America Back to Work Ep 4: Jen Sanning, Forrester

When you have a customer-obsessed culture, you have not only lower turnover but also loyal customers who won’t leave you for someone else. Delivering this stellar customer experience can’t be up to one person, though; it’s up to the entire company. 

In this week’s episode of “America Back to Work,” Jen Sanning—an executive at Forrester—sits down with our host Arnette Heintze to discuss the importance of great employee and customer experience, and how one drives the other. 

Jen is known for implementing customer experience best practices across many industries—including B2B companies in retail, hospitality, healthcare, financial services, and more—making her an invaluable resource for HR executives looking to improve their customer service experience.

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S2Verify is one of the leading, privately held, pre-employment background screening companies in the United States. 

Arnette Heintze is co-founder and chief strategy officer at S2Verify. Before establishing S2Verify, Arnette spent more than three decades working at the highest levels of federal, state, and local law enforcement. 

He served more than 20 years in the United States Secret Service as a special agent and senior executive where he planned, designed, and implemented security strategies to protect U.S. Presidents, world leaders, events of national significance, and our nation’s most sensitive assets, including financial infrastructure.  

After retiring from the Secret Service, Arnette focused on building the growth and performance of innovative start-ups and SMBs. In 2004, he established Hillard Heintze, a globally recognized strategic security risk management and investigations firm.

In 2009, along with Bill Whitford and Jim Zimbardi, Arnette established S2 Verify with an approach and methodology that delivers fast, accurate, compliant, and affordable background screening insights crucial to better managing insider risks, threats, and vulnerabilities.  

The Human Touch and Customer Service Transcript

Arnette Heintze

Welcome to America Back to Work, brought to you by S2Verify where our purpose is to help you hire with confidence and manage insider risk. I’m your host, Arnette Heintze. Thank you for joining today. I’m thrilled to have Jen Sanning as our guest. Jen is the Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Forrester. This week, our conversation is all about the customer and why a relentless focus on customer service and customer experience is critical to establishing a competitive advantage for your business. Jen, before we get started on our topic today, would you mind sharing a little bit about your background, your experience, and the work you’re doing at Forester with our audience?

Jen Sanning

Yeah, I would be happy to. Um, and thank you for having me. Great pleasure to be here. I have a 30 year background, um, primarily in marketing and customer experience. Uh, recently I’ve joined Forster as an executive partner. My job is to support C-Suite leaders in creating customer-centric cultures and using the discipline of, um, customer experience to do that. Um, in my career, I’ve spent, um, time connecting dots <laugh>. Um, I think of when I think back to my marketing career, I spent a lot of time making big, bold brand promises and then watching them either be delivered with the customer experience, um, or not delivered. So, um, I very much see marketing and customer experience as sort of two sides of a coin. Um, and I think that it is an imperative of all C-suite executives or leaders of a company to connect the dots for their employees about the importance of the customer and customer understanding, um, in order to deliver business outcomes.

Arnette Heintze

Oh, that’s great. You know, to start us off, would you mind sharing with our audience what you believe to be the best definition of a customer experience and why that is so critical to every business today?

Jen Sanning

Yeah, I’m happy to, um, Forster, um, and just a little bit of background up about Forster cause um, we’re a global research firm, um, and was one of the first to study customer experience. So Forster defines customer experience as the customer’s perception of their experience of your company or your brand. And that’s from first point of contact to last point of contact. Everything in between, whether it be a digital experience or a live experience, it’s the whole ball of wax. How do they feel, um, and what is their perception of that experience? Good or bad? Um, we have fielded a 15 year customer experience survey and know that, um, better customer experience, the perception of a great experience leads to better business outcomes. It leads to customers coming back, um, buying more, referring your company to another, um, person. And so that is the, the importance of customer experience and also definition.

Um, but it gets a little complicated because I feel like we use, we, we throw around CX and customer experience in lots of different formats. Another, um, way customer experience or CX is used is that to describe the function, to describe the function that might sit within an organization that may have employees and a leader that helps enable an organization to deliver better customer experience. So, CX is sometimes a function that sits in our organization. Um, I like to think about, um, that more as CX is a discipline that has different capabilities. Like do we understand the customer through voice of the customer research? Do we understand our customer’s journeys? Do we do design thinking? Do we have customer measurement, um, capabilities that a CX function, a team might stand up to enable leaders and other departments to deliver, um, a great customer experience? Cuz it really takes the entire organization rowing together and solving customer problems, um, to deliver that great experience. It’s no one person’s job. It’s the entire company

Arnette Heintze

Working together. And, you know, I understand that, you know, in, in this area of expertise, that maintaining a connection between a healthy workforce and and customer service is critical. Can you share a little bit of your thoughts on that?

Jen Sanning

Yeah, it’s, um, well, I guess I should say, um, it it’s something that’s fascinated me my entire career, <laugh>. And it’s, um, early in my career, I was in the agency world and, um, we would spend lots of money, um, promoting product and promoting people to go into experiences that would fall down, um, based on negative operating experiences. And in one specific instance, um, I worked at Quiznos, um, as the CMO there, and it was at a time where Quiznos was going through quite a bit of, um, um, legal issues with their franchise owners. And their franchise owners were not happy. And so you spent a lot of time promoting, um, please go to a Quiznos. And then what you would find is based on employee disengagement, dissatisfaction a a, a really negative experience. Um, and so I I’ve always been interested in this idea of, um, how to employees sort of, um, embody a brand promise and then deliver it.

And that I see now as a sort of, um, shallow way of looking at it. <laugh> mm-hmm. <affirmative> in, um, a very marketing way of looking at it since I’ve been at Forster and, um, I’ve read the research, um, I see it much deeper than that. It is, um, when an employee is disengaged, the customer experience, FALs, that’s a proven fact when, um, a employee is engaged in their role and in their, um, job, um, customer experience is better. That may be obvious. Dell at a, um, some research, um, at their company and they, they recognized that engaged employees actually delivered, um, twice as good of, um, NPS scores. So it matters to have engaged employees. And, um, I think we all learned about that a little bit differently during the pandemic. Um, and when, when we look at the, the research about employee experience, um, and having, you know, healthy, productive employees, Forrester has sort of five different, um, things we look at, which I found interesting, um, because I was new to this two years ago, learning the research also when I joined Forrester.

Um, the first is, um, the more engaged employees, um, feel like they have progress in their, in their roles, they can feel productive. Like, I’m getting somewhere, right? I have momentum, I’m making things happen. So progress is a, is a big, um, aspect of employee engagement, um, purpose. They feel connected to the greater purpose of the firm. They know why they matter. They have meaning in their work really big. Um, I think we, we talk a lot about millennials want that. Everyone wants that. That’s a human need to have meaning and connection and know you matter and know what you do, um, drives results, um, and, and, and has meaning and connection. Um, the third is autonomy. Um, which I think is really interesting in, in a customer service context because a lot of times we talk about compliance to things, right? Like I think about culture beats compliance <laugh>, and if you talk about autonomy in someone’s role, what you’re really saying is, here is the outcome we want to drive for the customer.

You choose among a menu of means to get there. Now that requires a lot of training and investment in human capital. Um, but it’s more about autonomy. Like, I know I can make some choices to do what is right for the customer. The fourth is mastery. And what mastery is about is I’m learning new skills. You know, I’m growing in my, in my role that makes me engage, makes me feel like I have a commitment to the company. They have a commitment to me. Uh, we know in the customer service area that turnover is a big issue fit me. And I’ve seen studies anywhere from 58 to 80% turnover. That’s a lot. So, um, investing in employees, investing in, um, helping them grow skills and know that you’re there for them and, and they’ll, they’ll give that back to you. Um, we have found that employees that are more engaged, not only like, are more productive and you know, all the good stuff, they actually give you more discretionary work. They’re the go above and beyond, um, employees. And then the, the last is, um, connected to purpose, but that’s connection. Like, they have a connection to each other. They have a sense of community, they like going to work. We’ve all heard the, we have a friend at work. It’s a little bit broader than that. Like, we are a team of people doing something important. Right. Doing something important.

Arnette Heintze

Yeah. You know, and it, I I love the fact that you brought up the idea of purpose. Um, <laugh> it, you know, it’s, it’s become such a, um, a hot topic in the last 20 years. But, you know, in one of the, I, uh, created a security risk management business about, um, you know, 18, 19 years ago. And one of the things our team members talked about was getting up every day to talk about our purpose because they knew it was important and our purpose at the time was protecting what matters. So each of them came to work with this idea of we’re gonna make a difference for our clients because we’re gonna help them protect what matters. So the, i the concept that you bring up around purpose is just so crucial today. And I, I don’t think enough businesses really connect with that idea.

Jen Sanning

I, I, I absolutely agree and I mean it, I’m kind of a big fan of like, we’re all humans. Like business is a human business. You know, our employees are humans. Our customers are humans. We all want to be seen. No, we matter and that we are making a difference. And so, um, you know, I in my career have been sort of a customer person, which is we matter, you know, there’s social purpose construct now too, right? But for businesses that are commercial that make money when their customers have a great experience and they come back more often, how can we rally around customers a strategy, customers a purpose? We call that, um, having a customer obsessed culture, of which you can put the customer at the center of your leadership, your operations, and your strategy. And like you said, you have a, that was a really strong vision or mission statement, which mattered to your customer.

Like, we do this because it matters. We understand our customer, we have empathy. This is important to them. You can do this for them. We all want to feel like we matter, right? And we’re making a difference in other people’s lives. Yeah. Um, so I, it, it’s, and, and I think as leaders, we, we look at our metrics and things, but we, we don’t always connect the dots for our employees. Um, I worked with a CEO one time that did this so well, we had five, um, values as a company. One was passion to serve. We’ll see if I get ’em all at 20 years later. Passion to serve, relentless improvement, embrace change, respect for the individual. Um, maybe on this one, um, we started every meeting talking about, um, let’s celebrate someone who embodied our values this week.

Arnette Heintze

Yep.

Jen Sanning

Who had the passion to serve. You know, we did like get rewards and recognition and it was ever present. And it was each, it wasn’t just the CEO’s job, although if you saw the C in the, in the hallway, he would be talking about one of those values or asking you what your worked on and, and how did it impact the customer. So when you have that sort of fabric and culture in your organization, you know why you’re coming to work, you have language to, um, work through problems and conflict with employee, with coworkers. Cuz you can say, look, let, let’s think about the customer in the room. What would the customer say about that? Right. Um, it’s, it’s very useful construct in so many ways. And I agree with you that, um, it’s, it’s a little understood and in the busyness of the business as leaders, we don’t always slow down to recognize that very human need for connection. Community meaning purpose.

Arnette Heintze

Yep. So from a customer experience, professional’s perspective, um, how do they think about economic volatility in terms of customer loyalty, customer retention today?

Jen Sanning

Yes. I love this topic. Um, and you know, when we are faced with, you know, a recession or the val, we don’t know what’s gonna happen next. Um, we tend to do these sort of over course corrections. If we look back in our careers, I have a long career and I think, think about every one of these cycles, we kind of over course correct. I would say the one consistent thing is you can buy a customer with promotion <laugh>, but you keep them with experience. And so in economic recessions and times of volatility, a lot of times you’ll throw a lot of money on getting new customers in the door, which really is counter doesn’t make a lot of sense because we know that the most cost effective thing is keeping the customers you have happy and encouraging them to, you know, repeat purchase with you or share with their friends and that kind of thing.

So to me, um, I’ve always found this sort of interesting tension between, as a marketing professional and a CX professional of needing to drive traffic because everyone feels good about top line revenue, but knowing that driving loyalty <laugh> is really the more cost effective, sustainable and long-term value for an organization. So, um, that’s, you know, a little bit of a dot connection for me is, um, can you as a, a company during times of economic vitality, connect those dots for employees to understand, um, you know, how, how they’re really impacting the customer and that it’s, it’s important, important now more than ever to keep our current customers within the fold, right? Yep. Because they’re being bought by other people that are taking the alternate strategy. So it’s more important than ever before.

Arnette Heintze

Yep. You know, and it, you, I came across a recent Gardner study which said that 38% of customer service representatives say they’re disengaged. And that to me as a, you know, a business owner that’s, you know, crazy to hear that kind of number. What do you think can be done about that to, to get that back on track and have a higher engagement rate?

Jen Sanning

Yeah. Um, well we talked about a few of the things earlier as it relates to what makes a great employee experience. But I think as a, as a leader, um, and, and with some of, we learned this during the pandemic and I think it it was a reminder of the importance of, um, recognition that, um, your employees, why are they, well first I would say, do you have the research on why your employees are disengaged? Cuz every company’s a little bit different, right? So, um, do do your employee listening, get your voice of employee, get your data, understand the insights on what’s really driving engagement within your operating context. Um, but many times we find it is the, the things about that we’ve been talking about, like, do I feel recognized? Do I feel rewarded? Um, is what I’m doing matter? Um, do I have the right training and skills to know my career is going somewhere?

That’s a really big one. Um, and burnout. And burnout is, um, in the, these zoom environments and zoom worlds that we’re living in, it’s more prevalent than ever before. Um, we have found that when a leader can ruthlessly prioritize for their employees and really get down to the what matters most, it takes a cognitive load off of your employees in a way that’s, it’s very substantial. So those are some of the leadership things I would do, um, on this idea of, um, it’s about culture, not compliance, <laugh> mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, when you have a culture, uh, customer obsessed culture and company, you have lower turnover <laugh>, right? So, um, I would also look at how, how are we as a culture, um, how are we really driving customer understanding and empathy? Um, Hyatt does this really cool thing where they send their customer service representatives out, um, I think they call it familiarization tours, where they get the customer service people in the customer shoes to have this sort of empathy that does a couple of things. It, um, sort of creates an education on, um, customer understanding and empathy, but it really also connects you to a sense of meaning in what you do.

Arnette Heintze

Yeah. You know, as you look at this, uh, field and this industry around our customer experience, what do you think, are there one or two of the, the most promising trends today that are happening? You have any thoughts on what, you know, uh, a business might take away and go, okay. Yeah. These top two things maybe we need to spend a little bit more time

Jen Sanning

On? Yeah. We just, um, published some big, so the top three trends for customer service in, in 2000 and, um, 22. Um, you know, we’ve been talking about omnichannel for a really long time as organizations. Um, I think we’ve twisted it a bit to serve our purposes. So omnichannel as it relates to how can we force consumers into the channel. We want to manage them through a cycle through their journey. The, the real trend is more of thinking about omnichannel as channel list, which is giving customers multiple ways of contacting you and allowing them to contact you on their terms, not yours. Right?

Arnette Heintze

Yep.

Jen Sanning

And then a a second is, um, you know, AI has definitely, um, helped and hurt, I think, um, in the customer, uh, service and professionals. I mean, some things it’s helped us automate, um, but in some ways it’s, um, taken the easy stuff off of our reps and they have to work on the harder stuff <laugh>. Um, so how can, um, the intersection of sort of AI and customer understanding that empathy is a big one, and making sure that we don’t lose, um, human touch while we, we move into an AI world. Um, and then the last is what our analysts call dark data. And that is that there’s a lot of data currently about employee experience and about customers and customers experience sitting in silos across organizations. And customer service has a treasure trove of both kinds of data. And so organizations are creating more like, um, insight center of excellence across, um, departments to share the data and insights to create some bigger themes and insights that, um, drive both employee experience and customer experience.

Arnette Heintze

Yeah. You know, in the last 20 years, I think we’ve seen a lot of American businesses go to, um, offshore call centers because of cost and things like that. One of the things that we’ve done, it s two verify is we explored that option, but at the end of the day, we determined that our customers need a little higher connectivity, um, with our clients, with our, uh, customer service professionals. And so we made a decision to have that, uh, headquartered in Atlanta where our headquarters is. And I think that that fits into an example that you, it’s just cited around what are companies doing to, to make that better connectivity. And for us, that was one that we thought this is gonna give us better connectivity with our clients.

Jen Sanning

Nice. And, and I’m sure that was, you know, born from looking at the data and hearing your customers experience and understanding that that would actually, you know, have better business outcomes. I, and I think that, I don’t know if it’s a trend, but something that CX and um, professionals and, and, and also customer service teams are partnering on a lot more is what is the ROI of all of this? What’s the roi? Right? So, um, how do, when we do these fixes, what um, impact does it have on customer retention? You know, um, customer loyalty and being able to, um, talk to the C-suite in terms of the business. You know, we did this and it had this much impact and, um, we haven’t always done that in this profession, to be honest. Like some have done it a little bit more than others. Um, and back to your point on economic fertility, <laugh>, it’s, um, on us to prove our worth as a, as a, um, function on how what we do matters, um, fundamentally to the business.

Arnette Heintze

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well, Jen, I can’t thank you enough for joining us today, sharing your insights and your expertise with our audience. And one of the things I like to do is give, you know, my guests the last chance and comment here, and I have a, on a, a lighter topic, if S two verified were to run a background screening on you today, is there any discovery, anything we should know about in that finding <laugh>?

Jen Sanning

This is like, I wish I was much more interesting than I, well, I’m kind of squeaky clean, so, but I do think you would, what you would find is some interesting media hits. Oh, God. Um, early in my career, um, I started my career, um, doing field promotions for smart food popcorn and they had us dress up as a popcorn bag and create interest in their product by doing things like running five Ks and things like that. So you’ll

Arnette Heintze

Find, and we can probably still find those images on the

Jen Sanning

Yeah. You’ll find my little face in like, you know, big, big popcorn bags. So that would be fun.

Arnette Heintze

Would you mind telling our audience where they can find more information about you and, uh, you know, if they were interested in, in, in connecting with you, how would they do

Jen Sanning

That? Yeah, absolutely. Um, you, um, can contact, um, go to forester.com, um, and look at our analyst community, um, and contact me through there.

Arnette Heintze

Later. There you go. Well, again, thank you so much for your time today, Jen. And thanks to all of you listening, watching or reading. Uh, please tune in to our next episode where I’ll be chatting with the founder of Purpose Jobs Ryan Landau. And it goes without saying, let’s get America back to work because dreams only work if we do. Jen, thanks so much for your time today.

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