Ericsson Chief Customer Officer Tabitha Dunn: How CX is Critical to Every Growing Team

We interviewed Tabitha Dunn, Chief Customer Officer and Head of Sales Excellence for Ericsson.


Tabitha has valuable perspective on "human-centered design" and how businesses/sales teams could be better at it.


TRANSCRIPT


Adam Conner (00:54):

Tabitha, thanks so much for joining me. How you doing?


Tabitha Dunn (00:57):

I'm doing great, Adam, how are you?


Adam Conner (00:59):

I'm doing really, really well because today I get to chat with you about a topic which is critically important to that broad word that is growth that I like to explore here, but from an angle that I am not an expert in nor have I gotten the chance to speak to many folks who are experts. I'm talking about of course customer experience. And you've got this fantastic culmination of skills and talents and responsibilities where you are able to both oversee that and perhaps as an extension or maybe as a genesis look at sales excellence. So I want to talk all about the center of those two things and how that has formed over time industry wise and Tabitha wise. But I want to start earlier. You got into the customer experience like 20 years ago. And listeners, we do a little bit of prep here so I know this is true when I say this, in your own words, you said that at that point, CX really wasn't considered a real job. Why? And also, so what changed?


Tabitha Dunn (02:05):

I think part of it is because many companies really struggled with, either we care about customers and of course we do, but that's what customer support does or they were not really thinking about the benefits a company and the shareholders can get from being able to systemically improve customer experience. Because a lot of the math and the science and really the behavioral understanding around, "Hey, if you have a better experience, whether that's in B2C or B2B, you're going to have more trust and you're going to want more of that same experience," whether it's a product or it's a solution or you're out at your favorite restaurant. And so it's that really growing of understanding that you can actually alter that experience and alter it for the better, and it can have a beneficial impact for not just your customers, but for your business and your bottom line.


Adam Conner (03:05):

First of all, speaking from 2021 time, like today, I completely agree with that. And also I just can't really get my brain around that because nowadays the customer experience broadly is so central to whether you live or die in this tech world, product world, brand world doesn't matter. And getting to the story of the customer and the story of the person is so much more important than the days of yore where you're maybe spouting about all the features of something like a product or a good, or even a service. The term chief customer officer, I had never heard that until even a couple years ago. And again, I just keep coming back to that question why. So once again, I'm glad to have you here.


Adam Conner (03:54):

You specialize, and this is a term that I actually had not heard before even though it makes complete sense, in human-centered design. Now, to me, if I'm the lay person just looking at this from 10,000 feet up, I say like human-centered design, yeah, humans are doing everything so duh. But can you help me learn? Because obviously that means something a little bit different in your neck of the woods. And maybe we should use that software world as a filter, because I have a follow-up question which is related to their resources versus their design capabilities. But can we start by defining that term human-centered design, what is that?


Tabitha Dunn (04:33):

Yeah. In its essence, if you think about any type of change that you've either participated in or had happened to you when you worked for a company or really maybe you were leading that change and it didn't turn out quite the way you thought it would, and you thought yourself, "Well, I don't understand, we made all the right process changes, we make the right tool changes, we told people they needed to be different, we communicated why we're doing this, maybe we even trained you to do things differently, and then it just didn't really work the way we thought it would."


Tabitha Dunn (05:12):

At its heart, that's where human-centered design, which really leads to human-centric transformation, has a true impact because you think about, it's not what people say they're going to do, it's what they actually do, which is why so many fitness clubs across the globe make a large part of their profits from the people who buy a membership and rarely or never go. Why would you do that? If you actually want to go to the gym and work out, or you have a purpose for it, why do so many people buy it and don't use it? And it's a great example of human-centered design about understanding why people do what they do and then designing for the outcome you want in mind.


Tabitha Dunn (06:00):

And probably one of my favorites everyone has seen is you might picture two sidewalks where they come to a T and then you see a trail through the grass that cuts the corner of those sidewalks, that's human-centered designed too, because they built those sidewalks to just follow a little orderly line. If people don't follow your orderly little lines, they actually follow the path of least resistance or the path that really interests them the most. And when you do human-centered design, you have to take the time to figure that out, not just on the customer side, but on the partner side if you have partners and on the employee side. And sales is a great example of that. You can teach your sales people challenger, for example, but if they don't get value from it and they don't connect to it, they're not going to sell via the challenger method because you didn't actually change how they wanted to sell, you just taught them something else. And they'll just take whatever they want from that and go forward and that may not be the outcome you actually want.


Adam Conner (07:02):

That's a great analogy, by the way. I'm thinking about those sidewalks and beaten paths, I see that all the time like, I don't know, with popular internet blogs, they'll say, "Hey, this was a picture of like the school campus," colleges do this a lot, right? And that's the human-centered design, except some schools actually get ahead of the curve and they're like, "We're not going to pave any sidewalks here until we let our students come beat through the grass here, because we know where they want to walk so we're just going to pave where they want to walk." That's sort of like nicely responsive human-centered design.


Adam Conner (07:34):

Now admittedly I do see it less or maybe not as consistently in tech. So the question to me just comes back to why, again, only because here's that resources question coming back at you, so many of these large tech organizations have, and actually if you listen to the earnings call sometimes they'll flaunt having, all of this cash on hand resources that they can use to get towards that human-centered design, to get smarter about it, they clearly have the capability to do it. Why is it still not as consistently human-centered as it sounds like we should intuitively have? I mean, is it because it takes the proverbial years to beat the path in the grass? Is it something that investors can't see immediately, so they don't respond very well to it? I mean, why might that get all mucked up despite that, despite billions of that some of these folks have.


Tabitha Dunn (08:43):

Usually there are three typical reasons you would find why that happens. One of them is you didn't start with human-centered design when you built your technology, you didn't try to think about what's the easiest way to put this together or what's the easiest way to onboard someone into my software? And you didn't look about the fact that, oh gosh, maybe not everybody does it the same. So you only built one path. To go back and build another path, let's say that people have different needs and maybe two or three are the most common and you should actually build for all of those, it's expensive to go back and to change. And you have to know well, is it really worth it to invest in that? What's the ROI of that investment of that change, building an additional path for example, or is it better to just say, "I think it's good enough and I have other problems I'd rather solve"? So that's one reason.


Tabitha Dunn (09:44):

Another is for many people, they're not really interested in that part of the investment. They might be much more interested in, "Yeah but where else could I spend that money?" And it's going to be more things that we think are more strategic value. And if the customers continue to buy despite the experience not being that great, there's no incentive for them to change and they will keep investing their money somewhere else.


Tabitha Dunn (10:10):

And the third is often that companies don't understand which problem to work on first. So maybe they actually do care about customers and they do want to invest, but they get so much feedback that they really don't know which thing is most important and how do I know which one to work on? Because you can't solve all of the problems. And so those are typically the three that you would see.


Tabitha Dunn (10:32):

And I think a good example is we've all hunted on the internet for a support phone number because we needed to call support. Now, I don't know how many people out there who are listening like to pick up the phone and call, I'm one of those human behavior people that does not, I will do a lot to try and avoid calling support, not because there aren't great support people, but I'm just not a big phone person. And that is one of those dual path designs, some people would prefer to chat, some people prefer to call, some people would prefer to write it down or search for themselves. And if you enable all of those things to be equally present but well designed, then you actually will do what many support centers are trying to do which is avoiding the cases because customers who don't want to call are going to do a lot not to and they'll work very hard to make sure they can get through the right answer.


Tabitha Dunn (11:25):

The easier you make it for them to do, but not block the phone for those who really prefer that, that's where you're really thinking about how you balance out your resources more effectively. And it's just understanding what people want and then being willing to make that investment. It's not always an easy decision, because there's a lot of competition inside any company for the money that you might need to drive that type of change.


Adam Conner (11:51):

Oh yeah. Hey, that's for sure. By the way, I like talking on the phone kind of the way the listeners are going to pick up this conversation is kind of like a phone call, they get two sides. But let me tell you something, I'm glad that they came up with that dual design with that chat simply because I want to put the question out there, I want somebody to listen to it and frankly I don't want to hold the phone up and have the hold music for 10, 15 minutes. I get put on internet hold, but I want it to be silent over there in some window that I can't see and then I'll come back to it, I'll compartmentalize, you know what I mean? I think that's very smart.


Adam Conner (12:21):

So man, I don't know how to make elegant analogies to other parts of experience probably because I'm not an expert and I don't do this every day, but yeah, very good call. And also smartly pointed out that if you didn't start this way, it's like, well, if you built a railroad and now you're saying, "Well, we really should have built this other railroad like a hundred years ago," well that's an awfully tall mountain to climb. And if instead you say, "Oh, well we're going to put this really great grease on the railroad," right? Well then you've just taken and made faster, maybe more efficient or maybe polished a inefficient path. So I completely get that.


Adam Conner (13:04):

And nowadays it makes sense why if you're going to start something new, you got to start looking customer first. You got to start with that beaten path, as opposed to just like paving a sidewalk that you hope that people end up walking down. And you're a champion of this as well. I know that in your view, customer experience should touch every part of the org. And I'll go back to my first ever job was in tech sales, it was in analytics software. And me frankly, being a sales guy, sales guys always have a bit of a chip in their shoulder, I was thinking, "Ph, sales should touch every part of the org," now that's not the way to go, but I also didn't really have a great reasoning for it, I know you have a great reasoning for why having customer experience everywhere can actually help to contribute to sales growth, to organization growth as opposed to organizations where customer experience is sort of in their own vertical or I guess in a more siloed practice.


Adam Conner (14:05):

So I'd like to dive into that next. In your experience, how has CX being everywhere contributed to positive growth, such that you can't live without it?


Tabitha Dunn (14:17):

Well if you think about it, the prospect becomes aware of the brand and the brand creates a promise at that point. And from the moment that they move from the promise with their expectations that it's built to the time that they speak to a salesperson is really pivotally and important because that's where the experience that they have needs to start fulfilling those expectations that the brand made. And if you do all things well, the salesperson genuinely understands what the customer needs and the experience they have being sold to and the experience they have with what they purchased and if they needed support or implementation, or there was delivery involved, whatever those post sale activities are, if they all continue to fulfill the expectation of that promise, then you're delivering on a customer experience that makes them become advocates of whatever they purchased from you and then they're going to want to recommend it to other people.


Tabitha Dunn (15:19):

And you see this a lot in car buying, right? I think car salesmen have gotten quite the reputation over the years and so people have an expectation even when they've had good sales experiences buying a car, and certainly I have, they really start to be nervous about what that might be. That's why you actually see so many companies already innovating on what the sales process is to the point where, gosh, I was watching an advertisement a couple weeks ago and they're like, "You don't even have to leave your house to buy the car. The car will just come to you." And I'm like, wow, that's the ultimate and not picking up the phone and calling support.


Adam Conner (15:56):

You guys have those Carvana out there... Listeners, Tabitha right now is in Sweden. In the US, they have that Carvana, you put the token in the machine and like a gumball, the car comes down and it rolls out to you. I know you got to go somewhere for that. Do you have anything like that out there?


Tabitha Dunn (16:13):

I have not seen that. I will say they do a lot around car shares, you can easily pick up cars or scooters or bikes all over the city for basically just time sharing and renting them out. And they're very big on walking and public transportation here so you see a lot of those options pretty much everywhere you go through the city.


Adam Conner (16:39):

Anyway, I was cutting you off that, but that reminded me, go on.


Tabitha Dunn (16:42):

No, no, I mean, that's the example, right? I think many times the best sales people really like other people and they want to get to know their customer and they're not just there to churn their numbers and get through to whatever their final outcomes are for the quarter, they're going to really create an experience that once the customer gets the product or the service that it's something the customer can believe in or it delivers on what was promised to them. And so the salesperson is ultimately the biggest part of that promise. So from a customer experience perspective, I love working with marketing on the brand side and the sales teams, because the two of them together really create and set up what the experience has to be. And it's not in sync then you're constantly in trouble because the customer's unhappy almost from the get go once they get their product or solution.


Adam Conner (17:44):

Well, I can speak to that for sure, any growing tech org, and I'm guessing there are tropes out there like the sales and marketing, they're the ones that have the most fun, well, yeah, but they also project that fun upon the prospects that they hope to become customers. And you certainly don't want to set up a situation where like, "Ph, this has been a great conversation with John Doe, they really led me through, I had a great time, I've got to know him as a person and now I've got this product software and oh boys, this lackluster." In theory, you would make sure, I mean, maybe clicking through a piece of software might not be as fun as going out to dinner, but you need to have the same mentality going in.


Adam Conner (18:22):

So I get it. I totally get it. And by the way, great analogy, because in speaking about great sales people and cars, I mean, we just recently had an episode of Growth Culture where I was asking somebody, it was a gentleman named Wade, I'll introduce you, he's a good guy, what their first real sales experience was, first sales expert they talked to and what they learned and it was a gentleman in Nebraska who was selling used cars because that is, A, a tough industry and, B, something from which he learned that building trust with the people is everything. I mean, it is everything because you can't take the guy out to dinner once he's already in your car. So you need to make sure that all of those experiences align.


Adam Conner (19:07):

This is a great segue too. I know I'm riffing a little bit here, but this is a great segue because that question to him was like, "Hey, who's a great salesperson?" Now I want to ask you because clearly you're an expert on the CX side and I know that that role and the industry has grown over time and that at one point you were part of what you call a three in a box system, somebody who is a technical expert, somebody who's going to run the account eventually, and then your salesperson. Maybe it was a little more siloed than it is today, but there was a person there by the name of Brian that might have been the best salesperson you ever knew. I want to learn a little bit more about that person and then I want to learn what's similar about some of the best salespeople that you've ever worked with.


Tabitha Dunn (19:46):

Yeah. It's funny because I just was emailing Brian the other day, we've known each other for many, many, many years. And he really was the person that taught me that someone who is in sales can have a genuine empathy and kindness as well as incredibly good at negotiating and being able to solve problems. He just had all of this great people skillsets that I admired and it made it fun to work for him and with him and to see him in action with customers where he was clearly listening and being able to feedback to them, "This is what I heard and here's how we can deliver on what I've heard." It was those types of early experiences are part of what made me love the idea of going into customer experience, because it really is about listening and learning from what you hear and then acting on what you hear.


Tabitha Dunn (20:51):

And that's the best sales people out there is they listen first and then they make sure I reflect back, "This is what I heard, this is what you need," and particularly in B2B, right? And then, "Here, here's what we're going to give you and this going to fulfill what I've committed to you." And it then makes you want to go back and buy from them again. And I think that in B2B, it's even more complicated because it's not just you making a buying decision, you are also putting your reputation and your company's money on the line when you're making that decision. And if it turns out not to have been a good decision, you are going to feel bad. Even if you trusted that the salesperson told you the right thing and it didn't turn out to be, still it's a real failure, the experience and it's not something that's going to want you to go back to that company again, even if it wasn't the company's fault, it was their salesperson, right? So salespeople are incredibly important in not just starting that relationship well, but in building that relationship to last.


Adam Conner (22:00):

Yeah, you got that right. And by the way, I've experienced that luckily not from the worst case side where something goes wrong and they come back and where I feel that my reputation has been stained or even punished, but I have felt that on the outset of talking to somebody and hearing the mental defense, they want to make the best decision, but also they're putting themselves on the line, they don't want to be responsible for some potential huge investment that doesn't work. So I completely get that and great insight there as to who makes... Some of the things you've just said are similar with what I've observed with some of the best salespeople that I've ever worked with, the mentors that I have had.


Adam Conner (22:43):

And how great is it that you're able to have that perspective as somebody who not only again sees how those great people operate, but also as an expert in CX? And so the final question I want to ask is a bit of a forward looking one, just industry wide, maybe just business wide, even though that's I guess worldwide, looking ahead, how do you think that businesses will seek to let this can continue to permeate, to allow customer experience to come more to the forefront, to allow this human-centered design to grow? Because at the end of the day, sure, every new company may adopt this or we hope, but there's still got to be a heck of a lot of change based on the railroads and sidewalks analogy that we gave before. So I'd like to close by asking you, what do you think will happen in the future with regard to the ways that businesses allow CX to permeate everything?


Tabitha Dunn (23:38):

That's a good question. And I really, when I look forward, I would say that there are probably two trends that are likely to drive more investment in customer experience and wanting to have that embedded in the way you do business. And the first one is there are a lot of companies out there that are investing in transformation across their company, whether it's digital transformation or it is some other type of significant transformation or change. And that's where that human-centered design that makes it better for your customers, your partners, your employees, and drives operational excellence is the sweet spot for making transformation generally stick and return on that investment. And you can probably ask many companies who have made a pass at transformation and really struggled why they think that they've struggled and the biggest part is because the people have not changed, which means the path laid out for them is not the one that really worked well and it made it easy for them to make that change.


Tabitha Dunn (24:51):

The second factor I would go into is that competition breeds change, we all kno