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Seeing the customer as an asset is core to customer experience strategy

By Diane Autey posted 12-04-2019 07:05 PM


“Customer experience is a discipline that helps other business functions see the customer as an asset,” says Austyn McElroy, Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) and regional banking customer experience director at TCF Bank.

Over the past five years, Austyn and her customer experience (CX) colleagues have worked to expand customer listening and to get actionable customer feedback into the hands of TCF Bank leaders to better inform their decision making.

Austyn credits three experiences for influencing her CX career: managing a retail business, earning her CCXP certification and pursuing her Master of Business Administration (MBA).

The early years

“I managed an independent coffee shop for several years and I really loved it,” says Austyn. “I was always aware of customer experience principles, although I didn’t know it then. I had a natural process-design mindset; the way I trained, the way I set up the store, the way I greeted customers and the process for getting them coffee; that was all customer experience.”

In addition to this hands-on retail experience, Austyn gained valuable CX insights by observing and being involved with her parents’ auto parts business.

Evolution of CX roles

After Austyn graduated from the University of Michigan and married, she and her husband relocated to the Twin Cities for his job. An acquaintance through his employer recommended Austyn for a job at TCF Bank. “I never thought I would work at a bank, and I found that I really enjoy it,” says Austyn. “I also really love business.”

Not long after Austyn joined TCF Bank as an executive assistant, she was tapped to serve as project manager for the bank’s first voice-of-the-customer platform implementation. “That evolved into a role managing the platform, which led to a role as the product owner when we phased out the original platform and moved to a new one.”

Austyn led the request for proposal process, interviewed multiple vendors and played a key role in selecting the new vendor.

Enter CXPA

When Austyn transitioned to her first CX role at TCF Bank, she began exploring the CX discipline. “I realized I needed some resources,” she explains. “I searched online and discovered the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA).”

She focused first on conducting surveys and seeking information on how other businesses survey their customers. “Then I got into the CXPA online community reading posts and questions in the discussion board. I started learning about the CX competency model with its six core competencies, and what it looks like having CX at a strategic level in an organization.”

Austyn was intrigued by the idea of not just measuring what people are thinking and feeling by using surveys but seeking to better understand what it looks like for the whole organization to be influenced by a customer experience mindset.

While reviewing discussion board threads, Austyn began noticing CCXP in people’s signatures and wondered what that meant. As she and her CX manager discussed the CX competency model, she said, “I should probably think about taking the certification exam and making sure that I understand all of these competencies before we start pushing this.”

That’s exactly what she did; she prepared for and passed the exam earlier this year.

MBA insights

As a lifelong learner, it’s no surprise that Austyn also is pursuing an MBA. “It’s been really helpful to learn about the core business disciplines, like finance, accounting and marketing, and how CX interacts with those disciplines,” she explains. “I really see the CX function as very strategic, just like marketing should be very strategic in an organization. I like seeing the big picture. Understanding how everything fits together helps me do my job better.”

One of the biggest challenges in her role is translating CX ideas and concepts in ways that people understand. For example, “How do I need to talk about customer experience with my Six Sigma-minded partners? With my finance-minded colleagues? With those in accounting?”

Gaining an understanding of these disciplines has helped her to better insert CX into their worlds. “Typical accounting systems track product or line of business assets. So then I ask, ‘Have we thought about tracking customers as an asset?’ That fuels the organization to understand what’s happening at a customer segment level.”

CX frameworks

Austyn and her team have leveraged frameworks to help with CX comprehension. “The only CX jargon I’ve introduced is closing the loop,” she explains. “We’ve given the business units a framework to use: listen, learn, act, repeat. We have to be really intentional, and it takes persistence.”

It helps to visibly tie customer understanding to financial impact. “We’re doing this because it has an effect on whether our customers will stay with us and that has a positive financial impact.” Austyn says, “Unless CX actions can be tied to why they are good for the business long-term, we’re really not doing our job.”

Another CX framework has helped Austyn’s team introduce customer journeys to the organization: choose, use, grow. “It’s a framework we offer people when we ask, ‘Have you thought about the overall journey for your customers?’ The first stage is: choose – how did they learn about us and choose to do business with us? That gets TCF Bank team members thinking about their business unit from the perspective of customers’ needs and wants.”

Importance of direct participant contact

While working cross-functionally with all business disciplines at TCF Bank is critical, Austyn also knows the value of listening to live conversations on a regular basis.

“I sit with a colleague in the contact center twice a month and listen to her calls,” says Austyn. “Most of the time I hear about pain points that I’ve seen in surveys or heard people talking about. It’s so helpful for me to hear someone on the phone say, ‘Why can’t I do XYZ?’”

Austyn also can observe the employee experience. “I see which screens my colleague looks at and where she goes to find answers. It helps to see how and what she does so that I don’t sound uniformed when making improvement suggestions.”

The customer contact center is one area that has benefitted from CX surveys and insights: “We implemented a customer callback solution to reduce the time a customer has to wait on the line if the queue is longer than our target timeline,” says Austyn.

Explaining CX

To her colleagues, Austyn says, “Customer experience helps us understand our customers and get that information to the right decisionmakers, so they’re informed as they make decisions about what our customers need and want.”

But because CX is a newer discipline and not readily understood, like finance or accounting, Austyn tells her grandma simply: “I work in marketing at a bank,” she chuckles.


For more information about TCF Bank, click here.