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Spark a CX revolution: Q&A with Maggie Young, SVP of Customer Experience

| May 12, 2016
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We recently sat down for a chat with Maggie Young, our Senior VP of Customer Experience here at UserTesting.

Maggie was previously an executive at Citi, where she was responsible for many of the digital customer experience initiatives there. Prior to that, she spent some time with Zappos where she focused on user research and customer insights.

She has a wealth of knowledge and experience, and we’re excited to share some of the things she’s learned!

Q: Forrester’s CX Index reported that only 1% of companies are delivering a great experience for their customers. Do you have any thoughts about why that number is so small?

People are certainly aware of the importance of great CX. But it can be overwhelming to figure out how to get there.

You can’t just say you’re customer-centric, you have to prove it. You have to go through the steps to get there, and we have a number of customers who are fighting that exact battle right now.

Q: Research from Gartner shows that starting in 2016, companies will compete primarily on a basis of CX rather than product offerings. When you were at Citi and Zappos, how did you make the shift to a more customer-centric approach?

It’s a series of small steps and picking your battles. You can’t initiate a huge cultural change. You can’t just flip a switch one day and have your CEO proclaim that now we’re going to be the kings and queens of customer experience.

It’s really about starting to build empathy and sharing what you learn.

When I fell in love with UserTesting when I was at Zappos, we used to do “Movies with Maggie.” And I would just order a bunch of pizza and bring in front-end developers and content people, and we’d watch videos of people using our interface while they ate pizza. And that was the first time I really got buy-in.

Just describing the results doesn’t do it. When your team starts to have an emotional connection with the challenges of your customers, you start to see a cultural shift.

Q: How have customer expectations changed over the last few years?

Expectations have risen so much. Fifteen years ago when I used to be in the lab doing usability testing, people would apologize for not understanding the interface. I’ve had people tear up and had to hand them a tissue because they were so frustrated and couldn’t figure out how to accomplish the task.

And those days are long gone. There’s an expectation that, if I can book a flight on my phone or I can buy a car and have it delivered to my house in a few days, then why the heck can’t you figure out how to make it easy for me to find what I’m looking for, or get the details on the product I’m looking at?

When we’re able to anticipate those needs and smooth them out for people, we build loyalty.

And loyalty is an insurance policy. When people feel an affection, a sense of ownership, and involvement with your company, they’re more willing to tolerate a hiccup, or an outage, or a new interface that isn’t completely fleshed out.

It’s really about continually respecting them, involving them, listening to them, and making them feel like they are heard and that we want to take care of them. And that results in great business performance. Where customers are assets just like your factory, or your merchandise, or whatever else.

Q: Having employees that feel empowered to make change and improve the customer experience is really important. What are some of the things that executives and managers can do to empower the employees in their organizations?

The exact tactics are going to be different for each company. But there’s no question that small, small things make a big difference. Like sending a thank you note when you get feedback from a customer, or empowering your team to send flowers to a customer.

During the holiday season at Zappos, every employee is strongly encouraged to spend time on the phone with customers so that the level of service is maintained. That produces all sorts of interesting results, because now you have engineers and accountants and all kinds of people on the phone. And it really invigorates them because they’re connected to the customers—they feel the brand loyalty and the brand awareness.

One of the enjoyable parts of my job there was reading feedback surveys. It was the first time I ever had to have a special bucket just for gushing love—which is not a bad problem to have, right? But when you’re reading things like:

“I know you, I trust you, I know you’ll take care of me. And I don’t care if you’re selling bananas or boats, I’m buying from you.”

That’s the kind of quote that perks people up in your team meetings or your executive meetings.

And it’s the small actions that can really pay off in the long run. I’m thinking of another example from Zappos. We launched a new feature and it had a bug that popped up every once in awhile and was driving the developers crazy. We tracked down a user who had experienced this problem, reached out to her, and had her chat with one of our engineers for a few minutes. And lo-and-behold, they found the browser version that was causing this problem.

So afterwards, we sent a bouquet of flowers to this woman who had been so helpful. She shared it all over Facebook and Twitter—she was delighted. Everybody on our team was showing each other.

There was a real sense of community, not only on the team but also with our customer. And I think that’s important, because when you start talking about “the customer” as one big fuzzy blob, rather than either using personas or real world examples, it creates a different environment.  

Q: Do you have any other tips about our readers can improve the customer experience in their organization?

Identify like-minded CX champions. The key to making progress in your organization is to get the right people in the room to discuss CX at the right time.

Look for people who are open to discussing CX and finding ways to make improvements.

You can find them in every part of the organization, from sales and marketing teams to customer support and product. Partner up with them, put together an initiative, and share your success story as a case study throughout the company.

I was just reading an article from Bruce Temkin about federating CX. So instead of having one person be the czar of CX and trying to spread it throughout the organization, identify those CX champions and invite them to take ownership and spread the word. And then share what’s working and what’s not.

Again, everyone gets smarter by sharing experience and listening to each other.

Q: Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to leave our audience with?

People these days are being pulled in a hundred different directions. If you can smooth out the most common experiences that your customers have, every time you can give them back 3, 5, or 30 seconds, you’ve given them a gift. You’ve built loyalty because you’ve made their life a little bit better.

There’s no shortage of distraction. So if you can make their life a little easier, they’re gonna love you a little bit more. And that’s good business these days. If customers aren’t happy they are more than willing to go somewhere else.

Final thoughts

For companies that want to remain competitive in the modern ecosystem, customer experience is a growing concern.

However, there’s a gap between the vision and the actual experience delivery, and only 1% of companies actually deliver an excellent experience.

Improving your organization’s CX doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a combination of influencing key decision-makers and proving results. But how do you gain buy-in and momentum for your CX improvements?

If you want to learn how to determine your company’s current CX maturity, develop support from executives for CX initiatives, measure your results and prove ROI, then download your free guide on developing a business case for customer experience insights.