How to build a customer-centric culture

Nicholas Zeisler, CCXP, Zeisler Consulting, Director of CX at HP
Nicholas Zeisler, CCXP, Zeisler Consulting, Director of CX at HP
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Super excited for this week's guest.

We interviewed Nicholas Zeisler. Nicholas is the founder of Zeisler Consulting, a CX development consultancy that brings the theories of process improvement to customer experience.

He’s also been there himself as the Director of Customer Experience at HP, where he built a customer experience team driven by analytics, setting up the whole company to take action on VoC insights.

My favourite part of the episode was Nicholas's answer to, "how do you build a customer-centric culture?"

He answered with something incredibly actionable. Three 'E's:

  • Enablement
  • Empowerment
  • Encouragement

These three ingredients, when done right, are what it takes for a leader to drive a customer-focused culture. They allow the now over used buzzword 'customer-centricity' to truly permeate through an organisation.

AI for customer service ebook

Three E's to create a customer-centric culture


Your team needs the right tools for them to be efficient, focused and mindful. If they aren't, how can they make more time for the customer?

This is especially true in the contact centre. An agent bogged down with administrative tasks can't focus on customer experience.


Even if your team have the latest technologies, if they don't have the authority to offer a refund to a customer then there's going to be a culture of distrust. Distrust creates disengagement.

So don't make every call an escalation, hire well and then give your support agents some authority.


Leaders must walk the walk to build a customer-centric culture. How can you do this?

  1. Prioritise investment in customer experience. Your process improvement work should give more weight to customer experience.
  1. Walk in your customers shoes. Get all your employees to fully understand the process the customer goes through to transact with your company. To set a strong example, leaders should be doing this, too.

Topics covered:

  • Nicholas' favourite influencers and favourite customer experience lately.
  • His journey into CX leadership. From being a process improvement specialist to the US Air Force to leading CX at HP.
  • The overlap between process improvement methodology and customer experience.
  • How you can use process improvement in CX to make and save money
  • Selling CX projects internally: Why you must ‘speak the language of the rest of the organisation’, not just convince yourself that it’s worthwhile.
  • Stepping back and viewing things from your customers point of view.
  • Nicholas and the military. Their “employee” experience had issues.
  • Employees are not your customer. If they’re the end goal you go off course.
  • Creating a culture of customer-centricity within a large organisation. How do you instil this culture? How do you get change to last?
  • Building a customer-centric culture: EEE.

Watch the episode

Ben: Hi Nicholas, welcome to the State of Customer Service Podcast.

Nicholas: Alright. Thanks, Ben. It's good to be here.

Ben: We've been starting these podcasts with the same three questions. And they're all about your favorite things. The first one is, what is a company that you think is doing the customer-centric thing really really well at the moment?

Nicholas: Yeah, let's say, Ben, it's tough to do that and give generalization on behalf of the company because, I've run into this before somebody will ask that sort of question but then I say, “Oh! I had this great experience with this hotel” or this airline or something like that and then two things inevitably happen.

First I get inundated with, “Oh, that hotel sucks”. Let me tell you about how terrible my experiences were there. And then the other thing is the next time I stay there it sucks for me too. So I'm always cautious to give a broad brush and kudos, but I do have great experiences from time to time.

I just recently wrote a piece for my blog that those of us in the CX industry and especially the consultants are the best and the worst customers ever to have because while we're compassionate toward all the folks that are on the front line and we're never like do you know who I am? sort of a thing. It's always like I was okay, give me a break. But on the other hand, we're also the worst customers because we're so much more critical as we know what to look for. Nevertheless, I will say that recently I had a really good experience with the DMV and we had to reregister one of my customer’s car which was due for registration and everything here in the States was shut down and so a lot of the stuff was done remotely and over the internet and so forth. Their internet interface was just terrible so I had to call in and I sat on hold for 45 minutes and that may sound horrible except that when I got to the operator or the representative, he was able to help me in about three minutes.

He just asked if you got your vehicle identification number, you got your registration form, or whatever the thing is. Then we're good to go. He asked for the credit card number and boom it was done. The only drawback of this was that they didn't tell me that at the end of the 45-minute wait that's what I'd be able to do.

The only reason I called was to find, that do I have to come in or can we do this over the phone? So it was like this great surprise at the end of it, because I thought I'm sitting here for 45 minutes on hold like an idiot and all I have is a question. And then, fortunately, the guy was able to say better than just answer your question we'll get it registered right here. And here in Denver, Colorado where I live, a lot of that stuff has been automated and put online and a lot of the stuff is happening remotely. Again, of course, it's because of COVID. But on the other hand, a lot of the public services and public utilities around here have done a great job of adapting to that and then taking that as an opportunity to just accelerate their move to these easier channels and smarter ways of doing business.

Surprisingly, it was DMV that did a great job recently, now I say that with the understanding that I'm going to register my car in about a month or so and we'll see how that one goes.

Ben: That's quite a mix of experiences though, isn't it? A pretty bad experience at the beginning mixed with a good experience at the end that could have been solved by just having some kind of upfront screening call or just letting you know…

Nicholas: Yeah. Isn't it interesting that it’s been a lot of times with your customer support experiences if it's that way? You start almost every customer support experience if you're in the industry, rather than in, public works like that, it's always, “Oh, your product or your service failed” and so you're starting as a customer with “Oh, I'm already in the hole”, as far as things go, and then you never know how it's going to turn out. And sometimes it's just a pleasant surprise but then at the other hand, sometimes the relatively pleasant surprises made even more pleasant by the virtue of, "Oh, I was in a pissed mood already because I knew that I was going to have to sit on the phone for 45 damn minutes waiting for the DMV”.

And so maybe it wasn't even that great of an experience in the first place. But based on what my expectations were, it was just off the charts. Fantastic. Maybe it's you that set low expectation and then you can knock it right out of the park. Yeah. You bet.  

Ben: Just to dig into that a little bit...why do you think that is, that this happens? That there's this huge waiting time, but then actually quite a good experience at the end of it?

Is someone looking at this as a customer journey in a holistic way?  

Nicholas: I'm not okay. Here it goes back to your original question. I'm not going to lay at the feet of the department of motor vehicles, such praise as though they've thought that all out.

I imagine that certainly the longer wait was simply based on the fact that there's just a large volume. Everything had been shut down for such a long time because of the virus that people weren't able to register their cars in the first place. Either you walk-in or you were going to do it online anyway.

So surely everything is going to take longer to happen in the first place. But like I said to their credit, I think that they're embracing the idea that everything needs to have the component of we'll do this remote, we'll do this online, we'll do this over the phone rather than the usual, shuffle in, take a number, wait in a comfortable seat there in the waiting room for them to call your turn in the queue.

But it's like I said to their credit, I think that they're embracing that and all that a lot of people are. It's interesting like I see a commercial that we had over here recently, where everything in the healthcare industry is moving to remote as well. That always strikes me how fascinating it seems to the doctors and nurses and the people who are administering the healthcare that we can have doctor's appointments remotely now. And I'm like it's not that fantastic folks. You should have been on board with us for a long time.

And I think that some industries like the healthcare industry are recognizing that there's no going back. There's no way of putting this genie back in the bottle. So we might as well embrace it and that's one of the things, again that I write about a lot these days. I think that rather than identifying what the best solution is or to use the adages, it's not necessarily about inventing the greatest new mousetrap and making the newest thing as it is.

Putting yourself in a position where you can be agile and where you can adapt to what it is. We talk about channel surfing, we talk about how everything needs to move to digital now because of this, that's not necessarily the answer. If you don't have digital access, you're certainly behind, but it's really about delivering that experience regardless of what the channel is.

You could have all the channels open. You could do everything in any way that a customer wants whether through chat, through an app, through phone, through email, or whatever it is and if the experience sucks, the experience is going to suck, right? At the same time, you have to meet your customers where they are.

And I think the answer to both of them is to be dynamic and be able to focus on answering your customer's problems and solving why they're here in the first place, rather than trying to nail down like “We gotta be able to do this on the phone”, “We gotta be able to do it within 38 seconds”. “We gotta be able to do so many of them every hour and every day”.

It's just now here's what our customers are and it comes down to an understanding of who your customers are, what they want and why they're there in the first place. Then all other stuff will fall into place.

Ben: This really reminds me of a story from the second guest on this podcast, Augie Ray, who talked about one of his financial institution clients who had heard that people are using Amazon Echo a lot, and that it’s a great way of engaging customers.

They built a mobile kind of banking option on Amazon Echo and then no one had been using it. They just couldn't work out why they'd built this thing, but no one wanted to use it, not quite realizing that yes you want to choose music but no you don't want to do your banking through amazon .

Nicholas: Yeah. What else?. Strangely, they didn't want to call out their account number in the air of their house.

Ben: Exactly. So it's like meet the customers where they actually want to be and where they are rather than where you think they are. Just for the sake of innovation.

Okay we've taken quite a long time on this first question but that was good so that's fine.

Nicholas: See, shut up. Will you? I need enough. We got another question to get to.

Ben: The second question was second favorite question. Is there a favorite influencer of yours that you would suggest everyone to follow their content?

Nicholas: Absolutely. Nick Glimsdahl. I was on his podcast a little while ago, but he's not just posting. He's cross-posting too. And that's one of the really neat things about our industry. The thing is that leaders and people who are writing about CX in this field and you're right that there's not quite as much, but there are a lot of people who are willing to share other people's views. So you get in this spiral as you do on YouTube, where you spend all night checking out this video, and then there's another recommendation and yet another recommendation. There are all sorts of guys out there, all sorts of folks who are recommending what other people are writing. And I've got that. I follow Nick Glimsdahl from a friend of mine. Then there's Jeremy Watkin, there's Nate Brown and Shep Hyken.

These are folks who not only put down their thoughts into words and will write an article from time to time but they are also very excited about sharing other people's work so it becomes this community where there's a lot to the readout there. I wouldn't necessarily highlight any one of them because they're all so great and they're all friends of mine. I'd also say that you can't go wrong if you follow these folks and the folks they follow and then pretty soon you've got this really broad collection of these thought leaders that are writing lots and lots of stuff.

Ben: Yeah, I think you're right. There's just as much value as being the curator of content.  do you find it better on twitter or linkedin

Nicholas: LinkedIn goes for me. I'm sorry I'm very bad at Twitter. Jeremy wants one of the guys I had mentioned just a minute ago, does this thing called ‘The CX question of the day’ on Twitter. And I become a bit of regular on that because he'll tag people will ask a question, I'll tag people and I still don't understand if I should be responding to it or if I should be re-tweeting it with a comment and so for me, it's challenging to talk about UX and CX. For me, it's challenging to understand even how to read through Twitter. I know everybody out there is okay but I've lost all respect for Z. I'm not going to read any of this crap anymore, but LinkedIn's got a great place to follow it all and all the articles are posted right there.

So if you're on Twitter, you're probably finding links to LinkedIn articles anyway. Follow it over onto that platform. There's some good stuff on Medium. CustomerThink is a great place to go to. CXU is another great one. There's a lot of good stuff out there as far as different platforms.

CXPA, the Customer Experience Professional Association, has a lot of posted articles there as well.

Ben: Awesome. Cool. You can be quite a lot to follow. Actually. I think a lot of guests struggle with that question don't actually track those kinds

Nicholas: Yeah Ben, there's also a trick, a trick of differentiation. You alluded to this in your question too. There's a lot of stuff out there about customer service. There's customer support, there are customer success and marketing. How do you even differentiate?

What is the difference between all of these things? And I'm part of a lot of groups and that's one of the questions that come up a lot while we discuss. What is the difference between CX and customer support? What's the difference between CX and customer success and, if all you're looking for is just to read up and expose yourself to it in the first place, you are hard-pressed to make your way through the forest of all the different trees that are out there when it comes to this thought space.

Ben: So I think it'd be really interesting now to talk about your kind of route into customer experience, because you worked for the US Air Force, right? You also mainly focused on business processes and business process improvement. So, how did you get into the customer experience

Nicholas: Yeah. I've been in the air force for almost 27 years and I'm currently a reservist. In the air force, I'd always been an analyst and then I progressed into operations research, which is process improvement, which leads to CPI and BPI and business processes and so forth.

And so I studied the standards, Lean Six Sigma, these process improvement things, and when I transitioned into the industry, into private or non-military work, my first job was for Dell computers million years ago. I hitched into this process improvement work and the thing about that line of work and that industry and that field of study is that it's centred on saving resources. It's centred on improving your efficiency and your effectiveness so that you can squeeze out all the waste and so you can line up all your processes in such a way that you can do them reliably and consistently and without any waste and any loss of resources. And it's cool, it's rarefied because it's very nerdy, but at the same time, it hits the bottom line in such a way that business leaders are excited about it. And so it feeds itself as this great field of study and that's awesome. You get to be the hero when you’re the hero and you get to be laid off with an awesome severance when the company decides they don't want to do it anymore. That certainly was my career for a while and then one day I was out consulting and loving life and hand over fist and things were awesome and I got a call from a former employer and that former employer was HP.  There's the guy who ran customer support for America's region called me up and said, Hey Z, remember us? I said, of course, I remember him. He says, how's the consultant going? I said consulting is going awesome, thanks for asking. He says, here's the job that we want to give you and you have to apply your process improvement, expertise, and experience, not towards necessarily saving money, but instead towards improving the bottom line of our customer's experience. And I thought I never thought of it that way.

That makes a lot of good sense and it's even an easier rallying cry around process improvement and Lean Six Sigma, and these sorts of things to say. Hey, we're going to save money, and saving money is awesome, but also we're going to improve our customer's experience and so when you think of it, the universe of things that might fall into the purview of a process improvement teams like, Hey, we gotta fix this because it's a waste of resources, we've got to fix this because it takes too long to do this. No, that's the fodder for that group and then you go over to the CX group and the CX group says our customers hate it. Our customers are pissed off about this and are leaving us in droves because of this, the way those two universes overlap on the Venn diagram of what the possible projects that you could use Lean Six Sigma and process improvement to improve.  There's a big overlap there and so it was a very fertile ground for a couple of different combinations. It's like you got your chocolate in my peanut butter and I got my peanut butter and your chocolate and there was a marriage that was made in heaven.

It was nice to take the same sort of tools and the same sort of processes for improving what we do and just look at it through a slightly different lens. You end up with a slightly different prioritized list of projects that you might go after and you end up identifying from time to time that we should do this and we should improve this. And a hardcore doctrinal process improvement expert process engineer might say, why are you doing that? That's not going to save you nearly as much money but then I take a look at a different KPI. I was like, okay but look at the NPS and listen to what our customers are telling us on the voice of the customer and they're saying that this is what's pissing them off the most so if we do this and improve this process the bottom line isn't going to be tremendously impacted but the bottom line of our customer experience will be. We still will save a little bit of money because anyone of these projects is going to save you a little bit money but in the end, the real driving factor is how are we improving our customer's experience?

What's nice about that is you get another kicker that comes down the road and when your customers are happier, they're more loyal, they spend more, they tell their friends more and all of the things that we know from being CX practitioners are the case. And so not only do we get to save a bit of money but we also get to make a bit of money as well.

We hit the bottom line and the top line when we apply these process engineering practices toward the CX, rather than just, Hey, what's going to save us the most. What's going to give us that biggest bang for the buck from a financial perspective only

Ben: So, where is it that these things overlap? Because for me, process improvement feels very internal focus, but customer experience should be very externally focused. How do you marry those two things? And I think you've answered that pretty well by just saying you changed the KPIs to focus on the customer.

Nicholas: Yeah. The choice is more about prioritization because like I said, it's not as though “Let's not do this because it'll cost us tons of money”. Now you're going to save money because you're doing process improvement in the first place. That's right.

Ben: That's an interesting point because it’s the question, “how do you sell this project internally?” And I think you seem to be linking very much to the bottom line growth and linking loyalty to revenue.

Nicholas: Yeah. That sounds simple because we're CX and CS nerds. So we're already convinced but not lose sight of the importance that as practitioners in CX and as leaders in CX, we also bear the responsibility of making that case too.

Even before you get around to picking the projects you're going to attack and the things that you're going to improve, you need to be able to sell that to your fellow leadership team participants as well because they need to be convinced that as NPS or C-SAT or customer effort score goes up, the bottom line is improved as well.

We know that but we know it intrinsically we don't necessarily know it. By having tied the metrics together, we have to do that because otherwise, they'll say, “Oh, that's great. I can internalize emotionally that we want our customers to like us more”. They'll pat you on the head and send you back into your corner if you can't show that.

By the way, the happier customers are, the more they're likely to spend, the more they're likely to recommend us to their friends who will also come and spend and we get greater market share. We bet we get a better share of wallet and these sorts of things just because we know we're right doesn't mean we don't have to play on the same field as everybody else in the organization who's trying to drive revenues.

Ben: Yeah, definitely. So when you consult with companies do you find in general that customer experience people are doing that well? Are they linking it back and selling the projects well internally?

Nicholas: It comes and goes.

Some folks are because they recognize it and they need the help, which is mostly just mathematical to find that correlation you're just running now more or less but there's a lot of writing out in the industry. There's a lot of studies that's been done that you can show just generally, even if in your circumstance, you haven't collected the numbers that would prove that, or show that in the first place.

There are some CX professionals or some practitioners who on the one hand recognize the need to do that and they may need help, trying that out, how to make that case? And then some other CX professionals maybe are just so doctrinal like the process improvement folks, they know it's good and they know it's right and it hasn't even occurred to them that they need to make the case to the rest of the organization as well. What they don't recognize is that nobody cares about your NPS as much as you do unless you can make that case. And that's a tougher one because if you're a big champion for customer experience. Great. But you've already convinced yourself.

It's speaking the language of the rest of the organization and trying out what it means to have good CX with what your company's bottom line is that needs to happen first.

Ben: Yeah, this seems like it's a challenge that every customer experience director or professional is going to face at some point. That when there is a stack of projects to go forward, it tends to be the one who has the clearer case to grow revenue that is going to win.

But that's clearly an issue, even though everyone agrees that, you know, the customers being happy and loyalty is such a good thing.

So coming back to the process improvement side in general. Do you have any examples around improving customer-centricity of a company by improving their internal processes?

Nicholas: There's a mindset shift that happens when we stop thinking about process improvements based on how we are inefficient and the struggles and the hassle that we go through. Instead of recognizing that in the same way that nobody else in your organization cares as much about NPS, as you do, also recognizing that your customers don't care what pain is the ass is for you to go through your processes because quite frankly, that's why they're paying you is to go through your processes. When we can change that focus and we can see our processes, and these are simple things like process, journey, mapping, or journey mapping rather, and tying out what we do and what impact that has on our customers.

There are some times where I had worked with, with air force organizations. And they'd said, well, when somebody needs this or that for the right processes to happen, it's the military so it's tons of processes. When the service member wants to get paid or when the service member wants to go on a deployment, he or she is required to fill out this.

I say why is that the case? And then the answer that I always get back is. It's because our process requires this and I said, okay, tell me more about the process. And then they'd say something about, and the military has got all these arcane tools. We can kill a gnat from the other side of the world in the air force but sometimes all the systems that it takes to hire somebody to do that are stuck in the thirties. And, we're using punch cards in computers, the size of this room, just to go through the payment process or something like that.

What we end up doing is shuffling what I would always classify as the customers of this military organization, rather than just members of the team. So you are forcing your customers to walk through your process and adhere to your process and sometimes providing information that isn't even required by statute or by rule or by how it's supposed to happen simply because you built your processes and your tools and your computer system or whatever your software is around a process that used to be germane. Meanwhile, things have advanced, the process itself has advanced, but there's a tool in the system that you're using is stuck back in a previous process that had these extra steps and so making your customer go through those extra steps even though your process doesn't even require them anymore.

I blocked through seat right next to somebody who's an operator and I'd say, what are you doing with that information? Oh, that just goes into the database. Do you ever go back and use it? Is it required by law? Is there any reason that you're collecting it now? Then why the hell are you making your customer enter this to get through your labyrinth thick process of getting orders created or getting somebody's payment done? And we're beholden to the processes as we have them that we're looking at internally rather than understanding how our processes are interacting with our customers and vice versa.  

Ben: Yeah, you could spend so much time making it easy for someone to press the submit button but not actually asked the question if they need to need that submit button in the first place.

Nicholas: Yeah.

Ben: That does make sense as well, improving and creating internal efficiencies can also contribute a lot to the external experience.

Nicholas: I'm working with an organization right now and it's trying to improve how they were. It's a membership organization and they have certifications like a lot of membership organizations do and they're trying to make one of their continuing education that aspect of maintaining the certification for their members more customer-centric. And they say, we need to this and we need to that, improve this or that part of entering your continuing education credits, for example, you're familiar with this type of laydown and I said, well how are you going to determine what your customers want, where your members want improvements and they, their answer back is well, they always get this wrong. And I said, okay, well they're entering the number wrong probably because you're asking it wrong and you're not going to the interface yourself and look at how somebody walks through the process of doing it? or are you simply thinking about how it is that your internal process is your internal focus and the way that your systems are calibrating and calculating all of this work and there the light comes on. Oh! Yeah.

You know what if we fixed the way we do the entering stuff then they would not get it wrong. And it was funny to hear people say, our customers keep doing it wrong and I was like, Oh really? Is that really what's going on? But, by improving that and taking the perspective of your customer in the first place, you're not only able to make things easier for you because the customers are, quote-unquote doing it right now, but also you make it easier on your customers having a better experience as well.

Ben: So you mentioned working with the military there. Is it just like any other kind of public institution: very slow and difficult to get things done and everything is just this huge hassle, or is there something about their customer experience that you would take away and teach and take on?

Nicholas: Oh boy! fired from the military now. Well like I said I think there's an interesting thing about the military and I've got a philosophy on it. I've started to stick pieces together so this is a little bit of a stream of consciousness so forgive me if I make no sense at all here, but I think ironically, one of the things that make the military less efficient than otherwise could be is the concept of,” Hey, we're all one big team. And we're all in this together and we all wear the same uniform and this is something that you hear a lot”. That's great and it's true, and I'm a Lieutenant Colonel and that means that I'm the same rank as every other Lieutenant Colonel in the entire air force and that's good because it's important to recognize and understand that everybody's job is important but I teach calculus and statistics at the Air force Academy. I'm not nearly as vital to things going on as the guy that flies the plane or the girl who's a squadron commander or group commander somewhere else.

I would get to recognize that we have different jobs and yes, we're all very important, but some of us are here in support and service roles for the warfighter. And I think it's while it's great for morale to keep everybody on the same page, as far as, “Hey, we're all playing a role here”.

And like I said, we're all wearing the same uniform that can sometimes cloud the recognition that some of us are here to make sure that the people who we call the tip of the spear have the things that they need and I've been deployed a couple of times. And while I wasn't by any means even when I was deployed anywhere near the tip of the spear, I was doing, why we're here? I was going forward.

And I was called, I was asked to deploy. So you would think that. They would go to all ends to make sure that the process of me getting all my ducks in a row so that I could go to the middle-East for a few months and unless you think that I'm some sort of war hero, don't get that impression. When I was deployed I like to say that the worst part was at one point- the base where I was stationed, one of the pools was closed for a week for maintenance and it was horrible.

I'm not going to brag about my deployed experience but to the degree that yeah, I'm going to go away from my family for a long period and I'm going to go do the work in the field and downrange and so forth that you would think that they would be all about. Alright, let's grease this system, and let's make this as quickly.  Let's move folks through as quickly and seamlessly as possible. They've got so much else going on in their minds that our role play is to play a part of that experience that we should make it as a light touch for that for the member of the team who's going forward and it just simply isn't the case, right?

And to get back to the original point was the manifestation. Unfortunately, sometimes the side effect of what used to be “we're all in this together, we're all wearing the same uniform” is that you end up losing sight of the fact that you have customers here and that your customers are the people that you're serving at that one instance and it's great to have that morale and while it's great to have that teamwork sometimes it trips itself up as a result.

Ben: That’s really interesti9ng.

Nicholas: Yeah. I participated in a forum recently where some folks were saying that when we talk about customer experience we consider our employees as customers. I was like, “Oh, break, hold on one second right there. Your employees and this is not to diminish the importance of employee experience or employee engagement, your employees are vital. They're absolutely the linchpin in your processes. You have to take care of your customers.” It's not just cliché or maybe it's cliché but it's cliché for a reason because it's true to say that happy employees mean happy customers and that you have to take care of your employees if you are expecting to have a great customer experience.

So keeping all that throat-clearing set aside, don't take what I'm about to say as a diminishing of how important it is to care for your employees. But I think that there is something akin to a moral hazard and it's probably not as dramatic as to be a moral hazard but it's along those lines if you're conflating your customers and your employees. Because your employees work for you, your employees work for your customers and in the end, the reason is so important that you take care of employees is for the customers. And if you make the mistake of considering your employees to be customers, how do you prioritize what's important?

Then you get back again in that thing about looking at processes and processes are screwed up and they are a shit show. Well, and from who’s prespective? from your employee's perspective or your customer's perspectives. A lot of times it's both and that's fair and that's an important thing to consider but another important thing to consider is as we improve these processes as we improve what we're doing. It should be in such a way that in the end, the customers have a better experience along the line. Your employees probably will have a better experience as well, if you're doing it right but if you're doing it because you want your employees to have a better experience, then I think you're missing the result there.

Ben: So in the military, who is the customer?  

Nicholas: Ultimately it's, the citizens and the taxpayers.

Ben: That's hard because they are so removed from the actions of the company.

Nicholas: Yeah. I had a discussion recently about the same thing when it comes to school districts and so forth, who are the customers? The students and the parents of the students and so forth and ultimately the taxpayers and for me, I don’t have kids, we don't have kids. We don't have kids in the school system, but we're paying plenty of property taxes to make that happen. So in the end, the teachers and the school boards and so forth, technically they're working for me, even though I don't even have a kid in the school system.

That's challenging, but it's made even more challenging if you decide that the teachers are customers. To any degree beyond the fact that some of the teachers certainly do have children who are in school-age and are enrolled in the school system but how is the teacher supposed to see that if the teacher considers him or herself a customer? How do I approach my work then?

Ben: I think that makes a lot more sense with teachers because a happy teacher is going to be a better teacher.

Nicholas: Yeah. And a teacher with straight forward processes and a lot of stress and the hassle of the administrative nonsense going on in the background is going to be more engaged is going to be a better teacher because he or she can concentrate more on the student.

So absolutely that employee experience is vital. As I said, it's foundational to it but on the other hand, if that's the end, if that's the reason because you say that's the customer, all right, does the teacher need to be qualified? does the teacher need to show up on time? does the teacher need to prepare and plan for school or as the customer quote-unquote does our job end at taking care of the teacher?

Ben: Just to change direction slightly. Can we talk about creating a culture of customer centricity within an organization. I think that's a thing that everyone struggles although it is a big goal of most companies. So how would you go about instilling a culture like that internally and making sure it actually trickles down or comes from the ground up?

Nicholas: Yeah for what it's worth as any good consultant, should I have a framework around that. There are always the four pillars of this which are the five building blocks of that when it comes to employee engagement and when it comes to specifically build out that customer-centric culture, I have a little mantra and it's called, Enablement, Empowerment, and Encouragement.

And they are three parts of what it takes as a leader to drive this proper culture and I know a lot of very successful leaders who look at things like culture. It's like I do believe in it. It's not that I'm just waving hands and spouting words. I do want the culture to match, what I think is needed to advance what our strategy is, but how do you do anything about it?, how do I as a leader instil this?

So this is a great question because these are things that can be done and beyond things like, “Hey, we've got these great benefits for our employees”, “Hey, we've got a beer in the break room”, and all the other things that are relatively tangible, but that we mistakenly associate with having that great culture.

I think that those can come and go but I think the way to instil that culture is to make sure that your employees are enabled with the tools that they need in order to take care of your customers. If I've got this cool shuffleboard in the break room, and I've got tuition reimbursement as part of my package, I'm going to be a happier customer when I go to work every day. If I've got a boss who cares about my development, if I've got a boss who recognizes that I have a human side and every once in a while if I'm not feeling well and can't come in or whatever that is. That's awesome because I'm going to feel more comfortable. I'm going to feel more valued when I go in.

But if when I go in, my tools will suck and when I go in, it takes me way more time than it really should to help customers. For example, if I'm working in a support contact centre, if the hassle and the administrative overhead of simply working here is a pain in the neck then I'm not going to be as efficient as I otherwise could be because I'm chasing all other nonsense down all the time and therefore I can't help our customers out. Beyond that, I'm going to get frustrated and then aggravated and so my morale and my tendency to be present is going to be diminished so I have to have the proper tools and that's enablement, and what we in leadership have to make sure,  it's not just for our employees’ happiness. It also makes them more efficient when they have the proper tools. The second thing is enablement and, I'm sorry that wasn't it. I have to get my structure proper, that's enablement.

The second thing is Empowerment-you give your employees and the people on the frontline, the greatest tools in the world and the Wizbang and go through your contact centre where you used to have all of the agents would have 50 different windows open trying to work all your different systems and CRM and everything, meshing it together. Now it's all in one easy place and every one of your employees can do their job with lightning speed and efficiency, but none of them has the authority to offer a refund or your policies are such that it takes escalation to a supervisor to do that and the next thing. If your employees aren't empowered to leverage what you've enabled them with the tools to do, then that is going to again so distrust and your employees are going to be less engaged all of these emotional things.

But even still, there's a reason to do that because it's a waste of energy and time. How many more supervisors do you have to employ if it takes a supervisor or manager to do this or that, how much longer are the engagements that you have with your customers if I have to put you on hold and wait for a supervisor in a different queue to get this thing done.

So there are these cool authorial things about empowerment that are important to how your employees feel and what level of engagement they have but at the end of the day, it's more efficient too. Again, this is where we get back to that great merging of how great it is to have good CX, but at the same time, it's also much more efficient and saves you in resources too.

And then the third aspect of this is Encouragement and that is more or less walking the walk.

You've got Enablement is where you have given all of your employees all the tools to do exactly what they need at any instant. You've got Empowerment where you've given them the authority to leverage those tools on behalf of your customers at any moment. And then you Encourage their use by doing a lot of things that you and I were talking about earlier. One is to prioritize the ways in which you're going to improve the processes and the investments you're going to make for infrastructure improvements or new software or new systems and you dedicate yourself to making those investments of time, of resources, of energy, of money based on the impact that they're going to have on your customers.

Again, you can have this great continuous process improvement program in place and we're dedicated to continuous improvement and we've got all these black belts and green belts and they're doing fantastic work. That's awesome because in an earlier life all I was worried about was process improvement.

I was encouraged when leaders in an organization embrace process improvement but if that organization is to treasure, prize and prioritize customer experience, think of how powerful is that process improvement program that prioritizes the work that they do based not just on the bottom line. This is going to save us more in recess resources. This is going to make us more money and whatever that might be instead of looking at it simply that way. They also say, “Hey, this will improve our customer's experience” and so you're walking the walk when you put your money where your mouth is and a million other clichés when you do it that way.

A little bit about encouragement as well is that we didn't get around to it but when it comes to the voice of the customer program we talked about surveys and NPS and all these other great things. Another thing that I always like is to encourage clients and anybody to listen or reading is to walk in their customer's shoes.

One of the most powerful ways that you can get insights into how your customers are interacting with your processes is to interact with them yourself, from the perspective of one of those customers. And so if you don't have a walking in the customer's shoes then program it as a part of your voice of the customer, overall picture, you need to do that.

And another way that you can encourage your employees to be involved in your customer's experiences is to participate in that yourself as a leader. It's one thing for your VOC team or your survey team to break out of the surveys and also do these experiments and walk in the customer's shoes themselves.

It's another thing altogether to see the leadership of your organization. So if you're in a leadership position, you've got to pick up the phone every once in a while and call your contact centre as a customer, you've got to go to your website and purchase something and see what that process is.

You've got to play and fiddle with whatever the product is that you create and sell to the public. You've got to know what that's like and when you do it as a leader of your organization, you're instilling your skin in the game and you're showing how important it is to you. Your employees then can be part of that experience and part of that feedback loop as well, so that whenever they need your widget or whenever they need your services, they can share that perspective from a customer point of view as well.

Ben: I think you couldn’t send a clearer message than getting the senior leaders of a company to walk day in the customer's shoes. I think that would be great for everybody. Another thing that another guest said actually was part of creating a company culture that is  focused around the customer is enabling and encouraging people to actually fail, and allowing failure to be something that's more of a learning experience than something that is punished. Do you agree?

Nicholas: Yeah. That's something I've only begun to look into. I'm at the nascent part of this but I'm a certified scrum master, so I'm versed in agile project management and that is one of those lean principles to fail early, fail fast and I think that there's a connection in the similar sense that the process improvement and CX have an overlap. I think that this curiosity and entrepreneurship about how can I solve this problem for the customer can lead to fantastic things.

And again it goes back to those three E's you enable your employees with the tools that it takes to solve the problem. You also empower them to have the authority to say “We are going to try this” rather than “I got a customer on the line” or “I've got a customer, who's got an issue”. How do I go through the tick marks and go through the process rather than doing it that way, say, what's this customer's problem and how can I solve it? And it fits neatly within our processes. That's awesome but it needn't necessarily because the reason I'm here is to represent our brand and solving our customer's issues and you're right in saying that encouragement is what ties it all together saying “Hey, look, everybody here is, has the authority to solve your customer's problems, do what it takes”, a lot of organizations have that as part of their process.

Ben: Yeah I like that. It's something that us in startups do very well and we're always thinking about that and failing fast and that kind of thing but corporates always struggle with it.

Nicholas: You have no idea, Ben. That's why I love working with startups and early-stage organizations because there's a lot of that fire in the belly. It's not so much even about an attitude of, “Hey, we're just kids and we're just, messing around here”. One of the things that I always highlight and has been the key to success for me is to have an equal part, humility and fearlessness.

And when you measure those two things together, you're able to say “I don't know how this is going to work but I'm down for it, let's give it a shot”. And I've worked for, as mentioned earlier, a lot of big words organization. I worked for Dell, I worked for HP, I worked for the United States Air force, which is a big organization as well and you'd be surprised how many times during my career while working for big companies, they've said, “Oh, we're big, but we've got a startup mentality and you're trying to test that”. And it seems to be words on paper rather than happening in reality because you try to push that and going to try that. If we've got a start-up mentality then I'm going to try this boss.

I would hang around with another director of CX when I was at HP and we would fantasize that “wouldn't it be cool to go somewhere?” And it's not like we were both trying to get out of it. It was a very fulfilling job and a lot of fun but at the same time, we would have a beer and say, “wouldn't it be cool if we could go somewhere where they'd never heard of CX and just build the function just organically and see how that goes?”. I said, I'm doing that here actually, but that would be awesome and these organizations that are relatively new to it, these startups and so forth, they get to the point. Yeah, I think where we're not just a couple of bros in the garage anymore and maybe we're taking surveys, maybe we're asking our friends and the customers that we do have what they think and what they want out of our product or service. They get to a maturity level where they say we need to put some structure around how we do CX. We need to put some structure around not just the VOC because of a lot of organizations. CX is just the VOC but if you're not doing something with it, then you're missing the purpose for doing it in the first place.

But how do we organize that, how do we put structure around it? And I love getting involved in organizations that are just trying to figure out what to do with the insights that they're getting and then we open up the door and we say, there are insights that you're not getting. Let's get those insights too and there are like you say, fail early, fail fast and then recover right away, innovations that you can do because you're small and you're nimble and you're fearless and I love seeing that in action.

Ben: That definitely seems to be this thing that, when startups start to scale, you go from being able to directly go and talk to the product team and tell them the customers are complaining a lot about this…from that to having a big organization where you're not in the same room anymore. And as you go through that scaling process, you just can't get the feedback back to the rest of the company.

Nicholas: Another thing that happens sometimes in larger organizations is that you get the conflict of interest because I've seen organizations where the CX department and the CX function resides within customer support. And I think there’s a bit of a problem there because technically speaking and it's aspirational because it would never happen.

It's not like you expect to get there but to a degree, your customer experience teams goal should be to drive customer support out of business, because if you're doing it right in that small instance you are just yelling across the room at a product or at operations or whoever else is in that. Like I said I like to say that you're in the garage with them, you can just reach over and tap and say, Hey, here's what we're doing wrong with our product or we need to fix what's wrong with our product or here's what we're doing wrong with the service that we're offering. When we go onsite or we do this sort of thing, we need to fix this. The thing is as you start to improve these things, it'll never go away, but you start to reduce the need for customer service and support. Your customers are being taken care of organically because you're listening to the things that they're saying are wrong.

Once it gets too big, or if you put CX kind of in the wrong place like that you get incentives that are different and you get an organization that's not structured in such a way that feedback loop can happen.

Ben: Yeah I think customer support ticket insights can definitely be a good indicator of those customer frictions, but they will definitely always be issues that pop up out of nowhere.

Nicholas: That's why I always have, sorry, I just have to caveat that. Tt's not as though you will get rid of CX, but it's hard from within customer support.

To be as much of an advocate when you realize, “Hey if I'm successful, the more successful I am, the less needed”. It turns out my boss is going to be and that's an awkward position to be in.

Ben: I think that's a good point. I hadn't thought about that conflict before. One last question that I wanted to ask is that it's all very well collecting a lot of voice of customer data. But I think a lot of people experience just an overwhelm of data, not knowing if it’s actionable, can we trust it? Is it accurate? Have we collected too much? How can we stop the silos of data?

What do you suggest to tackle those problems?

Nicholas: I would go back to the first principle and I would say, where's the data coming from? If the data is coming from the survey, the voice of the customer is very broad and should be dynamic and you should be looking for especially negative feedback that you can get because that helps guide you where you can improve what you're doing.

If you're okay and overwhelmed by data you received as a result of having apps asked for feedback because quite frankly one should never ask for feedback if they are not willing to act upon it. So think long and hard before you put together that survey, think long and hard before you pour over the types of questions that you want to ask it in such a way that you're going to receive.

Ask for information that you can act upon. I liken it to this. You had a dinner party and you invite several people over and you say, “Oh, by the way, is there anything you don't eat?” And somebody comes and says, I have this wicked fish allergy or whatever it is. You don't serve fish that night because what sort of an asshole are you to ask somebody and then completely ignore it.

So the first thing you need to make sure is that you're not asking and then not doing something with that data and if the overwhelming data that you're getting right as a result of your asking for it, refine how you're asking, refine what you can actually act on your VOC program and then in the surveys especially should be something that is constantly evolving. As you're learning more about the customer, you should be changing. What you're asking as certain things are completely out of your control. Don't ask about those things that are out of your control. It may sound defeatist but at the same time you're asking customers about something that you're going to get back and not be able to do anything with right now that said, once it's all out there, I was just talking with an organization recently that was asking him about we're getting all this free text data back.

And I said that's awesome because that's better than the question that you ask. After all, it's richer with insights. And they said, “what should we do with them? We've got these word clouds”. I think that's a really neat looking thing, but are you reading what's coming back, right? It is old fashion, but if you are reading all of the open text responses that your customers are giving you and making tick marks and parade going out, what your customers are telling you, that can be the most effective way of identifying what your customers are unhappy about.

Another way to lean out on what you're looking at is what I say this all the time you should be looking for narrow to the negative feedback. If you've got a whole bunch throughout the nines and tens readjust the zero through six on your NPS. If it's so much, read only the negative stuff that you're getting. There's a lot out there.

It can be overwhelming because we think that the answer is in the data and we're always looking to add more to that pile of information but if it also doesn't necessarily align with experiences that you're having, there might be a way that you can narrow it down as well. Now, keeping that in mind I already know all my internal processes, so I'm coming into this with a bias, right?

Ah, that's not a problem after all. I know how the system works. You have to get ourselves out of that mindset. You have to put on your customer’s hat when you walk in your customer's shoes as well. And test out what you're hearing as well, that can help you to narrow down and prioritize as well.

Our customers are saying that the buying process is a real pain in the neck. Our customers are saying that they're frustrated by how hard it is to get in touch with us, how hard it is to find ways to connect with us. Let me take a look at our website from the outside and see if that is the case. Let me go through the process of buying something.

That'll help you prioritize what it is. You have to get out of your mindset knowing what your internal processes are because you give yourself a lot of a break when it comes to that. I know this because that's part of our system which is already screwed up and ironically, you give yourself a bogey when that's not what you should be doing because that's what your customers are experiencing more than anything else.

Ben: Yeah that makes sense. I think it's then hard to know if i have loads of data, what is really going to impact my NPS score, how can i prioritize things?

Nicholas: You have internal metrics as well as your CRM, your internal process, your internal systems are recording what your calls are. Are you categorizing them properly based on what your customer's issues are your agents capturing, what you're cutting customer's problems areas they're coming in and are they doing it in a standardized way so that you can look at what that is?

There are tons of data out there but how you're categorizing it is going to make a big difference because you have to find something that's sticking out to prioritize. Otherwise, you end up getting paralyzed by having too much stuff out there. You can't do all of those things. So how do you prioritize? That's going to come down to how it is that you're categorizing things in the first place.

Ben: Yeah. I think a lot of people are struggling with that or having tagged data, but there is subjectivity in the tagging or there's some leeway and differences in opinion about what that means or how we should take action on it.

Nicholas: Yeah. It's tricky and as a good consultant, I wish I could say, “Oh, here are the four steps, that it takes” but one of the things that I like to recommend is that if you could only ask one question on your survey and quite honestly, that's what we should all be aiming for.

If all of our surveys could be one question, I would say what sucked about your experience and leave it as open text and then find a way, and the software's out there find a way to categorize. All of the responses for that and there you go. There's your roadmap right there.

We will know what's causing our customers headaches. We will know what's causing our customers frustration because we asked them what sucked about your experience. And then they told us, it sounds flippant but there are only two moving parts. This is one of the things that I'd said in one of my videos, “There are only two parts for improving your customer's experience, ask them what's going wrong and then fix it”.

There are a lot of moving parts in the two of those things, but if you keep that strategic focus on it, that's the nub of CX in the first place.

Ben: I think that's a great place to finish thank you thanks so much for coming and talking

Nicholas: You bet, Ben. Thanks for making the extra time and for squeezing it in just right for me too.

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