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In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Gabe Larsen is joined by CEO and longtime customer advocate, Wendi Sturgis. Wendi has years of experience in CX and in leadership positions and she shares some of the secrets for how to make your company stand out. Listen to the full podcast episode below to learn more.
Winning Over the C-Suite
How can a company really win if the C-Suite isn’t on board with the CX team? Truth be told, it can’t win in that case. Gaining the favor of members in the C-Suite is key to building a strong, customer-minded culture. When CX has the backing of the C-Suite, it creates a company culture that keeps the customer in mind through every business decision, no matter how big or small. One way leaders can win this backing is through sharing customer success stories with the higher ups, which adds value to your CX team’s efforts. “I cannot emphasize this enough, every opportunity you have as a leader in the internal communications, tell customer stories. Every single time.” Doing so can really transform the C-Suite into a customer-minded suite, further opening the door for internal collaborations and building a customer-centric brand. Aligning other departments like engineering, new products, sales, and finance with CX is also a great way to build customer advocacy when presenting to the C-Suite. When those board members see your passion as a CX leader for the customer and the brand as a whole, you’re more likely to get their approval.
Being Culturally Sensitive for Global Success
In an effort to keep up with the modern customer, many companies are considering going global but struggle to expand on such a broad scale. Wendi has a plethora of stories and great advice for companies making their mark across the globe but most importantly, she emphasizes that leaders need to be sensitive to the work cultures of other countries. For example, “In Germany, it’s illegal to ask workers to work on a Sunday. Saudi Arabia, you have to work on Sunday.” In their early expansion stages, Wendi notes that her American teams weren’t quite grasping cultural differences and it created a rift between brand and customer. To eliminate this problem, Wendi suggests hiring talent in other countries who understand the cultural norms and can help create a seamless transition, a solution that worked for her.
Is the Customer in Your DNA?
Intense as it may seem, Wendi believes that as a leader, the customer should be part of your DNA. They need to be at the forefront of every business decision and policy made within the company. For many CX leaders this can be daunting, especially when trying to manage so many different aspects of the company from winning the C-Suite to contributing to a customer culture. Wendi’s secret to success in this aspect is performing NPS every single month, which comes with many benefits. Not only does it give up to date scores for how customers view their interactions with the brand, but it also gives current and authentic feedback for new product launches. This is just another way you can be a hero for your customers. “You have to understand that you’ve got an incredible mouthpiece and a megaphone because we wake up every day being passionate about our customers.” Creating a customer-centric culture and keeping them in the company DNA is a sure way to have long term success.
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Full Episode Transcript:
Tomorrow’s Customer Experience Starts Here with Brad Birnbaum
Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.
Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Hi, welcome everybody. We’re excited to get going today. We’re going to be talking about CX transformation from a CEO perspective. Not every day, you get the CEO perspective and to do that, we brought on Wendi Sturgis, New York tech scene, for the last 25 years. Most recently, the CEO at Yext. Wendi, thanks so much for joining. How are you?
Wendi Sturgis: (00:32)
I’m awesome. Yeah. I just don’t want to take Howard’s role away from him. So I was in Europe. So I can also bring an amazing global view, which we might even want to take a few minutes and talk about CX, how you think about a transformation globally, because there are differences.
Gabe Larsen: (00:50)
I think we got to do it. Let’s start with the big picture. I wanted to just hear, oftentimes, a big question on a CX leader’s mind, is how do they work best with their CEO or senior leadership? You’ve got CX people talking about NPS and the voice of the customer, CEOs talking about bottom and top line. What recommendations do you have for CX leaders really trying to work effectively with their senior leadership?
Wendi Sturgis: (01:13)
Yeah, and I mean, we have this conversation so much and I also was the Chief Customer Officer of Yext. I ran the support functions, all of the customer facing functions. So it gives me a unique perspective because I had to sell it, sell it to my board. And then also think about as a CEO of Europe, with the team that was reporting to me and these kinds of things they wanted to do. So listen, and this is a piece of advice that I have for everybody, whatever your functional area, the more you can get educated on how business works, I encourage people. I always ask people, what’s your source of getting business news? And they always kind of look at me and I say, I personally think you need to read the New York Times business section or the Wall Street Journal or CNBC.
Wendi Sturgis: (01:55)
And I’m really surprised how many times people are like, “Well, I get up and I watch Good Morning America.” I’m like, “Well, that’s cool. But I don’t think that’s going to help your career.” I mean, that’s what you need. And so why I bring that up, Gabe, is because you’ve got to position your CX into the bigger corporate lens of how a C-suite thinks. And I think if you don’t have the complete understanding, trying to understand business, and so I would say, I’m sure your company has annual process planning or like Salesforce, V2moms or whatever, it’s like anything and as we in sales have to do, we’ve got to attach and understand what are those key priorities for the company and that the CEO is committed to the board? And you’ve got to know those and if you can’t tell a story about how your CX initiatives are going to help that CEO and the C-suite deliver against those goals for the board, you’re already up against a huge battle, right?
Wendi Sturgis: (02:51)
It’s just 101. And I know that everyone probably knows it, but here’s where I think it gets different. By sitting down and asking and saying, “I’m now going to come back to you with not only this year’s roadmap, but let’s also look at the three year strategic plan.” So asking, what at my level, and again, we can all be at different levels in our CX, but what’s appropriate and asking your boss, you’re starting to transform yourself as an executive by asking that question. So that I know I can’t get everything that I want. I know that I can’t impact everything, but I’m going to want to have to do this year to support this year’s. But let me think strategically, and we’ll talk more about the roadmap also with your product work, but how you can put together a three-year plan. So I really think it’s key.
Gabe Larsen: (03:35)
I love that. It seems like yeah, we get into those conversations and we forget the big picture. We think more about ourselves than what the CEO wants. And I think that’s oftentimes where the disconnect. Now, you’re a CEO. You’ve played that role in multiple different instances. It does seem like there’s obviously a lot of distractions. You want to keep the customer first, but things get in your way. You sometimes lose focus. How have you been able to do it? How do you find a way to keep the customer at the center in those companies you’ve worked at? What advice would you give to others trying to do the same?
Wendi Sturgis: (04:09)
I think it starts with having your own kind of philosophy and mantra about it. And really, and what I say by that is knowing how you’re going to talk about the role of the customer in your company. And I’m going to tell a real quick story. But I actually think it’s worth it. And I want to spend the most time on this topic because I am really prepared and I have five very tangible recommendations for people.
Gabe Larsen: (04:34)
All right. Do it. Let’s do it.
Wendi Sturgis: (04:34)
There’s a woman named Andy Cunningham and you and I actually were chatting before this and how you think about branding. And she’s very famous. You know you’re famous when you have an actor play you in a movie and she had an actor play her in the Steve Jobs movie. She was one of the key marketers, Gabe, for the 1984 Mackintosh. You just can’t get more famous in marketing.
Wendi Sturgis: (04:54)
And so there, she and her company had this archetype for companies and the customer archetype is normally a caregiver culture. Okay. Yext is not a caregiver culture. Okay. And that’s fine. We are a product innovator culture, and that’s just who we are. But here’s what, and I say this story because I know it was successful, but she said, this is one of the only companies where the customer came through in all the interviews, even though we’re a product innovator archetype of a company. And everybody around the table, Gabe, pointed at me and said, it’s because of her. So I only say it because you might have to accept that your company has a different archetype. It could be a financially disciplined company. And if you’re interested, she has an amazing book called Getting to Aha! And you can read about all her archetypes.
Wendi Sturgis: (05:44)
She’s really an amazing leader, but in most companies, there’s only one archetype of company. That’s a caregiver, that’s all about the customer, all of the others, there’s like 12 others. So you’ve got to understand the culture of your company and your role and how you’re going to do that because the probability is most of us work in companies that are, again, if you’ve got a one in 13 chance and I don’t even know what the percentages are. So we have to kind of accept that. Like even though I loved that archetype of innovator, it just, the customer wasn’t really a part of our DNA. So here’s the three things that I do.
Wendi Sturgis: (06:19)
One, and I cannot emphasize this enough, every opportunity you have as a leader in internal communications, tell customer stories. Every single time. You have to, every time you get to talk to the newsletter or speak at a company event or at your boss’ staff meeting, tell those stories.
Wendi Sturgis: (06:46)
The second is, and I think many of us learn this from the Salesforce playbook. I was doing it and I understand it, that notion of customer advocacy, but you’ve got to tell, whether you’re dealing with millions of customers and you’re telling the story about how your product or your service changed their lives. The level of the story, it could be a $10 million relationship, or it could be an individual consumer that you touched with a hundred dollar transaction, but telling those stories, every chance you get internally and creating those customer champions. Again, it’s different in a B2B versus the B2C environment, but finding ways to do that both internally and externally. And I think many of us learn this from Salesforce and how they were so incredible in their customer advocacy. The other is, and I give Skipper, our HRO, credit for this, because when I first took over as the Chief Customer Officer, I’m embarrassed to say, Gabe, we weren’t doing NPS. Shame on us.
Wendi Sturgis: (07:43)
And I had responsibility for CX too. And it was something I did. And I went to the C-suite, our weekly executive and I said, here’s how we’re going to do it. And I walked through everything, blah, blah, blah. This is the software we’re going to use. We’ll get to software and a little bit, and how automation is just important. And he said I learned this on Twitter. We were always on NPS. And I don’t meet that many companies who do it. I think you said, Yahoo, you do it once a year. You do it a quarter. We did it every month and it’s very easy to do, and you do it rolling. But what it does is it allows you to put NPS in front of the company and keep it top of mind because you’re doing it every month.
Wendi Sturgis: (08:23)
And again, it wasn’t my idea. I always give credit again, when you get your other executives brought in, and this is my other piece of advice, which was a great segue. You know, my head of people is like, is he going to be involved with customers? You might not think it’s logical, but he did. And he had a great idea and we made a big deal about that. So figuring out across all your stakeholders, sales, and product and engineering, how you go to them and help them understand the voice of the customer and all of those things. So whether it’s a customer support issue, because customer support was a huge part of my work with my engineering team or your supply chain or your store operations in house if you’ve got a head of store ops, or your supply chain. Spending that time and investing, so you’re due to the C-suite, but that you’re also, and again, Skip was a great example. My chief HR officer.
Wendi Sturgis: (09:18)
And then I think the last thing is really understanding that the culture part is so important with customers. We have a profile person, we just need them. We don’t care what they’ve done before. I can tell an amazing story about a bright young man that we hired, who has a lot of ivy league kids. This can happen. Individual young man happened to go to Princeton, where we have a lot of people and he was deeply, eminently unqualified for the job, Gabe. I mean, I’d tell you, I was like, this guy has been working in credit risk, like at some huge bank and he just didn’t have the background. He didn’t and my friend said, “Please meet with him.”
Wendi Sturgis: (09:59)
And I met him and I said, “He fits our culture. Our customers are going to love him.” He became one of the singular greatest rockstars in the company. He was unbelievable. And obviously we knew that he was smart, but it’s that understanding that you may have all the qualifications in the world, you don’t fit our ethos and our culture of how we are going to serve customers, it doesn’t work. Whereas somebody who didn’t have any of the experience. And what’s funny, Gabe, is that our hiring manager, because we take a lot of chances, said, “I’ve got to get somebody who’s qualified in CX.” I said, “You gotta meet him.” And she did. And she’s like, I’m throwing it out the window.” I mean, literally like, no, we have to hire him because we know our customers and we know how they’re going to love it.
Wendi Sturgis: (10:43)
And then, and here’s my last one. I might be up to six and I think you, as a marketer –
Gabe Larsen: (10:47)
It may be six. But I love it. Keep it up.
Wendi Sturgis: (10:47)
You as the marketer, it is working in partnership with your marketing partners as well. We talked about those C-suite, but I want to pull one forward, whether it’s your consumer marketing and you’re doing that with your customer advocacy. But if you have that culture, let that be expressed in your personality. And I think we all know that Zappos, they’re a great example, but perspective on how they let that personality come through. Yext does it in the B2B with some of the events that we do. And once we went virtual, we started a whole series called Truth Be Told, and our customers said, “You kept letting your culture come through in these virtual events. You guys have been able to do it.”
Wendi Sturgis: (11:31)
So whether you’re at Zappos, but I think really working with your marketing partner on how you express that and that can come through in how you respond to tickets and customer support. And having that in working and working with, what are we going to say? What’s the message of the month? And bringing all those connection points. So what I say to people in CX is it can be hard, but you have to understand that you’ve got an incredible mouthpiece and a megaphone because we wake up every day being passionate about our customers. And it’s doing that across all of these different ways internally. So I hope that’s where I really wanted to spend the time talking.
Gabe Larsen: (12:11)
I like that one, a couple of those things that jumped out. The rolling NPS, that, keeping it top of mind. I might need to talk to you after about that one, because that’s something I feel like a lot of companies miss. It’s this grand event once a year.
Wendi Sturgis: (12:28)
The other thing I’ll say, Gabe, that I didn’t call out, if you’re making changes on pricing, or you have new products, when you’re in an always on, you can start to get market feedback more quickly as well from your NPS. So I didn’t call that out as another benefit.
Gabe Larsen: (12:43)
Interesting. Well, I want to click on one thing you said earlier, just about the international aspect. Definitely looking at companies growing globally, certainly some with the pressure of the economy, companies have gotten more requests. Some people got less requests, but scaling to a global standard is on a lot of people’s minds. You’ve touched on it earlier. What are some of the lessons learned? You’re a little more of a hands-on CEO. You’ve got, you’re battle tested. How’d you win? How’d you lose?
Wendi Sturgis: (13:13)
Yeah. Well, look, I think I will be honest with you. I think one of the biggest partnerships that you need to, and this is the other one we didn’t talk about before, is with your finance department. Because you are going to have to really understand the models from revenue and scaling. And what we found, which was a huge issue for us as we started to grow in multiple markets, is that our models just, we had kind of the revenue models right, but we didn’t have the right countries. What do I mean? We were doing much better in France than we were in Germany. Now flip flops. And so I needed more French support heads than I needed German and my model and because of the hiring lag times in Europe and the notice periods, and so I said, “This isn’t going to work.”
Wendi Sturgis: (14:00)
And I worked with my CX leader who’s an amazing CX leader in Europe. And so we have not been a big outsourcer partner. We did everything in house and we just realized how to scale, I couldn’t turn it on and off because as my French team blew out the numbers in a quarter, all of a sudden I needed another French support head and I was hiring and noticing periods. It might be a six months best case before they showed up. I’ve got French customers who need support now. It was a huge issue. And so we had never been big believers in outsourcing, but we went and it’s now you’re using them globally. It’s an interesting format in Romania, and we can turn on heads within a month. So once I have that, and so I do a ton of modeling with my finance team, we understand down to country level, the regional level, and then we monitor it because it’s just, it can be in precise, especially if you’re in a higher growth.
Wendi Sturgis: (14:58)
I think if you’re in a pretty steady state, it’s probably easier. But when you’re in a high growth, you just can’t predict. My Scandinavian team didn’t do as well as I wanted, but then, and then, oh my God, I was doing really well in Saudi Arabia, but I didn’t understand, like you have to have people working on Sundays. So you got to really, and so your HR partners and your finance partners, because you also have work restrictions. So like, this is a kind of thing for the people that are international will understand. And we started blowing up in the Middle East, our support teams, our European, where we had a lot of our multilingual people were in Germany, it’s illegal to ask workers to work on a Sunday. Saudi Arabia, you have to work on Sunday. We’re going to hire Arabic speakers out of, so just if you’re in a high growth area where you’re learning about the international markets, you got to go sit down with your local HR team, your finance team, and really get aligned on your planning because there’s a lot of gotchas.
Gabe Larsen: (15:59)
I like it. The consideration of outsourcing. Sometimes I think people get nervous about that, but you’re right. And to be able to pull levers like that and be able to get rid of that ramp time and switching costs, costs and time.
Wendi Sturgis: (16:12)
And then the other one that I would say is then that’s where having, we had made an investment in a technology platform to allow us to drive our processes globally. Well, you’ve got to think through what, I’m actually talking to a company now, advising them a little bit. And they went very hardcore regional, so they got their five and they’re a hugely global company. They’re a $150 million company now, but with a huge footprint in Asia, Europe, the US, having problems because they now are getting big global customers. And the customer experience is very disconnected from each region. So I think you’ve got to do it maybe earlier than you think. And there’s, and again, I love that, I think it’s one of the ways they were able to get to 150 million. They got there really quickly because the market, really quickly, like in four years, holy moly. But, it’s in the FinTech space, but they, now they’re having real problems because they’re working with customers globally and they’re trying to build these huge 10, $20 million relationships. And the customers are saying, “This is a mess. I can’t work with you the way that I want to strategically, because everything is different in every region.” So you gotta find that balance.
Gabe Larsen: (17:24)
Yeah. Finding the right time to do that, though. Investing in the future is never easy. It’s always, you know better than I do.
Wendi Sturgis: (17:32)
No, no, no. Well look, and that’s that battle with the C-suite because sometimes, we’re going to want to do that and people are going to say, “That can wait.” So that’s part of this battle and getting really smart about the KPIs and telling the story, because it’s hard. I had to fight to get them to the technologies that I wanted when I was the Chief Customer Officer and even some of the things that I wanted to do in Europe, and then the last thing that I would say is understand, finding that balance between where you can drive consistency. So for example, many people on the call will relate to this. The customer review platforms are extraordinarily different in Europe than they are in the US. And so you’ve got to understand that and our US teams weren’t paying any attention to that.
Wendi Sturgis: (18:15)
We were getting, we had some people saying some not so good things, and we weren’t trying to solicit at all our great advocates. And we started having customers and prospects say, “What’s going on?” And then we fixed it because we just hadn’t paid it any attention. And our US team was like, “Oh, I didn’t even know that that platform existed.” There’s one called Trustpilot in Europe. It’s just very different. And it’s a very minor player in the US but a very significant player for both consumer and B2B companies. It’s a big one in Europe. And so you’ve got that, if you’ve got a global role, you’ve got to be able to drive consistency, find that balance, but also allow for those and understand and empower your teams to come to you. So we didn’t just say, “We don’t care.” We said, “Okay, we’ll fix it. We’ve got to go address Trustpilot because that’s important for us.”
Gabe Larsen: (19:01)
Wow. That’s so many unique experiences in different geographies, different lands. And so I didn’t realize Saudi Arabia was on that. I spent a couple of years in Saudi Arabia. I could have shared some secrets.
Wendi Sturgis: (19:12)
I have not been to be, and I mean, that’s a whole other thing. My husband was like, and I could go, but I’ll be honest. My whole CX Team, we were all women and I’m a woman and we actually told the Sales team who just happened to be a guy and his boss. We said, “You know what? You guys should go.” I can cover and do it. And that’s, we have to play to each other’s strengths. And I was like, “You know what? I could go and it would be a fascinating experience, but right now I’m not ready to try to change cultural norms in Saudi Arabia.” I’ll let our team go and yeah, but it is also a really good region. You’ve lived there. You’d know. There was a lot of money and a lot of business.
Gabe Larsen: (19:53)
Oh my goodness. So many fun things going on and a lot of positives.
Wendi Sturgis: (19:57)
Fantastic. Yeah. So again, how do you scale your team knowing that they’re different cultures? Just gotta be intellectually honest about it. You can’t take it personally.
Gabe Larsen: (20:05)
I think that makes a huge difference. As we wrap, I wanted to get this last piece of advice from you. We’ve got so many things kind of colliding at once with all the changes in the economy and the health and all this stuff going on, consumer digitization, you know the spiel. All these CX leaders trying to kind of mind through these different challenges, from your perspective, what’s that piece of advice? We’ve hit a lot of different areas, but the thing you’d want to leave with them as they try to navigate and still have those transformational experiences amidst the ever-changing environment that we’re in?
Wendi Sturgis: (20:38)
Yeah. I mean, listen. I think this is the time to be bold. I think that C-suites and boardrooms, their deals, in Germany, for example, are very conservative, supervisory boards. We’ve had programs that we’ve been talking to companies, super conservative German companies, things got green-lit this year that we’ve been talking to companies for years because the board said we have to change. And so I think this is the time to be bold and to really not be afraid. I know these are scary times, but we can control what we can control. And that’s all we can do in these times where there’s so many things around us that we can’t control. We are concerned for our kids and their safety in schools. And so really seize this moment because I can say, I am on a public company board as well, The Container Store, which is a great honor and a gift, and we have amazing CX leaders there. We are having conversations that are probably accelerated years. So know that when we talk about that alignment at the C-suite, but this is a time to be bold and to seize this, and it can allow you to make your mark on your company. But I promise you that these conversations are happening because I see it in my own business or I did, and I see it at The Container Store. So, it can be scary, but let’s be bold because the world is changed in ways that we don’t even understand.
Gabe Larsen: (22:02)
Change or be changed. I love that.
Wendi Sturgis: (22:02)
I really believe this is an opportunity for everyone who’s listening to really think about it and whatever your role is in the organization.
Gabe Larsen: (22:14)
Love it. Well we’ll leave it with that. Be bold. It’s a great mantra for 2021. Wendi, thanks so much for joining.
Wendi Sturgis: (22:19)
I loved it. It was always great to talk to you, Gabe. Thank you.
Gabe Larsen: (22:23)
Thank you and for the audience, have a fantastic day.
Exit Voice: (22:30)
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