The Greek myths were created to help people understand their world and their problems. Narcissus, for instance, was vain and could not stop looking at his reflection in a pool and was transformed into a flower by the gods for possessing too much self-love. The idea of transformation was and is essential for humans to solve problems.

The same is true for transformation and storytelling today. Pick any popular movie, and you’ll likely see a common theme. A character is living a certain life when a crisis forces them to undergo a change — like Ben Stiller in “Night at the Museum,” who is introduced as an irresponsible ne’er-do-well dreamer who undergoes a radical transformation when he’s forced to take a regular job as a security guard to save his relationship with his young son. 

And that’s it in a nutshell. People have to adapt to solve problems and that is why our guest in this Q&A is all about transformation and storytelling when it comes to CX leaders. 

CMSWire Contributor Lisa Loftis points out in her recent piece for CMSWire, "Do You Have the Traits of a CX Leader?," that the job of leaders is to transform their organizations — and the best way to do that is to unify the organization by communicating change efforts through storytelling.

We caught up with Lisa to discuss the topic in this CMSWire Q&A.

Editor’s note: This transcript has been edited for clarity.

CX Leaders Must Be Transformative

Dom Nicastro: Hello, everybody again, Dom Nicastro CMSWire managing editor. We’re here with our longtime contributor for CMSWire, Lisa Loftus, principal product marketer, global CI practice at SAS. How’re you doing, Lisa?

Lisa Loftis: I’m doing great, Dom. Thanks for having me.

Nicastro: Yeah, it’s great to work with you on this level. Now, as a reporter, I went to you often to make — to help me make sense of things in the CX and marketing world. So it’s good to work with you on this level, working with your content now, for CMSWire. And today, you talk about CX leader traits. So leadership-focused article on CX, I love these pieces because, you know, we’re all working with people, we want to know what skills and traits I should have, these skills and traits of this person, kind of what the industry is saying they should have, that kind of thing. So good stuff. And let’s talk about some of those traits you talked about in the story. I mean, the article, first of all, CX leaders must be transformative. Why don't you talk a little bit about that one.

Loftis: They are transformative. So this is actually, and I say this in the article, all three of them, but this one in particular, it’s really a soapbox issue for me. Because transformative means you have to change the organization, you know, this goes, I’ll date myself here, this goes all the way back to when we called this thing, CRM, for customer relationship management, and not CX for customer experience, and basically, you know, we came up with, we were working with companies to try and get them to become more customer focused. 

And we came up with a definition for CRM that we thought kind of conveyed what they had to do. And it was basically the ability to align the organization, the business strategy, with the organization structure, culture and customer information technology, so that you could manage the interactions, both to the satisfaction of customers, and to the longer-term benefit, of course, of that company.

And the biggest component of that, and that’s still the same today. But the biggest component of that is transformative, because you really have to build cross-functional business strategies and policies in order to be able to do we know what that definition says, because there are so many, so many departments that are involved in CX, you know, not just customer-facing departments, but also customer-impacting departments as well. So without the ability to build those cross-functional business strategies, CX just doesn’t succeed.

Related Article: What It Takes to Build the Best Customer Experience Team

Are CX Leaders Getting a Thumbs-Up Today?

Nicastro: Yeah, and you know, it’s funny, sometimes you say, they must make change, they must force change. And I, my first instinct was, can they be allowed to do that? You know, like, is it a company that stifles creativity or stifles change? Like so, are you seeing CX getting more of a thumbs-up, you know, from the executive C-suite really these days?

Loftis: Yes. And, you know, I think there’s a reason for that. And it’s because digital transformation is just so big now. So, you know, what one of the things we did was a study with MIT Sloan on CX champions, and you know, what secrets they have versus other companies. And what we found is, in those companies where CX is elevated to a corporate strategy, mainly when it’s tied into digital transformation, you know, one where you can’t do one without the other, then yes, we are seeing companies transform. 

But you know, that’s also down to the culture. Right? So in the old consulting days, we used to say to people who were trying to drive CX, are you a company that goes from the bottom up or top down, right, and you have to know what your culture is in order to drive that change. 

But in any case, it does require, you know, cross-function because your service and marketing have to get together, right, marketing has to generate leads that customer service can use, as well as that sales can use. There has to be a feedback loop so that if marketing is making recommendations, and either the salespeople or the service people are talking to them, to the customers, and those recommendations aren’t the right ones. There has to be that feedback loop. It really is a kind of a closed-loop endeavor.

Related Article: My Top 3 Lessons Learned as a CX Leader 

Cohesion Is Essential for CX Leaders

Nicastro: Yeah, exactly. Another another trait for a CX leader you talk about is facilitating cohesion. So what’s that one about?

Loftis: So cohesion goes hand in hand with transformation, right? But the bottom line is one thing that, although we did just talk about the fact that that the C-suite has to be, has to be willing to do this, almost in most of the companies, almost every company that MIT sponsored and most of the companies that we deal with, it’s not a C-suite person that’s in charge of the initiative overall. Right? 

So it’s not someone that has the power to force change, even if the business strategies are there, the CX leader has to be a coach, right, they have to be able to communicate, which is one of the skills that, and inspire, which are two of the skills that MIT found CX leaders really needed to have. Because they’re not going to own every component of this. So they really have to be able to kind of work with the other business units, lay out the game plan, and then get out of the way, you know, they put up the guardrails, but they don’t have the power to get it all done. So cohesion. Unifying really, is a very important trait for a CX leader to have.

It’s Not Just Vision, It’s the Execution, Too

Nicastro: Yeah, yeah, having a vision is great in everything. But the execution, as you said, there’s just oh, okay, CX wants to do this, but we need seven other departments to sign off on it. 

Loftis: Dom, I have to tell you, in my other consulting days, one of the things we always did was because we listen to the service people in this in the marketing people, but then we went out and we sat in on calls in the call center, and what the service people told us, and what we heard in the call center, were always such different things, from leadership down to the people that actually do it, that cohesion has to actually, it has to reach all the way down into the organization. So that communication and inspiring is just critical. If you want really a cohesive collaborative effort for CX.

Related Article: How to Ace Customer Experience Leadership in Year 1 

CX Leaders Need Clear, Compelling Stories

Nicastro: Yeah, the call center is vital. I mean, I don’t know why those people aren’t the highest-paid people in the company. I mean, they’re the front door. I mean, it’s like, you know, that you’re not getting in if you have a bad call center. So it’s such important stuff across the board to have that department collaboration for sure. Lastly, you know, one of the traits you have is kind of ties this all together, it’s just being able to tell, a CX leader should be able to tell a clear, compelling story. 

Loftis: Yeah, yeah. And that's really, you know, that that goes back to, to analytics, basically, to customer knowledge to understanding your market well enough, that you have the ability to, you know, to prove the ROI of the activities that you’re asking people to do. And really, you know, it’s like a three-legged stool. Because if you can’t tell that clear and compelling story with solid analytics, and numbers,and ROI, you’re really in my experience — forging changes is pretty difficult.

Nicastro: Yeah. It’s funny, we were going through website redesign, we still are, for CMSWire, frankly, and we, you know, I would have a great idea, right? I would be ready for that meeting. I would like, you know, this is what we should do to the homepage, and all that right. And then someone comes in and says, that’s our lowest-viewing page. Right? Why do we care? Why are you spending? You know what I mean? Like, it’s, why are you spending all that time, so that whole data-driven versus create creative juices really needs to work together? 

Learning Opportunities

Because, you know, I was spending a massive amount of time trying to fix this page. And it’s the lowest view, lowest-view page for us. So I get it. I get it. Lisa, lastly, looking at the future, you know, what are some trends you’re watching.

Related Article: Elevating Human-Centered CX in a Tech-Powered World 

Upcoming Trends for CX

Loftis: So don’t hold me to it. Because you know, the great thing about this field is things change every single day. And if you’re not agile you are left behind. But I think some things that are there really kind of gonna stick is customer knowledge, right? That’s, that’s one of what’s going to be one of my main themes. You know, what is it? How do you really know what your customers want? If you follow kind of the trends in CX are two of them. 

One of them is hyperpersonalization, which is basically, you know, the old Peppers and Rogers segment of one, but in reality today, right, personalizing every interaction to every customer based on what you know. So if you get that wrong, you lose that customer. So how do you gain and facilitate the customer knowledge to do something like hyperpersonalization? That’s going to be one of them? 

The ever, ever expanding privacy? Right, so how do we as a CX leaders, and in particular, as marketers, how do we get around, not get around — that’s a terrible word. How do we bring our practices, our data-driven practices in line with what’s happening from a privacy perspective? And that’s not going to go away? And probably just general martech. That industry is changing all the time as well. So I think that’s where I’ll be focusing.

Nicastro: Good. Well, we are looking forward to that. And lastly, I should ask, I know SAS has North Carolina roots, correct? 

Loftis: They do. 

Nicastro: You are also in North Carolina, Lisa?

Loftis: I am not. 

Nicastro: You’re not, OK. How are the natives of SAS in North Carolina doing after the big loss in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. But here’s the deal. Yeah, you lost the final game. But you guys sent Coach K out a loser.

Loftis: I mean, wait a minute, my sister graduated from Duke. So SAS actually started as a spinoff from NC State.

Nicastro: OK, OK.

Loftis: They’re all split and my allegiance — I live in Pittsburgh, which is where I grew up — I did not go to college at Pitt, but my allegiance is to Pitt. I grew up living with them, and my father went to college there, so Pitt won the ACC championship this year in football for the first time and who knows how big it is? 

Nicastro: Well, good. So we’re gonna have to figure you’re gonna have to say, hey, which one is better? I mean, yes, they lost in the finals. But beating Coach K, it’s almost better than winning the state, the national tournament in some sense. There’s a little bit of both — there’s happiness but sadness — that they couldn’t finish the deal.

Loftis: That’s funny, Dom. Do you have college roots?

Nicastro: Now I’m Boston. So we don’t we don’t care about college. No one cares about college. Boston College, but nobody cares. We’re all professional, all the time. But Lisa, thanks for the fun and for the conversation. And it’s a great article, of course, and we’re looking forward to more content down the road in CX and martech.

Loftis: Well, thank you, Dom. This was fun. I’ll do it again anytime.

Nicastro: All right. Sounds good. Looking forward to it. Have a good one, Lisa. Bye.