Mike Wittenstein is Customer Experience Designer and Strategy Consultant at StoryMiners, one of the world’s first CX Design firms. 

A true CX pioneer and one of the USA’s most dynamic innovators in the field, Mike recently lent his considerable talents to the judging panel at the International Customer Experience Awards in Amsterdam. 

CXM World caught up with Mike to discuss a range of topics, including how CX staff can reap success in their roles faster and how methods common in politics may or may not lead to a better relationship with customers…

1. Hi Mike, great to chat again following the ICXAs. Tell us, are you noticing any recent CX trends around the world?

Innovation in Customer Experience is shifting from big to small as the rate of use of CX methods increases. 

It used to be the big companies like Amazon and Apple got all the news coverage for Customer Experience. That’s no longer true.

There is no size barrier now. Small and mid-cap firms are getting noticeable traction from their CX efforts. They’re able to do great things by virtue of their smaller size and by their ability to wow customers as they weave the details of their different departments into a single experience.

2. What can you do outside of the US, your home country, that’s harder to do inside of it?

In the United States, we have a bias toward big, fast, and continuous growth. That thinking, in my experience, slows employees’ abilities to use CX for smaller-yet-still-valuable initiatives.

Entries from the recent International Customer Experience Awards showed me that CX can be used successfully as strategy for less-than-seismic gains. The ability of the entrants to set the vision, coordinate resources, execute toward specific objectives, and achieve them in a short period of time was refreshing.

Personally, I like the notion of pushing permission to use CX toward the front lines of an organisation so that CX thinking and methods can be used to solve more problems while creating more value for employees, customers, and shareholders. 

3. What can today’s ‘Political Experience’ teach brands about Customer Experience?

If a principle or behavior doesn’t work in politics, it probably won’t work in Customer Experience design work either. The correlation is uncanny. 

As global politics has taken a more nationalistic bent in the last few years, legislation and policy making have turned inwards. The focus is on a country’s economy, leadership, principles, and so on. It’s definitely not on the citizens. In most cases, the results are unpredictable at best and these moves are introducing unforeseeable changes. 

As political players around the world carve out a ‘new normal’ for politics, we can see what’s not working: 

  • Conscious confusion
  • Lying
  • Taking back the previous administration’s promises
  • Not keeping one’s own promises 
  • General disrespect/disregard for others 

Flipping those lessons to our CX world, we can see what is right to do:

  • Make promises people care about
  • Design your operations to deliver the value you promise
  • Keep your promises 
  • Don’t lie

(By the way, these tenets are strikingly similar to those found in design thinking.)

Customers (like citizens) count on brands (like parties, elected leaders, and countries) to help them get by in the world. Brands and companies can’t live without customers and vice-versa. Remember that making the right promises and keeping them creates value for everyone and leaves everyone happier. It’s easy to say, but not so easy to do. Here’s why it’s worth it in your role as a CX practitioner to try:

  • If you make valuable promises and keep them, people will tell stories about you. The experiences you deliver (your promises made manifest) are the birthplace of word-of-mouth 
  • A history of making and keep promises builds your brand’s reputation (and yours)
  • Your future business comes in part from how well you treat your current customers 

4. For people new to their CX roles, what are some things they can do to build support and success more quickly?

Beware low-hanging fruit projects.

We live in a world where people express great interest in low-hanging fruit projects – those easy-to-do projects that have previously shown good results.

But I think there’s a big flaw with this approach to picking projects. These projects often do win favour with colleagues and those who control the purse-strings, but they don’t allow the company to change the way it works. Often, that’s the most important outcome because it can create game-changing advantages.

Low-hanging-fruit projects only allow little changes. Like tweaks and optimisations that add a few percentage points here and there…but nothing radically new! 

I grew up in Florida, a state that produces lots of oranges. I was always taught that the fruit higher up, in the middle of tree, was the best. The oranges hanging low were about to fall off on their own…then rot on the ground. The corollary, I believe, is that low-hanging-fruit CX projects won’t make a big difference in the long-term and won’t create lasting value for customers and shareholders. 

Spend time with customers…yourself.

I don’t care who you are or how great your Voice of the Customer program is – you need to walk the aisles of your store and the floors of the warehouse.

You need to talk to the people on the front line who face customers and those behind the scenes who pack the boxes. You need to ring the call centre, go shopping, buy online, and try to return something. You need to test your business and find out how it handles you as a customer and do the same with your competition.

That first-hand, real-world experience will give you everything you need to know about how to make the big changes, not just quick fixes. (You can still use a research company to do the needed work at scale, but nothing substitutes for doing it yourself!)

Time on the front lines will:

  • Make you smarter
  • Give you insights on what to prioritise
  • Give you the first-hand stories you need to win others’ hearts, open wallets, and encourage the necessary changes in behaviours 

When you know your business first-hand (the way your customers and front-line employees do), you can share stories that give evidence of what needs to change, and you can more effectively inspire others. All change starts with a story!

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