Stephanie Moritz of the American Dental Association: "Design thinking, or human-centered insights and design, is fundamental to really understanding your customers."

In her digital customer experience and communications career, Stephanie Moritz has taken on the multiple roles of teacher, innovator, transformer and disruptor.

“I see the big-picture possibilities, and enjoy working with organizations and teams to operationalize an organization and team to dream big and achieve greater results,” she said. “We’re also creating an inspiring, 'what-if,' innovative culture, and harnessing curiosity to fuel transformation and solve problems in new ways.”

Moritz is currently chief communications officer at the American Dental Association (ADA), where she has overseen the development of a new ADA vision and master brand strategy. Before joining the ADA in February 2015, she’d held senior positions at ConAgra Foods, The Hershey Company and Jim Beam Brands.

Build, Grow, Reimagine or Awaken Iconic Brands

Moritz knew two things from a young age — she wanted to work in PR and communications and she wanted to work for Disney. And that’s exactly what she did after graduating from Eastern Illinois University with a master’s degree in speech communication.

“The idea of working for a company that put the customer experience at the center and focused on creating memorable moments really aligned with my purpose and passion-driven values,” she said.

Moritz has since worked across multiple industries, including hospitality, government, food and beverage, and high-tech.

“The common thread through everything has been bringing to life the best practices in people, culture, marketing, communications, digital, insights and communication,” she said.

This is where Moritz has been able to marry core customer-centric marketing principles such as design thinking with fresh, new perspectives to fuel transformation.

“My career arc has been about building, growing, reimagining or awakening iconic brands, helping to lead organizations to real change, creating unique and memorable brand experiences, transformation and disruption,” she said.

Moritz is a speaker at CMSWire’s DX Summit taking place Nov. 4 through 6 at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Chicago. She is giving two sessions at the conference. The first session is titled “Growing Membership: Moving from Transaction to Attraction,” on Nov. 5. The second session is titled “How Curiosity Fuels Transformation,” on Nov. 6.

We spoke with Moritz to get her thoughts on why organizations should use design thinking as a key tool in the creation of customer digital experiences; the ADA’s own digital transformation journey; and the importance of adopting an agile approach to enable effective digital customer experience collaboration.

Challenge Your Assumptions, and ‘Walk in Your Customers’ Shoes’

CMSWire: What did you learn about customer experience, engagement and communication from your early roles with Disney, and then at the Illinois House of Representatives?

Moritz: Disney is all about providing a total customer experience and immersion. It was a masterful and inspiring place to work and helped me to build my core muscles on innovation, human-centered design, creative problem solving and possibilities.

Disney’s relentless pursuit of putting the customer at the center and its constant evolution to create even more personalized, unique and memorable experience continues to be at the center of my DNA, how I live, work and what I bring to organizations and brands.

The skills I learned at the Illinois House of Representatives helped me to get in touch with the needs of the constituents, and then voice and message those concerns in an authentic way. Working for multiple legislators allowed me to practice personalizing messages in new and unique ways.

CMSWire: Which skills honed at ConAgra, The Hershey Company and Jim Beam Brands do you use most often now at the American Dental Association?

Moritz: At Jim Beam Brands and Hershey, I worked with amazing people to transform how we unleashed our talent, built our brands, and engaged our customers through memorable and personalized experiences. I also stretched my wings in the world of issues management, handling a wide array of issues and being the prime spokesperson with the media.

At ConAgra Foods, I implemented an enterprise-wide social media strategy, ongoing news engine program, content marketing, and created the long-term growth Real Foods strategy based on consumer insights, trends and market opportunities.

I truly leverage experiences and skills from all of my past work in the job I have today with the American Dental Association.

The ADA has been a crescendo, bringing together all of the best practices I have learned, from strengths-based leadership, to design thinking and consumer insights, to digital transformation, to public affairs, to creating unique brand experiences, to working with organizations to increase collaboration, focus and imagination.

CMSWire: How should organizations use design thinking effectively as a tool to help identify customers’ unmet needs and also grow net new customers? How should an organization prepare for a shift to become fully customer-centric?

Moritz: Design thinking, or human-centered insights and design, is fundamental to really understanding your customers. It enables you to put customers at the center and use their perspectives to develop compelling strategies, programs and services that meet their needs.

An important first step is educating an organization on the benefits and value that design thinking will deliver and encouraging people throughout the organization to take part.

Design thinking puts people at the center of processes and possibilities. It is a process that challenges assumptions and requires teams to dig deep into what customers say and what they don’t say. It is like you are walking through life in your customers’ shoes to experience for yourself their pain points, challenges, desires, and needs, as well as what they love.

Consider design thinking as a way of life and of approaching solving problems and defining brand propositions in new ways. It can also become a strategic filter for increasing focus on what truly matters.

For design thinking to be fully successful, it is important to have a core group that leads it, but that also engages and invites members in from across the organization.

CMSWire: At what stage is the ADA currently at in its digital transformation and customer experience journey? What would be one or two best practices or lessons learned from the project to date?

Moritz: At the ADA, we are in the midst of our digital transformation. We started with design thinking, and we continue to put the member at the center of all we do.

By looking through the lens of our members, we are simplifying the joining journey, bundling the content and information that is most important to them, and constantly testing to ensure that we are delivering the information that our members want, when they want it, where they want it, and how they want it.

Best practices we have learned to date include the importance of adopting a member — or customer — focus. We also recognize the importance of using data, ongoing member feedback, and prototyping throughout the process to deliver the information members want. We strive to create simple and meaningful member experiences. 

CMSWire: When embarking on a digital transformation, how can organizations ensure that all staff and all customers feel part of that undertaking? What tools can organizations use to capture everyone’s opinions and share those voices?

Moritz: Engaging our leaders, members, and constituents throughout the process is key to designing a memorable digital member experience — one that really sticks.

Design thinking has enabled us to put our members at the center, and as such, tap into the expertise and feedback from our leaders and members on an ongoing basis. It is a very iterative process, with ongoing feedback to help us continually adjust and gain actionable learnings.

At the ADA, we have cross-divisional teams and take an agile approach to delivering ongoing products and improvements.

The agile teams work together bringing data, fresh perspectives, expertise, and new thinking to challenge how things are done in order to find simple, innovative solutions.

CMSWire: How do you see the role of content changing within an organization’s communications and marketing departments? How can content help drive internal and external audience loyalty?

Moritz: Content is queen and has become a core part of marketing. When you think about it, marketers have always been storytellers.

By leveraging human-centered insights, data, engagement, and timely topics, marketers are uniquely set up to imagine engaging storytelling and content.

Marketers work in a collaborative model and partner well with subject matter experts, bringing both the art and science to the table to co-create compelling, purposeful content.

Content creates the stickiness that drives internal and external audience engagement and belief in a brand.

CMSWire: Which three people would you invite to dinner, and why? What kind of experience would you provide your guests? What do you think the four of you would talk about?

Moritz: I would bring Brené Brown, Oprah Winfrey, and Kasia Urbaniak together for an experiential and inspirational dinner to talk about the biggest challenges and ideate around how to solve them.

I would create a setting that fully immersed them into discussion, possibilities and fueled the inspiration and conversation of the evening. We would dine on appetizers paired with different wines and spirits.

All would be to awaken the senses, open the imagination and draw out ideas of change, transformation and action.

Learn more about the Digital Customer Experience (DX) Summit.