The Competitive Edge: How Disruptive Start-Up Is Winning with Customer Experience

The Competitive Edge: How Disruptive Start-Up Is Winning with Customer Experience

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Doing CX Right podcast show on Spotify with host Stacy Sherman
Doing Customer Experience (CX) Right Podcast - Hosted by Stacy Sherman
Doing CX Right podcast show on iHeart Radio with host Stacy Sherman

If you are looking for proven strategies to start a successful business, grow and disrupt any industry, then this episode is for you. Stacy Sherman speaks to entrepreneur Zach Picon, co-owner of Crewfare, who is redefining the travel industry with customer experience at the forefront.

Zach, and his partners Jason and Jordan, figured out a way to gain a competitive advantage, starting with discovering buyer needs and solving real gaps in the marketplace. Their success also comes from hiring the right customer-centric people, scaling methodically, and customizing travel plans for attendees, sponsors, artists, VIPs, and more. They are working with mecca’s in the industry, including Rolling Loud, Ultra Music Festival, The Governors Ball, Preakness, Palm Tree Music Festival, and more.

Crewfare start-up and business growth stories are inspiring and informative.  While focused on the travel industry, their mission to create the ultimate experience is a great lesson to all companies. So, take notes as many gems are shared about Doing CX Right.


What You’ll Learn:

  • The power of partnerships and solving customer pain points the right way.
  • Tactics for scaling a company with values and transparency.
  • Customer service merging tech and human touchpoints.
  • Advice for innovative start-ups on a  mission to disrupt an industry.
  • How personalization creates better customer experiences and examples.
  • Best leadership advice
  • Words of wisdom to all business owners and the younger generation.

Actionable Tips:

  1. Focus on identifying and addressing the pain points of your target customers. The founders of Crewfair identified the difficulties faced by event organizers in managing internal travel, which led them to develop an innovative solution that streamlined the process.
  2. Invest in building a strong company culture that values employee input and creativity. Crewfair maintains a remote team of 50 employees who are encouraged to share ideas and collaborate on projects.
  3. Use technology to improve the customer service experience, but don’t replace human touchpoints entirely. While Crewfair uses chatbots and other technology to enhance customer experience, they recognize the importance of a human touch in handling customer concerns and accommodating last-minute changes.
  4. Prioritize transparency and authenticity in your interactions with customers. Crewfair’s founders recorded the questions they didn’t know the answers to and focused on being organic and authentic in their interactions, which helped build customer trust and loyalty.
  5. Start small and test your idea through networking and building relationships. The founders launched their initial website with minimal functionality. As demand rose, they invested more in technology and people to achieve goals. Put perfection aside and begin your passion projects, side hustle, or new full time business.

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About Zach Picon & Native Miami Founders: Jason Van Esso + Jordan Scheffler

The Competitive Edge - How Disruptive Startups are Winning with Customer Experience with Zach Picon and Crewfare partners
After working in the event production space for many years, the three University of Miami  buddies recognized a loophole and went on a mission to not only improve group travel experiences but revolutionize it leveraging next-gen technology. They launched Crewfare, a customizable booking platform offering events, festivals, sports, and brands the ability to capitalize on travel while providing attendees with a streamlined and simpler booking solution. Learn more about Crewfare and connect on  Instagram. Tiktok. Twitter.

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.

Solving Customer Pain Points Through Research, Design and Innovation

Solving Customer Pain Points Through Research, Design and Innovation

Doing CX Right podcast show on Spotify with host Stacy Sherman
Doing Customer Experience (CX) Right Podcast - Hosted by Stacy Sherman
Doing CX Right podcast show on iHeart Radio with host Stacy Sherman

What can you learn from a model customer-centric brand like Zappos to achieve real innovation and customer success in a competitive marketplace? Featured guest, Alex Genov, Head of Customer Research at Zappos, provides answers to these questions and much more.

Topics include:

  • How do you define innovation?
  • Is it different from invention?
  • What are the different types of innovation?
  • What are the 4 pillars that make Zappos so extraordinary from early on?
  • Examples of what employees do to make work-life extra special for retention.  
  • Why is innovation so rare?
  • What does it mean to be “stuck in traffic” and how to avoid it for innovation?
  • How leaders can understand customer pain points & act on “voice of customer” (VOC). Plus, what NOT to do?
  • The one key takeaway Alex wants you to remember.  


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    Solving Customer Needs Through Research, Design and Innovation

    Stacy Sherman: Hello, Alex Genov. Welcome to the Doing CX Right show.

    Alex Genov: Hi Stacy. Good to be here.

    Stacy Sherman: I am excited about today with you because Doing CX Right requires being intentional. It requires really walking the talk and you, and the brand that you work for actually are the real deal. So I’m so happy you’re here. Let’s start off with who are you, what do you do?

    Show More

    [00:00:44] Alex Genov: That’s a great question. Stacy, who am I? I don’t know if I really know who am I. Do we really know who we are?

    You know, my wife, my kids, you know, they’re going to give different answers. Who am I? So Alex Genov. I head up customer research at Zappos, and also, I’m a family man. Married. We live in Las Vegas, which is the entertainment capital of the world. We also have 2.4 beautiful children and a little Nicholas is 0.4.

    And I keep telling him, you know, he’s going to grow up to be a 1.0 human being I was pulling for when I was growing up. So I can do this little comedy bit for awhile, but it is related to what I really care about, which is applying my social psychology background to, to now helping organizations understand customers as people.

    And that’s one of my main roles at Zappos. And what I’ve been trying to convey in the past few years is this the need for this balance between looking at numbers, right? And, and a lot of organizations are focused on that and understanding customers as people and balancing.

    Ooh, that’s a really good topic, especially because I was on a call before, around how it was all data, data driven.

    And I was the speaker bringing the heart to the conversation. So you’re definitely touching a cord for me right now. I wish you were on that call with me. So why, why do you care so much about this.

    Because who knows why, what sparked my interest in psychology. I’m originally from Bulgaria and back in the day I was studying, I studied for a year in this Institute of economics back in the day.

    And, then I decided to come over to the states and I picked psychology and it was I mean, I can’t explain why I was interested in how the mind works in humans in general. And so what makes us tick? So then I came and started studying psychology as an undergraduate and then continued on to graduate school only because I was on a foreign student visa and I had to keep my status.

    Not that I wanted to keep studying for psychology for 10 years. But that’s you know, it’s hard to explain, but I’m interested in this, the human side of things. And I also see the need to have this counterpoint in a way or this complimentary point to our emphasis on data and algorithms and so on to bring the other side, because I’m always striving for balance.

    And I think if we just say numbers are everything and algorithms are gonna solve everything I think that’s the balance gets off kilter. If the balance is tipped the other way and say, we only have to understand emotions and humans and individual people, that’s not going to work for the business setting either.

    So somewhere in the middle, and I’m trying to bring that balance a little bit.

    What’s one fun fact people might not know about you.

    Fun fact. I’m a big fan of Shaolin, Kung Fu and I studied Kung Fu in Vegas. There’s a shouting master that we’ve been studying under for six years now. And I’ve also been to shouting temple three times, studying there and then training.

    And even one time they gave us they ordained us as, as disciples, which we totally did not deserve to be ordained as disciples after a week of training. It takes about 10 plus years, 20 years, but that’s a, that’s a fun fact, I guess.

    [00:05:14] Stacy Sherman: So let’s get to the heart of the conversation here about customer experience.

    You speak right about innovation. What does, how do you define innovation?

    [00:05:29] Alex Genov: Great question. There is this, my perspective on innovation was really influenced by a comment. I heard a very insightful comment from a panelist years ago at a conference and that person, I don’t, I don’t remember the person’s name now, but he distinguished between innovation and invention.

    And that, to me, that struck a chord with me. And he had different the way he defined invention was creating something new, something new, something exciting, something that hadn’t existed before, maybe technical, maybe otherwise. But it’s invention is different from innovation in the sense that for something to be an innovation.

    And that’s according to this definition, of course, but it has to have a real impact for people’s lives and for the business. So only when an invention starts giving a real impact and solves an important problem, then it becomes innovation. So a lot of, I kind of have a pet peeve with, you know, obsession with things that really innovation that is driven by technology.

    So technology first, for example, which to me, is the cart before the horse and things that are in a way solving problems, if you will. Right. That, I mean you can argue with that, but there’s a lot of these startups that solve the problem of overcrowded inbox or your mailbox, email mailbox is full and they have innovations to solve that right.

    There’s a host of those so-called innovations. I have, I personally have a problem with that because I’m always thinking. From the customer perspective, is it really a problem for people? How many people have this problem? And then if you solve it, isn’t going to make people’s lives easier. How many people are going to be affected and can that propel meaningful businesses as well?

    [00:07:51] Stacy Sherman: Do you believe that Zappos is a good model around innovation. We know they’re best in class. Is that where you’re really learning about what innovation means and is that what’s part of what makes them so great.

    [00:08:13] Alex Genov: Absolutely Stacy. I think Zappos is so well-known and such a great company and a great business because

    early on, and even now they innovate that they’re based on innovation. I think one of the, one of the additional points that I should touch upon in terms of innovation is that there’s different types of innovation. There’s technical innovation, but there’s also business innovation on business models.

    There’s innovation on how you just run the business. Here’s to me what made Zappos Zappos early on. It was this genius inside that thing that what will differentiate Zappos in the early days is going to be reliance on customer service, focused on customer service. And it’s, this really counter-intuitive moves that propels businesses.

    As a lot of them were in a world where even now the vast majority of companies, I believe considered customer service to be a necessary part, but something to be, you know, a cost to the minimized. Right. And marginalized. And so, and so that trickles down and results in a lot of decisions that then affect the customer negatively.

    Instead, what Zappos decided early on was you know, Donna Shan, the company, basically decided people that buy shoes elsewhere too. Right then the dominant mode was even nowadays is, is in store. So they said, why would people come to Zappos? What we’re going to do is we’re going to make customer service our top priority.

    So that’s counterintuitive thinking, I think led to the success, just like in other areas like for example, Zappos is part of Amazon. And one of the most successful businesses within Amazon is Amazon Prime and that was another counterintuitive move to say, we’re going to create the program loyalty program where people are going to pay to participate.

    Right. And again, or even does Amazon brilliant move early on by, by Jeff Bezos to say, you know what when they created their own line platform, which wasn’t like an online store, they said, you know what, we’re going to give our competitors space on our shelves to sell their stuff. And then again, people said

    that was crazy, but those counter-intuitive moves are the ones that pay off. So to answer your question, yeah Zappos is based on innovation and now even more so than before, for example, after the pandemic hit Zappos, not only survive but thrive because it was online set up for online and then very quickly as Zappos pivoted to help their vendors and help their partners in the sense.

    They will start coming up with a whole journey of business models, not just wholesale, but also dropship, consignment, and all these other models so that, you know, they will help their partners with inventory issues, with supply chain issues very, very quickly that it would happen.

    [00:11:53] Stacy Sherman: So what could other companies, small and big learn from Zappos?

    [00:12:01] Alex Genov: I think they can learn a lot. And you know, we have a group within Zappos, Zappos insights, and before the pandemic people, companies, and individual people would tour Zappos. I mean, come to learn from Zappos. It was almost like a university for this kind of success with culture and with focus on the customer.

    But the main, I think lessons are well, number one, focused on the customer and not only on the customer but focus on your relationship with your vendors, with your business partners. At the end of the day, it really boils down to human relationships, right? The relationship with your suppliers, with your vendors, with your employees, and with your customers, and with the community.

    So these are the four pillars for Zappos is the commerce part. It’s the customer. It’s the community and the culture. So these are the four pillars. But, at the end of it at the bottom of it is all relationships.

    [00:13:08] Stacy Sherman: Yes. I agree. It comes down. Data again is important, but it’s the relationship.

    It’s the communication that makes brands win and it’s in our control. That’s right. It doesn’t require a lot of money to communicate and to appreciate people and your customers and keep it real.

    [00:13:33] Alex Genov: Exactly. And in terms of just company culture, to your point, it’s the little things it’s not really a big, expensive programs.

    So I’ll give you a couple of examples from Zappos. And back again before the pandemic, where everybody was on campus and the culture was really vibrant and in-person every team had a budget that we had to spend on eating and drinking together as a team every month. Right. So that was almost like a requirement, you know what I mean?

    So go spend this money to have fun and to bond. So that’s why I’m. So now it’s moved a little bit when we’re working from home, it transitioned to the digital round. So now we have these online lunches and we get, or, you know, delivery. So we have some money to get or some food and we still sit around and it’s not the same of course, but the spirit is the same.

    And then. Little rituals, daily rituals, examples cause there’s automated email that comes out every day with every employees on that day, birthdays or anniversaries work anniversaries. So, so simple. I mean it comes out and then it’s up to everybody to do whatever they want with that. But I, for example, take time to just say happy birthday and happy anniversary, even to people that

    I haven’t met, I don’t know personally. Right. But still, it creates this, then I get a thank you. And then when I see them, they recognize me, thank you for sending me this email. Right. And so that creates the bond. It’s these little things.

    [00:15:21] Stacy Sherman: Yeah, exactly. Micro-moments. You talk a lot about

    stuck in traffic. Brands and leaders are stuck in traffic. What does that mean?

    [00:15:36] Alex Genov: Well, I don’t know if I talk a lot about it. I wrote years ago I wrote this little piece on LinkedIn. It was quite literally about traffic and it was in the I think the way, like your phrase it feels like I’m using it metaphorically.

    I mean, when I wrote this out, I wrote it literally, and it was in the context again of innovation. Is innovation solving important problems and problems important for society? Problems important for business on a larger scale. So that was the idea. And then it was more of a rhetorical question. Why aren’t you solving the problem of traffic versus all the things that sound fun?

    I have a pet peeve about the cart before the horse, right? There’s a new technology and now people are excited about it. They say, now, how can we apply? Right. And then let’s innovate. But it’s not based necessarily on first understanding any important problem or jobs to be done. This framework, backplate Clayton Christianson is one of my favorites.

    What job is this solving for people? And if it’s not done starting from the customer need or an important business need, then it feels contrived and things like chatbots. Again, it’s a technology now let’s see how we work and plug it in. Right. I think it becomes this annoying kind of clippy like experience, just a different more modern version of clippy. But again, I think the root cause is we have this technology, now how can we use?

    [00:17:31] Stacy Sherman: Going back to your traffic scenario, it is symbolic of pain points. I mean, traffic anywhere is a pain point. The question is how do company leaders really understand their customer pain points?

    What’s your view on that?

    [00:17:49] Alex Genov: You know I can’t speak to all company leaders. I’ve worked for several big and small companies and all of them have been customer-centric to one extent or another. So for example, Intuit, they were, they are one of the most customer-centric companies out there.

    They’re known for their research and for UX and so on, and it’s driven by leadership. And Scott Cook was the founder was the one who initiated a really interesting. Back in the day I mean, this was many, many years ago when I was maybe 30 years ago when he founded QuickBooks or Quicken back in the day.

    So personal financial organization software, it was based, of course, that’s pre-internet, it was based on CDs and like a big part of it was the time when he released Quicken and he would go to the store and observe when somebody picked up the box and then he would approach them and ask them, can I come home with you to see how are you using?

     So these are, I mean, in research, that’s called contextual inquiry or a form of ethnographic research, but it’s really, it was modeled by the founder of the company. And then it became part of the, part of the DNA of the company.

    So, Zappos is the same way. When everybody joins Zappos, and again, my experience was pre-pandemic, all of us spent the whole month in intense customer service training. Think about it. You join a company regardless of your rank or whatever you did before? So when I did my new hire training, we had about 40, 45 people.

    Some have been in the food industry in Vegas servers, waiters, waitresses. Some had been VPs in other companies. In that moment, that didn’t matter what you were before. You’re just an individual. And then, on the second day we got on the phones helping customers, and it’s the most humbling experience. That’s how, you know, one of the ways in which

    every Zappos employee would get in touch with the customer, understand customer pain points. And then later on, everybody has to spend about 10 hours every year around holidays on the phones. So we call it holiday help. The CEO is there, everybody’s there. So I think it just a matter of a mindset to say let’s understand customers.

    And then the activity itself, you can come up with a lot of activities to do that.

    [00:20:55] Stacy Sherman: I love those examples, and I also believe that it’s easy, you have to be intentional, to pay attention, look what people are saying on social media and ratings and review sites in addition to what you are collecting in a methodical way.

    [00:21:16] Alex Genov: It’s available, and so that’s the more of a passive collection of feedback because people are talking about companies, especially social media is a natural platform for that conversation. It’s like happening but then also within a company. So examples, at Zappos, we have a voice of the customer program and we intentionally started it and we’ve been going on a journey seven plus years to develop it, to start collecting feedback and then to evolve it, to start using text analytics.

    So this one case where we cannot do it without AI. And the bigger the data set the better because we get more signal and less noise. And we’ve been on a journey to do that now to the point where our executives are reading comments. Our CHCO is reading comments every week and encouraging executives to take them seriously and also encouraging us to drive for this balance because again, you can, you can tip the balance. If you just read the comments and you cannot go and start investing and changing the software based on one or two comments, right? Sometimes the comments are even saying something like your checkout sucks.

    I couldn’t count on such comments, go and start changing check-out. You have to really first understand what really happened. So you have to connect that comment to see what actually happened during that session, understand the root cause, and then estimate how big that problem is, how many people have that issue, and then that will help the businesses prioritize the work. So, that is what we’re in the middle of right now.

    [00:23:17] Stacy Sherman: Yeah, I believe it’s so important to aggregate all the voice of customer channels so that you don’t respond to the one-offs, but rather the scalable things and the multi-channels coming together so you can prioritize. That’s gold. That’s how you win.

    [00:23:37] Alex Genov: Exactly. And, that’s why you need to have one of the tactical things that need to be done is to connect all those dots. Collect them in one database. That’s the point. If you dispersed in different databases, then you have nothing,

    [00:23:52] Stacy Sherman: But, for small companies who don’t have Zappos budgets and other brands you’ve worked at, and myself, you can start small.

    Have somebody whose role is to aggregate even if it’s manual or use tools that scrape the internet and then really pull into some of the activities that your company’s doing. I don’t want people to be afraid to actually do what we’re talking about. It just starts somewhere and then you evolve.

    [00:24:25] Alex Genov: Exactly. I mean, that’s a great point. To your point, the size of the company doesn’t matter. The principle is the same. Put everything in one place. So let’s say Zappos is a big company. It’s part of Amazon. We have tens of millions of customers, right? So we have this big database and so on. You can be a small company. All you need is an Excel spreadsheet. The principle is the same. Put everything in that Excel spreadsheet. And then the customers should be one row and the columns should be all the variables you’re collecting. It doesn’t matter where. You can put it in a notebook.

    So, why I’m a big fan of the idea of hospitality as a metaphor for customer experience in general even online. I’m a huge fan of Danny Meyer who was a New York restaurantor. Very famous. He wrote the book, Setting The Table, and talks about collecting the dots so we can connect the dots.

    He is famous for creating these amazing experiences, dining experiences. That’s what he did for each customer he would keep notes or he would encourage employers to keep notes of their favorite foods and their anniversaries and everything. And they kept it on cue cards or pieces of paper.

    So it doesn’t matter. It’s the end result. The intention is what matters.

    [00:25:46] Stacy Sherman: We’re coming down to the end, which came too fast, as always. So, I’m going to ask you my two ending questions, which is if I had tons of CEOs and leaders and entrepreneurs in my room right now, what’s the one key takeaway you want them to remember?

    [00:26:07] Alex Genov: I would say it’s the takeaway of balance when it comes to understanding numbers and running the businesses. Bounce between reading the easily manageable, big data, structured data, the numbers, but also balancing that with an understanding of customers as human beings, as people. It’s more qualitative, but to me, it’s still needed.

    So, balancing those two. Once you hit that balance, I think that’s when the magic is going to happen.

    [00:26:41] Stacy Sherman: I agree. Yes. Yes. And finally, if you could go back to your younger 20-year-old self, what would you tell younger Alex that you know now that you didn’t know then.

    [00:27:00] Alex Genov: Don’t get too wound up about being right. I don’t think that’s that important. But when you’re young, you’re starting out, you’re kind of insecure and you feel like you need to prove you’re the smartest person in the room and you take things personally. You can’t take things too seriously. That damages relationships. And so that, to me, I don’t know if I would be more laid back about things.

    [00:27:30] Stacy Sherman: Great words of wisdom. Well, where can people find you? And I’ll add links in the show notes if they want to connect.

    [00:27:40] Alex Genov: I think LinkedIn is probably my platform. I’m a fan of LinkedIn.

    So that would be a good spot.


    Stacy Sherman: Wonderful. Well, thank you, Alex, for sharing so much about Doing CX Right from your personal perspective as a consumer, as an employee, and as a human being in this world. Thank you.

    About Alex Genov ~ Solving Customer Needs Through Innovation

    Experienced customer research professional and CX leader who applies his Experimental Social Psychology background and his passion for research, design, and innovation to solving important customer and business problems.

    Professional career spans 20 years and different industries ranging from insurance (State Farm) to personal finance (Intuit/Turbotax) to B2B (Active Network) to retail (Zappos).

    Alex’s goal is to help teams create remarkable products and services which make people’s lives easier and more enjoyable.

    More about Alex on LinkedIn

    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.

    Why You Must Drive the Customer Experience with the Employee Experience

    Why You Must Drive the Customer Experience with the Employee Experience

    Why does the employee experience matter just as much, if not more than the customer experience? In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, I joined Gabe Larsen and Vikas Bhambri from Kustomer to discuss why this is true and other incredibly insightful employee experience best practices. You can hear the full episode below to learn more.

    Key lessons about employee experience that fuel great customer experience:


    Establishing a Customer Obsessed C-Suite

    Many CX leaders are finding it difficult to help their teams completely deliver the best overall experience for their modern customers. I attribute this to people at the top of a company not being completely customer-centric. When people at the top of a company, such as executives or others within the c-suite, are customer-minded, the brand as a whole is more likely to find success.

    A great way to get executive involvement is to have them participate in CX activities to get to know the processes and the employees. This method creates a sense of empathy on a multi-departmental level that ultimately implements a customer mindset from the bottom up. Those are the leaders that also drive that engagement all the way through the organization. So it’s a bottom-up and a top-down where everybody’s walking that talk.

    Engaging with the frontline agents who handle all things customer-related is one of the best ways for a brand to become more holistically customer-centric. This engagement not only centers the brand but also encourages those frontline agents to go above and beyond in their roles, especially as they feel that they are valued and an integral part of the brand.

    Mental Safety and Cultivating Friendships in the Workplace

    A large contributor to customer satisfaction is that of employee experiences and overall happiness. The experts discuss Gallup’s Q12 Employee Engagement Survey questions that help to determine overall employee satisfaction within their company. Of these 12 questions, one of the most notable asks if the employee has a best friend in the workplace, as this is helpful for improved satisfaction scores.

    On this note, I hosted a book club at work and feel that it has become so successful because of the friendliness between coworkers, which opens a space for nonjudgemental conversation.

    During the podcast, I also explain that customer service and customer experience are very different in a “holistic view’ and that a workplace culture trickles down to customer engagement. When employees are happy, the customers are happy because the agents perform better, are more attentive, and are more willing to go the extra mile.

    Creating a space where employees feel they have friends and can be somewhat vulnerable with one another is accomplished through a safety mentality. “Mental safety to express your views. Safety that you won’t be judged. And that’s something that people don’t first and foremost think about.”

    Consistency Gives Companies an Edge

    Companies with an edge on the competition are more than likely to be united with a common goal across all functions and branches. According to Vikas, “Customer obsession is something that needs to be cultivated across the board.” All departments should be inspired to keep the customer in mind and to do so, I suggest having a weekly meeting with leaders from all departments to contribute and create a cross-functional customer journey map so that all are on the same page.

    When leaders work together in a customer-obsessed manner, they are enhancing the overall experience by curating each business element to their experience. Leaders would do well to place themselves in the shoes of their customers and their employees to get a look at how their business affects their lives. Doing so strengthens the bond between employee, customer, and leader and ultimately drives retention across CX. I urge leaders to empathize, listen to and adapt with their employees, especially as they embrace a new normal and return to work.

    Press play below to hear about driving CX with the employee experience.


    Full Episode Transcript about why you must drive customer experience (CX) through employee experience (EX):


    Gabe Larsen: (00:11)

    Hi, welcome everybody. We’re excited to get going today. We’re going to be talking about why you must drive the customer experience with the employee experience. I think this is one of those often missed conversations. To do that we have two special people joining me today. Both Stacy and Vikas, why don’t you guys take just a minute and introduce yourselves? Stacy, let’s start with you.

    Stacy Sherman: (00:34)

    Yes. Hi. I’m happy to be here. Stacy Sherman. I am the Director of Customer Experience and Driving Employee Engagement at a global company, Schindler Elevator Corporation. And also live and breathe CX when I’m not at work through my blog and speaking about Doing CX Right.

    Gabe Larsen: (00:56)

    Yes. And I’ve been following. We got to make sure people see that we’ll get a link to it. Doing CX Right. Lot of great thought leadership coming from Stacy. And she will be sharing some of that with us today. Vikas, over to you.

    Vikas Bhambri: (01:09)

    Vikas Bhambri, Head of Sales and Customer Experience here at Kustomer.

    Gabe Larsen: (01:13)

    Yup. My right hand man, as we cohost our Experience Fridays show. And I’m Gabe Larsen. I run Growth over here at Kustomer. So Stacy let’s get into this. I want to go big picture for just a minute. What do you think is broken in customer experience today? So many things going on. What’s not working?

    Stacy Sherman: (01:32)

    I believe that it starts with culture, right? It’s about the people. So the best in class companies have that customer centric, no matter what perspective, at the top. And then those are the leaders that also drive that engagement all the way through the organization. So it’s a bottoms up and a top down where everybody’s walking that talk.

    Gabe Larsen: (01:57)

    I like the bottoms up approach. Vikas, what would you say? What do you think is most broken?

    Vikas Bhambri: (02:03)

    No, I think Stacy hit the nail on the head, right? I mean, customer obsession is something that needs to be cultivated across the board. And I think we’ve always talked in the CX space about the three pieces to an effective program. People, process, and technology. And a lot of money and time is spent on process and technology, but very little is spent on people. And I think if you look at the companies that separate themselves, they put as much, if not more emphasis on the people end of it, than they do process and technology.

    Gabe Larsen: (02:37)

    Well, why do you guys think that is? I mean, process, is it because processes and technology are a little bit easier to do and the people side of it’s hard? Stacy, what do you think? Why do people not grasp the people side as much maybe as the technology side when it comes to optimizing the customer experience?

    Stacy Sherman: (02:55)

    I believe that companies, especially old school companies are still understanding that customer experience is a competitive weapon. It gives a competitive edge and we have not fully, fully shown the ROI behind culture and experience and why it matters. We know over the longterm and there’s so much research behind it, but it’s really proving out. It’s somewhat of a new field. I mean, customer service has been around forever, but that’s different than customer experience in that holistic view.

    Gabe Larsen: (03:35)

    Well, I like that because I do feel like you guys, that when you map a journey of a customer and you change a process, you can often find the efficiencies almost in dollars and cents, right? You can literally see something change, whether it’s in efficiencies and cost savings, or maybe it actually revenue in growth. When it comes to the people side of it, maybe that’s the problem, Vikas, isn’t it? You focus on kind of engaging your employees and making them happier, it’s harder. It’s kinda harder to see the ROI. Is that, is that kinda where you’d go or what would be your thoughts as why it’s difficult to kind of focus on the employee side?

    Vikas Bhambri: (04:12)

    Well, I think a lot of people look at it as unfortunately, a necessary evil. Like, we hear terms in the industry about the, it’s a cost center, right? And the moment you have that mindset, then everything you’re doing in that part of your business, you’re not necessarily looking at things like top line growth. And so, I always joke that. My peers in marketing, I’ve always had this advantage. Big budgets, et cetera, because everybody’s like, “Wow.” And it’s amazing. Right, right. We spend so much to acquire the customer and then we like throw them back into the dark ages, right? We have all this amazing technology, all these cool tools to acquire the customer. And then we send them into the dark ages. And with these people that sometimes literally look like they’re sitting in antiquated workspaces as well. So I think there’s a lot of that thoughtfulness that has to go into how do you want to treat customers after you acquire them, right? And then engaging the customers to deliver that amazing experience.

    Gabe Larsen: (05:18)

    This is a question that just came in on LinkedIn from Carrie. I wanted to throw it out to you guys. This bottoms up. I thought this might be interesting because it’s one that we do say you gotta get the leadership behind it, but how do you actually influence that bottoms up culture when it comes to the people? You want to start with this one, Stacy?

    Stacy Sherman: (05:36)

    Yeah, sure. So we are asking customers for feedback, thousands and thousands of different sources that we collect. And the key is that it’s using that feedback once closing the loop, right? Letting the customer know we heard you and we’re making changes, but also engaging your front line and having them look at the feedback, use it in their meetings, having leaders celebrate those good scores, satisfaction, NPS, et cetera, and using the other detractor ratings as coaching opportunities. And it’s that drum beat that we do that really drives that culture, that caring and empathy and best practices.

    Gabe Larsen: (06:25)

    Yeah, it is about, I mean, when we say bottoms up, guys, I think that is one of the key elements is you got to go to the front. So that’s the frontline employee, or that’s the frontline customer. We just did Vikas, at our own company, one of these employee engagement surveys and these action planning sessions where we sat down with some of the frontline people and asked them, “What do you think about how we can improve,” not only their own culture, but some of the customer experiences. And I was surprised, I was pleasantly surprised like, “Wow, these guys really know it. Like some of their ideas were a lot better than I think just asking the customer how we can improve their experience. And so I’m becoming more and more of an advocate of the employee side, the survey and using them in action planning sessions to see if we can’t get that bottoms up feedback to actually change some of the top end processes. Vikas, what would you add on bottoms up?

    Vikas Bhambri: (07:17)

    Well, look, we’ve talked about voice of the customer for years, right? It’s, what we look at in our program is voice of the employee of the customer, right? So our frontline, my customer success managers, my technical support specialists, they understand what customers are looking for. Obviously with Kustomer, in a contact center CRM platform, what are some of the things that they feel challenged with with their current tool set? What are they looking for? Whether it be reporting or other things. So I think really giving them a voice back with our product team, et cetera, to do that. The other is the frontline often really wants to do right by the customer. And they get hampered by process, right? We kind of put the handcuffs on them and where I’ve seen people really, companies be really effective here, some of our customers that we work with, is empowering that frontline. Allowing them to go above and beyond. We all hear about that amazing Zappos story that is now a mythical legend about somebody who sat on a phone for eight hours, talking somebody through a journey with their, with their product selection. Now that’s an extreme, but can you empower your people to go above and beyond? And then the third thing that I am really excited about is I’m seeing more and more companies put the executives or new employees in the chair of their frontline as part of their onboarding. So as part of your onboarding, go sit with your support team, hear your customers, feel their pain, understand their challenges, and then rotate your executives into that on a regular basis. I think those are all pretty exciting ways to approach this.

    Gabe Larsen: (08:53)

    [Inaudible] Because I think as executives, you do, you just lose that vision. You lose, and you start to get into your meetings. You start to get the, you lose the bottoms up approach. I liked some of those ideas. Stacy, sorry. You were going to say something.

    Stacy Sherman: (09:07)

    Yeah, no. It’s exactly what we’re doing. At my work places, we’ll go out and spend time visiting the technicians, right? Those really important people who are fixing the problems and servicing customers, those technicians and mechanics every day. And so those not in that job will go and spend time. And I’ll tell you, I recently visited, before COVID, a hospital. Spent the time with a technician and I was amazed at how much he does in a day. Putting myself in his shoes and how he services the customers and it’s a big job. And I, so I agree with you. You’ve got to walk in employee’s shoes as well as the customer’s shoes.

    Gabe Larsen: (09:55)

    Yeah. Interesting. Dan, I think Dan, I love this word, Dan, this is kind of a inverted pyramid. CEO goes at the bottom customers at the top, and you start to kind of actually action a culture that brings the employee feedback all the way to where it shouldn’t be probably front and center. Are there some other things you guys, when it comes to using the employee to drive customer experience that you’ve found either beneficial in some of your interactions, your coaching, or just in your own effort? What are some of those tactics you’ve found to really drive the employee experience that ultimately drives the customer experience? Stacy, anything that comes to your mind?

    Stacy Sherman: (10:35)

    Yeah, well it’s what was said before about the voice of employees. So when they feel that they’re valued and they’re part of business decisions, they own it more. So part of our customer experience team is literally going out and talking to the employees before we launch something, before there’s some, as we frame up a new feature or a new anything, right? Involving the frontline into that feedback mechanism. And then they feel, they feel like they matter. And that’s huge.

    Gabe Larsen: (11:12)

    Yeah. I felt like the thing that you really can, you gotta be careful of it, if you’re going to go with this bottoms up approach, you’ve got to actually do something with the feedback, much like customer experience. You ask a question to an employee or you take the time to do what Stacy’s recommending and do an interview or do an engagement survey, and then you don’t actually action on that, I think you’re going to find that your engagement among your employees will probably drop more than where it was currently. So be conscientious of asking without actioning. Vikas, other things you’ve seen? I loved kind of getting the executives and listening to some of the phone calls. Other ways you’ve found to kind of empower agents to therefore empower customers to be, to have that great experience?

    Vikas Bhambri: (11:59)

    No, I think, as I said, I’ve seen where certain brands that we work with have given their frontline a budget. A budget to go send a thank you card or a birthday card or a birthday gift, or a token of their appreciation, right? Some have done where if they’re on a call that they can offer a coupon or something to that effect, right? So some really things, once again, empowering them to really, truly build that relationship with their customers. And then how do you recognize employees that go above and beyond, right? We’ve got the concept here at Kustomer. We call it the DJ Ty By award. Don’t just talk about it, be about it. And on a regular basis, we recognize those team members. And it’s not just the frontline, right? It’s the engineer who goes above and beyond to work on a bug over the weekend, right? It’s somebody in facilities who make sure that our, when we had our big Kustomer day event in our office, right, that the place looks amazing and it’s set up to entertain our guests. So I think it’s all of those things, right? If you create that culture that really becomes around rewarding and recognizing your employees for when they go above and beyond, I think those are some things that have really been successful.

    Gabe Larsen: (13:20)

    And one of the things I love as a resource, you guys, that you might want to check out is the Gallup Q12 Questions. It’s for those of you who don’t know Gallup, it’s a research-based consulting firm, focusing on the behavior like economic science of employee and customer engagement. And I don’t want to read through them, but there are some comments coming in about this on LinkedIn As you think about that bottoms up culture. Let me just tell you a couple of these, because I think it’s a great way to start formulating the culture of employee engagement that then translates to the customer and I want to get a couple of your guys’ opinion on some of these. So question one, they say, do you know, what’s expected of you at work? If an employee can answer this positively, they’re more likely to provide an engaging customer experience. Two, do you have the materials and equipment you need? Three, at work do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day? In the last seven days, have you received recognition? Does your supervisor, someone seem to care about you as a person? Is there someone at work who encourages your development? At work do your opinions count? And on and on. And this is a great framework I’ve found to start to think about how you actually drive I think that engagement culture, and maybe for some of you who are asking the question, a good place to start. One of these questions, you guys, it often is debated and I just want to throw it out here, is this idea of, do you have a best friend at work? And Gallup states that if you do have, if employees can answer this in a positive manner, they’re more likely to deliver a customer experience? Quick thoughts on one. Do you feel like that’s odd or how would you kind of explain that to the audience? Stacy, I’m putting you on the spot, but thoughts on facilitating more friendships among employees to ultimately drive the customer experience?

    Stacy Sherman: (15:05)

    I love that because –

    Gabe Larsen: (15:07)

    Number one though, isn’t it, it’s a little weird.

    Stacy Sherman: (15:10)

    I love it because again, it’s all about relationships and connection, so it makes total sense. And actually as a leader, right, of a team, I’m very focused on that. Like we just recently did a book club. It was a work book club around Simon Sinek, Start With the Why.

    Gabe Larsen: (15:33)

    Love it.

    Stacy Sherman: (15:33)

    Yeah. And we got to talk about each chapter, understand the why, and now we are all able to help each other, make sure we hold each other accountable to our why’s and we wouldn’t have done that without being vulnerable and a friendship to do that.

    Gabe Larsen: (15:50)

    So you’ve kind of used a book club as a way to facilitate some of those relationships which ultimately kind of drives some of that engagement. Vikas, we’re obviously more of a remote culture at the moment and we’re having a different experience. Any things you’ve done or you’ve seen customers do to facilitate this friendship at work, this more kind of conducive collaborative environment across companies?

    Vikas Bhambri: (16:16)

    Look, I think the key thing there, what I think the gist of that is if you create a camaraderie where folks feel that they’re in it together. So one is how do you break down those barriers where people can go and feel comfortable asking for help? Going to one another for help, without feeling like, “You know what? People are gonna look at me like I don’t have the answer,” right? And the whole thing about, kind of that friendship environment, to me, it becomes a very key thing where if you feel that camaraderie and kinship with your peers and then of course, eventually the company, you think about it in the mindset, “Do I want to let these people down?” And I think that also creates an environment where people want to go above and beyond. When you perhaps don’t have those relationships, don’t have connections, then you’re more likely to say, “You know what? I’m just going to mail it in.” So I think that’s kind of what creates that environment, where you don’t want to let your teammate down, right? “So I see how hard Gabe is working well, you know what? Vikas, has to step it up,” right? So I think those are some of the kind of collegial environments where people promote success.

    Gabe Larsen: (17:23)

    That’s actually question number nine on that survey, Vikas, is, are your associates committed to doing quality work? I think you’re right. If people start to feel a little bit of that prep, prep is maybe not the right word, but they start to fill it, they jump on it. Stacy, what were you going to add?

    Stacy Sherman: (17:38)

    One word comes to my mind as you were just speaking. The word safety. We always think about safety from physical, but in a company it’s actually about mental safety too. Mental safety to express your views. Safety that you won’t be judged. And that’s something that people don’t first and foremost think about.

    Gabe Larsen: (18:01)

    I think we’re getting that more and more, because we’re all feeling a little vulnerable right now. I know I am. If anybody wants to talk to me about that, we can. Vikas knows I’m feeling vulnerable. Let’s end with this question, Carrie, appreciate the questions during the session. So since all CXE says includes cross-functional teams, how do you ensure teams like Ops and Marketing that may not always be in direct contact with the customer provide that consistent customer experience? So he’s talking about the whole customer journey. How was it not just my support team? How is it not just my sales? How do we kind of come together? Ooh, I don’t like that. That’s a harder question than the other softballs. Stacy, what do you think?

    Stacy Sherman: (18:48)

    No, it’s not hard.

    Gabe Larsen: (18:48)

    Okay, sorry.

    Stacy Sherman: (18:52)

    No, it’s not hard.

    Gabe Larsen: (18:54)

    Give me time to think, Stacy. I was just kind of –

    Stacy Sherman: (18:59)

    No, thinking, it’s the answer is you bring everybody to the table. All the different organizations come together to build the customer journey map. And everybody has a piece, right? How customers learn and buy and get and use and get helped. You have all the right teams who own those different parts of the journey and they’re at the table, and then you design it together. You co-create it together. And then you go validate it with the customers and find out where are the gaps.

    Gabe Larsen: (19:31)

    Yeah. Bring everybody to the table. Vikas, what would you add?

    Vikas Bhambri: (19:33)

    No, I think, I think what Stacy said is spot on. I think if I look at, first of all, it starts with the values of the brand, right? What are your, what’s the, what are the values that you adhere to as a company? And that should be consistent across all departments, regardless of function. The second piece of it is your brand voice, right? If your marketing team is out there and they’re promoting partnership and things like that, and then you’re not following through on the backend, well, shame on you. So I think it has to be that alignment because the messaging you’re telling your customer at the frontend has to be delivered on the backend, right? Goes back to what I was saying earlier. The Ops is really interesting because Ops is indirect in contact with customers, right? The way you even bill a customer, you invoice them. The way that you reach out to them if they haven’t made a payment in time. If you’re a customer first brand, is your first notice to them that, “Oh man, you haven’t paid me,” or is it, “Hey, is everything okay? We didn’t get a payment from you. That’s not normal. What can we do to help?” So I think even the tone that these other functions take, we’re seeing it now, right? Obviously with the pandemic is how we, as a cross-functional team are meeting on a regular basis to talk about our customers and understand what is impacting specific customers and what can we, as a company and partner do to help them through this crisis. It’s a cross-functional team that meets on a weekly basis through this pandemic to have these conversations. And it’s regardless of the function in the company.

    Gabe Larsen: (21:04)

    Oh, I love it. I don’t know if I’ve got much to add on that one. Carrie, I do like the communication, the feedback loop. Nothing better than when you start to celebrate successes and other people can start to feel it because Marketing, Ops, they have sometimes a harder time wanting to join. But if they feel some of that, those customer quotes that come in, as you know, or having these conversations that the support person hears, if you can have other people experience that, it makes other functions want to participate because they want to join the party. So that might be one tactical thing to think about. All right, well, as we leave you guys, maybe just quick summary comments. We hit a lot of different items, appreciate the audience questions. As you think about driving the customer experience with employees, what do you leave the audience with today? Stacy, let’s start with you.

    Stacy Sherman: (21:55)

    As leaders, we have to empathize and really listen. There’s no cookie cutter approach here. So really listen to what each person’s individual needs are, including their return back to the office and helping them. Because there’s a lot of mental and physical ramifications of COVID. So that included, really listening, empathize and then adapt to what meets their needs.

    Gabe Larsen: (22:26)

    Love it. Vikas, what did you want to –

    Vikas Bhambri: (22:27)

    So, I’ll kind of tie my summary back to what Carrie said, the inverted pyramid, right? I liked the way he phrased that. And I know a lot of people that I talk to love watching television programs like the Shark Tank and so on. I’ll tell you one of my favorite shows, and as a 20 year CRM contact center lifer, is a television program called the Undercover Boss. And that’s where CEOs dress up in disguise and go out there and work side by side with their team members in the frontlines, right? Whether it’s making pizzas or making pretzels all the way out to being a surface technician and the key message of that program, which I think Stacy alluded to, is speak to your frontline. Experience what your frontline is seeing and going through. And I think those are great lessons. Every time I watch that show, I’m amazed by like the revelations that a CEO of even a company that’s been a multi-generation family company. It’s like, “Wow, I never knew. I didn’t realize this was going on. I didn’t realize we were making these decisions that were impacting our customers and our frontline employees.” And so those, if anybody hasn’t seen their program and you’re a CX professional, I would strongly recommend it and try to get your CEO to watch it if you can.

    Gabe Larsen: (23:51)

    I love it. What’s it called? What was it called one more time?

    Vikas Bhambri: (23:54)

    Undercover Boss.

    Gabe Larsen: (23:55)

    Undercover Boss.

    Stacy Sherman: (23:56)

    It’s walking in the employee shoes. That’s literally what it is, but also walk in the customer’s shoes.

    Gabe Larsen: (24:02)

    Yeah. So, I mean, it’s one of the things we forget. Like we talk so much about walking in the customer’s shoes. Maybe we should try walking in the employee’s shoes. Well Vikas, Stacy, as always, appreciate you joining and for the audience, thanks for taking the time and have a fantastic day.