Thanks to LinkedIn, I was recently inundated with well wishes from my professional community, regarding the 1st year anniversary of Vector Business Navigation. It’s been a quick 12 months, and I decided its only fitting to memorialize this milestone and invite my eldest daughter Abigail, the writer in the family to come up with some interview questions.
Abigail: If you could give “the 2015 version of Brad Smith” 3 pieces of advice, what would they be?
Brad: Great question – for the record, I love anything that hints at time travel. Speaking of which, haven’t we had this conversation before?
Abigail: I’m pretty sure we have this conversation every birthday, which is why it’s perfect for your business’s first year.
Brad: The three pieces of advice would have to be:
- Expect things to fall into place better than you planned. When I started a year ago, I knew a lot about running global Customer Experience programs, but I wasn’t sure how to shrink-wrap that experience into CX service offerings. A mentor of mine told me to “Just start doing the work, and the rest will figure itself out”. I know that all clients are different, but after a 30 to 45 min conversation, a path of self-discovery emerges and you quickly see what services you can offer, to bring them where they need to be.
- Stick to what you know, seek assistance for what you don’t. In 2013 I convinced the executive leadership team at Sage, to take a 3,800-mile RV Tour to visit over 200 customers, and act on what we heard. I spoke to dozens of small business owners and picked up some great advice – “don’t sweat what you don’t know” – seek adult supervision for the things you are not good at, and focus on what you love”. I’m not a web developer, but I partnered with one. I’m not an accountant, or a lawyer, but I was referred some excellent ones, and thanks to them, I am able to focus on what I’m passionate about – helping organizations realize their fullest potential as a customer centric enterprise.
- Find ways to be hyper organized and do it every day. I was blessed to find Evernote, the key tool that helps me scribe every conversation I have with customers, prospects and fellow CX practitioners. Keeping my notes organized and tracking my action items, has often saved me.
A: You mentioned this before, but since I’ve been alive, you’ve done CX at a lot of different companies. How is working from the outside of a company different than working from the inside?
B: I’ve been blessed to work at a number of highly diverse businesses.
- I ‘grew up’ in high-tech Support and Service. From that perspective you feel the pain of trying to keep the sales and marketing promises that everyone upstream made.
- Later working at the C-level I found the priorities were often driven by the Business Unit quarterly goals vs. a long-term focus on customer success.
- Through all of it, I’ve come to realize that no matter where you sit in an organization – listening to the customer, and consistently including them into your decision-making is one of the most challenging things any business leader can do.
Now, working from outside a company, it is liberating to have an “organizationally free” point of view. I have no short-term or near-term operational constraints, so I’m able to connect dots, and envision cross-organizational, brand centric solutions, that typically can’t be naturally perceived internally. I’ve said before that a big part of my job is helping organizations cure “institutional blindness” and my newfound outside-in practitioner perspective is how I get to do this.
A: It sounds like you used spend a lot of time patching holes in leaky boats, and now you get to help build better boats.
B: Yes – no more patching holes, it’s time to build a better ship! The one big idea that’s haunted me since the CX profession chose me in 2007 was:
- "What if we all realized that every day, our companies interactions leave behind a series of imprinted customer memories? What If we choose to do this intentionally, vs. leaving it to random chance – how then would we behave?“
In Dec of 2015 after helping my first 3 clients, a second big idea emerged:
- “What if we could teach corporations that the path to the greatest sustained profitable growth was the path of CX excellence? As they followed this path, they would come to realize that CX success depends on employee success, and as the financial markets take notice, and start rewarding this behavior, imagine then what the world of commerce might look like?”
This is what led me to incorporate Vector Business Navigation in Jan 2016.
A: Given the different places you’ve worked, and the broad spectrum of clients you’ve helped – if you had to give one piece of advice to any company that's focusing on customer experience, what would it be?
B: Ah, the one thing… Answer this single question - Why do you exist?
Let’s take the vision and mission I used to form Vector Business Navigation:
- I wanted Vector BN to leverage its “Proven CX Practitioner” experience to help my client’s leadership teams successfully navigate the deep waters of customer centric transformation.
- I knew if I got this right, my clients would feel like they hired Juan De La Cosa (Columbus’ 1st navigator to the New World) - to join their crew.
- My mission is to “Help you take the journey, mentor you through the unexpected and safely get you to your destination”, vs. the typical heavy weight consulting solution of “Selling a map of the New World for top dollar, and leaving you to figure it out”.
If you don’t know who you are, and what you stand for in the market place – then stop and sort that out first! Great customer experience is a reflection of your Brand promises, which are felt in the market place by your customers and prospects.
It’s like Buckaroo Bonzai said back in 1984 – “No matter where you go, there you are…” There is no escaping the shadow of your brand when you recognize that your company’s actions betray its intentions, no matter how loud or expertly executed your Brand marketing campaigns might be.
A: Okay, I think I got a lot of good information, so this last one can be fun. If you could think of any song that represented Vector BN’s 1st year, what would it be?
B: The 1st year, let’s keep with the 1984 theme and give a shout out to Prince’s “Let’s go Crazy”, followed quickly by Van Halen’s “Jump”.