A Customer-Centric Approach to Digital Transformation: Howard Tiersky

A Customer-Centric Approach to Digital Transformation: Howard Tiersky


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On this episode, we talked to Howard Tiersky, CEO at FROM, The Digital Transformation Agency. Their goal is to bring companies up to speed with customers’ expectations of the digital sphere. After COVID fast-tracked digital transformation for everyone, it’s even more essential to get it right.

And we did it live! Check out our guest’s beautiful faces below:

About Howard Tiersky

Howard is the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance. He was named by IDG as “One of The Top 10 Digital Transformation Influencers to Follow Today,” and by Enterprise Management 360° as “One of the Top 10 Digital Transformation Influencers That Will Change Your World.” 

As an entrepreneur, Howard has launched two successful companies that help large brands transform to thrive in the digital age: FROM, The Digital Transformation Agency and Innovation Loft. Among his dozens of Fortune 1000 clients are Verizon, NBC, Universal Studios, JPMC, Morgan Stanley, the NBA, Visa, and digital leaders like Facebook, Spotify, and Amazon.

Prior to founding his own companies, Howard spent 18 years with Ernst & Young Consulting which then became part of Capgemini, one of the world’s leading global consulting firms, where he helped launch their digital practice.

Howard speaks regularly at major industry conferences and is proud to have been on the faculty of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, his alma mater. He is a frequent contributor to CIO Magazine.

Connect with Howard Tiersky

Follow Howard Tiersky on LinkedIn
Follow Howard Tiersky on Twitter @tiersky

Buy Howard’s book, Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance

Connect with the Voices of CX

Follow Worthix on LinkedIn
Follow Worthix on Twitter: @worthix

Follow Mary Drumond on LinkedIn
Follow Mary Drumond on Twitter: @drumondmary

About Voices of CX Podcast

The Voices of CX Podcast is a podcast that covers all things business strategies, customer decision insight, empathetic leadership practices, and tips for sustainable profitability. With a little bit of geeking out on behavioral science, A.I. and other innovation sprinkled in here and there. The guests span multiple industries, but all of them have years of experience to bring to the table.

Got something to say about CX or want to be featured on the show? Let us know! Email the Producer ([email protected]).


Mary: Welcome to Voices of CX season eight, as usual, bringing you the very best thought leaders, practitioners and academics all in one place. Our goal is to make your job easier by providing you with the tools and inspiration that you need to lead through empathy, one new idea at a time.

Listeners and viewers of Voices of CX podcast, welcome back. We have a great guest today. I’m joined by Howard Tiersky. He’s going to introduce himself in a couple of minutes, but I just want to say thank you for continuing to watch and listen throughout this entire season.

Season eight has been amazing so far, and we’re nearing the middle of our season and really excited for what’s coming up ahead. So firstly, before anything else, I’m going to let our guest introduce himself, Howard, say hey, tell our viewers and listeners who you are, what you do, what you’re passionate about.

Howard: Sure. Hey, Mary, thanks so much for having me. Let’s see, who I am and what I do. Well, I professionally, I run a company called From, the Digital Transformation Agency, and we work with large brands on helping them make sure that they are staying relevant to today’s digital customer, which very often means making sure that customers can engage with them whenever, however, and to do whatever it is that they want through their digital channels and making sure that their overall end to end customer journey is really meeting the high expectations of today’s customers.

So it’s a lot of fun, very rewarding and also very challenging. Because I work with large companies, there’s alot of cultural issues, resistance to change issues. It’s not easy to get large companies to transform, even for the people who are leading them, even for the CEO of a large company. It’s not easy for them to drive transformation.

So I enjoy it, it’s very challenging work and I also, in terms of other things, I live just outside New York City, here in Mahwah, New Jersey. I have five kids, two in college and three still living at home and love love living here. I love New York City.

Mary: That’s great, you know, recently you put out a book this year called Winning Digital Customers, and I think that, correct me if I’m wrong, but this book is kind of a way to get your message out there to the crowds,

explain the mission and the values that you provide organizations and to allow everyone to kind of get a sneak peek of some of the services that you offer. Is that right?

Howard: Yeah. Well, and hopefully more than a sneak peek because it’s it tried to be very detailed in sharing as much as I possibly could about how to successfully drive customer centric transformation at large organizations. Having done this for a couple of decades, which just astonishes me just to look at the calendar and realize how long I’ve been doing this type of work I’ve seen- I’ve had the great opportunity to participate in a lot of big successes that for some major brands and frankly, participate in some colossal failures as well. Bill Gates says one of my favorite quotes from him is that success is a lousy teacher.

So I’ve had some good teachers, I have to say. Through all of that, I would never say in 1,000,000 years, there’s only one right, one way to be successful at anything, including digital transformation.

But there’s definitely a lot of a lot of wrong ways, a lot of paths that do not lead to success. So what I’ve been a collector of all my career is what are the approaches, methodologies, mindsets, et cetera, that tend to lead to success?

How do you tee it up for success through when you start it? And how do you deal with the types of challenges and problems that are likely to occur along the way? And and I try to document as much as possible of that in the book.

So sure, it’s a sneak peek at how we work and how we think, but I also think it’s a blueprint that companies can use. They don’t necessarily need us. It’s a blueprint that anybody can look at and read and understand and approach, a proven approach that’s been used at lots of big companies as something that they can hand to their team.

Or, hey, buy a bunch of copies for your team, you know, at 20 bucks or whatever they’re selling it for on Amazon, it’s a very much cheaper than hiring a consulting firm like us. And of course, nothing can com-

You know, you can’t really compare a book to 25 years of experience and a whole team of people. But for those companies that really want to do it themselves and have their own teams do it, I hope it’s a guide and this is what I’m hearing from people.

that are using the book, is that they’re using it as a kind of a blueprint, as a guidebook, as a playbook to how to approach this stuff.

Mary: That’s great now. I mean, my job, I am blessed to speak to a lot of people in this industry, a lot of consultants, a lot of book authors who talk about customer experience and kind of how to ace it.

Now you’re the first one that I have that’s got such a strong drive to digitization and the digital customer. What was it that specifically motivated you to pick that niche and really zero in on digital?

Howard: Well, personally, I’ve always loved the intersection between creativity and technology, that’s so I think that’s what put me – you know, I studied film and theater and was always fascinated by how you could create an experience for an audience that combines storytelling with what technology can do.

So you can have a live stage production, but you have projection, you have obviously lighting and sound and other things like that. And similarly, of course, in other kinds of media art forms such as film, television, et cetera.

So that was kind of where my early passions were. And of course, what started to happen during the early years of my own career was that interactive forms of media went from a very being very niche to something that was extremely mainstream.

And today, of course, digital engagement across everything from, you know, kind of a media entertainment experience like you might have with watching something on YouTube or Netflix to the way in which we get so many tasks of our daily lives done, whether it’s banking or shopping or whatnot, are all done through this kind of interactive, digital technology

driven experience. So that’s been fantastic for me to get a chance to do that. I think though, if we talk about, you know, a drive towards companies providing more digital capabilities to their customers, that’s more about the customer.

That’s very much to me about the world. I think the way I look at it is. If you think about this phrase, digital transformation, which is just another buzzword, really. But what is it really talking about? I think it starts with the fact that the world is undergoing a digital transformation and our customers are well into a digital transformation.

Most of our customers, whether you’re in a B2B or B2C business, are living a lifestyle with digital at the center. Our phones are like our right arm, right? We wouldn’t be without them. If you leave the house for the day without your phone, you feel like just completely lost.

And so given that and given the importance of that to the customer, the reality is for companies to continue to be successful, to thrive, to stay relevant and meet their customers needs, they’ve got to be delivering digital experiences to their customers that are incredibly elegant, seamless, simple, easy to use.

This is what the customer expects. And if you’re not delivering it, not only are you not meeting their needs, but frankly, you’re almost misaligned with their values. They feel like, Wow, you know what’s up with this company that just doesn’t seem to get it?

I’m sure we’ve all had this experience of interacting with a company that doesn’t seem to be effective in the digital space, and it just seems like they’re totally out of touch. And so, you know, brand marketers, for example, have a few key tracking questions they often use in research to see how strong a brand is.

Things like have you heard of the brand, et cetera? And one of the questions they ask is, is this a brand for people like me or like you? If I’m asking, does this seem like a brand for someone like you?

Does Rolex seem like a brand for someone like me? Does Hyundai seem like a brand for someone like me, et cetera? So of course, it could be brands that I know. But I’d say, Yeah, Lululemon not really a brand for someone like me, you know, nothing wrong with it, just not for me.

And that’s fine. You’re not going to be a brand for everybody. But when the people that you are targeting because I don’t think Lululemon is targeting me. But when the people that you are targeting start to say, this is not a brand for someone like me, then you’ve got a problem.

And this is what happens when companies fall out of step with the digital expectations of their customers.

Mary: You know, it’s really interesting, you know, when you were talking about the whole relationship that we have with our phones. So I was reminded of a webinar that I watched where the brilliant speaker who spoke on robotics talked about how we have a symbiotic relationship with our phones and with our computers.

They’re already an extension of our biology to a certain form. It’s just that right now we’re using our thumbs or our fingers to be able to interact with this technology. And as we move into a future of technology, this will become a lot more perhaps intuitive and not so much through the use of our fingers.

But the reason I’m bringing this up is because what it shows me is that the world is only going to get more digital and we’re going to keep progressing every day more. Another interesting thing that I’m reminded of is the idea of what technology is.

And I remember listening to somebody once say, Would you consider a microwave to be technology? Probably not. But to our parents, it was absolutely super high tech, basically the frickin Jetsons, because a microwave was just such an amazing feat of technology, so things stop being technology once they become normal, once they are so ingrained in your life that they they have always existed to a certain degree. So our phones aren’t technology to our children anymore. Computers aren’t technology to our children anymore. But as they advance, these things will be technology for our children as well.

And then as the generations progress, it will normalize, et cetera, et cetera. But the important thing to remember is that companies have to keep up. Now. Your job in digital transformation. I’ve been hearing about digital transformation for a couple years now, and it feels like there is no end in sight.

How near are we, do you feel Howard, to reaching full digitization with large corporations?

Howard: Well, honestly, if I take the thing you said before that, I think you’ve kind of answered your own question because what I hear you saying is that it’s going to continue, that the influence of technology and its ability to give us more and more capabilities which are going to become, you know, every technology, what do they say? You know, it starts out as as magic and eventually becomes like you’re saying, you know, day to day is just an obvious thing. I think that there’s – I see no end in sight to the trend of

Technology giving us more and more ways of accomplishing the things that we want to do in a day, in a day, whether that’s work or entertaining ourselves or connecting with our friends, whatever it may be. And you know, look at, you know, you mentioned your thumbs and using your thumbs.

I mean, look at what’s happening now with with voice and conversational commerce and all that. Alexa now listens to me all day long. In fact, one of the one of the things that I notice happens sometimes I’ll be speaking to somebody.

I wonder if you if you’ve had this experience where you’re having a normal conversation, there’s an Alexa in the room, all of a sudden Alexa wakes up. You weren’t trying to activate the Alexa, but it’s all right. This is true of Google Home.

Has this happened to you?

Mary: Yep. Yeah, absolutely. They’re like, I don’t understand what you’re saying, right? And I’m like fshh, not talking to you.

Howard: Or sometimes it does understand what you’re saying. And you know, we’re talking about a movie and all of a sudden it’s bringing something up about the movie, right? And you know, I wasn’t asking you, Alexa, Alexa’s like, wants into the conversation.

Yeah. And but I think in the future, with between voice recognition and also computer vision, we’re going to have technology that sees what we see that knows what we’re doing and can continuously give us information that might be helpful so that if I’m talking to you and you mentioned the movie, it’s coming up on my screen or a clip or some information about it, you know, that would be a natural example of a next step type thing. In fact, we already see this in some call centers where the there’s a constant text to – sorry, voice to text process happening, essentially creating a transcript.

And then that text is being analyzed by A.I. So if the person on the other end says they live in Boise, Idaho, up on the screen comes Boise, Idaho. You know, I don’t know what the Boise slogan is, but let’s just say the, you know, everyone’s favorite city and then the weather.

And oh, you know, I know it’s raining in Boise today, right? That’s being prompted to the person because the computer knows that that person said that and they’re trying to help the person. So I think we’re going to just see that those are just some examples and obviously with the possibilities of blockchain and the next generation of

AI. And, you know, just it just goes on and on augmented and virtual reality, what drones are going to enable. So yes, I think we’re going to continue to see the same path we’ve seen, which is that technology is trans- continues to set a new bar.

And as that happens, people’s expectations are going to go up and up, which means that digital transformation is a game of the goalposts constantly being moved. It’s it’s, you know, another analogy would be it’s like a race, you know, and you’re running and you’re trying to keep up with the customer and you’re trying to keep up with the customers expectations and their changing behaviors. And by the way, COVID just put a rocket pack on the pace of the customers, you know, speed of movement towards a more digital lifestyle because the customer was forced to do that.

But as a result, they’ve adopted some new behaviors, which they’re not necessarily going to give up. Even, you know, God willing, COVID will be continuing to subside and not be a major part of our lifestyle anymore within whatever six months, a year or two years, I don’t know.

But as that happens, there are some new behaviors whether it’s ordering your groceries from Instacart or bringing more meals in from Uber Eats or, you know, some people finally transition to online banking. You know, I know people who they still were bringing their checks to the bank.

And then finally, due to COVID, now they’re taking pictures of their checks with their phone and now they’re not going back. So I think that, you know, as many people have commented, this has accelerated the pace of digital transformation.

And so, yeah, I think it’s going to keep moving, which is why this just is not like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly kind of transformation. It’s not that kind of thing like you transform and you’re done. It’s a continuous improvement, continuous move to chase the customers changing lifestyle.

And as long as they continue to move, then brands need to keep moving. Otherwise, you know, you fall out of step, you become Sears.

Mary: Yeah, I saw a meme the other day that said no one had a bigger glow up than the QR code during COVID. And I mean, absolutely, because the QR code… OK, you know, here and there we used it, but nobody was infatuated with QR codes.

We were actually, I think, trying to constantly find different things to use that weren’t QR code and QR codes. Actually, if I’m not mistaken, had a moment where they really dipped and they became very unpopular. And all of a sudden they just soared during COVID.

It’s the whole idea of being able to access something digitally on your own device. And it’s interesting because I was you as you were talking about all these things. I was thinking about my children and how my children interact with technology and what they believe is normal and what they’re going to expect from the market as they come of age and become active members of the market, let’s say. And you said, Alexa, my kids, for me, it’s very unnatural to speak to an artificial intelligence slave like I find it very…ughh.

You know, like when I hear people that are rude to Alexa, it really gives me a bad vibe and I don’t like doing it. My kids don’t have the same resistance to it at all. They’ll speak to Alexa as if they were speaking to any other human being, you know, so this integration of technology is really, really interesting.

But what I like about what you’re doing is that you’re able to put this all in the lens of customer experience and focus on how technology and how digitization is improving the experience of the customer and bringing forth better outcomes that are less frustration, less effort, less disappointment, more success when it comes to people doing business with organizations. So tell me a little bit about the methodology that you applied and some of the stuff that you laid out in the book.

Howard: Sure, of course. Yeah, I believe that digital is a force for great good in the world, and we can always point out examples where there’s harm of the digital world and social media having negative impacts and all that.

So there’s no question, but you could say that about any innovation, right? You could say, well, there’s some bad things about electricity or there’s some bad things about anything. But I really believe overall it’s a force for great good.

And, you know, in terms of how companies transform and what I talk about in the book, I talk about a five step process to earn the love of today’s digital customer, by which I just mean people who live a digitally centric lifestyle, which increasingly is nearly everybody.

Maybe not everybody. I don’t know. Have you seen this HBO documentary about Fran Lebowitz done by Martin Scorsese?

Mary: I did see that. Yes, I did. I didn’t watch it. But I I saw it on there as an option.

Howard: So check it out. It’s great. But what’s what’s interesting about it is Fran Lebowitz, who’s like, I think in her seventies or maybe older and for decades, right?

Mary: I adore her.

Howard: She’s fantastic. I don’t even know how to how to describe her, as she is not exactly a stand up comic. She’s a writer. But anyway, she’s a humorist. She’s been a personality for decades, right?

Mary: Her personality.

Howard: Professional personality.

But the thing that’s interesting about her is she’s say in the documentary repeatedly, you know, she doesn’t have a smartphone. She doesn’t have a cell phone. She doesn’t have a computer. She writes on an old typewriter, not a manual.

She does have an electric typewriter, at least. But she’s gotten that far, you know, and she hasn’t adopted new technology and that makes her worthy of a documentary. You know, that’s so unusual. It’s so extraordinary that someone has has not opted in to this digital world that they are, you know, such an anomaly that they

are, you know, like that interesting. Let’s make a documentary. So this is increasingly all your customers. And so the question is, well, how do you do that if you’re not totally meeting our needs today, if you’re not totally in line?

Well, the first step of the five step process we talk about in the book is understand your customer, really conduct research to make sure that you really know where are they right now? What are their hopes and dreams? What are their fears and frustrations?

And you know, what is the experience that they’re having when they go about whatever part of their lives your brand is trying to be a part of? And most businesses have some understanding of their customer. It’s pretty hard to run a successful business if you’re completely clueless about your customer.

But most businesses do not have a thorough understanding of their customer. And furthermore, because of what we talked about earlier with COVID, customers have changed. Whatever business you are in, your customers have changed in the last twelve to 18 months, significantly much more significantly than they did in the prior few years.

And so if you haven’t checked back in on this, if you’re relying on a mental model of your customer that you’ve developed over years, well you run the risk that that mental model is outdated. And so the whole first section of the book talks about what are a bunch of different effective techniques for studying and understanding the customer things like ethnography, surveys, interviews, focus groups and we go into not just listing them, but what are some good ways of using these tools to really get the data and insights that you need? And so that’s the first step because, you know, after all, we’re in the business –

Any business is in the business of trying to drive customer behavior, first and foremost. If you can’t successfully drive customer behavior, you’re probably not running a very successful business. There are aspects of business that are not about driving customer behavior, but if you do all of those things right and you.

All to drive customer behavior, you’re probably out of business anyway, and if you really are great at driving customer behavior, it’ll make up for a lot of sins. If you say, Oh well, our our accounting is not really the best or something else, right?

So it’s the most important thing in business. And in order to successfully drive someone’s behavior, you have to understand something about them or else you’re just shooting in the dark. So that’s the first step. And then the second step is journey mapping, so many people are familiar with the idea, journey mapping, a lot of people do it.

There’s different ways and approaches to journey mapping, so I go into detail in the book on the approach that we use for journey mapping that’s been proven successful, a lot of large projects. And one of the things that a lot of people I think do wrong when they approach journey mapping, or at least I think they would

be more successful if they would do it my way, is they like to start journey mapping the vision of the future. People think the journey map is the first thing to do is to figure out what should the ideal customer journey be.

And that is the critical outcome of journey mapping. Absolutely. You want that north star of what is the customer experience that when I deliver it, I will be able to stand toe to toe with any competitor in my market and I will really be earning and deserving the love of the customer.

But before you do that, you have to do something that’s somewhat less fun usually, which is to map the current journey, what actually happens when the customer engages with your brand now? Not the theoretical idea. Well, we know, you know, people come to the store, they find a product, they put in the cart, they go, they checkout, Yeah, that’s what you think happens. But what really happens? Do they make a list before they come to this store while they’re in the store? How do they find what they’re looking for? What problems and challenges do they encounter along the way, et cetera, et cetera?

And when you when you do the work of defining and understanding the current state journey, you wind up with something that’s a lot messier looking than your perfect idea of how it should be. But that also shows you where there’s customer pain.

Frustration, challenges, disappointment. I mean, in your life, you probably have some brands that you interact with that give you some pain on a regular basis. Is there one that kind of comes to mind?

Mary: Yeah, but I use it so often on this podcast that I’m tired of it, and it’s Comcast…poor Comcast. So I’m like trying to think of somebody new that’s been annoying me and I think it’s going to be T-Mobile.

I think T-Mobile is currently the biggest villain in my customer sphere.

Howard: Yeah. So, for example, we worked with a large telecommunications provider and we looked at some of the experiences. And by the way, there are so many different use cases that it can be quite a lot of work to map it all out.

But for example, we looked at what happens when someone wants to upgrade their cable television service, though they have old ten year old boxes in their house and they’re they’re being advertised to. The company is spending money trying to get them to say no, get the new version with the voice remote and everything.

So we went through and we tested, and we mystery shop for this particular client, what the experience is, and I mean, it was it was terrible. There were all kinds – by the way, it was in part, fantastic, I should add.

Right. When you went to the site to understand and we watched users representative customers of different segments go through this process. When you went to the pages that had been created to persuade you why you should spend the money to upgrade to the new version of the cable service that had 4K and voice remotes and all that, it was fantastic and people were transfixed. They loved it. They were having a fantastic experience imagining themselves how much better their life would be with this fantastic new service. So that was a huge win. So people are on a high and then they’re like, Yes, I want it.

And then it’s like, Great, what’s your zip code? And they’re like, Wait, I’m logged in. I’m your customer, you know? But OK, I don’t know why you don’t know this, but it’s only five digits. Here is my zip code.

And then it would say, hang on, we’re checking if it’s available in your neighborhood. Well, first of all, you sent me an email that you wanted me to buy this from you. And then, by the way, it takes like 30 seconds to check to see whether it’s available in your neighborhood, right?

So you’re like, doo-de-doo-de-doo, OK, you know. So, OK, then oh, good news. It’s available in your neighborhood. OK, fantastic. What’s the, what are my pricing options? Hang on. Let’s check…spinning, spin – but anyway, so you get the idea, right?

So, you know, I’m sure that this is not the intended experience that anyone created, but this is the reality, right? The reality is that what’s happening and one thing we always like to do with journey mapping both current and future state journey mapping, but it’s especially interesting with current state journey mapping is map the emotional journey because the emotional journey is I always say, that’s the real journey. Yes, you did this, you clicked on that, you entered this field, but how did you feel? Because that’s what you’re going to remember. And so in this particular case, it started, It starts with, you know, in this case, maybe curiosity. Oh, interesting. This is a new option. Voice remote, would I even want that? Is it really worth it? I don’t know. It starts with maybe some curiosity and some uncertainty.

OK, then you click and then it’s like, it’s amazement. It’s excitement, you know? Fantastic. Now we’ve got this wonderful emotional journey, and then it’s kind of a little bit of momentary confusion, OK? And then it’s a little bit of frustration.

And then and I won’t bore your listeners with the whole experience here. We’ve all been through these types of experiences, but it just gets worse and worse. And at some point you get, I wound up on and customer service chat with one of the customers who couldn’t get it to work, couldn’t get the upgrade to work right. And then they asked the person and the person says, Well, what’s your phone number? This is the chat. This is the real person on the other end of chat, what’s your phone number? Because I need to look up your account.

So again, it’s like, Gee, I’m already logged in, but OK, fine. And then he says, Wait a minute, you can’t enter the whole phone number at once because the security filter won’t allow me to actually, it’ll block it.

So would you enter your phone number two digits at a time like two digits enter, two digits enter. So this is how you had to enter your phone number so that you could circumvent the security filter so that the customer service person could look up your phone number so they could figure out why you weren’t able to do the upgrade. You know, again, I work with people at this company and other big companies. They’re smart people, right? Nobody sat down and said, Let’s create an experience like this. This would be great.

Mary: Let’s ruin people’s day when they’re trying to buy from us.

Howard: And by the way, you know, nobody even wants to face up to the fact that this is the experience. This is the torture that you’re putting through people. But you you have to be willing to be honest and measured and say, Listen, this is what’s happening today.

Let’s give ourselves credit for what’s great because there’s always stuff that’s great. And let’s really look in the nooks and crannies for the places. And it may be certain edge cases, you know, maybe some people that upgrade works fine for, but other people it doesn’t.

Why not? Well, you know, who knows why? Right? Because of what zip code they’re in, because of this additive thing, but we have to get to these things. And you know, that makes one other point to which I see people very often think about CX in terms of things like designing wireframes and creating great app screens and prototypes. And of course, those things are essential. But sometimes it’s also about the technology implementation because you can have a great vision of what the CX is meant to be. And this is one of the things that’s really important about current state journey mapping is what really happens.

No CX designer designed it that when I enter my information, it comes back and says, I can’t find your account, even though I’m currently logged in. Hello, but something’s wrong. Something is broken, you know, and that sort of stuff happens all the time.

So I think, you know, part of great CX is just the constant hygiene of figuring out is this giant maze and, I don’t even mean that in a negative way, this giant complex system that most companies have created to deal with all the different customer types and all the different products and all the different use cases working in every

way that it’s supposed to be working. And the answer inevitably is no, it never is. But do we even know where it’s working and where it’s broken? And then once we know, of course, we can prioritize and make sure we’re constantly, constantly fixing it?

Mary: Yeah, it’s interesting because I mean, the regular viewers and listeners know that I practice Olympic weightlifting as my sport of choice. And I recently decided to teach a friend how to do the same lifts. Her name is Amanda.

Amanda gets a shout out. And the interesting thing about weightlifting is that you have to do so many things at the same time, there are so many moving parts. And in order for the lift to actually come out perfectly, you have to get every single step right.

And if a single movement or position or the way that your thumb is gripping the barbell or anything is even slightly off, you nix that lift. So everything has to be perfect in order to get a successful outcome.

And I believe that these large organizations are exactly the same, except that there are so many more steps than in weightlifting. There are so many different departments, so many different individuals, so many different processes that all have to align in order to give the customer successful outcome.

And that’s hard. You know, we really like ganging up on big companies and giving them a hard time for crappy service. But the truth is, it’s hard. It’s really hard. There are so many moving parts. There’s so much that has to be looked at.

And I think that it’s great when we have consulting companies like you and so many other people who work in the space that are able to provide these organizations with a macro view of, look, this is what’s actually happening and being able to pinpoint at which moment it’s all going south because that’s actually so hard to do

when you’ve got thousands of physical locations, plus an online store, plus operations and 45 different countries spread across four continents and multiple languages, multiple cultures, multiple personas all at the same time. And they all need a successful outcome, even though that successful outcome looks different for each of them.

So I’ve got a lot of respect and admiration for people who do what you do because it’s so challenging to be able to detect those those moments and orchestrate the entire experience towards a successful outcome. But you were on step three, I think.

Did you get around to step four?

Howard: Actually, I think I was only on step two. Oh no, let me real quickly summarize, you know, so step one is to understand your customer. Step two is to map the journey, and step three is to build a future.

And that’s, you know, we use a very design thinking centric process to again continue to use customer research every step of the way to to build – I mean, let me put it this way when you create a customer journey vision of the future.

It can seem overwhelming. It’s like, OK, you can map out this is how it ought to be, and then you can have that like that part of all of us, that’s a little cynical. It’s like, Oh man, you know, how many lifetimes will it take to get my company from where they are to this vision that we’ve just mapped out? Of course, there are many ways to accelerate it. And I talk about that in the book. But part of the key is to say, Well, we’re not going to get it all done in a week or a month or a quarter.

Let’s start breaking it down. What do we need? We need to upgrade our app. We need a new web portal. We need a new content management system. We need we need all these different components, essentially different products, some of them our customer facing products.

Some of them are more support products like a CRM system. So you break it down into products and projects. And then for each them, you go through a process of determining what are the detailed requirements that are really going to make this component fit into that overall journey?

The key component of using customer journeys as a tool to drive product development is you make sure that everybody working in all the different pieces and parts always, always understands how these pieces are meant to fit together. So what we’re doing with the chat app has to work together with what we’re doing in the call center, together with what we’re doing in the app. All these things are part of a greater ecosystem.

And so making sure that some people are looking at the big picture of how things fit together, but in corporations and enterprises, of course, inevitably we’re trying to get so much done.

We need to be able to break into teams so small groups of people can focus on different parts of what needs to get done so. So we talked about that in the book, and I go into great lengths on design thinking and we talk about some of the extensions and annotations that my company that we use to design thinking, which I think is genius in and of itself. But we’ve expanded on it ourselves. We talk about those things in the book, what we call design thinking 2.0. And then those three form kind of like the main three part sequence understanding the customer journey mapping and then building it.

But then we have two parallel additional layers which occur while you’re doing those other three. So step four is to optimize the present to say, you know, going through the process of really understanding the customer and mapping the journey and really building that Nirvana, north star vision of the future is going to take time.

It’s probably going to take years. And your investors are probably not that patient. Your CEO is probably not that patient or especially your CFO. It’s probably not that patient. And of course, your customers aren’t that patient. So while you’re working on this fantastic future, you need to be identifying what people often call the low hanging fruit.

What are the ways that were disappointing, angering, frustrating, confusing our customers that we can fix quickly right now? And they may not be the big transformational changes. But when you go through a rigorous process of identifying all of them in inventory, all of them and you say, OK, this quarter, we’re going to fix these 50 things and no one of them, one of them is confusing instructions and one of them is a badly worded button and one of them is trying to speed up how long it takes when we come back with the order, status or whatever it is.

No one of those things is going to be earth shattering. But when you fix 50 a quarter and at the end of the year, you fix 200 things, you start to really see a significant impact. It’s like weight loss, you know, probably not going to change a jean size in a day or maybe even a week, but do it for a year and people are going to be shocked and they’re going to say, Oh my God, you know? So I think that that is a key part of it because if you only focus on the long term, you’re likely to never make it there because people will run out of patience and they’ll stop funding you.

Of course, if you only focus on the little fixes, then everything is, you know, duct tape and bailing wire, you know, so you need it, you need to have a blend of both. And then the last of these parallel efforts is to lead the change.

And of course, that’s not really what you do last. That’s what you do first. But when we talk about it in the book and when we think about it, we like to talk about it last because I always feel like first, it’s helpful to get clarity on what all you need to do and then ask the question what kind of leadership is necessary to be able to drive this kind of transformational change within organizations?

And it’s very, very challenging because organizations are naturally resistant to change, and it requires a much higher level of leadership skill to transform an organization than to simply operate and manage one during a time of relative stability.

And so I go in the book and a lot of the things you need to think about when trying to engage in transformation. All of the reasons why organizations tend to resist and have antibodies to change both organizations and individuals, and a variety of different techniques to overcome those problems because you’re going to have to overcome in order to get to a successful result. And we also know that about things like the different kinds of training that’s necessary, different organizational models, work processes and things like that that are a part of driving successful transformation.

Mary: So I think that your book when providing the blueprint for the individuals inside organizations, is the book truly targeted towards the customer experience professionals inside organizations? Or is it to the CTO and the digital team?

Howard: Well, I think it’s all of those what the what the book describes is a customer centric approach to digital transformation, which, by the way, I think is the only way to be successful. So if someone is a seasoned CX professional, I think that there may be aspects of how we describe certain research techniques, for example, that they may already know, of course, but it’s always helpful to get someone else’s perspective.

I know I read books all the time on how other people do customer research just to see what I can learn something new. But there’s other things in there that are more about business that if someone’s a CX professional, they might really benefit from because it teaches how to talk to, for example, a CEO and how to pitch and sell and get money for customer experience. And that’s not so much a CX skill, right? As it is something a little different. And then there’s the inverse right?

Someone who’s a business lead like, let’s say, is a CEO or a CFO or a marketing lead, you know, there might be some business insights into that they know, but they might be interested to learn more and understand the rationale behind customer experience and then some of the approaches that are taking the customer experience.

So I like to say I think there’s something in there for anyone who’s got a hand in customer experience driving the business growth, digital transformation, those types of things.

Mary: That’s great. Yeah, I absolutely agree with what you said and we discussed it a little bit in our pre call where a lot of CX departments struggle transmitting the value of what they do to the people who control the budget.

It’s really difficult to put it in terms that they understand, and it almost feels like at time we need an interpreter to be able to translate the more emotional or perhaps human benefits into the more financial number benefits.

And this happens because in the same way that customers are all different and we have to understand customers and their unique challenges and pains and needs. We have to do the same thing internally and understand that each individual in the organization has their own set of challenges that they’re dealing with, and most importantly, their own set of

metrics and success indexes that they need to hit as well. So what do you think would be the number one way to translate the value of customer experience into the person who’s controlling the numbers and not like, Oh, CX is a growth strategy.

Yeah, yeah. But like, is there something really, really robust and tangible that you’ve learned throughout your decades of experience that truly makes a difference when trying to get your CX pitch across?

Howard: Yeah, there’s probably three or four or five things, so I’ll just pick one. I don’t know if I will say it’s necessarily number one, but it’s a big one, which is helping those that are in decision-making position understand how the quality of the CX is impacting sales, is impacting returns, is impacting customer word of mouth, is impacting the things that they can easily understand our driving business because there’s a sort of a domino effect that happens with certain things in business.

Now, if you if you give someone a bad customer experience one person in one instance, you could argue like, what’s the big grand, you know, business impact of that?

The truth, though, is that, you know, if you want to drive a business result, you want to drive dollars in the cash register, you want customers to pay you money. What you’re really doing is you’re trying to drive a behavior.

And so I would argue that I think I mentioned this earlier. A key goal of any business is to drive customer behavior. And so then the question is, well, how do you drive that behavior? Well, people’s behavior mostly comes from their thoughts and feelings.

Where else is it going to come from, you know? And then I go into this in much more detail in the book. But and so then what drives thoughts and feelings? I mean, all the thoughts and feelings we have today, we weren’t born with them.

So where do they come from? Mostly from our experiences. And so if you start to see the logical kind of it’s like one of those little Newton ball toys, you know where you pull the ball and it knocks the first ball back and second ball knocks the third ball, experience is what drives business results. And so when we get the experience right, then we get the business result ball going up on the other end.

And there’s a lot of data to support this like you said. In the book, I go into a lot of data that shows the correlations between the companies that have great customer experiences and that have great business results and great great growth profitability increase in share price. But even then, that can fall short because someone can say, Sure, sure, you know, it worked for Apple, but like, they’re different where we make, you know, industrial lawnmowers, right?

Like, you know, that’s different from making – is it really, though? You’re making equipment right? You’re making, you know, but people can easily create that mindset that says these examples are different from my business. But first of all, when you help someone understand that there is this logical correlation, of course, how you treat the customer ultimately results in their behavior and their behavior is really what we’re after. Then the other thing that you can do that we do a lot is when we do customer research, we video it and then we curate videos.

So, you know, if you don’t really believe that your customers are really upset, do they really care about how hard itis to order if it takes eight steps instead of three steps to order your product? I mean, come on, it still only takes two minutes. You can rationalize. And are we really going to spend $1,000,000 to take our ordering process from eight steps down to five steps?

Come on, it’s only three step difference. OK? Let’s watch a couple of video clips of customers going through the ordering process and how they start out, just like what we talked about earlier, that emotional journey. You know, you can usually what we do when we set up these videos is we’ll show the screen and then we’ll show the person’s face picture and pictures.

So we’re using like a webcam on the face and then we’re, you know, screen recording, using CAMTASIA or something like that, the screen. And then we’ll, when we edit it at some points, we’ll swap them depending on what we want the person to focus on.

But at a certain point, we really want them to see the person’s face. We really want them to see, what are we doing to this person’s emotional state? And when you see that, you know, sometimes I’ve been in those kinds of meetings where after a while, it’s what I call the Clockwork Orange technique, you know, at a certain point, people say, OK, stop, stop. Don’t show me any more of those videos. I’ll give you the money for the project.

And you know, I mean, it doesn’t always go quite that easily, but the point is made when they see human response to it, and they can empathize with that response instead of just intellectualizing and saying , you know, because in the end, you know, I mentioned that experience creates thoughts and feelings and thoughts and feelings drive behavior. But then, that’s all true, but which is more important? What do you think is more important, the thoughts or the feelings?

Mary: Well, I would say that the feelings are the ones that generate the memories and the memories are what’s going to determine their future behavior. So I’d probably say the feelings.

Howard: That’s a huge point. That’s right. We remember the things that have an emotion. You know, when you think about your first memory from when you were three or four or five, why did you remember that thing? Out of 100 other things that happened on that same day? Why do we all remember where we were on 9-11, but not where we were on 9-12?

Absolutely. What you said is 100 hundred percent true. And furthermore, lots of studies have shown that when decisions are being made, for example, purchase decisions, It’s like 80% emotional. Or put another way, we make the decisions based on our emotions and then we rationalize them intellectually.

So it doesn’t mean you don’t have it. Like, for example, my wife just upgraded her iPhone from, I think, the iPhone eleven to the iPhone 13. Now, if I said to her, OK, you just spent twelve hundred dollars, $1299 on a new phone.

Explain to me rationally how having the 13 and not the eleven is going to be worth that much money in the quality of your life. And I think she would fail. But it doesn’t matter because she would say, Oh, the camera is, you know, 87 megapixels instead of only 60 megapixels, OK?

You only need like ten megapixels for the pictures you’re taking, you know? But the point is it’s that she wanted it.

Mary: The point is she bought it, right?

Howard: Exactly. She had a desire that they successfully cultivated. They play to your emotions with those beautiful pictures of the phone, and that’s all about your emotions. It’s absolutely not rational. And I’m not criticizing either Apple or my wife. Please make sure she knows I was not criticizing her.

Would you? If you wouldn’t mind sending a note, just let her know. Howard, you know, Howard is not criticizing you. But anyway, I know in all seriousness, you know, that is how most decisions are made, and that includes big B2B decisions.

I work in the consulting field. And you know, there’s that old phrase no one ever got fired for hiring IBM. Right now, I don’t work for IBM, you know, but that’s like a classic phrase, right? And just think about what that’s really saying, right?

It’s playing to your fear, it’s playing to the fear that I don’t want to have to worry that I stuck my neck out and hired somebody other than the industry giant. And therefore, you know, the decision is being made emotionally not necessarily –

What if IBM costs three times more? What if they’re not even as good as doing it? Yeah, but the reason they say no one got fired for hiring IBM. The implication is, if things go wrong with whoever you’ve hired, you can say, Well, gee, it’s not my fault.

I hired frigging IBM. What more could you expect of me versus if I hire someone else that someone is not as familiar with? They could say, Well, you know, you made a bad decision. And so but the point is this very phrase, which is such a popular phrase that relates to B2B purchasing, comes from an acknowledgment that rational rationality is not the primary driving force behind these kinds of decisions very often.

So when we know that people’s decisions which drive their behaviors are so emotionally influenced, then getting the emotion right is key. And I think that even people who aren’t in CX like CEOs, and see if they get that still, when you show them the video of somebody that you’re torturing and asks,who do you think this customer is going to call next time they want to buy a product? How soon you think they’re going to want to come back to our website or whatnot?

You know, it doesn’t take a CX degree to say, Yeah, probably not us. This person looks pretty unhappy. And then you say, OK, well, every day we have 12,000 people who go through this purchase process, these seven or eight steps.

I’m not saying they’re all this upset. But when we tested 25 people, you know, 17 of them indicated that they were dissatisfied. So I think a lot of people are like these people on the video. That’s why we need $1.2 million to do a bla bla bla, and this can have a big impact.

Mary: Yeah. This is an interesting episode for me, Howard, because I’m normally the one saying the things that you’re saying, and it’s very weird to be hearing you say them all. And then I don’t have to say them because I am.

Howard: I’m preaching to the choir here.

Mary: I mean, if there ever was a choir, it’s me. Because customer decisions, customer behavior, how it drives decisions, how those decisions impact, you know, the overall success of a company. That’s my jam. That’s what I’m always doing, you know?

And the one thing that I would add is that being able to measure the decision precisely and understand exactly which facet of the decision-making process is the one that ultimately contributed to your customer’s decision to buy or not.

When companies are able to identify that moment, then it’s pure gold because it becomes the path becomes so clear. When you understand why you’re valuable. What is it about what Apple is doing that’s making your wife buy, even though she can’t logically explain it?

What is it about the B2B buyer who’s ultimately purchasing IBM instead of any other company? Is it truly the social proof? And if it is that social proof element, then how do you increase that even more to get more business? Or to get repeat business?

And what are the things that you have to either remove or try to decrease inside of your process that’s making people not choose you? So being able to to use technology, use methodologies out there that are able to deliver these insights is super duper valuable.

So thank you for coming today and for feeding all of my arguments back to me today. It was really special and it was great having you are.

Howard: Happy to be here.

Mary: Awesome. And then to finish up, where can people find your book so that they can learn these exact skills?

Howard: Absolutely. So most places you would look for a book. You can find my book Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, etc. There’s also a website for the book, which is at Winning Digital Customers.com. You can download the first chapter for free there, as well as get access to links to all the places.

You can buy it for your various devices, or even on paper, if you prefer. If you’re interested in learning more about my company and my consulting practice, you can go to From.Digital and learn about us there.

Mary: That’s wonderful. Thanks so much for coming on, Howard. To our viewers and listeners. Thank you for joining us once again, and we’ll be back next week. That’s our show.

Thanks for joining us. We hope we’ve brought you one step closer to leading through empathy. It’s our way of making the world a better place. one business at a time. Don’t forget to subscribe and hit the bell if you want to know as soon as we publish a new episode.

Voices of CX is brought to you by Worthix. I’m Mary Drumond. This podcast is hosted and produced by me, edited and co-produced by Steve Berry. See you next week.


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Mary Drumond

Mary Drumond

Mary Drumond is Chief Marketing Officer at Worthix, the world's first cognitive dialogue technology, and host of the Voices of Customer Experience Podcast. Originally a passion project, the podcast runs weekly and features some of the most influential CX thought-leaders, practitioners and academia on challenges, development and the evolution of CX.



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