It has been a little over two decades of journeying through customer experience. A journey I could never have imagined. A journey that encompasses both my work and my entire being. A journey that has seen me deliver a keynote address at a CEOs’ conference and develop the skills of those who open their gates. A journey that has made me both smile and shudder. What a journey it has been. It has had a lot of memorable experiences!
Among my earliest memories of customer experience are interactions with a local shopkeeper. It was not exactly a memorable experience. We kept going back to the shop because the options were limited and my mother had a credit account at the shop. Towards the end of the last millennium, I had officially shifted from the village to the city. That is what one does when done with an undergraduate degree. At the turn of the new millennium, I needed a real job. I had gained enough experience as an intern. I showed up at one of my dream employers. I quickly found a new job. Or should I say that the weekly feature I wrote for People Weekly, at the time, landed me the job? Those featured articles had nothing to do with business. I believe the Managing Director was intrigued by this girl in her mid-twenties that was not only job hunting, but writing. This was my first real job; at least it had a payslip. In addition, it had something close to a job description. I wrote the job description for myself. I recall the day that I discussed the tasks on the job description with my boss. He had another task that needed to be listed. The task entailed dealing with customers who were dissatisfied with our products. This task set in motion a new path, the ultimate goal of which was to effectively manage customer dissatisfaction. This first job description is still in my files. I must have followed in the footsteps of my father. I believe he has our report forms in a file in his cupboard. Because I was keen on product quality, focusing on customer dissatisfaction was an easy transition.
How do you deal with dissatisfied customers? I was curious. Fortunately, I discovered some useful information on the internet. This was made possible by the Yahoo search engine, as well as the Norwich Union and Burger Dome cyber cafes. I also signed up for a weekly email from JoAnna Brandi, a happiness coach. Her focus was on providing positive experiences to colleagues and customers. I started finding joy in connecting with people. Previously, I was happier mixing concoctions in the laboratory by myself. Soon after, I mustered enough courage to respond to a complaint published in the Daily Nation’s Cutting Edge by the Watchman. The journey to developing a skill that would later become a career path progressed in tandem. Working across departments provided me with a broader perspective of the business environment. I soon found myself conducting consumer panels for new products while also digging deep into customer complaints for insights. Every Monday morning, I eagerly awaited an opportunity to present a progress report to the executive team. A key feature of this report was complaints received and actions taken. As a business, we witnessed how customer complaints helped us get better.
It was exhilarating to work in a fast-paced business environment. Perhaps it was my role that captured my imagination. I enjoyed my job, and it did not matter that our administrative assistant was paid twice as much as I was. There were many unforgettable moments. I recall visiting a law firm whose partners had expressed dissatisfaction with our product. I made the best decision by showing up with the same product they had complained about. I did not know much about lawyers at the time. If I had, I would have been terrified at the prospect of a court case. I shared some product information with them, and they were astounded. Another unforgettable experience was travelling across Europe in search of new product ideas. This trip made it so much easier for me to later qualify for a student visa. I was eager to learn anything and everything there was to know about business. I enrolled in a graduate business school. Throughout my studies, I made it a point to incorporate the customer’s point of view in my projects. I recall having a particular interest in customer satisfaction and loyalty drivers.
I not only studied in class, but I also worked as a front line. Working at a fast-food restaurant taught me how to streamline processes and fully integrate new employees. The Walmart superstore experience left an indelible mark on my journey. What stood out the most was how the leadership team interacted with the associates, the extensive range of employee benefits, and the unwavering focus on the customer. I began putting together some thoughts on customer experience while working at Walmart. It took ten years to compile the 250 thoughts into the ‘Customer Experience at its Best’ booklet. After reading it, a nine-year-old boy told me that every shopkeeper needed a copy. After over 10,000 copies sold, the French translation, “L’expérience Client à Son Meilleur” was born.
After three years in the United States, I was ready to lead customer experience transformation in Kenyan businesses. It was a perfect fit for me to take a job as the Customer Care Manager at a leading car dealership. While I was working at the dealership, customer feedback gave me a voice that was too loud to ignore. The first-ever management meetings were held, with the primary goal of reviewing the customers’ feedback. It was encouraging to see boardroom decisions influenced by customer feedback. The focus on the customer evolved into a transformational journey. My manager once told me, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but I persisted. We organized training sessions for the sales, service, and parts teams. Finding a customer service trainer was nearly impossible. Fortunately, the founder of a top recruiting firm stepped in. Later, I attended John Tschohl’s training and purchased all seven of his books. I continued to expand my understanding of service excellence. My interest in the subject had grown immensely!
Joining a full service multinational company to head customer service as a new role was another golden opportunity. Working there exposed me to excellent leadership and business management practices. It was difficult at first to preach the gospel of service excellence. It seemed like too much work. I gave it my all, and eventually, everyone in the organization boarded the bus. I remember a simple campaign we ran called “Our Customers Pay Our Salaries.” It inspired the staff and left an impression. As a result, everyone in the company began to be more involved in understanding and meeting the needs of customers. Did I mention that this position required me to be the chief customer service trainer? We had our own training facility. Two years later, yet another new opportunity presented itself. The brief window of opportunity taught me how not to manage. Working in a toxic environment was extremely difficult. My manager left within the first month of my hiring. What we had envisioned as a journey to transform the customer experience turned out to be a display of political might. The journey threw a curveball at me. I will never regret this opportunity; maybe it is what got me into business consulting.
In 2009, Evolve Business Consultants (www.Evolve-Consultants.com) was registered. My journey in customer experience took a new turn. A turn that would result in every day being unique. My first client was a small business. My heart overflows with gratitude when I think about where they are now. A lot has happened in the last twelve years. I have supported over 50 organizations, including large corporates, medium-sized enterprises, and small enterprises across Africa. Many business leaders and staff members have participated in custom-made customer experience training that I develop and facilitate. My keyword in these sessions has been “the customer.” Without the customer, there is no business!
My greatest motivation has been to see my customers build successful customer-centric businesses. The cross-functional exposure has spiced the customer experience journey. Most of these customers marvel at my immersion in their business. In doing so, I have learned a great deal about the different kinds of business. I have worked across industries. I have worked with businesses in varying stages of their growth. I have learnt more in the last ten years than I ever did in my earlier life. Besides helping businesses evolve, witnessing the growth of an upbeat customer experience community in Kenya has been breathtaking. In addition, teaching business strategy at the university and writing articles for various magazines and the Daily Nation column have all been embedded in this journey. I have realized there is so much learning in teaching and writing. Today, I consider myself a student of business. Guess what? Let me digress and share my attempted return to the corporate world twice. The first recruiter said I needed a bigger role than he could offer. He made my day by pointing out the keyword “customer” in my resume. The second recruiter questioned whether a full-time training facilitation role would be sufficiently challenging. Perhaps I was looking for a detour, or perhaps I needed a real job, with a job description. After all, my mother was always curious about what I did for a living. Fortunately, my customers know what I do, and they seem to appreciate it. I am forever grateful to everyone who has allowed me to be a part of their organization. Without hesitation, I have pried into the affairs of their businesses. Walking and working together, we have created a better experience for their customers!
When I reflect on my journey in customer experience, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. It has been a privilege to recently reconnect with JoAnna Brandi, the happiness coach. It is from her that I learned the fundamentals of customer experience. I continue on this learning journey. When I look ahead, the future of customer experience astounds me. I believe that businesses and individuals who choose to walk in the shoes of their customers have a bright future. I see a future in which holding on to customers will require great effort. I envision a future in which customer experience will be a top leadership responsibility rather than a frontline responsibility. I envision a future where customer experience will feature extensively in boardroom discussions. I envision a future where customers will demand an experience devoid of friction and pain. I envision a future in which businesses collaborate with their customers to co-create the desired experience. What a future to behold. That future is already here!
Thank you so much to everyone who has walked with me. The adventure continues…. These are just a few snippets from my journey!