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Birds of a Feather

Release Date: November 19, 2019

Like any other profession, CX professionals need to stay up-to-date on best practices, find new ideas for programs, and learn how customer experience works in other companies. Many resources exist to help – including this podcast – but sometimes you need to meet with like-minded professionals face-to-face.

Guest host Pat Gibbons welcomes guests Branden Schossler, an R&D events manager for Hylant, and Gary Batroff, a senior manager of customer experience for West Monroe Partners, to discuss how they help start local networking groups to help colleagues develop professionally.

 

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Pat:
Where do we get some of our best ideas for customer experience programs: articles, books, online resources, maybe even podcasts like this? All are great options but sometimes nothing can replace face-to-face conversations among like-minded professionals.

Branden:
I will always be thankful for the friendships, the leadership skills that it taught me, the event management, the planning the communication. It's just been incredibly valuable.

Pat:
The value of networking on this episode of The CX Leader Podcast.

Announcer:
The CX Leader Podcast with Steve Walker is a production of Walker. An experience management firm that helps companies accelerate their CX success. Find out more at walkerinfo.com.

Pat:
Hello everyone, I'm Pat Gibbons, guest host of The CX Leader Podcast filling in today for Steve Walker, and welcome to today's program. On The CX Leader Podcast we explore topics and themes to help leaders like you leverage all the benefits of customer experience. When we launched The CX Leader Podcast almost two years ago our single intent was to provide a resource to support the professional development of CX leaders. Because so many of us in the CX world came from other disciplines, it's even more important to lean on each other for ideas and guidance and advice. With that in mind today we're going to delve into the topic of networking for CX leaders – not only the value of networking but how you might be able to get involved. Many people are unaware, for instance, that there are CX networking groups in most big cities around the world. And today we have two guests that have led such groups in different cities. Branden Schossler is an R&D events manager for Hylant and was instrumental in starting the CX networking group in Cleveland Ohio. Also we have Gary Batroff, senior manager for customer experience for West Monroe Partners and he leads the group in San Francisco. Branden, Gary, thanks for being on The CX Leader Podcast.

Branden:
Yeah, my pleasure. Happy to be here.

Gary:
Thanks for having us Pat.

Pat:
You know I have to admit this is kind of a topic of personal pride. You know I've had the pleasure to be involved for a number of years in our networking group in Indianapolis and you know all of our groups were started at the encouragement of our industry association the CXPA or the Customer Experience Professionals Association. But I would venture to guess that our groups are all a little bit different. So I think it'll be kind of fun to explore that today, learn about these groups, but more importantly I hope people walk away with the idea that they can really learn from other CX professionals and it might spark them to either get involved in a group, or call somebody for coffee, or whatever. So let's let's start with a little bit of background. Branden let's start with you. How did you get involved in your group. And it sounds like you helped start it up, right?

Branden:
Yeah that was a really interesting story as to both how I got involved a bit more specifically how I actually helped start the group. There… when I started Hylant as part of the customer experience team, all of our team members were given access to the CXPA website, we were added onto the corporate membership and I remember going through the resources and just kind of like seeing was out there. And that's when I noticed that they did local meet ups. Was interested in those, noticed that the closest one wasn't nearby it was actually in Cincinnati and I was thinking to myself, "well this is about journey mapping this sounds something really interesting it's a topic I've been trying to read more about I'd be interested in checking it out." So me and a colleague of mine actually kind of talked to my boss about it and said "hey do you mind if we go down and we take a look at this local meetup." He was perfectly fine with it so we took a trip down and it was a really, really cool experience and it definitely exceeded the expectations that I had about what these local meet ups could be about. And that's when I was just kind of sitting there and thinking, well we get to do some in Cleveland – why don't we have anything in Cleveland yet? And then that's when I reached out to the CXPA and asked them, "hey I'm thinking about doing something in Cleveland here. You know, what are the requirements to start a group?" And it had just so happened that as I was reaching out to them there were other people reaching out to start the local Cleveland group as well and the CXPA connected all of us together – just talking about the coffee comment we all had, had lunch at a coffee and just had a conversation about, you know, we should start this group in Cleveland. How are we gonna do this? And then it just kind of developed from there.

Pat:
That's… that's great that's neat that you took a road trip to see what it was like and that was the thing that prompted you to say "we've got to have something like this in Cleveland."

Branden:
Yeah.

Pat:
Yeah. Gary how about in San Francisco? What's… what's been your involvement and how long has that group been around?

Gary:
I think San Francisco's probably been one of the earlier groups. I think they started probably around 2012 or so. I, you know, I've been a lifetime consultant except for a couple of startups and… but I feel like 2011 I kind of made this conscious choice that I was going to focus solely on customer experience. And if you've been in the customer experience in that long you know that back in 2011 you pretty much had to explain to every single person you met what customer experience meant.

Pat:
Yeah right. That's right.

Gary:
And so there weren't a whole lot of people I could talk to and learn from, other than books and… and blogs online and stuff like that. So a couple of years later I heard about a group here in San Francisco and, you know, made an effort to attend one of the events and was just like "oh wow! these are my people. They know what I'm talking about. I'm learning from them they have so many different experiences around customer experience." And so I was kind of… kind of blown away by how much I enjoyed the meetings. And so I started to go on a regular basis and then sort of round towards the end of 2017, I've been going to a lot of events and benefiting from all the organization that other folks have been doing and said, OK well, I see it's a lot of work for people to organize these events. It's probably my turn to run the organization. So I took over it in 2018 in San Francisco and you know did whatever I could to help boost attendance, have more events, things like that. So it's been a great journey.

Pat:
Yeah that's great. So, Gary tell us a little bit about what type of events do you have and, you know, give us a feel for them: how many people attend, or are they… how often do you have them, that sort of thing.

Gary:
We have probably about seven or eight main events which, which are kind of like evening events where we have a speaker or panel. We've covered a lot of topics from user experience, design, CX strategy, the overlap of customer success and customer experience, connecting employee experience to customer experience was super popular. We did one at AirBNB recently on CX analytics that was really popular on CX day and just last night we had one on the social impact of CX or using CX to have social impact at DocuSign and that was… that was a great event. So we have a lot of panelists, a lot of sometimes individual speakers. We're trending more towards panelists because I think the audience gets more out of that. But we also do like informal happy hours or coffees, particularly in the outer edges of the Bay Area. So where people who maybe can't commute as easily into San Francisco have an ability to kind of attend something and exchange ideas with folks in the network.

Pat:
And Branden, how about in Cleveland? Tell us a little about some of the events you've had and how frequent you have them and what's the nature of them.

Branden:
This is a great question. When we first started I remember the first event we did was at a local… it was at a local brewery and we just said "hey we're just going to do a CX meet-up and just kinda see if we can get some local people in the area put together. There weren't that many people there and it was… it was probably more on the lines of four or five and that's also including the three of us, three or four of us that had kind of founded the group. So it's a very small meet up at first but it kind of got that momentum started and we had a couple of events – I want to say it was every couple months after that – for the first year but it was really when I took over at the beginning or the end of last year for this year as kind of being the lead of the group that I wanted to sit down I said, OK I wanted to do something that's a little bit more formal when it comes to the amount of events we're having, the content of these events, and how that we're gonna like orchestrate them because my biggest thought is how are we going to create a series of events that are going to create value for everybody that's going to be there. Yes, the networking is important and we really want to push that connection from people to people but we also want to look at this and say: "how can we give those tangible takeaways to the people that are gonna be attending these events." So one of the things that we decided to do, or I decided to do for this year is that we basically kind of put our events around customer experience discipline. So we focused it around strategy, customer understanding, design, measurement, and governance and culture. And what we decided to do with those was to have about four events. So we finished up the last one in September for the year, or early October, actually, for the year kind of ending out these core competencies. We combined a couple of ones but really what we're focusing on is okay how do we take these core competencies and build events around education about them. So with strategy we did this event where we went to a couple of different restaurants in the local Cleveland area and we would kind of feel for the culture and the strategy of how they're approaching customer experience. And then we would take notes on that and then compare it between the different ones. And the cool part about it was we chose restaurants that were all part of the same umbrella corporation. So we picked restaurants that were all under the Darden brand so we could see – even under a company like Darden – there are three different restaurants or two different restaurants that have completely different strategies on customer experience. So we did events like that and I think it really kind of created that traction, created the momentum and it was a really cool conversation piece for a lot of the people that we had attending them.

Pat:
Yeah it sounds like, too, with that structure you were able to lay out a program that people could kind of look ahead and they knew that there was a progression to it. It wasn't just a single event where you kind of go, "Well is this going to continue or whatever." You had a plan that I think gave people some confidence in the programming that was going to occur.

Branden:
Yeah absolutely.

Gary:
Yeah I think that's a great approach Branden. I… using the six core competencies that… and we kind of generally follow that same… same format as far as how we rotate events – we try to cover all of those. We're actually thinking about doing kind of an event where we have all of the participants who come in go at tables, like 20 minutes at a time, and they just talk about that single discipline with someone who's an expert moderating that particular table and rotate them through six different disciplines. But I think that's a great structure. It also makes sure you cover all phases, right? Nothing left out.

Branden:
Yeah. I love the rotating discussion idea about the six companies use the different tables. I think that's a great move and if I was back in charge of the group believe me we would definitely do something like that. That's a good idea.

Announcer:
Do you have an idea for a topic that you'd like us to cover, a suggestion on how we can improve the program, or just want to let us know how much you enjoy listening? Email The CX Leader Podcast at podcast@walkerinfo.com. We'd love to hear your feedback on how we're doing. That's podcast@walkerinfo.com.

Pat:
Well, I'll chime in and share a little of what we do in Indianapolis because it is a bit of a contrast. We started ours I believe in 2013 on a CX Day and we had a good crowd for our city show up at one of the companies that was going to host and try to get things started. The biggest mistake we made was, even though there was a lot of enthusiasm, we didn't follow up right away with the next event. And so it took us a good year or so to get on a pattern. And what we stumbled on was that people liked informal breakfasts that we would schedule. And so beginning in March of 2015 we started doing a monthly breakfast and we've had an event every month since then for over 50 consecutive months. And so with that structure it's probably a little more informal, we pick a topic at each… each breakfast and say that's what we'll talk about next time. And there's a little recap online and then people come to the next one and sometimes we get a dozen sometimes we get 25. Every once in a while we go out to a company that hosts but the majority of the time it's just kind of this regular cadence and that's kind of what gets people coming back. And then along the way a few others hear about it and so forth. But as you can imagine we've covered a lot of topics in that process. It's kind of interesting how… how different the different cities kind of manage it. And I think that's the goal of the CXPA too is that everybody kind of does their own thing.

Branden:
Yeah it's interesting that you mentioned how different cities manage it because we had the new… I think the new CEO of the CXPA come into our last meeting. So we worked with him. Got him scheduled to come and be our presenter for culture, which worked out fabulously. It was, it was a really good way to end the year with the last event that we did. And he talked a lot about that, which is the idea of, you know we don't want to try and make these local groups into something where they have to follow this cookie cutter mold of being this specific way, we want them to take on the form that they need to take on for these local areas.

Pat:
So at your events, I'm interested in – I guess I'd call it the camaraderie of the event. Maybe each of you can give me a feel for, kind of how the people interact, how they kind of learn from each other. Is there a lot of discussion, lot of participation, is it more social, is it more formal? Gary why don't you start and tell us about San Francisco.

Gary:
Yes I think we've got a great kind of combination of formal and social. And I think the more events you attend and the more you get to know the regulars, you know, the more socially it can become for you. But, I think there's a lot of great connections that happen with folks. I've personally hired two people that I met at CXPA events. And I'm always trying to look out for other people who are either looking for jobs or looking to hire someone and kind of play that kind of Malcolm Gladwell tipping like kind of connector role and bring people together. You know, there's all kinds of interesting conversations and of course ours are always in the evening, usually. And so there's always alcohol served so it tends to loosen people up a little bit socially…

Pat:
Yeah.

Gary:
…but yeah. Yeah. So a lot of joking around, you know, sharing cartoons about customer experience and just, in general, enjoying each other's company.

Pat:
Yeah, that makes sense. What about in Cleveland, Branden?

Branden:
Yeah I feel very similar. I think it's a blend of both the topics specifically related to CX and having those really good in-depth discussions even outside of the group about, "hey, so what's your organization doing with this particular problem?" I mean one of the things that I felt was an opportunity in every single company is that we had talked with that there was a part of this group is that how do I get organizational buy-in to do all this stuff? And we've talked about that so many times but it's such an interesting topic because you can have it as an entire group. You can have it on these you know one on one conversations among group members. I feel like that was one of the things that kind of started to get people to bond over what their organizations are kind of going through. And then from there a lot of the personal conversations definitely having. We… there were a couple of people that I can think of that I think moved jobs within different people, or within different companies that were in the… our local group which is cool and we had a couple interviews set up through there too. So yeah there's… there's definitely a kind of a range of all three and I think it's a really nice mix which is why you know it was such a good group.

Pat:
One of the things I love about those meetings is the dynamic that occurs at the end and if you're groups or like ours you know after any of the formal discussion is completed, people stand around and talk. And people identify somebody across the room that had a comment that was of interest to them and they connect. And that to me is what it's all about is those kind of connections where they say "hey you had an idea that sounded really interesting that I could apply in my business." Or as both of you referred to, I know at the last meeting I was at, we always go around at the beginning and we introduce ourselves and say what company we're with. And there was a woman there that's come to a number of our meetings and I noticed when she came around she named a different company that she was with. And afterwards I said "hey, sounds like you've got a new job." And she's like "yeah I did. And I owe it to this group. That's how I met… that's how I met the organization. That's how I got my new job." That's when I look…

Gary:
That's awesome.

Pat:
…Yeah, that's when I look at these and say networking really does make a difference whether it's… you know, it's really in any profession, but you know here there's a structure for it, so. You know obviously if there's somebody out there that is in San Francisco or Cleveland or Indianapolis or any of the cities where a networking group exists, I think our encouragement would be "hey, check it out and you know attend one of the events." What about if they're not? I think you guys probably both have ideas on other ways people can network. Gary you want to kick that one off.

Gary:
Sure. You know, and I think it's tough to say when you first start out if you know… first look to see if there is a network, right, in your particular city or… or if there's something drivable, right? That, you know, if you can drive to Cincinnati on a regular basis, or something like that, you know, there and back.

Pat:
Yeah, you can be like Branden that drove three hours, four hours to this meeting. [laughing]

Branden:
I don't recommend that. [laughing]

Gary:
I mean, if I could get paid to do that from my boss who'd say hey go drive to another city to their CXPA event, I would do that. But I think you know Branden mentioned meet ups. You know there's there's an actual Web site called MeetUp.com and that's one way in which we really greatly expanded the number of people that to our event, particularly younger people who are more likely to use that… that option. So if you set up a meetup in your city you can see how much attention it draws. You know, who your city is interested in if it's only a small group of people, you know, that's how big groups get started: they start small, so. And just doing some stuff that's informal: happy hour, or a coffee, is a good way to get started. And just maybe doing some research on LinkedIn to see, OK, who is the expert in their title that lives in my city. We're just gonna ping them and see if they'd be interested in having coffee or doing an event like that.

Pat:
Yeah, I think that's great advice. Branden anything to add to that?

Branden:
I definitely concur with the idea of going through meetup. I've used it before really great way to go. The other thing that we kind of noticed too was that one of the limitations with the CXPA back when I originally started is that you had to be a member to kind of get some of the information that you needed for the events and the kind of sign up to be a part of that group on their website. And we had noticed right away that that you know we… we want to be able to encourage everybody in the local Cleveland area to be a part of this local group because the expo is also perfectly comfortable with those people attending the event. So one of the things that we did was we created our LinkedIn group and I think that that has been a huge piece of what's helped us grow our membership and to continue it and be able to engage them, even outside of the events that we do. So we started with just a couple of us and then when after I took over it I kind of said, OK I want to grow this LinkedIn group as big as possible. Let's do things like business cards that have direct QR codes to the LinkedIn page and anything that we can do to get people on that page because that's where they're gonna get all the information. And we have over 60 people in there now and it's fantastic. They have great discussions and it really helps to encourage that beyond the meet ups. And I think leveraging that leveraging MeetUp, you can even create your own events on Eventbrite and you don't even have to go through the organization to do it. You can do it kind of Meetup-style and you can say "hey I'm just gonna do this thing it's free." People can sign up for it. Here's a location maybe go to a local library if you need a place that they can get a free room and just… just do it.

Pat:
Great advice – great ideas from both of you. So we're… we're at the point of our program, we always ask one final question to our guests and we call it "the take-home value question." And that is from both of you: if you have one tip that would be advice that you give to a CX professional on how they can take advantage of networking in their career, what would it be? Branden why don't we start with you. What's your tip today?

Branden:
So, sitting back and thinking about you know starting the group and being a part of it and leading it, I will always be thankful for the friendships, the leadership skills that it taught me, the event management the planning the communication. It's just been incredibly valuable. And my biggest takeaway to anybody that's trying to figure out "do I want to join a local meetup? Do I want to start a local meetup?" Anything like that, especially with CX is just… just to do it. Just try it. Get yourself out there – don't be afraid to try something new and and talk with people. If you're interested, just dive into it and… things are gonna happen, things are gonna change but when you see an opportunity to either get engaged with somebody or get involved in, you know, in my case, both starting and leading this group which were two separate opportunities that presented themselves, I just said "OK let's do it. Let's see what happens because what's the worst thing that can happen is that I fail forward." And it was a really good opportunity and that's my biggest takeaway and thing I always tell people is just… just try it.

Pat:
Great advice and great attitude. Gary what's your tip?

Gary:
Yeah, it's funny. His advice is really kind of similar to my advice. You know it kind of follows there's a Woody Allen quote: "90 percent of success is showing up." And…

Pat:
Very good. [laughing]

Gary:
…I think… I think I think that you know listening to people talk about networking gives you some sense of what networking is like. But you really don't know what it's like until you try it. And… and so I think what I would recommend for people is to commit. Not to starting networking or going to one event. I would say commit to going to two events. And so I think by committing to two events if the first event isn't super interesting you might find that the second one is completely different because I know our events have very different topics and very different crowd sometimes. So I think if you could just commit to doing two events and seeing what kind of benefits you can get out of it I think that's a great decision and a good mindset to have to further your career.

Pat:
Definitely a common theme and I think you know when we talk about our take home value advice it's always… we always try to make it something that people can do immediately. And I think today is a good example. People can listen to this podcast and they can go to the CXPA website and check what's in my city, or they can reach out to somebody at another company in their town and just have coffee. So again I think the theme is let's just get out and do it. So so Branden Schossler and Gary Batroff, both guests today on the CX Leader Podcast. I assume both of you guys are on LinkedIn, Okay if people reach out to you?

Branden:
Absolutely.

Gary:
Definitely.

Pat:
All right. I'll just to give the spelling so people can find it. Brandon's last name is S C H O S S L E R. And Gary is B A T R O F F. You can find them on LinkedIn and I know they'd love to continue the conversation about networking. So, Branden, Gary thanks for being on the CX Leader Podcast today.

Gary:
Thanks Pat. I really really enjoyed it. Thank you.

Branden:
Thank you. My pleasure.

And if you want to talk about anything you heard on this episode or how Walker can help your business' customer experience you can contact me at pgibbons@walkerinfo.com or you can contact Steve Walker at steve.walker@walkerinformation.com, or call us here in the U.S. at +1-317-843-8890. Don't hesitate to reach out. We'd always love to hear from you. Don't forget to subscribe to The CX Leader Podcast. You can go to our new website: cxleaderpodcast.com. You'll find links to iTunes, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Google Play, Stitcher, and YouTube. You'll also be able to listen to past episodes, explore various series that we've produced, and there's even a way to contact us. Let us know how we're doing. That's cxleaderpodcast.com. Thank you for listening to The CX Leader Podcast, it's a production of Walker. We're an experience management firm that helps our clients accelerate their CX success by delivering exceptional experiences for their customers. You can find out more at walkerinfo.com. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.

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