How do you create change when you’re the first customer experience (CX) leader at a highly successful business with a history of customer focus?
That’s the challenge Mark Smith faced when he became GE Capital Fleet Services’ first Vice President of Customer Experience a year ago. His response? Focus on the culture, because that’s what will sustain your experience.
Fleet Services’ primary customers are fleet managers who outsource some or all of their fleet management to the company. But they also have a B2C-like relationship with the drivers of those vehicles, who contact the company for everything from password resets to maintaining their vehicles. To build a customer-focused culture, Mark focuses on Listening, Sharing and Collaborating.
Mark’s top focus was to listen to whatever customer is willing to share their ideas and concerns. While he manages the company’s Net Promoter (NPS) relationship survey and monitors their transactional surveys, Mark’s core focus is talking directly with customers. As he explains it, “If I’m going to Dallas, I’ll meet with current, past, or potential customers.
“I’ll even ask them to join our all-employee meetings. Customers will tell us where we’re doing well, and where we’re not doing so well. And employees love to hear directly from our customers.” In fact, Mark’s goal is to spend time listening to at least one customer every day.
He also manages their Customer Advisory Board (CAB), personally involving the top leadership with their customers. “Our CAB meets in person twice a year, and over the phone on alternating months. Senior leadership is very engaged with these sessions, with the CEO and her direct reports participating. This is a working board, and we get a lot done.”
Of course, all this knowledge doesn’t do any good unless it’s shared. “I spend a lot of time in storytelling, and it’s very powerful to share our customers’ feedback. When people ask me my opinion, I can respond, ‘Let me tell you what our customers are saying about this issue…’ Being able to virtually pull a customer into the room at any time is both critical and extremely helpful.”
Mark communicates his customers’ stories through a wide variety of venues, from their internal social network to all-employee newsletters and meetings, and especially at leadership team meetings, where he works with department heads to reinforce customer needs with their teams.
“Our challenge isn’t coming up with metrics. Our challenge is sharing our customers’ needs, and working with the teams to drive customer-focused change.”
That requires a focus on culture. “Customer experience is really all about culture, and changing the culture so that the way employees interact with each other and with customers is so effective that it becomes a competitive differentiator.”
In many companies, HR is an afterthought, with some CX leaders creating parallel communication capabilities. But not at GE Capital Fleet Services. “HR is a critical partner in this culture change. I couldn’t be successful without their help.”
One unique item Mark introduced early on was the Staples-style Easy Button. “Ease of doing business is absolutely critical for us. Our Easy Button is a constant reminder of this fact.”
How does Mark know he’s having impact? He listed several things, including more customer-focused conversations, and a strong increase in NPS scores. “But a more-tangible example is how we’ve been able to cut issue reconciliation cycle times nearly in half. And when you have a problem, nothing’s more important than getting a quick response.”
I ended the interview by asking Mark for his advice for other CX leaders.
- “Focus on a strong relationship and support of your CEO. Our senior leadership is 100% focused on creating the best customer experience in our industry. Your leadership support needs to be visible – the customer experience focus needs to be reflected in your leaders’ writing and speaking, and reinforced in their one-on-one conversations.
- “Learn from everybody – employees, customers, potential customers, past customers, and suppliers. A huge part of this role is listening, being willing to digest, synthesize, and prioritize, and finding and taking actions that will make a meaningful difference.
- “Lastly, collaborate. No one is successful by themselves. It takes everybody. In fact, my main role is to help everybody else to be successful.”
As we wrapped up, he added one more gem: “Get involved. Getting involved in associations like the CXPA has been critical. The webinars and white papers are great! I’m not the first person to think about customer experience and I’m learning a lot from others in the industry. When I can bring in ideas and results from what others have done, it helps to build buy-in for those actions we need to take.”
Note: Easy Button is a trademark of Staples.