5 Questions: Sandra Mathis on Customer Experience
Sandra Mathis is Strong-Bridge Envision’s Customer Experience Director. We sat down with her to discuss her path to Customer Experience, the importance of being curious about people, and what she sees as opportunities for organizations exploring CX.
1. HOW DID YOU GET INTO CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE?
I have always been innately curious about people. There are obviously a lot of paths you can take when you’re interested in people. But, I had my dad’s voice nagging me in the back of my brain, “Choose something you can get a real job with.” In the end, I fell into research in college. It was a natural fit— it’s all about understanding people and their choices. My first paid research gig while in college was a feasibility study for the American Legion of Janesville, Wisconsin. It was a really interesting study, and I fell in love with research. Since then, I have worked for marketing agencies and consultancies, and for brands— including Kraft, PepsiCo, Georgia Pacific (owner of Angel Soft and Quilted Northern Bath Tissue brands), and Equifax. My continued curiosity about people is what evolved my career from research to customer experience, starting with Equifax. By the way, as a total aside, toilet paper is more fascinating than you would ever imagine. It’s actually a pretty emotional experience. Here’s a little fun fact, men will be more vocal about their TP choices than women, and they pull more product than women on average, too. Bet you didn’t think you’d learn that today.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE COMMON CAREER PATHS? WAS YOURS COMMON?
I tend to think today there are two primary paths to Customer Experience: Research and Operations. So, you’re either trying to understand the customer behavior better to improve their experience or use your understanding of the customer journey to create important operational efficiencies. Either way, I think the only way you’ll be successful is if you are truly curious about people.
2. WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON METHODS TO CAPTURE DIRECT CUSTOMER FEEDBACK?
Really, the answer to this is still feedback surveys — the kind you might get in an email after an experience with a company. Or, in the B2B space, an overall satisfaction or relationship survey.
ARE THEY EFFECTIVE?
Sure… if your questions get to what matters to the customer versus what matters to you organizationally. To do that, you have to talk to your customers, and not too many organizations are really doing that. I don’t mean that in an insulting way. It takes time and effort to do it, you really have to listen, and you have to be prepared to take action. And, frankly, your customers don’t have the time they used to for this stuff. In market research or customer insights even a few years ago, you could call people up on the phone and talk to them for 10 or 15 minutes. Nobody is giving that kind of time anymore. You really need to understand *your* customers day-to-day experiences to inform how you do surveys or gather feedback from them.
3. WOULD YOU SAY THERE ARE GENERATIONAL GAPS THAT AFFECT CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE WORK?
This is a good question, and I do think companies ask themselves this question. But I don’t think generational gaps are the issue. It’s really behavioral — and behaviors are not strictly led by generations. Get to know about how the customer behaves and their expectations, that is what is driving the wants and needs of people.
4. WHAT IS ONE OF THE MOST COMMON MISTAKES IN CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE, RELATING TO RESEARCH OR OTHERWISE?
Spending most of your time on low hanging fruit. We often tell people to pick off some of the low hanging fruit, because it lets you make some progress immediately and gain buy in on ongoing Customer Experience efforts. However, you can’t let it be the only place you spend your time. Instead, grab some low hanging fruit, and, if you can, simultaneously tackle something a little higher – and little tougher – and then go back down for another low hanging fruit. This is really important, because your customers have expectations. If they see you tackle one thing, they’ll expect something bigger is next — “Okay, that fixed that, now the big thing I wanted is probably next.” When it isn’t, they get frustrated. It’s related to what I call “microwave culture.”
Well, it’s really just my own theory. We have this need for instant gratification. You hear about this all the time today, but it started a long time ago … with the microwave. Microwaves had widespread household use by the early to mid 80s and changed the game for meal time. TV dinners were available, but you still had to stick them in your oven for 45 minutes. The microwave let you cut your cook time down to just a few minutes. Ever since then, our appetite (pun intended) for waiting has closed in a bit more every year. So, your customers don’t understand that changes in your organization are often big, chewy, time consuming tasks. They just want to see you fix things, fast. So, sure grab some low hanging fruit, but be sure to reach a little higher and fix those bigger issues too; or your customers will get antsy.
5. WHAT OPPORTUNITIES ARE THERE FOR BUILDING A BETTER CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE CULTURE INTERNALLY?
This is pretty big question. I think my answer is simple in theory— acknowledge that a strong employee culture should be a part of your strategy. A solid CX strategy helps top “reach across the aisle.” We encourage employee engagement, and the involvement of disparate teams to create these overarching strategies. Often, these teams realize they share common goals, and the work that is being done in one team has a big impact on another. That is where the magic happens!