We are excited to launch the CXperts Podcast! CXperts is a video-podcast hosted by our Chief Customer Officer Ramon Icasiano, who is a former CX leader at Earnin, Netflix, Zynga, and Verizon. In each episode Ramon dives into hot topics around customer experience with a guest industry thought leader.
This week’s episode: Ramon meets with Jim Farnsworth to discuss how customer experience roles are evolving. They dive into the skill sets needed for CX teams to be successful in the future.
Jim has 20+years of experience in innovation, service, and leadership. Jim was a senior executive with SYKES, one of the world’s leading business process outsourcing (BPO) companies, and is now an advisor and business development partner for Dallas Venture Capital.
Ramon Icasiano 0:06 Welcome to our podcast today we have Jim Farnsworth according to his LinkedIn profile, which I totally agree with, he describes himself as a customer experience zealot. So in my, in my mind that is someone who is just passionate, uncompromising around kind of what he loves to do. And in terms of what he's done.
Recently, Executive Vice President at Sykes, President and Chief Executive Officer at Conduit Global, EVP and Managing Director at Teleperformance, founded a company called virtualwirks, was a Senior Vice President at TTech, Chief Operating Officer at Alpine Access. Wow, what an amazing journey you've been on Jim. Anything in that journey that sticks out that you might want to share with folks that may not understand how hard it was to kind of achieve what you've done?
Jim Farnsworth 0:52 Well, Ramon, first of all, thank you for the compliments and thank you for having me as part of the podcast, it's really a pleasure to be here. And you and I have known each other a long time. So it's always good to spend any amount of time I can spend with you. So I appreciate it.
You know, I've been fortunate throughout my career I've done I think I got into the whole customer experience, contact centers, outsourcing, like most people, you don't plan to go into it. You know, in the United States, at least, we don't know, first, you don't major in, you know, outsourcing or contact centers. But, you know, there are places in the world that now do particularly in the Philippines and some of the some of the centers of excellence that do it. But I think one of the things that's helped me throughout, and it goes back to where you and I first met, when I started at MCI Communications was, you know, if you find really good people, and you find ways to plant seeds, so that their tree can grow. That's the key to it, it really is. And, you know, there were people in my career Early, who planted seeds for me. And as my tree grew, you know, some of them sat in the shade, and some of them didn't, you know, I think, as you get further along in the career, it's sort of, it's our responsibility to kind of plant trees, under whose shade we won't sit, because the, you know, the generation that comes behind us is going to do it.
But I think the one continuum throughout my career has been people. And I think that's what we were hoping to talk about a little bit today is just how dynamic the customer experience world is and how much the world has changed. And even though you hear everybody talking about machines, and AI, and bots, and artificial, this and automated that you still have people at the heart of it. And what's fascinating right now is watching the customer experience landscape, whether that's through call centers, whether that's through E-commerce, whether that's through direct to consumer face to face, I mean, we're watching a real shift in the way the world works right now. And you're moving from a world where it was all people based to one that is more, you know, human and machine working in tandem. And so customer experiences become a team sport.
Ramon Icasiano 3:10 Between machine and human, it's really fascinating to watch. Interestingly, like, I don't remember the problems you and I were solving back in the day, but I do remember the people we work with, right, and the companies in terms of the products, the customers we were serving, what really resonates with me is who I worked with how I felt about that.
And it's you know, looking at your journey, it seems like it's cliche, but it's, the more you win, the easier it is to win, right. And I think as leaders, we have that responsibility to make sure people around us are winning, because it helps them kind of gain that confidence, that kind of experience that, you know, if I look back at my early days, if I wasn't successful, or didn't see kind of the challenges, I don't know if I'd still be in this space. But luckily, I met people like you and other folks early on that gave me a sense of taste of winning and, and helping people, helping customers, helping companies really has kind of extended my journey as well. So, yeah, I feel really lucky about that. But you know, how do we as leaders now the responsibility of that, to pass it on? Right? There's going to be folks that are smarter, way more digital than us. And that meshing between, like you said, digital and analog is going to be seamless. And now with everything being virtual, I love that notion of it being a team sport.
Can you do have kind of more concepts around helping people understand how to balance those two? Yeah, I think, you know, piggyback on something you just said, which is, you know, you talked about all the great people you work with, but what you're saying is you didn't do it alone, right?
Jim Farnsworth 5:00 You did it as part of a team, whether, you know, the business model was team oriented or not, you know, just like sports, right? You know, golfers don't play against other golfers typically they play against the golf course. But it's a team sport, when it becomes things like the Ryder Cup or the President's cup, you know, anything like that, and they play a completely different golf game when they're playing as a team. And I think that's true with customer experience.
It used to be, I mean, the whole landscape change has changed a lot over the last particularly five years, or 10. You know, it used to be if I needed something from a company, I'd find the number, I'd call the number, I talked to the agent, the agent and take care of it. For me whether it was something simple, like my bank balance, or whether it was something more complex, like solving a delivery problem.
Now, when you think about it, by the time they get to a person, it's generally an escalation. And you know, those of us in the business used to call an escalation a bad thing. And I guess some people probably do, but you know, when you want to solve a problem, or resolve an issue, today, you start with a machine, you start with Google, or you start on their app, or you start with their website, you know, you might chat with them for a while, you might try and do self service application. And ultimately, though, if you have to get to a person, it's probably your third or fourth attempt to get your problem resolved. And you know, what, what I think most companies are finding right now is how do I integrate that seamlessly, so that by the time somebody gets to a human being if they need to, it's not seen as an escalation, it's seen as an outcome based interaction.
And, you know, it just goes back to what we were saying, if the Google Search can tie to the the application, and the self-service can tie to the communication, so that by the time if I am involving a human being in my situation, you know, ordering food, not just in call centers, again, you know, you think about places that you know, a Starbucks or a bird call here in Denver has gone all automated, you know, McDonald's is going automated, but at some point, you're going to have an interaction with a human. So as long as those two things come together, and you know, it becomes a lot more seamless and user friendly. You know, it is a team sport. And it's just fascinating to watch.
And it's made, it's made the job of human beings, both easier from the standpoint of getting all of the basics kind of out of the way. But it certainly makes the responsibility of customer experience, whether it's phone, web, face to face a little more challenging, because you're not just resolving here, it's just moving a transaction anymore, you're actually solving a problem, you're diagnosing a need, you're having a conversation. And, you know, and that requires both human and machine teamwork. But it also requires a much better teamwork within the organization as well, to make sure that the customer feels that everybody is on their side, rather than just you know them against the company.
Ramon Icasiano 7:50 Right. That's amazing. Because I think about myself as a consumer, how much the digital world sets my expectations, I look at the app reviews, I look at the complaints, right? And I'm making buying decisions on other people's feedback,
Which is great. I mean, I think, how can 5000 people at a 4.7 star rated product be wrong, right? So that helps me but it also makes me like your point around what's what passes through that whole flow, ultimately going to a live person, that person is really going to have to understand a lot more ambiguity, because it's more of an escalation type thing. It may not be because that it's a knowledge base, it's like in an FAQ or anything that they have.
And so do you think the type of person who will be successful in the future in CX is really someone who's creative, maybe you can think outside the box really empathize with what the customers feeling? Because everything is so digital people, like you said, Now, it's like, here's your last chance to help me. So there's a lot at stake there. And that puts the frontline person really kind of in charge of what's going to happen next for a brand.
Jim Farnsworth 9:06 You know, you are 100% correct. I mean if you go back and again, I keep making reference to contact centers, because that's where you and I spent a lot of our career but, you know, we used to find what we call reps, right? Use the word rep. And they were a representative who would take care of whatever you were asking in generally, it was very, it was relatively easy. And I want to say very exam, it's relatively easy. So what's my balance? I was charged twice for something, you know, can you process this for me? It relatively easy things that now machines do so much? Right? And so the skill set that we needed for that was you listen, well, you have a nice demeanor, you've got good typing skills, you know, in or something. It was a relatively entry level job with progression, of course that went through it.
You think about it now, though, the by the time you get to a representative, right, which we now call associates, or we call advocates or what have you, ambassadors, you know, it's a big, it's a much different skill set, because you're not just saying, Oh, let me look up your balance for you. You're saying, oh, you have a complex problem you need to solve, or you have a question about that product with the 5000 reviews. Let me help you understand that product better, and let me help you know more about it. But see, that requires selling skills, or it requires diagnostic skills, it requires probing to get to the right issue, requires a much greater degree of patience and empathy and advocacy, you know, it is a bigger job now. And so you know, outsourcers are going to be challenged not only by the wage pressures, but also by the pressures that come from how do I get to that type of a worker, as opposed to just somebody who's going to move a transaction from A to B. And that's true, whether it's, again, Contact Center, web center, or you know, shopping center, and even when you go into a store, and they say, Can I help you? You know, it's not just where, you know, where are the blue shirts, it's, uh, you know, I need this, I need this type of fit, or I need this type of the size, or I'm trying to solve this type of lifestyle problem to different person. And that's why it's become hard to find them in this economy.
Ramon Icasiano 11:41 Yeah, I'm reading more about that. And on that point, I look at the continuum of CX being an art and a science, and the skills required around EQ and IQ, as well. What does that mean to leadership? If I'm a lead, I'm a manager working in a virtual environment. Now, I've got high demand kind of issues coming from customers with their products, I've got health-minded folks who are really looking for a balance meaningful work as a leader. Like where am I on that continuum? Or is it you know, dynamic, you have to be good at everything. Now, what kind of pressure is out there? You think?
Jim Farnsworth 12:16 I don't even know if it's a time pressure as much as it's a different EQ to use your term, the term that you just referred to, you know, leaders are the people that make positive things happen. And, you know, we often confuse leaders, with managers. Particularly at Team levels, you know, foreman, or just think of it think of the names we use historically, foreman, supervisor, supervisor, yeah, kind of thing, right. And so, you know, people want to be supervised, they want to be led.
And if you're going to have a higher skill, you're going to need to have more trust from your leadership, you're going to need to have more risk taking from your leadership, especially in a virtual environment, where they can't step over your shoulder. So those are the EQ sides.
What's going to happen, though, over time, is we're going to have to have much more technology enablement within the supervisory ranks, you know, where you've got the ability to process multiple data points about human behavior, human performance, you know, workforce measurement, and how do I, how do I use, you know, technology or applications to be a smarter leader, right, without having to micromanage everything people do. And, you know, again, the customer experience is becoming more outcome based and transaction based and leadership love, that's going to have to become more outcome based as well. And, you know, it's always nice for those of us that are in senior positions to say, you know, I'm not held accountable to every inch of my day I'm held accountable for what do I accomplish, and that's what I think we're going to have to push down as leaders to all levels of the organization.
Ramon Icasiano 13:56
That's awesome. You know, on that thread, but I want to kind of change the theme a little bit next with this question. You know, there's gonna be a lot of people who are in moving up in the ranks, and they're gonna look at you, and they're gonna say, “Wow, what an amazing kind of journey.” What type of advice do you have for someone who's now saying, Okay, I love this industry, I'm making an impact. I think I can be good at it. You know, I've got the potential to be really impactful to a bunch of people.
What's your advice to them in terms of trying to just elevate their career in this field?
Jim Farnsworth 14:38
Um, never assume that what is important to you is equally as important to the people, that you work with the people and create an environment where you can understand the differences in people's viewpoints, understand what their needs are. Be more open minded about the alternatives to the traditional way of doing things.
It's fun to kind of look back, Ramon, over my time in business and say, some of those things that, you know, a couple decades ago, I would put my foot down and said, “Never, never, never.” And today I do. You know, and it's amazing how we evolve with the times, and, you know, if you're true to, to your principles, and, you know, you're, you're willing to, to be open minded, but at the same time decisive.
I think over time, you know, it works, it's a formula that works, you get your team to trust you, while not running over you, you get your team to understand you, and communicate with you without becoming a dictator. You know, those are, we often, I think, assume that everybody thinks the same way we do, or, you know, what's important to me is equally as important to you, and it's not. So balance, you got to balance that at all levels.
It's not just again, not just the people that report to you, or work in your role up in your organization, the people you roll up to and the people beside you, you know, I think I've, I've been fortunate to not be in ugly political environments very much in my career, there have been some, but, you know, there's, I've been fortunate to not have them and most successful organizations are those that, you know, listen, collaborate and make a decision and move forward. You know, even in the face of opposition sometimes. Yeah, that's so true. I think also to terms of people, see about their leaders through social media, LinkedIn, there's just a lot more transparency. And so when someone is deciding to work for a company, they have a lot more knowledge around kind of what the ethos of that company is, if they have a new lead or a manager, they have a greater understanding. So I think this whole notion of authenticity, being transparent, in throughout your entire kind of person.
Ramon Icasiano 17:07
I remember, you know, early on in my career, that there could be leaders that were very successful at work, but really didn't have challenges at home. Right. It's like, now that authenticity is 100%. It's got to be all in because everyone kind of expects that.
What do you think, in terms of how quickly things will change over the next few years? Are things accelerating for folks and as a leader? How do I remain agile and nimble and kind of, you know, ready for those changes? I don't know. It seems like things are accelerated. I know COVID has made us do things that were probably going to happen 10 years from now and in accelerated and over the two in a shorter two year period.
Jim Farnsworth 17:55
Yeah, it's we've made the change doesn't mean we've made the transition. Yeah, tthat's exactly the right way to put it. I don't I don't know that we've made a transition yet. It's, you know, it's, it's fascinating. It's almost like everything old is new.
Again, I was reading the article this morning about about the the unemployment figures, and you know, the number of jobs created in the month of October, and, you know, half a million jobs created, but there's still over 100 million people not working at all, if they've exited the labor force, right. And the labor participant, the labor force participation rate is 61%, which is the lowest since the early 70s. And you go back and you read why, and it's, well, people are choosing to stay home and take care of children, partly because of COVID people are deciding that they would rather work part time at home or have something on the side. You know, it's almost like those trends that were occurring that are occurring.
Now go back to the 70s, where, you know, you didn't have as many to career households. I'm not prepared to say that's permanent, I still think people are making decisions based on immediate factors rather than a long term societal trend. I do think the whole freedom mental of working from home, working remotely, working anywhere, I think it's ignited a passion in people that, you know, I started in the whole work at home space back in 2004. And, you know, have been preaching it for years. And in the face of skepticism, you know, kind of what I say those notions of we will never go all virtual. And then the pandemic forced us to, and not only did it release sort of business, it opened the minds of business people but it really it released that passion in people to say I have, I can have more control over how I work and still be successful and still contribute. And, you know, I think that trend is going to be one very fascinating to watch. And it goes back to what you and I were saying a few minutes ago about leadership, it's you're gonna have to trust the people that work for you a lot more than you ever have in the past. Even the best leaders who are trustful have to open their mind a little more to say, How can I motivate this team? How can I lead this team? When I'm not face to face with them all the time or when they're choosing to have more flexibility in their work life. And that's a challenge.
You know, that notion of, again, it goes back to manager versus leader, that I think the hardest thing, particularly for new leaders and young leaders to learn is the moment you begin leading other people, moment you begin having people report to you, that your success is no longer about what you do. It's about what you are able to do with that team.
And that's hard for people because everybody wants to sit back and say, I'm the best manager or I want to do this or look at what I did. And it's really important to understand that yes, you did it, but you did it because you were able to accomplish something as part of a greater whole, that's going to be the leadership shift. I think that's going to be the most challenging in the next couple of years. You know, the pandemic won't last forever, but some of the lifestyle changes as well. And it's under watch. It's amazing.
Ramon Icasiano 21:01
Well, Jim, thank you. You know, you have so much to offer this industry. And, you know, in terms of your leadership and experience and skills, if we could look ahead, maybe a year or two, what's, where's your head out? What kind of impact or where do you think you might be looking at in terms of making an impact?
Jim Farnsworth 21:25
It's back and forth on that. You know, it's fun to be at this point in my career. And I think I go back to what I said a little while ago, and people who know me, well hear me say it a lot, probably get sick of hearing it. And that's the whole, I want to be able to say that I did plant trees. That who shade I'm not going to sit in because it still has to develop and long after I'm gone. And so that's what I hoped for. I hope that you know, there's people I look at today and say they were mentors to me, and I hope that there are people that I have worked with along the way that can say the same. I'd like to believe that. I do believe it, because some have told me but you know, I my hope I guess is there's somebody out there who I didn't know I was mentoring, who can come back and say I learned something from you. Because there's lots of people to this day, who I look at and say I don't think you ever knew you were a mentor to me would be more formal or informal. And that's what I hope for.
Ramon Icasiano 22:19
Yeah, that's amazing. And it's a testament to kind of how kind of I've followed your career and now wanting to do this podcast with you.
Really, you've planted a tree for me. So thank you.
Also, we're going to include Jim's LinkedIn profile, if you want to go ahead and reach out to him directly with any questions at the end of this podcast. But again, thank you for joining us on our first CX experts podcast. Thank you, Jim. Thank you.
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