opportunity to do a bit more — she was Senior VP of Operations and had greater say over strategy — was interesting for her. That was one of her first “voice at the table” roles, especially around the different channels where a company can speak to customers. She got into social media, voice analytics, and broader data in general to create a 360-degree voice of the customer view.

“I fell in love with the broadness of the work,” she says.

Defining The Role At Essilor

She had the unique opportunity to somewhat create her role when she arrived in 2012. “Because we were called customer experience, every department in the company wanted us to work with them.”

As a result, the absolute first thing she needed to answer was: “What the heck is this going to look like?”

(Side note of interest here: she had 17 individual interviews during the process, which is a lot. But it also helped her get to know all corners of the executive team before she started.)

There was alignment at the executive level, which was a plus. Most of the pre-existing team seemed to want the same things around customer engagement.

When she began the role, Diana started by assessing her strengths and weaknesses. In previous jobs, the groups she supported directly reported to her. But in this role, it was more a “position of influence” where the direct reporting went into others. It required her to do more listening and understand her various teams in terms of who the real “go-to people” were.

Her One-Sentence Description Of Customer Experience

“It’s anything we do that it makes it easier for customers to do business with us.” (This has become part of the vocabulary at Essilor.)

Working With C-Suite

Packaging and communication become essential when you start working with the C-Suite, because the attention spans are “pretty low.” When she first came into the role, she took all the data and touchpoints around the life of a customer and had to find a way to condense it in a way that the other executives would understand. She created a one-pager. The one-pager also had survey data around customer dissatisfaction at various journey stages. It was a lot clearer for the executives to see, and made it much easier for her to work with C-Suite and justify some of her own P&L.

“Walk them through it: this is what your customer is going through, and this is what we’re doing with them,” she says. “A lot of times they are isolated and want to do the right thing, but don’t know what’s happening at the customer interaction level.”

One Of The First Areas She Worked With 

… was, interestingly, finance. She figured if she could help influence that, it would create role clarity and “earn the right” to the work. Finance is not typically customer-oriented, and she assumed it might be a difficult process. It wasn’t, though! The finance team jumped on it, and now they’re “zealots” when it comes to customer experience. (Finance in this context means billing and contract departments.)

She created a cross-functional team and did job shadowing and process maps for each area that had a direct impact with customers. “You can’t boil the ocean,” Diana notes, “so pick a piece that will be impactful for the customer and where you can succeed.”

She initially wanted to implement a strategy in 18 months, but her timeline stretched out — in part because of the structure of the role in terms of influence vs. direct reports. When there are big changes on the executive team, though, there can be a few stops and starts.

The Strategy Paradox

Good strategy is usually 2-3 years out, but oftentimes people can’t see more than six months out. This can be hard, and Diana struggled with it early in her time at Essilor. About 2-3 months in, a division President told her that she didn’t need to keep proving herself — it was time to pivot to a more strategic contextual role.

After her “pivot,” there were some internal complaints about the sales consulting side of the business. That’s why she initially turned her attention to working with finance. It was all about streamlining processes and bringing a sense of accountability to the roles. Once she had success with this project, she was able to move into other areas and contexts.

“I had been a tactical person for a long time,” she says, “but I found out that I was good at the strategy and development side too.”

Seeking Partnership From The C-Suite

Oftentimes, the C-Suite views the CCO as a service provider and not a partner. That’s the wrong attitude, generally, and alignment is necessary.

Diana approached her interactions with the C-Suite in a logical way: she focused on what they are compensated off of. In essence, her presentations to others showcased where they would benefit from it.

She also learned over time that she needed to “stay on top” of other C-Suiters, because with a million plates spinning and competing priorities, you need to be on their list of things to accomplish. “I am a pest,” she admits.

Five Years Later

One of the bigger changes a half-decade in is that she broke out some responsibilities so that she wasn’t consistently sucked into the day-to-day operations side. Her team supports the strategies that have been developed, and she can be a subject matter expert as opposed to rushing between “120 different locations” and trying to get people on board.

Her overall team does a lot of work with pain points, both internal and external.

The Pay It Forward Question

What do you know NOW that you wish you knew THEN?

  • “Really listening and not taking what you hear the first time as carte blanche but really digging underneath to understand what the goals really are,” she says. A common example is the oft-stated “the customer is No. 1.” That’s a great statement but if there’s no measurement around it, it’s meaningless. It won’t matter to senior staff and it can’t be tracked internally.
  • Go listen to and talk with customers. It’s a huge advantage and value-add.
  • Early on, she asked customers to keep “customer diaries” of their interaction points with Essilor.
  • “Relationships are everything,” she finally notes.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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