Carl Lewis welcomed Chris Hood, digital strategist and author, to the Connected Enterprise Podcast to discuss customer transformation & how to achieve it.
Welcome to The Connected Enterprise podcast. I’m Carl Lewis, your host from Vision33, and my guest is Chris Hood. He has a lot of experience in the customer satisfaction world. He worked at Google, wrote a book, and has been an adjunct professor at several technical universities. Chris, welcome to the podcast. Tell us about yourself.
Thank you, Carl. I'm an author and a strategist. I specialize in customer transformation, which I wrote a book about called Customer Transformation: A 7-Stage Strategy for Customer Alignment and Business Value. I'm a digital strategist, so I spend a lot of time working with companies about how they engage with customers through their online technologies, marketing efforts, and innovation strategies—even building cultures within their organization to succeed and drive value through a customer-centric approach. I speak to audiences about this topic, including on my podcast.
Chris, everybody talks about customer satisfaction, customer service, being customer-centric, etc. But your thing is customer transformation. That sounds different. What’s different about it, and does it mean something new for us?
The things you outlined—customer satisfaction, customer service, etc.—are rooted in one type of space in an organization. For example, customer satisfaction is with your product development or services, sales, or marketing. We don't think about it from an internal perspective, like our hiring practices or the technology we're building.
Customer transformation is an organizational approach. It's across the entire business. And it understands that the customer, who is at the center of this—their needs, expectations, aspirations, and how they engage with your business—is constantly evolving. Where they are at the start of their engagement and where they go toward the end of that engagement is shifting.
And since technology and how we do business will continue to shift, businesses will need to keep up. So, the transformation is, “We understand that customers and how they engage with us transform, and that means our company also has to transform to keep up with that continuous motion.” That's what customer transformation is.
That's a good explanation. I was chatting with a colleague this morning about this. What do our customers want? What do they need? How does a company discover what their customers really want?
It could be as simple as asking them. I realize that seems ridiculous. Listeners are thinking, "Obviously!" But do you continuously ask them? Do you participate in ongoing sessions where you track and monitor data to help you define what that is? From both the customer and business sides, we see businesses making decisions that aren’t aligned with what their customers are asking for. Customer needs are evolving.
Uber comes to mind. We’ve always needed to be transported from point A to B, but how we do that has evolved. Uber has changed that process. In theory, that will continue to change. Now that there's Uber, there's some other way our need to go from point A to B will shift. The primary goal—getting somewhere—stays the same. It’s how we do that that’s changing. You must ask, “How do you want to get from point A to B today? How about tomorrow?” Then, you ask every day.
I've been onsite with hundreds of customers and talked to many others at conferences and other places, and we talk about this a lot. Many companies decide, "This is what our customers think." Or, "I surveyed the salespeople (or customer service or whatever department), and this is what they said customers think.” But rarely did I hear, "I met with X number of my customers," or, "We did a customer survey, and these are the results."
Are there tools businesses can use to help them get to the heart of what customers say?
Lots of tools. Surveys, as you mentioned. Customer meetings are also critical. When was the last time your CEO sat down with customers like, "I'm here. I want to learn from you. Tell me what's working. Tell me what we can improve. Tell me what you need. Tell me what you want." Is your CEO engaged with customer conversations? Usually, the answer is no. Like you said, they survey internal departments. But they all have different interpretations/opinions.
There’s a tool in my book called ‘customer value alignment.’ I created it to help people align those questions across the entire organization. It takes feedback from all the departments within your company and asks the questions in maybe a different way, but asks the same questions to your customers.
When you chart it out, you can see what everyone—your sales, marketing, product, etc. teams, employees, leadership, and customers—are saying because it’s actual feedback from them. You can see misalignment in your organization. Like, "Our customers are asking this, but marketing thinks something completely different." How do you get realigned so the entire organization understands what the customer wants and how you're delivering it?
That’s the key—and the challenge: Getting aligned with the customer. Technology always seems to be part of this conversation about customers, and it's changed a lot recently. One thing is the role AI could play in being customer-centric. Can you tell us how AI is being used to help companies do that?
I have an opinion people probably don't want to hear, which is that people are overly hyping AI and trying to implement it in their organization without asking the question we started with: What does the customer want? I was speaking with a company, and they laid out this incredible plan for bringing in AI and everything they would do with it. They said, "What do you think?" I answered, "Why are you doing it?" And they're like, "Well, we..." And they gave a kind of answer. I said, "Let me ask a different question. Have your customers asked for that?"
And they couldn't respond because they looked at AI as the next big thing and everybody implementing it—but they had no way to link it to if the customers wanted it. Does the customer ask for it? Do they need it? And if you can't make a direct correlation between your technology decisions and what customers are asking for, there's no point doing it.
Yet, we see that AI can help in a lot of areas. Idea generation, process improvements, marketing campaigns, creativity, understanding what the customer is asking for, interpreting survey responses, etc. The acceleration of automation and data is astronomical regarding AI, but there’s a balance somewhere.
Don't think, "Hey, we're going to replace our customer support people with AI." A company in India did this. The CEO laid off 90% of their customer service employees and replaced them with AI. That’s a short-term gain. Yes, AI can answer questions, but at the risk of losing the human connection customers are still seeking. And if you try to balance this out somehow where you realize AI will help you with the automation, but you’ll decrease human connection, somewhere in the middle is a balance you must figure out where you use the AI but don’t lose that human connection.
People have enough problems with offshore support. I can't imagine what it's like to know that's not even a person anymore. That might not be the smartest thing.
You've talked about a company culture where it's not just about sales or marketing, it's about every department in this customer transformation experience where everything gets aligned to support the customer. How do you build that culture in a company?
It starts with the hiring process. I went back and forth with someone on LinkedIn about the hiring process and interview questions. The conversation was, "What are good interview questions for your customer success team?" I said, "I believe you need to ask customer-based questions for every role in your organization." That means you’d ask the tech team a customer-focused question, just like finance or sales or anybody else. Those questions help you define your culture.
Many listeners are thinking, "When I do an interview, I just ask questions." But when you just randomly ask questions and can ask whatever you want, it introduces bias. It also introduces favoritism, nepotism, and everything else when you're hiring people. If you want a culture that’s focused on your consumers first, you need standardized interview questions. You need some level of a rubric or a score. One to five that says one isn’t what we want, and five is exactly what we want. That starts to remove the bias from the hiring process. It removes favoritism, which introduces toxic people who don't align with your customer-centric approach. And then you build it from that perspective. As soon as you bring people in, they must align with what you're trying to accomplish within your organization.
If they don't, you can't be desperate. You can't say, "I really need to fill this role, so I'm going to take anybody," then hope you can train them. This is about finding people who align. You need people in your organization who align with the base principles, mission, and passion you have for your organization. When you have that, it's easier to align with what the customer is asking for.
It's very challenging, yes. But it's not impossible. It's a shift in your mindset for how you’ll build that culture.
Start with the hiring process. Let’s say I'm committed to that as a CEO. We’ll change our hiring process to get this alignment, but I'm new to this concept, and I want to start with what I have. How do I communicate to my staff that this is what we’re doing, I'm recruiting people to be part of that process, and I want to know if you're on board?
What you outlined is a great way to start. Have the leaders say, "We’re committed to this change in our culture. We're going to implement a new hiring practice. We want you to be part of it. We're going to have training and start implementing ways that we communicate and collaborate internally to support that. We're going to provide recognition for you when you’re successful at doing that."
My book dedicates an entire chapter to what I call the praise framework. It’s a way to build your culture with existing staff that helps you align. I won’t get into praise, but it covers the purpose of your organization, how you’ll innovate with a customer-centric viewpoint, and how you implement elements like psychological safety into your teams so you can understand people's ideas and opinions and help you execute those. If somebody has an idea to improve the customer experience, why not listen to them? Why would you dedicate that to one team? It's not one team's goal. It's the entire organization's goal. You must open that up, embrace it, and allow people to contribute.
Very good. In your book, you talk about a customer transformation framework. Can you tell us what that is?
The framework is a seven-step strategy to help you build the things we're talking about.
The first stage is the customer. If we want to be customer-centric and aligned with the customer, we must start with the customer and understand their goals.
Stage two is interfaces. This is how we supply interfaces to the customer and the interfaces that customers engage with us. We can oversimplify that and say, "Most customers are engaging with us through their mobile devices." The mobile device is the interface. But we see that there are a lot of multi-sensory and accessible ways that consumers want to interface with us. We can leverage our home devices now and use voice controls to access information. So smart devices, IoT devices, wearable devices, etc. are all the interfaces.
Stage three is the journey. This is where we're going on our customer journey. This is usually where marketing and product fit in and the experiences. But it's also about understanding that those journeys often start before they engage with your company and continue after they leave. Most organizations focus solely on the customer journey in the siloed context of their own organization. We want to expand that.
Number four is ecosystems. This gets into the communities you build, the partnerships. Again, understanding that you’re interconnected online with other organizations, learning how to serve your customers through that ecosystem, and then involving them within that community.
The fifth stage is culture. It’s about building a culture of successful customer centricity.
The sixth is technology. It’s understanding how technology will align with what your customers want. Hundreds, if not thousands, of companies are investing in technology solely to facilitate a CTO's ego. It has no direct alignment back to what a consumer wants. If I say, "Let's change this security protocol," you should be able to say, "I'm changing this security protocol because it's going to provide my customer with ... fill in the blank."
Stage seven is the business itself. It’s where we get a full understanding of customer alignment. It’s where we look at leadership and how leaders should be involved with decision-making and data and understanding the processes and then how we generate business value if we execute the entire framework.
So, the book is Customer Transformation. Where can they find it?
The easiest place to find it is on my website, chrishood.com. It’s also on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your favorite book platform. Just search ‘customer transformation,’ and you should find it.
Sounds good, Chris. Thanks for being with us today. This was interesting. I think it’s the first time I've talked to someone looking at it from an organizational perspective. It's usually focused on a couple of key areas, but taking this customer journey through every department and every person and making it a company culture is great.
And thank you all for being with us on The Connected Enterprise podcast. Until we meet again, stay connected.