CX Interview Series with Dan Gingiss

September 2, 2020
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We believe that the knowledge you need should find you. Knowing how hard that is to do for ourselves, we ventured out to try to help you with this challenge. When it comes to CX, that means bringing insights from the best and brightest CX professionals around the globe and bringing some of the knowledge they so diligently and admirably have built over the years.

This edition welcomes a very special guest, Dan Gingiss. Definitely one of your favorite CX professionals at Chattermill, who informs many of our views around customer experience.

This conversation was not only incredibly fun but exceptionally informative. Haven’t learned this much in 1 hour in a long time!

We hope you enjoy reading the following interview just as much as we enjoyed meeting and talking to Dan.

Chattermill: Hi Dan, thank you so much for being with us today. Let’s begin with the big questions - how do you define customer-centricity?

Dan Gingiss: Customer centricity to me means making every business decision with the customer in mind. It has to be one of those filters that you look through before you make a business decision. Too often we make business decisions that look good on the financial statement. But don't take the customer into consideration.

So, we accentuate the positive financial element and we miss the fact that we're that by hurting the customer, we're hurting our balance sheet in some other way. So, I always say that in every business meeting, there should be somebody with the customer hat, somebody that is representing the customer as a member of the board of directors almost.

In the end of the day, a good decision for the customer is a good decision for the business. It's when you're only looking at one or the other that you can often get into trouble.

The best companies have a culture where customer centricity is pervasive. It's in every part of the business. And everybody feels like whether they are customer facing or not, they feel like they have an impact on CX. So even if you're in a finance department, ask yourself if your team might be sending out invoices and the communication on those invoices that are easy to understand and that are friendly.

That's all customer experience. The challenge lies in the fact that the finance department might have certain systems in place in terms of payment methods or other things that affect the end customer, even if they're not talking directly to the customer. So, to really be a customer center centric company, you have to have pretty much every employee feeling like their job either directly or indirectly impacts the customer.

Teams must always be thinking how new products, new services, changes to our policies and procedures, everything…how is that going to affect the customer? And then what's the customer going to do when they're affected? You have to have the right systems and incentivize people to think in that specific way and that govern the organization into decision making that way.

Chattermill: What are the problems that you see companies facing when going about building a customer centric culture? And the same thing for maintenance – how do you think companies should go about maintaining through like a business cycle through periods of difficulty, through changes in organization, through expansion, et cetera?

Dan Gingiss: Well, I think in terms of the maintaining, my belief is that focusing on the customer needs to be a permanent thing that a company does. It's not a project. It's not something that we do temporarily because after all, if we don't have customers, we don't have a business, we don't get paid. Customers should be our everything. A lot of companies take customers for granted and, and what's happened in the past certainly decade is that customers have become more empowered to say, “Hey, if you're going to take me for granted, I'm going to go to a company that won't do that. And I'm going to go to your competitor.” This is what I refer to as the leaky bucket, which is that while we're so focused on bringing in new sales and new logos and new customers, we've got a lot of customers that are walking out the back door that we're not even paying attention to and that's killing our business.

So, maintenance is actually I think a lot easier because once you have it built, it becomes part of that culture, and it just becomes part of how people think. I think the struggle with building it is twofold, one is at the beginning and one is at the end. The beginning part is, and I know this sounds cliché, but it's so true is you have to have executive buy in. If executives don't believe in it, it isn't going to work across the company. And you know, why would executives not believe in customer experience? Well, because of the second problem, which is how do we show that there's an ROI to customer experience? How do we bring it back to the bottom line? If executives don't see that bottom-line impact, they're not going to buy in. So, we have to convince them up front that this is important. Like a lot of other things, CX has a lot metrics, a lot of things you can measure out of things you can report on. But the problem is that when you talk to an executive and they say, “Okay, I understand this is our NPS score. It got better. Okay. Now what? Show me the money”. Right? Like, like why do I care? I think we have to focus on the metrics that executives are going to care about. For example, customer churn rate - how many customers are walking out the door. How leaky is our bucket? Those metrics tell executives way more about their worries and where they should focus on. Because if we can plug that leaky bucket, then we make a big impact on revenue and profit. The other thing that I love to teach is that when you create remarkable customer experiences, your customers then want to tell other people about you. They tell friends, family members, social media followers. Now they become referral sources and actually become part of your marketing team.

Sure, satisfaction scores and things that are interesting and important because they'll tell you they're an indicator of some of these other businesses. But we have to focus on the business metrics that matter to executives so we can truly scale the CX culture across the organization, which is what truly changes a business. That’s the only way to make CX part of everybody's job, which eventually trickles down to the customer and changes the business.

The key how do we connect the customer centric experience to financial statements, to, um, their financial bottom line? I was talking with somebody this morning and I was comparing this situation, social media a couple of years ago. I was a marketer for 20 years and I was in almost every marketing channel. There is other than television and every marketing channel has a way to measure success. And then social media came around and a lot of it was run by a lot of millennials start and the whole message was, well, we don't know how to measure social media. And so, we shouldn't have to measure it. You should just believe that it's important. And I thought that what a load of…you know what I mean? It's a marketing channel. We can measure it. We can measure it like any other channel and things like followers and likes. That's not those aren't financial metrics. That doesn't mean anything to me. Oh, people clicked on our ads then bought something. Okay. Now I understand what you're talking about. That's sales and we can track that.

To me CX is like social media in that sense, it's that, you know, social media have this, uh, you know, a number of years where it was growing and it was sort of a hot topic. And I think customer experience has become the hot topic, but a lot of times executives look at, look at it. Like they looked at social media as this sort of soft thing that we have to do. That's not, if you think of like, social media and marketing and customer experience. Those are soft finance and sales and revenue. Those are hard. And executives tend to think about the hard data stuff more often than the soft.

Chattermill: This leads to a good follow up question - what types of macro problems do you see for companies that are facing challenges in building, scaling and maintain a customer-centric culture?

Dan Gingiss: Well, it's cool that you used the word macro because I don't think that is the problem. It's a process problem. The issue is that most companies, especially as they get bigger, become siloed. In those silos, you have people that are focused very hard on creating great experiences, but they're creating a great experience in just a sliver of the customer journey and they only know their sliver. So they make their sliver great. But unfortunately, what they're not paying attention to is that before customer arrived in their sliver, they were in a different part of the journey. After they're done in their sliver, they go to a different part of the journey and where companies tend to mess up is with inconsistency or bad handoffs. So the customer is moving along the journey. They want it to be smooth and simple and consistent. But if you have 10 different groups creating 10 different experiences in 10 different parts of the journey to the customer, it's going to end up choppy and difficult and inconsistent. What you then need is that macro view, where somebody is looking at the entire journey and how it all goes together.

And each one of the important transition points, I'll give you a great example because you guys are in the B2B space. So, in B2B, one of the biggest, um, opportunities are smoothing out the transition between the sales team and the account team, whether you call it customer success or account management or whatever it is because think about it, people buy from people that they like, and that's why salespeople are good at sales because generally they're likable and they're persuasive, etc. So, I meet this guy, John and I really like him and I'm going to buy from John. And then as soon as I say, okay, and sign the contract, John says, well, let me introduce you to Sally. And I'm like, well, hold on a second. I, I bought from you, John. I don't know Sally who's Sally, but that's what we do to customers every day is we, because John's goal is just to make a sale and then move on and make another sale. And what John should be gold on is helping the customer through the first 30, 60, 90 days, transitioning them slowly, making sure that that transition is smooth and frankly, making sure that the customer feels good about their purchase. That’s critical because anytime we purchase something big, either as a consumer or as a businessperson, the first thought immediately is ‘buyer's remorse’. You know, the first thought is, “Oh, I just, I just asked my boss for this big budget. I hope I'm right, because if I'm not, I'm getting fired.” What customers need at first is comfort; somebody to say, “Dan, you just made a great choice. We're going to take great care of you.” This is where I see many B2B companies failing at.

So, in short, the answer to your question is that the challenge really is not looking macro, and only focusing on the micro. It’s important to identify the parts of the journey that customers are experiencing pain points so you can fix them, but it’s equally important to understand how the process of being customer centric is navigating your organization, so that the micro strategy can be executed consistently.

Also, certainly depending on what sort of business you're in, it's a lot easier to be a customer of your business. If you're a restaurant or a retailer than it is, if you're a SaaS company. But, it doesn't mean that you still can't go through the motions of becoming a customer, you know, of having your company send you the contract that they send customers and you reading it, not as an employee, but as a customer - does this contract makes sense to me? Does it make me nervous to sign or does it make me because obviously all contracts are ready for the benefit of the business? Anytime you can become a customer of your own company, call your own customer service department, your own website, download your own mobile app, use the product…use it, not from the perspective of being an employee, but really trying to step that aside and using it from the perspective as if you were on Amazon or if you were watching Netflix, how you evaluate the businesses that you spend money.

Chattermill: In terms of the problems that you observe in the CX space daily - be it with clients of yours or with colleagues - what types of tools do you feel are lacking in the space to help professionals do their job better? And building on that, do you think there is a tech stack specific that every company should follow, or is it more to do with the type of problem that they're trying to solve?

Dan Gingiss: I think the big problem revolves around data – we just have so much data out there today. We don't know what to do with it. Generally, what we end up doing with it is throwing it into reports. That may be interesting, but not actionable. And so the first thing that I always recommend is that you figure out what kind of data are you getting today and, and what do you need and how would you need that data to be displayed in order to make it actionable?

So, let me give you an example. When I worked for a credit card company in the US, I got this daily report. That had feedback from our customers on the website. So, anyone that was on the website could click a little button and leave us feedback about whatever page they were on. And we got hundreds of these every day that were either asking questions or they were having problems, or they couldn't find something or whatever it was. And I got this report every day. Now the problem with the daily report, it's got hundreds of pieces of feedback is number one. Most days not everybody's having the same problem. So, you're reading a bunch of this stuff and you're just overwhelmed. There are so many different things going on.

The second is it's very hard to find trends because you might have seen this coming a week ago. And so, one of the things that we did was in the little place where the customer could ask, could leave a comment. We asked them one question ahead of the comment. And we just said, how easy was it to do business with us today? And they could rank it on, I think a 10-point scale. I waited about 60 days till we got enough data. Then I said, now I want to see this report. But I want to see the report by page, by the ease of use ranking score. In other words, tell me which pages the easiest and which pages are the most difficult to use. I took a look at the page that ranked dead last, the most difficult to use.

And I said, all right, now I want to see the customer comments on just this page. As soon as I looked at that page, as soon as I looked at all of those comments, which of course had come in over weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks. It became very obvious that there was an error on that page. There was a button that wasn't showing up for a certain browser.

Yeah, that was an easy fix couple lines of code. And next day it's fixed. And all of a sudden that page that was dead last in terms of ease of use went right back up, you know, a normal high score. And so, then I said to the team, let's do this for the next a hundred pages. And we did, we went through a hundred pages that were ranked as hard to use by our customers. On each one of them, we looked at the comments. We were then able to go to each page and say, okay, this is what we need to change on each page. Not only did our customer satisfaction scores go through the roof, but that was the first year that we won the coveted J.D. Power award for customer satisfaction in the credit card industry. That had a big effect. I mean, that, that our award, uh, ranked. A website experience very highly. So, what we did had a big effect on that award. And so, the reason that was successful is we took a report that we were getting every day that probably had been, somebody had been printing out for years.

So that it's actually actionable because what's happened is a lot of people in big corporate America, want to be invited to meetings because they want to feel important and they want to get, they want to be on the report distribution because they want to feel informed. And so, we send out this report to a thousand people. We don't even know how many of them read it or how many of them just throw it in the recycling bin. Therefore, making your data actionable is one of the most important things to getting this CX mentality off the ground, because it's show you a lot of opportunities, not just to fix things that are wrong, but also it's going to show you opportunities to improve your products and services, maybe to create new products and services based on what people are asking for.

So, in terms of tools, the key is to be able to sort out data better. That’s a critical element of any successful CX program.

Chattermill: We’d love to get more personal now. It would be super interesting to know more about you. How do you improve yourself? What types of content and resources you consume to both keeping on top of the trends that are happening in the space, but also to develop yourself outside of CX as well?

Dan Gingiss: Well, first of all, I always thought it was important to be a content creator and a content curator. And I make a mix of both and in the content that I create. I intentionally try to surround myself with other smart people so that I can learn from them. So, for example, I do a live show on LinkedIn and Periscope every week on Thursdays. And I interview a CX person who has become the experience maker at their company. That’s awesome because I both creating content but also learning from what really smart people are doing every day.

I also have a podcast called Experience This! Show, where we tell CX stories and they're not just stories that have happened to me and my co-host, they're stories that we've seen on the internet, their stories, and our friends and family have told us about their. Stories from across industries so that you can learn from somebody that's not necessarily in your industry. I love doing that show because I love the examples that we share and I learned from them. I know that when I'm passionate about it, I feel like others will be as well. But then I'm also curating in the sense of following people.

__Chattermill: Awesome! And what about people - who do you follow and who are your go-to people in the CX space that keeps you sharp and on your A-game that our audience should be checking out? __

Dan Gingiss: In terms of recommendations, I’d say Shep Hyken, who’s a friend of mine, and a mentor. He’s just brilliant. I'm also good friends with Jay Baer who wrote the foreword to my book. He's both a marketer and a customer experience guy. There's a number of fantastic women in the field as well. Jeannie Walters, Jeanne Bliss, Stacy Sherman, and these are all great follows. Then there’s also Nate Brown, a very funny guy and a great leader. He has an organization called CX accelerator. That's a Slack channel for people in the CX field, which is a terrific resource. Those are some of the folks that I spend time watching and learning from.

I think one of the nice things about the CX industry, if you will, is that it’s full of really nice people. It's full of people that want to be helpful. Afterall, that's what we do for our customers. I highly encourage people to reach out to people that you look up to in the field because they're all going to be responsive.

By the way, all those people that I mentioned have books, all of them have podcasts. So even though I didn't necessarily name their books and podcasts, if you follow the people you're going to get to that other great content as well. So much to consume there.

Chattermill: Love that! So much research to do now! We’d also love to hear more about how you got to where you are today and how your career has evolved? What got you started in the CX space?

Dan Gingiss: Well, I got into CX almost inadvertently. I was a marketer for 20 years and I was at this credit card company that I mentioned. And I was recruited internally by the Chief Digital Officer to a role that was basically heading up digital customer experience. And I had launch with him and I said, This sounds like a really interesting role, but why do you want me for this role?At the time, I hadn't done a lot in digital. I had done mostly off-line marketing channels. I certainly had not done anything in social media and I didn't really know what this whole customer experience thing was about. And he said something to me that, um, that really changed the whole path of my career, which was, he said, I've watched you in meetings and you always have the customer hat on when you're talking. And we need to do that in the digital space. We need to be thinking like our customers and that's where I think you're going to be really good at this job. And I kind of paused for a minute and it was a nice compliment. Um, but what was weird is I had never thought about that about myself, and he was absolutely right. That is how I think. I was always just doing what felt right. Which was helping the customer. I wasn't in the customer service area. I just wanted to help customers, because I was one and felt how important it was.

The experience overall taught me a lot about being observant. So, now, as a customer, I am paying way more attention than most customers are. When you pay attention, you notice a lot of things. So, for example, in my keynotes, I love to share signage. Because I think it's fascinating. What kinds of signs, restaurants and retailers and other companies put up in their establishment and what that communicates to customers? Does it communicate, take that you're you got a lot of rules and regulations does the communicate that you're really fun and that the experience is going to be enjoyable? What does it communicate? And it's amazing when you look at some of these things. Sometimes I'll hit a sign up. I can't believe you have this up in your business. Like, what are you thinking? And then at other times, I'll hit a sign and it'll be like, wow, you just took a sign that, that everybody has, you know, “please no smoking”, or whatever it is, and you made it in something fun and memorable and like Instagram or something. How awesome is that?!

For example, before COVID and the lockdown, I met a friend for a, for lunch and we went into a restaurant and we were sitting in a booth and we were talking about this idea of being observant. And I was looking right at him and the wall is over to the outside of this side. And I said, I'll give you an example. When we sat down at this booth, did you notice. That the wall was dirty and he's like terms in his head. He goes, I did not notice that. I said that was the first thing that I noticed, because that's what I'm paying attention to.

So, I think it’s important to do that in your personal life - we're all consumers. It’s something so easy to forget but should never lose track of.

We have to be aware of the fact that you're competing against every other experience that a person has add in their consumer lives and their business lives.

This is what makes it both difficult, but also sort of an opportunity to dive into, because we all have those experiences as well. We all go out, used to go out restaurants and go to the stores and buy things online.

So, the advice here is to become a customer of your own company and ask yourself:

  • Are we delivering an experience like these other companies?
  • Is it easy to do business with us?
  • Is it fun to do business with us?
  • Does it make me feel good to do business with us?
  • Does it make me feel good to buy something from you?

If you learn how to bridge that gap and actually observe and pay attention and train yourself to ask the right questions, you can become a great customer experience professional.

Chattermill: On top of the skills of observation and learning how to ask better questions that you mentioned, what are some other skills that you think are essential for CX professionals to develop?

Dan Gingiss: I think one of the things that I've benefited from in my career is I've had a lot of different roles that have sort of stretched my mind in different directions. So, I've worked in roles that are US-based and I've worked in roles that are international. That allowed me to develop a sense for different cultures and how different parts of the world may respond differently to the same kind of experience I've worked in B2C companies, and I've worked in B2B companies, both of which behave very differently. I've worked in different industries. So, the healthcare industry and financial services are very highly regulated and are incredibly complex. But I also worked in the fast food industry, which is pretty easy to understand, and people love the brands and, you know, in a way that they don't love their credit card or their insurance company. So, I think the diversity of your experience will help you become a better CX person.

It's not that you can't become a CX person right out of college, but again, given that there's no educational training for it, like there is for something like marketing. I think it's a tough thing to just step into as your first job, but getting a variety of experiences, will definitely help you to have a keener eye for the different opportunities around a customer journey.

The key to being a great CX person is to know little bit about almost everything because the customer journey is long and it involves a lot of things.

The other thing I would say as a skill is being able to listen to and analyze the voice of the customer with data - knowing where to look, understanding the benefits and shortcomings of methods of data collection like surveys and focus groups, as well as social media, etc.

You really need to get creative about where you’re listening to and interacting with your customers. There’s this cool example that I wrote about in my first book, where these guys at a company came up with amazing new product ideas just by listening to social media, observing use cases that the R&D department missed because they weren’t listening to what customers were saying in an informal setting. What a worthwhile lesson.

You don't need to be an expert in data, but you need to be able to differentiate between good and bad data, identify where they’re coming from, understand how they’re being collected and be able to make some sense of it to transform it into actionable insights. At many times, the best skill is being able to identify the best tool to do that.

Chattermill: Amazing, thanks for that. Okay, cool, so for our final question, we think it would be a disservice not to talk about how COVID has been changing the world we all live in and how businesses can best respond to these jarring changes. How do you see COVID changing the CX space? And how can CX professionals, as well as businesses at large, better adapt to this new reality?

Dan Gingiss: Well, I think the COVID has made customer experience even more important than it was before. It was already important but now, it has become absolutely critical. what we're seeing is a lot of customers started off very patient and empathetic. But now, after being in this for months, they are starting to lose their patience with bad service.

To me, there are four facets to me are our most critical.

  1. One, is the employee experience. So, this whole work from home culture, which I think is good and use in generally positive for companies. You can hire people from anywhere in the world. You can, you can literally find them person for the job, not the only person. You're not the person that lives down the street and can commute to the office. You can save a lot of money on physical spaces. The benefits are manifold. So I think that the employee experience is key because when employees are happy and comfortable, then they can make their customers happy. We cannot expect a great customer experience if we don't have a great employee experience because employees have to understand what a great experience feels like.
  2. The other thing that I think is going to be true at least for the next year, is that one of the key words associated with customer experience will be safety. It doesn’t matter what business you're in, but if customers do not feel safe doing business with you, they will not do business with you. That encompasses a whole bunch of things, ranging from cleaning procedures, your policy on masks, social distancing, different payment methods, touchless options, curbside pickups, etc.
  3. So not only do we have to make it safe, we have to learn how to communicate. That it's safe in a persuasive way that makes people feel calm and willing to come back and do business with us.
  4. Moreover, we didn't talk a lot about the word empathy, which I believe is a cornerstone of customer experience as well. But what I've been telling people is if you can't be empathetic now, when everyone in the world is going through the same thing, when should know exactly how your customers feel, I don't have a whole lot of hope that you're ever going to learn empathy. We must all take a minute, step back and understand and appreciate that our customers are going through a tough time. Right now, they may have lost their job. They may be stuck in their house. They may be tired of their family members. They may have gotten sick. They may be worried about other people. All of the things that we're feeling, our customers are also feeling. So, we need to keep asking what would we like people to be doing for us now, how would we like to be treated? Then go ahead and do that for your customers.

I've seen some companies that have really focused on what their brand is good at and how they can in their own niche, help customers during a difficult time. For example, the brokerage firm that I do business with, Charles Schwab, sent out an email, and instead of saying, “we're cleaning our offices and, you know, here's some links to some helpful websites”, like everybody else did, they said, “we understand that you must be worried about a volatile stock market and here's some tools and resources that we have to help you through this difficult time, and if you need to talk to somebody we're offering a free service where you can talk to an advisor again, to help you through a volatile time.” That was brilliant. That's exactly what you want to hear from your brokerage firm, right? Damn right I’m worried about the volatility of the market! Thanks for paying attention and I’m happy you’re focusing on what I’m worried about as well. This is such a better approach than just stating something like “Safety is our utmost priority. We have enhanced our cleaning procedures. Here's a link to XYZ website for more information.” It's like somebody told them that they had to send an email. But Schwab and some other companies have done things totally differently. The airlines in the US for example, almost all of them sent the exact same email except for Delta, where Delta shot a video and showed you how they were cleaning their planes. They use this fogger machine that I've never seen before. I thought it was really cool, but that made me feel a lot more confident that they know what they're talking about. Made me feel way safer to choose them when I resume my travels. Instead of telling, it’s better to show how you’re creating that safe environment for your customers and communicating that in a way that is convincing, that elicits calm instead of fear. That’s how you’ll win the hearts of your customers after this difficult period.

Chattermill: Thank you so much, Dan. Incredibly kind of you to lend us some time to chat, and I can’t stress enough how much of a masterclass on CX this conversation has been for us. We feel extremely fortunate to have had the chance to interview you. Hopefully this will be the first of many!

Dan Gingiss is an international keynote speaker who believes that a remarkable customer experience can be your best marketing. Dan doesn't just talk about customer experience; his fast-paced, energetic presentation style creates an experience for the audience that they'll surely remember.

Dan's 20-year professional career consistently focused on delighting customers, spanning multiple disciplines including customer experience, marketing, social media and customer service. He held leadership positions at three Fortune 300 companies – McDonald’s, Discover and Humana.

Dan is the author of the book, Winning at Social Customer Care: How Top Brands Create Engaging Experiences on Social Media, a host of the Experience This! Show podcast and a regular contributor to Forbes.

To follow more of his work, please refer to the following links:

His Website:

His Book:

His Forbes column:

His Twitter:

His LinkedIn:

He has been named to several notable industry lists, including:•“Top 50 Customer Service Experts of the Decade” by Nextiva•“Top 50 Thought Leaders to Follow on Twitter in 2020” by ICMI•“Top 100 Digital Marketers 2019” by both Brand24 and BuzzSumo•“15 Influencers Changing the CX Game” by WalkMe•“50 Social Media Marketing Influencers to Follow” by TopRank Marketing

Dan earned a B.A. in psychology and communications from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in marketing from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He is a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, a licensed bartender and a pinball wizard.

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