If you’re reading this, you most likely have a career in customer experience.
Or perhaps the headline caught your eye because you manage a customer experience or customer support department and want to elevate your team.
Regardless of whether you’re new to the profession, or a Chief Customer Officer for a major brand, I believe the six steps I took to advance my career – going from being a 21 year old call center agent to being hired by recognizable companies like Verizon Wireless, BlueCross BlueShield, Electronic Arts and others before the age of 30 – will help you take your career to the next level. It’s this same strategy that has allowed me to travel the world, work with great companies, start an online course, invest in a couple startups and keynote speak at events with 100’s of people in the audience.
If this strategy worked for me, surely it will work for you too![bctt tweet=” If you’re going to have a successful career as a customer experience professional you need a strategy.”] I remember the day when I first recognized that customer experience management would be “my thing.” It was the niche that I would hitch my wagon to in order to build a career that I could have never imagined. I recognized that my peers were focused on sales, marketing and PR – you know, the traditional things. I wanted to be different. I wanted to follow a path that few had traveled because I knew that this niche would quickly become a hot topic for all organizations.
In this post, I will share the exact step-by-step strategy I created to grow my customer experience career as an employee of a medium-sized business called 1-800-GOT-JUNK?
Step 1: Be a Practitioner, Not a Guru or Expert
This matters more than anything, which is why it’s step one. For the past three years, when it comes close to the new year, I tweet the same thing:
The most enlightening and valuable conversations I have had in my career have been with people who have done the work that they advocate. These are the individuals who have been in the trenches, built the systems and have the experience of doing the work – someone like my friend, Annette Franz. During our phone calls, ones that always seem to go over the allotted time, I always learn something after speaking with her and trust what she tells me because I know she’s done the work. These types of conversations are extremely valuable, especially for individuals who want to grow their customer experience career.
Could I have advanced my career in my 20’s faster by spending less time building and more time promoting, by writing a book and positioning myself on social media as an expert? Maybe. But I knew that I needed to cut my teeth and earn experience if I wanted a smooth transition between being an employee and being an entrepreneur, consultant and keynote speaker. I recognized that by immersing myself in the work I would have real-world experience to share with my clients and audience – not ones that were simply borrowed from other organizations.
Today, because I put my head down to earn recognition as a practitioner, I’m able to earn clients because they know that I have a proven record doing the work that I discuss. By doing this work successfully (and even unsuccessfully sometimes, using the lessons as a learning experience), your personal brand becomes stronger. I’m thankful that, due to this, reputable professionals, like Cameron Herold, will introduce me to his network and trusts me to help people he knows who want to improve their customer experience.
Key take away: build strategies and don’t concern yourself with being labelled an expert.
Step 2: Create Your Personal Brand
When I first recognized that my career would be in customer experience management, I immediately started thinking of my five-year plan. If you know me well, you know that I can’t only live in the present and must always be working toward something else. I envisioned that, one day, I would become a consultant to some of the biggest companies in the world and a reputable keynote speaker that would travel the world speaking at conferences.
To accomplish this, I recognized that I must create a personal brand early, while I was with the company I was working at. By doing this, when I was ready to take my next step – becoming an entrepreneur – I would already have an established personal brand. Here is a list of the things I did to build my personal brand when I first got started:
- Bought my first and last name domain and started blogging once per week. Remember, it’s not the quantity of the posts you produce, but rather the quality of the posts (particularly through long-form posts like this one). Be willing to share your best strategies with your audience, don’t hoard them.
- Marketed and shared my writings. Derek Halpern, a recognized digital marketer, suggests that you should spend 20% of your time producing your content and 80% promoting it. By doing this, it will help you drive more visitors. The more visitors you have, the more brand impressions you earn. Here is a link to his suggested strategy.
- Updated my LinkedIn profile and included customer experience within my tagline and bio so that I came up more frequently in search results. Just like Google picks up on keywords, so does LinkedIn. Be generous with the amount of times you mention customer experience in your LinkedIn bio, but don’t keyword stuff.
- Hosted free webinars. Even to this day, webinars has been a key avenue for me to give away education that helps serve others.
- Joined LinkedIn groups related to customer experience and customer service and engaged with the group regularly by sharing other people’s content and commenting on threads.
- Created streams in Hootsuite to track keywords and hashtags, like #CX, customer service, customer experience, Net Promoter Score and many other relevant search terms.
Key take away: create association between your name and customer experience by building a personal brand.
Step 3: Invest in Yourself
While I was able to learn a lot through free methods, like reading online articles on customer experience, and leveraged other affordable options by buying books, I knew it wasn’t enough.
I’m a very curious person and I ask a lot of questions. When I was getting my career started, Zappos was fast becoming a recognized company for their customer-focused culture. I wanted to visit them, ask questions and learn. Like most companies, yearly budgets are determined in Q4 of the previous year, so an impromptu trip to Henderson, Nevada for a call center agent wasn’t going to be an easy ask from my boss.
Rather than having an “aw shucks” mentality, I thought, “F*** it! I’m going to fund this myself.” I live in Vancouver, a city where you can easily spend $200 at a bar in a single night, especially when you’re in your early 20s and trying to meet girls. I did some quick math and realized that, if I stayed in for an entire month, I would save enough money to buy a plane ticket, ground transportation and a one night stay in a cheap hotel off the Las Vegas strip. I’m ever so thankful to Patrick Louis, someone who always provided me with direction and motivation to pursue my career in customer experience, as well as the Founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, Brian Scudamore, who made the call to Tony Hsieh to get me the invite (as this was before the organized Zappos tours).
The reason I’m able to live a career of my dreams is because I personally invested in my career and made short-term sacrifices for long-term gain. I have an innate ability to think long-term, even to this day. I don’t think:
“How can I earn as much revenue off this client as possible?”
Rather, I ask myself:
“How can I serve the client today to create a long-term relationship?”
Key take away: Your career is your livelihood; invest in it.
Step 4: Take Ownership of Your Career – No Freebies
Here’s something that might shock and awe you – I don’t believe managers are entirely responsible for growing the people on their team. In 2014, I wrote a post titled, “Employees Need to Be Responsible for Their Own Development” on LinkedIn that received nearly 10,000 views.
The thesis of my post was that, to be successful, you must take ownership over your desired outcome, whether it’s with your career, sports or, well, anything. I recognized this when I was starting to develop my career in customer experience. How did I go about doing this? Here’s a list of things I did every day, in both the morning and evening:
- I set up a Feedly account to easily find and read other customer experience content. Feedly is an aggregator of publications that allows you to track when your favourite business publications publish posts in real-time. I recommend upgrading to Feedly Pro, which is only $5/month, to get access to additional features such as the search ability. With the upgrade you can search terms, like “customer experience,” and any link within your Feedly account that contains those search terms will appear – it’s great!
- Remember how I told you earlier to build your personal brand online? Well setting up a Buffer account will make sharing customer experience-related articles much easier. Eventually people will start associated your name with customer experience after you consistently shared related articles.
- I set up Google Alerts to track keywords, like customer experience, customer service, customer centricity, Net Promoter Score, employee engagement and many others. Again, this will help you build your personal brand by sharing valuable content to your followers and connections. Eventually people will begin to immediately associate your name with customer experience.
- I bought books related to customer experience and read them all the first day that I bought them. I bought books like: The Ultimate Question, The Ultimate Question 2.0, Answer the Ultimate Question and The No Asshole Rule. I also read the book you see below, What’s the Secret?, which was bought for me by Brian Scudamore, the Founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, who also included a thoughtful and inspiring message for me.
Greatness isn’t reserved for people who have a mediocre work ethic. The saying, “Work smarter, not harder” has never resonated with me. Maybe it’s because of my South American ethnicity (we’re a hard working bunch), but I believe you must do both.
Key take away: Take ownership over your career – there are no freebies when it comes to building your future.
Step 5: Do More Than the Minimum
I remember a colleague of mine, Ryan Creamore, once said:
“40 hours a week is a minimum, not a maximum.”
I’ve always agreed with him. Whether that’s before or after your shift, or typical 9 to 5, you must be willing to do more than just the bare minimum to accomplish epic achievements in your career. The primary reason I’ve been able to accomplish things reserved for people that are twice my age is because I did more than the minimum when I was building my career. I made short-term sacrifices so I could earn long-term gains.
I use Gary Vaynerchuk as a source of inspiration for creating my own success. The reason his message resonates with me so much, and has ever since I first read his book “Crush It”, is because I appreciate his work ethic. It’s the same work ethic I’ve had since I was 7 years old: waking up at 5am for hockey practice, going to school, doing chores, playing hockey from 9AM to 11AM on Saturday or Sunday mornings, then delivering newspapers in the pouring rain in Vancouver immediately after, so I could earn $100 a month.
Now, please keep in mind I recognize that working 50, 60 or 70 hours per week isn’t for everyone and isn’t promoted by all companies. I’m suggesting it because it’s what I know and what has helped me. If you take a look at the greatest athletes or business people they all have a common principle; they work harder than others.
Key take away: Whether you’re building a career in customer experience, you must do more than just the bare minimum.
Step 6: Pick Five Companies and Study Them Intensely
Zappos, Southwest Airlines, Apple, Amazon and WestJet. These are the five companies I chose to study intensely. What are your five?
When I say “study” I don’t mean that I just read things about them online – even though I did read literally every article about them related to customer experience and company culture. I took it one step further. I went to LinkedIn and used the search function to find people who worked within these companies, particularly the customer service departments, and connected with them.
Assuming they accepted my connection request, I would DM them and ask to book a call with them to learn more about their customer experience practices. This was a similar script that I would use to move the online connection to a call – feel free to use it yourself.
The customer experience community is small, so I always jump at the opportunity to connect with professionals like yourself. I noticed that you work with <THEIR COMPANY> – you’re very fortunate to work with such a great company. <If available, include a complimentary and recent story about the company that you found online>.
I wanted to ask if you were able to reserve time on <CHOOSE SPECIFIC DATE & TIME> to chat by phone to hear of some of the customer experience strategies we are using at <YOUR COMPANY> and share best practices. As mentioned, the customer experience community is small, albeit growing, and it would be great to learn from each other.
Are you available on <REITERATE SUGGESTED DATE & TIME>? If not, is there another date and time that would work for you?
Early in my career someone told me:
“R&D doesn’t stand for research and development; it stands for ripoff and duplicate.”
I don’t entirely endorse this because it impedes innovation. But I do HIGHLY recommend learning from other companies to spark ideas for your own company. Use other companies and their strategies for inspiration to create your own programs. Choosing five companies is the perfect size – it’s not too large of a sample size that you’ll dilute your learning and it’s not too small that you won’t learn enough – to generate ideas and connect with people from these companies.
Pay specific attention to how they are leveraging technology, customer experience and employee engagement to grow their companies. Reach out to them, take notes and build conversations among your team.
Key take away: study, study, study!
The Worldwide Customer Experience Career Opportunity
Take a look around you. It’s 2016 and best-selling business authors – ones who started off as marketers – are now writing books on customer experience because we are all recognizing it’s value to the bottom line. The community is growing fast and the CXPA is a well-established organization helping facilitate this growth. Heck, I’m (very slowly) starting to see post-secondary schools teach customer experience management and conferences are starting to invite customer experience speakers just as much as they are sales and marketing speakers.
For those that have been “in the game” for years before customer experience became a hot topic, I salute you.
If you’re just starting your career in customer experience, you’re going to be in extremely high demand. Great days are ahead!
I’d love to hear you from.
What are you doing to build your career in customer experience?
Leave a comment below.