Expert Interview Series: Jim Tincher of Heart of the Customer

Customer experience

Jim Tincher is the Mapper-in-Chief for Heart of the Customer, an organization that uses journey maps to help their clients better understand what it's like to be their customer. He also blogs about customer experience at

Jim recently checked in to offer his perspective on how businesses can improve customer experience. Here's what he had to say:

How did you become so passionate about customer experience?

I grew up in small business, where you have to be customer-obsessed just to survive. From there I joined Best Buy, where we were completely focused on understanding our changing customers. So imagine my surprise when I joined an organization where nobody in marketing or product management had ever met a client!

Often, you best learn what's important when you observe its opposite. So I became obsessed with helping us understand what our customers really wanted. Because our marketing group was so inward-focused, I took it as a personal challenge to bring our teams the voice of the customer. And I saw the incredible changes - both in products and (more importantly) business results - that came from building with your sites clearly set on the customer.

Prior to this our internal teams focused on marketing based on their perspectives. After all, we were customers of our products, too, right? But our perspectives were skewed. Within six months, we knew far more about our products than any of our customers did, so by focusing on our needs we were completely missing the mark on how to market to our customers.

I brought our teams out to meet with clients and their consumers, and it led to a 180-degree change - we focused less on facts and features, instead telling stories to help our customers truly understand our products and their potential to help.

How would you define customer experience?

Well, I love the Customer Experience Professionals Association's definition, which is "The perception that customers have across all of their interactions with your organization."

But how does that play out in your organization? It's what your customers think of you when they're not directly interacting with you. It's the sum total of the impact of your website, your sales literature, your product and your people.

There's another word often used to describe this - your brand. Customer experience is how your customers actually feel about your brand, based on their interactions with you.

What are the most common oversights or mistakes you see brands making when it comes to customer experience?

First of all, I see too many marketers who are "too busy" to get out and see their customers. It's easy to understand how this happens. We all have more work than we can do. But when this happens, you get further divorced from what your customers feel.

We see exceptions. Great Clips CEO Rhoda Olsen visits hundreds of salons each year to stay fresh with what her customers want. And she runs a $1 billion company! A.G. Laffley, the CEO of P&G visits with consumers each month. As he put it in The Game Changer, "It is always eye opening to spend time with consumers. I personally make time to visit with shoppers and consumers at least once a month, and I never fail to learn something I can apply to the business."

If they can find the time to visit customers, so can marketers. We help marketers do this by partnering with them to bring the voice of their customer inside, using videos and journey maps to help the company better understand what it's like to be their customers.

What are the biggest challenges to brands when it comes to improving customer experiences?

The second problem most marketers have is that they get pigeonholed into a definition of "marketing" that is only about communication. Look, communication is important - no doubt about it. But you can't communicate your way out of a broken customer experience. Marketing needs to take an active role in making certain that the experience is designed right in the first place. True marketing is about designing the experience so you can actually communicate more important messages less often. But when product, sales or operations designs the experience without us, the customer suffers.

What brands do you think have been especially innovative at improving customer experience? What can we learn from them?

The best brands have a true north that they use in designing their customer experience. As a negative example, I once met with a marketer who was interested in improving their customer experience, and we discussed creating a customer experience vision. I asked her what she sees as the guiding principle for their experience, and she said "We want to be really simple, and really flexible."

I paused. Simple is good. Apple, Capital One 360, Costco, Amazon, they have all done a great job at designing their experiences as simple. And it works.
Flexible is also good. Zappos is incredibly flexible, as are Publix, CXPA Award Winner John Deere and TD Bank.

But it's really hard to be both - especially if you also want to be affordable. The best brands understand their customer experience (CX) vision, and relentlessly pursue this. Even though they own Zappos, Amazon doesn't confuse their separate visions. And while both Costco and Publix offer groceries, their visions couldn't be more different.

How can brands use data to improve customer experience?

Your CX approach is only as good as your data. Your data tells you how you're doing against your vision. If your vision is to be simple, but you have a ton of abandoned shopping carts and your support lines are full, then you know you're failing in your customer experience. Maybe your marketing automation software isn't doing the trick, so customers have to figure it out themselves. Or maybe you're offering extra features, sacrificing your simplicity. Your data is the key to see where you're having problems.

It's also your early warning - use it to discover the source of friction in your experience, particularly as you introduce new options.

What innovations or trends are you most excited about in the realm of customer engagement?

Best practices are evolving, but we're starting to get some traction on how to best improve your customer engagement.

Start with a clear vision as to where your experience needs to be. Back this up with strong leadership and governance.

Once this is established, we're seeing some real innovation in using big data and personalized marketing. The customer journey isn't linear, nor is it consistent. Big data is helping us to understand what the true customer journey is, and marketing automation software is helping organize the response, finally allowing for a distinct, customized customer journey.

Connect with Jim on Twitter.

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