Jeanne Bliss pioneered the role of the Chief Customer Officer, holding the first-ever CCO role at Lands' End, Microsoft, Coldwell Banker and Allstate Corporations. Today, she runs CustomerBliss where she helps companies all over the world, "build their customer-driven growth engine."

For over 20 years, Jeanne has helped business leaders connect the dots between improving their customer's lives and increasing profitability. Jeanne is a globally recognized authority on the subject and is the author of three best-selling customer experience books, (Chief Customer Officer, Chief Customer Officer 2.0, and I Love You More than My Dog: Five Decisions that Drive Extreme Customer Loyalty in Good Times and Bad).

Recently, I had the chance to catch up with her.

 inline image

John White: In terms of customer experience, what do you see startups neglecting and what would you recommend prospective entrepreneurs do instead so they can get it right from day one?

Jeanne Bliss: The key is to find the time to think through - what will be your "marquee" moments that you alone can deliver? Deliberately craft the type of people you do and do not want serving your customers. Know and execute on your "voice" or tone in communications. These are the things that set companies apart. Yet, it takes time and the ability to find that time that is often elusive to startups.

What advice would you give to startups about scaling their customer experience?

Jeanne Bliss: When I was at Lands' End in the early days (we were about $100 million in sales, growing forty percent a year at the time), founder Gary Comer said to us over and over again, "think small, getting bigger will take care of itself".

What he meant was attitudinally to take care of one customer at a time, which was a critical approach for the human-centric catalog and phone service model Lands' End was.

But the company was efficient as well, which allowed those front line people to take the time they needed. So the key here is to know the moments when your customers need you to be reliable. Especially with social media, if you don't have consistency, customers won't tell your story.

Then put systems and processes and the people in place who will keep that critical experience engine stable. As you grow, without that strong foundation, you will immediately create customer displeasure and your growth trajectory will suffer.

What would you recommend startups focus on to keep their customers happy and prevent churn?

Jeanne Bliss: Startups need to do something simple which I call, "honoring and managing customers as assets." That means numerically, doing simple customer math; meaning know in whole numbers the volume and value of incoming customers and subtract from that the volume and value of lost customers.

The sum of that equation is your net customer asset growth.

This is customers voting with their feet. It is true and proven that just focusing on acquisition will not "earn" long-term growth. So, yes, as you are growing acquisition will be important, but earning the right to the future advocacy and sales of existing customers is the fuel for sustaining growth.

The other thing to wire in from the beginning are practices that honor customers (your asset of your business). Resist and put into place a decision-making lens to ban thinking of short term profits for you that dishonor or discredit customers.

Or adding extra fees to things because you run the numbers and can get more out of every sale. That type of approach will seep into your business and others you hire will see those practices and embed them into how you treat customers.

And they are habits that repel, don't build customers who love you and advocate for you.

How would you recommend startups use social media from a customer experience perspective?

Jeanne Bliss: I believe the most powerful social media is to use it to find a way to express who you are as people in your company supporting customers' lives. Find your voice and tone. Be responsive.

Provide information that adds value, with no strings attached. Operate from the approach that the more you give, the more that customers will be magnetically drawn to you.

What would you recommend startups do from day one so that they can prevent the types of customer experience pitfalls you've seen in the many organizations you have worked with?

Jeanne Bliss: There are two things that companies can do to earn customer growth:

  • The first one is to "fix the customer." That means "whack a mole" work to over and over and over again solve problems as they come in. You may have solved an issue, but that one-off is not solving the systemic issues that caused the customer frustration in the first place.
  • The better approach is to "fix the company." Solve the issues that cause the frustration. Easier said than done of course, but here's an easy way to go about this:

Be proactive with customers. Solve for the entire experience. But don't "boil the ocean," and try to fix everything at once. The enormity of the work will overwhelm and customers can sense that.