Jim Kalbach quote "Ultimately customers measure success by how well they can get the job done."

Customer experience has been a hot topic for a few years now and is showing no sign of abating as companies invest time, money and effort into retaining current customers and luring others from competitors. 

In my quest for new ideas and tools that could help differentiate customer experience (CX), I came across MURAL, a visual online collaboration solution provider. The company has an interesting philosophy on customer experience, as I learned when I spoke with Jim Kalbach, MURAL's CX lead. Kalbach is a recognized expert on experience design and the author of two books, "Designing Web Navigation" and "Mapping Experiences: A Complete Guide to Creating Value Through Journeys, Blueprints, and Diagrams."

Everyone in the Organization Is Responsible for CX

My conversation with Kalbach covered topics from artificial intelligence (AI) to CX strategy and points in between. 

Dave Angelow: You’re the head of customer experience: explain the scope of your role. Where does CX start and where does it end at MURAL?

Jim Kalbach: In the broadest sense of the term, “customer experience” is the sum of actions, thoughts and feelings a customer has when interacting with your organization over time. It’s everything. So ultimately, there is no start or end to CX when you start to unpack it, and everyone in an organization is in some way responsible for the customer experience.

At MURAL, we’ve scoped CX to concentrate on post-sales relationships with our customers. That includes support, customer success and service. Organizationally, we’re a team that focuses on enhancing the value customers get once they sign on with us and creating new value beyond what the product delivers.

We’re also involved in some marketing and sales activities. But given the size of our team, we’re organizationally aligned to post-sales customer experience. That’ll change as we grow, and in the future I hope the CX team can look at the broader customer experience across the board.

Angelow: Today everyone is concerned with “value-add” — how does MURAL measure value-add for your group? Can you share the metrics used — financial and nonfinancial — to measure value?

Kalbach: MURAL is SaaS-based software, and we measure value in some of the common ways you’d expect: various usage metrics, satisfaction and net promoter score (NPS), retention, churn and account growth. We’ve been using CES [customer effort score] successfully as well.

The real power of NPS isn’t in the score itself, I believe. There are things you can do that move the number — like changing the frequency or placement of the survey — that don’t reflect change or growth. Instead, we like to focus on the verbatims. I realize these are problematic too because they are open to interpretation much of time. Nonetheless we regularly categorize them into a fixed set of problem categories. Our product team uses the volume in category to prioritize their efforts, and they recently had a quarterly goal around lower specific issue categories.

Because MURAL is a flexible tool for creative collaboration, there are numerous uses and use cases, we don’t have a fixed workflow to measure per se. So stories and storytelling become a big part of showing our value add. For instance, one customer told us how visualizing their team’s work in MURAL cut a 3-hour meeting down to 15 minutes. Another describes how MURAL saves not only travel time by making remote collaboration more viable, but also helps lower her carbon footprint.

In the end, our value-add affects things like team alignment, engagement, agility and transparency — all hard things to measure quantitatively. So stories and storytelling might play a larger role with our solution that others.

Related Article: How to Measure Customer Experience Beyond Net Promoter Score

Focus on What Your Customer Is Trying to Accomplish 

Angelow: What one thing would you recommend CX leaders do that may improve experience outcomes?

Kalbach: Look beyond your customer’s relationship with your organization and focus on what they are trying to accomplish.

Sure, customer experience is all about how well people interact with your brand and services. But ultimately they measure success by how well they can get a job done. This perspective goes beyond just looking at the customer journey.

For instance, I make a distinction between customer journey mapping and experience mapping. A customer journey map is a representation of how an individual becomes aware of your offering, decides to use it, and why they stay loyal or not. This perspective views the individual in relationship to your brand and solution. That’s an important perspective to have, but not necessarily how the person sees their own work. They have objectives and needs to be met beyond just interacting with you. You can also map their experience independent of your specific company. Focus on their job to be done, and you’ll be in a better place to make customers successful.

I like a framework called Jobs-To-Be-Done (JTBD) because it provides a new perspective on customer success. Rather than looking at your own solution, JTBD gives you a unique way of seeing customers as they do. I’ve been working with JTBD for over a decade, in particular following the Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI) method developed by Tony Ulwick. His approach is best for looking at people not through the lens of your solution, but by understanding their needs and problems and aligning to that.

Related Article: Use Design Thinking to Put Yourself in Your Customers' Shoes

Angelow: Looking to the future, there’s excitement (or hype) about the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution and its impacts. What does the future hold for AI and CX from your perspective? What’s the greatest potential benefit and what’s the greatest potential risk?

Kalbach: I’m excited about the potential of AI in general. Some organizations have already benefited from it in terms of customer relationships. For one, AI can bring more insight into customer support. Agents can get a much more robust picture of the customer’s context before responding, or an AI bot can handle the entire request. At MURAL, we’ve only just begun dabbling in this area but haven’t realized the full potential. AI might also be able to give customer success managers a richer picture of customer behavior, it can help identify new stakeholders ... the list goes on.

However, I think we’re still at the top of the hype cycle with AI. The potential is there, but the practical application of AI that has real impact and provides a better customer experience is still off in the future, at least on a broad scale.

At MURAL we focus on personal connections and relationships. We’re still small enough that we know our customers intimately. Until AI and machine learning matures and can deliver personal and authentic experiences, we’ll likely keep much of our communication direct and be slow adopters of AI for CX work.

Angelow: Would you share your philosophy and strategy for CX design? 

Kalbach: I’m a top-down thinker. By this I mean, I think it’s critical to look at goals, outcomes and objectives before anything else. Best performing organizations have strong alignment horizontally and vertically (between departments and within departments). I’ve found it’s important to understand the goals your customer has and focus on how to best help them accomplish the goals.

Once goals are identified and linked with customer’s the strategy setting is straight-forward. I particularly like Balanced Scorecard (BSC) because of it’s broader focus on metrics. Every organization has to focus on cost-efficient operations, yet there’s more than cost alone that needs to be considered when adding/scaling a new capability.

The overriding principle I’ve found most impactful at MURAL and elsewhere is simplicity. Keeping processes and tools as simple as possible to accomplish the outcome. What I’ve found is we all hire very bright people with a desire to achieve and what sometimes happens is “over-engineering.” It’s human nature to seek recognition and sometimes processes are “improved” because of a new idea and implementing the idea showcases someone’s knowledge. The result of improvement isn't always simpler, and I’m always challenging my team to simplify and use concepts from others to help.

Related Article: Why Design Today Hinges on Deleting Experiences and Reading Minds

Angelow: Peter Drucker is widely quoted for “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Given the criticality of culture on organizations, what tools/techniques/tips do you have to develop the right culture in an organization?

Kalbach: I love that quote because it’s so true. No doubt, setting strategy is important — but it only gets you so far if you don’t have the right culture. I’m also fond of Mike Tyson’s quote as well: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” A good culture can absorb punches better than a good strategy, in my opinion.

I hire people who care about their work and care about customers. That’s the best starting point. But I also give them a lot of trust. Besides making remote teams possible, trust is key in developing the right culture. I also don’t hire people to tell them what to do, but for them to tell me what to do. I see my team as partners in a common cause. If people are motivated and pointed in the right direction you can accomplish a lot.

But it’s also about keeping the conversation going. An organization isn’t a hierarchical tree — it’s a network of conversations. Constant dialog and communication are key. Our use of modern collaboration tools actually creates a more transparent organization even though we’re remote, in my opinion, than other co-located teams I’ve been a part of.