Annette Franz, CCXP, is the founder and CEO of CX Journey Inc., a customer experience consultancy. Internationally-Recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author of Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business).
With more than 25 years in customer experience, she is also the 2020 Chairwoman of the Board of Directors for the CXPA (Customer Experience Professionals Association), Annette is also an official member of the Forbes Coaches Council.
Over the course of this interview, Annette breaks down why focusing on understanding customers is essential for differentiation, analyzing your data to identify issues, and creating the right culture to empower your agents with autonomy.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your background?
Hi everyone! My name is Annette Franz (rhymes with Fonz!), and I’ve been in this customer experience space since the early ‘90s when I started at J.D Power and Associates. It’s been interesting to watch the evolution of customer experience over the last 25+ years, for sure. Today, I am the founder and CEO of CX Journey Inc., a customer experience strategy firm that helps clients understand customers and employees in order to design and deliver a better experience, retain employees and customers, and see the business grow. I recently published my first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business).
In your opinion, how can organizations differentiate themselves from competitors in Customer Service?
One thing to recognize is that customer experience is proactive, i.e., we proactively design a great experience, whereas customer service is the reaction, i.e., when the experience breaks down, customers call for service/help. So if companies want to differentiate themselves, they ought to focus on understanding customers and designing products and services that solve their problems.
A powerful tool and process to help design a great experience is journey mapping. When we map the journey a customer takes to contact customer service, we have customers in the room and stakeholders. Customer service stakeholders should be in the room, of course, but you should also have stakeholders from sales, marketing, product design, product marketing, billing, etc. in the room (depending on what type of issue is being solved/mapped). That way, when they hear and understand the customer’s experience, they can identify things that happened upstream (e.g., sales sold the dream; marketing’s messaging was off; the product design was flawed; installation instructions were inaccurate).
When those issues upstream are fixed and the experience has been redesigned, the result is fewer calls to the call center, and the customer service experience is enhanced – in two ways: (1) fewer customers have to call, which is a plus for customers; and (2) for those customers who do call, agents are freed up and can spend more time to handle critical issues.
The bottom line: differentiate yourself by making the need to call customer service obsolete for most customers!
What initiatives can be implemented to drive value throughout the customer journey?
First and foremost, you’ve got to have a customer-centric culture in place. A customer-centric culture is one where the customer is at the heart of all the business does. No discussions, no decisions, no designs without bringing in the voice of the customer, without asking: How will this impact the customer? How it will make her feel? What problem will it solve for her? What value will it deliver for her?
Next, you’ve got to understand your customers – who they are, what their pain points are, problems they’re trying to solve, jobs they are trying to do. You do that by listening (feedback and data), characterizing (personas), and empathizing (walking in their shoes, journey mapping).
And, you’ve got to socialize and operationalize the understanding. It’s not enough to understand – you’ve got to share that and put it to work for you. You’ve got to train employees on the customer and the customer experience so that they can deliver value to your customers.
What common roadblocks are companies facing to achieve customer satisfaction?
There are two roadblocks, and they are self-imposed.
Companies have tons of feedback, tons of data, and they do nothing with it. They simply “collect” feedback, like one would collect stamps. More to just check the box, to say, “We do that.” But like those stamps, the data sit on the proverbial shelf and age and get dusty. Customers try to help by telling companies what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong – so they can fix it if needed – yet brands waste that feedback by doing nothing with it.
The other roadblock is that they focus on the metric, on moving the needle, and not on the customer and the customer experience. Listening becomes all about “How do we rate today?” While it’s good to gauge your performance, moving the metric is an outcome – the first area of focus ought to be: what’s going on with the customer experience and how do we improve it. Too many times, the conversation starts with, “How do we improve the metric?” not with “How do we improve the experience?” When we focus on the metric, we do different things and do things differently than when we focus on the experience and how to improve it – which will ultimately move the metric.
How can enterprises ensure that customer needs are being met across all channels?
I’ll go back to a response that I gave previously. Companies need to understand their customers – who they are, what their pain points are, problems they’re trying to solve, jobs they are trying to do. They’ve got to listen (feedback and data), characterize (personas), and empathize (journey mapping). You can’t transform something you don’t understand. You can’t meet a need – at one channel or at all – without understanding what those needs are, problems to be solved, etc.
Beyond that, data is key. The trick to great omnichannel customer service and experiences is data. It will be necessary for: data to be centralized, the right data to be identified and accessible, silos to be broken down or connected in order to share data across channels, and the infrastructure to be in place to share the data, in order for the customer to have a seamless experience.
No small task.
Do you think that being available where your customers are is a key factor in delivering a remarkable Customer Experience?
Simple answer: yes, that would truly yield a remarkable experience – assuming companies understand their customers, their needs, pain points, problems to solve, jobs to be done and deliver on that wherever and however customers prefer to interact.
Just how important is it that agents are empowered in the workplace with the right culture and tech to deliver great CX?
Being empowered is all about agents having the autonomy to do the right things and to make the right choices for their customers (or in their day-to-day work). I would say that agents are empowered by the right culture, not with the right culture. You’ve got to have a culture that embraces empowerment. The correct core values and associated behaviors need to be defined, socialized, and operationalized. And technology alone does not empower employees, but it supports and facilitates the work that they do as an empowered employee.
What trends do you see happening in the CX industry over the coming months
I’m not big on trends. I’m finding that many companies are still trying to figure out the basics when it comes to customer experience. They can’t begin to focus on omnichannel, digital, personalization, AI, AR, VR, etc. when they can’t even get their executives to commit to putting customers at the top of the priority list (right after employees) or realizing that it’s all about the customer.
Is there anything else you would like to talk about
Yes, the employee experience. To truly establish a foothold in – and to then propel – your customer experience transformation, one of the most important things that businesses must have in place is a happy and engaged workforce that is well cared for by business leaders at all levels. In other words, employees and employee experience must be the priority of the business. Listen to employees, hear what they say, use their feedback to make improvements, involve them in decisions and changes, and watch their satisfaction and engagement flourish. As various research studies show, customers will benefit, and so will the business.
Originally published Nov 08, 2019, updated Dec 30, 2022