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Building a career in XM: Focusing on soft skills, which are often hard to learn

Professionals who have become experience management (XM) experts in the last 10 or 20 years have often drawn on the building blocks of other experiences to get to where they are today. The discipline has evolved rapidly since the early 2000s, and many practitioners started off with different aspirations in very diverse fields.

As part of our series on CX visionaries, we interviewed Aimee Lucas, XM Catalyst with the XM Institute. Through a chain of professions including sports marketing, inside sales, event management, and corporate learning and development, Aimee built a strong passion for monitoring, measuring, and creating better experiences.

From practitioner to advisor

Aimee grew up a sports fan. She got her degree in marketing management from the University of Notre Dame, and naturally began her career in sports marketing. But fate saw that she broadened her expertise through a variety of positions that slowly evolved into a laser focus on market and customer insights. Ultimately, her work on customer insights expanded into an opportunity to design and build a customer experience (CX) program from the ground up. After getting that CX program to a stable place, she became curious about how the practice of CX worked in different industries, across various types of organizations and global regions.

In 2012, that curiosity led Aimee to join Temkin Group, the predecessor to the Qualtrics XM Institute. Her years of work in sales, training, and marketing spurred her dedication to transforming experiences by advising large organizations around the world for Temkin Group. As part of the XM Institute, she now helps XM leaders advance their careers with the research, training and other thought leadership she develops for the XM Institute. 

I didn’t see it clearly at the time, but reflecting back now, I can certainly see how all of those different experiences brought me to the place I am today.

On making an impact

When asked about the moments in her career that make her the most proud, Aimee explained, “Whether I was a practitioner or a consultant, I am most proud of helping create order out of chaos, and creating a path or plan that elicits buy-in and commitment from leadership to make an impact,” adding that these moments allowed her to do her best work. “When we can bring together a variety of inputs and craft a plan that will get the support needed from different parts of an organization and bring it to life, those are the moments that are most impactful for me.”

On building a culture around XM

Aimee contends that the most important part of XM is recognizing that culture permeates everything that the organization and its people do. She believes that leaders need to be clear on what people need to think, believe, and do for the organization to be successful. “We ask leaders to get real about what their culture is like today, and what things are shaping that culture, such as ingrained processes, rules, and policies, as well as the less visible norms, routines, and networks that are very influential on how people behave.”

Once leadership has a true sense of the various aspects of their current culture, the next step is developing a pathway for change. “With culture change, we often hear about big splashy things that get attention and drive change for a little while,” Aimee noted. “But I’ve seen time and time again that sustainable change happens when we find ways to get everyone in the organization to see how they could move 1% closer every day to what we’re trying to achieve in XM. We need to break the necessary behavior changes down into smaller, doable pieces that everyone can improve upon each and every day.”

Aimee’s experience shows that when revisiting organizations throughout their culture change lifecycles, the success stories emerge, but not from the companies that drive change from the top down. “When we see the entire organization truly excited about their culture transformation, the examples where it has been sustainable over time tend to drive change organically from the bottom up,” she said.

Culture is a very real and tangible thing, comprising visible and invisible elements. Leaders need to be able to articulate what their culture is today, where they need to go, and what the roadmap is to get there.

On uncovering and closing experience gaps

To culturally embed a desire to understand and help close experience gaps, Aimee has strong feelings about what needs to happen in an organization. “From the early days of building an XM program, businesses need to develop a common vocabulary, shared approaches, and an economic point of view around why experience gaps matter to an organization,” she said. “When people pursue an XM strategy, there is an inherent danger of developing it in a vacuum. But that strategy absolutely must be attached to the business and brand objectives of the organization,” she contends.

Becoming an XM organization begins with a collective understanding of what it means and why it matters, according to Aimee. “Everyone must agree that making experiences better matters to the customers, it matters to the employees, and it matters to the business,” she says. “Regardless of the domain of experience – brand (BX), product (PX), customer (CX), or employee (EX) experience – the employees and stakeholders need to see the true impact that good and bad experiences have on the goals and objectives of the business if they are going to put their attention to it.”

Closing experience gaps speaks to a bigger impact on the business. Whether it’s retaining customers and employees or driving improvements and efficiencies, it falls right to the organization’s bottom line.

On the future of XM

Technology has had an immeasurable influence on all facets of XM, according to Aimee, but like many other business disciplines, technology in and of itself isn’t going to create and deliver perfect experiences. “There has to be a human element. There are humans getting the technology up and running, and customers and employees interacting with that technology,” she maintains. “So the future of XM is really about balancing what technology will enable individuals and organizations to do -- from gathering and processing information; to streamlining various functions and processes; to leveraging automation, AI, and machine learning. Together, humans and technology drive consistency at scale.

She reminds us that technology is not a silver bullet, and that XM professionals must be thoughtful and really understand how they design, build, and deploy experiences so they truly deliver on the ultimate business objectives and goals. “Whatever goal that customer, prospect, or employee is trying to achieve through interactions with our company, we want to have an experience in place for them to be successful.”

If we lose sight of the humans in the XM equation -- from making the technology work or using the technology -- then I think XM will continue to struggle.

On getting great results

When asked about memorable XM successes throughout her career, one example clearly stands out for Aimee. She once worked with a financial institution that introduced a new customer feedback program into their organization. “It was their first time sharing results down to a branch level, and they had some strong reservations about doing so,” she explains. While the organization was a strong performer, they had not captured comprehensive feedback, and had not been as transparent in the past with frontline employees about the data they did collect.

“It turned out they were delivering a great customer experience already, and their customers recognized it.” Aimee added, but what really made a difference was giving broader groups of people visibility to the feedback. “The internal pride of the employees and their coworkers about the work they were doing soared to new levels when they saw feedback scores and comments. It also triggered what have become more entrenched habits of ongoing recognition by managers and supervisors of employees for doing the right thing,” she emphasizes.

This shining example of successful employee engagement through CX transparency spotlights the inherent human trait of wanting to do the right thing. “Employees want to do a good job and they have a lot to offer on how an organization can get better, particularly when we’re asking them to do things for customers,” says Aimee. “This organization created an upswell that quickly became a call to action and a desire to keep getting better. And in this instance, it was ultimately driven by the frontline folks.”

Be transparent and show results to more people in the company. It’s not as much of a risk as you might think it is.

On becoming a well-rounded XM professional

While Aimee agrees that it is crucial to understand XM methodology for gathering and analyzing feedback so that you can be confident in the insights you share, she feels that it’s more important to understand how and why humans think and behave the way they do.

“Technology will increasingly get better at handling experience monitoring and data analytics,” she says. She contends that XM professionals should read and learn about behavioral economics, psychology, and sociology to improve the experiences people are having with businesses. “XM professionals need to realize that they are change leaders. They need to understand change management, organizational dynamics, communication, relationship building, conflict resolution, and the science of motivation,” Aimee emphasizes.

Learn more about the XM Institute

Qualtrics // Experience Management

Qualtrics, the leader and creator of the experience management category, is a cloud-native software platform that empowers organizations to deliver exceptional experiences and build deep relationships with their customers and employees.

With insights from Qualtrics, organizations can identify and resolve the greatest friction points in their business, retain and engage top talent, and bring the right products and services to market. Nearly 20,000 organizations around the world use Qualtrics’ advanced AI to listen, understand, and take action. Qualtrics uses its vast universe of experience data to form the largest database of human sentiment in the world. Qualtrics is co-headquartered in Provo, Utah and Seattle.

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