DX Leader Annette Franz, quote “Continue to innovate a great [customer] experience. Remember, it’s a journey.”

Over the course of her career, Annette Franz has observed and helped contribute to significant shifts in thinking about customer experience. However, what has yet to change at many companies she encounters is a recognition of the important symbiotic link between employee and customer experience.

Employee Experience First, Then Customer Experience

As founder and CEO of boutique consultancy CX Journey, Franz helps organizations build customer experience strategies which are based on listening to and gaining a deep understanding of both employees and customers. Her current work at CX Journey is an extension of her customer experience consulting career which began in the early 1990s at J.D. Power and Associates and continued in roles at Confirmit, Fidelity Investments and Mattel.

“It’s been an interesting evolution over the last 25 years, and yet, in some ways, we are still where we were 25 years ago!” Franz said. “Back then, I used to talk to my clients all the time about the employee experience, and they’d push off the employees to listen to customers first, without really understanding the implications of doing that. Sadly, today, companies are still doing the same thing.”

Franz will be speaking at CMSWire’s DX Summit taking place Nov. 13 to 15 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. She will give the afternoon keynote, titled “Insight to Advantage: The VoC Operating Model of the Future” on Nov. 14. 

We asked for her advice on how companies can lay the groundwork to realize customer experience success, which executive should lead an organization’s CX project and why continuous improvement is so important.

Continuously Improve Customer and Employee Experiences

CMSWire: Broadly speaking, where are companies today in terms of how they think about customer experience and employee experience?

Annette Franz: Companies are barely starting to get that they need to focus on customers. And then, they are sadly mistaken when they don’t realize or recognize that without employees and, more importantly, happy and engaged employees, their customer experience journey is already marred.

CMSWire: Why do you think that companies still fail to see a connection between great (or poor) employee experience and great (or poor) customer experience?

Franz: Why is it difficult to make that connection between employee experience and customer experience? It baffles me as well. It seems like a no-brainer.

Without employees to design and to create the products, to market and to sell the products, and to deliver the services, you’ve got no business. But so many companies who think they 'get it' when it comes to customer experience think they need to put the customer first.

CMSWire: Which organizations today, in your opinion, offer great employee and/or customer experiences? Should other companies try to emulate them?

Franz: I think it’s all the usual suspects: Zappos, Southwest Airlines, The Ritz-Carlton, Apple, Amazon, etc. If you’ve ever interacted or transacted with them, you know why.

I’m less about emulating and more about innovating. Yes, these companies are great examples. They are inspirational and aspirational. And I think other companies can learn from them, no doubt. But your employees are your employees, your customers are your customers, your brand is your brand. Imitation is not necessary.

What is necessary is to listen to your customers: understand their needs, expectations and jobs to be done, and design an experience that meets those needs. The same goes for your employees.

Continuous improvement is important. Needs change. Expectations change. Customers change. The business changes. Continue to innovate a great experience. Remember, it’s a journey.

CMSWire: How should organizations go about creating a foundation for customer experience success?

Franz: I talk and write a lot about these foundational elements. I refer to lack of them as “The Seven Deadly Sins of Customer Experience.” Success will elude a company if these seven elements are not in place.

First and foremost, you must have CEO and executive commitment. Without that, the journey ends pretty quickly. The other six elements are also critical: Define the customer experience vision and strategy; set up a governance structure; focus on employees first; understand customers; act on what you learn; and develop an outside-in culture where you weave the customer into all that you do.

CMSWire: Which role or roles within the C-suite should shape, lead and deliver on an organization’s customer experience vision?

Franz: Ultimately, the CEO is the chief customer and brand advocate. Second to the CEO is a Chief Customer Officer or a [similar] head of customer experience title or role. Ultimately, every C-suite executive needs to be on board and aligned with the vision. Each executive will need to champion the CX efforts throughout his or her organization.

CMSWire: What is your favorite book and why? How would you encourage people who don’t know that book to read it?

Franz: I’ve got a pile of books sitting on my desk at the moment, waiting to be read. I’ll chip away at them all, for sure! I’ve read a lot but I don’t know if I really have a favorite. The book I’m reading now is called “Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple's Success” by Ken Segall. I love it because it’s a great reminder that we don’t need to make everything so complex: complexity is the enemy of simplicity.

Apple’s Steve Jobs was all about simplicity and "beating things with the simple stick." The book contains a lot of great lessons that can be applied to any business and for any customer experience professional to contemplate on the road to redesigning the customer experience.

Editor's note: Learn more about the Digital Customer Experience (DX) Summit here.