About Jeannie Walters
Jeannie’s motto “Creating Fewer Ruined Days for Customers” has been adopted by business leaders who have benefited from her inspiring keynotes, her pioneering CX Cultural Transformation program, and her workshops and webinars. Customer Thermometer called Jeannie’s presentation on “Meaningful Micro-Interactions” one of the top five TED Talks on customer retention.
Her podcast Crack the Customer Code, which she co-hosts with customer service expert Adam Toporek, has consistently garnered praise for its engaging industry insights. Jeannie has 20 years of experience helping companies improve loyalty and retention, employee engagement, and overall customer experience.
Introduction: (00:42) Jeannie Walters has 20 years of experience helping companies improve loyalty and retention, employee engagement and overall customer experience. Her motto, “creating fewer ruined days for customers” has been adopted by business leaders who have benefited from her inspiring keynotes, her CX cultural transformation program, workshops and webinars. Jeannie’s podcast, Crack The Customer Code, which she co-hosts with customer service expert, Adam Toporek, has consistently garnered praise for its engaging industry insights.
Mary Drumond: (01:14) This is long overdue. I feel like we should have done this like two seasons ago.
Jeannie Walters: (01:18) I know. I think that was my schedule, so I apologize.
MD: (01:22) No, it worked out great. It worked out perfectly. One of the things that gets me most excited about you being on here is your experience and your track record with customer experience.
JW: (01:33) Thank you.
MD: (01:34) I know that you’ve been doing this for a while. You got a lot of experience under your belt. When I looked up your profile and I was like, Oh, awards received, honorable mentions, sitting on so many boards. Like wow, okay, fantastic. But you know, this is me, and I’m in this vertical and I’m super involved in customer experience. But for the listeners who might not be that familiar with what you do, can you give us a quick rundown of your career and what you’re doing at the moment and your favorite part about your job?
JW: (02:06) Uh wow. Okay. So I basically have been consulting and speaking, training, and writing all about customer experience for about 20 years now. And right now I am CEO of my own company called Experience Investigators. Some people might know us as 360 Connects. We actually rebranded this year. And essentially what I do is I help my clients really understand the human side of the journey that their customers are taking. So we don’t do any of the quantitative things that other amazing consultants and companies do, like the surveys and things like that. We use that information and we put it through a process that we call Customer Experience Investigation, which is a registered trademark. And we help our clients really understand the journey in ways that are nuanced and human and really look for ways to innovate around that, to really serve their customers. And then I also do keynote speaking. I do a lot leadership workshops right now to really help leaders understand that customer experience is not this one off thing, and it’s really complex and layered. And so how do you keep it forefront? How do you turn the DNA of your company into one that really just has this as part of it? It’s one of the building blocks of your company. So I do a lot of that right now, and training. And then as you mentioned, I’m a podcaster and have a blog and all sorts of things. So, I like to stay busy. I think my favorite part is in any format of how I’m working. I love seeing that aha moment. I love seeing when somebody goes, Oh, we’re not just talking about sales, we’re not just talking about the sales funnel, or we’re not just talking about reactive customer service. This is bigger. This is more exciting. This is more fulfilling. And the mission of my company is to create fewer ruined days for customers. And so I believe that makes the world a better place. So that’s why I’m so passionate about it.
MD: (03:58) It absolutely does. And let me ask you something. At which point did you feel like the market started reacting more openly to customer experience? That it stopped being that kind of struggle or weren’t like hitting a concrete wall and all of a sudden, it just seemed easier to penetrate the market. When do you think that happened?
JW: (04:16) Well, ironically, I guess it’s not ironic, I guess this kind of makes sense, but I felt like during the last recession, at the end of the recession, people started picking their heads up and saying, you know what? What if we kept customers. Whoa. That would be amazing. And so I felt like that had an impact. But again, we kind of go through waves and cycles and as companies do better, as far as acquisition and getting customers in the door, they tend to forget about customer experience again. And so I don’t think it’s over. I don’t think we can check that off our list. There are still some struggles ahead. There are still some hard conversations. But I feel like if the leaders get it, as far as what customer experience can do for their business results, then everything else becomes easier.
MD: (05:02) And do you think that the leaders that are now taking over executive positions in big organizations, do you think they’re more mindful of the customer than than previous generations of say CEOs?
JW: (05:12) I think they have to be, right, because there are so many things that they have direct access to customers now, than the CEO’s of yesteryear. You know, it was easy to say to the CEO of IBM, your customers are happy, because they didn’t know, they didn’t talk to any customers. And now you know, anybody can get on Twitter and tweet directly to an organization and it’s public and all of these things. So the rise of social media has absolutely had a greater impact on customer experience than many other things. But at the same time, leaders are asked to deliver short term results, often quarterly as we know for shareholder value, and that is not a recipe for longterm customer experience success. So there’s that constant friction between what we think should happen long term and what we need to happen short term. And that’s where leaders find themselves today. It’s a really tough spot to be.
MD: (06:05) How do you navigate, like in your consulting business, how do you navigate around these very difficult issues like short term versus longterm improvements with quarterly results?
JW: (06:17) Mhm, well, it’s really on the leader. If the leader gets it, then they’re willing to hear that, okay, this is more than a quarterly initiative. We need to invest in this. We need to explain to our shareholders what exactly is going on and we need to paint a vision of where we’re going and if you can help the leader do that. And where I always like to start with everybody is around this idea of a customer experience mission. What are we really trying to do here for our customers. Beyond the usual kind of mission statement, speak of be the best, or deliver value. Like we really need to get at the core of what are we trying to do for customers? And if we can define that, then that helps everybody else get on board and that’s where you start seeing real change. The challenge I see is that if they’re asked to deliver the short term value again and again and they’re being held accountable and really unrealistic ways. I mean CMOs right now, I think the average tenure is 18 months. That’s ridiculous, right? Like what can we do about this? We don’t even kick out senators that fast. I mean let’s make sure that we are giving people a chance to figure things out, to be thoughtful and to move forward. And right now the best way to do that is to align everything to a mission so that everybody can see where we’re going, see what we’re trying to do. I think that’s a big challenge in our industry. Leaders who don’t paint that picture, they don’t last long.
MD: (07:43) There’s recently been some noise around Net Promoter Score. Wall Street Journal put out a report calling it a ‘dubious management fad,’ and they did some really deep investigation and one of the things that they explored in the article was the fact that NPS has become extremely present in analyst meetings with publicly traded companies, and that no company has ever, in an analyst meeting, announced a drop in their NPS score. It’s alarming to say the least because it doesn’t actually add up. So I’m not here to bash NPS, but in a sense, do you think that companies have in a sense embraced an artificial version of customer experience through these KPIs that are just numbers that they can shoot out at their board and say, we’re customer centric. Look, we have NPS. Do you think that this is more beneficial or more damaging for companies as a whole?
JW: (08:43) Uh, what a good juicy topic. Excuse me while I push up my sleeves. So I feel like NPS is often used as a blunt instrument and, like it or not, customers, even B2B customers, I always have to say this, but even B2B customers are actually human beings.
MD: (09:03) Absolutely.
JW: (09:03) And so if you are dealing with human beings, you are dealing with nuanced creatures who are emotional and irrational and make absolutely no sense. And so what NPS does is, it’s self reported, so we have to remember that, we all play games with ourselves. We all report things after the fact when we are rationalizing a decision, for instance. The other thing that has happened with NPS is that if it’s not used in context of a bigger dashboard of really understanding that it’s not this one metric and that will tell you everything, then you’re missing out on all this valuable information, which is why NPS was created. So the follow-up question of NPS, which is often overlooked, is why or why not? Right? So if we can get people to articulate that, that’s half the battle. However, people will articulate things that don’t match up to their behavior. And so you need to combine this with the type of things that we do with our clients, like the qualitative, the observational work, the ethnographic work, the interviews, all of those things, because we don’t make any sense as human beings. We never will and as much as we try to analyze each other, we’re always going to miss out on certain things. So I totally agree that it’s sometimes used as a blunt object. I also think that there was this trend for the last several years. We got so excited about actual metrics that we sometimes would throw ourselves a parade by going up 0.001% on NPS, but we wouldn’t actually figure out why did that go up or down. We would just tell a group, you know, your NPS went down, fix that. And that’s just not useful for anybody. So I totally agree with that. You know, report that that doesn’t add up. If you are not reporting really what’s going on then it’s really not an instrument at all. And the other thing I’ll just share from, it was actually a client I was working with. They were a B2B company. They were a good sized company revenue wise, but they didn’t have a huge client roster. They probably had 300 different companies and every month these account managers would call the people that they have relationships with, their clients and say, would you recommend us? Yes or no?
MD: (11:11) Oh my god, it’s like a huge bias party.
JW: (11:13) Right. And they would like annoy them. It got to a point where the clients were like, could you please just stop with this? But they were being tasked with reporting this out and so you know, hell or high water, they were going to get you to answer that question, and that’s just dangerous. Then that’s just useless. Right?
MD: (11:33) Irresponsible, right?
JW: (11:34) Yeah, it is. It is. So I think we have to be really careful with NPS, just like any other metric. We have to make sure we’re not trying to measure something that is, you know, more complex than we give it credit for.
MD: (12:14) How do you feel about linking executive bonuses or even you know, employee bonuses to NPS results.
JW: (12:22) If it’s done well, which you know, huge asterisk there. But if it’s done well it can be very effective. The reason being that as much as we say we want everybody to kind of put the idea of serving customers and customer experience into their hearts and just transform into these magical creatures who do it all the time intuitively. We also have to remember that they get held accountable for certain things at their review every year. And if I’m being told that my job is to send out the survey, but you know, the results don’t really matter to me, but if I can say yes, I sent out that survey every single week, then that’s what I’m going to care about. If we can tie that to, okay, your job is not only to send out the survey but to actually care about these results. That’s going to change how we collaborate with one another on behalf of the customer. So there has to be some way for everybody to understand that we’re all in this together and that we all have responsibilities and accountabilities around customer experience. I again, it can’t be used as a blunt object, right? Like you can’t say to somebody, let’s you know we’re going to tie your bonus to NPS, but you have absolutely no authority over what happens with the customer experience or you are kept in the dark about what’s happening or anything like that. We have to make sure that those connections make sense for each individual involved.
MD: (13:40) I’m going to take advantage of your vast experience here in this area, especially consulting and working directly with companies. Do you really feel like there is an added value in using the Net Promoter Score versus another score? Like say for example CSAT, when it comes to evaluations, if people are going to be rewarded or compensated based on the way they treat customers, in the way that maybe somebody that provides you a service like a server or a hairdresser or something like that, that we at the end tip them. So if we apply that same logic to them giving a good score to the way they were serviced that day, then how is the recommendation question more valuable than a satisfaction question?
JW: (14:20) Well, I do believe that in general the question itself elicits a different response because it’s a more emotional question. It’s easy to say you’re satisfied without really thinking through how did this make me feel? Would I really stake my name on this. The question of recommendation is really about that. However, back to your question about, you know, is it better all the time? Not necessarily. And the reason I say that is because there are certain smaller studies where it depends. Some organizations have found that satisfaction scores actually are tied more directly to their business KPIs than NPS. And so I think you really do have to look at your organizational structure, your results, look for those connections and say, okay, if this one’s working better, let’s use this one. Um, but I think that the question itself, it does elicit different types of emotional reactions and that’s why it can be considered more valuable.
MD: (15:23) Well, that’s very interesting actually. So I mean, you’ve got all this experience. If I were to, you know, pull up your LinkedIn profile or something like that, there are all these different projects that you’re involved with, you’re a speaker, you’re a podcaster. You also work on customer journey mapping, on deep CX research like we were talking about and qualitative programs. But one thing that I noticed on there that really caught my eye, because it’s not something that we see every day and it’s not, it’s definitely not something that I see on this podcast all the time, and that’s exploring patient experiences. When I had Jeanne Bliss on, she talked about the Cleveland…
JW: (16:00) The Cleveland clinic. Yep. They’re amazing.
MD: (16:05) She has a case study in her book, “would you do that to your mother?” that gets into it, but then never again. And that was season one. And we’re now on season four. So if you can, can you open a little bit, open up on this project, on patient experience, why this is important to you? And I know that you have a personal connection to this topic as well.
JW: (16:26) Yeah, so I think patient experience is relatively, it’s definitely newer than customer experience, right? But healthcare is starting to really care about this for many reasons. And the way that they’re showing this is surveys, and anybody who’s been through any sort of patient experience lately has been asked to fill out a survey. And that’s because now it’s related to federal funding and all of these things. But again, they’re using it in kind of a way that I don’t think is truly reflective. And Cleveland clinic is a great example, but to share a little bit about why this became a passion of mine is because in 2014 my family, I have two boys. They were ten and seven at the time and my husband was driving. We were in Michigan on vacation and we got hit almost head on by a driver who was on opioids. And luckily, and this is the moral of the story everybody, wear your seatbelt all the time. Because we were fortunate, but the very things that saved us, like airbags and seat belts actually did quite a bit of harm as well. And so my husband was completely, he actually went into shock at the accident, couldn’t move because he was so black and blue from the seatbelt and the steering wheel. He had burns on his hands from the airbag. I had shattered my hand. I didn’t know it at the time, but now I have a plate and five pins in my right hand because the airbag, the theory is, it happened so quickly I really don’t remember, but the theory is that the airbag threw my hand against windshield and shattered it. And then my little guy, the seven year old, actually his clavicle was broken by the seatbelt, the force of the seatbelt.
MD: (18:05) Wow.
JW: (18:06) So we were in this horrific accident. We got out of the car, the three of us did. My husband stayed in the car cause he literally couldn’t move. And these strangers came to our aid because the only thing on this two lane highway was a concert in the park that happened to be happening that night. And all these people came over, including some off duty firefighters. And I say that just because I always want to recognize those people. They were amazing. They helped us so much in that moment of need. But what happened was we went to this ER and we were in Michigan when the accident happened, but the closest ER was actually in Indiana. And so we crossed the border, went to Indiana, and my ER doc, first of all had very little empathy for what was happening. And I was not only a patient in that moment, but I was also a mom and a wife and I was freaking out about everybody else and the nurses were amazing. They were fantastic, they were so good to me and they kept kind of encouraging me under their breath to kind of stand up to this doctor.
MD: (19:02) Right.
JW: (19:03) And including when I kept saying, you know, my finger’s hurting. And of course I was also totally black and blue from the seatbelt and everything. I was also having some trouble with my blood pressure dropping and all these other things. So we are there and I’m going into the X Ray and I said, you know, my finger is still really hurting cause they were going to x-ray my ribs. And the doctor said okay fine, just get a few shots of her finger and the x-ray tech came out and you know, they’re not supposed to say anything, they don’t diagnose anything. But she kind of whispered to me, ‘good thing you mentioned the hand’ and there were all these moments like that that kind of led up to me looking at this from the viewpoint that I have as a CX professional. And I was thinking, what is going on here? Like what is actually happening? And so this experience, you know, we want to say it’s this one thing, this finite moment, but really I was a patient for four months. I ended up having surgery on my hand. My older son who had been fine at the scene of the accident, once we got back to Chicago, he ended up in the pediatric ICU for four days because the powder that comes off of the explosive from the airbag is a chemical irritant, and he has asthma. And so he ended up with such horrible asthmatic reactions that he ended up there. So when that happened, my younger son and I were both in slings. We both had one hand, and we were kind of stuck in the house because my husband had taken him to the ER and then just stayed there for four days. So we had all these incidents leading up to this. And I just thought, like this is, not everybody is looking at this in the right way. Like when I was being wheeled out of the hospital in Indiana, cause I ended up staying there for two nights, they were literally asking me about the survey. And the guy, the orderly wheeling me out, and I could barely move at this point, I mean I really couldn’t move. I was in a lot of pain. It had been very traumatic. And he’s saying, well, if you can’t give us a 10 I want to know why.
MD: (20:56) Ugh
JW: (20:56) And I think that that is very common. And then the surgeon who operated on my hand, he has exceptional results. Like I am so grateful that my hand works. But there were so many moments with him where I thought, like I am not a whole person. I’m a fourth metacarpal. And so there were, I mean, just moment after moment where I thought they’re not putting this whole thing together. So taking that experience, I actually put together a keynote about it and had the good fortune of presenting that in a few places, including Cleveland Clinic. And it’s really been powerful because I was terrified the first time I gave this keynote, because it was actually a patient experience conference. So it was full of medical professionals, right. And I’m basically saying, alright, here’s all the things that went wrong.
MD: (21:44) Y’all aren’t doing your job properly!
JW: (21:48) But they all came up to me. I got such an incredible reaction, standing ovation. People coming up to me saying, we need to hear this, we need hear this. And what I realized, and I have a brother by the way, who’s an orthopedic surgeon. And so I would talk to him sometimes and I would hear him kind of mirror things. I thought, you know, we’re training doctors and nurses somewhat, but mostly doctors as scientists. Purely. And then we’re wondering why they don’t have empathy. And I think there are so many amazing things happening that are really exciting and innovative. Cleveland Clinic is way ahead. They do totally great things. Dr Boise, who I think Jeanne also interviewed on her podcast and was in her book. She’s just a truly remarkable person as their Chief Patient Officer. And when you look at what they’re doing, and UCLA is experimenting with some med students to show them that, you know what, it’s not just the medicine, it’s the relationship. And just recently I heard something fascinating, which I want to explore more, but whenever there have been placebo studies in the past, they’ve said, okay Mary, you’re going to get a pill and Jeannie, you’re going to get a pill. And neither one of us would know which one is an actual pill and which one is a placebo. Right? A sugar pill. And what they’re starting to do is actually tell some patients you’re going to get a placebo, but we’re going to see if we can solve this. And what they’re doing is asking the doctors to have more meaningful conversations with them, to have more connection with them, to have more empathy, and they’re seeing results. Yeah. And so I think we are finally putting together the head and the body and the heart and we’re starting to get it. But if we only look at it as was your wait time low and did your hand work after surgery? Those are not the only things to measure in patient experience. And so I’m really, I’m excited about what’s happening, but I think we have a ways to go before we get out of this mindset of it’s all about the survey. It’s all about the survey. And I just want to finish that by saying my family today is fine and I’m really grateful to all those first responders and all the doctors who did help us and the nurses and everybody. Because you know, you’re never in that situation until you’re in it and you never quite know how you’re going to be and how other people are going to be. And I just feel so grateful that we have the support we did and our community, everybody. So, you know, I share that just as my own personal story, but I also recognize that there are lots of people who’ve gone through a lot more with patient experience and with their own journeys. And you know, I, I hope that we can get to a place where we look at the journey itself as more than just what happens when they walk into your office, because that’s never the end. That’s never the end.
MD: (25:07) What a powerful story. I mean, it really allows us to analyze all these different angles, whether you’re a patient or whether you’re a healthcare provider,. And I think that there is still so much about human behavior and health care that still needs to be investigated. It reminds me of Dan Ariely and his book Predictably Irrational.
JW: (25:30) Yes. Oh right.
MD: (25:31) And for the listeners who haven’t read it, Dan Ariely suffered a super traumatic, I believe, motorcycle accident in his young years. Was it a motorcycle accident?
JW: (25:43) I believe that’s right. I can’t recall the vehicle. It was definitely a vehicle accident, but I can’t remember.
MD: (25:48) He had ridiculous third degree burns, third and second degree burns on his entire body and spent months in the intensive care unit treating his wounds. And one of the things that had to be done, and it’s very cringy, but every single day,I think twice a day, he had to change the bandages. So when skin is healing, you can’t let scabs form, so you have to actually scrape the burn and it’s ridiculously painful. And his nurses and the people that used to give him treatment, it was so horrible. Even for them. I mean, it’s horrible to cause so much pain in a patient as well. And with the best intentions in mind tried to ‘like a bandaid’ it in the sense of going through it as quickly as possible and just tearing off bandages and giving it a good scrub before dressing the wounds. And he made it his life goal to study and prove that no, quicker isn’t always better and pulling off that bandage isn’t necessarily better for long term trauma. And it goes along with a lot of the stuff that Daniel Conaman studied about the peak end rule and how that affects human beings and Ariely, once he finished the study, he went back to the hospital that treated him to share his research and to share his findings because he was able to prove that if they take a little bit longer, and they do it a little bit more slowly and they stretch that out over time, a longer but less painful experience, it actually caused less trauma and helped patients get better sooner.
JW: (27:36) I totally support that. And you know, one of the things I share in this talk I do about my own recovery was that first night in the hospital, you know, my family ended up going back to our rental house, which was a whole other journey because we had a totaled car and nobody wanted to cross state lines and it was a big mess. And so they were gone. And after several hours in the ER, they checked me in and I went upstairs and the nurse who had been so kind to me in the ER, she kind of sighed and she said, um, I hate to say this, but the doctor forgot to send orders up here. So they basically didn’t know what to do with me. And it was a really long night and I felt very alone and very scared and I couldn’t, I literally couldn’t move and all these things. And then the next morning I got a shift change and this woman came in and said, I know you’ve had a long night and we’re going to take care of you. One of our best doctors is coming in and you’re the first person he’s going to see. And the way I remember that, it was eight o’clock in the morning, but my memory has it so that the sun is coming up. Now it’s eight o’clock in the morning in August in Michigan. The sun had been up for hours. But that’s how my memory remembers that because I was in such a dark place. And I think that’s so telling of how words matter, and how the way we connect with people, it’s not just about that one moment, it’s about, okay, all of the sudden I felt like, okay, I’m going to be okay. So it’s all tied together. And that’s what’s so challenging about this work we do, because we are all so complicated and complex. And you know what? Nurses and doctors have to protect themselves too. They can’t get too invested every time. They have to make sure that their head is in the game. And so I totally get where they’re coming from too. So it’s really, it’s fascinating. But I think we still have a long way to go. And that’s what I love about working with professionals like you and others who care about this work, because that’s what we see as this world where we’re all gonna take care of each other in a better way.
MD: (29:44) Yeah. But you know what? It’s, it’s, it’s amazing listening to you telling that story. It reminds me of a story of my own, which is totally unrelated. I’ll get to it in a second. But when we’re in a hospital, there are certain aspects of our lives. I think that if you’re a parent than it has to do with your children or being in a hospital, there are certain issues that put us in such a vulnerable state, where we resort to these like primal fears and worries. I don’t know. As we’re half of ourselves, maybe, and sometimes the smallest demonstration of humanity or compassion, it just goes such a long way. And you know, for the regular listeners of this podcast, I always tell plane stories and there’s a reason. I am terrified of airplanes. That’s my biggest fear. Yes. It’s ridiculous. Yes, it’s irrational, blah, blah, blah. It doesn’t matter. I’m still terrified of planes. So when when I’m on a plane, all of my senses are heightened. I’m afraid of everything. I’m tense. I’m nervous, I’m a wreck. I’m a wreck the entire time. So everything that happens on an airplane matters so much more because I’m in that state. I’m so fragile and vulnerable. And I remember I was once flying United and it was an international flight, and I do have to take medication. That’s how bad my fear of flying is. But we had a Rocky takeoff and I was just, my stomach was so sick. It was so terrible. And I was feeling so bad that when, when the food came along, I couldn’t stomach it. I was just, blehhh. At around, I’m going to say four or five o’clock in the morning, a flight attendant came up to me and she said, Hey, I know that you were feeling sick and you missed dinner, so I saved you some food.
JW: (31:45) Oh wow. Wow.
MD: (31:48) And that for me was like the most amazing thing that ever happened. And in that case, I mean, yes I’m sure she had training, but more importantly I think she also was empowered and she had the permission to have compassion.
JW: (32:04) Absolutely. Absolutely. What a great moment too, like after feeling vulnerable, feeling like you’re not in control and having somebody come over and say, I’m going to help you a little bit. You know, that goes so far, so that’s a great example.
MD: (32:19) Yeah, that was great. By the way, I just wanted to say that.
JW: (32:22) Oh, thank you.
MD: (32:23) I hope one day I get to watch your keynote on Cleveland experience. I don’t know if you still do it. Even.
JW: (32:28) I do.
MD: (32:30) Great story. Wonderful. If our listeners want to follow you, keep in touch with you, how can they do that?
JW: (32:35) Oh, I’m everywhere but they can find me, the website is experiencedinvestigators.com and you can also find me at jeanniewalters.com, and I am on Twitter @jeanniecw, and LinkedIn. I also have a couple of LinkedIn courses on LinkedIn learning and lynda.com so if you search Jeannie Walters there, you can learn from me at those. So yeah, love to hear from people.
MD: (33:01) Awesome. Thank you so much. This was such a great conversation. Really appreciate you being on here, Jeannie.
JW: (33:06) Thank you. Great job, Mary. Thanks for all you’re doing.
Mary Drumond is Chief Marketing Officer at survey tech startup Worthix, and host of the Voices of Customer Experience Podcast. Originally a passion project, the podcast runs weekly and features some of the most influential CX thought-leaders, practitioners and academia on challenges, development and the evolution of CX.