Customer Experience

Jeanne Bliss: Why ‘how’ you grow is just as important as ‘how much’

Ask Jeanne Bliss, CEO and founder of Customer Bliss, what she does for a living and she’ll tell you she’s on ‘a crusade’. It’s one that has seen her give 2,000 keynotes, coach more than 20,000 execs around the world, and publish four best-selling books.

Her mission? “To help people around the world do a better job of uniting their organization to improve lives and to grow their business admirably.”

Jeanne’s expertise comes from being a five-time Chief Customer Officer, having taken her first role at Land’s End in 1983, aged 26 and before ‘customer experience’ had really been defined as a discipline.

In the 35 years since, customer experience has grown at a phenomenal rate, power has shifted towards  customers and employees as the Experience Economy has boomed.

“We are living in a world where customers have the megaphone,” says Jeanne. “That’s been one of the most wonderful forcing functions when finally it wasn't about who we said we were. It's about what employees and customers say we are.

“And they talk about three things. Did you do what you said you were going to do? Did you improve my life? And how did you make me feel as a result of doing that?  That’s really forcing us to focus on this now.”

But for all the advances in methodology and technology that have followed, there’s one key component that continues to drive Jeanne — leadership.

“How you lead, how you grow, and how you choose to grow is what defines you as an organization. So I help people around the world do a better job of uniting their organization to improve lives and to grow their business admirably.”

Start By Honoring Your Customers

‘Growing admirably’ is a common theme throughout our discussion with Jeanne  — a refreshing change as she deliberately steers clear of discussions around cost savings and returns on CX that usually dominate the profession.

For Jeanne, CX needs to be seen as something with a far greater purpose.

“We’re here to honor the person who pays money to us,” she says. “I think we often lose sight of that.”

She rejects the idea that CX is all about short-term financial gain — an attitude she regularly comes up against when coaching exec teams — and needs look no further than her own upbringing for the perfect demonstration.

Jeanne and her siblings would often help out at her father’s Buster Brown shoe store in Chicago, an experience which showed just how intertwined businesses are in people’s day to day lives.

“He put the very first pair of shoes on little kids' feet,” she says. “He also said to moms when they opened up their pocketbooks and they didn't have enough, ‘get those shoes on your little one's feet, bring back the rest in when you're in town.’

“He had put shoes on a generation of children and their children's children, so he became a part of the story of their life.

“A line of people three blocks long stood to say goodbye to this man — what he didn’t get in financial prosperity, he got back in many, many more important versions of prosperity.”

‘You Have To Go And Earn Loyalty’

The growth of the CX profession over the past decade has seen countless organizations set up entire practices to improve the experience for customers and the Chief Customer Officer now plays a key role in many leadership teams.

An unintended consequence of that however is that CX is now at risk of becoming its own silo, something Jeanne is keen to nip in the bud at any organization she goes into.

“When I'm working with the company and I'm coaching a chief customer officer, I make it a requirement that I'm coaching the entire C-Suite,” she says.

“Each part of the organization defines scores based on the actions or the tasks that they're trying to work on. But those actions or tasks done separately are what come together and create an unplanned experience.

“And so it's deliberateness, it's uniting and it's being clear about your purpose in improving lives and then taking the actions to get that right and staying the course. This isn't a one and done.

“You've got to earn it too — you can't just go get loyalty. You can't go get growth. You have to earn it  and you have to earn it on a regular basis.”

It's About Heroes, Not Heroics

‘Unplanned experiences’ are all too common in the vast majority of organizations. That’s not to say they don’t deliver great service — many do, but it’s usually the result of an employee heroically stepping in to work around the system to find a way to delight their customers, rather than the product of a system designed to delight.

“What we have now is organizations of exhausted heroic front line employees,” says Jeanne. “But what we need to do is move them from heroics to enabling them to be heroes, getting rid of the goo inside of the organization that they have to work around.

“I think of it more as really putting people in a position to use their brain and their values that you hired them for. Hire good people, trust them, and put them in a position to make the call.”

She points out that in many organizations, these unplanned experiences are costing them money too as customers get wise to the system and play ‘service roulette.’

“You know, you've called an airline more than once, right?” she asks. “I bet you any money you call up, if you don't get someone who's been around a lot and they know how to navigate it, what do you do? You put the phone down.

“You actually cost the company more money because you call again and hope for a better outcome.”

Quit Chasing The Money And Focus On 'Why'

The key to delivering world-class customer experience is nothing new — go back to 1983 when Jeanne took her first role as Chief Customer Officer at Land’s End and the words founder Gary Comer said to her when he gave her the job still ring true today.

“He said ‘You're the conscience of the company. Your job is to make sure that we keep going back to our heart and our values and our place as we grow’ — that was that, it made my career,” says Jeanne.

Teaching organizations to go back to their values and put that at the heart of their growth is the theme of her highly acclaimed book Chief Customer Officer 2.0, which focuses on the notion of honoring customers as an asset of the business.

“Many organizations still don't do the basic math,” she says. “We're waiting for customers to tell us how we did, versus measuring how we did based on them voting with their feet.

“So for example, organizations focus on how many new customers they brought in volume and value in any given time. But how many did they lose in that same period in volume and value? In most organizations, the sales guys are running up the flagpole and shouting ‘here's how many we acquired’, but we're not subtracting lost from new, which is the outcome of our experience.”

It’s a culture change for many organizations to get right, and one that all comes back to leadership once more.

“This is an attitude shift,” she says. “It's about leaders fearlessly connecting the dots for the organization and asking themselves,  ‘did we earn the right to grow? Did we bring in more than we lost? And why?’

“Of course you need to prove there’s an ROI, but what we find is it’s not the ROI that drives people, it’s the integrity, the growth and how they grow.”

To be effective, that culture change needs to go beyond being just another corporate tagline, and really embed itself into the DNA of a company.

That means aligning your CX strategy to your Employee Experience (EX) and walking the walk both externally and internally.

“People are gonna call baloney on you if you say customer is king, but yet you send your frontline on so many customer calls that they don't have time, and you metric them on the amount of calls they made in a week versus the quality of the conversation and if they really diagnosed a customer,” says Jeanne.

“If you're measuring the amount of time to onboard a customer instead of the quality of the onboarding you're sending two different signals. If you're saying customers important, but you're nickel and diming them and charging them, your employees are going to start to say, ‘yeah, not so much.’”

Learn more from Jeanne on how to improve CX in her webinar

5 unexpected steps to improving customer experience