Customer Experience

“Beginning with the end in mind”: How Jim Harwood helped jump-start Farm Bureau Financial Service’s CX program

Ask Jim Harwood, Client/Member Experience VP at Farm Bureau Financial Services, how you build support for a CX program with your CEO and Senior leadership and he’ll tell you to take a lesson from Michael Gerber and the E-Myth: “Begin with the end in mind”.

If we were to start at the end of this story, we’d say that Jim is on his second organizational CX journey after helping lead CX program development at his prior Fortune 500 organization. A journey that increased the organization's NPS score by 60% over a 4 year period.

“The adage, culture eats strategy for breakfast” is true. Success involved orchestrating huge cultural shifts in the organization and installing major operational components such as inner, outer, closed-loop, and journey mapping capabilities.

Being a part of an organizations CX Journey is exhilarating, rewarding and now he’s getting an opportunity to lead the CX journey at Farm Bureau Financial Services. Making it happen involves crafting a vision, a Roadmap to get there, a C-suite team that recognizes the importance of CX, being transparent while building consensus among senior leadership, and engaging the entire organization.

But if you back up, there’s so much more to Jim’s story - and the background to how he’s set up and run 2 successful CX programs is a great case study in stakeholder management.

A 6-month trial that turned into 4 years

“I’d been in insurance for over 20 years, working in a variety of functions,” says Jim. “From marketing and product development to distribution and sales.”

“In 2013, my prior organization established CX as a strategic priority, setting up a cross-functional leadership group – generally vice presidents - and I was “Voluntold” that I would be participating in the group,” says Jim.

“Given my background I thought: 'Seriously...CX? It's just not as sexy as sales’”

“To say I was reluctant would be an understatement. I made a deal with my boss that I’d give it 6 months and then delegate it to someone else,” Jim explains.

“I’d been leading sales and sales training efforts and enjoyed helping people achieve their financial goals with our products. I liked having an impact on organizational results and was fascinated by the cultural and operational elements needed to scale sales success as well as the psychology and language of the sales interaction. I just didn’t see CX as something as interesting.”

Fast forward 4 years and Jim had helped lead the CX transformation of his prior organization and driving significant customer retention lift as a result.

“What hooked me was the similarities between CX and sales,” explains Jim. “I discovered all the things I loved about sales were in CX too – business impact, culture, operations, the language, and science behind it.”

And though he was initially skeptical about NPS and its impact - “If I had a nickel for every strategy or project that promised a point of retention improvement I’d be living in the Bahamas right now..”. With focus and discipline, executing NPS as a system actually did deliver the results.

Brutal honesty and winning over senior stakeholders

You’d think that after helping deliver CX success at one organization, Jim walked into Farm Bureau Financial Services ready to take the reins of another CX program. But that wasn’t the case.

“I actually didn’t come to Farm Bureau Financial Services for a CX role, but when I joined I saw the organization's desire to improve CX capabilities and thought I could help.

“So I went to my boss, our CMO, noting, ‘I’ve got 4-5 years of experience in the CX space and it’s something I’m passionate about. If the organization is interested in building its CX capabilities, I think I can help’”. Then there was an unusual ask:

“Can I get 1 slide, 1 beer, and our CEO – to talk about a CX Vision and Roadmap to get there.”

That one meeting turned into 5 more with senior leadership - over a period of 2-3 months - culminating in a commitment to executing on a detailed 5 year CX Roadmap.

But Jim didn’t make a hard sell. In fact, he made it abundantly clear this would take time, effort, and investment to achieve success.

“I was well aware of what we’d be signing up for. The discussions were not a sales job. It was important senior leadership understood the costs and benefits involved. While it seems simple, executing a CX Roadmap isn’t for the faint of heart - if we do it, it will not be easy but it will be worth it’”

This was where Jim’s experience paid dividends.

“I was very transparent. I’d done this before, knew the potential opportunities and the pitfalls. I didn’t ask for additional funding or resources in the first year as we worked on CX infrastructure but was clear they were necessary going forward. I didn’t want  to hide the total cost of ownership and the challenges of culture change to get a yes, then deliver a surprise 6 or 12 months down the line when the need for money or people came.”

Engaging the organization - from top to bottom

Jim’s reticence wasn’t because he doubted the power of CX - his experience proved its impact - but because he knew there’d be challenges ahead.

“When you look at customer-centric organizations, what sets them apart is that they have processes and systems wrapped around the customer.”

And to achieve that in an organization requires a huge culture change - that’s the hard part.

“People can be defensive, they like the way they do things now,” explains Jim. “Changing how people work will cause you sleepless nights and there’ll be stumbling blocks along the way.”

So, as Jim puts it, it took a lot to ask for that one-beer-one-slide meeting with his CEO. “I thought long and hard before I asked for that sit-down.”

But ask for it he did. And true to the Michael Gerber philosophy, Jim in fact used 1 slide to paint a picture of the costs and benefits of creating a more customer-centric organization would be.

“I’ve found it’s a lot more powerful, to show the end state and back into where we are today vs talking about current state and next steps. The story began with the end in mind”

Taking CX to the masses

To drive CX across the organization, Jim talks about a small, passionate, and dedicated core team and a federated governance model engaging executives from nearly every operational area of the organization.

“CX can’t be perceived as the responsibility of the CX team” explains Jim. Each part of the organization needs to be accountable for the results generated by the customer journeys and touchpoints they influence. It’s the CX Core and Leadership team's responsibility to provide the tools, insights, and support needed for each part of the organization to deliver an improved CX result.

And Jim says it’s crucial your CX champions in each department have the right amount of clout. “My take is you need executive/ VP-level representation. Your CX Leadership group needs to  have the horsepower to shape strategy and drive change within their operational areas and across the organization”

“We also have a no-blame policy when it comes to CX opportunities” Jim explains.

“When you look at CX opportunities across the organization you never want to hear, ‘Yep, that’s an issue, but it’s the XYZ department’s problem’”

Jim challenges colleagues to name any touchpoint not affected by multiple functions. “There’s no way a CX issue is just one team’s “fault”. We all touch the customer or support someone that does so we have fix problems by working together collaboratively.”

Beyond the infrastructure and operational systems, culture and behavior change is critical to success so the CX Roadmap includes investments in communications and training to help employees understand the Roadmap,  their impact on customer touchpoints, journeys, and results.

“Our people and teams need to understand the Roadmap and NPS as a system. They have to understand their individual line of sight to the customer, how they influence experiences, and contribute to organizational success. says Jim. “we need to provide granular CX results and the right VOC data to those areas of the business that can make an impact.”

Combining advanced tech and employee know-how

Part of getting data into employees’ hands was solved by using Qualtrics as their CX platform.

“Qualtrics is fantastic, automating critical CX processes for us” explains Jim.

“The Qualtrics platform is flexible enough for us to shape to our own program and align with the Roadmap strategy.

However, Journey actually started with a more low-tech approach.

“My commitment to Sr. Leadership was no additional investment in new tech or staffing in the first year,” explains Jim. “there was so much we could do to get the operational processes stood up before investing additional capital in technology or people.”

“There was a downside to not asking for increased funding or resources in our first year. As we built out operational components, people had to perform the majority of the functions manually. While it added work, the silver lining was people having a real appreciation for what Qualtrics does automatically.

Want to learn how to align CX metrics with business results?

Watch Jim's webinar.