Creating Remarkable Customer Experiences: Priorities, Experimentation, and Inclusion
One of the things that I enjoy most about Amazon’s culture is that Customer Obsession is our first leadership principle. I was a customer for 26 years in my various roles at The Coca-Cola Company and benefited from Amazon’s customer obsession. What I found is this often comes down to creating, and constantly making better, great customer experiences. Cloud technology can massively shorten the time it takes to deliver innovative experiences with lower total costs, and AWS customers like GoDaddy and Anthem are doing this on a daily basis. Even so, delivering great experiences isn’t always easy—it requires balancing business priorities, creating internal mechanisms to inspire experimentation, and teams that embrace diverse thinking. Recently I had the opportunity to talk with two Chief Technology Officers—Charles Beadnall from GoDaddy and Ed Smith of Anthem—for our Conversations with Leaders series on AWS Executive Insights, to hear their insights about the benefits of cloud.
For Charles, he focuses on making it easy for customers to use the products GoDaddy already has and shifting business metrics toward customer success. “We’re constantly moving the metric by which we define customer success as we learn…moving that bar constantly forward.” Charles and his team are using machine learning to help understand the unique needs of their customers and to reveal where each will find value so they can create a path toward fulfilling those needs.
For Ed and his team at Anthem, they too are using cloud technology to use and understand the context of their data and then personalize the customer experience. Anthem uses data to understand care gaps but also to find fraud, waste, and abuse. “If we can improve [the issues], then we can help to better leverage our healthcare dollars. That’s really where you have a big impact.”
Technology leaders understand that delivering this type of customer impact, though, isn’t a linear path. Innovation requires trial and failure (and more trial and failure…) before discovering the right solution. Both Charles and Ed shared their methods for creating an experimentation culture—one where failure is an accepted part of the process. For Charles, it all starts with the spark of creativity but progresses only with a continuous cycle of data-backed experimentation against the ideas that create impact, then learning from the data to drive improvement. “Was it successful? Was it not successful? Many times the unsuccessful experiments are just as instructive as the ones that the metric does move in the way you want it to. Because ultimately it’s a data point that you found that helps you identify what really does and what doesn’t resonate with customers.”
Ed points out that the creative spark has a lot to do with “…rewarding experimentation. Technology’s not some big factory where people are churning out widgets. It’s about the creativity, the curiosity that comes with wondering: Is there a better way to do something? And challenging the status quo.” Ed raised an interesting point that we need to think about innovation not as a single “big bang” but as small puzzle pieces. “All of a sudden, you put together something, a bunch of pieces that are more impactful than just all of the individual innovation itself.”
So if great customer experiences come out of many little innovations, how can leaders prioritize the work and investments—and what are the organizational implications? According to Ed, this is a question a lot of companies struggle with. He says Anthem is always considering the operating model and alignment to capabilities or services that make up the business. “Too often, companies will change their organization to address new opportunities. We have a lot of changes, and I think organizations get tired of all the change. Restructuring our team from being project-centered to being more capability and service-oriented really helps us do better work in small chunks.”
Charles and his team have created a mechanism they call “horizons.” Different horizons denote different phases of a project or business, such as steady state, developing, or nascent idea. Each has a set of metrics that determine success and whether investment should continue or be adjusted as the project progresses.
Having the right people and teams who employ these mechanisms and believe in creating great customer experiences is clearly a critical part of the mix. I asked both Ed and Charles how inclusion and diversity play a role in creating great customer experiences. And, given diversity is often a challenging issue, particularly in technology, what tips can they share for other enterprise technology leaders?
“A diverse and inclusive environment for employees helps us better address the diverse and unique needs that our customers have. Anthem really wants to reflect the communities that we support and service,” says Ed.
Charles shared that GoDaddy has “…been a leader in terms of providing very visible information in terms of pay parity and the diversity numbers. We’re one of the first companies to come out with a lot of that information.” Charles shared one mechanism they use at GoDaddy is to flag underrepresented people to ensure they are not overlooked for review cycles. “We are continuing to experiment with different methods to help us along that curve.”
Ed says at Anthem’s having a diverse organization is a business imperative. He says leaders who encourage diversity and different ways of working tend to have more productive teams and better engagement scores from their teams. “Because we reward that, it starts to become more of the culture. It’s something that we take very seriously.” Ed spoke about challenging the traditional recruiting pools such as 4-year universities, temp-to-hire programs, and ultimately creating a great place to work for everyone. “The mission of Anthem, really, [is] if you’re going to use your super powers to do something really meaningful, it’s a great place to leverage them.”
You can watch my full interviews with Charles and Ed here on AWS Executive Insights: Conversations with Leaders.