Anna Noakes Schulze
How Startups Can Be Awesome at CX
Updated: Sep 6, 2021
If you can build a business designed on understanding and listening to people, the potential is unlimited. — Clare Muscutt
In Part II of this podcast interview, Anna Noakes Schulze talks about customer experience in the startup scene with Clare Muscutt, founder of CMXperience. We cover a range of startup topics including why you need customer feedback at every stage, getting fixated on metrics, being your own Jeff Bezos, designing the service delivery mix, building a people-centred culture, the beauty of virtual teams, judging in award shows and being a champion for customer experience wherever you are.
Anna Noakes Schulze: What, I’m starting to wonder now, if you can help startups get on the road to being more customer-centric in the way that they operate, in the way that they think, and you do encourage them to gather customer feedback. How do you teach them which kinds of customer feedback to prioritize? Because they’re not collecting it. What are they going to do with it now?
Clare Muscutt: Well it depends what stage of development they’re in, right? So, if you haven’t built your proposition yet, it’s getting insight into what customers want and need and who they are so…
Anna Noakes Schulze: It starts there.
Clare Muscutt: You start there, being able to have you know a real clear view of who is my customer, what do they want, and who are they as a three-dimensional human that helps you to design something based on their needs is the first point of instruction.
So, I would call that discovery as you probably would. Then how do you involve the customers in the design of your product or service, would be the next thing and getting feedback on, I don’t know, if you could create a storyboard, for example, and talk to some people about it. I think feedback tends to happen with smaller companies and startups too late. So, it will be when they’ve already designed and delivered it. So then they’re only looking at satisfaction. But I think you know, the top takeaway I’d always say is you’re a startup. Just get it right now in terms of culture, what is the working practices insight.
You’ve got the most amazing opportunity to be your own Jeff Bezos. You could build your own Amazon. But what was the difference in how he approached it? He started his business on the fundamental belief that customer obsession is the way that he was going to deliver Amazon, right? And he’s never changed that and look at him now, you know, he was an entrepreneur with a dream, but it was a customer-centred one. I throw Jeff Bezos into the mix as a use case example of what a great entrepreneur leader looks like. That vocally leads from the front and talks about the customer all the time. Again, another light bulb goes on, I want to be like Jeff Bezos. Connects with their ego! [laughter]
Anna Noakes Schulze: I think another one in that category would be Sir Richard Branson. Very customer focused from the beginning.
Clare Muscutt: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. From day one. I always say I talk about people-centred design, not just customer experience. When you see the book [How to Be Awesome at CX], it’s as much EX [employee experience] as it is CX [customer experience] because that’s what drives everything. But you know, if you can build a business designed on understanding and listening to people, the potential is unlimited. If you build a business based on you, what you want and your view over the world, it’s only going to satisfy you, right?
So yes, I suppose the feedback, and then I see it with big businesses as much as small businesses. They are getting obsessed about metrics then. Yeah. So that net promoter score. [laughter] Or something like that. And then they stopped thinking about the most important thing, which is the inputs to what drives the outcome, which is the measure. They start trying to focus on the measure itself, making the measure better. [laughter]
Anna Noakes Schulze: Score optimization, yeah.
Clare Muscutt: Yeah. I think it’s, you know, first and foremost it’s a mindset, right? Start with some education as to how to get from a closed mindset, that’s very ego-driven to one that’s more open and willing to look outside in [from the customers’ perspective]. I guess it would be the most interesting challenge if you’re working at, you’re looking at an incubator, right? Yeah, get a keynote speaker in, get organizing events.
Anna Noakes Schulze: Yeah, I’m lucky. There’s a lot of, a lot of things going on, but they’re mostly around metrics and analytics and all the sort of engineering type of things that entrepreneurs love so much.
Clare Muscutt: Yeah. So, so maybe I try and find an event where, or those kinds of events and getting to go and speak at one. And if you can put yourself in that position, if nobody’s talking about it, why don’t you? My entrepreneurial inspiration for you.
Anna Noakes Schulze: Talking about it. [laughter]
Clare Muscutt: Yeah. Find the way. Cause I guess the other thing is that it leads to business for you, right? Because when you get some of those light bulb moments if you can inspire and engage an audience. So, for a few people to think, yeah, if I could do this differently, that could be an opportunity for me and they’re going to need help to do it, right?
Anna Noakes Schulze: Now here’s a question for you. This comes out of my user experience background and when I used to do user experience consulting the thing that was a bit frustrating for me is I would do an analysis of, say, a website and I would find various user experience problems with the website, and I would report them and make my recommendations. And I throw that report over the wall to the developer and they build a new website with all new problems. [laughter]
And I’m just wondering if customer experience is maybe a bit in the way that I think of user experience as there needs to be sort of an ongoing steer, not just discrete moments of consultation and course correction, but actually a more constant level of support. And have you done any kind of consulting where you based it on a service subscription model or something like that or found some way to stay engaged with these customers so that you can help them on a kind of a maturity arc, so to speak, with their customer experience?
Clare Muscutt: I’ve only been in business for two years, so at the moment I’m still working with clients that started with, so I don’t work on a retainer basis. I work on deliverables. So, we always scope out specifically what is it you’re trying to achieve. My team will work on delivering the deliverables that we’ve agreed to and I get paid from that.
Anna Noakes Schulze: So, it’s not so much advisory as deliverables.
Clare Muscutt: No, I don’t want to say deliverables, the thing that’s different about my organization is I help organizations be more people-centric.
So we do everything from, you know, depending on what the client needs, you know, traditional design programs, right through to helping them reset their vision and values to be more people-centric through to leadership training and how to be more empathetic and understand your own emotional intelligence through to designing programs that help them to measure and, you know, understand the experience on an ongoing basis. So, you know, I’m a problem-solving resource when everything’s going smoothly. I guess. There’s no requirement for me to continue to be in there. [laughter]
Anna Noakes Schulze: But they can check in with you periodically.
Clare Muscutt: Yeah. Yeah. Like and I’ve got like this kind of open-door policy, as you probably noticed. If anyone needs any help, I’ll always give them my advice. So, touch wood at the moment, nothing has happened where anything’s gone wrong. We’re still in the development of you know these extended services that, you know, we’ve got, we’ve got to the customer experience and now we’re working on employee engagement, or working on training or working on, you know, something else. I’m still part of their journey and I’m not done yet.
Anna Noakes Schulze: But you must be getting some sense of how to package your services in the best way possible for your clients, including startups. And it sounds like there’s a mixture. There’s some consulting, there’s training, probably online training. There are workshops, things that you do in person, maybe seminars. So, there’s this whole sort of [ service] delivery mix basically.
Clare Muscutt: Yeah. Basically, you get this Clare Muscutt Experience [laughter] an ecosystem of different things we can do to help you, but it’s always bespoke to what the client needs.
So, on my website, for example, it’s bucketed under Discovery. We can do research services if that’s what you need, you know, we can actually perform the research. We can just tell you where to look and how to do it yourself.
Design, which would be, you know if we’re doing a great discovery and they want to carry on we’ll do the design stage with them, or it might just be that part. They want to review one service or one journey and we’ll help them to establish what that looks like today and what the opportunities for a better future could be.
Transformation: there’s loads of stuff under that that’s predominantly culture. So if you want to be the new thing that’s all shiny and beautiful and a future state that you haven’t built a capability for yet, then we help you to plan how to build anything from, you know, a joined-up approach to technology people and process. That will transform how your organization behaves in the future. I’m talking about my big clients here as opposed to startups.
Delivery, it means you know, creating a program, that’s going to change how people behave at the front line. We can do that right through to how you’re going to measure and evaluate on an ongoing basis.
We can help you to develop the right package or suite of insights and measures, probably most of them you already have, but how to prioritize how you look at them in a more holistic way based on the organization you’re trying to be. I think we’re unusual because, you know, my specialism is customer experience designer and transformation, and the people that work for me are all digital nomads as well.
So, we all collaborate on these projects, I can’t do everything myself. I’ve got a specialist in data and analytics and web design and user experience, leadership trainers. I’ve got people here who’ve kind of formed this transformer of an organization, but I didn’t carry them as an overhead all the time. So, I guess the other advantage is. I can offer a lower price because I don’t have to sustain an office and salaries of a load of people.
Anna Noakes Schulze: It’s a modern way of working actually with distributed teams and various specialists that you bring in on an as-needed basis and everyone is doing their own thing as well.
Clare Muscutt: Yeah. It’s very millennial and everyone’s got agency and autonomy and you know there’s nothing better than a job where you’re an expert and there’s nobody telling you how to do that. They’re just saying, what I need to achieve at the end of it, is this. And all the people that work say for me, with me, I don’t really like to say for me because we’re more of a collaboration of people than we are a hierarchy. They’re clear what the objective in the end is, but I’m asking them for their expert help so [laughter] they haven’t got me breathing over their neck saying, right, do it like this, whereas in a lot of situations, even if you’re a freelancer, you don’t get paid for your real expertise, you get paid to do a job for this or someone else has already decided what that looks like. So, we’ve, I guess we’ve got this like amazing job satisfaction about how it feels to work together, in this very millennial way, and I don’t care if you’re on the beach in Bali.
Anna Noakes Schulze: I only had a couple more questions for you.
Clare Muscutt: Is it, is this helpful?
Anna Noakes Schulze: Yeah, it’s tremendously helpful actually, and you know, whenever I’m in contact with CXers [customer experience professionals] from the UK or the US I always have this feeling that I’m looking around the next corner because we’re just not at that level yet in Germany. I don’t know if you know there’s going to be the first-ever customer experience awards for the German-speaking countries this year [DACH Customer Experience Awards] and I’m really, really excited about that. I have no idea what to expect, but certainly, it’s the start of raising awareness. in Germany and getting more participation in this area, and I feel like we might be behind now, but maybe we can make a great leap forward at some point.
Clare Muscutt: Yeah, I guess if you’ve got a load of believers together at the same time, you could make some like plenary speeches that you could put on social media or on LinkedIn or something.
Anna Noakes Schulze: Yeah, then that would be just fantastic. And actually, since you speak a bit of German yourself, you [laughter] might want to consider that in future. See how it goes!
Clare Muscutt: Yeah. I don’t think I’d be able to speak business German, but I can definitely order a beer! [laughter]
Anna Noakes Schulze: The judges are coming from all over. I think it’s going to be a mixture of German and English, and a lot of the multinationals would rather put these together in English anyway. That’s the language they function in.
Clare Muscutt: He’s German, isn’t he? [Stephan] Osthaus.
Anna Noakes Schulze: Yes. He’s going to be there.
Clare Muscutt: I’m co-judging with him at the International [CX] Awards.
Anna Noakes Schulze: Okay. I missed seeing him there [last year]. It all went by in a flash. I think I was one of only three [judges] from Germany. The Netherlands supplied 45 judges so that really shows you the difference in aim and focus there. But we’ll get there. We’ll get there.
Clare Muscutt: Take them there! Take responsibility for building that vision and become an influencer. [laughter]
Anna Noakes Schulze: Yeah well, it’s certainly needed and I’m definitely going to look forward to meeting the others at the awards and maybe we’ll be having exactly this conversation. And where do we go from here? How do we get Germany kicking and screaming into the 21st century?
Clare Muscutt: [laughter] Hopefully, following you or like they want to. Go on, sorry, the last question then, what was that last…
Anna Noakes Schulze: Last question: So, what would you count as the most important takeaways for startups and growing businesses when it comes to customer experience?
Clare Muscutt: Yeah. So I think for me, it would be that when you’re a startup, you’ve got the opportunity to build your business exactly the way you want it to be and create a sustainable future for it through it being customer-driven.
Now, the alternative to that is you build it based on what you want, you think and later down the line sort out all the problems, so… [laughter] Yes, you choose, you know, but if you’re in a startup now, you can lay those foundations at low cost, low effort, and it will set you up for the future, which would be awesome.
So really think about your organization’s vision and values. Making sure that you know, your whole purpose is there to serve customers and look after your people. and building the values. It’s the values of your growing company. When people join, they get that vibe too. Just remember Jeff Bezos and what he did with Amazon basing his whole organization on customer obsession. And look what happened there.
Anna Noakes Schulze: Because that was a priority that they hired for customer obsession as well.
Clare Muscutt: Exactly, it’s built into his values and his organization. His vision was very clearly customer-centric. And then you know, remember the four Ds of design: Discovery, Design, Development, and Delivery. Your four key opportunities when you’re creating your products and service to involve customers, and you should be doing that at every stage, whether that’s insight and research before you do anything, whether that’s getting feedback on prototypes and testing through design and development of your design, through to ongoing feedback mechanisms that enable you to spot potential problems and that, you know, at the end of the day, if you can address them when you’re in the startup phase, you’re going to save a hell of a lot of money and complaints and returns or whatever later down the line.
And I guess finally based on what you said about the culture, [laughter] customer experience is an expectation and it’s one that will only continue to grow, as the world becomes more globalized and capitalist environments increase. It’s not going away, so either take this opportunity to be somebody as a founder and a leader who looks outside in from the start or take the alternative route, which is a lot more risky short term. [laughter]
Anna Noakes Schulze: Absolutely. Clare, thank you so much for your time. This was incredibly helpful.