Chris Cardenas, vice president of customer service operations at Time Warner, and Sid Banerjee, CEO/co-founder of Clarabridge, discussed the benefits of authentic leadership, ROI measurements for customer service and technology’s role in shaping the customer experience.
Sid Banerjee: What does authentic leadership mean to you? And how does it affect the way a company develops its customer service strategy?
Chris Cardenas: This is a topic that I’m very passionate about. What authentic leadership means to me is taking a personal interest in the professional growth and development of your team members. If you ask a hundred different executives for their definition, you’ll probably get a hundred different responses. So authentic leadership is what you deem it to be, how you want it to fit within your organization, and how you want it to drive your culture. On the topic of culture, it’s important to include that as part of your customer service strategy because a healthy culture helps drive great customer service. If you can get leaders to lead authentically, teach them to hire the right folks and make them as effective as possible, then the strategic initiatives and projects that you’re implementing will become that much easier to execute. The ideal culture is where your associates don’t do things because they are told but choose to give 100% because they don’t want to let you down. They know that you value and respect them as an associate because you are leading authentically; you’re getting to know them and connect with them as individuals. That’s missing in a lot of the bigger companies.
This type of leadership philosophy has to start at the top. You need to get buy-in from CEOs who then continue to drive that message to the other ranks. If you can’t get support and buy-in from people at the top, it will be challenging to foster authentic leadership at other levels. But once you’re in that state, you can accomplish anything.
The CEO has to care about customer service because it defines the cultural imperative. But companies also develop bottom-up initiatives around training, processes and mentorship. How do you create a top-down model of authentic leadership in an organization that leans more toward a bottom-up approach?
It can work for both. You need to have that philosophy at the top so that your employees know that you’re doing the right things, but you also have to support people when you’re driving initiatives from the bottom up. When I was working at U.S. Cellular, the leadership team all the way up to the CEO understood the importance of leading authentically. What we didn’t have was an established culture within our customer service organization. The first step we took was to send out a survey to all associates. We sent a cameraman to interview some associates and we brought all of that feedback from our respective teams to the leadership team. We then created a mission statement and a vision statement that were directly tied to the feedback from the frontline agents. They created the values for us, and those values were tied directly to the care organization’s vision and mission statements.
"If you can get leaders to lead authentically, teach them to hire the right folks and make them as effective as possible, then the strategic initiatives and projects that you’re implementing will become that much easier to execute."
What strategies do you use within your organization to measure and improve how well you’re managing and creating customer satisfaction?
We measure all KPIs that relate to customer service, but we really focus on two - FCR, or first call resolution, and CSAT, or customer satisfaction. We believe these two are primarily what drives how customers feel about us. We truly want feedback from our customers. Understanding how many times a customer has to call back within three to seven days or understanding how the customer feels about an interaction that just took place is more important than any other KPI that we can measure.
A lot of the feedback that we get from our customer analytics is used to identify process gaps, create new processes and build content for our knowledge management tool. We get a lot of information and hopefully use it to the best of our ability. We’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg on some of this information gathering. We talk about big data analytics year after year. It’s something that we take seriously.
A lot of the programs that you’ve described come from established data collection exercises, such as within a call center or post-call surveys. Do you look at data from outside the call center as well, either marketing data or social data that may not have a direct touch point to a customer support function?
We do look at data from other functional areas; in fact, absent of customer journey mapping, we have to rely on each other cross-functionally to understand our opportunities. For example, we turned to marketing to understand customers’ buying patterns. How are they using our products and services? We get feedback from our field technicians who work in our customers’ place of business to troubleshoot problems. They help us understand potential opportunities that might exist within our call centers. Conversely, customer service can pull up data that may help our order management process. I don’t think there’s any functional area that we don’t come in contact with. We all share responsibility for improving the customer experience.
Across the company, are there any exercises or programs that measure employee feedback or satisfaction that help you understand how you can support your customers better or create a high-performance organization?
We currently do not measure the voice of the employee. What we try to do as a customer service organization is send out survey monkeys to understand how we can better serve our employees and customers. We also hold regular focus groups. Meeting with associates face to face is also important, and I do that every time I visit a call center or one of my directors visits a call center. Part of the directive is to meet with folks and have a real conversation. I don’t beat around the bush or sugarcoat anything, and I expect the same from others. Tell me like it is; otherwise, we won’t be able to fix it.
"We truly want feedback from our customers. Understanding how many times a customer has to call back within three to seven days or understanding how the customer feels about an interaction that just took place is more important than any other KPI that we can measure."
How do you measure the return on investment of a good customer experience?
A good customer experience lends itself to loyalty, which inherently impacts churn and cash flow in a positive manner. Again, CSAT and FCR are fantastic indicators of the level of service we provide our customers. We strive to improve upon these KPIs daily and continue to enhance the way we serve our customers, knowing full well that our customers have other options. The idea is to differentiate our service so uniquely that the customer will walk away floored by the experience and share their story with other potential clients. Once we can move a customer so much so that they become a Time Warner Cable evangelist, the return on investment will increase exponentially. The measurement of a good customer experience lies within customer churn, customer spend and customer referrals.
Where are your customer service operations headed in the next few years?
Technology will continue to advance and improve the customer experience. What’s going to change is the way customers interact with us. Today, we’re looking at social media and social sentiment. We’re trying to get our hands around that level of detail and attempting to do it ourselves. A lot of the interaction data - how many times a customer calls in, the number of times we send out a truck, tracking e-mails or chats - is easy to get. Social sentiment is a little more difficult to get without the proper tools. Understanding social sentiment and big data is important. Customers will find different ways to contact us in the future, especially through their mobile devices. Customers will be able to provide quick feedback on products and services.
As Vice President of Customer Service Operations, Chris Cardenas leads the development of strategic initiatives for the Business Class care team and focuses on the ever-changing support needs of commercial customers. This includes overseeing operational analytics, budget preparation, forecasting, workforce management, revenue assurance and return on investment analysis.
In addition to leading customer service operations, Cardenas manages the resources and technology necessary to anticipate the needs of the business and provide forward-thinking support. He works closely with the Director of Customer Experience to build business strategy and tactics, and to deliver a customer-focused experience that empowers associates to exceed expectations during every interaction.
Prior to his role as Vice President, Cardenas served as an executive of customer service for Comcast, U.S. Cellular and Sprint Nextel. He holds a master’s degree in business administration from Webster University and a bachelor’s degree in finance from Texas Lutheran University. Chris is a native Texan who resides in Charlotte, NC with his wife Lindsay.
A Greater Washington Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in IT services, Sid is the CEO and co-founder of Clarabridge. Sid provides executive leadership and strategic direction and is a well-known expert in customer experience, business intelligence and text mining.
Prior to Clarabridge, he co-founded Claraview, a leading business intelligence (BI) strategy and technology consultancy firm. Under Sid's leadership, Claraview grew into a thriving services firm with over 130 employees without any outside funding. Claraview was acquired by Teradata, a leading data warehousing and business intelligence company, in March 2008.
Over his career, Sid has amassed nearly 20 years of BI leadership experience. A founding employee at MicroStrategy, he held VP-level positions in both product marketing and worldwide services. During his tenure leading MicroStrategy's worldwide services division, he helped the organization grow to a 500+ person organization supporting enterprise deployments of BI solutions. Before joining MicroStrategy, Sid held management positions at Ernst & Young and Sprint International. Sid has a B.S. and M.S. in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).