Welcome to Experience TV, a LIVE show on social channels about the economic revolution we’re living through, the Experience Economy, where brands compete on the quality of their customer experiences.
Episode 6 featured the “godmother of Customer Experience,” Jeanne Bliss, founder of CustomerBliss. Together, we dug into the findings of a cross-generational research report on customer preferences.
It turns out there’s no magic formula! CX is not one size fits all.
Meet the “godmother of CX” Jeanne Bliss
After a quick game of “Italian City or Pastry,” I asked Bliss about the state of customer experience.
Her perspective comes as a pioneer in this field, in fact she’s been called the “godmother of customer experience” and a chief architect of the modern CX movement.
She’s led CX initiatives at brands like Lands’ End, Coldwell Banker, Allstate, Mazda, and Microsoft, and hundreds more through her global consulting firm, CustomerBliss. You may have seen her on a keynote stage around the world or read one of her many books.
2020, the year brands found their humanity
“I think we found our humanity,” Bliss said. “We figured out a way to be really genuine and pure and cut through the corporate veneer to let our humanness, frailties, and vulnerabilities crack the third wall. Those are things I’ve been prompting CX leaders to do forever. 2020 forced us into our own humanity,” she said, describing the transformative year that was 2020.
How to stay relevant in customers’ lives during COVID
Brands must move from validating to understanding, according to Bliss. She noted, “So much in our arsenal of tools is about validating, like those surveys that ask, ‘how are we doing?'”
She continued, “Now, you’ve got to move to understand how your customers are doing and what they need. That will put you in a whole different realm as people, as a company, and as humans trying to help them improve their lives.
What I hope is that we find a way not to lose our humanity in our leadership and that it becomes part of our everyday regular behavior. That something that nudged us in a really horrible time in our life can be a lesson that we pack into our everyday behavior as leaders. And if that happens, then maybe this horrible time, we’ll have had a purpose.”
Customers are united across generations
I highly recommend this study conducted in partnership between CustomerBliss and Oracle Customer Experience, “One Size Doesn’t Fit All, The Subjective, Emotional, and Sometimes Contradictory State of Customer Experience.”
Though officially conducted in “the before times” (pre-COVID), the findings still served as a kind of preview for what would matter most during the pandemic.
Note: This isn’t a study that focuses on the differences between generations. (There’s plenty of misinformation out there about this, resulting in stereotypes that actually fail to serve us in meaningful ways.)
As Bliss said,
“The touchstone of humanity and who we are as people is pretty foundational.”
The study examined the preferences of buyers across all age groups, and according to the findings, plenty unites all consumers, regardless of age:
- 82% of buyers are disappointed today by brands
- 33% will walk away from a company and never return after one bad experience
- 41% will pay as much as 20% more for impressive customer experiences
It’s not about the sweater
Bliss revealed what we’re talking about with customer experience from her time at Lands’ End, where she originated the brand’s first-ever Chief Customer Officer role.
“It wasn’t about the sweater you received. It was about how quickly it came, the note that was in your box. If we were out of stock on the sweater, [it was about] how quickly we told you. When we created a kids’ business, [CX was about] how we shipped you a large box that you could cut like a horse and ride the box around the house.”
For Lands’ End, CX became a way to differentiate the brand from its competition.
“A lot of people sell sweaters, but a lot of them didn’t tell you about going up into the Himalayas and plucking mohair from the underbelly of sheep and how it was sheared. That’s the thing that really connects with the human at the end of your decision or the end of that UPS box.”
The best experiences are memorable
For Bliss, this experience created the most important result of CX: memories.
“Experience is about memory, it’s about the human connection, and what glues you to a company. There’s joy in recognizing that our job is memory creation.”
For a marketer like me, this idea resonated, loudly. Steve Jobs always said that “the chance to make a memory is the essence of brand marketing.”
What kind of memory are we creating for buyers through our experiences?
And, who’s responsible for that?
Who’s responsible for CX?
One finding noted in the study was that the abundance of consumer information has left brands scrambling to integrate and make sense of siloed data sets.
I asked Bliss about this siloed nature and question of responsibility and ownership. Her response:
“The words ‘responsible’ and ‘ownership’ both drive me crazy.” (Oops!)
She highlighted the need for groups of people inside the organization to unite from within, bringing it together to enable the company to focus, recognize, and solve from one version of the truth, rather than every silo focusing exclusively on their own KPIs.
She noted that journey maps, a frequently-used CX tool, may actually be the culprit for disjointed experiences.
“When you think about a journey map, it’s actually what you want to get from the customer,” said Bliss.
Instead, she notes, brands should leverage goal mapping. “A goal is what your customer needs to get from you as a result of doing business with you,” she said. “It needs to be built from the standpoint of what the customer needs to go through.”
How Bombardier busted silos
Bliss recently consulted with a division of Bombardier that sells private plans to individuals. While building out the map, executives said, “Let’s talk about the parts and service experience. Two silos, really strong silos.”
Bliss replied, “Gosh, do you think the customer wants to have a parts and service experience? No, let’s bring the silos together. We’re going to deliver a keep-me-flying experience.”
This experience involved pilots, clean planes, a concierge, and the right parts and service not to sell them, but to keep customers in the air.
Critically, the team created shared metrics that helped to fuse these silos together:
- How many days are people in the air?
- How many are there on the ground when they don’t want to be?
- How long does it take us to get back up?
See more regarding the need for metrics that matter for CFOs from Experience TV episode 1 with Allocadia’s Sam Melnick.
The question Bliss triggered for me is—to who do these metrics matter?
“We’re all mixed up. We think the more we measure [the better], and we define success based on actions. We’re creating splinter projects, where everybody looks at the dashboard and does one or two offshoot things applied to their silo versus figuring out one goal that’s important,” said Bliss.
CX must move beyond problem-solving
I asked Bliss to explain a gap noted in the study. The research found 70% of buyers feel it’s important for brands to tailor their experiences based on the data being collected about them.
But, only 15% expect brands to live up to that promise!
Bliss explains that the problem is, many CX programs are survey-driven or focused on “whack-a-mole problems.”
“If you think CX is about problem solving, that’s going to get you to parity and hopefully help with your respect delivery engine. It may or may not turn you into an admired company, which the ones that are getting a bigger piece of the pie and are able to charge that premium because you can’t imagine your life without those kinds of companies.”
What Bliss recommends measuring
Bliss recommends the C-suite get involved in an organization’s CX strategy—and that often requires reorienting executives around the role of a customer.
“One of the first things we do with companies is to call customers ‘assets.’ You really need to understand your incoming and outgoing customers and care about the why, because that’s the math that means the most. Your survey is great, but it [measures] after the fact.”
She suggests asking questions like:
- As a result of your customer experiences, did you keep more customers than you lost?
- Do you keep higher quality customers than you lost?
- Did your current customer base increase their consumption and their connection with you?
“If you’re not measuring closeness and the in and out of the loss, you’re just looking at acquisition, and one customer in isn’t equal to one customer lost. We lose the importance of the customer as an asset, and that’s why we’re here. We’re here to improve those lives.”
How do you want to be remembered?
Bliss left us with the lesson of “three blocks long.”
“My dad had a Buster Brown shoe store, one store,” she explained. “While he wasn’t the richest person in the world, he was the most prosperous in terms of his customers and how he treated them, because he became a part of the story of people’s lives. He was there for the first pair of shoes. He was there for the first communion. He was there for the first dance recital, you know, whatever it was.
When he retired, a line of people three blocks long stood to say goodbye to him. They said that their life wouldn’t be the same, because they couldn’t imagine buying shoes anywhere else.
What companies don’t do is figure out their three blocks long. How do you want to be remembered? How will you operationalize and earn that? And how will you lead to reinforce that behavior?”
So many of us in this field have learned so much from the pioneering work and unmistakable heart of Jeanne Bliss, and I expect that we’ll continue to do so as the industry evolves and changes.
That’s undoubtedly part of her “three blocks long.”