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Relationship Advice for CX Leaders

Release Date: April 21, 2020

CX leaders are often tasked with managing change throughout the company in order to create an exceptional customer experience, and building relationships is key to helping manage that change. But when life is disrupted on a global scale, it’s critical that everyone in the company trusts each other to make certain the customer’s experience is not sidelined. Host Steve Walker welcomes guest Stuart Gilchriest, a certified customer experience professional with Hertz, the global car rental company, for a discussion on how taking the time to building relationships within the company can help in times of crisis.

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Steve:
Building relationships with your customers and within your company itself has always been an important element of successful customer experience, but today it's more crucial than ever

Stuart:
Relationships now, just so, so critical to our success. And it's fair to say that as a CX team, we wouldn't have been nearly as impactful as we have been without having these solid relationships in place.

Steve:
The importance of relationships, especially during a time of social distancing 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.

Steve:
Hello, everyone. I'm Steve Walker, host The CX Leader Podcast and thank you for listening. On The CX Leader Podcast we explore the topics and themes to help leaders like you leverage all the benefits of your customer experience and help your customers and prospects want to do more business with you. When we plan a podcast episode or series, we try to plan ahead, sometimes scheduling and talking with guests weeks in advance to plan an episode. Our guest for this episode was scheduled to discuss the importance of building relationships and how they help CX programs, but by the time of recording this, we're still observing stay at home orders and practicing social distancing due to the pandemic. So we decided to shift gears a little bit and discuss how building relationships can benefit your company through crises situations. Stuart Gilchriest is a certified customer experience professional with Hertz, the well-known global rental car company, and we're going to discuss the importance of relationship building in customer experience and the value of those relationships during times of crisis. Stuart, welcome to The CX Leader Podcast.

Stuart:
Thanks for having me, Steve. Great to be here.

Steve:
Well, it's a real pleasure to have you, and especially with the great global brand that you represent. Things have changed a lot since we scheduled you to be on the podcast. So how have things changed at Hertz?

Stuart:
I mean, it's probably easier to tell what hasn't changed, to be honest with you. Clearly the whole travel industry has really been turned on its head in the last few weeks and months by the lack of movement… movement first globally and now locally. It's obviously been an incredibly challenging time and has really required some strong and decisive leadership. It's a tough period for a lot of businesses and Hertz is obviously no different. Certainly one of the biggest challenges that we faced in our 100 year plus history. But thankfully, we have a great leadership team who turn the company around in the last few years. And now we're really kind of focused on the opportunities that the crisis presents. It's really an opportunity for CX to reevaluate and essentially to reset parts of the experience because we're not having to build a plane while we're flying it. And then in a change in world with a changing customer, customer experiences role as a function is probably more critical than ever.

Steve:
Yeah, we did a podcast a couple weeks ago on sort of how you should change your CX program given the situation, but you've actually got some real practical experience with that. How is your program changed from before the crisis to now?

Stuart:
Yeah, you're absolutely right. There's a lot of differences. And the biggest one is that customer needs have really changed. It's very obvious that things like cleanliness, for example, are more important than ever. You see that in a lot of the airline announcements that have been made and those emails that are constantly being sent out to reassure customers. And frankly, it's no different for us in the car rental industry. As a CX team we really have to make sure that we're telling a very clear story because situations and customer needs are evolving more rapidly than ever before. And another challenge we face is finding new ways to get people talking more frequently about the experience of our three brands. With less customers renting, there's less experiences going on. So we have to find new ways to overcome that challenge. But I would also say there's some similarities. So it's a dual pronged approach of CX program. I think the way that I personally look at it is we're quietly fixing potholes in the experience, trying to understand what's broken and how we might fix it. But then also we'll be looking to build those new roads and look for innovations that will really change the industry and the overall experience. Clearly, just like before, we've got to have a fundamental understanding of customer needs, wants and desires. And really, you know, focusing on our employees: their wellness, their safety and how they're able to care for our customers is obviously the same as it was before. So certainly a lot of things which are the same, but nevertheless, a lot of things have changed in the last few weeks since we spoke.

Steve:
Any observations on the impacts that you've adjusted to and how you see that play out with customers or frontline employees?

Stuart:
Yeah, I think we… we've received some really positive feedback about the steps that we've taken. I do think that, you know, customer concerns are higher than than ever before. But we see so much positive feedback and of always customer reporting about, you know, employees who just go above and beyond that go the extra mile for our customers every day, which is, you know, just so great to see. And frankly, they are our brand and they're the ones who are able to deliver such great experiences for our customers. They're just the people behind the scene who try and tell the story of what's going on.

Steve:
Yeah, I know. One of the things I've reflected upon the last few weeks and I've been trying to observe the stay at home orders, but obviously you do got to go out and do certain things. And there just some people that don't have the luxury of working from home. And that's the case with a lot of your folks, isn't it?

Stuart:
Absolutely, yeah. And, you know, a lot of these people work very long hours, you know, really helping customers out. And, you know, we'll talk about some of the other frontline employees who really needed a bit of help, where Hertz has been able to step in, but our staff are no different. They do really incredible things every day.

Steve:
Actually, I was interested to learn that Hertz has actually taken the opportunity to do some pretty big things to help those people that are on the front lines. Could you share a little bit of that story?

Stuart:
Yeah, absolutely. It's a great initiative. And really, I have to start by giving kudos to our brand, marketing team and operations team. Really did all the work on this one. Like a lot of people, we really wanted to help you just see so much on TV around the challenges that healthcare workers in particular have really been going through and the stress that they've been put under. And frankly, it puts the car rental business and the way that we make money into perspective. So, you know, an unfortunate consequence of the outbreak is that we had an abundance of vehicles and really we wanted to use them to serve some of those critical needs of the community. So we set up a program in New York City offering free vehicles to health care workers through the end of April so they can safely continue to provide critical care in the community. This was really based on an insight that health care workers really need a safe and reliable transportation method. And with New York City really being the epicenter of the epidemic right now, we really wanted to make sure that we were there to really support these critical workers in such a difficult time. So we partnered with Mount Sinai Health System to offer them vehicles for their staff and also rental vans for their transportation of some of their medical supplies. And that's just been a really great program. We've received so much great feedback. But more importantly, it just it's the right thing to do and it makes everyone really proud to work at Hertz.

Steve:
Yeah, it's a great example. I mean, you're not really a business that's directly involved in health care crisis, but a way where you've been able to step up and support those that are. Kudos to you guys. These crises are where you see the best and worst of humanity. And I'm just thankful for, you know, the great majority of it is the best of humanity. So one thing we were originally going to discuss when we booked on the program is just the importance of how you build relationships. And I still want to give you an opportunity to share some of those, because I think you guys do a tremendous job in that respect. But maybe talk about that, what that was leading up to this and how that actually benefited you or what the implications have been now that the crisis has hit.

Stuart:
Yeah, I think it's still a really important topic to talk about. Really has helped us in our CX program. And you know, when we spoke a few weeks ago, we were talking about how do you recession proof your CX program and how do you get that, you know, buy in from your key stakeholders there to really get you through any tough times that may be on the horizon. Little did we know that it was going to turn out quite the way it has. But you know, these relationships now, it's just so, so critical to our success. And it's fair to say that as a CX team, we wouldn't have been nearly as impactful as we have been without having these solid relationships in place. One of the things I always tell our new team members who joined the CX team is that they should wear comfortable shoes. I know that was the title of one of your previous episodes and it really resonated with that. And the reason I tell them that is you have to, as a CX professional, get used to knowing every single key player in the building and out in the field as well. You have to put in those steps every single day, because when you've got those Face-To-Face relationships, it's in times of crisis, in times of need where you can really fall back on them. And I will say that, you know, those face to face relationships have made working remotely these last few weeks so much more effective than it would have been, because there's a mutual trust and understanding where our stakeholders and partners completely buy into what we're doing. There's no politics, there's no background skepticism about the CX program at all. And people are absolutely ready to go and ready to make things better for our customers, which has been so, so good to see.

Steve:
I love the "We're comfortable shoes." And it is true. And this is a theme that comes up repeatedly in our podcast is that CX pros have to permeate the organization because the customer experience is not just the function of your group of people, it's basically everybody in the company. And so CX has to be omnipresent really in all aspects of the company, so I think that's great advice. Based on that, what kind of tips or what could other CX pros learn from your experience in terms of just building relationships within their company?

Stuart:
Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head. Really, the critical role of CX is to be that connector within the business, right? So you can't be a silo busting customer experience team without having those connections and then being on the lookout for common issues and common solutions that may actually solve things across those silos. So really getting to understand your partners and key stakeholders and really what motivates them beyond just the obvious. So often you kind of here: ph, well, you know, from the finance team, you need to be able to put things in terms of ROI and dollars and cents. And of course, that's true, but I do think it goes beyond that because some leaders really want to look good, some want to develop their people, some of us want to learn about the customer and the business in more depth and more detail, and others want to do the right thing. Everyone has some combination of those things plus many, many more. And if you can't tap into what really motivates someone and what they're really looking to get out of your relationship, then it really may well hold you back as you go forward and try and pitch some of your ideas and change initiatives. I always say that it's quite hard for a CX team to own too much. And really what we're actually trying to do is influence other people to do things differently. Of course, we own some of the voice of customer stuff and some of the other cool CX capability. But really the change comes from working with other people and influencing them to do things differently. And that's change management and that's hard, but it's really rewarding when you get it right. That's probably the biggest way that as CX professionals, we can impact the business on a broad scale.

Steve:
My guest on the podcast this week is Stuart Gilchriest, a certified customer experience professional with Hertz, the global car rental company. We're having a fascinating discussion about a real strength of Stuart and his program is how you build relationships to benefit your CX program. And it becomes even more important under the current crisis situation that we're all dealing with the coronavirus. I'm kind of intrigued by this concept of meeting the executives where they're at. You know, like the finance guy, for example, is more interested in there ROI and the numbers and perhaps the marketing person is more interested in the personas and how it affects different customer segments. You really took an effort to go do this really one executive at a time, didn't you?

Stuart:
Yeah. And I think that's part of any good induction is and it's not just the executives, I'll tell you, it's middle managers as well. They're an absolutely critical piece to getting things done. But in any good induction, when you join a company, it is really, really crucial to get to know people on a personal level before you need to get to know them on a professional level, in my opinion. If you can really build up that personal relationship, then when you're in a meeting with somebody and you're asking them to go out of their way to make a change, which is going to be uncomfortable for them. If you have that personal connection, there's so much more that you can fall back on vs. "Hi, I'm Stuart, and I really need you to change what you're doing." That's never going to get the job done. So, you know, a new focus whenever I get into a new company or a new CX program is really spending that first month learning the business and learning the people because it's such a good investment of time that really pays off in the long run and where the rubber really hits the road, that's what you have to fall back on to get stuff done.

Steve:
Obviously, Hertz is a company of a huge number of employees. You can't be one on one with each individual employee. And you talked about top management and key middle management. But how do you deal with the more broader segments in terms of your communication, your ability to influence?

Stuart:
Yes, it's a great question and definitely a huge challenge. The easiest way to answer it is, is through building a culture. And frankly, that's not just my job. It's not just our team's job. That's a real leadership challenge as well. But if you build that culture, then people know what the right thing to do is instinctively. And that takes time. It's like turning the Titanic sometimes. It really is a long process. And frankly, there's days where you think you're getting there and days where you think that you've gone backwards. But that's the work. That's the work that really needs to be done, if you want to get your CX program where it needs to be. And often we have to communicate through other people and through their channels. But once this education process starts to gather pace then we find that people get it really, really quickly and and that's what you really see this culture come to life. We were really over the moon to receive the JD Power Customer Satisfaction Award for rental cars. Our first one in 16 years in 2019. And that was just due to the hard work of a lot of people on the front line over a number of years building towards this culture of customer excellence. There were a ton of people who really did so much to achieve that. We still got so much more to do. And that's one of the really exciting things about working out.

Steve:
Congratulations on the award for sure. And that kind of brings me to the topic of making sure that you're reinforcing the value once you go out and build these relationships and you start to have some impact. You know, you're not going to win awards every day, but how do you make sure that you're communicating the value of the CX program on ongoing basis?

Stuart:
Certainly a challenge, but I think the key is to celebrate those little wins and the milestones that you're taking, the positive step that's in the right direction to get where you need to go. If you're able to say, you know, through this program and through this focus, we've seen our CSAT or NPS scores move up, that's a good indicator, of course. But then, you know, you started to crack it when your employees start talking back to you about the great things that they've done for their customer. People will start sending in photos of them with customers and just how happy they are to serve those customers. That's when you know that that culture is really reinforcing itself. And it isn't just being a one way communication, but it's actually starting to embed itself within your people out on the front line who who do this so often and do it so well.

Steve:
So providing value, there's a lot of good anecdotal examples of that as you show different customers and word of mouth and in awards and stuff like that. But how do you kind of quantify that, I guess, in your business?

Stuart:
Yeah, it's a challenge, right? Those revenue generating ideas are often long term plays that will really take some time to pay off. So one of the things that often gets overlooked that we've been really focused on here in the last few years is where are those opportunities to fix part of the experience and also save some cost while you're at it. So CX program is obviously around retention and revenue generation. But often people forget that there is some immediate value you can drive for the business by reducing in course your contact center, for example, or finding ways to make an easier experience for the customer, but also mean a more efficient business operation for your company. So, you know, in times of strife, whether it's due to the coronavirus or a recession or anything else, those are sometimes the things that you can fall back on that have very hard metrics that you can prove the impact that you've made to the business, even if the revenue generation and retention piece is slightly more tenuous because there's so many other factors that go into it. Often we're pushed on that correlation versus causation question. It's very hard to dispute the cost savings that you can make by making the experience better for the customer.

Steve:
That's a great tip and it's a good reminder, especially, and in some ways it's a statement of how the CX profession has moved into more of the revenue generation side because for those of us who've worked in this in a long time, it was always about break fix. It was about fixing process and taken out cost and kind of Malcolm Baldrige total quality management stuff. But we really matured to the point where we're talking about revenue opportunities. So a great tip. And that's what these critical moments remind us all that there's different ways to have an impact on your organization no matter what's happening. And that leads us right into our showcase of our program each week, and that is our take home value. So, Stuart Gilchriest, what is your take home value from the podcast today? What's your best tip that a CX pro could take and implemented at their program or their company today?

Stuart:
Well, first let me say I love this question. I've got a notebook full of these. Whenever I'm listening to the podcast I always write these down. My take home tip is to make other people look good. I really… I think that a great CX program and you know, these relationships that we were speaking about earlier, they only work if you're comfortable with others taking some of the credit for what you're doing. And you have to have say that by putting the spotlight on them means that your work is going to be that much more effective, that much more impactful. And in the end, you will also get the credit for it as well. So you obviously have to trust that you're going to get recognized for that. But if you make people look good and you act as a servant leader, then you've got a really good CX program and people will thank you for it and they'll want to work with you more and more and more over time.

Steve:
That is a great tip, not only for your CX program, but for your mindset of the way you live your life, I think, and very appropriate given that originally we were going to talk about how building strong relationships enhances your program. So thank you very much for that. Stuart Gilchriest is a certified customer experience professional with Hertz, the global car rental company, that I'm sure everybody's very familiar with. Stuart, thanks for being our guest this week on The CX Leader Podcast.

Stuart:
Thanks for having me on. It's been a pleasure.

Steve:
And if any of our audience wants to continue the conversation, can they find you on LinkedIn?

Stuart:
Yeah, more than happy to connect with people on LinkedIn. My name is a little bit hard to spell, but you can look me up in the show notes if you want to connect.

Steve:
Great, thanks again. Really enjoyed having you on as a guest. And if you want to talk about anything you heard on this podcast or about how Walker can help your business's customer experience, feel free to email me here. It's steve.walker@walkerinformation.com. Remember to visit our website, cxleaderpodcast.com, to subscribe to the show and find all of our previous episodes. More than one hundred and twelve, I think at this point. All of our contact information and you can also shoot us a note and let us know how you think we're doing or give us an idea for the show. The CX Leader Podcast is a production of Walker. We're an experience management firm that helps companies accelerate their CX success. You can read more about us at walkerinfo.com. Thanks for listening and we'll see you again next time.

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