Today’s post is a collaboration by this great team: Ingrid Lindberg and Annette Franz, CCXP, with insights from CX leaders who’ve lived it! You’ll find this post on Annette’s site, as well.
In 2008, Ingrid Lindberg was in a newly formed role (Customer Experience Officer, or CXO) at a Fortune 100 company, charged with designing and driving a customer experience transformation. And then she was forced to lay off 75 percent of her staff. The economy was tanking, people were losing their homes, and they were equally scared about losing their jobs. The stock market was cresting and dropping like a Blue Angel, and there was absolutely no relief in sight.
Fast forward to 2020, and we’re suddenly in a time that feels eerily similar to what we just outlined for 2008. As Ingrid was looking around, she kept seeing all this advice from people who weren’t working in CX roles in 2008, people who weren’t leading large organizations through transformation during the last big recession we faced. And the more she thought about it, the more she wanted to hear from leaders who had led through the last really big challenging period in our history. She wanted to hear what they learned and what they were hoping for on the other side of this current crisis.
Ingrid reached out to her dear friend, Annette Franz. They brainstormed and came up with the idea to ask a few strong female leaders they know what they learned about CX and leadership when they were leading organizations in 2008. After all, the leaders whose countries are dealing with the pandemic the best are all women. Here are the experiences and lessons learned from: Karyn Furstman, Stephanie Thum, Jeannie Walters, Annette, and Ingrid.
Karyn Furstman, CCXP
Karyn’s been a CX leader for more than 15 years, leading customer transformations for banking, insurance, and technology companies. She was a founding board member of the CXPA. Today she is VP and Head of CX Strategy & Solutions at Rational (a Wipro company), where she is building comprehensive CX vision, methodology, and solution offerings for Rational’s customers while helping to drive a customer-centric culture within the organization itself.
In 2008, Karyn was SVP of Customer Experience for Washington Mutual, which ultimately became the largest bank failure in American history. As the financial crisis unfolded, the most important thing for her was ensuring the frontline branch employees were equipped to take care of their customers. After that fateful time, Karyn was asked to stay on for another year with JP Morgan Chase to ensure that their customers’ transition to this new ownership went smoothly.
We asked Karyn what she learned in 2008 – leading through that crisis – that could be applied today. She replied, “During the 2008 financial downturn, I learned so many things about being resilient and flexible, especially when it came to situations that were out of my control. While there were times it seemed like there wasn’t an end in sight, I slowed down to pause, listen, and understand, while communicating honestly with my team. It wasn’t necessary to have all of the answers…it was more important to be present. I learned that consistently leading with calmness, empathy, and integrity were essential in unprecedented situations. Those real-life lessons have stayed with me and guide how I aspire to live and work every day.”
We also wanted to know what her dream is for customer experience post-pandemic, and she responded: “This crisis has brought back a sense of community, requiring us to go back to the basics and really focus on what matters. The companies that provide consistency, reliability, and stability and innovate in ways to make their customers’ lives easier will prosper…it’s so much more than creating a new TV commercial. We’ve talked for years in the CX community about the voice of the customer. It’s never been more important to really listen now, and genuinely address customers’ needs to create real, long-lasting connections. My hope is that we grow from these times and look for ways to connect and lead with a greater sense of purpose and humanity, while trusting and truly taking care of our employees and customers.”
Stephanie Thum, CCXP
Stephanie is the founding principal of Practical CX, LLC, where she focuses on experience management strategy, content strategy, and social media.
In 2008, Stephanie was a client satisfaction executive at EY, a B2B voice of the customer (VOC) role. She was a client interviewer, working face-to-face with the firm’s biggest clients, at-risk clients, and up-and-coming clients. The purpose of the role was to gather feedback that led to business development and relationship improvement opportunities. During that time, she learned that the questions she asked during the 2007 client interviews were no longer relevant because clients’ business issues had shifted dramatically. She had to ask different questions, listen for the unexpected things as part of the feedback, and be smart about how EY was going to help clients through that time.
What were Stephanie’s takeaways from 2008? “Times change, but your purpose doesn’t. You are there to help your customers and clients solve problems, regardless of the situation. You have to use that reality as a guidepost in everything you do.”
And what are her dreams for the post-pandemic customer experience: “I dream about: (1) Practitioners and consultants understanding the basic practices and principles of CX as a business discipline. (2) Senior leadership tables in both government and private industry that have credentialed chief experience officers sitting elbow-to-elbow with CIOs, CROs, CDOs, CFOs, CHCOs, GCs. (3) More-realistic budgets. (4) CX pros who are up-to-date on tech and understand how their roles intersect with others within their organization.”
Jeannie Walters, CCXP
Jeannie has been a customer experience leader for more than 20 years. Currently, she is a keynote speaker and CEO of Experience Investigators. She speaks, writes, trains, and consults with organizations around the world in a variety of different industries on how to create meaningful customer experiences that drive business results. She also teaches four LinkedIn Learning courses and co-hosts the Crack the Customer Code podcast.
In 2008 when the financial crisis hit our shores, Jeannie was President of Vox, a customer experience firm serving Fortune 500 companies, including large, financial services clients. Let’s let Jeannie share her story.
“I’ll never forget watching CNBC announce the imminent demise of our largest client. There was so little any of us could do. It felt like we were a barnacle on the Titanic. Nothing we did, or could do, would have an impact on the ultimate outcome. I felt so badly for my friends and partners at the client organization. I felt so sad for all of us. It was a suddenly devastating time. A few months later, I was starting my own business. I was seeing how the world was changing and customers were gaining more direct access to brands through social media. That business is the one I still run today.”
We asked Jeannie what her dream is for the customer experience once the pandemic is behind us. She responded, “As we navigate this new world, I see opportunities for brands to be more transparent and authentic with customers than they’ve ever been. Today, customers and brands are being honest. It’s leading to more forgiving relationships. This level of authenticity doesn’t have to be a short-term situation. Customers are seeing brands as they really are. Organizations are made up of individual people doing their best. Customers are asking for help instead of demanding unreasonable perks. Both sides are giving each other the benefit of the doubt. On the other side of this, whatever that is and whenever that becomes reality, customer experience will be changed to reflect what so many brands have touted but not lived. Authentic, human relationships will prevail.”
Annette Franz, CCXP
Annette Franz is CEO of CX Journey Inc, a customer experience strategy firm, and is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, keynote speaker, and author of Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business). She is also Board Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA).
Annette has almost 30 years of history working in this customer experience space and has seen it evolve through good times and bad: through the dot bomb, the Great Recession, and now the current crisis.
In 2008, she was head of consulting services at Medallia, a company that at the time was still very much in start-up mode. The immediate concerns at the time were in line with what we are seeing today: Professionally, will our clients stay in business? How will they get through this? What will the impact be for them? Personally, will Medallia stay in business? Will employees have a job at the end of the day?
For clients, she addressed a lot of the same questions that companies are addressing today: Should we continue to deploy surveys? Are there different ways to listen to customers now? How do we communicate with customers authentically? Should we approach our CX strategy differently today? What should the customer experience look like today versus last year, next year? What was different back then, though, is that businesses weren’t forced to shut down as they are today, and customers weren’t locked down. It was a completely different vibe in that regard. And yet there was fear, and that fear is what gripped us then and grips us today.
What’s Annette’s biggest learning and lesson: “If your organization is customer-centric, and if you are working to improve the customer experience every day, then today (this year) is no different in terms of what you should be doing to deliver a great experience. Consistency in the experience is key, regardless of the time of day, the time of year, or a pandemic that lasts months or longer.”
What’s her dream for the post-pandemic customer experience? “Right now, we’re seeing a lot of brands fumble in terms of how they communicate with customers. While communication is one of the most-overlooked pieces of the customer experience and is always critical, communication is key right now, given that there are far fewer (or no) in-person interactions. But today’s employee and customer communications are not authentic. Brands talk about people, people first, caring about employees, blah blah blah. Have their actions matched? For me, post-pandemic, I want to see brands truly put people first. I want to see empathy be real and realized. Empathy and authenticity have been such buzzwords, but they must be at the root of the experience for employees and for customers always. Know what it means to be people-centric and to put people first. Understand what that means. Actions speak louder than words. Say it. Mean it. Do it. Real talk, real empathy.”
Ingrid Lindberg, a serial Customer Experience Officer, has long been on the forefront of the experience industry. As one of the founding leaders of the CXPA, she has been charting the path for practitioners for years. She is the founder of Chief Customer, a customer experience consultancy focused on helping companies connect the employee experience to the customer experience. She is an internationally recognized speaker and coach. She is also the co-founder of aubreyAsks, a consumer understanding platform.
In 2008, she was the Chief Customer Experience Officer for Cigna, a Fortune 100 health services company. Her first day on the job, November 7, 2007,, the stock was trading at $49.94. One year later, after the 2008 stock market crash, it was trading at $16.41. Ingrid was forced to lay off 75 percent of her newly built customer experience team.
What that team was able to pull off — with a fraction of the people she’d hired, in the middle of a massive recession — was nothing short of miraculous. They went directly into how-to-survive mode. She led an all-day session on how to reset the CX roadmap, knowing that many of the items they wanted to do based on VOC just wouldn’t get funding. They pivoted into what would save the company money AND be good for their customers.
The team ended up attacking major cost saving measures. She knew that if they could do something that would save operational expense quickly, not only would the item get funded, but that they would do the work in such a way that the customer would also benefit. Two examples of this:
- Taking the company 24/7. There was a cost to doing this, but the cost of paying out performance guarantees for blowing the Average Speed of Answer performance guarantee each Monday morning was higher than the cost to go 24/7. Reframing this as a cost saving initiative with a CX twist made it a winner.
- Redesigning the Explanation of Benefits. The EOB was one of the top call drivers, and the team was able to do the redesign in house, relatively quickly. By redesigning it, and making it very simple to understand, they significantly reduced call volume. Immediate savings. And a huge win for our customers.
Ingrid’s biggest learning? “Sure, I wanted our website redesign to be funded – and it wasn’t one of the things that made the cut. When funding did become available again, we won more funding than others. I believe it is because we’d taken the time to prove that we could pivot and help the company save millions through CX.”
Ingrid’s hope for the future? She says, “Companies are nothing without their employees and their customers. I believe that the companies who do the right thing, right now, for both their employees and their customers are the ones who will win as we start to come out of this. Hilton – with their almost immediate status pledge is a fabulous example. And then they quickly followed it up with their #HotelsforHeroes program – helping keep both employees employed and their community members safe. Delta – being the first to waive fees and simply rebook – and then being the first airline to announce their loyalty extension plans for 2020 customers.
The silver lining is that people across the world are watching companies big and small, and seeing how they react and respond. And for those who can vote with their wallets, I believe they’ll be voting for those who did the right thing.”