executing great CX

Conversations with TheCustomer: Executing Great CX

Nicole Kealey of Alida, and Alan Weber of IDC talk with us about some of the bigger challenges to executing great CX.

Recently, we invited Nicole Kealey, Chief Strategy Officer at Alida, and Alan Webber, VP of Customer Experience Management Strategies at IDC, to sit down and talk with us about some of the bigger themes in Customer Experience right now, some of the bigger challenges to executing great CX, and where to find the right solutions to those challenges.

In this edition of Conversations with TheCustomer we did a lot of listening.  The result is less of a discussion and more of a fireside chat with two people who have immense experience in this field.

For those of you who are regular viewers of our “Conversations” series, you’ll notice that this particular session is a bit longer than our usual entries.  That’s only because there was literally nothing we wanted to edit out.  The conversation moved at a good clip and, in between some brief prompts on our part, delivered a very healthy dose of trustworthy guidance for anyone who is tasked with implementing or improving their organization’s CX.

For those who prefer reading, we’ve copied the transcript of the conversation below.



Today I have the unique pleasure of speaking with two esteemed voices in the world of CX Nicole Kealey is Vice President of Strategy at Alida. And Alan Weber is VP of Customer Experience Management Strategies at IDC. And I don’t think the titles really belie the complexities of what you guys do for a living.

So, if you would maybe introduce yourselves a little better than I have. Nicole, if you wouldn’t mind going first and maybe explain what your role is at Alida.

Nicole Kealey

Sounds good. And thank you, Mike, for having us both today. Um, it’s I think it’ll be a fun discussion. So, I’m the Chief Strategy Officer here at Alida.

We are a SAAS company focused on customer experience management and insights. As part of my role, essentially, I’m looking at our go-to market strategy across all of our different global regions and our different channels to market. And I also have responsibility for our global marketing function.


Okay. And just, just for reference, you guys have a decent size global footprint. Maybe you can tell us little about where you are geographically.


So, we have clients across North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia. And we’re looking forward to getting a little bit more active in Northern and Southern Africa as well.

And we have clients across a number of different industries, retail, consumer products, financial services, healthcare, media, and technology.


Okay. Wow. It’s a mouthful, Alan. I’m sure you’ll do a better job of introducing yourself than I did.

Alan Webber

So again, Alan Webber and I’m the VP of Customer Experience Strategy at IDC.

For those of you who don’t know (IDC) is one of the big three, IT analyst / market analyst firms. I lead our customer experience practice, which, between here in the US and globally is about 35 analysts. We have just a little bit over 1500 analysts globally. So, we’re all over the world. And, I’ve been doing the gig, not necessarily at IDC the whole time, but I’ve been an IT analyst for about 17 years.

And most of that time has been in the customer experience space. So great to have this conversation.


Yeah, I’m really, I’m really excited about where this could go. Um, you mentioned you’d been in the CX space for 17 years, that that almost predates the term CX.


It does. I mean, we were really. 17 years ago, it was really discussion more around user experience then it was customer experience.

And when we’re using, you know, the traditional card, three aspects, you know, useful, usable, enjoyable. That was our model for what IT user experience was. And it was through a website or perhaps, you know, an IVR or something like that. And then we started getting into really being able to measure customer experience.

And from there we said, okay, so what’s the impact on customer experience on bottom line revenue and companies finally began to see that and the role that technology plays in that. So, it’s been an interesting 17 years to watch that evolve and all the new companies and new ideas come up.


So, I’m really interested to hear in this conversation, where you see the biggest issues and hurdles, in the current world of CX.

But I think maybe we have to get there first and talk about – what if we can, in a big picture way – what the evolution of CX has looked like, from a client standpoint, because, you know, it’s, it’s one thing for, uh, service providers, such as Alida or analysts such as IDC to identify these issues, but it’s a whole other ball of wax to get the corporate world to understand the value, of those solutions. So, so what’s that been like – kind of enlightening, if you will, the corporate world on, on what CX can bring to the table and what its bottom line effects are. Nicole, you probably have some perspective on that.


Well, it’s, it’s been interesting as, although I’ve only been at Alida for the last year or so, I did have the opportunity to work on CX topics. You know, 10 plus years ago when I was with Adobe and, I know Alan was working on those topics and with similar companies at the time as well. I think the first is, you know, really acknowledging that CX is not a one-time event. It is something that needs to be continuous and needs to be a priority that that is cross-organization in order for it to be successful, right. You can assign one person to be in charge of CX, but they’re going to be set up to fail unless the rest of the organization is aligned and also kind of sharing any the accountability for the results of the success.


When you’re presenting your findings to the C-suite or whoever it is, is your, your stakeholders, has their level of receptivity to your ideas changed over time?


I would say it has, for sure. It depends on the organization. You know, generally the clients that we work with that have seen the best results are those that have kind of this customer centricity as, as a core part of their DNA and their brand values. Those that are more focused on margins or, you know, just driving pure revenue may have a few more struggles and kind of driving a successful CX approach.

But you know, in general, what’s been interesting is that there are certainly more people coming to the table when we’re having those C-suite conversations. And then it’s gone beyond the CMO or the head of CX or the head of customer success to certainly the CEO and also other functions in the company.


Alan, what’s your experience there over all the years?


Well, customer experience used to be really easy when it was just a little donut shop in the middle of a small town of nowhere, you know, Colorado, Kansas, and everybody knew everybody. So, you know, that was, that was a simple customer experience. And as we’ve grown, as technology has grown, it’s become much more complicated, you know, initially.

Rightly or wrongly CX was the purview of the CMO. And that’s not the case anymore. I think that’s one of the biggest changes that have had that has happened with then. Customer experience is that yes, the CMO or the chief sales officer is still very important part, but customer experience reaches from the very beginning of any interaction with a client, say advertising or marketing through sales, commerce, implementation, customer support all the way to the end.

I mean, it’s all customer experience now. And especially when we’re looking at building loyalty. So, it’s not just the CMO, but it’s. It’s kind of fascinating -some of our research has shown that beyond the CMO, the other two roles that are really interested in this are the two roles that really see end to end on the corporation.

And that’s the CIO and the CFO. CIO is interested in the technology and how all this is going to go together because let’s just be honest, customer data is everywhere in an enterprise. The CFO’s interested because they’re looking at the bottom line and they know we’ve proven this now, not just IDC, but multiple companies, multiple studies have proven that a better customer experience leads to better bottom line.

Multiple studies have proven that a better customer experience leads to better bottom line.

So, I think that’s been the big shift that I’ve seen and really the role that technology plays in it. I think one of the hard parts about today is, is that everybody says they’re a CX company when it comes to technology vendors, but not everyone really is.


Right. It’s a cultural difference.


I mean, you can’t really put your finger on it. I think in a lot of ways, there are some very few hard metrics to say we are a true customer centric company. Yeah, I mean, we use MPS and, um, you know, it would probably take me a couple of days to go through all the issues statistically and mathematically with NPS.

But right now, it’s the best measure we have and, you know, it’s still not a good indication. You can have a good NPS score and not be a good customer centric company. You can have a really poor NPS score, but be a really good customer centered company.


Things are getting better in your interactions with the corporate world who typically owns CX. And then the real question is who do you think should own CX?


Um, generally it’s generally it’s the CMO. I mean, Um, one of the issues you get into is, is when every, when everybody owns CX, nobody owns CX. And a lot of times you’ll hear, you know, a CEO say that we’re responsible for customer experience.

And that’s all beautiful, great, and good. But it doesn’t really work out that way. So, a lot of times, if there’s not somebody who’s specifically a chief experience officer or chief customer officer, which we’re seeing more and more of in these corporations, it’s the CMO who owns it. But the other thing that’s really interesting is that again, we’re starting to see in the C-suites of some very large companies, CFOs actually taking ownership along with the CIO. And why this happens is because a lot of CX initiatives, when they begin starting a line of business marketing sales, wherever it may be, that your one, maybe year two by year three, the budget and the management and the maintenance of that has switched over to the CIO or the CTO. And the CFO takes a much bigger role in that, at that point.

So, I would love to say that there was one person, you know, one throat to slit when it comes to customer experience, but there’s really not. We’re in a kind of a dynamic right now that’s shifting and I think what’s going to end up happening long-term is you’ll see a lot more CFOs responsible for customer experience.


Interesting. Does that jive with your experience, Nicole?


It does. Absolutely. And I think it’s also really interesting to look at how it differs across industries. You know, certainly when we look at healthcare, you see a very kind of distinct function around patient experience, which is something that gives me hope for, for all of our healthcare services, no matter where we live.  And in financial services over the last few years, you’ve seen kind of this advent of chief digital officers or chief experience officers. And so, I think they’re acknowledging kind of their virtual and very kind of intangible sort of existence and experience that they deliver to their, to their customers. But in somewhere like CPG, where actually delivering a physical good it’s a little bit different. You might find more of those instances where CX lives within marketing currently.


So, I’d like to switch a little bit and, uh, to a forward-looking view and talk about what you both see as some of the big hurdles that the corporations are facing right now in achieving healthy, “A+” level CX. And then maybe what do you think the solutions might be?


So, I think, you know, certainly one of the things we’ve been seeing, especially in 2020 with CX programs as a whole is it’s almost been a half and half of some clients seeing more investment in their CX programs because organizations are understanding that now more than ever, they really need to be able to have that pulse on the customer and be optimizing the customer experience. And then other organizations that have had to respond to the pandemic and scale back and shrink kind of their international investment levels.

But the ones that are growing are those that are able to measure the outcomes and the business results and ultimately the value that a CX program will bring to the organization. And that kind of that value measurement, I think, is really important as one point.

I know Alan and I have talked about this on different occasions. I think the other point is the need to have both continuity and context as part of a CX program. So, you know, the data that you might’ve had in March about what your customers thought are wanting from you is not useful in October. And there needs to be that continuity of kind of understanding how customer needs and wants are shifting and changing.

And then the context is understanding that one data point or that one experience that you might be seeing through an NPS survey. What was the context around that? Have they been a customer of your brand for 10 years, for six months, you know? How did they become a customer and, and what are the services and products that they are currently consuming?


If I may and not to get too deep in the weeds – how does a company build that kind of continuity?


So, from my perspective, I would say it’s about having that regular, continuous interaction or conversation with your customer, right?

And, it’s not just kind of doing a point of sale survey when you acquire them that first time, and then never asking them a question again. Um, or it’s not about kind of just getting they’re score through your biannual NPS survey. It’s about making sure that you always have kind of this ongoing interaction with them and are able to listen to what they’re saying about their experiences, but also very much importantly have to act on that, right?

So, you can gather all the data in the world, but if you don’t actually do anything with it, then it’s not very useful. Right?


Alan, your thoughts, big issues, big challenges, big solutions.


I think that a lot of companies are still struggling with the idea that any engagement, any interaction with a customer is a relationship.

And in the true sense of a relationship there’s information being shared, there’s transference of emotions, things like that. And you know, this is one of the messy parts about technology is we’re getting into the emotional space. So, I think a lot of companies really fail and I believe based upon the data that I’ve seen in the research we’ve done, and this is especially true coming out of COVID right now – is there’s a lot of companies that just said, okay, Hey, we’re fine with our customers.

And guess what? COVID came along, exposed their digital underbelly. They’re not fine with our customers. And so, there’s a relationship that needs to be there and the foundation for that relationship. And let’s just be honest, customers that we would love for them to just be a static entity – aren’t.  They’re an enigma – they’re constantly changing.

And so, you have to constantly update the information around that relationship. And so, if I look at that and say, what are the big issues? It’s building out empathy. And I don’t mean necessarily human to human, emotional empathy, but I mean, contextual understanding of what that customer’s going through, that cognitive empathy of what that customer is going through and how that constantly changes and switches.

And then being able to adapt your company, your organization, your technology, to that completely shifting customer and the foundation for all of this is intelligence and data and using that in the right way.

And that’s one of the biggest failures of corporations, companies, enterprises around the world right now is that they’re gathering customer data and they don’t do a doggone thing with it. It just sits in a database somewhere and they don’t use that to help maintain that relationship.


So, you mentioned something that’s pretty intriguing to me and that’s empathy with the customer, which is, which is momentary, what the customer is feeling right now that will change in five minutes because of circumstances.

So, when I’ve spoken with other CX professionals, one of the challenges they all seem to face – and I think they’re maybe on the precipice of some solutions here are, is – how do you do that at scale? If you’ve got 15 million customers in your database and their emotions and, and reasons for interacting with you are changing on a moment by moment basis, how do you do that?


Well, so a lot of that change in emotions that change in engagement with the customer is contextual. And within that context, within those millions of customers, there are certain patterns around that context that we can apply. So yes, every customer has multiple facets, depending upon where they’re at within the customer journey or what it is they’re interacting with.

But we can, in that large scale, we can contextualize what they’re going through. Then we can apply patterns and as we get even better with new technologies like AI and machine learning, we can use that data both to both personalize and then use that within the context of a larger pattern to better empathize with where that customer is at.

So, it’s the combination of those technologies and the alignment of a corporate drive around that that’s going to bring us that empathy. And you’re right, there are some companies that are getting close out there – you know, especially at scale, when you’re talking tens of thousands of customers.

People joke that having all the customer data in one place is probably the golden chalice and customer experience. And, my comment generally back to that is it’s no, that’s not the chalice. The question really is what’s in the cup. Can you turn that into something that allows you to continue to build and maintain that relationship with the customer?


So, that’s a beautiful segue into a much larger discussion on customer experience management platforms.

And I know Alita has some pretty big announcements related to theirs. So, maybe in a subsequent conversation, we can talk all about the offerings and the nuances and the benefits there, but for now, I just want to thank you both. I find this stuff really fascinating personally, and I’m fortunate that I have a readership that tends to think this stuff is cool too.

So, Nicole Kealey, Alan Weber, thank you both for your time today. I really appreciate it. And really look forward to the next few times we can do this.


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