JOEL ALDEN: Can you give us a better understanding of your background and your role at UPS?
SUSAN DELANEY: My current position at UPS is vice president of global customer experience. My responsibilities include all business units and all geographies. It is my job to figure out what is most important to our customers, determine how we are delivering on their expectations in these areas and identify any gaps in these experiences that we need to address. Prior to this position, I have had various responsibilities. I was originally hired to develop an optical character resolution solution for reading hand-written addresses on packages. However, for most of my 22 years with UPS, I have been involved with customer-facing technologies and processes. I managed our first Customer Information Management Electronic Commerce Group that was responsible for deploying applications globally on UPS.com. I spent many years working on tracking technologies to provide customers with visibility in their shipments. Most recently, I formed and managed UPS’ Problem Resolution Group, which identifies and addresses customer experience issues with our internal policies, processes and systems.
Why is there such a heavy focus on customer experience now?
I think that the biggest factor driving the focus oncustomer experience these days is transparency, specifically transparency made possible through technology. Companies used to be big, black boxes where customer needs went in one side and a product or service popped out the other side. There was little or no visibility to the inner workings of how the product was made or how the service was delivered. Through continuing advances in technology, the world is now much more transparent. Customers can see exactly what is going on with their purchase throughout its lifecycle, from order to delivery. And they request more and more transparency every day. Not only do they want to know what is going on, but they want to control it. With information comes power, and customers want that power. Expectations have skyrocketed, and this has greatly impacted the world of customer experience and its importance. With these changing expectations, it is even more important to capture, understand and react to the voice of the customer. We are more focused than ever on continuously listening to our customers in whatever way they choose to communicate with us.
So, given that UPS is a large, global organization, how do you think differently about customer experience regarding those vastly different business units and the customer experiences with which you come into contact?
We don’t. You essentially have to think in the same way but react differently. One of our biggest challenges is that, when we’re mapping out the customer’s journey with us, the experience needs to be different for different business units, geographies and customers, although our overall customer experience goals are the same. The expectations of a customer in Europe, for example, are different than the expectations of a customer in the U.S. or Asia. There are also differences between freight and small package, the way industries do business and the expectations that come with those things. So our job is to map out those different expectations and touch points to make sure that we discover all of the differences so they can be individually addressed. But from a total experience perspective, our goal is to make it all seamless and consistent.
How has your role changed with the rise in consumer expectations?
As the expectations increased, so did the vocalization of these expectations. Customers now have so many ways to express their expectations and how companies are doing at meeting these expectations. And those expectations are literally broadcast to the world. In the past, one of the biggest parts of my job was to get the word out that we had problems. Now I have more of a “herding” role. There is so much excitement internally about improving the customer experience that everyone is doing something to help. Although enthusiasm is great, it can be unproductive if not focused properly. One of the great qualities of UPSers [UPS employees] is that if you point them at a hill, they will take that hill—guaranteed. My role is to provide a focus by pointing them at the right hills.
What is your focus for customer experience at UPS? Has it changed over recent years?
Our primary focus has been to build our Voice of the Customer program. UPS receives lots of solicited and unsolicited feedback from many disparate sources. This data can be speech, like customer service phone calls, or text, like emails, chats, social media posts or open-ended responses to surveys. This feedback comes in through different channels to different functions within UPS. Our focus has been to consolidate this feedback, analyze it and rapidly act on it with the ultimate goal of simplifying our customers’ lives and making their businesses run more smoothly.
I think the biggest change is that there wasn’t a customer experience group at UPS before. We’ve always been very customer-focused, and it’s really easy to be customer-focused when you’re carrying life-saving drugs, wedding dresses and things like that. We’re a storytelling culture, and everyone has a story about the lengths they went through to make sure a shipment arrived on time. Now customer experience is more of a formalization of processes throughout the company. Before, I think a lot of people [at UPS] considered customer experience to be just another term for customer service, in which your focus is on fixing a particular problem. I think that some of our change in focus involves realizing that customer experience encompasses much more than that. It involves finding and delivering entirely new services that are focused on customer needs, whether those are stated or unstated. It’s a policy issue, a process and a product. I think that getting everyone to focus on it as more of a corporate issue, as opposed to a customer service issue, is really going to change things. And I think everyone realizes that individually, so the challenge lies in getting everyone coordinated.
So what would you say are the biggest changes coming in 2012?
As I’ve mentioned, we have focused a lot of our time in 2011 on setting up a systematic process for collecting and analyzing solicited and unsolicited customer feedback. We will continue to improve this process throughout 2012. One upcoming change is to add solicited and unsolicited employee feedback to this process. We have always known that our employees have a great amount of information and ideas about customer experience, and we have manually acquired input from traditional groups such as customer service and sales reps. Part of the change lies in automating this process. However, there is another piece that we and other businesses often overlook. I’ll explain by way of example.
I was in a hotel in downtown Denver a few weeks back. I was in the shower in the morning and realized that the soap dish in the shower was in a position that, when I used the shower, caused the water to beat on the soap and turn it into a gummy mess. This not only cost them more money, as the housekeepers were kind enough to replace the bar each day, but I am sure that it took the housekeepers extra time to clean up the mess it made. It occurred to me that, had the designers of the hotel rooms gotten feedback from the housekeepers, this experience could have been improved and at a lower cost to the hotel. Then it hit me that I needed to talk to the “housekeepers” in our organization and include that information in our feedback. So including feedback from all employees will be one big change for us in 2012.
What role does the Voice of the Customer program play at UPS?
It definitely plays a huge role with us. One of the most exciting new products that we released this year was in direct response to listening to our customers. UPS has an interesting customer base in that we have the person that ships the package as our customer as well as the person who receives the package as a customer. Our receivers were telling us that they needed more information about and more flexibility in the delivery of their packages. So, in October, we released UPS My ChoiceSM, a service that gives the receiver of packages the information and flexibility they requested. They can now get an approximate delivery time, so they don’t have to stay home the whole day, waiting for a delivery. Through the premium offering, they can even get a confirmed two-hour delivery window. They can also authorize UPS to deliver the package without a signature, request the package to be held for pick up at a UPS facility, choose another delivery date that fits their schedule or have the package delivered to another address before we even make the first delivery attempt. It puts the customer in control. And this is all because we listened to our customers.
I think that’s a great example of a really innovative, helpful service. What do you consider the biggest challenges for the Voice of the Customer and other customer experience programs at UPS as you move forward?
Our biggest challenges spring from the sheer magnitude of our company’s customer base. We’re a global company, so we’re all over the world, in many languages and time zones. We are B2B and B2C. Our customer base includes both shippers and receivers, and we offer small package, freight and forwarding services. So virtually every single person on this planet is a customer of ours. That is a big target audience and a big responsibility. Add in government regulations, competition and ever-growing customer expectations, and that can make anyone lose a few hours of sleep.
How much of an impact has the use of social media had on the global customer experience at UPS?
As far as I’ve seen, social media has made a huge impact on the consumer end. That is largely where My ChoiceSM came from. People were asking, “Where’s my package? Where’s the driver? Why isn’t he here? I can’t sit around and wait all day.” It quickly becomes a pile-on; other people join in and ask, “Yeah, where’s my package?” When you see that, you know it’s not good for the brand. The best thing that’s come out of social media for us is that it has elevated the status of the receivers of packages and given us a whole new area to explore. We haven’t seen quite as much of that in the business-to-business world yet, but it’s important to keep an eye on it.
How does UPS ensure a seamless customer experience, given the multiplicity of its offerings?
I think that’s something of which we’ve always done a pretty good job. There are always opportunities for improvement, of course, because UPS is such a large, global business, but we’ve always been very process- and industrial engineering-driven. Everything is measured and controlled. Even in my customer-facing systems days, there were processes put in place to ensure that all the constituents were brought in when we did something that affected the whole enterprise. So whether it’s a new product, policy or process, we identify all of the people it would touch and get all of those experts together to talk about it and negotiate to come to a solution that we all can deliver. It can slow the process down a bit, but it ensures that whatever we’re going to do has been well thought-out and is supported across the entire company.
Ms. DeLaney is UPS’ vice president of global customer experience. UPS is a global leader in logistics and offers a broad range of solutions, including the transportation of packages and freight, the facilitation of international trade and the deployment of advanced technology to more efficiently manage the world of business. Headquartered in Atlanta, UPS serves more than 220 countries and territories worldwide.
At UPS, Ms. DeLaney is responsible for incorporating strategies, processes and technology to engage every UPS employee at every level of the business with the goal of delivering an exceptional customer experience. She is a leader in developing and implementing proactive solutions to enhance the customer experience and foster loyalty across the globe. Ms. DeLaney acts as a customer advocate to infuse the customer point of view into company decision-making in every business unit and geography. Through cross-organizational coordination and measurement, she and her team provide tailored insights throughout the company and manage the customer experience through communications and training. With the perpetual changes in customer expectations, Ms. DeLaney and her team help identify and implement new ways to empower UPS employees to deliver a consistently positive customer experience in order to differentiate their company and services from the competition.
For most of her 22-year career with UPS, Ms. DeLaney has held customer-facing positions. She was responsible for creating and managing the first Electronic Commerce Group in charge of deploying applications worldwide on the internet. She also formalized UPS’ fraud prevention program and created and managed UPS’ first Problem Resolution Group responsible for identifying and addressing customer experience issues. Additionally, Ms. DeLaney was instrumental in positioning UPS as an industry leader in the use of social media interaction with customers, which has empowered UPS representatives to respond positively and immediately to customer needs.
A native of Roanoke Rapids, NC, Ms. DeLaney began her UPS career in 1989 as a systems engineer working with optical character recognition. She and her team went on to create UPS’ first Barcode Information Technology Group in which tracking was deployed for 100 percent of UPS shipments. She has held various positions of increasing responsibility in information technology, training, strategy and customer service.
Ms. DeLaney holds a bachelor’s degree from Clemson University in computer science, a Master’s of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence degree from Boston University and a Master’s of Project Management degree from George Washington University. Ms. DeLaney is also a graduate of the Executive Development Consortium at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.
Ms. DeLaney is committed to engaging all UPS employees in providing customers with the flawless service and attention to detail they expect from UPS every day.
Mr. Alden is a partner with the consulting firm A.T. Kearney. Based in Toronto, he is a member of the global retail industry practice and is one of the leaders of the firm’s retail center of excellence. He has more than 15 years of consulting and industry experience with retailers and consumer product companies. Much of his work has been with multinational corporations throughout the United States and Canada.
Mr. Alden has worked with retailers and consumer goods companies on a variety of issues on the executive agenda, ranging from strategy, organizational transformation, store operations, category profitability, supply chain strategy and marketing effectiveness. Customer care has been the focus of many of Mr. Alden’s engagements, from contact center effectiveness to consumer insights capability building.
Mr. Alden received an MBA and a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering from Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada.