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The Role of CX During a Crisis

Release Date: March 17, 2020 • Episode #108

What is the role of customer experience during a crisis? Host Steve Walker and guests Jonathan Ruchman, CCXP, and Senior Director of Customer Experience at Brookdale Senior Living, and Michelle Morris, CCXP, a Customer Experience Design Partner at Verizon and member of the board of directors for the Customer Experience Professionals Association, discuss the important role customer experience professionals and other customer-focused leaders play in times of disruption and crisis. They spotlight best practices in previous times of confusion and provide practical advice that can help CX leaders take action to help their companies and their customers deal with important issues in this time of uncertainty.

Read Michelle’s article: “Coronavirus: An Opportunity for CX Leaders to Shine”

Transcript

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Steve:
We've all been listening to the news and current events demand that we ask: what is the role of customer experience during a crisis?

Michelle:
I'm watching kind of that unique, customized experience that we often talk about being delivered and that can often times just come in the form of empathy. I think empathy probably one of the most important ingredients during a time of crisis.

Steve:
A special episode focused on CX and the coronavirus, 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, welcoming you today to a special edition of The CX Leader Podcast. As we are all acutely aware, the world is currently gripped by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. It is a serious issue and one that affects our companies as well as our customers. In this podcast, we'll discuss the important role the customer experience, professionals and other customer focused leaders play in times of disruption in crisis. We'll spotlight best practices in previous times of confusion and provide practical advice that can help CX leaders take action to help their companies and their customers deal with important issues in this time of uncertainty. And I'm very proud to have two outstanding guests to help us navigate this topic. I'm pleased to welcome back Jonathan Ruchman, senior director of customer experience at Brookdale Senior Living. Jonathan is a Certified Customer Experience Professional and he's been on our podcast in the past and he's discussed the program that he administers for this leading operator of more than 700 communities in 45 states. I can't think of a CX leader whose business is more impacted than Jonathan's, and I look forward to some of his insights today. Also joining us today is Michelle Morris, also a certified customer experience professional. Michelle's, a long-time friend of Walker, but a first-time appearance here on our podcast. I can't believe it's taken that long to get you on, Michelle. But Michelle is a customer experience design partner at Verizon and also a member of the National Board of directors of the Customer Experience Professionals Association, also known as the CXPA. Jonathan and Michelle, welcome to The CX Leader Podcast.

Johnathan:
Hi, Steve.

Michelle:
Hello. Thank you for having me today.

Steve:
Well, thank both of you guys for being willing to be on the program, this special program. And, you know, I'm just reflecting back of how different the world seems just in a week. Last Tuesday, we put out a message to our employees, we're gonna stay the course. And then, you know, by the later in the week, we were offering voluntary work from home. And then on Friday, we made the decision to kind of go to full bore work from home and all the things that have gone through. And, you know, just the things that have happened, the big events that have been canceled. And now they're talking about closing restaurants and bars. And… And Lord knows. But you know, some of us, because of the nature of our business, we don't really have the luxury of working electronically. And surely, Jonathan, that's one of the things that your team is dealing with. So I can't imagine how your organization is having to deal with this just based on what I am dealing with, just with my own company. But can you share a little more about your organization and how an organization like yours gets affected by a crisis like this?

Johnathan:
Sure, Steve. First, it's great to be back with you. It's definitely a different world than the last time we spoke. Before I start, let me just extend our sincere thoughts and prayers to anybody who's been impacted by this. And you're right, Steve, the situation definitely has unique challenges for the senior living category. So, for example, our customer population at the highest risk given their age and underlying health issues. And then it's also their home. So how do we balance our philosophy of resident engagement and connectivity during this time of social distancing? And on top of that, we operate in 45 states with each state and county health department issuing different directives. It's a really complex situation, but it's one that I'm proud to say that we're prepared for and handling very well. And when the situation arose, we didn't panic at all. Actually, you know, we like to say that calm is contagious. We've been practicing infection control since we've been in business. That's over 40 years ago. We have policies and protocols already in place, so we don't have to start from scratch. But we are doing is modifying and adjusting to the COVID-19 guidance from national, state and local health officials. We've also enacted our corporate emergency command center that was already in place before this. We've established state level response teams responsible for keeping up to date with and implementing each local directive. The state teams report what the situation is at that local level and they contact the corporate command center for any specific requests that are needed. So it's a great example of how a large national company can quickly respond to local needs. And then responding to resident and family questions and concerns as critical. You know, it's important that they feel reassured and they know that their loved ones are in good hands. Our resident family connection team, social media team, leaders across the entire company address these as soon as they come in. And then as the nation's largest senior living company, our residents can really benefit from our scale. Our buying power enables us to gain access to needed supplies and materials as well as have reserves on hand. And then lastly, and most importantly, everything that we're doing is to protect and prepare our residents and associates. It's about their physical and also mental well-being. So, Steve, I only wish that I can somehow capture and show the world how much Brookdale leaders and associates care and love our residents. It's just so genuine.

Steve:
Well, that's really great to hear, Jonathan, and, you know, one of the things I think that might be helpful, I know with with my people, I was explaining to them that, you know, we did manage the company through the global economic meltdown of 2009. I was running the company during 9/11, even going back to Y2K. But this one's just a little bit different. Have you been able to lean on any of the other experiences of past crises that you've had to deal with? Probably not on this scale, but certainly regionally and things like that. Can you just share a couple of examples about how Brookdale handles this adversity generally?

Johnathan:
Sure, that's a good question. I am proud to say that we manage emergencies very well, such as hurricanes and wildfires. Again, will enact our command center. We receive input from the community daily and we act upon that feedback to help them with anything they may need. What we try to do is shelter in place, but there are times when we do have to evacuate. So can you imagine the complexities of having to evacuate Alzheimer's and hospice patients? Our amazing community leaders and associates, they do that and they do it with absolute grace and love.

Steve:
Actually, I also mentioned that to our folks last week in a face to face meeting that, you know, we're lucky. We're a business where we can probably do 80, 90 percent of what we got to do electronically without face to face contact. But the health care situation, you just can't do that. I mean, the people that are caregivers have to be there interacting with the patients and their loved ones. And I guess that this is somewhat comforting to know that you guys have been through this before. So you added a little bit of that in your opening comments, which could you just go a little deeper, what the overall philosophy is for how you handle your interactions with folks at this point?

Johnathan:
You know, it's really down to the local level, to the associates that deal directly with the residents and they are committed for life. This is what they want to do. They want to help and enrich the lives of these residents so they know and they knew what this was all about when they first get into this profession. And they are just the most amazing people. I have so much respect for what they do everyday. And they're putting their own personal well-being on the line to take care of others. And it's just amazing, amazing group of people.

Steve:
And what specific policies of you just enacted just in the short time that you've been dealing with this that go into place not only for the residents, but for their families as well?

Johnathan:
Yes. So like I said before, was this notion of social distancing, it's important to keep them connected. So we're constantly leveraging technologies and activities. It's just more especially important these days. So, for example, will arrange for virtual visits, via FaceTime or Skype. We also suggest that families partners to keep their loved ones engaged and feeling connected. Especially if they're limited to their apartments. That could be emailing or sending letters to the loved ones, providing iPods and tablets preloaded playlists, which we also offer that in our communities, we have iPads. They could send photo albums. So it's just a real partnership. And that's why we call this communities, not facilities, because a community is everybody coming together for everybody's benefit.

Steve:
Yeah, great thought. I know I've been learning so much about this just in the last week, like I said, and this whole concept of social distancing and, you know, it's not so much for you. It's for the greater good that, you know, this so-called flattening the curve. If we really can slow the transmission down and people don't panic, because one of the things that happens is people run into an emergency room and all of a sudden the health care workers think they've been exposed and then they got to go into the protocol. Whereas if they know somebody is coming in, they can do the proper preparations that health care facilities have done so. It really is a you know, it's an exercise that we may look back on and say we overreacted and then that might be a good thing, huh?

Johnathan:
That's exactly right.

Steve:
Hey, Michelle, I know you have topics on this. And we were… We've sort of been debating about, you know, what is the role of CX during this kind of a crisis? And in fact, we happened upon the article that you wrote. So what prompted you to write this article and tell our listeners a little bit about the article as was where they can go see it? I'm sure we could post it up on her our podcast website, too.

Michelle:
Yeah, absolutely. So I guess it's been probably more than 10 days ago actually that I posted this article and it was really out of an abundance of really watching what's going on around us. I mean, as as CX leaders and professionals, you know, I'm sure like both of you, I'm always watching the experiences around me, right? Whether I'm delivering them or someone else is, and looking for, you know, where where the innovations are and what's going great so that I can potentially put that into my tool belt and then also where, you know, something goes awry. And I want to avoid copying that. So certainly prompted me to just kind of say, "hey, what's going on and how in this time of crisis can we get back to maybe some of the basics that can actually be delivered in the time of crisis?"

Steve:
Yeah, we were talking before we start recording about this is a great time to get innovative. I know here at Walker we've added some software tools so we didn't have a couple of weeks ago. And also, I'm in the office today with Chris, but we just have a skeleton staff. But the people are working hard trying to beef up our VPN capacity. And also we're trying to quickly rollout Zoom to every one of our colleagues so that they can leverage that over the Internet.

Steve:
Michelle, have you seen some other examples of where companies are showing the appropriate level of care and coming through during this period?

Michelle:
I have and I think the key and this is so what… what I've been, you know, noodling on really is that a really good customer experience can't be faked. And especially in a time of crisis, you know, the real customer experience comes out. Right? So when companies have kind of those embedded leadership, culture, innovation and really an attention to focus as their principles and driving their strategy, great customer experiences are going to come out. And so I've been watching things like people who are utilizing really good communication tools and not just in one channel, but across channels so that they're hitting all of the constituents or the people that are a part of their customer base in a regular fashion and in a way that the customers want to receive that. So just in that simple, simple type of way. But I'm also watching kind of that unique, customized experience that we often talk about being delivered and that can often times just come in the form of empathy. And you'll hear me say empathy probably through the rest of this podcast frequently, because I think it's probably one of the most important ingredients during a time of crisis is being able to relate to the person that you're working with. So I've seen it across industries. I think I mentioned in my article: travel and hospitality and airlines, they're getting hit probably bigger than anybody right now. And I'm watching the great ones kind of find their way through it. And the ones that maybe aren't so great kind of fall behind. So I do see it coming out in a lot of different ways.

Steve:
Well, you mentioned some really great things. I just want to reinforce there is… I maybe stealing your line that customer experience can't be faked. I'll try to give you credit for it if I do. But it really does come back to a mission driven organization and one that is based in integrity. You know that the importance of communication, I just don't think you can over communicate in times like this. And then lastly, just the opportunity to be empathetic. You know, that's really kind of a key role of a CX person anyway, is to be able to put themselves in the position of not only their customer, but the other stakeholders that are involved in the process. So thank you for that great outline. Jonathan, does any of that register with you and any thoughts that you might have as it applies to the very special situation that you're dealing with?

Johnathan:
I completely agree with Michel. And as a CX nerd, I have this new hobby, Steve, and I've been collecting all of those communications that we all get. And it's I will say, the one common denominator that I'm seeing across all these brands is this air of transparency in all the communication: very transparent, very specific. And I think that's reassuring to folks at a time like this. So I think when all these conferences resume at some point later this year, I just think it'll be interesting to hold some kind of forum where different brands share how they all handle this, almost like a CX emergency response forum. So I think everybody can learn from each other.

Steve:
Yeah, it's interesting. One of the organizations I'm involved in, which is basically a group of CEOs of small, medium sized businesses. But they created a channel on one of the platforms out there where we can all share information and kind of how we're communicating. And when it came time, we were able to access some of that. So that's a great idea. Michelle, thinking back to your article. But, you know, different people operate and respond to crises in different ways. You know, one of the things I've been trying to stress is, you know, you got to accept what you can't control and really double down on the things that you can control and really focus your energies on that. But, you know, let's say I'm a CX leader. Maybe I'm a little new in my job. And, you know, I'm trying to figure out what I should be doing to help my organization. What would your advice be to them? What… How would you tell them to just get started under these circumstances?

Michelle:
That's a great question. I do think there's probably two different populations that is CX leader needs to care about. And the first one is people in the form of employees. And the second one is people in the form of customers. And maybe you're in a B2B business, and so you might have another business. But there's in the middle of their end customer. But that's still your customer. So I would say, you know, really, it's people and and that you're dealing with here. When you think about breaking it apart by employees or customers, you know. What can you affect as a CX leader within your employees? You know, one of the first things I would do is remind them now is the time to remind them of your brand principles because the customer experience is just an outcome of actually living your brand. So, you know, remind them of your brand principles and exactly how… what you're delivering every day fits within that. So, for instance, there's most companies, you know, "care" of some sort is a part of their brand principle: care for each other, care for the community, care for the… for their customers. So, you know, this is that perfect example of being able to say, you know, what does care look like in a… In a crisis today? How do you care for each other? How do you care for your community? How do you care for your customers? So that would be one part for the employees. And I think the the second thing that I would say is this is the time to actually empower your employees to make really not only the best decisions for themselves and their families, but it's also to empower them to make the best decisions for their customers, especially those frontline people. Right? Allow them to actually give them some freedom. I mean, this is where innovation comes out, right? We we give people the ability to create frictionless types of experiences. And – which is what we need in a crisis time is to remove as much friction as possible – and then we give them the ability to deliver on that. So the second part of the population, the people in the form of customers, if I'm a CX leader, you know, I kind of tipped my hand that for customers you need to get back to obviously removing friction out of the process and the experience. So, you know, this might be the time if you've already got something on your… you know, your your CX strategy map to try out some new things to improve that process, this actually might be a great time to test it out. So remove the friction, you know, empower your employees, and then again, that front line needs to be able to, you know, use empathy. And that's like not only bringing their best level of humanness, you know, to the customers, putting themselves in their shoes, but also bringing their human mind to help innovate with that customer to create kind of an amazing experience on the outset.

Steve:
Michelle, you got a unique perspective, given your role at Verizon and also your role in the national board of CXPA. And since you were out front on this issue 10 days ago with your article, what's your sense: are CX leaders stepping up? Are they… are they bringing the solutions?

Michelle:
Oh, they are. They are. And I you know, I'm privileged to be around some amazing leaders, not only where I work on a day to day basis, but also with the CXPA. And… And this is like, you know, this is our time, right, as CX leaders to shine. This is our time to say, hey, now look at what we've been saying for a long time. This is how important CX is. So if you're in a company maybe where you haven't had that voice with the leadership, now's the time to say, yeah, here it is, guys. We've got to do this right. And helping your company to step up and do that. And then if you're in a company that's maybe more advanced than their maturity of what you're trying to deliver and CX, this just fits right in with a strategy. So I see CX leaders like trying to step out and say, you know, let me help you, the executives, the business leaders of the company actually create some great experiences for for your employees, along with your customers.

Steve:
And Jonathan, from your vantage point, how do you see things happening in the CX professional space, not just for your organization, but maybe even a little more broadly and other things that you've been associated with?

Johnathan:
Yeah, I just like Michel said, this is just a great opportunity for brands, for CX leaders. If I were to put this into one word, I would say it's all about leadership. Leadership. It means to stay calm and think rationally, communicate often, be transparent, respond to an act on feedback and really try to think ahead with a plan A, B and C. Given the unknown can never hurt to plan various scenarios because you can always adjust accordingly. So like I said earlier, you know, for our customers, this is a moment of truth. And how brands show up at this time will really determine which story are going to tell about us. So it's just something to think about.

Steve:
Wise words from some wise CX experts. Well, we've come to that special part of our program in this very special episode of the CX Leader Podcast where I ask our guests to provide their take home value, something that our CX pros can take and use in their job today, and I can't think of a more critical time for us to step up as CX pros. So, Michelle, let me go to you first. This is your opportunity to kind of share your one or two pieces of advice that you would give to a CX pro at this critical time.

Michelle:
Yeah. Thank you. I think first and foremost, I would say as CX… As the CX leader, you remove the friction, right? Find every way possible right now to remove the friction in the experience. And so if that's just a little bit of time… of wait time to get through on a phone call or in something that can be a process that can be reduced, remove that friction. So that would be my first piece of advice. And then the second one, I don't think I can can actually say it any better than one of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou. And that is the quote that says, "I've learned that people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." And I think now, more than ever, people are going to remember how brands made them feel in this time of crisis. So, you know, keep that at the forefront of all of the decision making that you're doing.

Steve:
Thank you. And Jonathan, how about you? What's your take home value to our listeners on this critical topic?

Johnathan:
I think internally it's really about reminding other leaders about that it is a time, it's a moment of truth and how we step up, how we really deliver on or over-deliver on those expectations, I think can really drive which story to tell about us. I would also say that small gestures go a long way. They're memorable. It doesn't cost anything. But people really remember that little things that we can do make a big difference.

Steve:
Jonathan Ruchman is the senior director of customer experience at Brookdale Senior Living, and Michelle Morris is a customer experience design partner at Verizon, and also a member of the national board of directors for CXPA. Jonathan, Michelle, thank you so much for being guests on this special episode of The CX Leader Podcast.

Johnathan:
Thank you for having me.

Michelle:
Thanks for having me.

Steve:
Briefly, are you guys both on LinkedIn? Can people find you on LinkedIn if for any reason they'd like to reach out to you and keep the dialog going?

Michelle:
Yes.

Johnathan:
I am as well.

Steve:
And if you want to talk about anything you heard on this episode or about how Walker can help your business customer experience, you can contact me at steve.walker@walkerinformation.com. Remember to visit our website cxleaderpodcast.com to subscribe to the show and find all of our previous episodes, podcast series, and contact information so you can let us know how we're doing. The CX Leader Podcast is a production of Walker, were an XM services firm that helps companies accelerate their CX success. You can read more about us at walkerinfo.com. Thank you for listening and we'll see you again next time.

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