Elevating the Customer Experience: Q&A with Stephanie Thum, CCXP
Delivering a seamless and consistent omnichannel customer experience (CX) requires commitment and focus from every team across an organization. Marketers, in particular, can play a strategic role in helping brands reach their CX goals.
For the inside scoop on CX, we sat down with Stephanie Thum, CX Consultant and Practitioner. For nearly twenty years, she’s been working within businesses and the government to improve customer experience. That’s longer than the CX acronym has been part of the nomenclature and before the existence of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA). Luckily for us, she was thrilled to share her knowledge on CX and creating high-quality customer experiences.
Customer Experience: Q&A with Stephanie Thum, CCXP
Arm Treasure Data: What drew you to customer experience as a discipline? How did you find your place in this emerging field?
Stephanie: My path to customer experience originated in the world of journalism. After graduate school, though, I went to work in business development for a Big Four accounting firm where I eventually took on a role as a client satisfaction executive.
In that role, I was essentially responsible for eliciting clients’ stories for business development purposes—how they perceived their business relationship with my firm, their experiences working with the firm’s people, their perceptions of the firm’s competition, and their upcoming business challenges.
I learned early on that a client’s inclination to do business with my firm had little to do with flawless marketing materials and everything to do with getting the right bills, having access to help when they needed it, and feeling like someone cared about their business problems. I was hooked. I then did similar work in the legal services world.
Arm Treasure Data: When did you start working with the government?
Stephanie: I found my way into government CX when my family moved to the Washington, DC area and a role came open with the federal government to lead customer experience for a business-oriented government agency: The Export-Import (EXIM) Bank of the United States.
At that time, nobody in government had really heard of CX, but I had been working in the discipline for several years and the Customer Experience Professionals Association, of which I am a founding member, was just getting started.
I got the job at EXIM Bank, took on extra responsibilities with President Obama’s multi-agency customer service task force, and learned everything I could about the legislative process, laws, policies, politics, oversight, and rules that rippled to the practice of CX in the government context. Again, I was hooked.
It was a new trail then. Now, you’ll find CX people working in government agencies all around the world—more consultants than ever before. And there’s more interest from more political figures who can influence the integration of CX into the fabric of government cultures.
The landscape keeps changing. I’m still learning and following all of it now in my work as a consultant.
Arm Treasure Data: We talk a lot about data-driven businesses, and I know CX is no exception. What kind of data should businesses be looking at to drive better CX?
Stephanie: You need a combination of operational and experience data to power conversations and prioritize where you spend your time and effort. Operational data comes from your existing systems—numbers of new clients, numbers of new applications, employee retention rates, customer wait times, etc. Experience data comes straight from customers—it’s feedback about their experiences, and it may come from surveys, emails, interviews, contact center recordings, focus groups, or even advisory boards. You need both operational and experience data to power your business decisions. Operational data tells you what’s happening. Experience data can help you to understand why.
Arm Treasure Data: What is your definition of a high-quality customer experience? What metrics would you measure it on?
Stephanie: My personal definition of high-quality? That changes for me, depending on where I’m going to get stuff done in my life. High-quality experiences come from understanding a customer’s lifestream and where your product or service fits in.
Arm Treasure Data: Do you have an example of a company that is really killing it with their CX right now? Someone in B2B even?
Stephanie: I just renewed my car tags via the state of Virginia’s DMV website. It took me less than 5 minutes to get it done. Yes. Cheers to the DMV, everybody.
Arm Treasure Data: How do you see the CX executive role evolving over the next few years?
Stephanie: I see their influence growing. If you want a customer-centric company, then CX practices need to touch every corner of your business: Risk management, marketing, strategic planning, business process improvement, policy development, digital, etc.
I also see the boundaries of the practice of CX growing to include an understanding of laws and ethics that touch customers’ experiences. Yes, we have our traditional core competencies and skills. But, as a practical matter, you can’t practice the discipline of CX holistically without law and ethics.
Arm Treasure Data: What are some emerging trends in CX, either on the technology or the practitioner side?
Stephanie: In the federal government, we’re at a new inflection point with CX. New laws, official White House guidance to agencies, and a president’s management agenda goal on customer experience have moved the practices of CX from “nice to have” into the realms of reality and requirement for federal agencies.
But it’s not a new thing. President Clinton issued an executive order 26 years ago instructing agencies to survey and get to know their customers. President Obama, as well, had an executive order and a president’s management agenda goal on customer service (that evolved into customer experience).
Inspectors General and the Government Accountability Office are now pushing for CX practices inside agencies, and Veterans Administration IGs are even systematically using customer and employee experience data to assess business and operational risk at VA facilities.
We’re seeing governments around the world show interest in and embrace the practices and principles. It makes sense. Government belongs to the people. The people spend a lot of money on government through taxes they pay every day. Citizens deserve an efficient, responsive government in return.
Arm Treasure Data: Who are the pioneers in CX as its own discipline? If someone wanted to learn about it, where would they start?
Stephanie: Dennis Snow and Jeanne Bliss are the pioneers in my eyes. The first books on customer experience I ever picked up were Dennis Snow’s “Lessons from the Mouse” and Jeanne Bliss’ “Chief Customer Officer.”
To me, it’s important to read beyond the titles with the word “customer” in them. Some of the books that really turned on the light bulbs for me are:
- “Edge Strategy: A New Mindset for Profitable Growth,”
- “Make Success Measurable!: A Mindbook-Workbook for Setting Goals and Taking Action,” and
- “The Outward Mindset.”
Books like “Fierce Conversations” and “How to Win Friends and Influence People” are also relevant to this work. I also recently read Condoleeza Rice and Amy B. Zegart’s “Political Risk.” Their concepts intersect, in many ways, with the world of customer experience.
The Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA)’s member resources, and content are superb. You can also find my eBook, “Uncharted Territory: Where Customer Experience Practices Haven’t Arrived in Business” on Amazon.com.
For CX in the federal government, look for blogs (my LinkedIn blog, for starters) and government-specific conferences and events. Digital Government Institute has one of the longest-running conferences with 930gov.
GovExec puts on great events a couple of times a year, and many other companies and organizations are following suit in bringing the government CX community together to share notes and practices, including on the state and local government levels.
Differentiate Your Customer Experience With Data
Consolidated, activated customer data is the foundation of customer experience success. A customer data platform (CDP) creates a central repository of data, including sales records, customer service conversations, marketing touchpoints, and more.
Learn more about how retail marketers use data to drive exceptional CX.