Your surest path to lasting business growth is by getting a handle on customer risk BEFORE it’s too late. There is a series of steps to reduce churn and prevent bad customer reviews, which entails leveraging operational data and aligning teams around what really matters to customers.
Listen to Stacy Sherman and Richard Owen, Founder, and CEO at OCX Cognition, and co-creator of the NPS system, discuss topics that Richard claims people have not been doing right yet can shift approaches now for better business outcomes.
Show Topics Include:
- What does customer risk mean?
- What can leaders do to minimize or eliminate churn and unwanted outcomes?
- What are the links between operational data, customer perception, and team alignment?
- Why is the Net Promoter System (NPS) controversial?
- Richards’s advice on how to apply NPS the right way and “win on purpose,” as Fred Reichheld reveals in episode 45 and also Rob Markey in episode 2.
- Convincing tactics to pitch executives for increased investment in CX programs versus a common ineffective approach.
- How to design better surveys and leverage technology to predict buyer behaviors
- The best leadership advice received and given.
- One key takeaway for people to apply wherever they work.
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Breakthrough Approaches To Managing Customer Risk
Stacy Sherman: Hello, Richard Owen. Welcome to the Doing CX Right show.
[00:00:14] Richard Owen: Oh, thanks for the invitation. It’s good to be here.
[00:00:17] Stacy Sherman: Yes, we met many years ago and I believe it was because you had a lot of focus on customer experience measurements and NPS. And I was intrigued by how much you were driving that conversation. So I thought here we are, years later, I started a podcast, and who better to have and invite than someone who’s been doing this for years?
So glad you’re here.
[00:00:47] Richard Owen: Thanks. Well, that makes me feel old, but, nevertheless, I’ll take it as just experienced.
[00:00:53] Stacy Sherman: are definitely experienced. Yes. So tell my audience a bit of who you are, what you do professionally.
[00:01:02] Richard Owen: Sure. So, uh, I’m the founder and CEO of a technology company called OCX Cognition. And our business is build, bring the next generation of technology, particularly machine learning, to understanding customer experience drivers, operational data NPS.
So puts simply, we’re predicting NPS performance across the entire customer journey, as opposed to, uh, relying completely on surveys. And this is after getting on some 20 years in the CX industry. I was the CEO of SAP metrics, which was the company that co-created the whole net promoter score methodology in 2003.
And I think probably, uh, is one of the companies responsible for popularizing it. So we developed a lot of the material around NPS and so very much, uh, you know, from a previous generation of technology that relied on surveying, I’ve now moved on to what I hope to be I think the sort of next generation of technology.
[00:02:06] Stacy Sherman: What’s your why? Why do you care so much about all this?
[00:02:11] Richard Owen: Uh, you know, I think that when it comes down to it, there are very few legitimate business strategies that companies can adopt to be successful. And customer experience has always appealed to me because it had a couple of really exciting ideas behind it. One was, I thought it was a morally solid way to think about building companies.
And I think that’s very appealing for a lot of people, right. There are lots of ways to create businesses. You can create a literal monopoly and exploit people. And you do it very well. If you can accomplish that from a business perspective, or you can find a way to grow companies through delighting customers.
And that seemed to me to be a more morally attractive way of doing business. And in my previous experience, I was a general manager of, business units at Dell Computer Corporation. I built part of the company there. And even though I wasn’t directly involved in CX, it seemed to me like that was intrinsic to business growth.
And that’s really the second part of why. Ultimately at the end of the day, I do think customer experience has the potential to be, uh, highly integrated into company’s growth strategies. And I say potential because I have to say, I don’t think that potential’s realized very often. I think the industry has somewhat gone off the rails over the last decade.
But I think that there is a very solid basis for believing that CX can be a good business strategy if executed well.
[00:03:39] Stacy Sherman: I agree. Yes. Now something more personal. What is something that people don’t know about you? Maybe a fun fact.
[00:03:50] Richard Owen: Well, it’s a good question as to which people wouldn’t know this, but, probably the fun fact is I’m a huge supporter of Liverpool football club, which if you are in any way connected with English football
or soccer, as we say here who probably has, has some meaning, and especially for someone in my generation, because, and again, Stacy’s may mean nothing to you, but I grew up at a time when Liverpool was, um, the dominant team in Europe was one of the most successful clubs, uh, in the history of the sport.
And then for a large part of my life, they were less successful. And they only just realized that same level of success in the last couple of years. So particularly big time for those of us, who’ve been waiting for half our adult lives to see this come around again.
[00:04:38] Stacy Sherman: Love it. So let’s get into some topics here that you know a lot about, and this is something that every company.
will care about, and that is risk. How do you minimize risk? How do you get ahead of it before it’s too late where customers say I’m done. Goodbye.
[00:05:01] Richard Owen: Yeah. So this is a particularly relevant topic for just about anyone who’s in business to business today, because one of the big transitions that we’ve seen over the last decade is a fundamental shift from thinking of customers as sort of transactions, to thinking of them as lifetime value type relationships.
And some of that’s been driven by transitions and subscription type models. Certainly that’s been a big factor in the software industry, but I think it’s also spilled over into telecommunications, financial services. We’re now used to thinking of customers as an annuity stream. And in fact, our economic models don’t work
if we’re not really successful at maximizing that long term annuity stream. So associated with that, annuity is the risk of loss. You know, customers no longer stay sold. You don’t go and sell a deal to someone, take the money. And that’s it. You are now in a business where we all care about retention.
And when you care about retention, then you’re concerned about the risk of loss of customers. Now for most people running large B2B companies, they’re managing a portfolio of accounts and they recognize a few key facts. The first one is that within a portfolio there’s vastly differing levels of risk.
And so some accounts might be for entirely logical reasons, very loyal. Some might be for entirely illogical reasons, uh, very loyal or very disloyal and likely to churn. And that’s something that the CX industry has traditionally thought we had a good beat on when we use measures like NPS, but that’s really pretty insufficient if you think about it, because time is a very significant variable here.
If you find out about a customer leaving too late, two things happen. One, the likelihood you’ll be able to recover that account drops very substantially. Secondly, even if there’s a possibility, the cost to mitigate that problem increases quite dramatically. So time is a very, very significant factor. If you can find out about risk earlier in the cycle, you have both more time to affect change and recover, but you have a much lower cost.
So, many people managing B2B portfolios have become almost obsessed with this idea of how do I get an early warning system? How do I better understand the health of accounts? Because there’s such relevant financial impact associated with it. Now, honestly, historically companies have tried two things.
They’ve tried measuring it through metrics like NPS and surveying. And they’ve tried asking their teams. Now, let me talk about, first of all, the, the benefits of asking your employees what they think. At this point, the data suggests that asking people what they think about the health of their accounts is so error prone, you’d almost be better off betting against your team.
And, that’s quite logical if you think about it. First of all, the people on your staff may not be talking to the right people at the account. They bring their own biases. Uh, they tend to actually have a real hard time understanding risk in an analytics sense. So when they’re talking to customers, they perceive a customer who is congenial as being loyal, or they talk about topics that are comfortable topics.
And somehow the real issues never get unearthed. So if an employee, if a customer success manager or an account manager comes and says, this account’s in great shape, it creates two problems for you. The first is they may be completely wrong. And secondly, because they’ve said the account’s in good shape, you tend not to focus on that account.
So you’re actually getting a complete misdirect. And so this whole notion that we can go around just asking opinions and get any kind of reasonable risk assessment is just mathematically completely incorrect. And in fact is more dangerous than frankly not asking. The other technique. People use more objectively is they’ve used surveys.
Let’s survey our customers. Let’s ask them whether they’re promoters, passives or detractors. And of course that’s become immensely popular and most companies do that in some degree or another, but that has a few really significant fatal flaws. First of all, as survey response rates drop, especially in B2B, it’s becoming obvious that the data you’re collecting is not particularly indicative of the health of your customers.
You can’t just extrapolate from the accounts that respond to the rest of the account base that mathematically doesn’t work. Furthermore, the people who are responding in B2B might not be the right people. So you might be getting wrong information. And finally, even if you’re lucky enough to get a really good group of responses, your data is almost inevitably way, way out of date, because you can at most get data twice a year.
And that means for most of the year you’re in the dark. So ultimately risk can only be addressed by an objective timely way of calculating essentially the performance of customers. And that I think is where we’re all striving to move forward. I think we’re trying to dispense with the guess work, dispense with the surveys and move to models where we can be much more timely.
Uh, we can buy our customers chance to respond challenges by alerting them as to risk.
[00:10:24] Stacy Sherman: So, wow. You said a lot of good information. I think one of the important pieces to this big puzzle is what we call close the loop. And I believe a lot of times companies are good at asking questions.
Maybe they’re not asking the right questions. Maybe they’re not asking it in the right order. That’s a different topic. Different day. Because we know it’s a science and art to the whole feedback process, but also, I have been in many companies, and I imagine you’ve seen this too, that people ask questions, they check the box that they are customer centric, and then there’s no actual, what are you doing with the insights? Who’s involved?
And what did you tell the customer you did? What’s your view on that?
[00:11:24] Richard Owen: Well, I think first of all, if you’d have asked me a decade ago, I would’ve said that the biggest issue was twofold. One was yes, closing the loop companies were asking customers questions and they weren’t following up. And that was a fundamental poor execution of surveying.
And that was a problem 10 years ago. It was actually a problem 15 years ago when original net promoter methodology sort of got really developed in the early parts of the twenties. Closed loop was one of the core ingredients. And at the time we were on a sort of mission to tell people. Don’t ask questions
you don’t, you don’t want to essentially hear the answer to and follow up and close the loop. So it’s a longstanding problem and it’s contributed to the deterioration of response rates and surveys, cuz customers don’t think you’ll do anything with it. There was also a more fundamental strategic dilemma, which was companies weren’t doing anything at a macro level with the data.
So even this strategic analysis of customer experience, wasn’t being acted upon. And that was really because the data wasn’t good enough in some ways. Executive teams were being presented by quite facile analysis, very poor quality data. And they were saying, I don’t believe you. I don’t think this is actionable.
I don’t think it’s significant. And that came about as a consequence of some poor journey design, poor survey design, a very traditional kind of research orientation, rather than operational analysis. So a whole bunch of bad practice led to data that was unconvincing, and that was another problem. I think those are frankly problems now that are, should have been solved by most companies a long time ago.
And companies now need to be asking more significant questions. Like for example, forget closing the loop on a select series of survey questions. How do I target action at accounts where I have the highest risk relative to reward. So if I look at my portfolio of business and customers, I have finite resources.
I can’t afford to essentially go into every single customer and proactively address problems. That’s economically unviable. I have to be able to map my customer base out and understand where the problems are. Suggesting that companies close the loop as a primary strategy biases them towards survey respondents.
So, they’re basically saying we’re gonna allocate resource to people who respond to surveys, which is not a logical resource allocation ignore customers who don’t respond, which could be the biggest problem, uh, and apply those sort of financial and economic logic to why they would respond. So I think at the end of the day, we have to do a complete rethink of this.
We have to get to a more fundamental understanding of the health of our customer base. And, we have to be able to direct resources in a much more efficient way and a much more targeted fashion. And so, I think close loop was a great innovation 20 years ago. I think it was an idea that made a lot of sense for 10 years.
Uh, I think a lot of companies still didn’t adopt it to your point. And I think that was a real shame, a real failing on their part. But I think today, honestly companies should have even moved on from that. And we should be thinking much more analytically about where to put our resource.
[00:14:48] Stacy Sherman: So on that note about resources, one of the challenges that people talk to me about is they say, I know customer experience is important. That is not of question anymore, but the challenges to get the leadership buy-in, to get money, to buy the tools and platforms and support, right. Proving that return on investment. What do you tell people who are struggling to show the value. It’s different than for example, in eCommerce. You have a very clear sale online or at your store. There’s a cash register, there’s cash or, credit card. But with CX it’s a bit more difficult.
So clearly there’s reducing churn. Tell me what your view is when people feel stuck. I want to get money to invest. What do I do?
[00:15:50] Richard Owen: Right. So, first of all, let’s let’s acknowledge legitimately customer experience over the last 20 years has been resource deprived compared to equivalent initiatives. We actually ran research to the effect of understanding how
parallels between say digital transformation, you call, call a program, digital transformation, how it gets funded, call it CX and how it gets funded. And even if you essentially put identical programs under two different titles, executives want to invest in digital transformation, they don’t want to invest in customer experience programs.
So the customer experience programs have, I think, a poor record of attracting dollars. And my reaction to people who say this from the practitioner perspective is I think the first thing we’re to do is take a look at what we’re actually doing. Because a lot of the programs that I see that aren’t getting funded, shouldn’t be funded.
The programs just are so badly set up and run that frankly, senior executives legitimately shouldn’t be sticking any money behind them. And I think that’s because CX leaders sometimes think this is a moral crusade. I should be given money to make custom experience work in my company because it’s the right thing to do.
And I don’t have to necessarily be great at this. I don’t have to figure out how to make an analytic case. Somehow executive teams are just not getting it. They don’t understand. And I rarely find that to be the case and not to say by the way, Stacy, that there aren’t some executive teams that just don’t get it.
I’m saying that a lot of times CX practitioners are presenting very weak arguments for why they should get funded at higher levels. And that’s usually associated with two major problems. The first is that they have successfully positioned their CX program as a survey program and survey programs
don’t get funded. So if you compare survey programs as a source of data with say, oh, wow, frankly, machine learning programs or digital transformation or other data science programs, they are underfunded because surveys are very weak data set, and so executives don’t care about survey data like they care about other types of data, operational data, for example, in the business.
So, a lot of CX programs won’t be funded because they’re basically glorified survey programs and that’s a very poor positioning for those programs. The second problem is that a lot of instances that they’re not making any logical analytic connection between business objectives and CX program outcomes.
So, with all due respect, especially somebody who’s been in the NPS industry for 20 years going and saying, we’re going to improve our NPS isn’t a sufficient argument for investment. Not only is it not credible because you’ve got to make a lot of connections between measurement and natural outcomes, but also because a lot of the programs that are being set up don’t understand how NPS is then going to link to financial outcomes in a useful analytic fashion.
And so they’re set up as sort of a research program in their own right. They’re not connecting to business outcomes. Now, if you want to go step further, Stacy, I would say that this is a skills deficiency within the CX community. I think that too many CX leaders are basically coming from the wrong
developmental path personally. And so they’re struggling to make the case to line management. Let me draw a contrast here. So, some of the best CX leaders in the world come out of line management positions. They had a function in sales, had a function in marketing, maybe quality, manufacturing.
They did a tour of duty at let’s call it the sharp end of the stick. And for those people, they instinctively understand how business outcomes are related to analytics and data. And, also the fundamental of accountability within companies. I think that for a lot of CX professionals who come out of say research roles, that universe of quarterly targets hitting results every month, motivating sales guys, finding ways to keep management off your back as you hit a quarterly P and L number is a very strange universe.
It’s not the universe they live in. And so they struggle to talk to that universe. And I think that is the acquirable skill. I think we can teach CX professionals to bridge the gap to leadership, and communicate successfully and make a case for CX, but many of them haven’t learned that skill and haven’t been taught it.
And so they’re going in with a pitch that’s very uncompelling and they think that just a moral argument’s going to get them what they want. So this is a huge issue for the CX community and a lot of programs I see frankly shouldn’t be funded because the program’s not good enough, or is a good program, but the CX management has no idea how to make the argument to line management.
They speaking a totally different language. It’s like completely different level of business literacy. So those are the challenges, what I would say, and I know this won’t make too many friends, but I think starting from a perspective that, oh, senior leadership just doesn’t get it is a very poor place to start.
I think we in the CX community probably are to start looking ourselves first and maybe we don’t get it.
[00:21:22] Stacy Sherman: Hmm. That is powerful. I do believe that if we are intentional in helping people understand how they have a CX job, in different organizations, frontline, back office, then people are adopting best practices.
They are incorporating the customer in everything they do. And, I agree it’s an education. It’s a mindset. It’s teaching. It’s informing. Certainly it helps. For myself, I’ve always been in sales and marketing. I fell into CX and to me, it all blends.
[00:22:06] stacy sherman overdub: So for me, it was easy, but for others who are, let’s say in finance, in legal, in project management, it does take sitting down with the everyone and saying, here’s how you impact. And then, you see the change in the company happen.
[00:22:28] Richard Owen: Yeah, I would agree with that statement. I mean, I think there’s a significance or cultural education piece, but let’s boil it down to basics in some ways. Do the way we measure customer experience
connect at the board and CEO level, because if that’s important, then we’ll get people’s attention. If the Board of Directors cares about measurement of customer equity customer, you know, if you take Don Pepper’s universe of customer equity, you know, or the NPS universe of measuring that way, whichever way you want to do things.
If the board cares about this notion that there’s value in understanding the customer and they hold the leadership team accountable for that measure, then you will get ramifications across the company. It will trickle down through the company. If that’s absence of the senior level, then you’re not gonna get anywhere.
I mean, candidly look, NPS is a vanity metric for a lot of companies. They’re doing it because at some level they like the idea of measuring customers, because it makes for a, you know, maybe it’s a good piece in the annual report. Customers are the center of our universe. We love our customers. It’s all about customers.
And so they kind of put NPS program together and they’ll do some superficial measurement and they’ll announce it’s a vanity metric. For others, it’s a PR opportunity. They think that they’re gonna have a very high NPS and they want to go off and tell everybody it’s the case. And they’re not really interested in improving it.
They’re probably not really interested in even measuring it correctly. If anything, they’re only interested if it tells good PR stories. So you get some pretty badly manipulated data in that regards. And a lot of companies announcing 80 point NPSs are just wrong. They don’t have an 80 point NPS. So there’s vanity metrics.
There’s downright manipulation, there’s PR. And then there’s the case where there is a level of conviction amongst the board and the management team that the long term interest of shareholders are best served by building this customer asset as a company. And that conviction turns into measurement
that’s done sincerely because if it matters, it’s gonna be measured correctly and then it turns into accountability. The organization is held accountable for that performance. And these are the basic ingredients. And I hate to boil that down something so simple, but the end of the day, the presence of those criteria results in very serious investment and very serious execution around customer experience.
The absence of those criteria results absolute rubbish. It’s all gonna go nowhere. So, the first question we should ask is number one, are we actually trying to execute CX because we’re accountable for it or are we playing at executing CX because we think it’ll make a nice press release. People who are in the former camp I think will be responsive to logical arguments.
Employees will be responsive to, as you put at education and enlightenment. Enlightenment sounds dark. It sounds far too euphemistic, but let’s just say in the illumination of the reality of the business is gonna work. Companies that are playing at NPS or playing at customer experience.
And there are a lot of them, uh, you know, look, frankly, you’re never gonna persuade that group of management to do anything.
[00:25:52] Stacy Sherman: Yes. And I do also want to make it clear that it’s not just big companies with Board of Directors. This is even small businesses where, what we’re talking about here and minimizing risk of losing customers and losing employees too, that this applies to every business.
Yes. So want to make sure that anyone listening, doesn’t just say, ah, that doesn’t apply to me because it does.
[00:26:25] Richard Owen: Well, I think that’s a great point and look small businesses in some ways I always find instinctively get this a lot easier than larger companies because they have less to fall back on. You know, one of the most interesting things about being in tech startups and I’ve been doing software startups for 20 years is that they don’t exist unless they offer a differential
better value to customers, right? They have everything against them. They’re tiny. They have less capital than big companies. They have fewer human resources. They have no brand, right. Everything’s against you. So how do you thrive and grow? Well, you do that because you’re bringing something you unique, innovative, and usually massively appealing to customers to the market.
And so most startups instinctively understand that they have to delight customers to be successful. It’s just, and, and this is true for small companies as well. The challenge is more amongst incumbent, large companies who have a lot of assets to fall back on and brand to fall back on. And that unfortunately makes you lazy.
Right. I mean we talk about disruption in the age of digital transformation, right? And I’m throwing buzzwords out left right and center. But, what we’re really talking about when we talk about disruption is we’re talking about established companies that have been able to make a lot of money through doing things traditional ways, suddenly facing competition from new entrants and reeking havoc on their business models.
And the new entrance are usually doing that out of innovation around customers. That’s because the established companies, you know, are unresponsive. How is it possible today that we have so much innovation in retail banking? I mean, it’s an industry that shouldn’t be easy to disrupt. Huge asset bases, lots of government regulation.
Well, the bigger the banks get often the harder they found it to be in touch with the reality of their customers and innovative new entrance have better understood customer. And identified gaps in the capabilities of large banks and they filled those gaps and that’s what’s established small and new entrance. You know, today FinTech companies, so-called FinTech companies that essentially startups have cumulatively higher market capitalization than the large money center banks.
In other words, the markets think that these startups, these small companies with no advantages in the marketplace are worth more than the big money center banks. And I I think if you examine each one case by case at the origin of every one of those stories is a story of better serving customers. Is a story of identifying weakness.
And, you know, obviously we love to talk about blockbuster versus Netflix, but that story plays out time and time and time again with new entrants. So I think small companies get this more instinctively, and I think it’s more part of their culture.
[00:29:30] Stacy Sherman: Wow. So much more we could talk about, but we are coming to the end.
So I’m going to ask you two final questions. One is more of a personal question and the other is professional advice. So, starting with the professional. If I had CEOs, many leaders in my room right now, what is the one thing you would tell them? One thing you want them to know?
[00:29:59] Richard Owen: I would say that your long term shareholder value is going to be highly correlated to the value of your customer equity. And, if you want to have a share price that’s substantially higher five years from now, you’re going to have to understand what that customer equity is, how it’s valued and how you can improve it.
[00:30:22] Stacy Sherman: Well said. Now last one is if you could go back in time and give advice to your younger self, let’s say 20 year old Richard, based on what you know now that you didn’t know, then what would it be?
[00:30:41] Richard Owen: I would say take more care of your hair because you’re not going to have it forever.
[00:30:48] Stacy Sherman: I
[00:30:49] Richard Owen: I think personally that’s probably actually the best advice I could give myself.
But, I think professionally, I would say that like a lot of people earlier in the career, I was probably more highly strung than I needed to be. And I think for all of us, and I think Covid’s kind of, I know we don’t wanna talk about COVID, but I think it’s taught us a few life lessons.
And I think that we should all be more balanced in our approach. These things are marathons, not sprints. And I think we have to take care of ourselves more and, you know, dig in for the long haul. So. You know, all joking about my hair, because I don’t think there was frankly, anything I could have done about that.
I think the advice would be think more carefully about your health and think more carefully about how you’re going to be around for the long run.
[00:31:40] Stacy Sherman: Love that. And I’m going to definitely play that for my two young adults. Uh, my college kids and young adults, so it’s great advice.
Well, this is a bragging moment, as we say goodbye, where can people find you, learn more about you because I know they will want to and I’ll add any links to the show notes.
[00:32:01] Richard Owen: So the, the business is at OCX Cognition.com, and I’m on LinkedIn, which is a great way to connect.
[00:32:10] Stacy Sherman: Excellent. Well, thank you for sharing your wisdom. I feel like we could have talked for many more hours and I appreciate you.
[00:32:19] Richard Owen: Of course. Well, thanks for putting this together, Stacy. It’s great.
Take care. Have a wonderful day.
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About Richard Owen: Founder & CEO of CXO Cognition
Richard is one of the best-known thought leaders in the Customer Experience industry. While CEO at Satmetrix, his team led the development of the Net Promoter Score methodology with Fred Reichheld, which created the most widely used approach to measuring customer experience in the world. Together with Dr Laura Brooks, he co-authored “Answering the ultimate question” which quickly became the “how to” guide for NPS practitioners. Learn more at www.ocxcognition.com.
About Stacy Sherman: Founder of Doing CX Right®
An award-winning certified marketing and customer experience (CX) corporate executive, speaker, author, and podcaster, known for DoingCXRight®. She created a Heart & Science™ framework that accelerates customer loyalty, referrals, and revenue, fueled by engaged employees and customer service representatives. Stacy’s been in the trenches improving experiences as a brand differentiator for 20+ years, working at companies of all sizes and industries, like Liveops, Schindler elevator, Verizon, Martha Steward Craft, AT&T++. Stacy is on a mission to help people DOING, not just TALKING about CX, so real human connections & happiness exist. Continue reading bio >here.