Interview originally published on Medium.com
Customer experience improvement initiatives are notoriously difficult to quantify. But for many businesses, unquantifiable factors end up taking a back seat in strategy and budget-planning meetings. We’d like to learn how you’ve addressed this challenge.
As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Bob Estes.
Bob Estes is CEO and Board of Directors member at Reveille Software, responsible for Reveille’s overall strategy, growth and operations. Over the past 25 years, Bob has successfully launched several early-stage high-tech software companies and honed his expertise in integrating product strategy across operations and acquisitions. He also served as VP of Marketing and Product Management with several Atlanta-based software companies focused on enterprise content management, sales force automation and mobile communications, and graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your personal backstory with us?
I come from a long line of folks from Atlanta, Georgia, where I’ve watched my hometown evolve over generations. Atlanta started as a small southern town, but it’s grown into a bustling international city, attracting professionals from all corners of the world.
I studied at Georgia Tech, and after graduating I ventured into materials extraction engineering and manufacturing — around the time when computers were becoming super powerful and changing the game. Throughout my career, I’ve been involved in launching many applications, from Salesforce to mobile communications management and digital content management.
I also enjoy music, mainly studio production and performing live. My affinity was because the music industry was adopting and using technology quickly for studio work and musicians were pushing the boundaries with digital sampling.
Looking back, I’ve seen and been part of how technology has driven progress in areas like business, healthcare, education, communication, and travel. I believe we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible in this tech-driven world. It’s an exciting time to be alive and witness all these changes!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I want to attribute my intellectual growth to my father, whose profound wisdom has significantly influenced my career in the software industry. Among the myriad valuable lessons he imparted, one particular gem has proven instrumental. As a remarkable athlete, he seamlessly blended his prowess in football with life lessons, offering this sage counsel: “When you find yourself as a running back confronted with a breach in the defensive line, channel your determination and surge through it with unwavering resolve, leaving no room for doubt or hesitation.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The person who figures out how to harness the collective genius of his or her organization is going to blow the competition away,” said Walter Wriston, former chairman and CEO of Citicorp.
Winning in the realm of business, much like in team sports, seldom hinges on the efforts of a solitary participant. Sustained success necessitates a continuous commitment to recruiting fresh talent. However, Mr. Wriston’s profound insight centers on the pivotal concept of “harnessing.” It is not solely about assembling a team of exceptional individuals; excellence often eludes such arrangements. Instead, cultivating a collective genius within the team is paramount; this responsibility rests on your shoulders.
Can you share with us three strengths, skills, or characteristics that helped you to reach this place in your career? How can others actively build these areas within themselves?
- Public Speaking (storytelling) — At times, the journey towards effectiveness demands years of dedicated effort, and the cultivation of coherent writing skills intertwined with the art of organizing one’s thoughts assumes paramount importance.
- Seeking Out Obvious and Potential Talent — Identify individuals possessing “heat-seeking” personalities characterized by a touch of genius and an unwavering drive to propel progress — individuals we may aptly label as “Prime Movers.” They devote relentless efforts to mitigate any potential negative repercussions.
- Constant Mentoring — I don’t follow any specific rules or philosophies. Instead, I’ve been meeting with people over the years, both inside and outside the company, over meals or just coffee. I mostly listen and have conversations to get their thoughts. It’s surprising how being a good listener can be helpful over time. Plus, it helps me learn about what’s happening in our organization and the market and tech world.
Which skills are you still trying to grow now?
I’m working on broadening my technical and conceptual depth, especially as it relates to AI.
As a CX Leader in the SaaS industry, what’s been your experience gaining executive buy-in for CX improvement projects? Piece of cake or pulling teeth?
Project approval lies between both extremes. The challenge is to work against inertia while following these steps:
- Thoroughly prepare by conducting diligent research — arrive at the table with an impassioned and well-informed perspective.
- Cultivate internal support, a process that may unfold gradually while actively pursuing connections within and beyond the organization who can help bridge any gaps in your knowledge.
- Keep your eye on the mission, understand the CX, and how customers interact with your company.
Do you agree with the following statement? “It’s often challenging to quantify or measure the impact of customer experience improvements.” Please discuss why you do or don’t agree, citing examples where possible.
I agree. It’s important to remember that measuring the success or failure of your CX initiative in terms of productivity may yield little results. Additionally, in some cases, you may need to completely overhaul existing processes and reorganize your staff, which can be a challenging undertaking. Interestingly, striving to enhance current affairs might be the riskiest or most beneficial course of action.
At the outset, the team should clarify the goal with two key considerations:
- The goal likely revolves around generating momentum to enhance the focus on customer experience. This entails employing various strategies, including pricing, packaging, and “customer experience acceleration.”
- Determine whether the goal leans towards qualitative or quantitative aspects. Is it aimed at improving productivity or achieving a significant leap in the customer experience during interactions with your organization?
In your experience, over the past 5–10 years, has it become easier or more difficult to gain C-Suite buy-in for CX improvement initiatives?
The customer experience can be a company’s downfall or a catalyst for a better, sustainable brand future. While we often discuss it and assume that “someone” is addressing it, the reality is that no one is truly dedicated to it. The answer to the question is usually found in focusing on the importance of the C-Suite, understanding that they own this responsibility, and taking the topic seriously.
The topic is increasingly finding its way into executive discussions due to a growing sense of urgency. Predominant concerns drive this shift: security ranked as the top priority and AI’s disruptive influence, reshaping the landscape of CX initiatives. With AI taking center stage in most endeavors, the C-Suite needs to enhance its comprehension of this technology to oversee and optimize business operations effectively.
Are most of your big CX improvements proactive or reactive? Do you find it’s easier to build a case and gain buy-in to solve an existing CX pain-point, as opposed to improving the experience when no clear problems exist?
It depends on the company I’ve been involved with. Reactive means the patient is going through a triage process. Proactive looks at long-term health.
Many actions appear to be driven by reactive measures, yet the truly transformative benefits in the market typically stem from proactive approaches, which are inherently more challenging. It is essential, once more, to grasp the mission at hand: Is it centered on eliminating obstacles to enhance CX, or is it oriented towards refining processes to fuel strategic growth? The latter invariably involves venturing into uncharted territories and demands courage that is not for the faint-hearted.
In the digital age, it has become evident that the rapid pace of change necessitates embracing rather than neglecting it. When pursuing strategic initiatives, the focus is on seizing opportunities rather than addressing specific problems, and obtaining buy-in from the Executive Suite is crucial to prepare for such endeavors adequately.
Individuals must understand this question and constantly ask: What is our business, and what should we do on Monday?
How confident are you in the accuracy of the feedback you receive from customers? Is it mostly negative or well balanced? How do you ensure you’re not missing out on potentially important and valuable feedback? What role does that feedback play in pitching CX improvement ideas to the rest of your team or company?
In the software industry, one of the most challenging aspects is obtaining valuable feedback, be it from customers, partners, or within your organization. People often have busy schedules, and most projects and implementations tend to be centered around specific, typically tactical, objectives. Moreover, it’s essential to acknowledge that feedback is inherently subjective and shaped by the perspective of the individual providing it.
Many highly successful entrepreneurs frequently pose questions such as “what if.” They possess a compelling vision that often elicits responses from most, including their sales teams and customers, along the lines of “I don’t need that” or “Why would I need that?” This juncture is where significant leaps in innovation occur or, conversely, where they may not. It represents the transition from overthinking to transforming feedback into actionable plans. Naturally, every endeavor has an element of risk, but a clear understanding of the potential rewards, payoffs, and productivity improvements can propel successful efforts forward. I believe there’s a parallel characteristic among entrepreneurs that aligns with the concept of “Prime Movers” who can emerge within a team and drive meaningful change.
Can you please share your “5 Ways to Get C-Suite Buy-In for CX Improvements”?
- Make the business case that your organization has to accelerate its attention to customer experience from a competitive perspective, that the marketplace is driving excellence as a response to its needs, and that new markets are forming. Peter Drucker emphasized the significance of an essential question for thoughtful C-Suite leaders: “Who is NOT our customer?” This straightforward principle compels those entrusted with an organization’s management and future to proactively explore avenues for cultivating new customer relationships.
- Show the benefits of the CX initiative. Model the financials, create mockups and prototypes, develop a proof-of-concept, conduct field testing, and comprehensively assess the market impact, which may initially affect sales and margins. The critical challenge for a leader lies in effectively conveying and selling these ideas to the team, often originating from within the organization rather than solely from one’s conceptualization.
- Solicit fresh perspectives. Listen attentively to the perspectives of younger workers and ensure they feel empowered as integral contributors to the decision-making process. Additionally, maintain close connections with your technology partners and customers to garner valuable and reliable feedback.
- Maintain high standards and communicate the CX journey throughout the company, as well as customers and partners.
- Don’t analyze forever. Keep the momentum going; prevent the team from becoming isolated or stuck in a rut. Establish a feedback loop before, during, and after a significant customer experience (CX) launch.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Education, a continuum from the nascent stages to the seasoned periods of life, is an enduring foundation. It encompasses all tiers of educational institutions, including vocational schools, serving as the initiatory realm for perpetual learning. For those entrusted with leadership roles, kindle the fires of your imagination to ignite inspiration within your professional peers and among your friends, and even those you encounter at seemingly mundane locations, such as the deli counter.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.is.
Sir Peter Robert Jackson. I would engage him in a discussion regarding his methods for effectively channeling the creative energies within his diverse teams and his approach to leveraging and enhancing available technologies. This conversation would also encompass the pragmatic aspect of navigating financial limitations within specific projects, exploring instances where such constraints may have hindered progress. Furthermore, I would inquire about strategies for identifying and attracting talented individuals to contribute to his projects and his personal sources of inspiration.