About Annette Franz
Annette Franz is the founder and CEO of CX Journey Inc. and the co-founder and co-host of the Experia Summit. With over 25 years of experience, she helps organizations understand their employees and customers and provide a better experience for them. She is a contributing author to Forbes, Quality Digest, Business2Community and a lot more.
She is also a member of the Forbes Coaches council. We are very happy to have someone of her stature on our interview series today.
We have the pleasure of welcoming Annette Franz today to our interview series. I’m Sumitha Mariyam from the peopleHum team. Before we begin, just a quick intro of PeopleHum. peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work.
We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month.
Welcome, Annette, We’re thrilled to have you.
Thank you so much for having me and this is so exciting, any chance that I get to talk about the work I do and how important it is to brands around the world, it’s a pleasure. Thank you for having me.
It's our pleasure to have you.
So moving on to the first question that we have for you Annette, can you tell us a little bit about your interesting work with CX Journey Inc? Can you tell us a little bit about your journey?
Yes, it's been quite the journey. I started in this customer experience based 28 years ago, almost 30 years in this space, right? I started with JD Power and Associates and people often ask me, how did I get into this career path? And I don't have a special story about that.
So , I loved math. I loved writing and I saw an ad in the newspaper for JD Power Associates, and I was like market research takes both of those into account and I can use that and I loved it. It was really about working with brands to help them improve at the time really focused on customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.
This customer experience term didn't come around for a few years yet after that but I spent a lot of my time over last 28 years on both on the client-side and on the vendor-side, client-side I was with Mattel and Fidelity, and on the vendor-side, I was with several of the larger voice of the customer platforms running their consulting services organizations.
About three years ago, I decided that it was time to go out on my own, to work on the kinds of projects and do the kinds of things that I love to do. And it's been the best decision ever. I really, I always say, have three streams of income. I have the content work that I do the speaking and the coaching/consulting and working with my clients really on the soup to nuts, customer experience, strategy.
It's working with folks who are either new to a Chief Customer Officer role or who are new to the field and really helping them and even someone who is experienced, even those folks need help refreshing, what is the latest and greatest thing in this space? So that's a lot of the work that I'm doing right now, and I love it. I've really enjoyed the career trajectory and the journey that I've had, so it's been a lot of fun.
Well, that's a wonderful answer.
Moving onto the next question, can you give us some insights on how an employee-centric culture will lead to a better customer service experience for an organization?
Yeah, absolutely. I like to refer to it as I talked about customer-centric, I talked about employee-centric, and ultimately in the end, it's people-centric.
It's putting the people first, putting the people before metrics, before profits, before products, really bringing their voice into everything that the business does.
When we put our employees, at utmost first right? And that comes from a book that was written by Hal F. Rosenbluth, where he said, the title of the book is ‘The Customer Comes Second’ and really, his saying is the customer comes first, but the employee comes more first, so If we put the employee first and really take care of our employees, they will, in turn take care of our customers.
It's a pretty simple equation.
There's a ton of research out there, and I'm gonna look at my monitor here for a second because I can send you this graphic if you want to insert it into the video and share it with our listeners. I’m working on a presentation right now and it's a graphic that really shows the flow of exactly what you're asking.
What happens when we focus on the employees? What happens when we focus on our customers and really the foundation of that again when you just look at the graphic again and I just kind of walk you through it, the foundation of all of that is the culture. The culture has to be right. It has to be deliberately designed to put people first, right?
That's such a huge piece of it and then everything that we've got to make sure is that employees are taken care of and that means a lot of different things. That's anywhere from truly caring about them as humans to coaching and feedback and letting them know how their work matters and appreciation, recognition and so much more.
But it's also about the tools and the resources and the policies and the processes and all of that stuff that they have to do their jobs when they do that, that leads to great employee experience. So you've got that foundation in place.
That's the foundation of great employee experience. Then that leads to employees feeling that there's a purpose and they align with that purpose and they align with the organization. They feel like they belong. They feel valued. They appreciate it. And the outcomes for the employees are, engagement and happiness and productivity and quality and loyalty and creativity and innovation.
That all bleeds over into customer accounts, right? Because then the customer has a better experience. They feel like they are valued. They're able to achieve their jobs that they're trying to do and solve their problems, then ultimately that leads to business outcomes, right? Whether that's employer branding, talent branding, growth, revenue and profitability and all those things.
That's wonderful. That's a beautiful flow that you explain for us right there. We're seeing a lot of startups coming with it, it's much easier for them to implement that employee-centric to people-centric approach better because they're new.
What, according to you, are the greatest challenges that startups are facing when it comes to establishing a good ground for customer relations?
I love this question because I work with a lot of startups too and it really is about getting this culture, this customer-centric, this people-centric culture ingrained from the start, right? I think Zappos is really the poster child for that, right? I think they have done it really well.
I think so many times startup founders are focused on the product and getting out there and getting the money and all of that that they have to remember that the people are in the middle of it, right? Why are you developing this part? I've had startup founders come to me and say, hey, we created a product, now that we have to find customers for this product and it's really the other way around, you've got customers, customers have a problem, solve the problem for the customer.
And so I think that's a balanced challenge that a lot of them are struggling with. And so I think it's really important that they put the people before the product and problem before the product as well.
What are you trying to solve? But also it is obviously about that culture, right? From bringing that customer understanding, what their pain points are? And what problems are they trying to solve? What jobs are you trying to do?
All of that from the start, and then it's easier to build on that as the organization grows. It's easier to scale when you start from the very beginning, at the start of starting the business.
Yeah, that's a wonderful answer. I totally agree with you on that one. The people and their problems have to be addressed first when you think of the product. That's wonderful.
What do you think are the challenges that all organizations are facing to maintain their customer support, especially during this time of the pandemic? How would you like to address the main problems that all these organizations face?
Yeah, I would question you right now in terms of what problems, right? Because it's such a long list, it's the volume of calls and the wait time and then people working from home, serving people with empathy and all that. I called my mortgage lender last week. I had a question about my escrow account and after waiting on hold and having to email them twice prior to that and waiting for weeks, nobody to respond.
And I was like, all right, get on a call’ so I called in the waiting on hold for 30 minutes. Then the woman who answered, so I can't help you with that. I have to turn it over to a customer specialist, so then I got transferred like, oh, gosh, I hope I don't get dropped and how might I call them back? Am I gonna really wait on hold again for 30 minutes? And then that person that I ended up talking to you, I could tell she was working from home. She was on a speakerphone. She sounded like she was miles away from the speakerphone.
I thought, oh, dear lord, they haven't given her the tools to do her job right?’ And so I think that some of the challenges that the agents themselves are facing right now they don't have the right tools to do the job. And if they do, they need to be trained on how to work from home. I think that's another thing, we're all kind of casual. They were in their jammies or whatever, but you know what? we're still running businesses, we've still got to be productive, we’ve still gotta serve our customers.
So, yeah, so that was really interesting. I thought, wow, she's on speakerphone, maybe not on her cell phone, who knows how they have not provided their employees with the right tools to be able to do on the job that they need to do. I think that's a big thing in terms of solving for that, I think training and tools and communication are so key right now, communication probably being one of the biggest ones and not just for customers but employees.
Employees really need to know what's going on and there needs to be open, transparent conversations. Again, as I said, if you're asking people to work from home, there needs to be a communication between manager or supervisor and their staff both ways in terms of, hey, how are things going? What's going well, what's not going well, what do you need help with, are you able to do your job and still be able to do your job the way that you've been doing it and I know there are challenges, but let's have those conversations. I think that's really important piece.
Well, that's a wonderful answer and I completely agree with you on that one because communication is the one thing that's getting really difficult right now because people are indifferent homes and your entire team is like if you have 10 people there in 10 different cities and communications getting really hard and leaders are like I can't announce coming out of my cabin anymore. I have to call each one of you and tell you and others are not used to it.
The leaders are not used to it and we're finding it so difficult to communicate and coordinate and I think that's very important and also to have the tools for it. I mean, technology plays a very important role in it because we Zoom right now and being in different parts of the world, being able to communicate over Zoom, I can see you and we are communicating like that.
So how do you think technology plays a role in the inclusive workplace of the future?
Yeah. Oh, gosh. It's not going anywhere. It's gonna become even more important, right? I mean, we see it today. What's happening today? Can you imagine? I saw a meme just yesterday about something like, can you imagine if this had happened in, you know, 2000 or early 2000 right? When smartphones were not around, none of this technology was around. It was a pretty funny meme and I was like, that is so true we would be in a world of hurt right now and maybe necessity would have become the mother of invention.
But I think what's happening right now is that we're learning a lot of things about the technology that we currently have. That's not necessarily meeting the needs of the people today, and so it'll be really interesting to see where technology turns from here.
But it's not going away. It's going to become more prevalent and more important. The crazy thing is, there's research out there to show that the more technologically advanced we become, the more people create that human interaction.
I think there's a huge balance in the two and customer experience and employees experience, they're about the people and they are about the feelings and the emotions and their perceptions. Technology really is a tool that facilitates and supports the experience and enhances it. But it's not the experience itself. We have to remember that it's about the people and all about the people.
Yeah, that is very interesting about this ancient time. I mean, working from my kitchen counter. I feel comfortable because I have technology so that is a wonderful concept that we have there.
And moving to the next question, how do you think a talent brand is important for an organization, say, a startup or a medium level organization?
I think it's important for us to differentiate between what an employer brand is and what a talent brand is right because they're two different things. So the employer brand is what the employer says it's like to work for your company, right? Whereas the talent brand is about what the employees are doing, thinking, feeling what they're sharing, especially what they're sharing out to their networks, into their friends and everything.
So the talent brand is what the employee is saying to their network. I think it's more important than ever, we talk about this with customers all the time, right? You used to be able to tell 10 friends if you had a bad experience, you told your family and it was, 10 or 15 people, whatever it was. Now with social media and with all the amplification out there, you can tell thousands and millions of people just with one post, right?
And so it's even more important, right? To get the employees experience right, so that when your employees are out and talking about your brand, they're talking about the things that you want them to talk about, that it's a great brand. It's a great place to work. I love working here. They take care of their people and take care of employees.
I think it's more important now than ever. I think that, especially, during the crisis, it's the way that companies handle the employee experience and how they handle the working from home normal but employees are out there sharing, we see pictures of Zoom meetings all of that every day. And so I think it's really important that you deliver great employees. It's only gonna pay off.
I just want to know, just out of curiosity, do you think that the way that organizations provide experience to its employees the employee engagement level that they have right now is going to change drastically once we come out of the pandemic?
That's a great question. I do think that again, it's the way that employers handle this and especially I don't even want to say to the employer, I want to say your manager, people say that people leave managers, people leave cultures.
And it's true. It's so true. So the way that your manager handles it again, going back to what I was saying earlier about having those two-way conversations. If you go to your manager and you say, hey, I'm not feeling XYZ or I don't have whatever tool I need, right?
I didn't hear about that. What's going on? It's the way that your manager's gonna respond to that. Handle it, hear what you say, all of that. That's really gonna make a difference going forward again, employee engagement is an outcome.
It's sort of a confluence of two things happening right? The employees caring and wanting to be a part of the brand and the emotions and the feelings that the employee has about the brand then also the company's response.
How the company is helping employees align with the purpose and feel like they matter and all of those different things that together have this great outcome, which is employee engagement, right? And delivering a great employee experience is certainly part of that and the engagement is an outcome.
So, yeah, I know I think that was a long-winded way of answering your question but I do think that right now the way that people handle the current situation is really going to impact outcomes going forward.
Yeah, I think one of the most frequently asked questions once we come out of a pandemic by candidates will be, how did you handle your employees while we were having all these uncertain times. So I think that's a brilliant answer. Thank you for that.
Absolutely. And I just wrote about this in a blog post today. There's a quote from John Kennedy that says, "Fix the roof when the sun is shining because when it's raining it's too late." So you've gotta have everything in place. You've gotta have the culture. You've gotta be already doing things like your experience should not change in any way, shape or form today.
It should not be harder to deliver that experience today than it was a year ago, right? Because you have everything set up to deliver day in and day out, rain, snow, sunshine, pandemic, whatever. So that I think, that is really important.
Yeah. We are also moving to a stage where people are very much thinking about their financial security.
Also, like with the increase in the millennial workforce, the gig economy is gaining momentum. And we have gig workers for all sorts of jobs with the current financial insecurity and crisis. Do you think it is here to stay?
I do think it's here to stay. I know it's challenging for everybody right now. Not just the gig folks, but everybody right now, I don't think that's going away it's something they've been. They've been a lifesaver force, right?
It's the folks who were delivering with Doordash and Postmates and instant cards and all those folks, Uber drivers, not as busy as they were, but they're still critical to the economy today and I don't think that's going away. I actually think it'll continue strong. We're all gonna come back stronger than ever. It's gonna take time, but yeah, I don't think the gig economy is on the way home.
Yeah, I love how you stay positive throughout all your answers and thank you so much for that.
Absolutely. That's just who I am. I mean, again it's who I am. I'd stay positive and I'd like to want to smile and be happy. But yeah, that's the way to be used to think positively. And just carry that throughout your day. It helps.
You have a lovely smile.
So to wrap up the interview. I would like to ask one last question.
If you have any important soundbites that you would like to leave our audience with.
I think number one is to focus on the people. The numbers will come. Is customer's understanding really the cornerstone of customer centrism? We have to take the time and we talked about this already.
It's about taking the time to really know your customers who they are, what their pain points are. Problems in their jobs to be done, taking that understanding and bringing it into the organization and everything that you do has to be wrapped around that so that you can deliver value to your customers and your employees.
I wrote a book called ‘Customer Understanding’, just published last fall. It went into great detail about why customer understanding is a cornerstone of customer-centricity and how to achieve that so I think that's an important thing. Thank you so much for having me. I love this. This is great. I enjoyed our conversation.
Oh, I love this conversation. It is truly an enriching experience to listen to all of these concepts from an experienced professional. It's not like reading a book like, one begins and it's been an enriching experience for me and I am sure our audience is going to gain a lot of knowledge from this particular one. Thank you for smiling and for all the positivity and for all the ideas. Have a healthy and safe life ahead of you.
Thank you. You too. Thanks so much.