Inside Scoop with Jeanne Bliss: Chief Customer Officer 2.0

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Interview was conducted on June 17, 2015. Transcript edited for clarity.

Bob Thompson:
Welcome to another episode of Inside Scoop. Today, I’m joined by Jeanne Bliss, who pioneered the Chief Customer Officer position. She has three decades of experience, not only performing the job, but advising leading companies. I am absolutely delighted to have Jeanne with me today to talk about her new book, Chief Customer Officer 2.0 – How To Build Your Customer-Driven Growth Engine. Jeanne, thanks for being with me today.

Jeanne Bliss:
You’re welcome, Bob, it’s such a pleasure, and thank you.

Bob Thompson:
We’ve had discussions about how much work it is to write a book. I know this has been a labor of love for you. Why did you feel a need to write this book as a follow-up to your first book about Chief Customer Officers?

Jeanne Bliss:
Yes, committing to a year of writing, editing and publishing is not something that any of us take lightly. But in the past 10 years since writing and publishing my first book, it’s been my privilege to be called upon by many CCO’s and C-suites of almost every kind of business vertical around the world. What’s happened is that like most companies, they needed a way to break the work up and to accomplish it in a realistic manner. Over those past 10 years that I’ve been working with these leaders, heightened specifics and tactics have emerged. Over the last four and a half years, I’ve tested a real methodology of five competencies to embed inside of the organization to really drive the work. That’s become clear, and I knew I needed to get that down for people so that they had these heightened specifics and this new approach to really making the work and the role clear, understandable and impactful.

Bob Thompson:
Please give a quick outline of what’s in the book, and then we’ll go into some questions that pertain to some of your key topics.

Jeanne Bliss:
Sure, happy to. What I put in the book actually is a reading roadmap for people because I always say to all my clients, “You’d better have a roadmap for your customers and employees.” I knew I needed to eat my own dog food. I’m going to summarize from the reading roadmap.

  • The introduction chapter tees up each of the five competencies. In fact, what I call the Chief Customer Officer is the architect of the customer-driven growth engine, and so, that’s an introduction to what it is.
  • The second chapter is dedicated to uniting the leadership team. Most CCO’s don’t recognize that that is a major part of their job, uniting the C-suite. There’s a lot of activity, action, recommendations and CCO stories throughout that chapter, which we call, “My Rock, My Story,” talking about the importance in activities to unite the C-suite.
  • The next chapters after that, there’s one chapter for each of the five competencies that comprise the customer-driven growth engine, and then finally, a chapter on staging the work, how to break it into bite-sized pieces so you’re not boiling the ocean, and how to customize the five competencies. There’s a competency maturity map in there, as well as a role maturity map for the CCO inside of the organization.

And then the last chapter is my gift to executive recruiters, CEOs and leadership teams considering the role. There is not really a definitive resource for how to define the role, how to interview for the role, candidate questions to decide if it’s real commitment or a hand wave. The last chapter is a comprehensive toolkit for hiring, interviewing or bringing on a Chief Customer Officer or VP of Customer Experience into an organization.

What is the Role of the Chief Customer Officer?

Bob Thompson:
I love the fact that you broke down this very important job into competencies. I want to start with the job, itself, and the role of the CCO. If you had a blank sheet of paper and you said, “This is what the job should be,” can you summarize that as a starting point?

Jeanne Bliss:
Sure, of course. I’m going to be a broken record going back to the competencies, but for me, it’s helping the company earn the right to growth by improving customers’ lives. That has got to be about making it operationally relevant and uniting the organization to embed the way they go to market, the way they support customers, the way they enable employees to deliver value. It can’t be about the hand wave.

What we know about this role, to be relevant, is that we have to show people what the role does, what the role enables for the organization. That’s why I’ve actually broken it into the five competencies. The role of the CCO is, in shorthand, to be the architect of the customer-driven growth engine, to enable leaders in the organization to earn the right to growth by improving customers’ lives, by honoring customers and employees as the asset of the business.

Bob Thompson:
When companies are struggling with this role, is it because they don’t have the role envisioned correctly or is it because they’re just not executing correctly?

Jeanne Bliss:
Well, mostly, it’s a culprit of two things: One is, the role, we need one of these, but why? A lot of people consider a survey and going after survey scores to be their total customer experience strategy, and so they put the CCO or the CX leader in the position of getting the score, moving people to want to care about the score, look at the score, yearn for the score, and prove the score. That’s an outcome. What organizations don’t work on are all of the things that will earn the right to the outcome. What we actually try to do is say, “The survey will come if you do the right things, but to earn the right to the score, you need to change the behavior and the work of the organization.” We need to shift leadership’s expectation of what the role does and why.

The second culprit is people bring these leaders to this role without truly understanding the scope of the work. They don’t sign on to the role by saying, “Here’s what’s going to happen. Here’s how we, as a leadership team, need to change, and here’s how we, as an organization, need to change how we honor customers, how we think about experience, how we build a product.” So, the CCO hits that wall of misunderstanding immediately because this work is defined by project plan improvement versus customer life improvement. It’s all about red, yellow and green dots, and that isn’t going to change.

Bob Thompson:
You’re basically saying that at least in some cases, CCO’s get hired because somebody’s got to own the feedback process…

Jeanne Bliss:
Right.

Bob Thompson:
… and we’re getting the scores. What are they, how do we manage that, how do we get the scores up? Do you see cases, though, where that’s the entry point and the job can evolve and grow into a more strategic sort of position that you are advocating?

Jeanne Bliss:
The job can if it’s the right person. A lot of people are what I call “Customer Experience Technicians vs. Customer Experience Transformists.” Somebody who’s a technician is really good in their lane of executing on the survey, presenting the results and trying to encourage people to take action. A transformist has got to be a seasoned executive who, yes, focuses people on what has to improve, but also has to change leadership language, has to change how the company comes together, has to change the prioritization of the business.

So, you can do it, but you have to have leadership with enough maturity and ability to be a peer at the C-suite level to drive that cross-company change. This isn’t just about presenting a result and begging people to do something about it.

Bob Thompson:
That makes this last chapter about the type of person you should be hiring into this role particularly important. Because even if it started in a more tactical position to get going, there should be some capacity for growth, right?

Jeanne Bliss:
Well, absolutely. In fact, unless they’re a peer at the C-suite level, they’re going to continue to be beggars in many ways. One of my clients was the President of North American division of the company, so he ran an operation, and then he was named Chief Customer Officer. We can coach that kind of person into the skills to lead that change. They’re actually in a really good position because they already have those relationships, and they already are a seasoned leader.

Why is Customer-Centricity So Difficult to Achieve?

Bob Thompson:
I want to talk about one of the common problems that’s popped up in customer research over and over and over again. I know you’re very familiar with it. These are the two top obstacles to companies when I ask them, “Why is it that your company is struggling to be more customer-centric?” The two issues are:

  1. Lack of collaboration across the organization . That’s usually called the problem of silos, organizational silos.
  2. Lack of time . Managers say: “Look, people are busy. They’re doing their real jobs. They don’t have time to participate in this endeavor because they’re already busy doing their jobs.”

Jeanne Bliss:
That’s right.

Bob Thompson:
What should the CCO do? I know it’s a big question, but if you could provide a tip or two out of your book, what does a CCO do to address these two very core organization issues?

Jeanne Bliss:
Sure. And that’s what chapter two addresses in a lot of language and tools. The first thing is you need to unite the C-suite in making choices and focusing. One of the things that we find is if you throw out the survey scores and say, “Everybody have at it,” what happens is a proliferation of projects occurs. If you unite the C-suite instead and walk them through the stages of the journey, and say, “OK, there’s 10 big issues to focus on. Which three, as a unit, are we going to select, and what are we going to stop doing because we’re putting these on our plate to solve, in its entirety? And then, how are we going to manage and build capacity for the people we put on these teams?” now what’s happening is this is more deliberate versus the approach that happens today. Does that make sense?

Bob Thompson:
Yes.

Jeanne Bliss:
The CCO frequently doesn’t recognize that one of their biggest jobs is uniting the C-suite to make decisions together versus each silo leader going off and share picking an incremental project.

Bob Thompson:
You need the C-suite united, I obviously agree with that. And yet, these executives running business units, functional areas, marketing sales service, whatever it might be, don’t they also need to say, “Look, we’ve got to make this part of our people’s jobs, not something to do when they’ve got nothing better to do”?

Jeanne Bliss:
Absolutely. What I’m saying is part of what we need to actually start to do is change the work of the business to be from the silo base report out to understanding that customers are trying to accomplish distinct objectives in each stage of the journey, and that we’ve got to connect the journey stage and what they’re trying to accomplish, and require these silos to work together to achieve these specific things.

One of the things we do, for example, is we’ll bring multiple groups of silo owners together and we’ll actually walk them through what we call a Code of Conduct. By stage of the journey, what must we always do, and what will we never do? We find very quickly that because each silo is working on their own, they’re working across purposes, and those cross purposes, we’re actually able to identify. Those cross-purposes are sending people away.

I was just talking about a client of mine who is a big SAS company. They had created a rule. Some well-meaning person had hardwired a rule into the business model that when a multi-billion-dollar client used up all their customer credits, they just turned off the account. Well, that’s a lot of money walking out the door when you just turn off a client’s account mid-stream, and they don’t know what happened. What we have to do is unite these teams to work together and recognize that this work is the growth of the business.

Journey Maps as a Tool for Change

Bob Thompson:
And you see journey maps as being a good tool? You get these people together to get a shared understanding of what customers are going through?

Jeanne Bliss:
That’s right, but creating focus, not boiling the ocean. Everybody and their brother has started to see the journey map as a shiny object. Every silo goes and does their own version and we start video mapping everything, and now we’ve got binders of journey maps, which don’t change anything. It’s got to start with leaders throughout many levels changing their language. For example, Bob, just getting to the customer-driven names of stages versus company-driven names of stages.

Bob Thompson:
I completely agree with that. The big change in CX thinking, customer experience thinking, versus CRM thinking is that CX people tend to talk about things from the customer point of view. It’s not about marketing; it’s about discovery. We’re talking about fundamentally the same thing, people going through a process of trying to buy something or whatever. When you look at it from an internal point of view, you put certain language on it that will reflect internal objectives. If you’re in marketing and you’re always talking about leads, closing deals and so forth and so on, it kind of removes you from the fact that customers are actually trying to accomplish something.

Jeanne Bliss:
That’s right. We always start with a reality check of we’re in the business to grow. We start with what I talk about in Competency One, which is “customers as assets.” What we want to do is ground even what we do on the journey map to the growth or loss of that asset. Are we bringing in more customers than we lost? What are the shifts in behavior in customer movement that shows that we’ve deepened or eroded our relationship with the customer? Now, let’s traverse the stages to understand what happened and why the customer left. What did we do to drive them to diminish, or to leave all together their relationship with us? Until you change leadership language to start talking by stage, it’s going to go back to silos. You’re going to boomerang back to silos.

Bob Thompson:
I enjoyed your keynote presentation at the recent Satmetrix Net Promoter Conference. I thought you made a great point that you really need to anchor these things in real value to the business. In my view, one of the weaknesses of the customer experience movement is there tends to be too much of “let’s do it based on faith.” Some industry study said that companies that deliver a better experience do better, so that’s why we should do it. You can’t keep something going because someone else was successful. You have to tie it to your own company, don’t you?

Jeanne Bliss:
Well, that’s right, you do. You have to make it relevant. You have to break it into bite-sized pieces. That’s why, going back to the journey map statement, maybe you’ve got 200 touch points, but I guarantee 10 to 15 are the most important. Cut your teeth on those. Make your language around those first. Build some KPIs the customer cares about, not you care about first.

That’s what’s going to shift because what we have to do is shift the behavior of leaders, and then that will start trickling down. People will start modeling that behavior. It’s got to be very relevant. People need proof in decisions and behaviors, giving them permission to solve things. That’s why this notion of killing a stupid rule has become a favorite of people. If we give employees permission to identify rules that might have made sense at one point, but now are just getting in the way of them doing their job, and certainly getting in the way of a customer feeling value, it starts to change things.

Bob Thompson:
You talked earlier about how important it is to act on what you’re learning about your customers, whether it’s through journey map research or voice of the customer, what have you. There’s a million different ways to get feedback. I’m starting to hear more about CX professionals that say they’re just overwhelmed. They can get data from surveys, they can get it from social media, there’s all sorts of data sources. It’s a big data hot mess, as one person put it, and they’re struggling.

In the end, if you want to make change, you want it to be valid, but the end is change. In your experience, what have you or your clients found are the types of customer feedback that are more likely to actually stimulate the organization to do something, to change?

Three Types of Customer Listening

Jeanne Bliss:
Thank you, that’s such a great question. That’s really the notion behind Competency Three. I call it build a customer listening path. You’ll find that I start lining everything up to the simple stages of the customer journey. The role of the CCO is to work with the organization to be an aggregator of all of those many, many pieces of information. What it’s doing is randomizing people. A research presentation is done, people go off and do something. A dashboard is put into survey, people go off and do something. Somebody hears something in social media, people go off and do something.

They’re little things versus solving for the whole, and they don’t have the benefit of convergence to know where the same thing is coming up over and over again. What we find is we want to unite three kinds of listening:

  • Unaided listening, meaning voluntary feedback, your customers telling you when you’re not asking for it. When they talk to you on the call center, when they give you feedback on the web, unsolicited, on social media. The change culturally, is to get agreement on the categorization of that so we can roll up and you can see trends. Here’s the secret sauce: Present that information by stage of the journey.
  • Next is experiential listening, which is even more important to help people really get involved. If you know the top five to ten points of intersection that are most important to the customer, require people in your company to go do those things. Try to get an account, try to order something because we need to have that voice of the customer in the ear of the person. It’s not just numbers. If it’s just numbers, you’re not going to get personally involved, you’re not going to drive action as much as when you’re personally involved. In fact, I talk about Adobe in the book. They have a whole executive immersion process, which is now tied to the leaders’ compensation, that they need to be part of and experiencing customers’ experiences to get part of their bonus.
  • The third piece is what we all start with, which is the survey results. I call that aided push, anything you push to the customer. That should really be validating what you hear with this other media. The idea of this is to tell the story of the customer’s life. As a result of the experience this past month or year, here’s how we grew or lost the customer asset. Let’s now go across the journey. In stage two, our complaints spiked this month on these three issues. Social media, we also noticed we got 40,000 comments on this, as well. We happen to have a survey question that’s addressed to it that showed we were not performing as well. What you’ll see there is we start with a customer life, we talk about the experience, and we validate it with a score versus starting with a score. That, culturally, is a huge change.

Bob Thompson:
That is great, great advice. It really strikes me that it’s very similar to how really good research is done. You start with hypotheses. You go out and do qualitative research. Out of that, later on, you do more structured research where you try to quantify the things you learn. If you flip it around, you have a pre-determined set of issues, and you’re not open to learning about other things that maybe you didn’t think about, you could write a survey, but ask the wrong questions.

Jeanne Bliss:
Yes

Bob Thompson:
So, you’ve ended up with something that technically is valid, but doesn’t really tell the whole story.

Jeanne Bliss:
The other thing is, surveys aren’t getting to the underbelly of customers’ emotions, but complaints and social media do. You’re going to miss what the problem really is if all you’re doing is measuring your performance in a set of survey questions. The other thing that this does is it hopefully starts to move us away from survey score addiction. We shouldn’t be doing the work to get the score. We should be doing the work to improve the life. To eventually earn the score, yes, that’s fine, but the end game is did we grow or shrink the customer asset? What did we do to earn the right to that growth? Yes, as a metric, our survey’s going to tell us numerically how we’re doing in that. The order of the storytelling is all messed up right now.

Overcoming Survey Score Addiction

Bob Thompson:
This survey score addiction problem, I’m hearing more and more about it lately. In fact, one comment came from a tech company that I admire greatly, and yet, they say that they found that despite their best efforts, they’re having people in their organization basically chasing the score. I don’t mean necessarily manipulating it, but the score became the goal. And then they found that they were not actually getting the business results. They weren’t getting lower churn rates, increased customer loyalty, the things that actually matter to the business.

They had to go back to the drawing board and say, “Wait a minute, maybe we’re motivating people to do the wrong things. We should be motivating them based on taking action, as opposed to a particular number.” Do you see that as a growing trend, a change to sort of pay for performance, based on making net promoter scores or something else?

Jeanne Bliss:
I couldn’t agree more. In fact, that’s the whole idea behind Competency Four in the book, which is let’s reward people for performance in operations and processes that eventually earn the right to customer growth and the score versus rewarding them for the score, itself. The example I give is in an automotive company, they’ll say, “How did the test drive go?” They’ll put all their eggs in the basket on that, but yet, they’re not measuring and rewarding on were dealers available within a one-mile radius for customers to take the test drive? Were they responsive? What’s the cycle on that? Let’s measure the actual performance of the test drive experience, not just customers’ recollection of it two months later on how it went.

Bob Thompson:
I love the way you tie things together. That’s really well done. Let’s close and just talk briefly about the CEO. You said that the CCO, the Chief Customer Officer, should be a part of the C-suite, should be empowered, it should not be just a keeper-of-the-surveys type of position. You provided some advice on how to hire the right CCO. Let’s say you’ve done all those things correctly. What should the ongoing role of the Chief Executive Officer be to provide the kind of support that will help the Chief Customer Officer succeed over time?

Jeanne Bliss:
Thank you, that’s a really important question. They’ve got to, first of all, create clarity with the C-suite that the result isn’t the job of the CCO. The CCO is really the uniter and the enabler They’re creating the engine, but the leaders of the C-suite have got to take a role in building out and embedding these five competencies or whatever your approach is. They’ve got to be personally and actively involved. The CCO enables and unites. If these people don’t sit at the table and participate, it’s not going to happen. That’s one of the first things.

What we actually do when we start with clients now is for each of these five competencies, we’ll assign one or two of the C-suite, and they work with a small group of people. They’re personally guiding the build-out of these five competencies. We find that changes everything. For example, we’ll put the CEO and the CFO on customers’ assets. If they don’t personally get involved, it’s going to be what I call transactional commitment. It’s in a meeting, they’re there, they’re waving their hands, they’re committing. And then, they send the CCO back off to be a beggar.

Bob Thompson:
You see this personal involvement being very important for the top leadership?

Jeanne Bliss:
Yes, personal involvement in the language, in how they drive accountability, in how they change the operations of the business and in what they ask for, quite honestly. They’ve got to move from asking just about sales goals to caring about – and quite honestly, being fearless about – kicking off their meetings by saying, “I’m going to walk you through the growth or loss of our customer base this month.” And then, caring about the performance and the KPI’s, the operational processes that customers care about with as much rigor as they ask about how did we do in sales.

What To Do if the CEO Lacks Commitment

Bob Thompson:
I’m going to ask you one final question. A Chief Customer Officer or CX professional, if they’re passionate about the job, they want to make a difference. They read your book and are working on these competencies, and yet, the CEO just doesn’t quite seem to be with the program. The executive sponsorship is there in name, but not in spirit. What do you do about that? Can you manage up to the CEO and somehow get that person to change what they’re passionate about?

Jeanne Bliss:
A lot of times, CEO’s aren’t passionate about it because they don’t really clearly see the connection between the work and growth. That is why I make Competency One, customers as assets; it is incumbent on the CCO to connect the dots. If that doesn’t happen, you’re not going to get the interest, and you’re not going to necessarily get the ongoing interest of the CFO. I enter rooms where these guys are crossing their arms across their chests very often, but I can guarantee you if I don’t have them unfolding their arms in an hour and a half, then we haven’t done a good job of connecting the dots for them.

Bob Thompson:
This is sort of the left-brain, show me how the numbers make sense, argument. You’ve got to have that. Is that enough?

Jeanne Bliss:
No, no, it’s not enough because then, they’ve got to start changing their language and their behavior. We can possibly make the sale on the reasons, but what we find is if you’ve still got somebody who’s not kicking in, we can find pockets of early adopter leaders and start trying to make the change there. That will be helpful sometimes. When I worked at really large companies, we’d find a leader of a country and would work with them on embedding this stuff and showing it in a more closed environment, if you will, and work it through. You go back and you can present that information, show the results and show what happened. Their people are happier. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t, but we find that when you’ve got a frustrated CCO, finding an early adopter can help.

Here’s the last thing, Bob. I say this with all my heart because I’ve done it. Sometimes you’ve got to just pick up your marbles and leave.

Bob Thompson:
If, in the end, despite all of the great advice that you’re given, the culture of the company is such that they just don’t believe it, don’t want to do it, it’s a pretty tough environment to be in if you’re a CX professional.

Jeanne Bliss:
That’s right. At the end of the day, there are lots of companies that do want to do it, especially now. I love social media as a forcing function. CEOs don’t need to be convinced as much about the importance of it. What they need to be convinced of is the hard work they’re going to have to personally commit to. If you’re not in a fishpond, whatever analogy you’ve got where there is this commitment, if you can’t find it from an early adopter leader and you’re really just a beggar, then there are places that the work is honored and wanted.

Bob Thompson:
Well, Jeanne, thank you so much. This is always a pleasure talking with you about customer-centric business. I really appreciate you sharing, not only in your book, but in our community as one of our Advisors. You have given so much back to the profession, and I really want to thank you for that.

Just one last thing I’ll say both to you and to Bruce Temkin, the work that you did to launch the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) was just phenomenal. It’s the best example of a non-profit in this field that I’ve seen in my 15+ years in this industry. I know that was a huge amount of work, and I just wanted to publicly thank you and Bruce for the great work.

Jeanne Bliss:
Well, thank you. Bruce and I worked really hard. He was an amazing advocate for this, in getting all of us moving in that direction. It was a really wonderful experience.

Bob Thompson:
Thank you, Jeanne, for your time on Inside Scoop.


About Jeanne Bliss

Jeanne Bliss was a CCO for 25 years, and now runs CustomerBliss where she leads customer experience transformation around the world with CCOs and the C-Suite. She is a co-founder of the Customer Experience Professionals Association. Her two best-selling books are Chief Customer Officer and I Love You More Than My Dog, and her newest book is Chief Customer Officer 2.0 – How To Build Your Customer-Driven Growth Engine.

1 COMMENT

  1. Excellent, truly insightful interview. Compliments to both of you. The CCO is absolutely “the architect of the customer-driven growth engine”, and it’s gratifying to see more and more companies adding this important position to the senior executive suite, with resources to achieve customer-centric objectives. Jeanne is the trusted advisor and ambassador for making that happen. I’m looking forward to reading the new book.

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