The Gist

  • Marketers and CX leaders have the powerBecause they are uniquely positioned to connect with customers, CX professionals and marketers can play a crucial role in driving customer-centricity and building brand loyalty.
  • The power of empathy. Lessons on building strong customer connections.
  • Transformative insight. How one CX executive's connection with a customer changed everything.

If content is king then conversation just might be an outranking Emperor.

In this age of digital transformation, it's easy to forget the importance of human-to-human interaction in business. However, for CX professionals and marketers who bare the responsibility of shaping customer experience and boosting revenue growth, meaningful, authentic customer conversations are still key to building a customer-centric culture. In fact, companies that prioritize customer experience (CX) are more likely to retain loyal customers and outperform their competitors.

But providing exceptional CX goes beyond simply meeting customers' needs and expectations. It requires creating a culture that revolves around the customer and fosters meaningful relationships through personalized interactions. Because they are uniquely positioned to connect with customers, CX professionals and marketers can play a crucial role in driving customer-centricity and building brand loyalty by engaging in meaningful conversations that provide real insights into customers' needs, preferences and pain points — insight that can inform the development of products and services that better meet their needs.

We caught up with three CX leaders to discuss customer connections and how they can lead to improve products, services and customer experiences.

How CX Executives Can Build a Customer-Centric Culture

It started as a routine Net Promotor Score (NPS) callback, but something about the person on the other end of the call quickly caught Mark Levy’s attention.

Levy, a former Fortune 50 head of digital experiences and the current publisher of The DCX Newsletter, was, at the time, serving as VP of CX delivery and operations at Xfinity Mobile. As part of the job, he would pick customers who responded to NPS surveys to call back for more details about their experience.

“It was close to Christmas, and she was having trouble paying her cell phone bill. She was concerned that her service would be disconnected and had called looking for assistance options,” Levy said. “As the conversation continued, I could feel a connection growing between us. Nichole shared her family's struggles and challenges, and I offered solutions and support. Before I knew it, the call had stretched over an hour.”

As Levy hung up the phone, he couldn't shake the feeling that this was more than just a one-time interaction. He felt there was value to the company in nurturing this relationship and seeing how it could help her. So, Levy contacted his escalations team, got her an extension and sent her a follow-up text, letting her know she would be contacted the next day and offering to stay in touch.

“She responded quickly, very grateful for my help," he said. "That began a correspondence that lasted over two years. Over that time, we spoke a number of times. Sometimes, she needed some assistance; other times, she shared her experiences with the company and how we supported or provided friction. Invaluable information on use cases that I personally had not encountered. Through it all, I felt a sense of pride and satisfaction in the knowledge that I had made a real difference in someone's life. And the company benefited too, as this customer became a loyal advocate, spreading the word about our products and services to anyone who would listen.”

And it all started with one simple act: listening.

Five CX Lessons Learned From Real Customer Conversations

For Levy, the conversation was transformative.

“I discovered the incredible power of personally connecting with customers. These genuine interactions can reshape an organization's approach to customer experience,” Levy said. “Through this conversation, I learned five key lessons; the importance of empathy and firsthand insights, humanizing the brand, bridging the gap between strategy and execution, and inspiring a customer-centric culture."

He share some more insights on those lessons:

  • Empathy builds bridges: In my conversation with Nichole, I found that empathy was crucial in understanding her struggles and needs. As an executive, demonstrating empathy deepens customer connections and sets the tone for the entire organization. Empathy builds trust, and trust fosters loyalty.
  • First-hand insights drive informed decisions: Speaking directly with customers, without intermediaries, provides invaluable insights into their experiences, needs and pain points. These firsthand accounts can help identify areas for improvement and drive more informed, customer-centric decision-making at the executive level.
  • Humanize the brand: By personally engaging with Nichole, I was humanizing the brand, showing her that we genuinely care about her experiences and feedback. This personal touch can create lasting, positive impressions that set the foundation for strong customer relationships.
  • Bridge the gap between strategy and execution: Conversations with Nichole enabled me better to understand the real-world implications of our strategies and policies. By experiencing the front lines firsthand, I was able to influence and better align their strategies with actual customer needs, improving the overall customer experience.
  • Inspire a customer-centric culture: Customer conversations send other team members a powerful message: customers matter. This commitment to understanding and engaging with customers can inspire the organization to adopt a more customer-centric approach.

“Taking the time to personally connect with customers as a CX executive can lead to transformative insights and a deeper understanding of customer needs,” Levy said. “By embracing the power of genuine conversations, executives can foster meaningful connections, drive customer-focused strategies and cultivate a customer-centric culture within their organization.”

Related Article: 3 Ways Diversity Improves the Customer Experience

Learning Opportunities

One Customer Conversation Leads to Global Workshop Series

Kallie McConkie, SVP of customer experience and success at ActiveCampaign, believes that meaningful customer conversations can certainly enlighten decisions and instigate improvements.

“In my experience,” McConkie said. “The best conversations with customers are those that inform a greater strategy and product improvements."

In 2018, ActiveCampaign hosted a user conference in Chicago, inviting customers from all over the world to get hands-on experience from platform experts, learn from other businesses and gain marketing strategies. But when company officials learned that one customer had flown from Europe to Boston, rented a car, drove to Chicago, then drove back to Boston and flew home — all because it was the most affordable way for them to participate in the conference — they knew they had to talk to her.

“Their feedback was that they wanted more of these opportunities to go deeper into our platform and the creative ways it can help their business grow,” McConkie said.

And, from that one conversation, the idea for a series of in-person "study hall" workshops was born. In 2019, the ActiveCampaign team traveled to cities all over the world, closer to where their customers live, to host more than 200 workshops that provided expertise on all aspects of their platform. The program was a success but the pandemic brought the workshop series to a halt in 2020.

"Late last year, we brought them back, and since the start of this year, have hosted 30 Study Halls, with 40 upcoming workshops scheduled until the end of June," McConkie said. “Because of that one customer conversation in 2018, and because we took their feedback seriously, our global customer base is benefiting from this innovation.”

Related Article: 3 Basic Human Psychological Needs That Matter in Customer Experience

Customers Want to Be Heard, but Not With Insider Lingo

Allison Tiscornia, chief customer officer at ChurnZero, said that in her 20-plus years in customer success leadership, she’s spoken to literally thousands of customers, in all types of industries.

But in all of these conversations, regardless of the topic, she found three underlying themes:

  • Customers want you to come to the conversation with an opinion or best practices. They may not always agree but they want your advice. And the worst thing you can say to a customer is, “What do YOU want to do?”
  • Customers don’t expect you to be experts in their business, and you shouldn’t pretend to be, but they do want you to ask questions about what they do and sell, the challenges they have, all their hopes and fears. Bottom line: they want to be heard, understood and treated as an individual that is given options that might work for to them, not everyone.
  • Customers hate to be spoken to in lingo, don’t use your company or industry acronyms if you can avoid it. While SaaS is a legitimate industry term, it’s hard to say and doesn’t make you seem knowledgeable.

“I have talked to them about their goals and how to get them there. I have listened to their challenges,” Tiscornia said. “And I have spent a great deal of time listening to feedback about what works and what doesn’t work with a product or service.”