If her life had followed an expected path, Annette Franz would have spent the past 27 years pursuing a career in veterinary medicine. But an aversion to chemistry (“my kryptonite,” she jokes) and a love of numbers, analysis and writing led her to the world of consumer research. It was a perfect fit. Studying customers’ perceptions, behaviors and experience became Franz’s lifelong passion. While working in customer research at J.D. Power and Associates, she became intrigued with the idea of educating businesses about how to improve the customer experience.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Franz spent the following years immersed in customer experience management and voice of the customer research and consulting. She was on the leading edge of the CX evolution as it emerged as a top differentiator of business success, and helped to define the key concepts that distinguish the CX discipline. In 2017, Franz launched CX Journey Inc., a global customer experience strategy consulting firm based in Orange County, Calif.
Franz’s list of accomplishments is long and impressive. She is an internationally recognized CX thought leader, coach, keynote speaker and author, and has been dedicated to raising the visibility of the profession. As a respected pioneer in the field, it is no surprise that Franz was an early proponent of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA). She served as the Local Networking Event Lead for Southern California (LA, OC, San Diego) from 2012-2018, CXPA Treasurer from 2015-2018, and Vice Chair in 2019.
This year, Franz steps into the role of Board Chair, and there is no one more qualified to lend industry knowledge and collaborative support to the association’s board and executive committee. I recently had the honor of speaking with Franz about the development of the customer experience discipline, the CXPA’s 2020 outlook and her new book, “Customer Understanding.”
Clearing Up the Biggest CX Misconception
The CX profession has progressed considerably over the years, and while it has gained greater visibility within organizations, there is still some fuzziness about what, exactly, it is. CX is often confused with customer service, which is one of the greatest misconceptions. “Customer experience is not customer service,” Franz notes. She points to a quote that she paraphrased from Chris Zane of Zane’s Cycles: “Service is what happens when the experience breaks down.”
As Franz explains in her aptly titled article, “Customer Service Happens When the Experience Breaks Down”: “In its simplest definition, customer experience is (a) the sum of all the interactions that a customer has with a company over the course of the relationship and includes (b) the customer’s feelings, emotions and perceptions of the brand during the course of those interactions. … Customer experience is actually the ‘umbrella discipline,’ so to speak, while customer service falls under that umbrella. Customer service is just one of those interactions, one touchpoint in the overall customer experience; servicing customers is one action of many that comprises the customer experience.”
In recent years, marketers have further muddied the waters by erroneously applying the term “customer experience” to vision and branding efforts, and even customer service job titles. “It went from nothing to everything,” Franz says. “Everything is customer experience, but not every role needs to be labeled as customer experience.”
Why does it matter? Misunderstandings about CX and the difficulty of demonstrating ROI can make it hard for CX professionals to get executive support for initiatives.
These are the types of challenges the CXPA is working to overcome, Franz says.
“We want to be the clear source for the definition of what customer experience is and for what the CX professional does,” Franz explains. “We’ve conducted in-depth research on various CX roles and we’re developing job descriptions, job levels, succession plans and career paths, which we’ll be releasing in 2020. Our members look to us for those types of resources. We work to advocate and support CX professionals and help them to do their jobs.”
Certification is a valuable step toward validating a CX professional’s experience, knowledge and skills. Earning a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) certification is not an easy process; it’s not just based on reading assignments and an exam. Eligibility requires three to five years of hands-on experience in categories like:
- Customer-Centric Culture
- Organizational Adoption and Accountability
- VOC, Customer Insight & Understanding
- Experience Design & Improvement
- Metrics, Measurement, & ROI
- Customer Experience Strategy
Looking Ahead: 2020 Expectations
As the 2020 CXPA Board Chair, Franz has set high expectations for what she hopes the association can achieve this year. Her top goals are:
1. Global expansion. In recent years, international growth has been on the back burner as the CXPA focused on internal scalability. “We’re in a good place right now,” she says. “We’ve got an amazing team in place. Over the next year, I would like to see us make our mark globally and be set up to continue to grow and scale around the world into the future.”
2. Membership growth. The association’s overall expansion goal includes membership growth, Franz says. “I would like to see growth in individual and corporate membership, and that we are setting the association on a trajectory to continue to grow at a good pace going forward,” she adds. “The way to get there is to show the value that the CXPA offers to the profession. Growing corporate membership is a big ask because it means that organizations have embraced this role, this profession and the need to focus on CX.
“We’re going through an evolution. Over the past couple of years, we took a very tactical approach,” Franz continues. “Our CEO, Greg Melia, brings great knowledge and expertise to the organization. Going forward, we’re going to focus on being more strategic, supporting Greg, and making sure that he has what he needs to achieve our goals.”
Putting the Customer at the Heart of the Business
With all of the buzz about digital transformation these days, it’s all too easy for business leaders to get swept away by the technology hype and lose sight of the customer.
Taking that narrow, tech-first approach is one of Franz’s pet peeves—or as she puts it, “digital schmigital.”
“People are talking about AI, AR, VR and every other acronym under the sun, but there are so many companies out there that can’t get the basics right,” she stresses. “CX professionals are still trying to sell ROI to their executives and get their commitment for CX initiatives.”
Developing a CX strategy is not an easy endeavor. “You can’t just throw technology at it, give it some lip service, and call it a day,” Franz says. “Customer understanding is the cornerstone of customer-centricity. You have to understand your customers and bring the customer voice into everything that you do.”
Driving a customer-centric mindset throughout an organization is hard work even for seasoned professionals. To offer much-needed guidance, Franz has collected the CX expertise that she has acquired and shared over the years through her writing, coaching and consulting into a practical handbook for CX practitioners. “Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the ‘Customer’ in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business),” provides details and specific steps to ensure that the foundational elements in place, and where to go from there, including how to achieve customer understanding, developing personas, touchpoint maps, how to conduct journey-mapping workshops with customers, service blueprint workshops with internal stakeholders—and even an open letter to CEOs about competing priorities and how to achieve business success by bringing the customer’s voice into everything that you do.
While not oversimplifying the complex topic of CX management, Franz’s advice is delivered in an accessible format—it’s the ultimate instruction manual with plenty of checklists and templates, and is meant to be easy to skim and reference by those doing the work.
She adds that all of the techniques, processes and tools in the book also can be applied to the employee experience. “We have to apply the same principles and techniques to employees,” Franz explains. “We have to listen to them. We have to understand their needs, their pain points and the problems that they’re trying to solve—and take that feedback and use it. Do something to help design a better experience.”
About the CXPA
The Customer Experience Professionals Association is a global non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of customer experience professionals and organizational best practices. It provides customer experience professionals with educational and networking opportunities to help them succeed, and facilitates the industry-wide advancement of the discipline of customer experience through the globally recognized Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP). The 2020 CXPA Global Insight Exchange annual conference will be held in Orlando, FL, from April 27th to 29th. For more information, visit www.cxpa.org.