CX Interview Series with Nate Brown
By João Alves
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 Nate Brown, Chief Experience Officer at Officium Labs and Co-Founder of the amazing community, CX Accelerator.
Tune in to learn more about how gratitude reciprocates and the power of community in compounding knowledge and becoming better guardians of CX for your customers.
We hope you enjoy reading the following interview and take just as many actionable lessons from Nate as we did. :)
Listen the full podcast below:
Read the transcript of the full conversation below:
Chattermill: Hi, Nate, thank you for joining us today.
Nate Brown: Thrilled to be here. I love Chattermill, love everything that you're doing from a product and brand perspective, so it's very much my pleasure. Thank you.
Chattermill: Thank you so much for the kind words. So yeah, I won't beat around the bush when it starts with the heavy questions straight away. We’d love to hear more about what customer centricity means to you. It's such a loaded topic. Usually everyone has an interpretation around it. What does it mean to you and when a customer is because when a company is customer centric?
Nate: Yeah. That's a great question. The way that I look at an organization and determine their level of customer centricity is the way that decisions are made inside of the organization. If we look at how products and services evolve, the way that ultimately leadership determines the future state of the strategy, ff the customer has a strong voice inside of that, if they're well-represented inside of that decision making process, then generally you have a very customer-centric organization.
__Chattermill: Definitely. And on that note, how do companies go about building that customer-centric culture? There are three phases there that I'd love to get into with you, basically building, maintaining and scaling this culture. Each with own set of challenges and rewards. __
Nate: Yeah. Well, as you all know, there's a resource that I've been preaching on this topic quite a bit. It's Denise Lee Yohn’s Fusion, which is just a brilliant work. And she talks about creating an employee experience inside of the organization that can be given as a gift authentically to the customer. And only then do you have truly customer centric organization when your employees are experiencing something wonderful and they can be an ambassador for the organization, not trying to create a fake customer experience that they didn't, they themselves are not personally having. So, I love her approach that she talks about in terms of creating this house. And there's a framework that she uses in terms of building this house and in engaging your employees uniquely and authentically and using whatever it is compelling about it, culture and unique about you as an organization using that as a stake in the ground to create something exceptional for those employees, that they can be very proud of.
So the way I see is to start thinking about: What is that stake in the ground? What is our culture? And Jeff Toister has some great work on this as well in terms of creating that vision, that customer centric-culture statement for you that is unique and compelling and that you can use to determine, okay, well, now that we know this is where we're moving towards, this is our aspirational culture in terms of what we believe, the way we behave together, now we know who we can bring in. That's going to fit that culture. So, in some ways it's like the gate let's lock the gate and determine what it looks like to enter the gate correctly. And terms of that ideal candidate for us, then let's move towards the house. But before we get to the house, there's the fence. A lot of employees like to sit on the fence and they're waiting for you to prove to them that it's worth coming into the house. Our human nature is to wait out change and not to jump in and participate generally speaking. Or you're an unusual individual. If you hear change for the first time and you're excited by it and you want to participate, most people have to hear it multiple times and be showing the way to the house.
Chattermill: Absolutely, so true. I find the metaphor so illuminating. I really think like when you get these analogies and metaphors, it really helps us hone in on what truly matters and how to actually build, like simplifying it to the first principles and building from there. Thank you so much.
What do you think are usually the biggest challenges that organizations face when building this culture?
Nate: There's a recent HBR article that talks about the failure rate of culture transformation. And it's up to upwards of 95% of cultural transformations fail because of the pitfalls that are out there. And to summarize it, at least in my experience as somebody that has tried to initiate these changes that has been an employee sitting inside of them. What happens is that people don't take the long-term approach. They expect it to happen in a month period of time. A couple of weeks. They think that by just putting the change out there in an all hands meeting and following up with an email that suddenly everybody's going to change their behaviors. There are many change management methodologies, but you need to unite the organization around one of them to guide your employees towards a successful transformation.
Chattermill: Tremendous insight that I'm sure will be very applicable to many, many companies that will be listening to us. On that note, we'd like to move on to like questions focused on tools and CX professionals. The issue is the volume of tools out there and the lack of a filtering system.
How you go about choosing tools as a CX professional? And what value to look for in CX tools?
Nate: João, I think there's just a tremendous amount of confusion out there when it comes to tools. I actually did a presentation for Frost and Sullivan last fall, and they asked me to present in research on this topic of how tools can either make or break the employee experience and the customer experience. And I was fascinated. I'm going to present a couple stats if you don't mind, I've got them up here. So, I mean, one of the most interesting things came from the cloud security alliance and they talk about the fact that people are just drowning in tools right now, at an average of 464 custom applications inside of an enterprise company. It's so phenomenally overwhelming how many tools we have and they don't connect well. And they're bought in a mentality of silo in terms of: “I need this, my department needs this thing, my little team needs this thing. I'm going to go buy something.”
There are opportunities to bring tools together and take a more collaborative approach in the way that we do this. I love that Chattermill has this capacity of really bringing effort out of the experience and bringing people together in terms of creating a more streamlined, a frictionless approach to both your employee and your customer experience.
If you look at G2 Crowd, they did a report in 2019, the state of software report, and there, they said more than half of their respondents are unhappy at work because of the software they're using more than 50% of are happy because of the tools. A quarter of those employees said they're considering leaving their job because the tool set is so broken. And then my favorite stat, 95% of employees feel like if they had the right software, they'd be more productive in their role. So, it's wild to think there there's an eight-by-eight report that says that the average agent spends between 30 minutes and two hours a day looking for remedial information. That should be available immediately. So, if we had better tools that brought information together, we would be able to do so much more. As a customer service worker, we'd be able to serve our customers so much better and that burnout factor that's there would come down dramatically. So, I mean, there's a huge impact here. When we get it right? And there's a huge negative impact when we get it wrong. So, going back to your question about how do we get this, right? How do we select the right tool set? I love using the ‘Moscow’ approach. Have you ever heard of that one by chance?
Chattermill: I have not.
Nate: It's kind of, not as well known is I would think it would be. I mean, it's a very simplistic approach to bringing people together. All the different stakeholders that could benefit from a tool and you go through all the feature sets that that would need to be in this tool. And you simply ask the question, what is a requirement? What is a showstopping thing that we have to have inside of this team? What would be wonderful if we had it? And what do we not need? And you have all of your stakeholders go through that process of reviewing the different features that are there and selecting which one of those categories they fall into. And it will give you a great representation of what tool is going to meet the needs of the larger organization. This is how we collaborate and tear down walls and ruin those silos that have been erected that are preventing us from having knowledge flow through and enhancing the customer experience.
Chattermill: Amazing. This is tremendously eye opening and very, very comprehensive. Nate, thank you so much for that. Completely agree with you. Like in terms of being able to integrate a solution to other solutions that's imperative, the importance of that is very clear, right?
It's very interesting how you see some companies practicing CX as a single player sports, right? How do think about companies playing single player versus team sports? Sometimes we need someone to dictate a strategy and then pass the strategy on, right? So there's clarity and you eliminate those silos. But I also see the value in having the whole team collaborating in CX and integrating the customer into every decision, which to be fair, you need the people that are in the front line to bring that, bring that knowledge and practice to the decision maker.
So, how do you think about that? Do you think there's a right answer? Do you think that there's a right balance that a company can achieve and how do they go about achieving it?
Nate: Hmm. Yeah. What a great question. I'm going to reference John Kotter. So, he talks about having a strong change coalition and I full heartedly believe in the power of a strong CX change coalition that you have to have a group of stakeholders that represent the different key functions of the area in which CX needs to participate and be involved. Those individuals need to be together, creating the strategy and actively participating in the customer experience initiative. Whenever I see a customer experience team that is set apart from the organization, it's almost impossible for them to influence the organization. You have to make the work of CX everybody’s work. They have to own it for themselves and see the power of it for themselves. Or they're not going to carry the torch for you. So to go back to your awesome sporting analogy, I mean, it's less like a soccer team. And more like if you look at American football, you have a quarterback who is initiating the play, but you have your team to actually execute it. Everybody must have the exact same common purpose in mind. They know how together they can work towards that one objective, but they have different roles that they play in that. At the same time, you have a quarterback and you have a head coach that are forming that strategy and aligning people together and endowing them with the mission of what we win by getting this ball over that goal.
Indeed, everyone should have a voice in your organizations CX strategy, but you've got to have one or two people that have the ability to really initiate the plays in real time. So, you've got to have that CX leader, who's inspirational, who has the ability to cheer people on and motivate them, but also has the analytical capability to show the ROI of the work and keep that revenue machine going in terms of yes, when we, when we help our customers to win our business wins. The CX leader has to be able to tell that story and then continuing to bring people on to the team, assigning them to the correct role where they can move the ball the farthest that's how you win together.
Chattermill: Absolutely. I wanted to touch on the question of offensive versus defensive CX. Do you see CX as more one than the other? Meaning, should companies’ CX mandates focus on top-line growth or cost efficiency?
Nate: Sure. So, often people ask what the difference between customer service and customer experience is. And what you just outlined is that difference. Your customer service team is the defensive team you're trying to mitigate damage. When there's a problem in the experience you come in and you mitigate damage and you try to enhance that experience and bring it back up to where it could, should, would be as quickly and effectively as possible. So, I mean, that's your defensive unit, the experience play in terms of mapping out the larger customer journey, thinking about how we can enhance that journey. Overall, this is the competitive differentiator. This is how we play offense. This is how we gain market share. This is how we acquire new customers. This is how we open up share of wallet with our existing customers. There is no better offensive play than a very strong customer experience strategy. So, I mean, I feel like that's kind of where the line is drawn. Customer service has to be there. They have to be there for that strong defensive team. Otherwise things are going to fall apart there. There's always going to be gaps. There's always going to be mistakes that are made. You've got to be able to prove we're going to be there for you to catch when things fall and bring you back up into the experience that we designed.
But that experience design has to be there too. That's how we enhance the future for all of us.
Chattermill: Fantastic. Super clear, super clarifying. That's why I love these conversations as well, because even me, I have like difficulty sometimes, comparing and differentiating from these two elements and see like through this interaction, it just makes it so much clearer how, how to separate them and use it to your advantage.
Going back to the problems question that we were talking about with tools, but now more specific to the practitioner - is there any like recurring type of problems and issues that you see CX professionals facing in their day to day, that results in them going to G2 Crowd and Capterra searching through that sea of options that they have?
Nate: So, I'm the Chief Experience Officer of Officium Labs. I work inside of many different organizations helping to enhance the customer experience strategy. And in doing that work, there's several common themes that are identified there and voice of customer's heart when it comes to being able to centralize all of the insights that we're gaining from our customers in an effective and compelling way to where we can inspire change to happen from those customer insights. It's hard to get that level of clarity and it requires a very good tool. The customer experience management platform that brings those insights together, tags them, organizes them, gives us that transparency in terms of, if we do these things, our customer's lives will be better by way. Sure. The ROI impact that can, should, would happen. And then being able to prove that in the end, using a great customer experience dashboard, that work right there is not for the faint of heart. It requires time. It requires a great deal of analytical capability, as well as storytelling capability. And maybe there's so many hats that the CX professional has to wear.
The challenge becomes how can you supplement yourself with people, with a team of people that are great and have the ability to fill in those gaps, so that you together can make this critical work happen, that you can keep the ball moving forward and be continually breathing life into that CX change coalition so that the CX team is not carrying the full burden.
You're just continually offering up these opportunities and this guidance to your CX allies, represented in the different key leaders that lead the department functions inside of the organization. So, the more that you can embed that work inside of those key functional leaders, the better off you're going to be. The more that you're going to have opportunities to grow the work, to have financial backing, that you need to be able to demonstrate the results that are coming from the work of customer experience, because the biggest problem that happens with a lot of us is, we just get burned out. We're hitting a brick wall where we can't influence the organization and that's true, we can't, and that's why we need to tap into the existing momentum that the organization already has. The compelling brand promise, the great leaders that already exists. The employees that really want to serve customers. Well, we just need to free that up and bring it together under the banner of the CX initiative. That's how we win.
Chattermill: More amazing insights! Thank you again for that. Now, I'm sure not only me, but our audience wants to learn more about Nate personally. How do you keep on top of your game and how do you stay ahead of the curve in the CX space? And also to help the young people out there trying to break into CX, what type of learning resources do you consult regularly? What type of books do you recommend people?
Nate: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I, for those that are getting into customer experience and looking to accelerate your learning, look up the CX primer. So this is something that I wrote last year and I did my very best to just consolidate. The key elements of a customer experience initiative as clearly as possible, and even started to collect a lot of the thought leaders that I feel like are especially good at helping people along in terms of growing in a CX career.
I've been reading, let's see, what am I reading right now? I'm reading Radical Candor by Kim Scott. I'm reading Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan and John Kane. And Haley Fisher’s Crucial Conversations. I like to really read a lot of different topics because I find that these things are very, very applicable to a customer experience initiative, especially in this area of building a customer-centric culture, it just requires great leadership, great intentionality in terms of really creating a compelling place to work. When you've made a compelling place to work and your employees love being there, somehow the customer experience initiative just becomes a hyper speed way to space, whereas before you're just mired in a puddle.
Chattermill: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And yeah, I feel like everyone in the CX space is tremendously well read. They're avid readers, always like trying to be multidisciplinary, reading books and content outside of the realm of CX - a lot of marketing, a lot of psychology, a lot of empathy reading.
Who would you recommend our listeners to check the most, like to enrich their lives and enriches both personally and professionally?
Nate: Yeah, no doubt. A great question. There there's so many people that I've been really inspired by, inside of the CX Accelerator Slack community. I would highly encourage folks to go and check that out in terms of being able to break out of a mental rut that you could be in and just get out of your own office. It's great to learn from those that are serving in a CX capacity inside of other organizations. So, a community likes CX Accelerator support driven is a great place to get that inspiration. And there are some folks in here right now in CX Accelerator that have been just so helpful for me. Andrew Gilliam, the IC my community director, Andre Murphy Frazier, Jenny Dempsey, Jeremy Watkin, Keith Kemet, um, some, great folks that are out there that just have a generosity. They have ideas, they're trying things out and they're offering those things back out to the community and really helping them to, to continue to evolve and just encouraging folks along the way. Those are the individuals that I really like to look out for in terms of those that are, are being very generous with their knowledge as they do this work together.
Chattermill: A hundred percent. Thank you for those recommendations. I'll check them on as well. It's amazing. And as for CX Accelerator, we at Chattermill can vouch for that together with you. What an amazing community! That’s a space that is like no other resource, one that you can consult any time of the day and you get a net response almost instantly from people. Everyone replies with tremendous insight, then like time they put time into every response it's really admirable. I feel like other industries could really learn a lot from the CX space.
We’d love to talk about your career now, and discuss how young people can break into CX. Could you tell us a bit more about how ended up in the industry and the major inflection points for you?
Nate: That’s the great thing about podcasts - we can talk about these topics and dive into the nuances that most of the time, other pieces or other mediums of content can't. So, I began selling postage meters on the streets of Jacksonville, Florida, which ended very poorly. But as a result of that, I did learn that I really liked serving customers that already had a postage meter, which was just kind of a nuanced thing. Like I really liked going in there when I know that they're using this service and I want to make them really happy and expand this relationship. When that did end, somewhat traumatically, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee with my very young family at that time and pursued a job in customer service. I ended up just falling in love with customer service was supporting people frontline on a learning management system for years, just helping to make sure that they were being safe on their jobs. I just felt like it was purpose driven work. I love serving these customers and to know them and, and in, and a great organization called peer safety.
At that time, that was later acquired by AOL and inside of that AOL acquisition had all kinds of opportunities to grow as a professional. We acquired an occupational health tool and employee health tool. Suddenly I'm managing a department of 25 customer service people with three different distinct software sets. It was very, very overwhelming and exciting all at the same time. But I mean, there's just, there was so much learning that took place in that period, but really, uh, the thing that just hit me in the face in about it was about 2014 is I'm tired of things. Just rolling down to customer service. Feeling like I have no control of what's happening upstream in this process.
It was really fun to learn through that process and to grow as a CX professional, which became a catalyst for the opportunity to become the chief customer officer inside of Officium. Being in a startup and being at Officium with so many brilliant folks and just learning from these folks, these industry veteran people that have just been so helpful for me as a young CX professional and put me in front of just so many opportunities to really accelerate my growth, has been absolutely awesome.
This year has been incredible. In terms of my growth and the opportunities that have happened through that, so, I mean, I would just challenge you that are out there - if you're looking to get into customer experience, challenge yourself to consume, to find a mentor as it says on the book Never Eat Alone, create your own personal board of advisors that can help you to become what you want to be professionally and otherwise. Form those mentors around you that can encourage you and open up opportunities for you. And then just be a part of a community, be seeking the hungry, and then start giving back. As you learn, as you grow, start giving back. And there's a compounding effect that happens in terms of the opportunities that you receive. And all of a sudden you'll look back and be like, I can't believe how cool this last couple of years have been all, all because I got to serve customers, which is the best part of all.
Chattermill: What a refreshing answer. Full of empathy. Thank you, Nate. Now, I'd love to speak about the key skills in CX and your comment about mentorship. It connects to that quote: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” So, I just wanted to like ask you a bit, how do you think about going about creating these mentorships, especially for young people that, in their minds, they don't have much to add value, right? It's like that chicken and egg problem, like, “Oh, you need to find the experience first so I can add value after, uh, et cetera.” How do you think they can add value?
Nate: Yeah. I mean just being open and able to demonstrate that the things that you are learning, you're going to be giving back. And respecting those that are helping to educate you along the way, showing that humility and that ability to do that really inspires anybody who is excited to be a mentor when they have a protege that demonstrates that hunger, and that ability to internalize new knowledge and to try it out and to make it there. There's such an excitement that happens with that in a refreshment that comes back to the mentor and that scenario that, I mean, it becomes very worth the time invested, right? Just to see what can happen, just to see what you can become a big because of that great attitude that you have coming into the relationship. So if you're able to demonstrate that humility, that capability to really grow, then you're going to really excite whatever mentor would be out there for you, in my opinion,
Chattermill: What a great lesson. Absolutely. I take these lessons for myself as well. Now just going back into the skills question. What skills do you think are key to succeed in the CX space? Both in terms of soft and hard skills. What would you say are the top three of each that people in CX should focus on?
Nate: So as far as hard skills go, this is something that you can train up. Number one, you have to be a good change management professional with project management capabilities. To guide an initiative through number two is going to be that strategic thinking capability. You have to be able to visualize something that does not today exist and be able to depict current state versus future state and what those milestones would look like to get there. I guess an associated organic skill - you have to be able to inspire people to want to change and to care enough to do so inspiring. That sense of urgency has to be there. And then you have your, your, the, the third hard skill I'm going to use is that analytical capability. You've got to be able to measure the impact of the work you're doing. You have to be able to show the ROI. You've got to be able to create a good, compelling CX dashboard. And if you can't, you're not going to get credit for the great things you're doing. You're not going to have impact to make this work last. So, it's critical both for the organization, for the customers you're serving and for yourself as a CX professional, to become very proficient and your ability to demonstrate results through the work with, with a great voice of customer engine and associated CX dashboard. So, those would be the three hard skills that I would use.
As far as the softer skills: Number one, that ability to inspire change and to cause people to have a stirring inside of themselves, to where I'm going to change the behavior. I'm going to change a mentality to serve my customer differently and better because of what's happening inside of this organization. The individual that can inspire that type of atmosphere and that culture transformation is going to do very well in this work. Another softer skill that I would say, needs to be storytelling capability. A lot of times the customer's not there. You have to be able to in a dramatic, compelling way, be able to personify that voice of the customer to once again, inspire change and represent the customer well, in that meeting, in that decision that's being made in that report that's being generated in that feature. I mean, we have all different kinds of experience, right? You have digital transformation. Which is enhancing the employee and the customer or experience on digital channels. That's the work of CX. You have user experience, making sure that the technologies that we interface with are going to be pleasing and helpful and frictionless as we navigate our experience through that technology. So, I mean, there's all these different facets of experienced design and you have to be able to coordinate those, to bring them together.
You're not going to have all the skills yourself. It's impossible. So, your ability to unite people together to create a strong CX change coalition, that's an organic skill that is required for this work.
Chattermill: This is literally a playbook for any CX professional out there. Now we're just like finish with a question about COVID and how it's been impacting everyone this year. We believe in equipping people with the right tool-kit and knowledge to deal with the situation in the most empathetic and productive way possible.
What do you think are the biggest challenges that companies are facing today in the face of this COVID and how you think companies should behave in the near future? What type of practices do you think are essential for not only survival, but to thrive and to improve their customer centric cultures internally and how they serve their customers and employees?
Nate: Right. Yeah, it's a great, great wording of that question. In my mind, there's two themes that have really risen this year to grow even faster than they were already becoming a huge part of the experience design cycle, which is trust and convenience.
So, I mean, convenience has been just a very trending theme ever since the effortless experience and then compounded by the convenience revolution by Shep Hyken. Other works that really make it clear that customer loyalty comes from our ability to create a frictionless experience. And so now even more people value their time. They value their limited resources more than ever. We're juggling so many things. I've got two kids over here that are at home. On top of everything, we've got just all kinds of variables that have entered our lives this year that are difficult to manage. I spent two hours yesterday screaming at an internet provider because I could not work today. As of last night, I had no ability to work today. Whereas before this year I would just hop in the car and drive over to our beautiful office and have incredibly reliable resources all around me to help. That that doesn't exist anymore. I have to create my own workplace. I have to support my own tools and in which I work, you know, it's become harder for all of us to just navigate a day.
So, when we, as brands have the ability to make that easier for people and get the things that they need and the services they need really easy, that is a major loyalty enhancer.
I was so stressed-out last night because of the internet failure that I was literally mean to my family. Like I just, I was, so mad and the stress that I had, I don't remember being that stressed out in months. So, I mean, we, as organizations, do absolutely play a role in the stress and mood of people.
We must now treat people well. Let's do a great job with our experience design so that people can live a lower stress, better life. If you don’t, I'm not going to engage with you as an organization. You've lost my trust. If the food that's being delivered, if that's somehow, I think could be compromised, walked into a restaurant recently where was a huge spill on the floor that nobody was cleaning up. No hygiene protocol was being followed. It was very clear as I walked in that they did not have an environment where they valued their customer safety and there's multiple safety hazards that were going on. I'm not going to go back there again. And that same mentality can translate into a whole variety of different services and products. Are we trying to respect our customer's safety as much as we possibly can? Are we earning that trust and are we doing it in a way that's going to be very convenient for them? If we're considering those things as part of our experience design we're going to do well, not only in pandemic era, but well, well, well beyond.
Chattermill: Thank you so much, Nate. Super insightful. I love your term, loyalty enhancers as well – definitely a great mental model that I think is very useful for any company to start thinking through.
Thank you again for sharing all your insights and a bit about your experiences with us here today, for your gratitude in passing down and sharing knowledge with us and many others. I can't stress enough, what a great business lesson this conversation has been.
Nate: Thank you, Chattermill. Thank you, João. Everybody out there be safe and design great experiences for your customers.
Nate Brown, CEO of Officium Labs and the Co-founder of CX Accelerator, a community and resource hub for Customer Experience professionals.
Having started off his career as a customer support specialist at an e-learning company, Nate went onto manage a technical support team there, before moving further up the ranks to become the Head of Customer Experience.
He is recognized as a top CX thought leader by the renowned International Customer Management Institute (ICMI). He was dubbed the “CX Influencer of the Year” by CloudCherry in 2019, as well as being named a top CX thought leader by TruRating, Qminder, ProcedureFlow, LifeHelpNow, ICMI, and Exceeders.
His expertise lies in helping employees understand and optimize the customer journey, improving survey collection processes, and maximizing ROI from Voice of Customer programs.