Mike Kendall has driven transformation for Intuit, Capital One, Citigroup, and Humana. As CX Lead for Moves The Needle, Mike brings more than twenty-five years of experience to every project. We recently sat down with him to find out how he guides organizations toward better customer engagement. 

MTN Blog (MTN): You have worked with some of the top loyalty-driven companies, from financial services to health insurance. What are the most common challenges you’ve found in transforming the customer experience? 

Mike Kendall (MK): I typically see three major challenges to successful transformation: Clarity, Ownership, and Speed. Having a well-articulated customer-centered vision of the future and a strategy aligned with that vision is foundational to inspire the right actions. 

Ensuring single-point ownership of end-to-end experiences helps cut through silos and fosters better alignment of resource allocation, cooperation, and seamless value delivery. Lastly, succeeding in the customer-empowered economy requires creating methods and mindsets that significantly accelerate teams’ ability to gain deep customer empathy, de-risk assumptions by solution experimenting with customers, and letting the evidence from these experiments drive decision making.

MTN: It is generally accepted that each industry has its own culture and, with this culture, a unique set of challenges. Do you think that this is a fair assumption, or is it more helpful to approach transformation from the perspective of a particular organization? 

MK: Certainly, regulatory environments, the pace of competition, and other factors pose unique challenges to transformation. Resolve, creativity, and constancy of purpose enable overcoming many of these barriers. In leading successful transformations in a variety of industries, I have found that several key methods and mindsets remain the same: Assume we are wrong (test with customers), Embrace Ambiguity, Begin with the customer’s voice, not our own, Trust vs. control, Strive for awesome, Work in small, cross functional teams, experiment rapidly with customers, and Let the evidence inform our decisions.

MTN: What role does leadership play in your practice? Or, again, does engagement depend on the culture of the particular organization?

MK: Progress can be made by teams close to the customer. Successful large-scale transformations, however, must involve new behaviors and approaches from leaders. Most leaders are skilled at driving execution and making decisions when the variables are known. A different set of leadership behaviors is needed when the variables are unknown. “Search” teams need leaders that don’t immediately ask for ROI, fixed delivery dates, and make suggestions based on a leader’s beliefs. Rather, they need coaching, mentoring, and guidance to shepherd their work from unknown to known along with support to remove barriers that prevent progress and velocity.

MTN: You have talked—and written—a great deal about understanding customer pain as essential to design thinking. For companies who have applied this practice but still seem to be coming up short, what guidance can you offer? 

MK: Companies that are winning in the customer-empowered economy are excellent at three critical disciplines: Customer Centered Design, Delivery, and Culture. Many companies, especially those founded before the digital revolution, struggle to master all three. To dominate and industry it only took excellence in one or maybe two, but to thrive now, all three disciplines are required. I recommend conducting an honest assessment to understand where gaps exist and build excellence in customer-centered design, delivery, and culture.

MTN: The ideal of digital transformation is fostering a culture of continuous innovation. How does one strike a balance between organizational fluidity and the fixed limitations of product, like sourcing and supply chain?

MK: I’m not sure most companies and industries can declare victory on digital transformation yet or honestly claim it is driving continuous innovation. I see a good amount of activity around digital but not necessarily in service to solving for well-understood customer problems or seamless end to end experiences. To overcome this, leaders need to reinforce behavior that leads designers to fall in love with their customers’ problems first, rather than falling in love with their solutions.  

MTN: For companies interested in customer-driven design and innovation, where do they start? And when is the right time to partner with a transformation partner to guide the process?

MK: Having led several large-scale transformations from the inside and now helping enterprises from the outside, I see great value in an external set of eyes and unique point of view. A good starting place for most companies is a thorough and objective assessment that spotlights where they are strong and where there are gaps in customer-centricity—specifically around design, delivery, and culture. 

This baseline helps galvanize shared vision among leaders to build a customer-centered strategy that creates real value for customers and inspires enthusiasm for change in the workforce. For companies further down the path, a learn-by-doing approach aimed at building sustainable mechanisms and capabilities to rapidly validate and accelerate ideas that lead to customer value can yield substantial gains. Building in a new way of working through methods and mindsets can take the form of bootcamps, accelerators, coach development, and leader development, all tailored around the unique needs of the organization.

Have questions for Mike Kendall? Email him, or get in touch via the MTN About page.