“I’m not a supply chain expert, but I have tried to buy before. And I have been a government agency executive that has worked with procurement folks before. One thing I know for sure is that we need great suppliers and great vendors to create great experiences for customers.”

Stephanie Thum, Founding Partner, Practical CX


The field of customer experience management (or “CX”) has only formally been around since the early 2000’s, but it has quickly grown to be one of the most important areas of investment for companies. Whether they have responsibility for big companies, small companies, startups, or government organizations, leadership teams want to make sure their customers are happy, and that success stories reach new prospective customers.

Stephanie Thum, a Founding Partner of Practical CX, comes to customer experience management with a background in journalism and communications. Both have proven essential in roles focused finding practical ways to build value-driven loyalty between companies and their customers.

In this podcast interview, Stephanie talks about CX with Supply Chain Now Co-hosts Greg White and Scott Luton:

· The impact CX is about to have on the supply chain industry and how companies can be prepared to implement meaningful programs that are successful in the long term

· The importance of context to creating a customer experience that provides solutions for customer needs and problems

· How CX is actually a critical component of well-rounded risk management programs

Intro – Amanda Luton (00:05):

It’s time for supply chain. Now broadcasting live from the supply chain capital of the country. Atlanta, Georgia heard around the world, supply chain. Now spotlights the best in all things, supply chain, the people, the technologies, the best practices and the critical issues of the day. And now here are your hosts.

Scott Luton (00:28):

Hey, good afternoon, Scott Luton and Greg white with you here on supply chain. Now, welcome to today’s show Greg, how are you doing? I’m doing great. I’m pretty excited about this. We’re going to talk about some transformational analytics for supply chain. We are, and you know, this is going to be a unique show. If you look at our 415 or so episodes, this is really the first time we’re focusing on the area. We’ve got a business we’re going to industry leader. That is also a huge thought leader in the world of customer experience. And this is going to be our first really dedicated show to this, this topic. So I’m excited. I’m ready to learn something or you I’m sure anybody who listens to us knows that I don’t care much about customer experience, right? That is not something in about every single show. So that’s right.

Scott Luton (01:11):

Um, yeah, I’m excited. So more to come on our guest speaker in just a second, but Hey, quick programming note, if you enjoy today’s episode, be sure to find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts from. So you don’t miss a single thing. All right. So Greg, with no further ado, let’s welcome in our featured guests here today. Stephanie tomb, founding principal at practical CX. Stephanie, how are you doing? Hey Stephanie. Hi guys. How are you? Good, good. We’re doing really well. Uh, really enjoyed, uh, our collaboration, especially kinda around Sapphire. Now the big SAP event, your, your ears may have been burning because we’ve been keeping you on our radar. We’d love your in particular on Twitter, of course, other plenty of the platforms, but I love the content and just your general approach on Twitter. It’s, it’s very unique.

Stephanie Thum (02:00):

I haven’t, I have a good time, you know, I’ve been on for like 11 years and you know, it’s so good.

Scott Luton (02:05):

It really is. And I’ve learned a ton, just speaking for myself, Greg’s an expert and everything. But speaking for myself, I’m new to this formal school of thought around customer experience. I’ve got a background of six Sigma of core service levels, which we’ll talk more about. And, and, and for that matter, the voice of the customer is, is the North star in supply chain, but really geared up about this interview and picking your brain. So Greg, why don’t we dive right in? Let’s do that. So we know where you are now, you’re in the DC area, but we’d love to hear where you’ve come from and how you got there. So tell us a little bit about where you’re from your childhood, any life shaping moments or anything.

Stephanie Thum (02:49):

Well, I grew up in rural, Missouri, Southeast, Missouri, and the boot Hill of Missouri, kind of halfway in between Memphis and st. Louis. Um, I got my degree from Arkansas state university while working three jobs and a master’s degree at Duquesne university in Pittsburgh. And now I’m a part time PhD student at Indiana tech growing up in Southeast Missouri. Yeah. Learned a lot. Um, you know, as far as our baseline about what we need to think about and consider in customer experience. And I know it may sound a little bit weird, but we can get more into that.

Greg White (03:23):

So were you around Hannibal ms?

Stephanie Thum (03:26):

No, I grew up in Canada, Poplar bluff, which is way down there in the boot Hill, almost into Arkansas.

Greg White (03:31):

Yeah. Um, so I lived in Springfield. We did a lot of, uh, before you did it for money fast before they were bass pro tournaments, they were just fast turn shops founded in Springfield. Right.

Stephanie Thum (03:45):

Lots of great fishing in the area.

Greg White (03:47):

Yeah. Amazing. That’s a, that’s a great part of the world. So that’s really impressive of noodling we’re we’re we’re folks, you know, get into the lakes and they catch catfish with our hands. I don’t know about that. I don’t know where the home is, but I know it’s been done there. I might know somebody personally who’s done it. Um, so, but it is, and it’s always done in the darkest dankest nastiest water because that’s where catfish are. Wow. Not for me. Sorry. I was noodling there a little bit. Um, let’s talk about any life shaping moments, which we now know was not noodling thankfully for you. Cause that’s a great opportunity to drink a lot of Lake water. But, um, tell us, tell us a little bit about your childhood and, you know, may tell us someone or somebody that had a big impact on,

Stephanie Thum (04:38):

Oh my gosh. Well, you know, my step grandparents owned a farm and um, some of my best life lessons were learned on that farm about hard work and community and mindfulness and resourcefulness. And I think it’s a kind of a funny story. My step grandparents had chickens on their farm and my sisters and I sort of had this contest where every day we would take turns and we would go out to the hog house to collect eggs. And it was sort of a contest. Whoever could bring in the most eggs, you know, we were sort of the winner. It wasn’t any big contest. It was for cool points, namely. And one day I went out to collect the eggs. It was my, my turn and I grabbed a tin pale as I always do and went out and gathered the eggs from that, um, from the hog house and I got seven eggs and it was like, whew, you know, this is the big jackpot.

Stephanie Thum (05:26):

And I was, you know, maybe 10 or 11 years old. And I was so proud and I was walking back up to the farmhouse, swinging that pale and I dropped it. Yes, you knew where this was going, didn’t you Greg? And I dropped it and those eggs broke. And that was my first lesson for me in mindfulness learned on that farm. And you know, when I think about customer experience and where my career has gone, that mindfulness and those lessons on that arm, not just the mindfulness, but the resourcefulness and sense of community have kind of shaped where I kind of went in life.

Greg White (06:03):

There are so many tough lessons learned on a farm or ranch and, and you’re always, you’re always generously forgiven when something like that happens,

Stephanie Thum (06:12):

My grandmother kind of laughed and it was just like, Oh, well,

Scott Luton (06:16):

Yeah, yeah. That’s, that’s such a great word. Mindful, Greg, that’s the word we don’t hear enough. And this, this concept of mindfulness and, and that picture, that the story you just shared paint such a perfect visual for that. Uh, so really appreciate you sharing that. That’s um, I’m gonna, I’m gonna, I’m gonna talk to my three kids this afternoon about mindfulness space, this conversation. Yeah. Somehow I was picturing the front porch, uh, from the house and secondhand lions and heading across the yard up to that. So, well, that, that’s really interesting. So, you know, from Missouri, is that, did you spend your whole youth growing up in that area? The state or country?

Stephanie Thum (06:58):

So I’ve, I’ve moved around in my career. I’m a 22 year military spouse. So I’ve been accompanying my spouse as we’ve traveled around for the last 22 years as an army family. So we’ve lived in several places.

Greg White (07:12):

I’ve always been fascinated by that. You know, Scott’s from the air force, I’m from an air force town. So I had a lot of friends for two years and my, I was a Kmart brat, which is a lot like billing being a military brat, except you never did anything good for your country. So I can empathize with that moving around thing. It creates a certain dynamic in you. You can evaluate people really rapidly and that sort of thing. How did that rub off on you?

Stephanie Thum (07:38):

I was very fortunate, you know, to have the internet. Um, and it was different. I remember when, um, the, my, our life together started in my grandmother. Um, who’s passed now. Um, told me some things about waiting for my grandfather in world war two. And it’s just, there’s so much less to complain about now, you know, compared to where we have been, but I had the internet. And so because of the internet, there were opportunities to find other military spouses to lean on and to become friends with. And I’m still friends with a lot of them now after 20

Greg White (08:13):

For several years. Uh, your husband’s, uh, he’s about to retire, right? Full bird Colonel. Yes. Did you work while he was on active duty?

Stephanie Thum (08:21):

Yes. Um, actually one of the jobs that I had was really instrumental in sort of catapulting me forward in the field and practice of customer experience. I, after graduate school, went to work for the big four accounting firm of Ernst and young. We were living in Pittsburgh at the time. That was one of the places that we live. We also lived in st. Louis and Columbus, Ohio, but my, my time, my nine or so years there instant young was really kind of where I started with, uh, having Eureka moments, I guess. So to speak around customer experience.

Greg White (08:51):

Were you on those projects? I assume you were doing projects, but well, on those projects, were you helping design or design processes for retailers or what, was there a segment of the, of the marketplace that you worked with particularly?

Stephanie Thum (09:09):

So let me tell you a story. I went to Ernst and young to work on business development. And, um, I worked on as I started proposals and proposals where the big place where I started, you know, I came from a communication background. My undergraduate degree is in broadcasting. My master’s degree is in corporate communication. So I started working on proposals, but I had a background in journalism. And while I was at Ernst and young, they started this program and they, um, hired some up-and-coming people in the firm to go out and form this well, they formed this new group and this group was supposed to go out and talk one on one with the biggest clients, the at risk clients, the high revenue clients to find out what’s working well, what could be better? What were our, what were our risks? Um, what were the business development opportunities?

Stephanie Thum (09:58):

And it was really your early voice of the customer program. So I joined this group and that’s kind of where I got my start. That’s where I got bitten by the CX bug, because I would sit down with these clients, these fascinating CEOs, CEOs, CFOs, and they would talk about the connection between their buying choices as to why they decided to work with Ernst and young versus a competitor. And it had nothing to do with the proposals I was working on and it had everything to do or a beautiful advertisement. It had nothing to do with that at all. It had to do with, you know, could they get their tax attorney on the phone? Could they get a place to park where the bills, right. And so bam, all of a sudden, we’re talking about experiences, experiences that lead to buying choices that lead to our livelihoods. And so that’s really where I was bitten. And that was one of the roles that I had, um, early on in my career and live in his life.

Greg White (10:56):

So you were sort of an internal consultant to one of the biggest consulting agencies in the world, right?

Stephanie Thum (11:02):

Well, you know, I had a journalism background, you know, I know I love stories. I’ve always loved stories. And when I started sitting down with these clients, I started figuring out where that story intersects with business development and bam, you know, we’re talking about how do we need to adjust our processes? How do we need to be measuring and monitoring and triaging red flags internally with our clients to make sure that they don’t go to one of our competitors. And so that was early two thousands. So that was kind of before we were really even calling this thing, customer experience, customer experience

Greg White (11:38):

May not have even had much of a name at that point, right?

Stephanie Thum (11:41):

No, no. The work that I was doing was, um, if we look back at it now, it would be voice of the customer and governance. That was really, you know, how we would classify it now.

Greg White (11:51):

So I’m curious what described is what maybe may have been your biggest, but I’m curious about any that, or, you know, expanding on that or any other kind of Eureka moments that you had in your career. I mean, what, was there a point where something really shifted your point of view?

Stephanie Thum (12:12):

That story that I just told you was a huge shift because the story that we had been told all through, you know, late eighties, when I was high school going into college in the nineties coming up, you know, it was sales, marketing, sales, marketing, sales, marketing, and nothing about experience, but I just knew, you know, I felt, you know, I felt it, um, all along the way that something wasn’t quite right, you know, you don’t just sell somebody something unless they need it and they don’t keep coming back unless there’s a reason why. And so it started to sort of evolve through customer experience. It sort of was, uh, maybe, uh, uh, the dim started getting brighter to, to understand what that was and that’s what we were working on. That’s what we were developing at the time. And now we have a term for it.

Greg White (12:59):

It’s really interesting how often it takes to make a critical breakthrough. Right? The breakthrough moment is what I think people often remember. Um, but how long it takes to get to that level of awareness is interesting. And I think that’s a good lesson for listeners. If you feel like something is missing, it probably is. And you may not be able to put your finger on it, but if you keep looking for it, if you keep seeking that thing that you can’t put your finger on, you will have that aha moment.

Stephanie Thum (13:34):

I agree with you, trust your gut. That’s one of the things that I wish that I’d learned earlier in my career to trust my gut.

Greg White (13:41):

Yeah, well, I, you know, I think in our era or our early era, you were, you were taught to believe that the, the old guard had the answers and you were to learn the answers from them. And I think that the fortunate happenstance for the generations that are coming into and, and taking over the workplace today is they were not taught that, right. They were taught by us children of hippy parents, most of us, right. Um, question authority, right. Or ask as my mother, the big mistake my mother made, uh, once was to say, Hey, ask forgiveness, not permission. She regretted that the rest of our living life.

Greg White (14:20):

But I think that that’s a, that’s an important awakening, uh, for folks. And I think that’s been an important shift in our, uh, in our society, frankly. Right. Agreed. All right. So let’s bring things forward. I love that. Um, how you said you you’re bitten by the CX bug in that, in that pivotal role at E and Y that internal console, that that’s such a great story for how you really found maybe your calling and, and, and, and really had the basis of what now you’re, you’re helping so many others with this customer experience, regardless of what, when, when that became the name for it, my hunches, everyone kind of knew what it was, but it wasn’t such a formal, deliberate direction to dive in and study and, and, you know, build best practices around. So that’s, is that a lot of what you do now as founding principal at practical CX?

Stephanie Thum (15:13):

So, you know, my sweet spot happens to be content and customer experience and governance and voice of the customer, collecting those stories, synthesizing them, and then putting frameworks in place to take action on them. But also, you know, content does have a significant role in how customers experience your product, your service. I mean, anybody who’s ever bought anything from Ikea and tried to make sense out of the directions, knows what I’m talking about with respect to, to content, having a role in the experience that you have with something. So at practical CX, I work with big companies, small companies, startups, and government organizations to help them kind of put it all together in ways that makes sense for them. There’s so much advice out there now it’s kind of a crowded space from a consultant perspective, and there’s a lot of confusion. And so what I want to do is help my clients make sense of what’s gonna matter all of the tools that are in the toolbox. You don’t have to use them all, but what’s going to make the most sense for your business and in the context of your customer base,

Scott Luton (16:10):

Let me back up just a smidge. W when did you, did you, you found this the firm, right? Yes. So what was the, um, the moment the epiphany you had where you said, you know what, not only am I an expert and, and, uh, a, um, uh, I was gonna use the word preacher, but I’m trying to a guru, a guru in customer experience. What was that moment and say, you know what, this is my calling. I’m going to found the company and we’re going to go out there and help others. What I’ve learned.

Stephanie Thum (16:40):

I have to give credit to my network, to my colleagues and my friends who were knocking on my door over the year saying, I got this thing. Can you help me? Um, you know, I got this problem. I know you got a full time gig, but could you just give me five hours a week? Or could you help me out with this? And, um, and that the continuing message was, I don’t know what to do. I’m hearing this over here. And now that we’re here, help me make sense of this. And, um, actually one day my husband and I were out on a long walk, and I said, I’m going to call it practical. I’m going to call it practical CX, because that’s what my clients and the people who are knocking on my door were looking for. They wanted practical solutions, amidst all of the, the advice that’s out there as what made sense for their business. And just having, you know, 15, 20 years of experience now and understanding all the tools that are in the toolbox and having just a natural inclination at wanting to understand more about tech and AI and all of the things that are out there that create experiences. Now, I kind of know what’s in the immediate toolbox and what’s going to be available to assume. So being able to put all of that together as something that my clients have continued to value

Scott Luton (17:53):

Love it. And, and, and how, how long ago did you found it?

Stephanie Thum (17:57):

Um, almost a year ago.

Scott Luton (17:59):

And it’s the culmination of doing this for so long, and I love how you can put it. I know you’ve got a full time gig, but give me just five hours a week and there’s just things just build up. So it makes so much sense. And before we move any further, Greg, I know that that story speaks volumes to you, way in what what’d you hear there? Well, I mean, what I think is people should recognize when there is an opportunity, right? And that I can tell you this, if you have any question, whether a business or going out on your own is, is the right thing to do, then listen, listen to those that are asking you, right. Um, there’s no better way. And I, I mean, you know, I advise tech companies all the time. You need friends and family, you need not, not just for investment, but also as customers, you need someone who hires you because they trust you, right. As much as they appreciate your skill. And that, that becomes a really, really important, important part of any business, because the truth is your business practical for now. It is you and, and a technology company is too. It is the founder until it reaches a certain threshold. So it has to be about you and your network and those people that trust you. And when people express that, it’s a great opportunity to make the leap.

Stephanie Thum (19:26):

It’s such an honor to be trusted. And I see that more clearly now than before, and most definitely agree with everything. Yeah.

Greg White (19:34):

This is why we have this business too, is, you know, so many people they know, and they trust Scott Luton. And, you know, that’s not just the people who grace us with their presence like you, but it’s the people who sponsor some of our shows. It’s, and it’s the people who listen, frankly, because they know they’re going to get something great. Just like your, your friends and colleagues who came to you to deliver that. So I have, can I shift gears a little bit? Sure. And I have a question about your philosophy on CX, because w I think we talked a little bit briefly about this pre show, but I have long thought, and I know you’re not a supply chain expert, but you have had some conversations about it. And I think you did stay at a holiday Inn last night. So, um, I know you didn’t, I know you didn’t, um, but there are probably people in our audience who don’t even know what that means.

Greg White (20:34):

Anyway, marketing campaign, it worked for awhile. Um, but, um, I have long thought that we in supply chain and I’d love to get your opinion on this. We in supply chain are just one step short in terms of our goals or in terms of, uh, being the intent of our goals. And CX has come to the fore in the last five years or so as something that retailers are really, uh, knowledgeable about. And I think, and, and I think consumer brands and that sort of thing, but I think we in the supply chain practice need to recognize that customer experience is our goal. That is the end goal, right? A great customer experience is our end goal. And we’ve used other terms like perfect order or, you know, complete fulfillment or even service level 99% service level to equate to that. And to me, I think service level, which we have typically used as a, as a metric is just a subset of, of CX and CX that experience that keeps customers trusting you and coming back is really, that’s really the end goal. So I’m just curious of your thoughts about how CX plays into some of these other goals and metrics in a company.

Stephanie Thum (21:55):

Well, you’re swirling around the truth, you’re swirling and you’re, you guys are about to land on it. It sounds like the supply chain world is about to land on this. It’s really important. You know, when we think about CX being more important than ever before, we have to keep a clear view of what we’re talking about. When we talk about customer experience, because they’re our customer experiences, we’ve all had them. We all know them. And there is customer experience as a business discipline. And that business discipline includes competencies and skills and tools to understand from your organization and how you serve customers from the outside in, rather than the inside out voice of the customer governance practices, human centered design employee experience related metrics and measurements, and the things that we look at from a business perspective to improve our business, that actually also encapsulate customers and employees.

Stephanie Thum (22:49):

Um, you know, you, don’t just, it’s not a fleeting moment of empathy. It’s not a training program. You can’t just put on a training program and say, bam, you know, we’ve done customer experience, we’re done it, doesn’t work like that. Great experiences for customers. And for employees are deliberately designed. You use the tools in your toolbox from a CX practitioners perspective or a perspective to design those. And it’s not one of those easy breezy things. So when we try to figure out where we’re gonna land from a, from a, from a CX perspective in supply chain, it sounds like, you know, the, the operational metric you’re talking about is indeed part of that story, understanding that customer story from the outside in you also need some other things. You know, you need to understand the customer’s viewpoint on that story. If you’re going to tell the story, tell the story with data and metrics, and it could be unstructured data, it could be structured data, but figure out what makes sense for your business and it all together. But it isn’t, it usually, isn’t just one thing. It’s usually a combination of, of metrics and measurements, but that is what we do in CX as a business discipline. It’s not a one time thing. It’s not a one, four a month thing. It is a forever thing.

Scott Luton (24:00):

Sure. It’s gotta be part of the culture is what I’m hearing. Yeah, that’s right. Yeah.

Stephanie Thum (24:04):

You need, yeah. Interweave those practices and principles into the fabric of your culture.

Scott Luton (24:09):

All right. So maybe a stupid question, but I’m gonna ask anyway, well, let’s go for it. That’s all I can ask the stupid questions. So, um, it seems like you would agree that that, um, the customer experience is more important than ever before. Uh, first of all, for starters, do you agree with that right now?

Stephanie Thum (24:28):

Absolutely. Competition is crazy.

Scott Luton (24:31):

And, and so the followup question there is, is, is why, why is that you, you you’ve mentioned the, the competition word. What else is there that you think is driving customer experience and our fascination with,

Stephanie Thum (24:44):

Oh my gosh. Um, everything about context, um, you know, the context of the world that we’re living in and this, you get a different answer from different people, depending on where you are about what experience actually means to them. A CEO’s opinion is going to be different than a line employee or some, someone else it’s going to be different. Um, but every one can agree that I think everyone can agree. We’re living in weird times. I don’t know what other word to call it right now, because people are tired of hearing new, normal and next normal and COVID era, you know, but, but the fact remains, and you know, you guys were talking about this. I listen to your show yesterday with Robert too. Um, when you were talking about how there are new business problems, now that need to be solved and CX, if you think about the tools that we have available to us in CX, you know, think about putting those in your tool, shed area in your toolbox and use those as tools to help solve those business problems.

Scott Luton (25:39):

Love that. Cause it, it, it, it makes so much sense, especially from that supply chain perspective. Right. Um, let’s talk about this is, this is one of the questions I’ve just been dying to ask as part of this interview pointing to some organizations that really in your belief and your expertise really get customer experience. Right.

Stephanie Thum (25:59):

I love this question. And I think folks actually expect me to name a retailer or, or some somebody who’s really getting this right. But you know what good experiences are subjective. They really are subjective. So I’ll just tell you mine. The last time I renewed my car tax through the Virginia DMV, it took me five minutes and that was it. So, you know, for a, for a government organization that gets a lot of flack for not doing a good job, cheers to the DMV because I was able to get on and get it done. And it was hassle-free now there are others who will point to Nordstrom or Zappos or Amazon. And those are great. If those are the organizations that you use, you like the experience and you use it, you know, it’s a subjective thing.

Scott Luton (26:47):

Yeah. That’s a great point, Greg, what would you add or what would you, uh, respond to it? Yeah. So, um, you named a lot of the big names that are really good. Uh, actually you made me think of it. First of all, that’s has to be the first time that a government agency was ever mentioned on the planet as a great customer experience, frankly, when you mentioned it, when you mentioned it, I thought of my last couple of experiences at the DMV, a particular DMV facility near my house. And I don’t know why. Oh, I do know why I got a couple of new classes of driver’s license over the last couple of years. So I was there like three times in a year and a half or two. And they felt like family by the time I was there for the third time, I mean the physical experience was not unpleasant. And, um, and they were very accommodating, so it can happen anywhere, but I even, I would not have thought,

Stephanie Thum (27:44):

Well, what you’re talking about is organizations that regardless whether it’s government or private industry organizations that make things clear, consistent, they treat you well. You know, even if you’re going to be there having to wait for an hour, you know, at least they’ve got water and a place for you to sit down, you know, and they’re managing your expectations along the way. And, and, you know, you were talking about how things have changed now. Well, you know, there are, there are changing expectations around clean contactless, inclusive experiences, privacy centric experiences that have to be considered now. So, but, you know, regardless of what, whether we’re talking about the DMV or we’re talking about pennies, it’s, it’s kind of the same things about ease.

Greg White (28:24):

Well, the, the consumer is in more control of their experience than they have ever been. And there’s more ability for them to express it’s. I think this, I think the focus here started some years ago when people started being able to post reviews and then there became this great human cry to respond. At first, it started out as we’re going to respond as to why we’re so terrible at this. And then it became, as you’re talking about Stephanie, and clearly you must have ushered this in, no, we’re not, we’re going to respond and we’re going to get better. And we’re going to learn from this vast amount of data. Right,

Stephanie Thum (29:03):

Right. It’s a cultural thing. So Stephanie

Scott Luton (29:06):

Kind of piggybacking on what Greg thought there, um, correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like the may transparency is a wonderful dynamic that helps fuel customer experience. Um, and, and, and this society, we live now pandemic or, or, or non pandemic, there’s more transparency than ever before. Thanks to the digital revolution. Um, but what else do you think, especially when we talk about these, I love these government, uh, agencies that are, that are great beacons of customer experience. I love hearing that because that’s been my experience here in the last few years that our, our DMV as well. So, Hey, this is going to be a level of the DMV episode. Those are hard working people, you know, so glad to hear it, but aren’t, I aren’t, we all three surprised to hear two other people say that they had a great experience. Yeah, that’s fascinating. Is there that much pressure, regardless if it’s the public sector to private sector government, is there more pressure to get customer experience? Right today?

Stephanie Thum (30:05):

Pressure is on all around. You know, I work with a lot of government organizations that advise government organizations and from a federal perspective, right now there’s a new inflection point because the president’s management agenda includes a goal on customer experience. There are now white house guidelines for federal government agencies, the big ones, they call them the high impact agencies on implementing the practices and principles of CX as a business discipline into the fabric of those cultures. So whether it’s coming to you based on what your customers are demanding from a profit perspective, legislators and bureaucrats are trying to make sure that they implement into the government, setting the pressures on all around. You know, there’s more, more, more emphasis on it than ever before. And it also, you know, is trickling into other areas. Now, you know, this, this new inflection point that we’re at, you know, it’s about more than a website experience. Now it’s about more than an app experience. You know, we’re seeing the principles and practices of CX as a business discipline trickling into risk management areas of organizations and into, you know, to your guys’ world, into the procurement ecosystem.

Scott Luton (31:11):

Perfect segue. You’re reading them on here. So as we’re speaking to, if you were speaking to our core audience, which is, you know, global end to end supply chain professionals, right. At all levels, what we get a lot of feedback from listeners that are new to the profession for that matter, that there are still students at the collegiate level working a way through, and then a big chunk, a big plurality of our audience is senior level leaders and all points in between if you’re speaking to that core demographic, why, and, and, you know, I feel like this is not a stupid question because we’ve already made the case, but what else would you add that while supply chain professionals need to pay attention to customer expense,

Stephanie Thum (31:50):

This is where it is in my mind. And you know, I’m not a supply chain expert, but I have tried to buy before. And I have been a government agency executive that has worked with procurement folks before. And one thing I know for sure is that we need great suppliers and great vendors to create great experiences for customers. We can’t do it without there being great vendors in the ecosystem. Right? And so from a, from an experience perspective, maybe you want to back up just a little bit. You might not want to call it customer experience. Maybe you want to call it experience management and take a look at the whole ecosystem. Is it easy for vendors to find you and work with you? How are your procurement rules and processes? Are you sending great vendors running the other way? Because it’s too hard to figure out it’s too convoluted to figure out your rules.

Stephanie Thum (32:38):

And, and you gotta think about that in terms of your customers. Okay. So what’s the ripple impact on your customers from a cost perspective? How about your employees, you know, are your employees having a difficult time managing disparate systems and inconsistent experiences for themselves internally? And what’s that ripple impact on your business? So think about it from an experience perspective, maybe not just customer experience, but employee experience and experience management in general, because these practices and principles that we ascribe to in customer experience, voice of the customer governance, human centered design, these are tools that work in the procurement ecosystem, the same way they work when you’re trying to solve other business problems like your website design or your app or your product, you can still apply those principles to making things smoother for the vendors and suppliers that you want in your ecosystem.

Scott Luton (33:29):

There’s so much, I’d love to dive into tech next five hours, but, but really what my favorite part of what you just shared is as you are evaluating, not just suppliers, but in reverse how, how we own board suppliers, how, how we build those relationships, you know, how our organization, at any point in time, the supply chain, how, how are we making it easy to do business with? Because you know, in any industry there for years, there are, it’s been a knack to make things difficult because this is our policy. And sometimes oftentimes there’s policies don’t even make any sense. Um, so I love what you described there and you say you’re not a supply chain expert, but Greg, I think she’s much more of a supply chain expert. And she she’s given her stuff closer to expert than novice. Can I get a package or something?

Greg White (34:17):

Yeah, actually, we’re working on that. The supply chain now, expert award, Greg, what else did you hear there that you really find intriguing before we kind of broaden the conversation, how your team’s experience impacts your customer’s experience? I immediately flashed to every time I’ve heard somebody say this darn computer would lock up now or choose to download X or, you know, this system Y right. That sort of thing. Those are the kind of things you need to think about in, in terms of some of the customer experience and ha and you also mentioned risk management. So, you know, if you’re a retailer and or a restaurant, if you’re a restaurant, for instance, a big, big company here in Atlanta with the best chicken sandwich in the world recently, recently in the last five years, diversified their vendor environment, supplier environment so that they were never out of certain products because they were having difficulty, not difficulty that was even yet impacting the consumer significantly, but they wanted to have a provision. So risk management is part of your customer experience journey as well.

Stephanie Thum (35:32):

Absolutely. Absolutely. I can tell you a little story about that if you want to hear it. So I was working in professional services and I was going to see clients to find out what was going well and what wasn’t going well. And I went out to see a client and long story short, I found out, um, was professional services setting. This client was getting the wrong bills, so they weren’t getting their bills. They were getting the bills for yet another company in another industry, in another town. So think about that in terms of the operational risk for the firm that may have just possibly run the risk of a confidentiality breach. So when you start asking your customers questions and your employees questions in the right way and start listening to them, you can get ahead of risks that you may have never even thought about it, even, you know, even the Pentagon is doing hackathons now because they want to find their risks and their vulnerabilities. So applying these thought processes to your risk frameworks, it’s the right thing to do. Um, you know, in government, the inspectors general for the veterans administration, are you now using employee and customer feedback and veteran feedback to get ahead of operational risk? So it’s not a new, it’s not, it is a sort of a new thing, but if you do it, you’re not going to be the first one. So don’t be scared.

Scott Luton (36:51):

I love it. Uh, you need to, you need to write a book full of stories. You’ve got, uh, I bet you could probably fill a whole series. That’s a great idea, Scott. I mean, think about, and imagine the stories you could get, if you haven’t experienced it yourself, that would, that would be a great series. What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you or most memorable, good thing or whatever. Right. Well, going back to the earlier point, Stephanie, it is so subjective, you know, and, and one person’s homeowner experience is the next person’s, ah, a double off the wall experience, you know, um, it, it, I’ve never really thought about as I was prepping for this conversation and really thinking about the formal business discipline as you call it customer experience, I was thinking standardized metrics and the set and the other, but it is, that’s probably one, one of the things that makes it so difficult is it’s so subjective.

Stephanie Thum (37:44):

Yeah. Because, um, it definitely is subjective. So that’s when you have to step back from a business perspective and figure out what’s going to be best for the business. And my recommendation is, think about this in terms of your strategic planning initiatives, you know, work these things into, into your plans at that level and figure out, okay, suppose we create a goal to improve the ease of doing business for customers. What does that look like? Establish your standardized metrics and measurements, which, you know, they don’t necessarily have to stay standard. If you need to change them, change them. Don’t be afraid, you know, just explain it depending on whatever environment you’re in and triage that, you know, set up your governance framework, where you’re, you’re measuring, monitoring and triaging those metrics from a customer’s perspective, your customer experience metrics, your operational metrics, your service level metrics that you’re talking about, triaging on a regular basis with a cross disciplinary team to, to move the business forward. So it needs to be at that, at that very basic level of how you run your business.

Scott Luton (38:45):

Love it. And the, one of the common themes here through this conversation is don’t be afraid. Don’t do it different, do something different. Don’t what’s the worst or the most dangerous phrase ever is because we’ve always done it that way. I mean, um,

Stephanie Thum (39:01):

You know, I, I worked with a small manufacturing company CEO, and we just wanted to start somewhere. And where was the most appropriate for him was to get his human resources person himself and his plant manager together once every 10 days or so. And they had about four metrics that they looked at, like hiring order volumes, you know, a couple of different things that they looked at and may just start it, just start somewhere. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to be complex. Eventually you’re going to want one to work your way into like writing down some guidelines and getting something on paper, but just start,

Scott Luton (39:38):

Love it. No wonder a practical CX is thriving. All right. So let’s, let’s shift gears, let’s go broader. Um, and there’s no shortage of, of things getting everybody’s attention. A lot of folks, as we all know, really challenging times on a variety of levels, what’s, despite all of that, what is a trend or an issue or two that, that you’re tracking more than others kind of in the greater general business sense right now?

Stephanie Thum (40:02):

Well, kind of in the vein of some stuff we’ve been talking about one big thing on my radar is the work of the U S general services administration. And for those who don’t know, GSA is a government agency that serves other government agencies and they have what they’re calling a federal marketplace. They have right now, they’re working on it. They’ve got a team associated with this, a federal marketplace strategy. And what they’re trying to do is take the concepts and principles of CX as a business discipline and apply it to that maze of the buyer seller ecosystem. And I absolutely love this because if government can do it, why not other companies, you know, and also I love it because, you know, we’re so often in search of the low hanging fruit and the quick wins, this is not going to be a quick win.

Stephanie Thum (40:49):

So this signals that GSA and that team has the 42 to really dig in and to figure out where they can make change and adjustments and simplify the process, um, remove the barriers to entry for qualified sellers. And to me, that is something definitely worth tracking along with the new frictionless acquisition president’s management agenda goal, which is sort of in that spirit where the government needs great suppliers and great vendors to serve customers. But it’s amazed, even GSA refers to that ecosystem as amaze. And they want to smooth that out with whatever, whatever they can do, they need to focus on what they can do, because it is a very complex convoluted with a lot of rules and regulations that are not going to change overnight, but they were focusing on what they can do and they’re in it for the long haul. And that’s why I’m tracking him. And that’s why

Scott Luton (41:42):

Love it. You know, Greg, I’m all for there’s, there’s so much friction in the general climate right now. If there’s any way we can, we can make, you know, pick and choose our places where we can really make it easier and streamline it. Uh, I’m all for that, Greg, what do you say? Yeah, likewise, I mean, this is, you know, what Stephanie is describing is why we wind up with a hundred dollars screwdrivers and $500 toilet seats is because there are so many hurdles and regulations and, you know, we need this thickness of fiberglass or whatever toilet seats are made out of. And, um, you know, and they make such specific requests that it’s very, very costly when commercial grade product will do yeah. Right. Needless specs. So yeah, certainly we need to do that in government. I think likewise, uh, in, in the private sector you can do similar things, make the onboarding process is Stephanie was talking about, make it a smoother, no, your specifications, but no, the specifications also of the industry, right?

Greg White (42:46):

Why redesign a product that already exists? You can use a screwdriver and say that is sufficient quality. Anything of equivalent or greater quality is acceptable. Yeah. I think the operative word you just said there is that is a three letter word. Why and one of them and, and, and continuous improvement. Yes. It’s one of my favorites too. One of my favorite simple tools is the five. Why you apply that to problems and you really trying to get the root cause. Uh, no one why you do anything is what I’m hearing. Both of y’all speak to.

Stephanie Thum (43:18):

So you just use root cause analysis. That’s a tool in CX. So you’re saying you’re not a CX expert, but root cause analysis is one of the techniques that we have

Scott Luton (43:28):

Love that you get a certificate or a bad certificate and you get a certificate, you get certificates. All right. Well, this has been, um, uh, as, as learning or as, um, enlightening of a conversation, as we knew, it would be really glad that we could find some time and your busy schedule and our busy schedules to come together and have this customer experience conversation. So Greg, how do people get ahold of you, Stephanie? Cause you know, they’re going to want to,

Stephanie Thum (43:58):

Well, I’m on LinkedIn. I’m also on Twitter, Stephanie tomb at Stephanie tomb on Twitter, Stephanie tomb on LinkedIn, a practical CX is on Twitter and LinkedIn and it’s on the web@practicalhyphencx.com.

Greg White (44:12):

Follow Stephanie on Twitter. It’s Kik.

Stephanie Thum (44:15):

It’s funny. I’ll follow you back. I promise I follow back.

Scott Luton (44:19):

It’s it’s unique. She’s got, what I love about it is, um, you know, Greg, you and I have a little bit of a sense of humor we’ve been accused of having and in Twitter, you know, you’ve got my, one of my favorite things. You got folks that takes Twitter very seriously, and we’ve gotten some, some ads about, you know, maintaining that sense of humor. I’ll tell ya, 20, 20, there’s no time that has needed to maintain a sense of humor, right? And to keep things, just keep the mole Hills, the size of molehills, don’t make it, you know, anything that you don’t have to, into a mountain. And that, you know, as you inform and educate your audience, Stephanie, I’ve really appreciated that sense of humor because it comes out in spades and, and it really makes our interaction, uh, not just enlightening, but really fun.

Scott Luton (45:05):

So appreciate all that you do. Stephanie tomb, uh, at practical CX. And we’ll make sure we include for our listeners ease and convenience for their experience. There you go. Make it easy for them to connect and follow you. Awesome. Thank you so much. It was so fun. Absolutely. We’ll do it again. Thank you. All right, Greg, before we wrap up, uh, one last question for you. What has been all this goodness that Stephanie has has delivered here today? What’s the one thing that you really have found the most effective or powerful or intriguing? I felt like I was aware of this. I hope that I became more aware and I hope this brings awareness to our, our viewers and listeners is that customer experience is more than, as Stephanie said, it’s more than how your website works. It’s more than how your, your, your shopping cart works and things like that.

Greg White (45:56):

It is, it is the totality of delivering a meaningful and pleasant, pleasing experience to whoever your customer is. And the thing that I really definitely did learn is whoever your other constituencies are, whether that is supplier suppliers or your employees or partners or whoever it might be. Um, I think that’s, that’s a really meaningful awakening for me. And I, I hope for our viewers and listeners as well, I’m with you, I’m with you and do something if you do it wrong, right. Don’t be afraid to do something. I love that. That was one of the common threads of this conversation. I’ve really enjoyed because now’s the time to take action for sure. Especially in the business world. Um, but on that note to our listeners, hopefully you did enjoy this conversation as much as, as I did very selfishly. Um, it was what I thought it would be. So, uh, but check us out, you know, if you enjoy these types of conversations, you can check us out at [inaudible] dot com. We’d love to hear from you, get your feedback on maybe something that you would like to hear more about, but it’s going to be customer experience. But nevertheless, we’re going to wrap up this episode, Greg, like we always do challenge our audience, just like we challenge ourselves. Hey, do good. Give forward, be the change that’s needed. And on that note, we’ll see you next time here.

Would you rather watch the show in action?  Watch as Scott & Greg welcome Stephanie Thum to Supply Chain Now through our YouTube channel.

Stephanie Thum is a long-time customer experience consultant and former practitioner who has spoken and written extensively on the field and practice of customer experience as a business discipline. Her experience includes work with government, B2B, technology, and nonprofit organizations. She served as one of the U.S. federal government’s first agency-level heads of customer experience from 2012-2016. During this time, she also served as an advisor to President Obama’s cross-agency task force on customer service, now known as customer experience. Her background also includes work as the Executive Strategist for CX Content for the Customer Experience Professionals Association and as the Chief Advisor for Federal CX at Qualtrics, where she counseled governments around the world on effective customer experience practices.

Greg White serves as Principal & Host at Supply Chain Now. Greg is a founder, CEO, board director and advisor in B2B technology with multiple successful exits. He recently joined Trefoil Advisory as a Partner to further their vision of stronger companies by delivering practical solutions to the highest-stakes challenges. Prior to Trefoil, Greg served as CEO at Curo, a field service management solution most notably used by Amazon to direct their fulfillment center deployment workforce. Greg is most known for founding Blue Ridge Solutions and served as President & CEO for the Gartner Magic Quadrant Leader of cloud-native supply chain applications that balance inventory with customer demand. Greg has also held leadership roles with Servigistics, and E3 Corporation, where he pioneered their cloud supply chain offering in 1998. In addition to his work at Supply Chain Now and Trefoil, rapidly-growing companies leverage Greg as an independent board director and advisor for his experience building disruptive B2B technology and supply chain companies widely recognized as industry leaders. He’s an insightful visionary who helps companies rapidly align vision, team, market, messaging, product, and intellectual property to accelerate value creation. Greg guides founders, investors and leadership teams to create breakthroughs that gain market exposure and momentum, and increase company esteem and valuation. Learn more about Trefoil Advisory: www.trefoiladvisory.com


Scott W. Luton is the founder & CEO of Supply Chain Now. He has worked extensively in the end-to-end Supply Chain industry for more than 15 years, appearing in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Dice and Quality Progress Magazine. Scott was named a 2019 Pro to Know in Supply Chain by Supply & Demand Executive and a 2019 “Top 15 Supply Chain & Logistics Experts to Follow” by RateLinx. He founded the 2019 Atlanta Supply Chain Awards and also served on the 2018 Georgia Logistics Summit Executive Committee. He is a certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt and holds the APICS Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) credential. A Veteran of the United States Air Force, Scott volunteers on the Business Pillar for VETLANTA and has served on the boards for APICS Atlanta and the Georgia Manufacturing Alliance. Follow Scott Luton on Twitter at @ScottWLuton and learn more about Supply Chain Now here: https://supplychainnowradio.com/


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