How CX Influences Business Value with Christopher Stark

23 min read

In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Gabe Larsen is joined by Christopher Stark from Khoros. We brought him on the show because of his unique background as a leader in CX and business value. Tune in to the episode to learn more about increasing your company’s value through a stellar customer experience.

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Finding Your Metric

Net promoter scores (NPS) have been a great way to measure customer success for years, but Christopher says it’s time for a change. In his eyes, NPS is great as a standard but he wonders how something like customer satisfaction can be standardized when each company is different? Customer demographics vary for each company, so something like NPS might not be an effective metric, especially as customer trends change.

“Like I hate to say that, I know we want to standardize this as much as possible, but loyalty to each company, each company has different customers, different industries, all those differentiations with the technologies, you’re going to be unique…Find your metric.”

Finding your metric is a great strategy to set your brand apart from the competition. If you want to be unique, your method of measuring satisfaction needs to be unique or else customer data won’t be used to its fullest potential. For leaders struggling with this concept, or just measuring CX metrics in general, Christopher suggests starting small and celebrating the little victories before tackling massive change.

Transforming Processes One Step at a Time

Changing processes within the organization, especially when it comes to CX, is quite the challenge, but it’s important to remember that adapting with the customer is key to loyalty and growth. The modern customer demands an easy journey with as few pain points as possible and Christopher reminds listeners that when changing company-wide processes to meet these needs, leaders need to start small. Undergoing enormous transformations can be too much of a lift at first and often results in mistakes or overlooked details. He explains, “I see too many leaders, VPs of CX or CMOs, do these massive digital transformations or CX transformations, which is great. Those take months, if not years. You don’t need to start big. Start with the small stuff, start with easy wins.” Little by little, the small victories become the ultimate desired transformation. Success doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time and patience, but is often worth it in the end.

Proving CX Value to the C-Suite

Gaining executive buy-in can be extremely difficult, and quite honestly, nerve-racking! Christopher offers some solid tips to make this part of being a CX leader just that much easier. Executives speak a common language — money, yet so many teams don’t understand how to effectively speak this language and are ultimately failing when asking for support. Proving CX value is so much more than just data and customer scoring. It requires converting these metrics into the language of money.

“I think a lot of CX teams — and this is analytics teams in general that create insight— once they create those insights, they pass it along and they feel like they’ve done their job… that’s where the buck stops with them…if you want to prove value, prove it in every facet of the company and then level that up so an executive clearly understands it.”

To learn more about adding value to your CX, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.

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Full Episode Transcript:

How CX Influences Business Value with Christopher Stark

Intro Voice: (00:04)

You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)

All right. Welcome everybody to today’s show. We’re going to be talking about customer experience and business value to do that. We brought on Christopher Stark. He’s currently the VP of Customer Experience and Business Value, of course. Christopher or Chris? A little bit of both. I’m sure I’ll be using both today. How are you? And thanks for joining.

Christopher Stark: (00:29)

Yeah. Hey Gabe. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it. Doing well.

Gabe Larsen: (00:32)

Yeah. Well, hey. I appreciate you taking the time to jump on. Maybe do just a quick double click. You have a fun background in the CX space. Tell us where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing.

Christopher Stark: (00:42)

Yeah, so honestly my background as Mo was originally mostly in analytics. But during my time at Nike, when I was brought on to help run analytics for the Nike direct push when Nike started selling direct to consumers, I started getting, finding more interest in unstructured, qualitative data and took a liking to what customers were saying and kind of shifted my career there from just analytics over into actual customer experience and helped launch the original CX program at Nike called Voice of the Athlete, which was a fantastic time. A lot of learnings from that and then enjoyed that so much jumped over to Topbox, a CX startup, and helped a lot of companies consult how to launch CX programs, how to develop them, strategize about them. And the beginning of this year, we were acquired by Khoros and that brings it up to speed. And now I’m with Khoros today.

Gabe Larsen: (01:36)

Yeah, such a fun background, and we were chatting pre-show a little bit about the Nike stuff. I do just want to ask that, because I’ve not asked, I mean, the Voice of the Athlete, tell us a little more about that. It just sounded so cool.

Christopher Stark: (01:51)

Yeah. So one of the things I learned during the building of that CX program was branding. And one of the things I learned at Nike, what everyone learns at Nike, is branding, how important that is. One of the greatest brands in the world. Branding means everything, or at least it means a lot. So we really wanted to brand our CX program. And again, this was probably eight years ago or so, eight or nine years ago, everyone called it Voice of the Consumer, VOC, right? Still today, most companies call their programs, VOC or CX. But that was it just so noisy, right? I mean, those terms have even become noisier. They’re just lost with all their meaning and things like that. So we really wanted to brand it, and again, we were thinking, how can we be on brand?

Christopher Stark: (02:34)

And one of the famous Nike quotes is, or mottos is, if you have a body, you’re an athlete. So every customer or everyone is an athlete. And we said, well, what better way to phrase this? Then it’s the Voice of the Athlete or athletes. So we just, it was simple. And it’s one of those things I encourage every CX team to do just so they’re known throughout the company a little bit better, and how important they are, is just brand your program. Just think about what your company’s focused on, how your company brands and your mottos, and intertwine that into your own CX brand. I think it goes a long way.

Gabe Larsen: (03:07)

I like that. Anyway, we can actually stop. I think I’ve gotten my good takeaway for the day we can wrap. No, I’m teasing. No, that’s cool. That’s a great idea and you’re right. Branding. I had, one time somebody told me your biggest battle, there was some cool statement he had, but he was like, sometimes the biggest battle’s at home. A lot of times people go fight, they go close big deals, but they don’t come back and find a way to celebrate or make it a big deal at home. And so it doesn’t get the recognition that it needs. So yeah, finding a way to get your CX program, obviously off the ground, branded, rolled out, it’s not just about getting the survey out to the customers, you got to win internal. I like that. Okay. More to come on that, we’ll dive into that in just a minute, but I do, I wanted to jump back for a second. I always like to ask people, just about yourself, hobbies, funny moments, anything in your background, funny stories you want to mention or share with the audience?

Christopher Stark: (04:01)

Honestly, during the pandemic, we’re still going through this. One of the things I picked up actually 18 months ago or so, almost two years ago, is board games. A lot of, I’m not talking like Monopoly or Sorry. Like the intense board games that take days. Ones like GloomHaven and Marvel Champions, these crazy card games. It’s just been a blast. I’ve found a couple of people to play with and they’re going down that geek path big time. Maybe it’s the analytical background in me, but it’s just been a blast getting into these crazy board games, it’s such a cult following. I recommend anyone who’s into any sort of board games, to check it out. There’s always a store in every major city that just has this. It’s fascinating, the culture.

Gabe Larsen: (04:49)

Yeah. Good for you, man. That would be, yeah, I can’t say I know a lot about that, but to your point, there’s a whole lot going on I think in that culture, in that group.

Christopher Stark: (05:06)

There is!

Gabe Larsen: (05:06)

I thought at first you were thinking of going down like the Monopoly path, but yeah. You were talking real stuff.

Christopher Stark: (05:16)

Yeah. I know. It’s funny in an age where we’re becoming so digital and most of these board games, there’s a digital version, but what’s fascinating is some people just like to go analog, right? Go back to the way things were and manually keep score on a piece of paper and track it in your head and things like that. It’s just, it feels good to kind of go back in time sometimes.

Gabe Larsen: (05:38)

I like it. Good old analogs. Oh, alright. Well, let’s dive in. We’d love to continue on this path of CX and business value. I mean, one of the challenges we see in the CX space, it’s just that, is business value. Tying it to something that’s recognizable to the business. I’m curious what advice you’d give to people who are trying to wrestle with that? How do you tie CX to business value?

Christopher Stark: (06:01)

Yeah. That, and that honestly is the, what everyone’s trying to sell for. It’s probably the biggest thing that most of the prospects and clients I talk to struggle with. And again, we’re trying to guide a lot of them towards that value prospect, but really at the end of the day, everyone, and I say this and a lot of others, is ROI is the greatest thing you can attest to, but it’s very difficult to get to that because you have so many different business functions you’re working with and every business function has a different metric, right? The contact center has effort score or duration or first contact [inaudible]. Tons of them. And then you have marketing, which is like cost per acquisition, digital, which is conversion rate, and PDP visits. There’s just, everyone has, every function has a different metric.

Christopher Stark: (06:49)

And I think what we struggle with is we’re constantly creating those metric silos between these teams and we’re not all relating it back to a singular or a handful of metrics that matter most. And I truly think that what CX needs to do is help teams, obviously, with the insights and action piece, but then how do we level up all these different functions in their metrics to a higher metric than the business leaders care about, right? Which is loyalty, retention, churn, actual monetary value. So how do I take these lower-level granular metrics and level them up to an executive, which actually means something to them? I think obviously the ones like I just mentioned, churn, revenue, and retention, I mean, those are the biggest things that’ll resonate with every executive. So I think what CX needs to really do if you want to prove value, prove it in every facet of the company and then level that up so an executive clearly understands it.

Gabe Larsen: (07:50)

Yeah. I mean, why do you think, maybe I’m making this a bigger deal than it is, but it does seem like so many people are caught up on, I want to call them like the legacy metrics, like CSAT and stuff like that. And there are a lot of data points nowadays saying a lot of like CSAT-type metrics don’t actually have any correlation or a positive correlation with things like maybe repeat purchase, some of the things you were mentioning. Is it like hard to get that metric? Why are so many of us in this CX space, we kind of like stopped at these legacy CX metrics and truthfully in a lot of ways it’s leading us astray because we’re doing things that are, maybe you’ve read the articles and you’ve probably done it like me? We optimize maybe a single experience and we’re not capturing maybe the whole journey and therefore we’re actually optimizing something that is not helping us do what we want, which is ultimately growth. Why is this happening?

Christopher Stark: (08:50)

Well because honestly, here’s what I think is somebody, when I talk about leveling metrics up to things like churn and growth, that’s what NPS and CSAT were. That’s what they were supposed to be. Someone did that work, right? Fred did the work. Hey, I found a metric that leads to growth. And this was done over 20 years ago. And so we’ve been writing that whole idea that this metric leads to growth. But nowadays, when you actually execute on that and say, well I’m actually going to see if this does lead to growth, and I do this with a majority of my clients, less than half actually find the correlation to growth.

Gabe Larsen: (09:25)

See? Dude, it’s happening all the time with me. I love that though. You’re right. We believe for a while that someone else did the work a hundred years ago and therefore universally, that must be true. Yeah. That’s a great point.

Christopher Stark: (09:40)

But think about when NPS came out. I mean, NPS came out 20 years ago before social media was even a thing. I mean, chat wasn’t even really around 20 years ago. How can a metric that came out during that time, now with an era of TikTok and LinkedIn and text messaging now to communicate with customers, the metric’s just outdated? And I tell everyone, I say, you know what? It could lead to growth, but you need to actually prove that out. Find the metric. If it’s not NPS, go find the metric that does lead to growth in your company and use that.

Gabe Larsen: (10:14)

Yeah. Because it’s interesting. When I found that brands, companies, whatever businesses, make that paradigm shift of now CSAT doesn’t become the end all be all, they find something that is. Let’s go with retention or again, revenue, or something like that. And then they start, they just use that as their north star. Like the north star change, it feels like it changes the whole company. Now it is like, hey. I don’t care if my CSAT went up because my real number didn’t go up and I don’t want to win the CSAT game. I want to win the north star number like revenue. And man, I just feel like processes start to change. Technology spend starts to change. People compensate. Like it really does. Sometimes. I’m like, Gabe, it’s a small thing what you’re talking about. But when you change your north star, it’s pretty damn big.

Christopher Stark: (11:11)

It is. It’s a huge undertaking, right? People, I mean, we’ve groomed CEOs to believe that NPS is the metric, right? I mean, there was a famous Wall Street Journal article about the dubious metric quote, where they interview a lot, CEOs report on this in the earnings calls. I mean, we’ve ingrained, it’s our fault. You have no one else to blame, but yourself, the CX industry, that we’ve ingrained that this is the metric or whatever that metric is, now CX as an organization I think is shifting that and I think what every company needs to do is find the metric that matters to them and then go educate their executive leadership that, hey, I’ve been wrong. Like this is the metric that matters for us and it’s going to be different for each company. Like I hate to say that, I know we want to standardize this as much as possible, but loyalty to each company, each company has different customers, different industries, all those differentiations with the technologies, you’re going to be unique. Like everyone wants to be a snowflake. Well, you got it. You’re going to be a snowflake. Find your metric.

Gabe Larsen: (12:14)

Yeah. Well, what do you feel like has been, one more thing on this, and then maybe I can jump to something else, but this is interesting to me. It’s been interesting to me lately. With the focus of traditional CX, maybe on some of these legacy metrics, maybe too much focus on them, etc., what do you feel like are some of the things that are caused? Because we’ve been running, maybe our business, I’m using the north star, being maybe a little wrong. Do you feel like that has negatively impacted businesses? And if so, what have been some of those things? Does anything come to mind on that?

Christopher Stark: (12:53)

As far as which things have helped us kind of move forward past that north star?

Gabe Larsen: (12:59)

No. No. I’m more curious like a lot of people say CX right now is broken. Maybe I’d phrase it like this. What are some of those major things in the CX world right now that you feel like are the biggest challenges? What is broken? What’s not working right now? I mean, we’re talking about metrics –

Christopher Stark: (13:18)

Yeah. It’s action and value. It’s action and value, right? I mean, we’ve talked about this around when the pandemic started is a lot of CX programs are going to be on the chopping block because they’re not proving their value. I mean, they’re not proving the value and that lends itself to the fact that the CX teams aren’t pushing different business functions to act enough. And I think a lot of CX teams, and this is analytics teams in general that create insights, once they create those insights, they pass it along and they feel like they’ve done their job, that that’s where the buck stops with them. But CX, maybe some teams, that’s where the buck stops. And there are PMs that do the action part. But with CX, I feel like CX needs to take ownership and say, not only am I going to help you with the insights, but I’m going to be the PM that helps you drive action.

Christopher Stark: (14:05)

I mean, they really, I mean, it’s at that point where you got to take on the extra work now and make sure that the teams finish all the way and make sure that they take action because then you can prove out the value. The ROI part’s the fun part, but really it’s because there’s not enough action. There are not enough CX teams that are following all the way through and even then they’re not doing it fast enough, right? I mean, it’s during right now in the digital age, you got to be making improvements at the speed of the customer, which is extremely fast.

Gabe Larsen: (14:36)

It is. And it does seem like maybe we are a little behind in some of the things because it is, I had somebody, I love this term, this Frankenstack concept. I think CX leaders are seeing some of the things you’re saying, like, I got to get there. I got to get faster. I got to get better. But they do. They look at their current process, their training, their technology, and it’s like, dang it. This is going to be tough to respond to fast. This is going to be hard to actually deliver a personalized experience because truthfully, I don’t know a lot about my customer when they contact me in whatever channel. I don’t have the ability to, I don’t have an enablement team. So I find that a lot of people feel like they’re and maybe the pandemic pushed us a little bit on that digitization, but as man, I’m behind. I think I can see where I should be and I can’t quite get there.

Christopher Stark: (15:36)

Advice on that real quick, as I, again, I see too many leaders, VP of CX or CMOs, do these massive digital transformations or CX transformations, which is great. Those take months, if not years. You don’t need to start big. Start with the small stuff, start with easy wins. Little cohorts of customers, and prove out the value, prove the value, even if it’s small. And we at Nike, we had a famous Michael Jordan quote that we used as our motto for the Voice of the Athlete, which was, “I focus on little things. Little things add up to big things.” That was what we did. If you can do that for long enough, and it’ll be a big thing.

Gabe Larsen: (16:16)

It’s absolutely right. One more question before I let you go. A little bit back to the business value, tying this together ultimately, and maybe we have kind of hit on it, but if you get further in your transformational journey, how do you actually get that C-suite to buy in? So many people complain, let’s say you feel like you’ve got ROI. You’ve figured it out. You’ve done some of the things, little things have added up, et cetera. And how do you get that E-Team, that executive to buy in? I mean, is it now that you’re speaking the language and that’s what drives their action? Because it does seem like these programs always work better when they’re quote-unquote, top-down, right?

Christopher Stark: (17:01)

Oh, they have to. I mean, I would say they only work when they’re top-down. But yeah, it’s that value in terms of ROI, right? Executives, what are the metrics that executives speak? And it’s got to be growth, revenue, or churn, or retention. I mean, that’s, every executive speaks that language for the most part or membership is a big thing, which is retention and churn as well for subscription-based services. But those are it. I mean, executives, your executive team has to care about one of those three or four things. And then that’s what you’re going to associate all your wins to. And that’s your value, that’s your north star, that’s your value metric and the teams that associate what they’re doing to that value the most are going to be, the executive team’s going to give you more. They’re going to put more money into it, grow that team, right? And the team that doesn’t associate to that or it’s lowest on the totem pole isn’t going to get that. And right now there are too many CX teams that are lower on the totem pole than are higher, I think. And again, I’m in this industry too. So I want us to move up that totem pole and prove out that value even more so.

Gabe Larsen: (18:07)

We got to, I think that’s the I like that last statement. We as an industry, I felt like I saw that, I’ve come from, I’ve got kind of a marketing and sales background. And I felt like I experienced this a little more in both of those spaces were on the marketing side, they used to talk about marketing-generated activity or cost per click and things like that. On the sales, there were a lot of activity metrics, how many times did somebody email or call somebody? But you got to move to dollars and cents. I think the CX space has got to find, I mean, everybody needs to move I think more than that direction but the CX space seems like we got to up our game a little bit. I like that.

Christopher Stark: (18:54)

Yeah. I wonder if it’s, because we had such a standardized version of CX with like surveys and some of those metrics, like NPS in the past that were kind of learning and waiting for somebody to standardize it for us. And like I said earlier, it’s just, I think we’re too unique now, and everyone’s building their own experiences as a business that are unique enough where you kind of got to go make a go of it on your own. There’s no more benchmark.

Gabe Larsen: (19:18)

I like that because it is, it’s what are you using from 20 years ago, and in your personal life or in your professional life, that you can actually say is delivering value? Why are you putting your whole business to reside on something like that from 20 years ago? I like that. All right man, well, hey. Fun talk track. I feel like you and I can probably go for another long time, but I’m going to stop it here. If someone wants to get in touch and continue the dialogue with you, Chris, what’s the best way to do that?

Christopher Stark: (19:53)

LinkedIn. Feel free to reach out on LinkedIn. Always on there posting articles and whatnot about CX, always interested to see or hear what others are doing in the CX space and struggles. So feel free to hit me up.

Gabe Larsen: (20:06)

Cool. Cool. Well, hey man, again, appreciate the time. Again, fun talk track, and for the audience, have a fantastic day.

Christopher Stark: (20:13)

Thanks, Gabe.

Exit Voice: (20:13)

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