An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Make it easy for customers to do business with you. A great example of that at XPO is our customer onboarding process. We have a dedicated project manager who oversees the entire process, so we know everything’s in sync from the very beginning. That’s a big piece of simplifying the engagement with customers.
As part of our series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience,I had the pleasure of interviewing Diana Brown.
Diana Brown has more than two decades of leadership experience with customer-centric sales and service organizations. She currently serves as senior vice president of sales operations and customer experience at XPO, a leading provider of less-than-truckload freight transportation services.
In that capacity, Diana leads the company’s customer experience team and is responsible for onboarding new accounts and ensuring high customer satisfaction across multiple customer service channels. She joined the company from Amazon Business, where she was head of customer success.
Diana holds an MBA from Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA, and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and economics from Indiana University.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I initially wanted to be an actuary but realized pretty quickly in college that it wasn’t the right path for me. When I graduated from Indiana University, I started building custom supply chain software as a consultant. I loved my experience working with customers and helping them solve their problems through technology. I’ve been passionate about working with customers ever since. Over the course of my career, I’ve built multiple customer support teams. I like to look ahead and build solutions that delight customers. I’m at my best when I’m at the crossroads of leading teams, working directly with customers and thinking big to drive change.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Early in my career, I was selected to lead a project during a three-month consulting boot camp. It was a great moment for me because I was super competitive and wanted to win. I had one hour to set up the team structure and kick off the project. I quickly assembled the team and led a discussion for 45 minutes and then assigned responsibilities based on everyone’s interest. Within the first few days, I learned that delegation was going to be a problem in this group. We were a bunch of Type-A successful students, and everyone had their own ideas they were passionate about. It became clear that the way we had assigned responsibilities wasn’t going to work. I needed to ensure everyone had a voice and felt they were part of the solution. I also needed to appreciate the different ideas but know when it was time to stop exploring and get everyone rowing in the same direction. This experience taught me the value of being authentic and apologizing for mistakes. Being humble and listening to others remains foundational to how I lead my team and approach my work with customers.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
In my first job as a consultant, I worked for a Partner who was great about providing visibility to newer employees. He’d often take one or two of us to senior-level meetings and ask us to “act like furniture,” meaning to be an active listener without speaking so we could absorb and learn. Following each of these opportunities to gain exposure to senior-level discussions and negotiations, this leader would take the time to debrief with us. It was such a great learning tool, and super motivational for me. He was an amazing team leader who fostered a culture of curiosity and excellence. About three years ago, I reconnected with him and thanked him for his mentorship. I try to replicate that experience with my team as often as I can.
This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?
A great customer experience is critical for brand loyalty and growth. People have choices and will exercise them if they’re unhappy. It’s easier to retain customers than cultivate new customer relationships, although both are important.
At XPO, growing our business demands best-in-class customer service, and we take it seriously. From our drivers, dockworkers and customer service representatives to our CEO, everyone sees providing quality service as our number one job.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
I think a lot of it is about humility. Many companies can get a false sense of security that they’re the best, or that there are no other options for customers, or that people won’t have an appetite to deal with switching providers because of the cost. Staying humble and grounded, and focusing on your customers’ needs, has to be as natural as breathing every day.
Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?
Absolutely. If you’re in a monopolistic market, customers don’t have a choice. They have to accept the experience provided by that organization if they need that product or service.
On the flipside, when there is significant choice, people will make decisions based on the customer experience — the full customer journey. Think about buying a car. There are so many different approaches to the customer experience. There are dealers that are more receptive than others to haggling. Some offer nice touches, like a great place to wait while your car’s being serviced or free car washes. Others tout the convenience of their internet buying process. There are so many ways to differentiate yourself as a dealer, even at similar price points.
I learned in Economics 101 that competition is good because organizations are forced to differentiate, and that drives loyalty and brand evangelism. There’s little that’s more powerful than having brand loyalists advocate on behalf of your business.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
Sure. I typically get involved in customer escalations, so by the time someone gets to me they’re usually frustrated. A recent example involved one of our large service centers that had been impacted by weather. We were late getting a shipment delivered because of the weather and then having a truck break down. The customer reached out to me and asked that I expedite the delivery. I contacted our service center manager and found that delivery had already been scheduled for the next day. Within two hours of getting this customer’s email, I was able to inform him that our team had a full plan in place for expedited delivery. I followed up the next day and confirmed the delivery had been made as promised. Freight transportation isn’t a problem-free business, but when you show customers that you genuinely care when they have an issue, you create those “wow” moments that enable you to retain and grow business.
Did that Wow! experience have any long-term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
Absolutely. In this case, the customer was extremely appreciative and sent thank-you notes to me and our operational leadership. And their shipping volumes haven’t just been sustained — they’ve even grown a bit. These small moments are very important to preserving and growing business with customers.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.
There are five things we always make sure to think about at XPO:
First is to walk in the customer’s shoes — you need to thoroughly understand their requirements and deliver more than they expect.
Second is to go above and beyond to deliver extraordinary value. At XPO, it’s really our technology that makes that possible. Our piece-level-tracking, for example, allows us to track every pallet in a load independently. The nature of LTL shipments is that one truck carries freight for multiple customers, and this technology allows us to give each customer the individualized attention they deserve.
Third is to make it easy for customers to do business with you. A great example of that at XPO is our customer onboarding process. We have a dedicated project manager who oversees the entire process, so we know everything’s in sync from the very beginning. That’s a big piece of simplifying the engagement with customers.
Fourth is to respond quickly and effectively when things go wrong. To do that, you have to provide thorough, ongoing training for customer service representatives, and have a well-oiled escalation machine in place to ensure no issue is left unresolved.
Finally, it’s essential to recognize and reward customer service employees. A culture of recognition and accountability fosters a sense of pride that incentivizes employees to do their very best to deliver an exceptional customer experience. At XPO, that means supporting every employee in a way that makes them feel a personal connection to our tagline, “Your Freight First.” We have similar quality programs for our operations team, who handle our customers’ freight, and also tie incentive compensation to quality for all XPO leaders.
Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?
Absolutely — that’s been an added benefit of the “wow” effect. Given the extensive interconnectivity that exists between shippers, vendors and carriers as freight moves through the supply chain, it’s unsurprising that customer service experiences are routinely shared. We have relationships with several national customers who make their vendors aware that they endorse us as a preferred carrier. In many cases, these national relationships have helped us secure contracted pricing agreements with new customers.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
What comes to mind for me is the phrase, “better together.” We all win when we focus on how we work together to take care of each other, our communities and our customers. This past holiday season, many of our service centers and administrative offices joined together to adopt families in need of support through local schools and shelters in nearby communities. Pooling our resources for a worthy cause was a great way to get to know each other better, to lift each other up through volunteering and to make an impact in our local communities. We truly have a service-oriented spirit at XPO, and it’s a spirit that resonates with me very much outside of work, as well.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
XPO’s Diana Brown On 5 Ways To Create a Wow! Customer Experience was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.