Jim Tincher (CCXP) is a recognized CX expert with a passion for customer experience, so much so that he founded Heart of the Customer, a cutting-edge CX consultancy, helping companies of all sizes improve their customer experience. Before launching the company, Jim led customer engagement initiatives at companies such as Best Buy, where he used Voice of the Customer research to identify and meet the needs of companies and clients.
During our discussion, Jim offers advice to readers on how to brainstorm the development of new products, enhance customer service, and foster customer loyalty.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your background?
I had a background in small business before leading customer engagement initiatives at Best Buy, UnitedHealth Group, and other large companies. From the beginning, I always believed that a company should be customer-obsessed.
As I moved into Fortune 100 companies, I learned there were other models and found it incomprehensible that nobody in my product development or marketing group had ever met a client. So, as a result, we were only building the products we wanted to buy. It made me question the process: ‘How can we build great products if we don’t spend any time with customers?’ So even when we were the leader in sales, we were also the leader in the number of customers canceling their accounts. Because we were building the products, we wanted to buy, instead of what our customers wanted.
From there, I got into Customer Experience by trying to bring that Voice of the Customer in to drive action. I was able to bring in many learnings from that and got my passion fired up. I did some consulting after that, and six years ago started Heart of the Customer, focusing on the Voice of the Customer and driving customer-focused action.
You are a big advocate of CX and journey mapping. For companies, what are the barriers to these areas that can be improved?
Barriers would include, for example, taking the time to do it right. Many companies don’t take the time to slow down and talk to customers. A lot of them say they are too busy to speak to customers. And that is how they lose them. But here are three points to consider to change that:
- Take time to get out there and put the customer in the center.
- Get the entire organization involved and stay focused. Particularly in journey mapping involve Human Resources in the process.
- Use Net Promoter Score (NPS) or other metrics to measure the impact of your customer service, understand the data, and make it work for your business.
If you don’t take action to understand what you are doing, how it impacts the customer, and how the score impacts you, then you are just creating noise. It has to tie back to the business and what is connecting customers with the company, which I find many brands are not excelling in.
At Heart of the Customer, you write a lot about these topics too, what kind of insights can readers expect to find on it?
We have white papers and case studies covering a variety of topics on our website, as well as my blog. I spend a lot of time laying out best practices and explaining what has been done by other companies, and what works and what doesn’t. We find that companies that have the most impact are curious, and they want to apply the best practices. If you are looking to outsource customer reviews, then there are cheaper ways of doing that. But when you are bringing in the right consultancy, they should make you think about your day-to-day work. In our case, we work with Marketing and Customer Experience.
It is really about taking that Voice of the Customer and making it live inside your organization. How is somebody who is in the field or the contact center working, somebody who is building your processes, how can they use this, take this information, and change how they operate? Those are the questions we help companies answer.
Is there a particular challenge within those points that is the biggest to address?
It is taking the time to do it right. We find that the most effective folks, whether in Customer Service, Customer Experience, or Marketing, get out and reach the rest of the organization. They take their findings out, tell stories, and connect with customers.
Those who are less effective are those who are building reports and graphs, showing the survey results. Those who are more productive are consolidating down what matters to you, and they do that in person. When we look at when our clients have the most impact, it is when they are getting out, getting to the contact center, and getting there personally. From there, it is about sharing what is happening — bringing it back to the customers as well, asking different questions, and running various programs. When it is done well, Customer Experience involves a lot of storytelling and making complete connections.
Would you have a recent example of how that was successfully implemented? Fixing what is broken to improve it?
I was surprisingly impressed by Comcast recently; they were taking the time to do fundamentals first. They were not focused on a PR campaign; they concentrated on blocking and tackling. They started by talking to the finance group to ask, “Does NPS matter?” because it doesn’t work for every company. For them, it made a big difference. They built a vision of what they wanted the customer experience to be, and they wanted customers to be able to have choices.
The other side is that many companies don’t take the time to find out what their customers want. Because then you have one group defining what it is, another trying to expand options, spending money on product development, and so on. But the problem is that they do it in the name of the customer, yes, but with conflict on how to achieve what the customer wants.
What are the issues that companies face to create personalized experiences for customers?
I think one mistake many companies make is digitally replacing the human experience. Yes, digital can enhance the human experience, but it isn’t for everybody or every situation.
One example is the use of chatbots. Chatbots can improve the experience, but only if developed correctly and used appropriately. It shouldn’t be a case of ‘either/or.’ when you have a bot in the contact center that can offer different recommendations based on what is happening in any given customer-agent conversation, it enhances the human experience because instead of the agent having to search, they can receive immediate recommendations for the customer. We find that digital impacts customer experience the most when it takes away some of the low hanging fruit. On the more difficult conversations, it makes an impact by empowering the agent.
So customer engagement can be improved by empowering agents with the right tools?
Exactly. It is not about replacing the agents, which is where many companies go wrong. You could make a case whereby you say, “Oh, let’s get rid of agent interactions to save money.” Well, you could try that. But the agent is still a valuable part of your customer experience and enabling them to solve problems more efficiently is going to have an enormous positive impact, just as it does for coordinating across silos will.
That is something we see happening more across the industry now — using journey analytics and orchestration to remove the silos around customer needs. So, for example, let’s say you are onboarding a new customer, analytics will show where the customer is in their journey.
More importantly, the automation/orchestration part can be used to connect marketing with the customer via email or text, whether it is a customer who needs information from the contact center or communication from a salesperson. We now have the technology to orchestrate that customer journey. It is early days, but it is fascinating to watch.
At Heart of the Customer, we with firms to understand their current-state journey. Often, they know the steps pretty well, but they don’t know what is essential to customers emotionally, which is where we come in. From there, we use journey mapping and journey orchestration to envision what it could look like. We explore how we can make it practical for the customer, make it easy, and create a tremendously emotional experience. From there, you can determine what you want your experience to be.
It is about how we can deliver visibility and delight customers. Domino’s and their pizza tracker is one example. Previously, you probably never thought about wanting to know when the dough was in the oven or about the delivery process. Then there is Amazon, which sends you push notifications as they deliver your package. They provide customers with a lens for something they never knew they wanted, and that ties into what customer experience is all about. Bad customer experience is, “what do you want me to do?” A good experience is about delivering what you want teams to innovate on.
Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
Related to what we spoke about here today, I recently wrote a blog post titled, “Good CX = A Great Business Case.” If I go back to when I worked for a Fortune 100 business, I had the world’s best business case right in front of me. We had customers who were not saying yes to hundreds of dollars in free health care money. All they had to do was sign a form, and they could receive it, but they didn’t. The best business case is that we could have made money, and they could have received the payment. All we had to do was make it simpler for them. If you want to make an impact in marketing or customer service, you can’t just start with the customer; you have to connect it with the business and show why it makes sense to invest.
There are a lot of blogs out there saying executives don’t believe in CX. Executives do believe, but asking them to write a blank check is not realistic. Take the time to say, “this is how we are going to make the business better.” Not enough people are doing that.
Originally published Jan 15, 2020, updated Dec 30, 2022