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Interview with Stephanie Thum

by | May 25, 2021 | Interviews,

Stephanie Thum

Stephanie Thum

Founding Principal at Practical CX

Key Topics:Customer Experience, Leadership, Technology
Location:Washington, D.C Area

Long-time practitioner, consultant, and advocate for customer experience in B2B and government. Multimedia content creator. Creator and host of the Mitel Minute. Past: Creator and host of Pegasystems' Countdown to PegaWorld, host of SAP #CXUnplugged and #CXUnplugged Talks, digital correspondent at SAP's global events like Sapphire and CXLive, and regular CX guest on SAP's Catalyst programs for small and midsized companies.

My CX roots are in the B2B world, but many people know me as one of the U.S. federal government's first agency-level CX leaders. I still blog, speak, and am frequently quoted in the press for government customer experience topics. My background is in broadcasting, corporate communication, marketing, and business development. I wrote the January 2021 book: Dictionary of U.S. Federal Government Customer Experience Terms, Phrases, and Acronyms: A Guide for Practitioners and Consultants, available on Amazon!

How did you get to become an expert in your key topics?

I came up in customer experience and leadership through the B2B professional services world. I then became one of the U.S. federal government’s first agency-level customer experience leaders during the Obama administration. During this time I also advised the president’s multi-agency task force on customer experience.

I then went on to help build the global customer experience professional community and Certified Customer Experience Professional certification testing process, working as part of the staff of the Customer Experience Professionals Association.

I also served for a time as the Chief Advisor for Federal Customer Experience at Qualtrics, where I also worked with governments around the world on customer experience practices and principles.I currently have my own consulting firm. I have written, spoken, and coached extensively on CX across multiple industries. I have a background and undergraduate degree in broadcasting and a master’s degree in corporate communication. I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. in global leadership studies.

What sub-topics are you most passionate about?

For years I’ve been talking about pushing boundaries in the field and practice of customer experience as a business discipline. The practices and principles can be applied to various corners of every business: business and operational risk, procurement, marketing, privacy, and policy creation. Ethics and law now also touch the discipline. I wrote an e-book about it a few years ago, available on Amazon.

Other subtopics of interest: Inclusion, technology, the digital divide, leadership, and administrative red tape as a CX leadership problem in government. Many people know me to be most passionate about customer experience in government. Earlier this year I published a book on the customer experience terms, phrases, acronyms, laws, policies, and other driving forces in play that consultants need to understand as they approach the U.S. federal government to help in doing this work. The book is available on Amazon.

Who influences you within these topics?

There are some amazing consultants, practitioners, and researchers out there! The people who influence me the most within CX are the practitioners who are actually in the CX leader’s job now, or have been in the job in the past. Their voices give context to, and are a reality check on, everything shared by consultants, researchers, and academics.

I do have some favourite researchers in the realms of administrative red tape in government: Pamela Herd, Don Moynihan, Sanjay Pandey, Erin Borry, Wesley Kaufmann, Mary K. Feeney, and Herbert Kaufman, for example. I believe their work will be a fantastic foundation to really getting to what, exactly, stands in the way of CX excellence in the U.S. federal government and beyond.

What challenges are brands facing in this space?

CX isn’t something you buy and bolt on to your business. You bake it in. The biggest challenges are within the realms of digital transformation and CX. There’s a risk of investing in technology to automate customer processes if you haven’t streamlined the process behind the scenes. There’s a risk of not including customer experience practitioners and consultants in your digital transformation work. There are also the behind-the-scenes challenges that touch CX that can no longer be pushed to the side, such as employee engagement and experience.

What do you think the future holds in this space?

We all stand on the shoulders of people who came before us, and we have years of work ahead of us in this space. We will continue to see the practices and principles of CX as a business discipline be used in other areas of the business, not just sales and marketing. That’s exciting for the practice of CX as a business discipline, for the researchers who help us test and validate what we think matters, and it’s exciting for the tech world that supports and enables great CX.

What brands are leading the way in this space?

There are so many brands doing really amazing things with tech and CX right now. A few examples come to mind: Wells Fargo and how they use AI tools to lean into conversations with customers to personalise service and create experiences that lead to great outcomes for the customer. The state of Vermont regulatory license group for how they took a red tape heavy paper based process and made it completely digital, vastly improving experiences for customers and employees of government. Wal-Mart for how they pivoted at the onset of COVID to an easy, app-based curb-side pickup service for customers that is contactless, seamless, and simple.

If a brand wanted to work with you, which activities would you be most interested in collaborating on?

Co-creating videos, audio content, research, and blog content that matters to the global customer and employee experience, as well as the leadership, and technology communities, whilst also furthering your company’s brand.

What are your passions outside of work?

Most of my free time goes to my Ph.D. studies at the moment. Outside of that, I enjoy social dance, particularly Latin styles like Salsa and Bachata. I also enjoy working on lawn and garden projects at home.

What would be the best way for a brand to contact you?