Sometimes ensuring a memorable customer experience can seem like a complex military operation. Shifting targets. High pressure. Skilled teamwork. Tight budgets. Tighter timeframes. Unexpected setbacks. A worthwhile mission.
That description likely resonates with Lewis Taylor, a 17-year U.S. Army retiree who now heads global CX at Dropbox. Although his top-secret security clearance in the Armed Forces meant keeping information closely guarded, Taylor can now open up a bit—at least about the military lessons and skills that have aided his rise within the CX profession.
Taylor still likes to serve, whether that be for 355 million Americans or for 650 million Dropbox customers worldwide. And he is still a man on a mission, just a different one.
“Today, I get to do what I'm really passionate about, which is to focus on what makes sense from a customer perspective and to get the team to think about and ask a lot of questions, like why is something good for the customer? What's the next layer of evolution that includes scale for us? Bringing the customer along and thinking about the customer are the top priorities,” he says.
He credits his military training with teaching him skills needed for such an impactful position, including the ability to stay calm under pressure, maintain a strong work ethic, and think fast on his feet.
He also learned to step back from a complicated situation to assess all sides. “It gives me perspective on what's important, so I'll drill into that… If you're on the product side, and I'm on the CX side, and you're saying, ‘I don't see how this is going to help me,’ I know I need to step back and acknowledge that one, you’ve got your own set of priorities,” and two, I need to actively listen to what you're saying.”
“Where I learned to hone in on things in the military was in being able to listen, observe, watch something, and say, ‘I can connect the dots here relatively quickly, even though it's chaotic.’ Then when I'm ready to respond, I'm not giving a canned answer, because I’m taking into consideration your viewpoint and the things you said in the dialogue we just had.”
Like peacekeeping, Taylor values strategic reconnaissance and candor internally and externally. “We moved around a lot in the military,” he says. “And one thing I've always done as a leader is to take time to listen to my team--the folks you work with to the left and right of you,” even before taking time to listen to customers. “I learned I don't need to be the smartest person in the room” when creating effective workgroups,” he says. Indeed, building influence and relationships has proven critical to Taylor’s success in managing “healthy tensions” among diverse teams.
Operation: “Taylor-ing” a CX Career
His first job out of the Army was at Sprint, where he spent 11 years leading everything from operations to support to customer journey development. That was his path into CX. Although the term “customer experience” had yet to be coined, many of Taylor’s peers were “doing the right things” and “thinking about it in the right ways,” he recalls.
In 2009, Taylor was recruited by Rackspace Technology to work on “cool things … when the cloud space was fairly early, figuring out how we bridge the gap between the cloud and physical devices in your data center,” as well as the customer base. Reinforced by a great culture, the company drilled in its mantra of “fanatical support” above all else. Core to delivering this promise was an emerging industry term: “customer journey.”
“What that meant was multiple layers of a customer experience, making each interaction fanatical for the customer, whether it was when they engaged with a human, with some of the technology, within the processes, or from a sales perspective or marketing. We looked at it completely holistically,” Taylor says. “Rackspace wasn't the cheapest cloud or hosting provider in the game, but where we made up for it was in the fanatical support, and it started at the very top, from the CEO all the way down. “
After six years at Rackspace, though, Taylor craved a startup and landed first as a senior director of CX and then as CX vice president at ClearDATA in 2015. “You haven't really cut your teeth deeply in CX until you've gotten to build a startup company and do customer experience from the ground up,” he says. “That was really exciting! It was a great company, and I got to hone my skills and build on what I learned at Sprint and Rackspace.”
in 2018, he couldn’t resist stepping up to a new challenge: Vice President of Dropbox’s Global CX in Austin, Texas.
Today, Taylor’s in-the-trenches team numbers “north of 400,” each refining and evolving areas ranging from education to community to closing the loop on the Net Promoter System.
“I feel like we're in such a great place today because we took a step back and looked at all of our systems and processes that were engaging customers,” he says. “And I don't mean just from a support perspective, but holistically across every surface. We gathered a ton of customer feedback and used that to evolve where we are now…. There are endless possibilities with the right use of Voice of the Customer.”
Dropbox even taps customers for input on products and services not yet created. “Everything we do has to start with, how does this impact the customer, and is it good for the customer?” says Taylor. One successful tactic he’s pursued is to build a closer bond between CX and product and engineering across the company, as well as between CX and marketing and sales.
“We wedge ourselves in there,” he says. “If I were giving advice to a new CX leader, it’s that relationships are going to be key across the organization. You have to be able to articulate the ways in which what's good for them is what's good for the customer.”
Not a Drill: Leveraging Pandemic Pandemonium
Taylor had been at Dropbox less than two years when COVID-19 hit the world, the economy, the industry, like a bomb. Dropbox immediately went into battle mode.
“It created challenges in ways we didn't expect…,” Taylor says. “Customers became even more want-it-now-versus-later. There was a bigger sense of urgency around support, around the education community.”
Taylor worried productivity would drop when his teams moved to remote work; instead, it “shot through the roof”—alongside customer engagement with Dropbox. “Our people were meeting them where they were and having the right level of empathy. Walking in those customer shoes at that time was critical for us,” he says.
The disruption forced Taylor to toss the company’s just-completed 2019 customer journey out the window. Instead, “we introduced a lot of technology into the platform that helps customers, and it wasn't for the sake of scale,” he explains. “It was more ‘we feed customers more of what they want, when they want it, at the pace they want it.’”
However, heightened customer attention also exposed “things you wanted to go solve … or that you hadn't seen or thought of before as a part of your customer journey,” he acknowledges. For instance, many customers were struggling with their businesses and needed immediate attention from the CX teams to survive, so urgency levels needed evaluating to manage responses.
He credits the company’s successful offensive to “the groundwork” laid for “a unique customer-centric, customer-first approach,” which united workers even before the pandemic.
In military lingo, that’s mission achieved.