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How Bruce Temkin shaped the CX profession – and how he’s doing the same for XM

For over 20 years, Bruce Temkin has been a central figure in the world of CX. From his influential thought leadership at Forrester, to founding the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) in 2011, it’s little wonder he’s known as the ‘Godfather of CX’. Today, he heads up the XM InstituteTM at Qualtrics®, with the goal of making it the world’s premier center of excellence for all things experience management.

In the latest on our series of CX visionaries, Bruce talks about the early days of CX, his time at GE and Forrester, and why he founded the Temkin Group and CXPA.

On the start of his lifelong CX journey

“I became fascinated with the things that no department owned”

I started my career as an engineer building submarine missile systems. But my CX journey probably began at my second job out of college. I was a program manager for a company that made submarine sub-systems, leading multi-disciplinary teams to deliver projects that spanned engineering, manufacturing, quality control, and client management.

I learned about the complex relationships that exist within organizations - the give and take that occurs between different departments, and the incredible opportunities that exist for an organization that starts working as one team.

It became clear to me that success often came down to activities that no one clearly owned. The responsibilities that spanned all departments, or fell just between the cracks. I really enjoyed driving cooperation across different groups, and was able to increase my company’s profitability. This experience established my view of organizations as production systems; they can only deliver consistently good outputs when they are running well internally. While this may not sound like CX, it was an important foundation for all of my eventual work in experience management.

On leading GE’s first Six Sigma projects

“I focused on workplace culture and structure, and their impact on GE’s overall performance”

My first true CX job was at GE, which followed getting my MBA from MIT Sloan School. I was an internal consultant helping different business units improve their relationships with customers. One of my key projects was reengineering internal processes for GE’s Power Generation business, where I led some initial Six Sigma projects. We redesigned the organization’s planned maintenance and emergency response processes.

Two efforts stick out in my mind. One was focused on creating self-managed work teams and shifting away from a traditional, heavily-unionized environment. One of our actions was to blow up all the job titles and define a new org structure for 1,000s of manufacturing employees.

Another project was focused on eliminating burdensome rules and regulations across GE, part of a program called ‘Workout’. I facilitated sessions where employees at every level discussed their work environments with executives in the room. I would help senior leaders make immediate decisions to change work rules that were impeding employees’ efforts.

My time at GE taught me the importance of linking employee experience and customer experience. If you don’t get your internal operations and culture right, then you stand little chance of mastering CX.

On becoming Forrester’s most-read analyst

“I realized people wanted simple models that explain complex things”

After GE I worked at a tech company - and then spent a few years at Fidelity Investments, where I led the development of digital connections with B2B clients, building things such as trading systems for corporate treasurers and asset allocation systems.

After leading a couple of Dotcom startups, I joined Forrester Research where I stayed for almost 12 years. I first ran their B2B research department and was focused on the impact of the internet on supply chains and distribution channels. I was responsible for all of our projections for the B2B Internet economy. It was an exciting time, as we were helping the world understand how the internet would impact business relationships.

After that, I ran several parts of the research organization, including the financial services, CRM, eBusiness, and customer experience groups. I expanded the CX focus beyond user experience to enterprise-wide topics, such as voice of customer programs.

One of my biggest takeaway from working at Forrester is that people really crave simple models that explain complex things. I honed my skills at simplification and storytelling - which led to me being Forrester’s most-read analyst for 13 consecutive quarters.

On setting up the Temkin Group

“CX is a reflection of your company’s culture; who you are externally is a manifestation of the internal”

In 2010, my wife Karen and I launched Temkin Group. At the time, we saw a huge opportunity to help large organizations transform how they operate to deliver better CX.

One of the foundational principles of Temkin Group was that the CX you deliver is a reflection of your culture and operating processes. Who you are externally is a manifestation of how you operate internally - if you have jumbled processes, mixed-up reporting lines, and a culture of blame, then there’s no way you’ll be able to consistently deliver great CX. Our work focused on helping large organizations create and sustain great CX.

I’m very proud of the thought leadership content we produced and the extent to which it was adopted by organizations around the world. At every event I go to, I meet people who tell me that their CX program was based on something they learned from Temkin Group, which is always fantastic to hear. We actually considered Temkin Group’s core market to be the people we never met or even sold anything to, but who were out there consuming our content and being inspired to deliver better CX.

On launching the CXPA

“We wanted to make sure CX was driven by practitioners, not technology”

My wife Karen and I started to design the CXPA when we serendipitously met someone who ran a company that handles back office operations for associations. It was truly fate that we met. This company provided us with the guidance we needed to establish the CXPA, and they also provided us with all of the operational capabilities that we had no interest in setting up on our own.

At the time, I thought an organization like the CXPA was very important for three reasons

  1. People were asking the same simple CX questions again and again, so there was no real learning going on.
  2. People who were doing CX-type activities didn’t know that there were people doing similar things in other organizations, so they felt isolated and lacked a sense of community.
  3. Like what I had seen happen in the CRM industry, there was a risk that technology vendors would define CX, and we’d lack a strong base of CX practitioners to drive business value. This insight was captured in a report I wrote at Forrester in 2002 called “Forget About CRM, Focus on the Customer Experience”.

For CX to thrive, it needed a community of professionals. So we designed the CXPA as a non-profit professional association that was dedicated to helping CX professionals succeed. The profession needed a single voice that would advocate for its growth.

On the success of the CXPA and the future of CX

“When someone feels they belong to a ‘profession’, they start to share insights beyond their own company.”

Karen and I invited my friend Jeanne Bliss to join us in launching the CXPA, and we spent almost a year designing the structure and recruiting the initial set of members and sponsors.

In order to sustain the CX movement, we had to start with a common language, share best practice, and make sure vendors understood that it was in their long-term interest to help the CXPA make practitioners successful. I still remember our first large event - the CXPA’s Insight Exchange - where I told everyone that we all needed to start using the acronym “CX” to describe customer experience.

The growth of the CX profession over the last 5+ years has been remarkable. Firstly, companies are actually hiring CX people - that didn’t happen before. While people were doing CX-type jobs, they weren’t being recognised for it.

Secondly, individuals view themselves as CX professionals, and they’re proud of it. This was a critical step for sustaining the profession. Once we had people self-identifying as CX professionals, they became much more interested in helping other CX professionals - even those who worked in other companies.

I’m so very proud of the cooperation and collaboration we’ve seen from CX professionals around the world.

On joining forces with Qualtrics and the XM Institute

“We’re helping companies to understand and operationalize XM”

We were pretty familiar with Qualtrics, since most of the vendors in the space were clients of Temkin Group. So we had a first-hand view of Qualtrics entering the CX space and then becoming the dominant player.

After X4 in 2018, my wife and I spoke with Ryan Smith about working more closely together. Temkin Group was an independent consultancy that worked with all technology vendors - so we either had to become a part of Qualtrics or remain completely independent. There was no middle ground.

In October we decided to join forces, and Qualtrics acquired Temkin Group. The entire Temkin Group team came with us to create the Qualtrics XM Institute. In many ways, we have the same goals as before: create easy-to-consume content and training that helps organizations achieve XMTM success. As we did with CX, we’re working on developing a common language and a robust set of frameworks for operationalizing XM.

We’re really excited to be a part of Qualtrics. And now that Qualtrics has joined forces with SAP there’s an even larger community of employees, partners, and XM practitioners who need to come together and drive the industry forward.

Want to learn more about creating great customer experiences?

Qualtrics compiled a reading list based on recommendations from CX leaders like Bruce, you can download that here.

10 books every CX leader should read in 2020


Bruce Temkin // Head of the Qualtrics XM Institute

Bruce Temkin leads the Qualtrics XM Institute and is widely viewed as an experience management (XM) visionary. He has helped executives across many of the world’s leading brands dramatically improve business results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. Given his work in establishing the discipline of CX, Bruce is often referred to as the “Godfather of Customer Experience.” He co-founded and was the initial chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association. Prior to joining Qualtrics, Bruce ran Temkin Group, a renowned research and advisory firm, and was a VP at Forrester Research, where he led many parts of the research organization, including CX, eBusiness, financial services, and B2B. He was the most-read analyst at Forrester for 13 consecutive quarters.

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