Customer Experience

XM Institute Founder Bruce Temkin: ‘Every process that touches a human can be improved with XM’

As part of our Breakthrough Builders series, we chatted with ‘The Godfather of Experience Management’ Bruce Temkin, Head of Qualtrics XM Institute. We spoke about balloon selling, the power of a good chess game, and what it takes to create a groundbreaking XM organization...

Bruce didn’t start out to be an XM expert. In fact, he acknowledges being a less-than-stellar academic student, focusing more on money-making activities.

He sold balloons and souvenirs at parades and got by on decent grades through college. Bruce admits that he probably spent more time playing competitive backgammon than studying. He ended up choosing to pursue an engineering degree – primarily because his advisor explained that it could be a more lucrative career than his original choice of a business degree.

Focusing in on the why, rather than the how

In graduate school, however, he realized he had a passion for learning that continues today. After starting his career as an engineer designing submarine missile systems for several years, it dawned on Bruce that he loves to understand “why” things happen as opposed to “how” they happen. “I’m pretty analytical which makes me a bit of a chess player. I can often anticipate the impact of moves before they happen,” Bruce noted.

I learn by trying to understand why things happen, why people behave the way they do – whether they’re customers, employees, or executives – which helps me understand why organizations act the way they do.

After overseeing a large division of a submarine subsystem supplier, his interest in business led him to get his MBA – completely changing his career’s trajectory. “Business school opened my eyes. I got straight As in my master’s program at MIT,” says Bruce. “All of the sudden, I truly cared about my education. I paid my own way through grad school and became a highly engaged student. I really enjoyed learning about business strategy and operations.”

How to drive organizational change

His next career stop would find him as an internal consultant for GE. “I was just a kid fresh from getting my MBA, and I got this amazing opportunity to run the first set of Six Sigma programs, reengineering multi-billion dollar businesses,” explains Bruce.

Deal with the world as it is, not how you’d like it to be

He led projects that redesigned the customer-facing processes for a power generation business unit and redefined the product configuration and distribution approach for electrical distribution panels. “At the time, I got to work with GE CEO Jack Welch, an iconic business leader who taught me many things. One key lesson I learned from him that I use all the time was to ‘deal with the world as it is; not how you’d like it to be.’

“After GE, I moved into the tech space, leading product management and development organizations, and then co-founding a couple of startups that turned out to be way ahead of their time,” he pointed out. “These experiences were critical in developing my understanding of how businesses operate and also in honing my ability to deliver compelling presentations,” he emphasized. “I became a pretty good storyteller, which is ironic given my heavy left-brain tendencies.”

I learned how to drive change within organizations and became much more skilled at delivering my message with stories, rather than droning on through pages and pages of deep details.

The path to storytelling

Bruce’s next formative experience was becoming an analyst for Forrester Research. He felt it would be a two-year stint, but it lasted almost 12 years.

“When I started at Forrester, I viewed myself as a businessperson – I didn’t think of myself as a researcher. That never changed. I soon realized, however, I was becoming pretty good at using research to develop stories that ultimately influenced other businesspeople to take action.”

In fact, these skills and insights made Bruce the most-read analyst for his last 13 quarters at Forrester.

I found that good stories are a powerful accelerant for spreading ideas. So, I focused a lot of my energy on formulating my research findings into compelling narratives.

Helping to grow the CX profession

Bruce became so popular in the customer experience space that he and his wife Karen started their own business, Temkin Group, which became a highly respected research and advisory company. Bruce and Karen had met in business school and married a year later. “Karen’s background was in re-engineering, so we both like to remake things. We are serial entrepreneurs in terms of creating things out of scratch in this industry,” Bruce remarked.

Together, they designed and launched the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), a global organization of more than 4,000 members across 50 countries. “Our focus has always been on people,” Bruce noted. “We saw an opportunity to make the CX profession even more powerful.”

Throughout their eight-year success as the Temkin Group, Bruce and Karen worked closely with us and other CX vendors. “Suddenly we realized Qualtrics was gaining great momentum in the market, and they had done an amazing job of breaking down experience management (XM) into the four pillars of brand (BX), product (PX), customer (CX), and employee (EX) experience,” Bruce explains. “It aligned nicely with the Temkin Group’s key focus areas of purposeful leadership, compelling brand values, customer connectedness, and employee engagement.”

When Bruce and Karen reached out to us to join forces, it all fell into place. The Qualtrics XM Institute was born with Bruce and Karen at the helm. “We knew we could have an even more profound impact on the market by leveraging the size, scale, and expertise of Qualtrics,” he stated.

The XM Institute: world-renowned experts

Our leadership team at Qualtrics was very receptive to building the XM Institute, now the leading resource for XM content, community, and training. “Most of our content is free, and that’s amazing,” Bruce exudes. “Because of Qualtrics’ commitment to the XM profession, we get to help thousands of XM professionals become more successful in their careers,” he adds.

Bruce encourages XM professionals to take advantage of the tremendous resources at XM Institute. “Our team of world-renowned XM experts is constantly researching and publishing on trends and best practices across a wide variety of areas,” he says.

“One of the cool elements of our website are Launchpads, which are highly curated landing pages that provide an overview of key topics such as Introduction to Experience Management and Understanding Human Behavior.”

Bruce also emphasizes the importance of community, which is why the XM Institute created the XM Professionals Network. Bruce becomes especially energized when he discusses all the activities underway within this global community of more than 600 XM leaders.

“It’s really amazing to know we’re helping people succeed in their careers. We are laser-focused on creating the content, training, and community that will be valuable for XM professionals.”

Transforming a business with XM

Bruce feels that executives often dramatically underestimate the value of XM, as they view it as the ability to create some “wow!” moments. But he insisted that it’s more than that.

XM is the capability to continuously learn what people are thinking and feeling, propagate those insights in an actionable form to the right people at the right time, and rapidly adapt based on those insights.

He explains that these capabilities, which are built on a combination of technology, competency, and culture, will enable organizations to much more quickly anticipate and respond to signals from suppliers, employees, customers, and partners.

“Every process that touches a human being can be improved with XM,” he promises. “The ability to take into account the thoughts and feelings of people who are either creating, delivering, or experiencing those processes represents an amazing platform for differentiation.”

Companies may start adopting XM to improve some experiences, but they’ll find that systematically understanding and catering to human beings is a transformative capability, and they’ll increasingly use it to rethink and redesign their entire operations.

The future of experience management

Bruce acknowledges that in just the last decade, professionals in the field have developed a set of repeatable practices for understanding and catering to the needs of human beings. “We have learned to codify XM with concepts such as voice of the customer programs, employee engagement, journey mapping, and experience design. “We finally have an established discipline, and now we need to embed those XM capabilities into every function and every process across an organization,” he says.

For example, he added, “You’ll no longer talk about XM as a standalone capability in 10 years. Instead when it comes to an area like employees, you’ll just have better hiring, training, and lifecycle experiences for your workforce, because XM will be built into all the activities that touch employees. It will truly be embedded and second nature.”

“I feel very lucky to have been one of the foundational players in creating the CX profession and I’m excited to be shaping the flourishing XM movement.”

Breakthrough Builders is about people whose passions, perspectives, instincts, and ideas fuel some of the world’s most amazing products, brands, and experiences. It’s a tribute to those who have the audacity to imagine – and the persistence to build – breakthroughs.


Stay connected with Bruce Tempkin by joining the XM Professionals Network

Qualtrics // Experience Management

Qualtrics is the technology platform that organizations use to collect, manage, and act on experience data, also called X-data™. The Qualtrics XM Platform™ is a system of action, used by teams, departments, and entire organizations to manage the four core experiences of business—customer, product, employee, and brand—on one platform.

Over 12,000 enterprises worldwide, including more than 75 percent of the Fortune 100 and 99 of the top 100 U.S. business schools, rely on Qualtrics to consistently build products that people love, create more loyal customers, develop a phenomenal employee culture, and build iconic brands.

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