Customer-first, employee-driven business transformation
In this episode, we had the pleasure of hosting Greg Kihlstrom, a seasoned customer experience and business professional. He shared valuable insights from his latest book, "House of the Customer," a comprehensive guide to one-to-one customer-first employee-driven business transformation. Greg discussed the importance of creating personalized customer experience and the challenges organizations often face in doing so. He highlighted the importance of agile principles and starting small, iterating, and continuously learning. Greg also stressed the critical link between customer experience and employee experience, emphasizing the impact of high employee turnover and lack of empowerment on customer experience. He proposed the use of AI as a promising tool for improving both customer and employee experience and discussed the potential of predictive analytics in anticipating and serving customer needs better. In conclusion, Greg encouraged listeners to start small, focusing on one priority that could make a meaningful impact on their customers. He emphasized the importance of fostering a culture of experimentation and learning, which would be instrumental in the long run.
JASON: Well, Greg, it is so great to have you on the show today sharing your insights as a customer experience and business professional. Congratulations on your latest book, House of the Customer, a blueprint for one to one customer first employee driven business transformation. Greg, can you share with the audience a little bit about your new book?
GREG: Yeah, absolutely. And first, thanks so much for having me today. Looking forward to this. My latest book is called House of the customers. You mentioned what it is, you know, I've spent the past several years working with a few different types of companies and all mostly in the enterprise space, but I found that everyone is bought into the premise that, you know, customer experience is really important and personalization builds onto the existing customer experience, but not a lot of organizations, even very large ones really know how to put all of the pieces together that really create an omni channel personalized customer experience. There's lots of reasons for this, and we can certainly talk about some of them, but you know, everything from data disconnects to process disconnects to, you know, different departments or product lines or business units, not communicating well with one another. And so what I wanted to do with the book was just put together a blueprint of here are all of the different pieces that go together to create this house of the customer I call, which is really this customer centric organization that is really looking at everything in terms of how do we serve customers as well as possible. And I use the metaphor of the house, you know, with the roof and the foundation and the walls and the columns and all of that, it's just as an easy way, easy metaphor to not only explain everything, but also for people to understand, there may be a few of these elements that we're actually doing really well, most organizations are doing some of them, if not most of them, really well, but there are other areas that really need some improvement and some focus. And so kind of teases apart all those different aspects of people can focus on what really matters.
JASON: Yeah, I can remember a business school talking about the strategy house and customer was just a pillar of that. I love what you've done here where you've made the entire house around building those foundations for a sustainable customer experience. Before we dig deeper into the book. And there's some great insights that I'm hoping you'll be able to share with us. I was wondering if you could define the relationship in your terms between the customer experience and the employee experience.
GREG: Yeah, I think this is something that is so critical because a brand that focuses solely on the customer and doesn't take into account what the experience of its own employees are, is like they're going to have some issues in, if not in the immediate term, they're going to have some issues in the longterm. Because what we see is with high employee turnover, with lack of, you know, empowered employees that feel like they can be creative and be innovative, you're gonna see, even if a big investment is made and creating a good customer experience, it's not gonna be sustained, it's gonna, it may be good for a year, it may be good for months or something like that, but there's gonna be turnover because there's a terrible employee experience. And in addition to that, the customers themselves when they interact, you know, they're not just there's a lot of digital interactions these days, but they're not only interacting with the website or with social media in so many industries, their customers are interacting with frontline employees, or at least with human employees. And so when they see people that are disengaged and I'm either uninformed or , you know, not really interested in being informed in what they do that reflects on the customer experience as well. And that affects customer loyalty and lifetime value as well.
JASON: So you mentioned companies spending a lot of money sometimes a lot of money to try and deliver a program that no, ultimately doesn't succeed. I have a viewpoint here that you actually don't need to spend a lot of money to start improving the experience. You need to get absolutely crystal clear first and foremost around what the experience needs to look like, feel like, be and then how people in the organization understand that. But what's your take? Do you think everything needs to start with a big budget or can people get started in a simpler way?
GREG: Yeah. I mean, I'm a huge proponent of just Agile principles and some of the processes and methodologies that come from Agile. And so therefore, yes, start small, iterate. You don't know everything, you can't know everything to start. And so therefore you shouldn't create some big initiative. I mean, a lot of times. These something like three quarters of digital transformations fail because they scope things so big and they over engineer and they overthink things without getting real data. Same with customer experience initiatives, which are often tied up in those digital transformations. But it's so important that you start small and just get as much learning as you can and then spread out. It also makes sense, I mean, again, I work with a lot of enterprise customers and they simply can't in order to roll something out company wide. It takes so long and so many stakeholders and so many silos broken down and all that it would take months, if not years to roll something out completely. Teams as well. And then you start connecting these dots together. JASON: I love it. It's also much better to file after just a couple of days of trying something as opposed to spending years building a perfect solution that then it fails. So I'm absolutely with you there that agile approach to improving the experiences and helping companies break through enterprise companies are not nimble, unlike some of our small businesses out there. And so they do need that iterative approach that you talk about. So I really appreciate that. Now, in the book, there's three parts. The second part is all about the house of the customer. And you talk about five pillars. Do you mind sharing those five pillars with the audience?
GREG: Yeah, sure. So over, over everything, the roof, so to speak, over everything is the processes and systems that. They protect us when we don't necessarily know what to do. I work a lot on the operational side of these things as well. So, you know, those things are there to guide us and we don't have the answers. The foundation is the employee is the customer centric, um, culture of the organization. That's where the employee experience comes into play. And I call it an agile, customer centric culture because it does need to be nimble and be able to adapt. And employees need to be empowered to experiment and fail. And certainly, you know that's a big component of successful companies is leaders being okay with their team members failing and learning from those failures. And there really isn't such a thing as failure. If you do learn, in my opinion and then we've got the three pillars or, you know, in the hold up our house in the middle, which are really all about the customer. And so that's listening, understanding and serving the customer. So, you know, we collect data, and understand our customers. We then serve those customers, personalized experiences and content offers experience, all of those kinds of things. And then we listen to well, what are they doing and create this feedback loop. And then on either side, really the walls of the house, so to speak, are the business goals on the one side and then the business outcomes. Those really framed because at the end of the day, while the customer needs to be in the center of everything, a business, a for profit business does need to achieve its goals and it has stakeholders that it's beholden to. So, you know, really taking all of these things into account means that we're not dropping the ball on anything. You know, when we're taking care of the business, the business Is profitable and successful. The customers are happy and satisfied and they're served with what they want. And employees are taken care of as well. So it's kind of that win, win, win.
JASON: Yeah. I appreciate the call out there about delivering on the commercial side of the business. I think it's really easy for experienced professionals who sometimes get lost in the work and forget about the reality, the hard reality that whether you're a not for profit or a for profit business, you still need that income, that surplus, that revenue, the profit to continue to drive the business forward. And of course, to achieve the things that you want to achieve. So I absolutely love that. You wrap the house of customer up with you know, at that foundation, the customer centric culture and then at the top with the processes and systems to really balance out that it does take the entire pie and not just a singular focus to deliver that breakthrough that we all do all desire in our businesses. Now, I know a lot of people struggle with culture in their organizations. In fact, I would say 90 percent of the companies that I get to do some work with, especially the midsize enterprises, where they've been started by their founder and they've grown up and perhaps outgrown that startup culture, and then they just get a little bit lost. And they find culture really hard because they can't touch it, but they can feel it. Do you have some tips and hints for their audience around how to build that customer centric culture that you talk about?
GREG: Yeah, I mean, I think one of the things that you touched on is just the, how Culture evolves over time. And there's a framework and I didn't come up with the framework, but I rely on it a lot because I think it gives an interesting view into things. And it's called the competing values framework. And one of the premises of it is that there is no one single culture that any company should have. And even, you know, one comparing one company to another, but also a company to itself. It really depends on the point in time that you're at. And so just very briefly, it's a, you can look at it in terms of a quadrant where, you know, at the very top, there's the community and the collaboration and there's the innovation. And then at the bottom, there's the processes in the systems, kind of the hierarchy of things as well as the sales and market driven of aspects culture. And so to use the analogy of the startup, you know, when you're a startup, you're small team, probably very, you know, a tribe of people that's very passionate and committed. You're also very innovative. So you're at the very top of that. As time goes on, you kind of drop down and become, you got to make some sales.
GREG: So therefore you need to be market focused and sell some products or else you're going to, the lights are going to go off. And you also need to have a lot more process and you need to be a lot more process oriented. And so it's almost like gravity takes hold as time goes on. And that's okay that it does that, but you need to be aware that. There needs to be some elements of all four of those areas, no matter whether you're a startup or whether you're a, you know, couple decades into your experience as an organization. And so a lot of those companies that are sort of at that mid stage there, a little bit of each, but maybe in the wrong combination. And they're not, again, there's no one right answer. This is all, you know, the premise is that it there isn't one size fits all, but that it takes all of these in different combinations over time. And so being nimble, being agile, whether that's a big agile using scrum and safe and things like that, or just nimble, agile, you know, that's required because leaders and execs that companies need to understand, okay, you know what? Yeah. We're doing great. We're cohesive as a team, but man, we got to sell some more stuff or else, you know, again, we're not going to meet our targets. And so we need to make this shift and not lose our culture, but just make a shift in one direction or the other. So long way of saying, you know, it's a constantly evolving kind of mix.
JASON: So there's many ways that you can measure customer experience or the customer's transactions. Whether it be customer satisfaction or touch point survey or NPS or CSAT or customer efforts, it's probably do a whole show for hours just on the list, let alone defining them. How do you measure culture though? How do you know that you're achieving the culture you're trying to?
GREG: Yeah, I mean, I think you can measure it in similar ways to customer, you know, customer engagement, customer experience. And, and what I would say is wiith both there are, you know, there's leading indicators, there's lagging indicators. I mean, the lagging indicators like the survey results and everything, they're very beneficial, particularly as relative measures over time. They're less beneficial as a real time. Measure of things simply because they're after the fact and lagging, it requires both to measure that. And so, you know, if we're talking about employee experience, we need to measure some type of employee, whether it's employee NPS or employee satisfaction or things, but also we need to see, we need to have more real time quantitative measures of what's actually going on in the business. How, you know, how engaged, how, productive, all of those types of things, you know, are employees. And when possible, there are ways to measure motivation even, and other types of things, and we can get creative on that and there's tools to measure. Like team cohesion and things, you know, it it can really vary depending on the industry and the the makeup of the teams but I think It's nice to have one metric that is just sort of the go to of like, okay our nps is up or down, but that rarely tells the full story so I I always like to have at least a few things to look at look at them over time see the the dips and the spikes and again, not, not just have a snapshot because it's hard to see that, but, you know, it takes several things. Really going on over time to really get a full picture.
JASON: Well, when you're looking at the financial health of an organization, you don't just look at the profit. You look at, you know, some key indicators within those numbers, right? So not surprising that it's no different for employee or customer experience for that matter. Now, I have a couple of questions that I'd love to get to, but before we do so, how about you share with the audience, Greg, details about your podcast?
GREG: Oh, sure. Sure. Yeah. So I have a podcast called the Agile Brand with Greg Kihlstrom. We are in year five. So almost in our sixth year here, 400 episodes. So I talk with a combination of business. So enterprise leaders, as well as marketing technology and customer experience platform, leaders and innovators and really talk about, try to get practical with it and talk about what does it take to create a great customer experience? What does it take to do measurement? Well, AI is certainly, you know, something that's in the conversation a lot these days, but really not just AI as hype, but all, but how do we actually do better work, reach customers better and create greater customer lifetime value.
JASON: So you mentioned that favorite acronym of everyone these days, AI. How can we use AI to improve the customer and employee experience?
GREG: Yeah, I mean, there's, you know, there are some things where AI gets a lot of oxygen these days, you know, in conversations. And I think of the things that have been hyped in years of late, I would say it's actually one that warrants at least some of that hype. You know, I certainly, there are some things that maybe have a few years yet to really get practical. But there, you know, there, one of the great things about AI is that It augments what humans are able to do. You know, I think in terms of thinking about AI replacing jobs, yes, that will happen and it has happened in some to some degree. But the exciting part for me is how it's going to help us do our jobs better and help humans focus on what humans do better, which is being creative, tying abstract concepts together to create strategies versus AI and machines, they process a lot of data very well and get insights out of data that a human could never. You know, themselves probably ever, if not, taking a lot of time to do. And so, you know, AI can help by looking through vast amounts of data and starting to see trends and okay. Our customers keep asking for this, or they keep saying that, or, helping us create more personalized content and generating that, you know, it takes a lot of time and effort to create. Multiple variations of anything. Once you start getting to the, you know, the one to one personalization, we're not most organizations, if not all organizations that are not quite there, like one to one omni channel. Personalizing everything, but generative AI and other AI tools are able to help us personalize things a lot more easily. And we know from seeing statistics that when something is more relevant and more personalized to someone, they're going to respond to it better and likely stay more loyal and things like that. And so AI can help in all those ways. I think there's many other ways where, you know, predictive analytics is another area of AI, which is really exciting to me. I'm figuring out what is the next best action or offer or experience for a customer and really anticipating, not just reacting to and personalizing something based on what happened, but looking at behavior and saying, okay, you know what, Greg did this, this, and this. He must be in the market for that. And let's, we would love to sell someone this one product, but they're really taking the actions that make it seem like they would benefit from this other product. So let's do that. You know, we make money either way, as long as we're selling both products, let's push someone to the thing that's going to benefit them the most. And sure enough, they're gonna reward us when we do that.
JASON: Yeah, I think there's some real interesting things being done right now with AI in terms of that predictability, helping organizations meet the customer in the conversation at the right point, as opposed to what so many organizations do and just. Spray a message to heaps of people hoping that it hits enough people at the right time. And the other part that you touched on was just the analytics piece. Quite often organizations will put out a survey, they'll get the results back and they go, Oh, I should have asked this question or I should have done this. And ofcourse, with the use of AI Can't necessarily get perfect, but you can get a deeper insight into some of those what ifs, then you possibly could do, just with a team and and not the right questions being asked, right? So certainly interesting times in the industry and that AI tool is there to help. Now I'm wondering, do you have a memory of the best customer experience that you ever had and what made it the best?
GREG: Wow, yeah, that's a good one. You know, I without a specific example, I guess, you know, the general thing is, you know, I'm very loyal to a few companies that I use, you know, whether it's, I travel a lot and so I'm very loyal to, you know, to hotel, a hotel company, airline, you know, stuff like that. And, you know, where the reason I'm loyal is because I consistently get what I need and they're thinking one step ahead of me when they don't. And I have switched brands before because they, I kept being like, listen, I keep asking for the same thing and it's like, I have to say it the first time, every time, you know, when I go into a hotel, I like to stay on a Floor that's high off the ground or whatever. Like, why do I have to keep telling you that versus when I walk in, I don't even ask for that anymore. I just, I know it's going to be delivered. So, you know, it's that anticipating what I want and need and delivering that. So, you know, that's, I think that there's a few examples where that consistently happens and when it doesn't happen, I'll give a brand one or two tries maybe. And then I'll, you know, then I'll move on and find somebody else because the technology is there. I know because I work on that side of things. You know, I know it's available. I know. I know my preferences are in a database somewhere. Just why can't you connect the dots? So, you know, and I've moved banks for that reason to, you know, the classic, the classic example is, you know, you call up the bank and you have to give your account number 10 times. You know, I would say I'm a, like to name names, I guess, you know, I'm a big MX customer because. I've even been an early adopter of some of their products, which were not quite a hundred percent ready for prime time, but I was an early adopter of them and they respond to what I, you know, I have an experience and I say, Hey, like, it would be really nice if you did X, Y, Z, and you know, what, 30, 60 days later, that feature is in the product. Like, that's really amazing to have that kind of feedback and listening to your customers. Again, not everything that I say gets implemented, of course, but it's great to know that someone is actually listening, not just some chat bot somewhere and it goes into the ether, right?
JASON: Yeah. I think that is important. So often companies ask for user feedback, customer feedback, and they don't necessarily close the loop on what happens with that feedback. I'm not suggesting you have to go back and say one on one to each person. You said X and we did Y. But how can you go back to those that you did get feedback from and say, Hey. This is the result of your collective feedback, which may include your specific recommendation, or it may not, but at least it closes that loop and creates that deeper relationship. And what I heard from you there was not your airlines loyalty program or your hotel brand of choice loyalty program. You talked about consistency, a trusted experience. You knew you trusted that they're going to get it right. More than not and when they don't get it right, it's such an unusual thing that you can move on from it.
GREG: Well, and they made up for it when they didn't as well, you know, and that's the other thing. It's like, you know, it took a different bank that I won't name, you know, it took me giving them a one, you know, on the net promoter score for them to call me with an issue, you know, like that's the only time I've actually gotten a call from that bank regarding a transaction that I've given them feedback and yet, you know, here again, I moved to a different company and I chat with them and, you know, I get almost immediate response to my request for a feature. So it's, you know, it's night and day.
JASON: Yeah, being listened to and valued as a customer. So of course your book, your new book, House of the Customer is available everywhere where books are sold in the show notes, there will be a link to the Amazon listing of the book. Before we do wrap up today, Greg, what's one thing our audience members could start doing virtually straight away to improve the experiences that they deliver.
GREG: Yeah, I mean, I think what I'd recommend is just start looking at, you know, looking at the feedback that your customers are giving and, you know, make one priority to start with. And, you know, don't try to boil the ocean, don't try to do everything. Pick one priority that's going to make a meaningful impact on your customers, create a test around that and just get it done. You know, don't overthink it, but make it something that's small enough to get done. Quickly, but meaningful enough to have an impact and to help your team learn and just start by doing that. And when you do that and you do that kind of thing over and over again, you're going to have a culture of experimentation and learning and, you know, it will help so much in the long run.
JASON: I love that. Just start working on one meaningful piece of work that will make a difference to your customers or your employees. And of course, experiment. Don't have to. You don't have to have all the answers at the beginning, but you do need to listen and act on that feedback. Greg, it's been an absolute pleasure having you on the show today. We will share all of your social media contact details in the show notes for our listeners that want to follow your great work. But before we leave any closing remarks.
GREG: No, just, you know, thanks so much for having me here. Really, really enjoyed talking about this and, and yeah, it's, you know, it, while I wrote a book about the entire scope of creating great experiences, it really, it can start small and it can start where you are and with your team and you know, one thing at a time. So, you know, really, really look forward to getting feedback. I love to get feedback from anybody who reads the book and. Always, I always try to learn from feedback as well. So thanks. Thanks again.
JASON: Oh, fantastic. Thanks, Greg. And thanks to everyone who's listened or shared this episode.