Jason Bradshaw's passion (some might say "obsession") for improving the customer experience hit him at a young age. "When I was 14, I started my first business, selling computer hardware and software items. And always, since then, it's been the customer experience that catches my eye and engages my thought processes." Bradshaw has subsequently worked across a number of industries, focusing on delivering improvements in customer (as well as employee) experience. These include some of Australia's largest organizations: Target, Telstra, Suncorp Optus, Fairfax Media and the New South Wales State Government.

Bradshaw, who now serves as Volkswagen Australia's Director of Customer Experience, his title since 2015, tells me that the idea that underscores his work throughout has been this:

Organizations have the potential to vastly improve individual lives."

I asked Bradshaw to share his thoughts on improving the customer experience and thriving as a leader in business. 

Micah Solomon: Introduce me briefly to your current role.

Jason Bradshaw, Director of Customer Experience, Volkswagen Group Australia: I'm responsible for multiple key touchpoints that impact our customers' experience. The following teams report to me-Contact Center Operations, Roadside Assistance, Network Training, Customer Experience & Loyalty Programs, Customer Insights & Reporting and CRM Systems-and through them I am able to drive our ability to delivering a better customer experience today than we did yesterday. Equally important, and equally an obsession of mine, is supporting our Dealer Partners to achieve the same.

Solomon: What were the first steps you took toward improving the customer experience?

Bradshaw: The first thing that we did when my role and division were formed was to set a clear strategy and some baseline understandings. We've defined customer experience as combining three elements: success (was the customer able to achieve what they wanted to?); effort (was success achieved with the amount of effort-or, ideally, a little less than expected?); and emotion (did we create an emotional connection that makes our customer want to positively share their experience? Defined this way, customer experience transcends Customer Satisfaction and Customer Service.

At the same time, we defined a specific set of core customer experience principles. Importantly, we didn't do this in a vacuum; we wanted these principles to be based on the expectations of our customers-the feedback of over 100,000 of our customers. By doing it this way, we know that if we deliver on them, we're achieving, or slightly exceeding, our customers' expectations.

Also, with more than 100 dealer partners, it was important for me to drive understanding and focus with them as well, as rapidly as possible. The starting point for this was developing an interactive online training platform, and since then we have conducted a national customer experience summit to increase skills and motivate our people managers across all dealerships, as well as revamping our measurements and employee and customer listening platforms.

Solomon: Can you share some tips that might help my readers in these areas?

Bradshaw: Here are three:

1 - Clearly define what you mean by the terms Customer Service-Customer Satisfaction- Customer Experience. Everyone has their own interpretation of what these terms mean, and it's helpful to have a common organizational definition so you are all travelling in the same direction.

2 - If you're serious about building a sustainable customer experience, get serious about delivering an experience for your employees that matches or exceeds the one you want your customers to have.

3 - Commit to constant learning. This can be through reading, or by attending loads of industry seminars. Since the age of 13 I have read a book a month (on average) focused on the areas that I am passionate about or need to up my knowledge on to help me drive forward on my goals.

Solomon: Did any book in particular get you started?

Bradshaw: I can still remember the first business-oriented book I read; it was The Pursuit of WOW! by Tom Peters-

Solomon: One of my favorites as well! I still have the audiocassettes in my old station wagon.

Bradshaw: A Volkswagen I hope!

Solomon: That old beast only dream of being a Volkswagen.

Bradshaw: I'm a huge fan of audiobooks­­ myself, because I can listen to them in the car and on the plane. I find it important as well, when I find a book, article, video or podcast that really gets me excited, to share it with my direct team.

Solomon: Now comes true confessions time: Anything you can share that you would have done differently in your career­-something that readers can learn from rather than repeating a mistake themselves?

Bradshaw: Early in my career, I spent a lot of time acting in other roles-Team Manager, Process/Subject Matter Expert, Workforce Planning Manager, etc.-basically, I was the guy who would put up his hand and say, "I'll do that job!" whenever someone took vacation time. It was great; I got a lot of exposure to different ways of working, and to different stakeholders and challenges, but I ran the risk of becoming too much of a generalist.

It wasn't until a mentor of mine tapped me on the shoulder and asked me what I wanted to be "famous" for. I instantly said, "customer experience," and with that, my mentor asked me to step back and evaluate my next career move.

Having a breadth of experience certainly helps-but it was important, at that time in my career, to develop that laser focus, so that I could get to where I am today.

[Author's Disclosure from Micah Solomon: As a customer experience consultant and keynote speaker, I have had professional engagement with Volkswagen Australia.]