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The Startup Playbook to CX with Sue Duris

Emma Waldron
26 Nov, 2018

This post is a transcript of S2 E16 of the Voices of Customer Experiences Podcast with Mary Drumond featuring Sue Duris.  

[00:06] Mary Drumond: You're listening to Voices of Customer Experience. I'm your host Mary Drumond, and on this podcast we shine the spotlight on individuals who are making a difference in customer experience. We also proudly bring you the very best of customer experience behavior, economics, data analytics and design. Make sure to subscribe or follow us on social for updates. Voices of Customer Experience is brought to you by Worthix. Discover your worth at worhtix.com.

[00:35] MD: Sue Duris is co-founder and Director of Marketing and Customer Experience of M4 Communications, a marketing and customer experience consulting firm that helps organizations build and grow their brands by coaching them on how to be customer centric, advising them on their digital transformation initiatives, and collaborating with them to design omni channel experiences that engage employees and deliver customer value. Sue received her BA in economics from the University of Colorado and an MBA from the University of California Irvine. She writes and speaks regularly and is a host of CX chat, a weekly twitter chat about all things customer experience. Sue is also involved with a CX accelerator program and is a prominent member of the CX community. Welcome to the show, Sue Duris.


[01:22] Sue Duris: How are you?

[01:23] MD: Great. Great. Thank you for being here today. I'm really excited to speak to you. You know, I take part in a lot of projects that you're part of and I wanted to kind of get into that for our listeners so that they can join us. But can we start off by you telling our listeners a little bit about your journey, about who you are, what you do nowadays?

[01:43] SD: Well, absolutely. So I'm Founder and Director of Marketing and Customer Experience for an organization called M4 Communications. We are a customer experience and digital marketing consulting firm. And actually, I got into an entrepreneurship kind of by accident, but it was something that thinking back it was probably on my bucket list. So I've worked in established and startups, and when I was working in big companies like MCI and Worldcom we had startup clients, and I was always interested in the startups, you know, if you want to call it a scene, so just how they function and not many people can makethat switch from going from an established to a startup. But for me it was like fish in water. I absolutely loved it. It's always been the most creative part of my time. And so I started working, working with startups and um, what, um, through the ranks and I've been CMO, VP of Marketing, Customer Experience Strategist for a number of startups and of course in 2001 the.com bubble burst. And unfortunately there were a lot of marketers like myself who were out of work and you know, we were a dime a dozen and just hard to get suitable work. So I started contracting, and the contracting lead to founding my own company and we started in digital marketing in about 2011. In 2012, we made a slight pivot into the wonderful world of customer experience.

[3:32] MD: That's what I was gonna ask you, when was the moment the spark, what was it that sparked this pivot into customer experience?

[3:40] SD: Well, I guess I would say that I'm odd in a number of different ways. And I guess the first thing is I was doing customer retention. I was very interested in customer retention and loyalty and I was doing bits and pieces of that back in the nineties when solution selling was a big thing. And that was sales, trying to look at what does the customer need and how can we take our product or service and kind of align with what their needs are. And I was in product management at the time and I was developing. I really took that mindset, developing products for what the customer needs, not just trying to which many companies did at the time is trying to push an inside out approach, taking their stuff and selling it. It was almost like assembly line, here's our product, here's our service. Customer one didn't want to go to customer two. I didn't like that approach. I was working with large companies, large customers that I really took that focus. What can we do to help you? And so in the nineties I was creating customer advisory boards and reference programs and really getting down deep into retention and loyalty. That piece has always been much more interesting to me than acquisition. Yes, we need acquisition, but growth happens in the post-purchase phases- retention, loyalty, advocacy, and I've always been drawn to that.

[05:22] MD: Tell me a little bit about working in the heart of the Silicon Valley with startups. So you're in Palo Alto, right?

[05:33] SD: Yes.

[05:34] MD: So customer centricity, it's a new thing and what you get is new. You know, it's been around for like 20 years I guess that's new and so how is it, do startups, are they born with customer centricity or does it come naturally? Or do you actually find it to the opposite?

[05:51] SD: There is a lot of education that has to go in really educating startups because when you're a startup it doesn't make a difference where you are, what event you're going to. Its funding is usually the first topic on people's minds. What is your funding plan, who have you talked with, what are your goals for that? I would say I've always been on the mindset that leading with capital is the wrong approach. You have to lead with product market fit, and what tends to happen, what I had seen a lot was yet a Stanford PhD who has this product and the VCs love it. They throw a lot of money in it, so you're looking at getting acquisitions, so it's metrics based on acquisition and just how do you get those numbers up? I remember not so long ago having a conversation with a early stage startup and the guy said, well, my investors said that I have to increase my customer base, so we're focusing on acquisition. I didn't say this to him, but I was thinking, okay, what are you going to do with them when they sign up? Where are they going to go? You have to be thinking retention before you're even thinking about acquisition because people forget that you need to understand and kind of plan what your retention, loyalty and advocacy, what that's all going to do. So you can come up with what your perceived customer lifetime value's going to be before you even start acquisition which is the irony of the whole thing.

[07:38] MD: Right, and do you think that this is, you think that VCs are mostly to blame for this? I mean we had Dan McCarthy on episode three of this season and he spoke about this at length and he talked about how it's almost a sabotage because VCs are bullying startups into traction right into the sell, sell, sell mentality and what ends up happening is that they're so focused on acquisition that all else ceases to matter. And then you have companies an example that he gave was Wayfair. Wayfair - their customer acquisition costs is so much higher that it turns out that every time they acquire a customer they actually lose money. So the more they grow, the further into the whole they drive themselves, and it's actually just condemning the entire organization. So is there something else to blame or are startups to a sense also just being kind of vulnerable, or just allowing themselves to be pushed into this and as opposed to taking a stand and saying, Hey, no, I'm not going to do things that way. Do the examples of unicorns that we have of startups that have been very successful and reached that billion dollar valuation, can we say that these are companies that didn't do things that?

[08:56] SD: The ones that that are coming to mind, speaking of unicorns are the ones, I'm thinking slack. Slack is in my head.

[09:10] MD: Right, we can do slack versus Uber where Uber just kind of retained, just acquired, acquired, acquired not sustainably versus slack who did it in a much more, not organic but a customer centric way perhaps. Right?

[09:26] SD: But even with Uber, they were meeting a need and that's why. Well, you need capital and I'll get to your question in a second. While you need capital, you shouldn't lead with capital. That's my opinion. You should be leading with product market fit. And that is what's the need? Is there a need for your product? Yeah, you can have 20 products out there, but if your prospects or potential customer doesn't have a need, where are you? So you really need to to look at what is the need that I'm trying to fill.

[10:04] SD: How am I meeting that need and how do my customers or prospects feel about that? Those are like the three questions, but I think, and back to what you were talking about. I think the trouble is double sided. I think it's a little bit with the founders because yeah, if a few VCs are courting you, yeah, you're excited. Hey, that's money. People are interested in me and you know, this is what I want. That's why one thing I always tend to advise startups on is if you want to go the VC route, I mean there's a number of different things you can do. You can go the angel route or other things, but if you want to go the VC route, you need to do your homework. Does this VC have the values that I have and do the values align with them because I'm just starting out.

[11:02] SD: I'm a new startup. I need some help. They have the expertise. Is that the expertise that can get you to the next level? On the founder side, I would agree that there is a lot of bullying. I've seen great startups fail because a VC got in there, and they want to have control with direction, strategy and have really messed it up several times. And it really is a balancing act, but now it seems that product market fit has really gained some traction. What is the need and then as you're getting through what that need is, forget about all the bells and whistles. You can have a minimum viable product that you can take around and actually get some traction with and that way your customers can say, hey, it would be great if I would be more successful if you had this.

[12:06] MD: So it's building the product alongside the customer. Is that it?

[12:10] SD:Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

[12:12] MD: And that's how you can be customer centric from day one, starting it. And then how about that whole famous quote by Jobs, you know that customers don't actually know what they want and that you have to tell them what they want. How does that factor in there?

[12:27] SD: And there's your MVP, your minimum viable product. You have something out there that they can see and then once they see it, then they can say oh, I would love this or I'm not a big fan of this. And I'm not going to get into all my Steve Jobs stories, but I will tell you, when I met Steve in the mid 80s, he was talking about customer experience then and it was a great conversation. 

[13:02] MD: Well, I think that Apple has always been customer centric in their own way. Maybe not in the way that most companies are, but they always are. They are always thinking about design. They're always thinking about usability. They're always thinking about personalization, and you know, an example that we always give in our material and publications here at Worthix is, you know, if you, when you compare that, the launch of the iPhone versus the Nokia N95, which was the big phone at the market at the time, the N95, every single phone was a copy of the other and people were forced to adequate themselves to whatever was already there. And when the iPhone came in, that changed entirely so much. If I were to grab your iPhone or smartphone and try to mess around and find stuff, I'd be totally lost because your personalization, your needs are completely different than mine. And that's probably the thing that Apple got right back when it launched the iPhone, is that the whole possibility for personalization and creating a product that had you in the center of it.

[14:03] SD: Oh absolutely. You nailed it. It is all about us being the product. I mean, they talk about you're not buying products anymore, you're buying experiences. It's all about having the experience. And if you don't have the experience that you're expecting off you go to that company's competitor.

[14:25] MD: Yeah. And whomever is offering you a better experience, right?

[14:32] SD: Exactly.

[14:34] MD: Worthix is disrupting the market research industry with cutting edge technology and a revolutionary methodology. Visit worthix.com to learn how we're using artificial intelligence to improve customer experience at companies like Verizon, Jeep, Blizzard, HP and L'oreal.

[14:54] MD: So when startups are starting out, so they're starting off with market fit and they're building their MVP, so they have that initial offering, they show it to customers, they get customer feedback and they start improving the product according to how users feel about that product. I mean that's already, you know, per se the customer experience. But how does a startup begin a customer experience program from the very start? What would be some of the first steps?

[15:27] SD: Well, um, it's first really getting that voice of the customer, talking to the customers and things of that nature. And you know, there are numerous tools out there for organizations when you're a startup, you know, you're bootstrapping and most are. Maybe one percent is lucky with having that capital, but particularly have to take that bootstrapping mindset and the voice of the customer is where you start. And I also say along with product market fit, I get also the question when I'm talking with startups and we get along the lines of culture. They said, oh, we're too young to have a culture. Culture starts from day one. You really have to be thinking about that. And another thing that I've read about is gender equality and diversity and inclusion, and it's so key with what has been happening in the tech industry with women in tech and things that have been going on there. It's vital that while you're starting your product that you start thinking about your culture and get your employees involved because tying your culture with your employees, with what you would want to do with your customer is going to give you the full picture. So that's cultural plus customer experience equals success.

[17:07] MD: Well, if you think about it, I mean, how can you offer a product that speaks to a diverse market when you're not diverse yourself when you don't have a difference of culture, difference of opinion within your own organization, right? So how can you expect to cater to diverse crowds when you have no idea what diversity is because you don't have a sample of the nuances and the differences of our world, right. And I once heard someone saying, if you don't have a proper representation of your target audience inside of your company, then there is no way you can succeed.

[17:46] SD: Oh absolutely. And consider that the millennial market is the largest market right now. And millennials are drawn to companies that have values that are like their own. And if they don't see that with what the company's doing, you know, talk the talk, walk the walk. And if the company is not walking the walk through its employees through words and actions, they're not going to trust, and customer trust is a huge issue right now. Not just from the breach, the data breaches, but we're now in the age of the customer. Forrester coined that a few years back that it's no longer that the company, I don't want to use the word dictate, but it kind of was that the company had information on the website or their brochures. This is what we do. The customer or would be customer took that, kind of had to take it at face value, because there weren't a lot of options to do their own. Now they're in the driver's seat.

[18:52] MD: We have an ultra commoditized market, right?

[18:59] SD: Right. And they're making the decisions, so it's up to the brands to get their proverbial crap together. I know that this is a public program and really put that customer in front of the driver's seat because if these brands don't know now, the customer controls the brand, not them. The customer does.

[19:19] MD: Yeah. So stepping back into voice of customer, which you spoke about a couple minutes ago, and how essential it is to have that voice. And the truth is, when you're a small company, you can still reach your customer on a one on one level, right? I mean, when you're a startup and you get those initial customers, you can call them up, you can speak to them until you're in the couple hundreds, you can still maybe manually talk to them, right? Or maybe address them when they have a problem, etc. but once you reach a sizable audience that kind of gets away from you. So what should start ups do when they reach that stage where they can no longer get that clean, pure voice of customer?

[20:06] SD: When you're just starting, you can do the little things like talking with customers, putting out a simple survey through survey monkey and grabbing the data. And, and don't forget that it's not just about grabbing the data, it's about what are the insights that you've identified from the data and are you implementing those insights into your processes and are you letting your customer know what you did? So you're closing the loop. So it's easy to do that and while you're, while you're doing that, um, you should also be measuring. You can't, what's the line? You can't manage what you don't measure.

[20:52] SD: And you could take an NPS, you could take a customer effort score, a customer satisfaction score. It's fairly easy to do, but you still want to build in some good best practices. So when you do scale and even a little bit before you're thinking about, okay, maybe it's time that we do something about where we're asking for feedback when or asking for feedback and the where is looking at the customer journey.

[21:23] MD: So that would be the next stage, right? Looking at your customer journey, designing that and finding out where to talk to people. Right?

[19:19] SD: Right. It's not just the journey, it's looking at your personas and then those whole things that don't go into creating the journey, sitting down with your organization, you know, the key stakeholders and then always making sure that you're validating with the customer because the last thing you need if the journey, what you think is the journey and it's not the journey and you have a disconnect between company and customer and believe you me, that is still going on.

[22:01] SD: It's amazing. IBM, I think it was IBM, just conducted a survey of the top things that are important to customers versus the versus brands and it was a total disconnect. The top three things that the customers wanted were like 10 or lower on the brand side, so there's still that disconnect. It is still the world looking inside out as opposed to outside. There's still a lot of work to do, but we're going, we're taking the right steps.

[22:36] MD: So to make this sort of a playbook style where someone can follow one, two, three steps, you create that mvp, right? And once you get that mvp, then you have to listen to your customers so that you can maybe customize and make adjustments as necessary until you finally get a product that's tractionable, right?

[22:56] MD: Once you get tractionable product, you have to continue to listen to your customers and to do so you need to identify your personas, build a customer journey map and make sure that your customer journey map actually represents your customer journey and not your company journey, right. Then at moments to speak to your customers and then use a platform such as survey monkey or some other, uh, you know, do it yourself survey model. Grab one of the methodologies that's out there and just listen and begin measuring the experience that your customer has with you. Did I get it right?

[22:35] SD: You absolutely did, and I'd add another piece on the end and that's what are you going to do about advocacy? Because I mean, yeah, you're nurturing the relationship even before they buy from you and you're helping them move along their journey from retention and then through loyalty, but come up with ways like cocreating products and have them generate content. Have them help you know that what's that line from Jerry Maguire that that's crazy. Help me help you, and that's kind of the mindset of the customer. If you think about it, help me. Help me give me opportunities because I trust you have bought from you, but I want to help you. I want to help you be successful because when you're successful, we're all successful. It's a win win.

[24:32] MD: No. We've got several examples of startups out there that were built on customer advocacy alone and people talking about them and people recommending them and, and actually generating a virality around, you know, one example that I love is The Skim. I don't know if you know the skim, it's kind of like a, just a run through of the news that they send to your mailbox, right? So you don't have to read the news, you can just read The Skim and you're totally in the know and they started off as like, you know, too young women just to kind of in an office together as sending things out to a small group and all of a sudden they're this massive company because people identified with them. And I mean, I feel like at least with the Skim, the base, their customer base are the ones that kind of pushed them forward in that word of mouth and the recommending in, you know, receiving that newsletter and forwarding it to their friends, hey, check this out. You know, get your news in one place. And truly coming from an organic sense of wanting others to be a part of this as well. Right? Like, Hey, I really liked this, come and be a part of this with me. Right. And that's the kind of advocacy I think that is the most powerful.

[25:49] SD: Oh, absolutely. 

[25:54] MD: Well, let me ask you about something else. Tell me a little bit about the work that you're doing on, on two projects that I've actually participated in and I love which is CX Accelerator and CX chat on twitter. So CX accelerator on slack and CX chat on twitter. Tell me a little bit about those projects, how they started and why you decided to take this on and you know, maybe somehow try to get the word out there about customer experience and work so closely to help this community.

[26:20] SD: Well, these two projects came out of a need that wasn't being met. Let's start with CX chat first because that's my passion project. Even though cx accelerator, I'm part of a group there. So CX chat, I was doing a prior chat. I was hosting a chat with a colleague on advocacy and we were talking about, well, the advocacy we want to do advocacy with the customer experience. It was kind of kind of both and every time advocacy came up, customer experience came, came up and I was really looking at what resources do we have for customer experience and we don't. There was a few years ago, a customer experience chat out there, but it went away so we didn't really have anything in and other than blogs and the customer experience Professionals Association, there wasn't anything socially. So I saw the need my partner Annette Franz and I were talking about similar things and we just decided let's partner up.

[27:34] SD: Let's do this because people have been talking about we don't have a place to go. So on a social network to talk about customer experience. So cx was born and um, we're doing smart growth. I still consider CX a niche play. We're not in the mainstream yet. If you understand customer experience, you're going to want more customer experience. And that's, that's been the goal with CX chat is to get more people in the fold, but do it in a smart way. The accelerator is the brainchild of Nate Brown and he invited me. I met Nate through CX chat and a few other things and we were talking about things. One thing led to another that there really wasn't a place that customer experience, customer, customer success, customer service training and development, a lot of different customer facing roles could, there was a community for them to talk about things that they were going through, maybe share ideas that they had come up with.

[28:49] SD: How do we move the needle on this? And the thing that I love about cx accelerator is that more people are coming in that really didn't understand what customer experience is and doing what we're doing socially that's moving the needle in a different way that we're getting people that might've been on the edge of maybe customer support, the contact center, and things of that nature to really understand what customer experience is. That in itself is very important because customer experience is not just the customer facing role when you start getting involved in journey mapping in service blueprinting and service design work and things of that nature. It's the other roles that you need. Those are also key stakeholders to make this beautiful CX machine work well for customers.

[29:47] MD: Right. Well that's great. Well I think we're out of time for today, but let me ask you something, Sue. If our listeners want to listen to talk to you, hear more of what you have to say and if our listeners want to be a part of CX chat and CX accelerator, how can they find you? How can they reach out?

[30:08] SD: Well, as far as CX chat goes, we are a weekly twitter chat every Wednesday at 11:00 AM Pacific Time, 2:00 PM eastern time follow #cxchat. As far as me, I suggest going to m4comm.com is my company and we have a blog. And if you just have a general question about customer experience, I'm happy to answer that.

[30:42] MD: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much. We'll make sure to include that in the episode details for everyone to be able to follow you and thank you so much for being here today, sue and talking about how startups can improve their customer experience and we'll make sure to follow your work.

[30:59] SD: Well. Great, and thank you for inviting me and inviting me to do this on your podcast and you know I never miss a moment to talk about customer experience and employee experience. It's just two passion projects of mine. 

[31:18] MD: Thank you for listening to Voices of Customer Experience. If you'd like to hear more or get a full podcast summary, visit the episode details page or go to blog.worthix.com/podcasts. This episode of Voices of Customer Experience was hosted and produced by Mary Drumond, cohosted by James Conrad, and edited by Nic Gomez. Blog copy and summary by Emma Waldron.

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