How to Become Unforgettable with CX Leader Jeanne Bliss
Jeanne Bliss is a leadership and customer experience strategic advisor and keynote speaker who helps the worlds’ most beloved companies become unforgettable; earning growth and admiration through their elevated business practices and the humanity of their people.
In this episode, Jeanne shares how true customer experience transformation can and should lead to companies and brands becoming unforgettable.
Can’t listen? Here’s the full transcript:
Hey, everyone, welcome to another episode of Revenue Rebels. The podcast that brings marketing and sales rebels together to share their stories and thinking on all topics related to accelerating revenue-generating activities in the B2B world. On this show, we talk about the strategic vision of marketing-led customer experience that unleashes the combined power of technology, content, and data. Are you ready to rebel? Let’s get into the show.
This is our first podcast of the new year, and we’ve been working on some amazing new content and fantastic guests for you all. Today’s Revenue Rebel is considered the “Godmother of Customer Experience.” She is a leadership and customer experience, strategic advisor and keynote speaker who helps the world’s most beloved companies become unforgettable.
I’m really thrilled to have Jeanne Bliss joining the show today. She’s an author of four books, the host of the Chief Customer Officer Human Duct Tape Show, which is a podcast as well. And from what I’m learning a true pioneer and customer experience. Jeanne, Welcome to the show.
Thank you! I’m so happy to be with you.
It is really great to have you on the show, and I’m excited about this topic. I think our listeners will be, as well. Before we jump into though, you know, this show is about rebels in their field, and I can’t think of a better way to start today and the new season, but with somebody who has definitely been ahead of her time.
As I did a lot of research, I was just so impressed with you, really making moves in very early days. You know, a lot of people are talking about customer experience now and maybe in the last few years, but to have published your first book in 2006 you know… Tell us a little bit about what defines you as a rebel.
Absolutely, yes, I’m actually thinking of myself as the old man of the sea lately. But I’ll take rebel.
It’s a little better of a picture in my mind, anyway.
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Yes, I think mentioned to you when we were talking earlier; I had this great privilege of having a dad who had this Buster Brown shoe store. We’ll talk about it later. But I learned about humanity in business when I was a child by watching how he treated people. I didn’t know that he was being a role model then. You know, we watched our parents and think, “oh I’ve got to go work at the shoe store” right?
But my first big job was at Land’s End, which we were the Zappos of our day. I answered an ad in the Chicago Tribune to go train 2500 phone operators. We were $100 million in sales. By the time I left, we had grown to a $1 billion in sales, achieving 98% loyalty rates, which allowed us to go public in one of the most successful public offerings of its time, especially in retailing. And so much of it was because of the humanity through which we grew this business.
We were very deliberate about what we would do and would not do. For example, we did not and would not practice in fake, inflated sales where prices went up and then went down.
If the price of wool from Mongolian sheep went down, we reduced the price of the sweater. If we accidentally made a mistake on pricing and gave you $40 off a pair of pants because we made a blooper on the catalog copy. We honored that. When we found a little slub, which is a piece of thread that’s poking out of a towel, we didn’t know how many customers had been impacted, so we sent all 200 customers a new towel saying, “Look, if the old towel is still okay, keep it, use it to wash the dog.—Your friends at Land’s End.”
It was just the way that we chose to do business. It was like being at a moment where you catch lightning in a bottle. It created my career for me because it took what I had learned with my dad and put it into this enormous playing field if you will.
By the time I was 24, Gary had pulled me off the phones, and I was reporting to the Executive Committee of Land’s End as essentially the first version of a Chief Customer Officer.
There were three men. I grew up Catholic. I call them the father, son and Holy spirit. But it was heady, heady times. For example, the people on the phones at Land’s End were farm people. They got up at three o’clock in the morning and bade the fields and clucked eggs from the underbellies of warm hens and then logged in to Land’s End.
Our whole thing was: be yourself, take your time. Here are all the tools, but we’re not going to impose a talk time on you. Wow, right?
A big part of my job was ensuring that that way of doing business, as we had to start bringing people in because we were we were experiencing explosive growth, was translated into our operating model. for example, a really smart, great guy who had been running call centers for big big companies, I won’t say who, came in and started listing talk times, and he was posting them on the little hayworth cubicles where our call center people were.
And as he was hanging them, I, in my little Italian way, was walking right behind him, taking them off. This guy turns around and says to me, He’s like, “What the heck? Who do you think you are doing?” I said, “I am,” my maiden name is Lombardo, “I am Jeanne Lombardo, and I am the protector.” And he goes, “we’re gonna go talk to the CEO.” And so I’m like, “fine” and we did.
And you know, it wasn’t always like that, but we had to help people recognize that we grew in a paradoxical way. We grew by doing the right thing, by honoring the human at the end of the decision, and believing that we would earn the right to grow by acting in admirable fashion.
It’s bringing the human element even to the business, right? So it’s fantastic to think about the people in the business and allowing them to be human, allowing them the space and time to be human and to engage with your customers as other humans and not just numbers.
But it sounds also like that expanded into culture and the business itself as an entity. Taking on some of those human attributes which is hard for some companies to think about when they’ve got a lot of other people knocking on their doors like stakeholders and stockholders and shareholders. And you know all those holders.
That’s right. It’s a long game. “If you play golf or tennis, or anything you do, you know for the sports analogy people. It’s playing the long game and in a world where people are quarterly inclined or have been forced to be quarterly inclined because of the market and other things, which was interesting because when we went public, we didn’t stray from this approach. And that is this other thing you’ll see on my website is called “Leadership Bravery.” You have to be brave to stick to your guns. You have to be brave to continue to give your people examples of what it means to operate in this fashion. And that’s what we did.
Now you know, things have changed. We won’t talk about that but for the 10 years and like five or six years after that, it was an amazing, amazing place to be while I was there.
That’s fantastic. That’s a great rebel story. I love it. And I love the story of you going behind and taking…
A little smarty pants Italian girl. Well, and I’m fearless too, you know, and it made my career. When I was ready to leave the nest of Land’s End, I basically grew up there. I was there from 23 to 33. That’s pretty creating young. But we had a lot of responsibility for ages because just like startups, we were essentially a retail startup in the catalogue industry that hadn’t been done before in the way we were doing it. And so I knew that would be my career.
So after that, I deliberately moved from industry to industry on purpose to begin adding to my kit bag.
Smart, very smart.
It was fascinating and nobody was doing the work then. Nobody even talked about customer experience. It was, you know, culture and leadership and other things. So, I went from Land’s End to Mazda, to Coldwell Banker to All State to Microsoft. Every time deliberately choosing that path in that industry and B2B, B2C, etcetera.
What I would love to know, I mean, that’s just a fantastic origin story, especially at a time that was a completely different world than what we’re dealing with today in terms of our digital experience and that sort of thing. So, Jeanne, can you tell us a little bit about how you define customer experience, especially in today’s world? You know, catalogs almost don’t exist anymore, right?
For me, customer experience, the term is actually a little hard for me right now, because it’s becoming defined by mechanics. What I think of it as is becoming an elevated kind of company. It’s the end game. It’s not the tactics to get there. It’s becoming unforgettable, acting admirably, being brave, showing up differently in the marketplace, being really clear about your place in people’s lives and then having a very specific lens for everyone’s decisions about how you will and will not get there.
And in fact, this notion of being unforgettable and being really clear is not done in at least 80% of transformations. What’s happening is that we’re jumping to journey mapping and only surveys, and other things and not really starting with: “Who are we as people? How do we want to show up? And then how do we translate that to our behavior, our leadership in our operating model?”
I totally get it. Absolutely agree. And, you know, it’s interesting. There’s a Gartner study that came out, I don’t know the data, I think it was very recent, that actually said that 80% of organizations were expecting to compete mainly based on customer experience this year. That was marketing leaders I think were surveyed for this.
What does that mean to them? Is it that they’re going to deploy a new platform? I think sometimes there are companies that are kind of putting the cart before the horse. There’s this sort of identity that you need to establish first and the human identity, the understanding, where you’re at at your core as a company, right? And how you’re going to engage people. We have all these words, “authenticity” and all of these things. But I like the way that you think about it and have described it.
Yeah, and I think that there, if I could, there’s a little bit of a risk right now whenever something becomes very, very popular. We also relabel what we’re already doing with that new label. We’re not necessarily doing something different. But now we’re calling it customer experience and we’re giving ourselves and our leaders of false positive and a false sense of security that over we’re on this. We got it.
That kind of leads me to my next question, which is how you became known as the godmother of customer experience, because the vision that I just had was this very wise woman coming in as Cinderella had, you know, with her magic wand. Coming in and dressing her up and getting her ready for the ball. I know there are a lot of other types of godmothers, but that’s just the one that came to my mind. Where did that come from? What’s the impetus to to this?
Well, I’m actually not that kind of godmother. I’m the godmother that coaches you and helps you along the way to find your path. Now here’s what happened. I’m a giver. Since 2006 when I first wrote my book “Chief Customer Officer,” which I had to convince my publisher to do, by the way. They’re like, “Well, one person’s gonna buy this book.”
My path has been around taking the complexity out of this work, mystifying it and putting people in a position to be successful. Whether I was hired to do that or not, made money on it or not, I’ve taken everything I’ve written and broke it into bite-size pieces.
I fund my own podcast. I spent hours and hours, years worth of hours as Cofounder of the Customer Experience Professionals Association, have coached over 20,000 leaders on this. And the godmother is really the result of 35 years of focusing and sharing and mystifying and helping others find their career path on this work. And actually making this work a justifiable and good way to make a living and to contribute.
And so that’s where it comes from.
Yes, I see.
I don’t think I have a fairy hat or anything. I’m very much a straight talker and Italian and from Chicago. I mean, I’m very kind and I take care of people, but it’s been really around because I’ve been, you know, it goes back to the old man in the sea, right? I’ve just been one of the few who has been through it for the long haul and been very, very generous with my information and with helping people find their way.
The guide, the sage guide. I’m really curious you were talking about this a little a few minutes ago. How it’s becoming this sort of buzz word, “customer experience” thing. It’s something that we’ve talked a lot about a DemandLab, and it’s something I feel really passionate about so I have been very excited that more and more companies are starting to get, what I think about is, in terms of customer experience, a less fragmented experience in today’s world, where you’ve got so many different channel and you’re getting one message via email. Another message via the App. Another message on the website. They don’t really know who you are, but they’re trying to understand who you are, these companies.
They’re trying to put things out. It feels very fake. So it’s just this fragmented sort of experience, right? And I see it all the time. It happens to me all the time, still.
For us, our journey of the company, it started with the platforms. It started with helping our clients leverage their systems. But then it grew into the content, and then it grew into the data. Because all of this is… you have to have the right data in our digital world in order to serve up those experiences. We do talk a lot about the platforms.
But we don’t want them to do it it unless they do have a strong identity. Unless there is a good understanding of where they’re heading and an understanding of that long-term vision.
I’d love your opinion on this. Why do you think that so many companies are starting to move towards customer experience? You know there are stats out there, Gartner and a variety of other analyst firms. Why are all of the ears opening up now?
Sure. Well, I think that this is something that’s culminated over almost 10 years. If I could say it that way. First of all, we had an economic downturn and we may be headed into another, which is interesting because it also actually emboldens this work.
What happens in an economic downturn is that new customer growth diminishes, and there is an increased awareness and appreciation of growing organically through honoring, taking care of your existing customer base.
So, through that economic downturn, there finally became.. I’ve been talking about this for years. A lot of times it fell on deaf ears. Through the economic downturn, there became finally an appreciation. In every organization I’ve worked with we’ve got CFOs involved, CEOs of course, the board, to recognize that organic or customer asset growth, as I call it, is as important as incoming acquisition-based growth. So that started.
Then we had social media, which hit, meaning that customers now have the big megaphone in their hand and their defining who you are. They’re determining the trajectory of people’s growth sometimes and also are able to with 1, 2, 3, 4 sometimes unfortunate reviews or a mass of them, impact the company and how they react to things.
We’ve had this whole social media responsiveness occurring now with tweeting and chatting and other things. And people are making determinations about the kind of people who run companies and if they want to be involved in them.
I would also say converging with that, of course, is that we have, and I’m not gonna call the Millennials because I think that’s a crazy… There is a shift that, along with all of us making decisions, I think that you could say is the convergence of social media, showing the real true mirror of the company. It’s not packaged anymore. It’s how the company is actually behaving that is getting really blown up through social media as with people who are growing up in that and being very, very specific because they have those social media tools. That’s your first language now. And so we’re saying it’s the Millennials, But I think it’s not only the millennials, but social media and the tools, millennials now have to be fearless about what they will and will not do and who they will and will not work with.
To me, you’re saying a shift, and I wrote down as you were talking “a shift in expectations.” It’s almost like social media is this new connective tissue? So it’s not just millennials, it’s anybody out there, any consumer that really wants to be, value-driven, values-driven.
Well, yeah, expectations and requirements. And then the third thing is organizationally and leadership-driven, which for a long time, as we’ve been drip, drip, dripping this focus, CEOs and others have said, “Okay, we’re going to be customer-driven. Everybody go be customer-driven.”
And we’re trying hard, but in our trying hard, we’re doing it separately and inadvertently, now we’ve got every silo doing their own thing separately and were accidentally spending more money on partial programs or projects versus becoming very united in focusing on one or two things and learning new behavior for how to build product development, or responses, or an experience.
And that’s why what experience is in leadership is a comprehensive view of how your customer works across your organization to get their goals accomplished.
And so there is very much underbelly, a unifying organizational aspect of this that has to be tackled. And leaders are finally realizing that the silos don’t organically unite because they’ve all got different scorecards and priorities, and they all earn bonuses and paychecks in a different manner.
And what customer experience does is say, okay, let’s recast what we should be good at by being really clear of the goals that we are promising our customers or even understanding, more importantly, what their goals are. Reorienting the operating approach of our business and then changing what we measure and how we unite people to have shared goals.
That doesn’t happen by the CEO, saying “everybody go be customer-focused,” because there’s those shared goals that reorientation and those new metrics aren’t gonna happen independently. That’s why I called my podcast the Human Duct Tape show because we have to duct tape these disparate organizations who are working hard but working hard separately together.
We’ve worked with a lot of companies and the companies that are more unified, where the duct tape has brought them closer and closer. They’re absolutely more successful, and that takes a lot of mean, a lot of courage.
And it is hard. It’s hard work. It takes checking your silo in the pride of your silo base work at the door to recognize that while you’re doing good work, the customer is still suffering because they’re trying to patch you all together. That’s hard. That’s a lot of underbelly.
It’s really hard. I think it takes courage and you know, one of the things that I have thought a lot about recently, just based on another conversation I had separately. From your perspective and your experience, what can people that believe in customer experience–believe that it’s the right path forward for their company–what can they do if they’re being met by blank stares or even worse, roadblocks from their leadership. Because I think it takes a lot of convincing sometimes
It does. Are you thinking of a particular individual? Or a role? Tell me more because it kind of depends on what they’re trying to accomplish. There is a difference between if you’re a call center person running, doing great, great work at the front line versus leading the call center versus a Chief Customer Officer versus the VP of Marketing, right?
I’m not saying they don’t all have critical roles. But there’s different approaches for each one. So let’s take one. Which one do you want to start with?
Well, let’s just talk about somebody in a leadership role in Marketing, but they’re not the Chief Customer Officer. And maybe A Chief Customer Officer doesn’t even exist in that company yet. There’s an inkling that this is a good idea, but they’ve got a lot of convincing to do.
Okay, so the very first thing that I always encourage people to do is find at least one or two partners, other like-minded people in the organization, who understand the criticality of this.
One of the people I always love to link arms with is the CFO, because one of the first things that we need to do is measure, in a very simple, but consistent way. the asset of your business, which is your customers. And I have something I call five competencies–it’s in my Chief Customer Officer books and others. I talk about it a lot. But it’s missing in so many organizations, and it’s just doing customer math.
It’s really around teaching your organization, as a result of the experience we deliver, did we earn the right to grow? How many new customers did we bring in, volume and expected value? It’s not a complicated life than value. It’s just what we expect is their value, because a lot of times new or acquisition is all we talk about. And that means uniting even across your product categories.
Let’s say you’re a product company. Now you’ve got every product person reporting to your CEO separately, and they might call “new” something different. Lost, lapsed, etcetera. So you’re not rolling up.
So, what is our new customers’ volume in value? That’s great. But what we also need to know are what behaviorally are other things that are happening and it’s not survey results. It’s actual customers voting with their feet at this point. How many customers did lose volume and value because one new is not equal to the loss of people departing or higher value? How many did we lose? How many did we lapse? Perhaps, and maybe one other behavior that shows, maybe people who downshifted. So now what we’ve got is this math. We brought in new here, so many lost our laps. And so here’s our net customer asset growth.
What you will see in many cases is we’re spending a lot of money and time bringing in new, and we’re losing really valuable people at the bottom end. Even if that’s not happening, what it does is show is the importance of that asset and the importance of the growth of an asset. Without that, it’s very hard to move forward because you really do need to attach this to growth. This isn’t something we’re doing for our own sake. This is a great strategy.
Yeah, that’s great advice. And I think a lot of the marketers listening in maybe wouldn’t think about the CFO as the first person you know. But at the end of the day, you’re gonna need budget for this and you’re gonna need buy in and support from not just the CFO, but from the entire C-suite. But if you can show what you’re looking for, what your want, where you’re heading in those numbers and speak the language of your partners in the C-suite, you’re probably gonna get a bit further, right?
Well, yes. And so two things that you said are critical. And you know, it’s interesting. This is where the godmother thing comes in. I prevent a lot of people from stepping in the mud, the potholes, because if you don’t make it about growth, you know you’ll be first on the agenda, than second on the agenda, than third on the agenda, and then you won’t be on the agenda. And your work is, while considered important, is also going to be slashed or misunderstood or whatever.
Number two. You don’t want to be someone who’s pitching and begging when you do this alone. Especially if it comes from a strong silo, it can sometimes also be looked at–and I’m not saying anyone’s doing this, this is the perception–as a land grab or power grab, especially as customer experience is becoming a big thing.
Customer experience is not about ownership, it’s about uniting and so link arms with others. You are presenting this as a united group of leaders, regardless of where it lands, trying to create a shift in your organization. Does that make sense? How the optics of this are critical?