The Secret to C-Suite Centricity: Dennis Wakabayashi

The Secret to C-Suite Centricity: Dennis Wakabayashi


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About Dennis Wakabayashi

Dennis Wakabayashi is a world leading CX strategist, innovator and evangelist working with Fortune 100 brands to transform their businesses by making customer experience the most important and reliable element of every business decision.

Dedicated to sharing his knowledge of the CX and integrated marketing space with colleagues, clients and other professionals, Wakabayashi is a CX subject matter expert who sits on Adobe’s Experience League Advisory Council and is a member of Service Design Week’s Advisory Board.
He is also heavily involved in training and education, currently teaching in the Big Data Certification program at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas, and developing customer experience curriculum as a CX subject matter expert for the world’s leading technology educators, O’Reilly Media and Safari Books Online.

He leads The Integer Group’s Consumer Experience practice known in the industry as CX3. At The Integer Group he oversees integrated commerce, digital marketing and social media.

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Mary Drumond: (00:05)
This is Voices of Customer Experience, a podcast where we bring you the very best thought leaders and practitioners of customer experience and its overlapping verticals such as marketing, analytics, behavior economics, journey mapping and design. Our goal is to help you be better at your job by listening to the experiences and leadership of others who like you have dedicated their careers to improving the dialogue between companies and customers. Voices of Customer Experience Podcast is brought to you by Worthix, the first and only self adaptive survey for measuring customer experience. Discover your worth at

Dennis Wakabayashi leads The Integer Groups consumer experience practice known in the industry as CX Three at The Integer Group. He helps fortune 100 brands around the globe transform their businesses by making customer experience the most important and reliable element of every business decision. In addition to working the field, Dennis sits on Adobe’s experience League Advisory Council and teaches as an expert for safari books online.

MD: (01:16)
So let’s start off with you just kind of giving our listeners a rundown of what you do, what your job is, what you feel your mission is in changing customer experience somehow.

Dennis Wakabayashi: (01:26) Sure. So at The Integer Group, I lead a practice called CX Three and it’s really CX in terms of customer experience and commerce experiences. And we focus at that intersection at retail. So you’ll see us bridge the offline to online experiences in a seamless way. And so on the day to day you’ll find me and my team working with a diverse set of stakeholders at the c-suite, from your chief technical officer to your chief marketing officer, even to your chief financial officer, creating a common point of view for these experiences with the customer at the center where we bring a harmonization of supply and demand to a brand so that customers have better experiences. And the net net is there’s more happy customers and more success at the brand.

MD: (02:22)
Awesome. Who came up with the idea of commerce experience? Cause I kinda like that.

DW: (02:28) you know, we have a pretty incredible guy here at The Integer Group. His name is Scott Hallman and as we started to develop the capability and we were creating what we call commerce alignment practices, where we bring our clients in, we bring diverse stakeholders and we lined them around the vision of the customer and the customer experience. As we developed this practice, Scott has a long history of creating brands and driving brand strategy and he coined the term CX Three which he wrote encompasses customer experiences, commerce experiences, and the three speaks to the three lens model of The Integer Group, which are three lenses of the brand, retailers and the consumer as a way to focus in on the experiences that are most important to drive transactions.

MD: (03:19)
Well, let me ask you something really important. Everybody knows at this point it’s all over the news how brick and mortar is going through a transformation cycle. How strongly does this affect your line of business? Is it the heart and soul of your business?

DW: (03:35)
Yeah, I would say it is. I would say more than the heart and soul, I would call it the pride and the passion for those who are at this intersection of digital and offline in the retail environment where transactions still have a human element where we embrace the interaction with real customers in real environments. And we’re able to play out these happy occasions at retail, back out across digital channels and other seamless engagements, whether it’s from the first time we connect with you online to the return customer who likes to go into a particular favorite location all the way back out to how we create and foster a lifetime of value with our brands through things like CRM.

MD: (04:26)
Do you think that nowadays the consumer nowadays is more sensitive than they were before two experiences are, or do you think that it’s just transformed?

DW: (04:39)
You know, I would say that that’s a really great question, Mary. You find it’s compounding of sensitivity or realization of these experiences and sort of, one begets the other, right? We have empowered customers on mobile devices, able to look at the brand or engage with brands in all of these different environments, whether it’s from advertising and marketing, but in the social or ratings and reviews or two email and in the retail environment having interactions with customer sales associates or ran displays or promotions, pricing, all of these things we work hand in hand and what I see happening is customers, because they have much more information, are much more savvy. At the same time brands collect so much more customer feedback based on all of these interactions that both the brand and the customer are starting to become much more savvy, much more together, more rapidly. 

MD: (05:50)
I actually agree with that. As you were saying it, my mind was kind of forming this concept that it’s not only customers that are changing, it’s,
you know, sometimes we think that we talked about this all the time, how the consumer economy or the experience economy is shaping retail, but the truth is that retail is shaping consumers as well and as retail changes, expectations are also changing. So it’s kind of morphing together. If you think about it, right?

DW: (06:24) Yes, that’s exactly right. I’ll just leave it there cause exactly how I feel about it. It’s a transformative time for consumers and brands we fail is the axiom. Retail is one of the reasons why I enjoy working at The Integer Group is retail really is this intersection of human experiences and digital experiences. In a point of sentence it’s still one of the few real places to have this three 60 full customer experience. So I often think that while many people are entering into this marketplace of experience, those who have deep shopper or retail expertise are really well equipped to be at the forefront of leading this harmonious ecosystem of online and offline to create the best experiences.

MD: (07:12)
It’s interesting because I’m a huge fan of Joe Pine. I don’t know if you know Joe Pine, he wrote the experience economy and is a great book and one of the concept of that he really hammers down and I’ve really applied to my life as being like the absolute north when it comes to customer experience is the concepts of time well saved versus time well spent. And the idea that when you have time well saved, you’re selling a commodity as opposed to time well spent where you’re selling an experience and companies really need to know how to position themselves, whether it’s as time will save your time well spent. So in retail, when you have digital experiences, lots of times that digital has become the commodity, were shopping in the brick and mortar and the physical location has become an experience in itself. And I see lots of stores and brands that are actually starting to take that to the next level.

MD: (08:09)
You see, I mean, Nordstrom is a great example for me. They’ve got a really decent app where it’s really easy to shop quickly if that’s what you want. But they’re coming out with these like an experienced local stores that don’t even have inventory. You go there, you get your nails done, you have a drink, you have a salad or you know, a lunch with your friends and you try on clothes. You’ve got a personal shopper, you decide what you want to purchase. You don’t walk out of the store with shopping. It gets delivered to your home. Right. So that’s really putting the spotlight on the experience itself, no?

DW: (09:00)
Yes. You know, I love that you said that in terms of experience, I think there’s some people throw around experiential and sometimes that’s the experience of the experiential be this nonfiction empowered time, well spent experience. And I agree with that. I also think that there’s an interesting intersection of this physical location with your customers beyond just the innovative experiences. And you sort of made me think about this additional point, which is we have a client as an example of that digital is taking over a lot of the way that customers get products and services from them. And I went to a focus group at my house of teenage boys and I said, you know, why do you go to this store when you have the option to order things online and unanimously the teen boys said we go there for convenience. And it dawned on me that there are certain things that they can still go for convenience, that they can get the same day that shipping doesn’t fulfill the gratification of immediacy or convenience and sometimes I think that gets overlooked or played down in the experience because people are having DJ booths or spectacular events at retail locations, which has meant really I think convenience is still a strong factor in the experience of customers.

MD: (10:22)
Well I agree with you and there are certain things that as a consumer, I love the shopping experience. Okay, fine. I fit like really nicely into this like persona that loves shopping for clothes and going out and then getting home and wearing my new outfit for the first time. I get that not everyone is like me, but I still love shopping and it’s still a wonderful experience as long as I’m shopping for pleasure and I think that’s the main point. I want my shopping to be a pleasurable experience. I want time to go by slowly, whereas when I’m grocery shopping or when I’m shopping for things that I need but don’t necessarily want, I just want to get over it as quickly as possible. And that’s when I think the digital world has made my life so much easier because I no longer have to spend all that time going to a location because I’m not doing it for pleasure. I’m doing it as a task or an obligation, right? And I still love shopping for pleasure.

DW: (11:11)
Right. And I still love shopping for pleasure. And to your point, there’s this huge opportunity, right? To make infuse more excitement and engagement in pleasurable experiences at the retail venue. To your point, having those moments in person in real life, while digital is fantastic for a lot of convenience and it does maybe create more time back to your point in time spent time well spent and retail environment having an experience or a moment that you can’t have anywhere else. There’s still a lot of awesome that can happen at retail. 

MD: (12:11)
I agree with you and you know, giving a personal example when sometimes when I have to buy groceries and it’s not that much, I’ll go to Target, not because they’ve got the best prices or even because they’re the closest and the easiest. For me, it’s a lot further than my local supermarket. I go to Target because along with the obligation I get to have some of the pleasure as well. So I merge both of the time well saved at the time well spent and it’s almost like I’m treating myself while I’m performing a task. And I think Target does that really well and why there’s almost a psychic crazy internet fan base of people that just love Target because they’re able to provide pleasure somehow to the shopping experience.

DW: (12:32) Well that’s interesting because one of the ways that we look at experiencing in the CX Three methodology is disharmony between supply and demand. And so when you tell them about Target, they’ve created this demand for an experience. They’re leveraging their marketing there are touching on aspirational experience and then they deliver it. When you come to get the products and their logistics really reinforces the promise of their demand. So as they create demand, the supply side of their house really is a seamless set of executions that rewards customers who come for those pleasurable experiences with getting the value from products and that are important to them. So I think it’s sort of a benevolent relationship between supply and demand. And Target is really great at balancing those two things.

MD: (13:31)
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MD: (13:59)
Well it’s interesting that you bring up supply and demand because when we talk about customer experience in retail, lots of times we look at it like from the outside without the maybe more technical aspect of retail itself. So you know for me from the outside I don’t actually understand all the intricacies that go into running a large retail business. And hearing you talk about supply and demand kind of reminds me that there’s a lot more that goes on maybe in the background that from an external perspective we might not understand. So it’s very cool that you’re here cause maybe you can explain this to me a little bit better. I recently wrote an article on branding and talking about how branding is useless if you don’t deliver customer experience. But what plays into customer experience in retail is exactly what you said. It’s the supply and demand. It’s the logistics, it’s being able to deliver, right?

DW: (14:48)
That’s right. You know, it reminds me of a keynote that I just recently gave at Surface Design Week called The Tale of Twenty One Chickens. And really this Tale of Twenty One Chickens is about my own exploration into what it means to deliver customer experience. And really it came from from a time where I was working at a national restaurant chain, creating demand, using email and digital marketing to create demand for the restaurants. And I would send my grandmother a coupon, a birthday coupon for every year for her birthday. She loved this rotisserie chicken. Well she came down to get the chicken and come to find out at that point in time the particular restaurant she went to and run out of chicken. And so there was a experience where I had created the demand but the whole experience relied on the other half, which was the logistics of getting the chickens to the restaurants.

DW: (15:51)
And when you think about all the other behind the scenes pieces that it takes three months in advance, you have to load up discounts and, and the point of sale system and deploy that across the country when you have to get your emails with the coupons put together eight weeks in advance, it takes eight weeks to get a chicken to a restaurant. It takes one and a half hours to cook a rotisserie chicken. So if you run out a rotisserie chickens, you can’t get one while you wait. You have to wait an hour and a half, which means all of these logistical pieces come to a focus at a retail location. And so when we drive demand to those locations, if the logistics, the applied pain accounting and finance operations aren’t all aligned to those experiences, then the result is unhappy customers. So as I dug deeper into this challenge and I developed a way to harmonize supply and demand, at the end of the day, I was able to go to our CEO and say, listen, on July 16th you’re going to need 21 more chickens at our location on main street. At 5:00 PM and one of them is going to be for my grandmother. 

MD: (17:04)
This is fascinating for me because Dennis, you know, I actually understanding or maybe I always knew sometimes maybe we just ignore that because it’s so easy to preach when it’s not actually our problem. Right? And and to understand how much actually goes into delivering the experience. That’s the part that’s really fascinating. This is what you focus on, right? This is, this is what you do for a living.

DW: (17:35) Yes. Mary, that’s so, so astute because the first thing we do it with any client at the manager group is we do a practice called commerce alignment mapping and it only has process. We bring in the c-suite stakeholders across the organization from accounting and finance, technology, operations, marketing, and their teams. And we align around a central view of the customer. So what we do is we align all of these teams around the idea of the customer, the customer expectations, and then we educate those teams throughout the year based on seasonality or the market conditions, what these customers, the experiences they crave, what they’re talking about on social, how they like to engage, what the trends are, what’s culturally relevant to them and their geographies or in their segments of the business. And we bring these stakeholders together so that when they plan the logistics and the operations work hand in hand with the advertising and marketing.

MD: (18:30)
And you know, somebody told me, I think it was a keynote I watched from, from one of the guests that we had on the podcast, Michael Barber, and he was talking about one day he opened his phone and he’s scrolling through his Instagram feed and there was an ad saying, you know, like it’s cold outside and it was like a bunch of snow or something like that. And he looks out the window and it’s 105 degrees and he’s like, yeah, no. And that’s right, that geography. So sometimes a really small thing ends up influencing the experience in a way that you didn’t really expect. So there’s so many pieces to the puzzle that have to harmonize perfectly like you said.

DW: (19:23) Mary, you bring it up, you remind me of another challenge that we had at the restaurant, which was there are seven different regions in the United States that I feel very passionate about the barbecue recipe for their barbecue sauce. So some parts of the country prefer a little more mustard base, some prefer a more vinegar base or they like sweeter, or they like it hotter. So there is a perfect example. If your logistics and operations team delivers the wrong recipe for barbecue sauce to the wrong part of the United States to the wrong customers, the revenue is down. And the, I mentioned this, the end of the world, people feel very passionate about their barbecue sauce now. 

MD: (20:15)
And then you see that all the time. I mean this is such a large country and there are so many different nuances depending on the region that you’re in. Not only cultural but political as well. So what flies in New York might not fly in Louisiana at all. So especially companies that work on a coast to coast market, how do they even control that? That’s a must be a pretty big undertaking.

DW: (20:40) So that’s right Mary and I would, I would say that also extends to the global to sure. I’ll tell you me that you made me think of a couple of things there, which is number one, planning experiences is a rigorous effort. It’s not for the faint of heart. It requires a lot of subtle intersections of data and customer feedback, brand behavior and advertising and marketing to bring just simply the customer to the place where the experience is best for them.

DW: (21:14)
But to your point, as you think about that, on the local geographical basis, the barbecue sauce as an example, it’s not easy to do. But when you think on a global scale, back to this relationship of technology to experience, I had an opportunity to build a global marketing stack that had to provide personalization at both the ecommerce shopping level, but all the way through to the email and customer, a relationship management side of things and or build this stack, Mary, was a fantastic experience for me because I learned that in order to scale any customer experience platform or stack globally, one must start inside China. Because if you start anywhere else in the world by the time you get to China, it doesn’t work. Or the China. Yeah, it doesn’t work. If you don’t solve for the great firewall of China, then you won’t have a system that scales a cross all of your logistics for the business.

DW: (22:21)
So therefore in order to pull it off, I had to bring in sales engineering teams from both Oracle and sales force to collaborate with a site core, a piece of the staff for ecommerce, and we had to deliver this presentation and the technical specifications all in Mandarin in Shanghai, and I don’t speak Mandarin. The shortest part of that story is we were able to do it and we would do, we were successful, but that is to say that logistics from the digital delivery side are just as important in this global economy for providing the right experiences, getting the right customer feedback from the right audiences and the right languages or the right cultures to understand how to deliver meaningful experiences for as many people as possible.

MD: (23:16)
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MD: (23:47)
In order to do this, I’m pretty sure you have to have some pretty cool tools and technology under your belt. Right? So what are some of the, the tools that you work with or that you’ve developed or that your company has developed and helping companies achieve these goals?

DW: (24:02) Youknow, what I would say is, and this is pretty much the secret sauce to how we’re successful, is we have a number of different partners. Depending upon the brand size and the number of customers, we will pick us certain brand, but in a certain solution. But in every case, we use one system that is transformative for brands. And what we do is we go in and we look at let’s say your CRM data or your social media data and we need to connect that data with your accounting and finance or your inventory and logistics data.

DW: (24:41)
That magic question always is how do you get your ERP or your inventory management system, your accounting and finance system? How do you get that data to talk specifically to your advertising and marketing data in a way that makes any sense and how we take away all of the Meta data or any of the particular data around customers or campaigns or actions. And we simply get this. If you don’t do this, maybe you’ll find it kind of interesting. We look at just the timestamps, just the time code of every database because your, your finance and accounting database, we’ll have a sequence of events. Well is your CRM as well as your social media. And if you simply just look at the sequence of events in totality, you could say one universal sequence of events that tell you the customer and the logistic side of the business, what happened at any given time.

DW: (25:48)
So you, if you know what happened when and you have a clear record of truth, that’s a single sequence, you can then go back and ask machine learning or artificial intelligence to reassemble the story of what happened. So then from that universal sequence of truth, you can then deduce the actual customer journeys or the actual product journeys. And you can see where customers were at any given time throughout the year. When did they look at advertising? When did they make a transaction, how many transactions did they make? You can start to make all of these cross referenced insights about actual customers so that you essentially infuse every point of the business with an actual customer feedback loop that creating a new vision for stakeholders at companies.

MD: (26:42) Do you find that that most executives feel like they’re kind of navigating blind when it comes to making decisions about customer experience?

DW: (26:52)
I think they either feel that way or they’re getting ready to feel that way more savvy. They are. They start to realize that old metrics like ROI on spend, they’ve had confusion about this ROI because these ROI metrics live in a silo and what we do is we democratize all of the data and all of the insights or the KPIs so that you have a check and a balance. The you can check the inventory against the transactions against the ads. Now using our system to see truthfully what happened and so it’s more of a revelation or a new vision or a clarity of vision. When I often share with people is that when you can look at all of your data as a sequence that of a report or a snapshot, when you look at it as a sequence, it gives everyone in the c suite the same common point of view of the business and the customer and it creates the clarity and the confidence for those leaders to champion change at their organizations because the silos are removed by nature of one view of all the data. I’m suddenly wondering if we’re getting a little too deep or technical.

MD: (28:15)
Well, I think it’s fascinating, especially for me because I’m fascinated on the future of retail will be, you know, the people who are in the market nowadays, especially those of us who are observing from outside trying to understand. We see companies coming and going, we see the crashing of giants and retail and we’re thinking what’s going to happen next is retail gonna pull itself back together. Is there an entirely new model that’s going to surface what is going to happen? I think there’s a bit of suspense in the air and I’m, I’m pretty sure that companies feel this as well. You know, what’s gonna come next? Are we going to survive? Are we going to adapt in time to actually attend to the new generations that have new expectations and the speed of change is so ridiculously fast nowadays for big, huge, massive global change to keep up.

DW: (29:06)
You know, I think that’s a fair question. I might just in the air of authenticity, say I look at things from one step further back then the success or failure of retail as a touch point. What I would say is going back to what you said earlier about and why you like to go to target, what’s CX three does and what I do is I look yet how many Marys are there out there? Okay. In any particular region or geography place, are there enough? Mary’s who wants to have a pleasurable shopping experience to warrant our retail location in this area. And so what I’m always doing is listening to the feedback of customers. I’d go to the feedback of Mary’s at scale and then I would offer that not every location deserves a retail touch points 

DW: (30:13)
And so I look at retail as another touchpoint in the set of touch points that you make the world better for customers. You could have a brand too, perhaps has a strong retail presence in one country, but maybe the customers in another country prefer digital. And so what I tried to do is strategically understand the role of retail in the consumer environment and advise on the best experiences and touch points to generate the highest number of transactions that are profitable, both from a brand revenue perspective, but profitable from a relationship and experience with the customer perspective.

MD: (30:54) Fantastic Dennis, well before we wrap up this podcast for our listeners who love this topic as much as I do and they want to stay in touch with you and they want to hear more of what you have to say and learn more about what you do, how can they follow you, how can they find you, how can they read more?

DW: (31:12)
We have a website, 21 where you can learn a little bit more about the tale of 21 chickens and about our practice. I also keep a running feed at csuitecentricity on Instagram where I post pro tips that I pick up along the way along my journeys and then also my Twitter feed. I post many articles. I curate a vast library there of customer experience marketing and advertising, digital transformation articles and materials there.

MD: (31:57) Awesome. Thank you so much Dennis for being here today. I really appreciate it. I learned so much. This was fascinating.

DW: (32:03) Thank you Mary. Thank you. It’s been a pleasure and an honor and keep up the good work. Your podcast is outstanding.

MD: (32:13)
Thank you for joining us on one more episode of Voices of Customer Experience. This podcast is hosted and produced by Mary Drumond, edited and coproduced by Nic Gomez and Steve Berry. This podcast was brought to you by Worthix, discover your worth at

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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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