Thursday, July 18, 2019

A Deep Dive Interview with Stephanie Thum, Chief Advisor, Federal Customer Experience, Qualtrics

Earlier this year SAP acquired Qualtrics and added it to their solution suite in the SAP Customer Experience business unit.  I reached out to the ever brilliant Stephanie Thum at Qualtrics to learn more about Qualtrics, and the value it can bring to both SAP customers and others.  Enjoy!

Kevin: First up, Stephanie, tell us a bit about your background.

Stephanie: I am a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP). I've been with Qualtrics for about a year, but I've been working in customer experience for more than 13 years. I started in customer experience as a customer satisfaction executive at Ernst and Young. That was years ago. I eventually became one of the US federal government's first agency-level customer experience leaders. That was during the [Barack] Obama administration.  At that time the president had a multi agency task force on customer experience and I served as an advisor to that task force. I'm also a founding member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), which is the premier professional association for customer experience professionals around the world. I spent time working as part of the headquarters team as well for CXPA just before I came to Qualtrics last year.

Kevin: How do you define customer experience?

Stephanie: Customer experience is a business discipline. One of the things that I love about CX is how it's evolved over the last several years. CX is not just a fleeting moment of empathy with a customer.  It's not just a piece of software or a metric on a piece of paper or a journey map. It's all of those things put together. It's a way of doing things in your business that makes things better for your customers, more efficient for your business, and more profitable. And it's something that should touch every corner of your organization as well and not just process improvements or website improvements but all aspects of your business. You need great leadership and technology to get there but, ultimately, it's about the sum total of a customer's experiences with your organization that leads them to either want to do business with you or not.

Kevin: Earlier this year SAP announced the acquisition of Qualtrics. SAP spent $8 billion USD to buy Qualtrics. That's a huge acquisition. Why do you think SAP did that?

Stephanie: We're living in the experience economy now. Never before has it been easier for customers to get access to information that helps them choose the kinds of experiences that they want to have as a customer. And the same goes for employees. For businesses to compete, they need to know what it's going to take to create the experiences that those customers and employees are looking for. To do that, you need the operational data that SAP is known to bring to the table, and the experience data that Qualtrics has.  It's about combining these two types of data to offer a better experience. It's an unstoppable combination. So that's where I think we're coming from and that's where I think we're going.

Kevin: You used the term "experience economy." For somebody not focused on this space, what does that mean to them? And where will they see that demonstrated?

Stephanie: The experience economy is all around us, and there's much being written about it now. The landscape has changed over the past ten years. We know now that 80 percent of customers are going to choose to switch brands due to a poor experience. We know that two million employees a month are turning over due to poor experiences. That power is really in the customers' and the employees' hands. So experience is really the new battleground. As a business today you must know how you are going to create good experiences so that you can attract and then retain customers? That race is on, whether we like it or not. So you really have to embrace the practices and principles of CX as a business discipline, and implement the right CX technology that's out there. Like I mentioned earlier, SAP and Qualtrics combined can make that happen.

Kevin: Customers want great experiences. From airlines to coffee shops to mobile apps to websites to just about everything.  The focus is now on what and who provides the best experience. Is that how you see it as well?

Stephanie: That's absolutely how I see it. And understanding what that actually means to your customer is where the X and O data comes in, because that could mean different things to different customers. For some, it's ease of use. For others, it might be access to FAQs, videos or great people. So, really drawing in the power of that X and O data together is where we're coming from and where we're going.

Kevin: How have you seen the customer experience space evolve over your career?

Stephanie: Things have changed so much. And I was talking to a colleague about this the other day. When I had started in CX, you couldn't get five people in a room to talk about CX and what it meant. And now when we take a look at how the profession, technologies, principles and practices have grown, there are hundreds and thousands of people focused on this area. If we think back to the thousands of people that were at Sapphire CXLive just this past May for SAP, and the way that it's grown, a lot more people understand and are engaged in it now. And not only do they understand what it is, but they also understand how to embrace the opportunities that come with it. That's absolutely fantastic and I love seeing that evolution.

Kevin: There's obviously a lot of things that Qualtrics does in the customer experience domain apart from surveys. Can you give us a view into the Qualtrics technology platform?

Stephanie: Yes, Qualtrics is way more than surveys. It's an experience management platform that hundreds of the world's biggest companies, 99 out of the  top 100 business schools, more than 60 federal government agencies, hundreds of state and local governments use to make their websites better, make processes better, figure out ways to better understand their organization's risks, deliver products and services that people love, develop employee cultures and build great brands. An added value proposition is also the security that Qualtrics brings into the mix, particularly with our federal government clients. Qualtrics obviously has the capability of doing a lot of surveys, but gone are the days of just doing a survey and calling it a day. You have to consider the security implications of the data that you collect because if you're collecting that data, you're responsible for protecting it as well. So Qualtrics brings that security value proposition as well. And even our non-government clients are really interested in this because if you're collecting that data, it's your responsibility to keep it safe no matter what industry you're in.

Kevin: Once data is collected, somebody must respond to it.  Right?  There's a need to connect the data analysis to action.  How's that done?

Stephanie: Here is two examples. They're both in the federal government space – the National Library of Medicine (NLM) and the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). Both of these use Qualtrics to manage website feedback over a dozen domains or more. More than any other business imperative these two agencies have, they want to be sure that visitors find what they need quickly. So there are two questions on the bottom of every page of their websites, "Was this information helpful, and what can we do to improve?"  Teams at NLM and HHS receive feedback in real-time and can fix problems quickly. For example, they can make changes to the website or to a broken link or whatever they need to do to help ensure that users and customers get the information they need. That's an actionable way of collecting data and actually putting it out into the world in a way that makes sense for users.

Kevin: In the SAP CX organization there are five different solution pillars: SAP Customer Data Cloud, Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Commerce Cloud and Service Cloud. Would you see a purpose for Qualtrics in all five of those?

Stephanie: Absolutely.  We recently announced the first set of combined solutions with SAP C/4HANA.  They are integrations of Qualtric with SAP Sales, Service and Marketing Clouds. These are solutions that have been combined to make it easier for businesses to listen to customer feedback, combine that X and O data, create actionable insights and really deliver those personalized customer experiences. They're all great solutions, but the one that really sticks out for me is the SAP Qualtrics CX for Sales. This one is designed to help companies assess the strength of their client relationships and improve productivity for their sales executives. So, we are trying to smooth out the processes and the experiences of a sales executive, and also make it easier for customers so that it makes the buying process smoother. It's a great mix of making an employee's experience better and a customer's experience easier during the buying process. That really stands out for me.

Kevin: Let me ask you to put on your futurist hat. If you look forward five years, how do you expect customer experience to evolve?

Stephanie: I think the discussion surrounding CX as a business discipline is going to grow more complex in the future. For example, I believe we're going to start hearing more about the ethical side of CX. Customers often look to online reviews for insight. But when reviewers have been compensated to write a review that is an ethical problem. What if customers have been tempted to write a review based on the possibility of a future discount? Or what if it's just plain fake? That is going to become a more important conversation within the CX discipline. The same thing with score begging. Has anybody ever begged you for a five-star rating on a survey? What are the ethical implications of score begging? If I don't feel like I want to give them five stars, do I still give them five stars? Do I give them something less knowing that they might feel like they deserved a better rating? So it just brings about a question of what is ethically right in terms of putting out information that customers may use to decide whether or not they want to do business and the experiences they may anticipate. You've got to think about these things when you're creating or honestly evaluating the experiences. I think that's definitely going to play a much more significant role in the future.

Watch the full interview!

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Kevin Benedict
SVP Strategy, Regalix Inc.
Online TV Channel RegalixTV
Website Regalix Inc.
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.