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Future of Work: Staying Ahead of Customer Expectations with Jeannie Walters

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About the Episode

What do some of the most successful businesses in the world—like Ikea, Amazon, and Chewy—all have in common? They never stop innovating around the customer experience. On this episode, Jeannie Walters, CEO of Experience Investigators, explains why prioritizing the customer experience is key to building a lasting business. Jeannie has spent the last 20 years investigating which CX strategies work to deliver higher ROI, improve employee retention, and minimize customer churn. Listen now to hear her expert advice, including how to surprise and delight customers in the digital age and the best ways to use customer feedback.

Episode Highlights

Meet Our Guest

For more than 20 years, Jeannie Walters has been dedicated to creating meaningful moments and real results. As the Founder and Chief Experience Officer of Experience Investigators, Jeannie has helped organizations—from small businesses to Fortune 500s like Verizon and Allstate—to “Create Fewer Ruined Days for Customers™.” She is a TEDx speaker, a founding member of CXPA, cohost of the top-rated Crack the Customer Code podcast, and a four-time Linkedin Learning instructor whose courses have been watched by more than 200,000 online learners.

Episode Transcript

Jeannie: if we are not innovating as an organization around the customer experience, then we are already behind. There are people right now planning the device of yours. What happens is we get stuck in our industry and we think, well, everybody does it this way, or this is the way it's always been done.

And that is really backwards thinking in today's age, because we need to stay ahead with what experience will drive our customers to think this is providing even more value than I expected. 

Lindsay: I’m going to go ahead and make an assumption that you've been in this situation before you're on hold with a customer service rep. It's your third time calling in probably two or three days. And you're so angry that you almost were off using that company ever again, customer experience can ruin your.

Or it can make you a lifelong customer. Jeannie Walters is CEO at Experience Investigators Where her motto is creating fewer ruined days for customers. She helps organizations clarify track and improve customer experience. And this episode, Jeannie shares how customer expectations are changing, how to break out of the typical customer data stereotypes, and why personalized experiences are the new table stakes. Here's Jeannie to give us some insight into experience investigators approach.

 let's get started with you telling us a little bit about what you do with your company experience investigating.

Jeannie Sure. Yeah, we do a couple of things. We have a side of the business that helps leaders. Our goal is to empower leaders, to create fewer ruin days for their customers. And that's actually the mission of our company. And so we do that through workshops and coaching and consulting and journey mapping and things like that.

And then we also really provide a lot of education. Through content. So we have articles and videos and live sessions and all of that for all the people out there who are starting off, or just trying to figure out what is this customer experience thing. 

Lindsay: I love that motto of create fewer ruined days for your customers. I mean, that's at the core of customer experience, right? So what are, what do you recommend people do to be able to create fewer ruin days for their customers?

Jeannie Well, I think I'm a big believer that, you know, what we have to treat customer experience like any other part of the business. And what I mean by that is we can't talk about it and say, it's a priority and not provide resources to it and not have a clear definition of what success looks like and not really.

Invest in that part of the business. So I always say it's a, it's a mindset, it's a strategy. And it's a discipline. So the first thing that people have to do is really understand why are they doing this? I. really loved the idea of a customer experience, mission statement, because that helps everybody in the organization understand what is our north star here?

Why are we doing this for our customers? What are we really trying to do? It's not about selling products. It's about what they do with those products. What, how do we make our customer's lives better?

Lindsay: I love that. And when you were talking about those kind of higher level goals, I think a lot of times people don't even understand what that actually means. Right? They say it, but they have no idea what the context is around. And I think you do something that can help with that. I know that you do something, uh, customer experience investigation.

Can you talk a little bit about that?

Jeannie Sure. Yeah. This is kind of the premise of all we do It's, it's about understanding that when we're on the inside of an organization, it's really easy to make assumptions about what's happening. We have process flows and we have org charts and we have all of these things that basically say, this is what should be happening for customers.

But if you don't approach it as an investigator, as somebody who. Is curious about it Then yo, you're going to miss opportunities to improve the experience so that you get the business results that we're all looking for. Higher retention, more referrals, happier customers, all of those things. So, what we do is we literally approach it from that investigation standpoint. I've, I've done things like sit in a bank lobby all day and just watch, how do the tellers interact with the customers? as well as. A couple of days of ride alongs with HVAC repair guys so that I could walk in with them and see, what are they walking into? What are customers saying to them?

And by bringing that kind of beginners attitude to it, you can find so much about the customer experience that is really either easy to fix, or you don't even know that it's broken. That's when things really become clear of, you know what we know, we trained everybody to do it this way, but guess what? It's not working for them. So they have all created their own workarounds, which creates all this friction for the customer.

So connecting those dots is part of it too. How do you connect the dots within the customer journey? Both inside the organization and outside.

in the last few years, especially because with the onset of the pandemic and everything we've gone through, I mean, there has been such a shift now to what customers have access to and what they expect.

Lindsay: So I love to hear a little bit about what you see customers wanting and how those have shifted so rapidly over the CRA the over the last few years.

Jeannie Yeah, I think this is like a two-sided coin because yes, expectations shifted because they had to, but I also think that. Some organizations realize like, oh, we, we didn't, we didn't think that baby boomers would shop online. Right? Like, and then they're like, oh, once you show them how to do it, they are often running.

And so I think what, what happened was there were some organizations out there who had these really big complex plans and they called it digital transformation. what happened was a lot of those plans that were five to 10 years, they were condensed into six weeks in some cases. they realized if we don't serve our customers right now in this moment, We're doomed 

It became something where they could say, we know exactly what we're doing. We know what success looks like, and we're going to do this on behalf of our customers and the ones who did this really well were the, the, you know, traditionally in-person, um, experiences that. Came online that said you could order your groceries.

That would think through all of the steps of that journey and really make that available to people. I think that the organizations that did really well, not only thought about the digital side of things, but then walked through that entire journey and thought about it.

For example, if you ordered food from a restaurant and you went to pick it up, well, where do you park? How do you know what to do when you get there? Who do you call all of those things, you have to think through the entire customer journey. All of those questions of reassurance. That's what really came out of this. We had to reassure people in different ways. But reassurance is one of the most important parts of the customer journey.

Lindsay: Yeah, it's really seeing people holistically. Right. 

I do want to touch on something you brought up in the very beginning of that, and you talked about generational things and I think businesses sometimes can get stuck in these personas I wonder how do you help organizations break out? The mold sometimes that they get stuck in of, like you said, they just think that, oh, baby boomers don't want anything digital. They just want things the way they are. How do you break out of that commonplace thinking and just seeing people, like you said, in one factor,

Jeannie Yeah, that's a great question. when we talk about these generational things, in the super generic way, I feel like we're missing out on connecting with that individual customer.

And so one of the things that we started doing. Was removing some of the demographics from the personas that we're developing to the point where I don't even like to name them because then you also apply a gender usually to them. And so as the world changes, I think it's really important to think about this is a person with this new.

 I think sometimes we put too much emphasis and we miss out on who's coming up. So for instance, I've had this happen where we talk to a company that sells.

Jeannie Tech products or software, and they assume a lot about who they're selling to. They assume they're male. they assume all these things. And it's like, that is changing every day. And so we, we see more women in there and we want to provide an avenue so that everybody feels included.

And I think this is something we don't talk about enough in customer experience that we have an obligation. As leaders to really think about how can we make the entire journey more inclusive and. Uh, more welcoming to everybody. And so that includes things like people with disabilities. How are we thinking about them when we are designing these journeys?

Are we thinking about, you know, all of the different ways that the demographics and cultures have an impact when we're talking about different regions and language and all of these things. So. That's something I'm really passionate about and I don't have all the answers, um, at all, but I will say that I think they're big questions that sometimes we don't even try to tackle because it's so much easier, right.

And so I think we have to really think through what are the expectations and there are some generational differences and that's fine, but then what can we do to make it more inclusive and welcoming for everyone? I think a lot of times organizations try to put people in boxes and they try to look at the data, aggregate it and say, oh, well, Susie, you know, four out of five times likes to shop in person. So she won't ever want to go down a digital channel. Right. And so we try to over and we try to adapt, but then we over adapt and then we limit ourselves on what we can offer customers.

Lindsay: And it's kind of crazy when you think about it. 

Jeannie it.

is, and I love data, but you know, I, I sometimes say data's great, but it's always late. It's just measurement. And so if you are not paying attention to what is going to happen and what expectations will change, then you'll be left in the dust. 

Lindsay: I want to go back to you were talking about, you know, when companies were planning these huge digital transformation, those plans were five, 10 plus years, and they had to condense that down into that six weeks span. Now, taking what, you know, from that experience and projecting it forward and thinking about what organizations should focus on and also what they probably shouldn't what have you learned from your experiences guiding organizations through this very tumultuous time that they can now use going into that future?

Jeannie Yeah, great question. I think part of it is there are things That seem scary now that we, we just have to learn about, you know, things like artificial intelligence. I'm fascinated by it because if we can apply. Understanding people at scale. That unlocks a whole new world for a lot of organizations right now, the feedback that I get from a lot of leaders is, oh, chats are terrible.

Artificial intelligence is terrible or scary. I think sometimes we get stuck on the tools instead of thinking about what problems are we trying to solve, or what are the ways we're trying to improve the experience again, at scale, in many cases, Work with millions of customers.

How do we do that in a way that is still personalized for them? So for example, the, the hospitality and the travel industry for many years, they were really good. Kind of recognizing their loyalty members, but the way they did that was pretty basic.

They would say, thanks for being a member, here's a bottle of water, you know, like go forth. And I think there are opportunities all around that type of thing to say, you know what?We're going to get to know you in a really personal way so that we can celebrate in the right way.

For instance, I know personally. Travels all over with very high-end luxury hotels. And part of it is he is a diabetic. So he can't have sugar. He's very careful about his diet, but they keep delivering cookies and things like that.

He's mentioned it to the individual places and they've never connected the dots across the brand. And I think that's a perfect example of how. We know that personalized recognition is really important and recognizing milestones with your customers, whether they're life milestones, or the relationship milestones that you have with the brand, that's very important to build loyalty.

But if we're, if we're missing. How to do that in a very personalized way, then it just, it falls completely flat. You brought up a very interesting point about there being gaps in the way you're integrating your data across systems, across departments and people.

Lindsay: So what can organizations do to try to find those gaps and then close them?

Jeannie Yeah, I think this is the great challenge of customer experience. Honestly, is we work with organizations sometimes who have not enough data and they don't know where to start. How do we connect all this data? How do we make sure that people get the data in the right form?

How do we inspire action based on the data? And so there are a couple of things I always recommend. Stop. Just letting everybody survey. Everybody have a centralized feedback strategy. And that feedback strategy has to be part of your overall customer journey. When we ask for feedback from a customer that is an actual touch point along the journey, we have to stop acting like it's separate.

So that's one thing. The other thing is understand what are you going to do? Information. If you are asking a question that, you know, you can't do anything about, you need to yank that question out of your survey that is wasting everybody's time. You need to build the feedback mechanisms so that they drive specific actions.

Now that is all tied back to that customer experience. Success statement. I mentioned because we have to understand. If we're investing in these tools and investing in customer experience management, we need a return on that investment for the organization. 

What you have to do is connect. What are we actually asking? How are we measuring that specifically? And then what are we doing to either improve those measurements and how will that drive our bottom line results? I'm a big believer that customer experience when it's done well is a winning business strategy 

If we do customer experience well, we drive costs down for service. We drive sales costs down because we get more referrals. We get longer retention. We have happier employees. We have longer employee retention. I mean, it goes on and on and on. And yet, because we can't say something very simple about that.

ROI, people think it's this soft thing. And so they treat feedback as the only measurement, but it's it that's exactly what it is. It's a measurement. It's not an action. And so we have to treat them. Result as driving the next action to improve the customer experience.

Lindsay: Yeah, that's excellent points. And I think a piece of that too, is if you keep doing the same things over and over, and you don't act on those things over and over, then what is that going to do? It's probably going to attribute to some kind of churn 

Jeannie Absolutely. 

Lindsay: And so I want, I want to get your opinions on where you think customer churn is going in the next year, two years, three years.

What do you think are some things that are going to be impacting customer churn that might not have maybe three, four or five years?

Jeannie Yeah, that's a great question too.

I mean, that's You think about all the disruptions of the last 20 years? They've all been experienced, driven every single one of them and, you know, Uber and Airbnb and Amazon, they are all experienced driven. And so when we are thinking about how do we make sure that we don't lose customers? One of the things I always recommend is what I call experiential innovation.

And that's because if we are not innovating as an organization around the customer experience, then we are already behind. There are people right now planning the device of yours. What happens is we get stuck in our industry and we think, well, everybody does it this way, or this is the way it's always been done.

And that is really backwards thinking in today's age, because we need to stay ahead with what experience will drive our customers to think this is providing even more value than I expected. So I think with churn specifically, We have to think about innovation differently.

We, we have to stop thinking that product innovation is the only way to innovate and we have to make sure that everybody in the organization really understands what are our goals with customer experience and how can I, myself, one single employee contribute to that. 

Lindsay: You really got me with that statement about someone out there is planning the demise of your industry. You guys, we're currently running a campaign called stop big paper. And that's exactly the premise of it is that we have so many organizations out there who are doing things. Way they've always done them and no customer has ever come in and been like, you know what?

I want to do, fill out my information for the fifth time on this next piece of paper. And, but yet we still do that over and over again, and it's just, it is wild. So that was an excellent way to put that. I want to dig a little bit into when you're talking about. Customer attention, being so closely attached to the experience.

And I want to ask you about how can organizations think about surprising and delighting customers in a digital environment?

Jeannie Amazon does this really well, where they know you enough to say, Hey, you know what? You ordered 30, um, 30 days of vitamins and we're coming up on day 20. You want to reorder that? Super simple, but it feels very personalized. The other thing that I like are when we, tie in the physical and the digital, so if you order something and you receive it, 

I mean, that's still an opportunity to provide a little bit more. So brands that do this really well, chewy. Pet food company or pet supplier, they often will have a handwritten note in, in the box that you have ordered the dog food in on your pet's birthday. Sometimes they send pictures or different things.

So they have really done a great job of incorporating the digital and the physical in that way to provide those moments of. And I just think there are so many ways that if we understand the customer's true journey and we understand that surprise and delight is really just high level like personalization.

 So I think when we look at that, that's really what we're talking about now with surprise and delight is how do we make sure that we're recognizing people where they are on their journey and how do we just go that one step further to really say to them, we see you and we appreciate you.

Lindsay: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, 

And I want to talk about, you know, you brought up that CX teams, a lot of times are very lean and they are charged to do a lot and bring a lot of results, but obviously not funded to the point where.

Can probably be able to achieve all the things that they've been handed. So in these situations, what is the most obvious thing that the CX team should focus on? What is if they could only choose one thing to do in a quarter or even a year? What should that one thing.

 We have something that we use called the CX charter because a lot of times a CX team is actually part of a bigger cross-functional team.

 we have to get other people involved. We have to build coalitions because customer experience is something that everybody in the organization has to have a part of. And so if you have a cross-functional. CX team, you need to really define who are we and what are we trying to do here? Because otherwise what happens is everybody defends their little fiefdom, right?

Jeannie And they say, no, the most important thing is marketing to customers. And somebody else will say, no, no, it's the engineering efficiencies because they're coming at it from that modality. When you have a CX charter, you're basically saying, this is what we're trying to do for our. We have our mission, which is our north star.

We have our success statement, which defines what we're trying to do right now, how we're measuring success and how that will impact our organization. And those two things can really help you prioritize as a group So it's really an act of constant evaluation and prioritization. 

Lindsay: I think you might have traumatized some people with your bringing up of the fact that, you know, this department wants this and this department wants this because. True and things can get so quickly watered down. So what advice do you have for organizations who want to really align every department, every team around the customer experience?

How can those top level leaders really get the buy-in to make sure that that does distill.

Jeannie Well, like I said, we, we love enlightened leaders and this does have to really be driven in some cases from the top. but then part of that too, is understanding that this is an ongoing conversation. there's something I like called mission moments where if you have your customer experience, mission statement defined, you ask people to lead a meeting with a mission moment.

How do we live up to that mission per customers? How did we maybe not live up to that? And what can we learn from that by inviting people into that conversation? You start empowering people in different ways as well. And they start connecting the dots that it's not just a statement on the wall. It's something that you have to live every day.

And then the other part of that. Again, if something's important, you continue education and training. And we sometimes will say, uh, customer experience is very important. It's in our onboarding. but then they don't hear about it ever again in their role because they're not customer facing.

That's a mess. We have to continue to educate. And so I love taking like one topic a quarter, and just saying, this is what we're talking about. We're talking about, let's say closing the loop on feedback. How do we do that? You should know how we do that here. If you see things that need improvement, you need to let us know this is how you employee have access to, uh, submit.

Suggestions and improvements and recommendations for the customer. 

Lindsay: Yeah, you can't just ghost on it, right? You can't just say this is, this is what we believe in and then never bring it up again. 

Jeannie Yep. And it happens. It 

Lindsay: Oh, yes, it does. And it's, it's sad. And, and a lot of times you can see it when it does, but sometimes it just, it sneaky, you know, and I want to talk a little bit more on that employee side of it and talking about the importance of having employees wrapped into that CX experience.

 A lot of people are leaving jobs, a lot of people seeking new jobs. So how does CX have a role in employee returns?

Jeannie It actually has been proven to have a pretty big, big role there. Part of it is. You know, having people feel so much pride in what they do and feel so connected to that their daily efforts have this incredible impact on the customers. creates a better world.

That's what really motivates me, because if we treat individually each other better, then that creates more positivity in the world that creates better days. That creates a, you know, less tension when people move from one thing to the next it's, it's literally a better world. And so if you can help people identify a mission like that.

Customers have one that I like is Ikea's overall mission is about creating an paraphrasing here, but creating better everyday lives for their customers. It's not about selling furniture. It's not about Swedish meatballs. It's about that. And so you can see how people could connect with that. Even if they are the ones who are designing the furniture, or if they're the ones who are paying the bills for Ikea,The other thing that's really important here is if we talk about. A seamless, wonderful customer experience that where we surprise and delight our customers. If that's not reflected in the employee experience that feels disingenuous to employees We have to make sure that we are reflecting the same values and the same mission that we have for our customers. 

Lindsay: I love that. And, you know, people are usually talking about, they want to feel something when they go to work, right. And they want to, they want to be working for something. They want to have a reason to wake up and go to work. And I think that's an excellent way to do that. 

Uh, this whole sub series is about the future of work and what organizations can be proactively doing to better serve their customers and their employees, as we think about next year, the next five years, maybe even the next decade. And so I want to ask you, you know, what is the future of work?

Jeannie Yeah, I I'm excited personally about the future of work, because I think after everything we've been through in the last couple of years, one of the things that has happened is we started to really recognize. That we cannot reduce people, whether they are customers or employees into numbers, we can use data to inform our decisions, but at the end of the day, 

I think about how we are creating situations, where we are going to personalize the journey, not just for customers, but for employees. And that's really recognizing the humanity of it all. 

And so I'm, I'm looking forward to. Just seeing people really accomplish more because they're recognized for exactly who they are and they're able to bring their best selves and their best contributions to the workplace. 

Lindsay: Well, that definitely gets me jazzed and excited. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Jeannie. Um, I could talk to you probably for hours, and I know, I know our listeners are going to walk away with a lot of great things to think about and things to implement and things to talk to their leaders and coworkers about.

So for anyone who wants to learn even more from you, cause I bet many people do. Where can our listeners find.

Jeannie Yeah, of course. Well, thank you so much for having me Lindsay, and anybody can reach out to or, uh, I do a lot on LinkedIn as well. So feel free to find me there. We have some live sessions we do. So that's a great way to interact. 

 I probably could have talked to Jeannie for at least another few hours.

 I think she brought up a lot of excellent points that resonated with many of us.

Who've had to have interactions with companies or customer service. One thing she said is to approach the customer experience as an investigator. This is such a great concept that Jeannie has literally turned into our business. So you have to take your time to observe, ask and survey customers constantly to ensure that what you're doing is working for them.

And like Jeannie said, these efforts were always result in higher retention, more referrals and happier customers. And at the end of the day, I think that's what we all want is happier customers who come back to us time and time again. the last point that Jeannie brought up was to focus on personalization as a marketer.

This is the one that stood out the most to me because many organizations really missed the mark here. surprising and delighting your customers is just a form of personalization.

In order to keep customers coming back, you have to personalize their experience. And this goes way beyond having the first name, last name, tag, and emails. You send them. 

This is you actually thinking like your customers, what would they want at this step of their journey with you? How can you be one step ahead of them? Jeanie gave great examples of how brands like Amazon and chewy think like their customers and personalize their experiences. Jeannie, gave us a masterclass on staying ahead on customer expectations. So much of what she talked about had to do with thinking outside the box and creating processes in order to keep up to date with our customers changing demands.

 next time we'll be hearing from Brian Solis, global innovation evangelist at Salesforce on how companies can embrace a spirit of innovation.

Hosted By
Lindsay McGuire
Senior Content Marketing Manager
Co-Hosted By
Ryan Greives
VP, Brand & Communications

Practically Genius is a show built for innovators championing digitization within their organization.

Hosts Lindsay McGuire and Ryan Greives host conversations with real-world innovators sharing stories of digital transformation while also providing helpful advice and insights to listeners.

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