In Vitally’s series, ‘17 Questions on the Future of Customer Success’, we’ll chat with Customer Success professionals, from Customer Success Managers to Chief Customer Officers, and everyone in between, to gain insight into both their individual roles and the ever-evolving Customer Success space.
In this episode, we’re chatting all things Customer Experience with Nicholas Zeisler, Fractional Chief Customer Officer, CX Strategist, and author of the new book, ‘We’re Doing CX Wrong… And How to Get It Right’.
Meet Nicholas—CXPA Certified Customer Experience Professional, Certified Scrum Master, Westerner, and Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force Reserves. Nicholas is based in Denver, Colorado, and has been doing process improvement for decades.
About Zeisler Consulting
Nicholas is the Principal of Zeisler Consulting where he explores ways to help his clients build and execute their strategies through process improvement and Customer-centricity. He offers a structured approach to helping clients by ensuring alignment of CX Strategy to Organizational Strategy, developing and institutionalizing a dynamic VoC program, cultivating a strong and enduring Customer-centric culture, and leveraging Process Engineering skills and techniques to drive CX improvements. If you’re looking for a partner in CX development, reach out to Nicholas today.
Q&A on the Future of Customer Success (Extended Cut)
Vitally Team: What’s your ‘before work’ ritual?
Nicholas Zeisler: Every morning, my partner and I sit in the library at the front of our house and we read the paper. We sit with the dog who loves her food, have some coffee, a couple little rituals, do my DuoLingo, and then we're off to the races after breakfast.
VT: Can you explain the ‘Brand Alignment Score’?
NZ: I was searching for a better way to do customer experience, and that starts with a better way to do Voice of the Customer (VoC). Because the concept of net promoter score (NPS), which is good in and of itself, doesn't really answer the question about whether or not we're delivering on CX. The whole purpose of CX is to make sure that what you say you're all about, which is to say your brand promise, is being experienced by your customers, when they interact with your brand. Net Promoter Score doesn't answer that. So I invented the brand alignment score, which asks your customers, ‘Hey, how are we doing on delivering that brand promise?’ That brand promise could be luxury, it could be discount, it could be ease of use. Tell your customers what your brand promise is, and then ask them, ‘Hey, are we delivering on that? And if not, where can we do better?’
VT: What would you consider to be an ideal Customer Experience department/organization and/or Customer-Centric org?
NZ: Actually, this goes right to the heart of what I offer as a product and as a service as a fractional Chief Customer Officer. The Office of the customer, headed by the Chief Customer Officer, should consist of a customer insights organization, a process engineering organization, and a CX culture organization.
Each one of these has their specific responsibilities. Obviously, insights is all about the voice of the customer, whether that be through through surveys, or interviews, walking in the customer shoes, all sorts of programs, you should be leaning on your customer support and Customer Success organizations to get information from them on what your customers are calling in with issues about, then you turn that into action. Really the most important part of your customer experience function should be the process engineering, which is doing something with the insights that come out of that first organization.
So, the process engineering group is filled with black belts and green belts and Kaizen experts and project managers and change management experts. These folks who are going to come into your processes, your organization, and fix and change the things that you do to improve them.
And of course, you can't have good customer experience without a good CX culture. So, that third organization is all about making sure that all of your employees are enabled and empowered, and encouraged to take care of your customers. Enabled with the tools that they need to do their job to take care of your customers. Empowered with the authority to actually use those so that everything isn't an escalation. And encourage. Let me tell you, when you listen to your customers—to that customer insights, organization, act on it through your process engineering, you're encouraging [them] because your employees are seeing you walk the talk, which is so much more powerful than banners, and T-shirts. Banners in T-shirts as well, that's what your CX culture organization does.
VT: If you could wave a magic wand and automate one part of your work what would it be?
NZ: I would automate myself to actually follow my schedule. When I have calls, when I have appointments with other people, it's a piece of cake. I always make those, sometimes maybe a minute late. But when I commit myself to do something offline, that I am obligated to do, that sometimes slides because other stuff comes up. You know, email and life gets in the way, gotta take the dog for a walk, that sort of thing. Keeping myself on schedule is the trickiest thing that I do every day.
VT: One thing in your tech stack you can’t live without?
NZ: As I was saying, I'm very bad at keeping myself on track and on my own calendar. So I'm an independent consultant. I'm a fractional, I don't have much of a stack, but one thing I use constantly and actually keep open in another browser is Google Calendar. That's the only thing that, to whatever extent I stay on track, I stay on track by checking that out.
Voice of the Customer Programs & Building Out a Customer Insights Program
VT: What are some initiatives and/or tactics an organization can roll out to enhance their Voice of the Customer (VoC) program beyond surveys?
NZ: I often say that if clients of mine have only one opportunity, and one choice for VoC, I don't even recommend surveys. It's walking in the customer's shoes. You have no better way to gain insight into what your customers are experiencing then by doing it yourself. Be a customer and see what that is like. Obviously, if you're doing surveys, I'm not saying don't do surveys, naturally use brand alignment score as your top line KPI, but if you're looking to enhance it, walk in the customer's shoes. Without a doubt, the best way to gain that insight.
VT: What are the biggest mistakes a company can make when it comes to Customer Experience?
NZ: The biggest mistake is not doing anything with all the great work you get out of your customer insights program. These things cost a lot of money, and if you're partnering with somebody, or if you're farming it out, or even if you're conducting your own interviews and your own surveys, it's a lot of work.
The worst thing you can do with all of that work is to plot it as a point on the far right of your NPS chart and then move on with your life.
You have to act on it. Otherwise, you really don't even have a CX program, you have a VoC program, which isn't useless. But that's the point. You have to act on it, improve what you do, based on the insight that you get from your customer insights and Voice of the Customer programming. You wouldn't throw a dinner party, ask people if they have food allergies or food preferences, and then just say, ‘thank you, your input is important to us’, and then cook whatever the heck you want for dinner. It's just as insulting, and just as much of a waste of your energy to have a VoC program if you're not going to act on the insights that you get from it.
VT: What’s inspiring you in life right now?
NZ: It's fall here in Colorado and the seasons are changing, and ski season is coming up. I get to spend time up in the mountains with my epic pass and with my pass to Copper Mountain, and, of course, online with my clients all day long. But getting outside in this beautiful state where I live, Colorado, is always an inspiration, and it makes work actually easier because you can concentrate on work, no matter where you are.
VT: Advice on how to keep remote CS teams enabled, empowered, and enthused to deliver on their company’s promise to its customers?
NZ: I wouldn't say that your employees’ location has anything to do with whether or not you're able to deliver on enabling, empowering, and encouraging them because, quite frankly, those tools that you're enabling them with should be in existence, and they're almost certainly digital in nature.
They should be empowered and that's a policy thing, shouldn't make any difference where they're working. Encouraging, well, they can see you taking action to improve your processes based on your customers’ insights, whether or not they're working in an office, or whether they're working remotely from home shouldn't make any difference. In fact, if you're doing it right, and if you're getting CX right, the fundamentals of a good, solid, robust, and meaningful, impactful CX organization shouldn't make any difference where it's being done.
VT: What are 2 or 3 strategic CX initiatives you're hoping to carry out this year?
NZ: Well, they haven't been defined just yet, because I'm always looking for new clients and new organizations that are looking to install CX within their organization as a function.
So what I offer as a fractional Chief Customer Officer is that CEO, that organization that's looking to “do CX” to come in staff and start executing on CX as a function, as an operation within their organizations.
What's so great about doing that as a fractional is that I never know who the next client is going to be. I could work in tech, I could work in oil and gas, I could work in medical. It's always interesting to see how CX manifests itself in different industries within different organizations. I always learn a little bit more every time I have a new experience, and I'm always looking for those clients who are willing to give it a shot and try somebody who isn't already in their organization to build out CX within their company.
VT: What is one concrete step a (more junior) CX practitioner could take today to set themselves up for a CX leadership position down the road?
NZ: If you're doing CX right, you need, and should have, a broad array of experiences. Get out of your industry, get out of your company, get out of your comfort zone, and try and experience new things.
The fundamentals of customer experience are basically the same wherever you go. Listen to your customers by finding out what they think about your brand promise and how you're living out that brand promise, act on improving what you do based on those customer insights, and then empower and enable and encourage your customers or your clients or your employees rather, to live out that that approach that works everywhere you go. But what you don't get in one place is that broad experience from a bunch of different industries. So get out there and try new things and and learn about how to impact and how to implement CX in a bunch of different frames.
VT: One item on your desk (or in your home office) that you cannot live without?
NZ: Well, I'm in Colorado, so whether I'm at the desk at home, or whether I'm at the desk up here in the mountains, I have to have my chapstick. In fact, I never travel anywhere without one in my pocket. They are strewn throughout the house, and if you are a Westerner like I am, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
VT: What are the Customer Experience trends you’re excited about/to see continue in 2022?
NZ: Well I'm excited about the reception that the approach that I'm offering has received. It's a little bit different. It doesn't talk about ROI, it doesn't talk about how you're going to suddenly be selling tons more of what you sell, because you’re “customer centric” or “doing CX.”
What is different about that is that we concentrate on our brand promise, we concentrate on the whole purpose, the whole reason, mission, vision, values, corporate principles that we are in business in the first place to do and then we sit, we center our entire CX effort around realizing that, and delivering that.
When we make it such an intrinsic part of what we do and who we are, we sell ourselves on doing CX. I've been surprised, first of all, that that's not what the majority of CX people do, and how they do it, and the reason for doing it. Even more exciting is the reception of my book, which is coming out in digital soon, and audio as well soon, so go on out to Amazon and buy it, but it's really opened my eyes that there definitely is a market out there for people who want to do CX in this new, different way, and I'm excited to see it and I can't wait to help even more organizations build it out this way.
Building a Customer-Centric Culture
VT: What are some key identifiers of a good customer-centric culture?
NZ: Well, first of all, an identifier that CX is going to work in an organization is that the organization is so dedicated to it that they actually, no kidding, make an office of the customer and they imbue the chief customer officer with the authority to improve and change and fix things within the organization. Nothing says dedication to CX more vocally and more visibly than actually dedicating yourself to putting in place an office of the customer.
Then, as an important indicator within that, you have robustly staffed a team of people who go into the organization and improve and change the things that you do as guided by those customer insights that come in. So simply saying that you love your customers, simply having a Chief Customer Officer and hoping that that person is going to use his or her diplomacy and plays well with other to make things happen. No no, your CEO has to give your Chief Customer Officer/Chief Experience Officer, whatever you want to call that person, has to give that person the authority to actually act on the things that you learn out of your customer insights program.
VT: In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception around Customer Experience?
I think the biggest misconception around customer experience is that it's everybody's job.
Of course, there's a cliche that if something is everybody's job, then its nobody's job. And that really is the case when your customer experience program means we've got this Chief Customer Officer who kind of runs a survey and gets us all on board and tries to rally the team around being customer-centric and has this or that program or project running, but doesn't really turn into anything tangible and meaningful and actionable.
In order to be successful, your customer experience program has to be all centered around taking action on what you have learned by listening to your customers and walking in their shoes. Otherwise, you're wasting your time.
VT: If you were not working in Customer Experience what kind of work would you be in?
NZ: Well, I would still probably be in Process Engineering. That's kind of how I got into customer experience in the first place, which is, I think, probably why I have a different perspective on it.
I'm Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, I've been doing process improvement for decades as it is anyway, I would just go back to that. But how inspiring it is to put those skills and those talents and leverage those tools, not just for streamlining our business processes, but also making our customers lives easier and making their interactions with us better representative of our brand promise.
Quite frankly, if I weren't in customer experience, I like to flatter myself that maybe I'd have invented it. And this is what it would have been all along anyway.
Choosing a Chief Customer Officer
VT: What’s an obscure trait companies should look for in candidates when hiring a Chief Customer Officer?
NZ: It's a great question because I actually got into an argument with somebody on LinkedIn the other day about it. I firmly believe that one of the best traits of a chief customer officer is somebody who comes from outside not only your organization, but if possible if you're comfortable with it outside of your industry all together because The best way to take an outsider's view, which is to say a customer's view of how you're interacting with your customers is not to be blinded by. Well, that's how we've always done it. And as great as it is in your organization to promote from within, as great as it is to have somebody who hits the ground running, because he or she knows all of your processes, and all the players and all the moving parts, it's so much better when somebody is representing the customer, to be somebody who is a customer rather than somebody who's lived and breathed your processes all along. It's amazing to me that that's a controversial topic. But that that I think, is surprising.
VT: You just published a book! Can you share what CX professionals can expect to learn from it?
NZ: I think the main point of the book that people who are in CX can gain from it is the acknowledgement and the appreciation for the fact that CX, if it's done properly, truly is centered around the customer, and it isn't centered on ROI.
The whole purpose, the whole reason that we do CX, and the foundation of the work that we should be doing is to advance our brand promise. If we start thinking about CX from that perspective, it changes everything we do. We're no longer making promises, pie in the sky revenue forecasts or sales assurances. What we're talking about is now CX being something that's intrinsic to, and fundamental to, the very way we do business.
If you want to say your customer-centric, start changing what you do and your processes and your policies and your systems based on what your customers are telling you. Let me tell you, the revenue and the sales will surely follow. But you're not going to wonder about why your numbers don't necessarily line up because it's part of who you are and what you do.