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Customer Experience

CenturyLink VP of Customer Experience talks CX, and 6 degrees of separation

As part of our XM Visionaries series, we spoke with Beth Ard, VP of Customer Experience at global tech giant CenturyLink. Beth discusses how CenturyLink is embracing CX, the challenges they’ve faced along the way and how to use customer pain points to drive transformation.

Beth Ard understands her customers’ pain points. And that’s not just because she’s VP of Customer Experience. It’s also because – in her own words – she’s “grown up with the company”, having started there in a Client Executive role and worked her way up through the ranks.

This meant navigating the customer journey and solving their problems – as well as helping them to realize their goals. “It meant I felt first hand what it's like to try to navigate through our systems and get customers what they need,” she says.

“It inspired me to work into the corporate side of things because I saw there's an opportunity to change the way we do business,” says Beth. “And that's both from what customers were feeling, but also from what employees were feeling.”

As she’s moved to new roles she always found a way to play to her strengths at CenturyLink, with a well-rounded foundation moving From Director of Vertical Marketing, to roles such as Director of Global Market Strategy and now leading Customer Experience.

Driving change through understanding experience

Having worked at multiple levels and in multiple teams at CenturyLink, Beth had crucial insights that an outsider may have found harder, or taken longer, to see. It also meant she already knew the systems and people she’d be working with.

“The benefit of having grown up in this company, is that it makes it a lot easier to push for transformation because you know the players. And you can leverage the relationships that you build over the years to help people embrace change.”

Everyone has to own CX. A big piece of work for us is top down, and holding people accountable across the business. Without that we fail.

Customer experience is not just a voice-of-the-customer program, says Beth. It’s not just about measuring, but understanding the experience end-to-end in order to drive change.

“Although we have a very robust voice-of-the-customer program, which we're modernizing every day, we also have a journey team that's looking at how we map the customer journey and drive particular improvements across that journey,” she explains.

“Ultimately we find that's one of the hardest pieces is getting buy-in. Even though people instinctively know, yes, we want to go to experiences.” But in practicality can be a different matter entirely.

Winning hearts and minds through cold hard facts

So how to win hearts and minds? “Having a robust analytics platform is critical,” says Beth. “Being able to not only share the data in black and white but then also get underneath the data.

For every customer interaction Beth and her team look at the qualitative and quantitative data. “We run Text Analysis with Text iQ,” explains Beth.

Text iQ is a critical tool for us. It enables conversations with senior leaders, because it makes them look at your perspective from a fresh, fact-based lens.

Luckily, it’s transformation that’s coming from the top. “Our CEO is very dialed in to the customer experience,” says Beth.

We truly believe that the way we're going to differentiate our company and compete in this market is about CX.

“It's about keeping our promises, communicating and being responsive,” says Beth.

Differentiating through experience

What other ways is CenturyLink differentiating? “It’s important for us to differentiate with operational excellence,” says Beth. “So that's where we're doing a lot of digital transformation. Including AI and RPA. As well as making it a priority to improve UX. We want to make it as easy as possible to do business with us. We want to get to the Amazon model where we're just point and click.

We really want to get to a place where the experience is what differentiators us.

However, Beth maintains that it can never just be about differentiating on product alone. “Otherwise you’re in a product race and it feels like a lot of noise to our customers. Our scores tell us that customers are truly looking for us to change the way we do business with them, not necessarily what we're selling to them.

And Beth says the way they’re doing this is through accountability to the customer. “Internally we're looking at organizing our business units by measuring each one of them based on an NPS score or a CSAT score.

“This means that we prevent our CX strategy from just being lip service. And everyone is working together to hit their goals from a measurement perspective.

But it’s important to note that our people really want to do the right thing for customers. I believe that when customers face challenges it’s because we’re not doing enough to enable our employees.

Avoiding the blame game

Beth says that approaching customer issues from the perspective of ‘how can we better equip our people’, takes the sensitivity out of conversations. “We don’t want CX issues to be about performance, we want them to be about enablement,” she says.

“We have the scores, we see what the challenges are and we approach it and say, ‘We need to do more to enable our people to do better.

“That’s why qualitative data is also critical because you're not just staring at a score and internalizing a score, but you are actually able to look at the root causes of where we are,” says Beth.

Recognizing great people

And they’re getting great feedback so far. “The most gratifying things is what our customers are saying. Our people do fantastic things for our customers. They’ve really embraced customer-centric experiences.”

Beth and the team make it a priority to recognize the people that go above and beyond for their customers. “We make sure that they’re given recognition. There's a lot of work being done to reinforce that mindset.”

6 degrees of separation

CX training is a big part of this. And it’s all centered around the 6 degrees of separation. “We have 44,000 employees and we know that not every single one is speaking to customers every day. In fact, probably a large percentage of those folks are not, but they still have the opportunity to influence the customer experience.”

This training is a critical milestone for us as a CX organization from a culture perspective.

However, it all has a knock-on effect. “This training focuses on the degrees of connection to our customers and helping the employees who aren't getting that feedback every day, determine how to get feedback, and really understand how what they do influences teams downstream.

“It all comes together to give customers and employees the experiences we really want them to have.”

Beth will be speaking at our 2020 X4 Summit, register now to hear more from her and other visionaries of Customer Experience.

Want to Hear from More CX Visionaries? Take a Look at the Series