Make the most of the customer data you already have with David Gardner

Our guest for today's episode is David Gardner. David is a senior CX & Insights leader committed to driving meaningful change across organizations by focusing on uncovering actionable customer insights. He is currently Vice President of Research & Insights at Talkdesk, a San Francisco based B2B technology company which is making waves in the cloud-based contact centre space. Talkdesk helps organizations around the world create better customer experiences.

We're excited to have David on the show to share his insights and unique perspective on doing more with the data you already have.


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Ryan Stuart:

Welcome to Insightful Leaders. I'm your host, Ryan Stuart. And this is a show where I interview proven leaders in customer insights and customer experience who share their stories, strategies, and insights to drive meaningful change at your organization. Our guest for today's episode is David Gardner. David is a senior CX and insights leader, committed to driving meaningful change across organizations by focusing on uncovering actionable customer insights. He's currently vice president of research and insights at Talkdesk, a San Francisco based B2B technology company, which is making ways in the cloud-based contact center space. We're excited to have David on the show to share his insights unique perspective when doing more with the data you already have. Welcome David.

David Gardner:

Nice to be here, Ryan.

Ryan Stuart:

I thought a good place to start off today might be around your thoughts on the collection of customer feedback data. And I have a hunch based on what I've seen out there in the real world that much of the attention around customer feedback at the moment is paid to the collection side of customer feedback, where we are collecting the feedback, how it's structured, who we're surveying, how frequently, and what software platforms we're using to do that collection. Plus a whole bunch of other collection-related issues. In your view, how can large organizations become more efficient with the customer data that they already have?

David Gardner:

That is a great question. And it's one that I've been asked by a couple of colleagues and other folks in the industry as well. And Ryan, it really comes down to, I think, understanding if you already have data in house, you should be maximizing it as much as possible. So the way that I like to think of things is, if in my world that Talkdesk, if I have an executive come and say, "Hey, do we have information related to this? Or can we do a survey or talk to some executives about this topic?" The first thing I always ask is "What are you trying to achieve? And is this something we already have available to us?" So a good example is, like many other organizations, we run an NPS program, we run an in-app NPS program and we also run a quarterly NPS program with some of our decision makers.

David Gardner:

And I always look at these benchmark programs like NPS, or if you have a CSAT program and go back and say, "Do we have inklings of data that already exists there that can help answer this question you're looking to get answered." Is this something that we can look back on, some of those verbatims or get some guidance on some of the scores, whether it's from past waves, current wave, that gives you some sense of what you're trying to address.

David Gardner:

So I think looking at your benchmark programs is always something that you should consider. It shouldn't always be just a score that happened and then you've moved to the next quarter or you move to the next year. It should be, is there some insight in there that you can continue to use? And I always say, you should be leveraging sort of you're... If you have a central insights team or if you have a central BI team, leverage them to ask if you have some of that data in house or find out ways, if you have access to that on your own, perhaps to gather that data and be able to pull it out yourselves, because so much of the time you have data just sitting there, that's not being used and data is just data, unless it's being used.

David Gardner:

So I think that is important. And the other thing I have started doing myself and I think is a huge goal of mine is, if you are in an organization that sells anything, oftentimes you have an RFP process where there you're receiving RFP, perhaps through your sales organization. Go look at those RFPs. That is a gold mine of data to really help reveal where market appetite might be, where it's heading and where you may have gaps in your offer, because I think that ended up itself can be an insight that's super valuable.

Ryan Stuart:

Interesting. And have you had much success or have you seen much success on trying to tap into those data sources that organizations might already have outside of the survey world? The reason why I ask is, the explosion of digital last decade or two, all of a sudden there's big players in the support center space. Companies like Zendesk and others, their chat bots are becoming a thing that companies are relying a lot on social media listening technology, even depending on the type of organization that you are, you might have some complaints started rolling into the organization. Have you seen much success when trying to answer a fundamental business question or trying to arrive at a particular insight in order to, to make better decisions tapping into those sources of data other than just the Net Promoter Score or the survey style data?

David Gardner:

Oh, absolutely. And a lot of that comes down to, if you are collecting that type of information, whether it is part of a traditional NPS survey or CSAT, or if you have conversations, for example, sometimes we will have conversations with customers or whatnot, and if it's a recording of that conversation and we start to see a sentiment analysis coming through, we'll be able to use that to help drive direction of how we tackle that particular customer's issue moving forward. And certainly with all of the open and rich data we get as part of our surveys that are ongoing. They're not always point in time. We use that data to really understand, what is the direction we need to pivot here with either this type of account, whether it's an enterprise account or whether it's very, very specific to an industry.

David Gardner:

So, absolutely I think leaning into kind of that unstructured data is always incredibly valuable, because it is often sort of what I call the goldmine of... That's where really all of the action happens, because a lot of the times the numbers will only tell you kind of guidance and you really have to go to that verbatim from a customer or that verbatim from the market to really tell the true story.

Ryan Stuart:

And for insights teams to do this effectively. I can imagine a world where the support center is quiet, is the owner of the support center software, right? And maybe the complaints also come into the support center. There's a degree of ownership over that data by that business unit. Is there a level of kind of executive sponsorship or some way that organization needs to be orientated to kind of give that insights team permission to access that data or collected efficiently, so they can use it in their synthesis of the insights?

David Gardner:

Well, it's interesting that you say that because that's actually in a lot of the research we've done globally with executives and CX professionals, we're hearing the demands for leveraging contact centers as a place of data and intelligence to service the entire business. So I think it is sort of an interesting moment in the time where having the ability to take advantage of all of the incoming conversations, whether they are through voice, whether through digital being able to leverage all of that insight and put it back up to the business is something in demand. But I think a lot of organizations are still trying to figure out how that happens because historically contact centers have sort of been an offshoot. They've been perceived as being sort of the service oriented afterthought. That's how you tackle customer service and support, but it hasn't been really considered that the true capability of it being a data intelligence hub to the rest of the business.

David Gardner:

So I think there is really is an opportunity for that. And it's about how can you really continue to tell that story and Talkdesk, we really believe that this is something that executives need to be aware of. And that's the message we continue to tell in market is that your contact center can be re-imagined and really can be elevated to be a true data center. And if you can get that executive buy-in, particularly with those who own things like customer experience or customer support or customer success, they'll start to recognize the value and it can actually be driven up through the organization if you can really truly prove the ROI with it.

Ryan Stuart:

And this idea of, I'm going to use the word weaponizing the support center to actually make it a center for customer intelligence and a driver for understanding and change of customer experience. I myself have seen a trend of... I almost call it wave one and wave two of customer experience, where customer experience emerged in the last decade or so as a really important competitive dimension, especially for digital businesses, right? There's all the statistics out there from organizations like that say in 2019, over 90% of businesses think that they compete mostly on customer experience alone. And the ways that people had tried to address that as a competitive dimension, I saw quite a bit. And I think, there was a famous Wall Street Journal article about Net Promoter Score that touched on this, which is the customer experience was delegated somewhat to the staff in organizations that actually touch the customer, of which the support agents and the people working in the support center would be chief in that area, right?

Ryan Stuart:

We'd seen at that customer experience as a responsibility of those people that actually talk to and deal with the customer. But more recently, those organizations that really are winning in customer experience have changed their thinking to make customer experience an entire organization problem, to establish these insight teams that have the responsibility of understanding the experience across all of the different touch points, support center, being chief amongst them, and getting those insights into the hands of leaders. Because realistically, when people have bad experiences with a digital business, it's very rarely that bad experience is due to the performances of someone in the support center. It's much more common than that bad experience is driven by a high friction part of the journey that I've been subjected to, that the person has support center doesn't control, right? Personal support center is trying to treat the symptoms, but they can't treat the underlying cause.

Ryan Stuart:

Leadership needs to be the ones that have visibility of that poor customer experience, who can make the changes to reduce that friction, the poor person, the support center, or that standing in the store, dealing with the customer can only do so much to try and improve that customer experience. So have you seen, is my view then match up your own view of the first wave of customer experience? Really, so people delegating customer experience to the roles in the organization that were dealing directly with the customer. And there's now a new wave emerging where people are understanding the CX is organizational-wide, and they need to understand the journey across all the data touch points in order to maximize their return and really win in the customer experience space?

David Gardner:

Saying that you say it that way. And I've two thoughts on this. First and foremost is, we did some global research a couple months back and we asked CX professionals and decision-makers in the space, "Who owns customer experience in your organization?" And it came back that a lot of people really truly believe that it was owned at that C-level because now to everything that you just said, Ryan, is the expectation is you can truly differentiate on customer experience, but it has to be driven from the top down. There has to be a fundamental belief that you are only as good as your customer's last best experience. So in order to do that, you have to prioritize how you're going to deliver customer experience, seamless experience that is across all parts of the journey, as you said.

David Gardner:

And really the expectation is growing from customers that they really will truly have a seamless experience, no matter which way they decide to interact with your brand. And if you have a broken experience, even though that support person who is working so tirelessly to deliver great customer experience, if they deliver something and then someone else on a different channel says something else that creates a friction, creates that frustration and that customer, they have a bad experience, they are so much more likely to not go back to that brand versus if they had that seamless experience. So absolutely, I totally agree with your idea of V1 and V2.

Ryan Stuart:

If you don't mind, let's get back to the operational side of things for a minute. In your experience, what are some of the common pitfalls companies should be aware of when collecting large volumes of customer feedback?

David Gardner:

No, I think there could be a number of different pitfalls. My biggest pitfall that I've seen over time, and again, is the idea that always assuming sort of more is always better. More data is better, more frequent data is better. The reality is, I've seen it lead to analysis paralysis more so than I've seen it deliver better insights or better actionable insights to a business.

David Gardner:

I think the idea that data expires tomorrow or a week from now is not necessarily true. I think it's about how you use your data and how you reference your data. You can be very smart with how you use data, even if it's a couple of months old or a couple quarters old. So I think being really thoughtful about what you're trying to achieve and the questions you have to ask, and the knowledge you're trying to get will be beneficial, so that you can then figure out what is the actual amount of customer data we need here to make a decision, or what is the amount of customer data we need to collect period.

David Gardner:

So if you are doing survey based research, for example, do you need to ask 50 questions? Do you really only need five questions? And therefore, you can be thoughtful and save time and enter the questions you need to answer without frustrating or creating friction for your customers or for the market. At the same time, if you're using customer data that you already have in house. Let's say, it's product usage data, again do you really need to slice and dice at 26 ways from Tuesday? Or do you have the ability to look at three dimensions? And that's all you need to come up with a key headline of what you need to do next.

Ryan Stuart:

Could that be rephrased as thinking about how you can be more efficient with the data that you have?

David Gardner:

A hundred percent. I think that is ultimately what you're trying to always do is, be more efficient with the data you have always start with, what is the outcome you're looking to achieve and then work backwards to figure out how can you get there in the most efficient and streamlined way to answer your question.

David Gardner:

My philosophy and the way that I work with my team and the way that I work with my colleagues is, let me address this question for you. And if you have additional followups, we can dive into that. But I would rather work on getting something to you faster, and that will answer your specific question than worrying about cutting it and slicing it all these different ways. When at the end of the day, all you needed is one data point.

Ryan Stuart:

Got it. I heard you a minute or two ago mentioned actionable insight. I'm going to put you on the spot for a second here. How would you describe an actionable insight?

David Gardner:

That's a good question. I would probably say it's the idea that it's an insight that provides sort of enough context to fuel a data driven decision. So in my mind, if I was to break it apart or simplify it, it's the idea of there's the what, the so what, and then now what. And the actionable insight is the now what part. So it's the idea of...

David Gardner:

I was looking at the statistic earlier, so I know for truest, it said 43% of CX professionals say the cost of tools is a barrier to AI implementation. Okay. So, that was a statistic we've gathered as part of research. So to me, the so what is, there is a cost concern. So we need to get ahead of this as an organization like Talkdesk by showcasing that the ROI that comes from the investment versus emphasizing, or getting people hung up on the idea of the initial, upfront investment. So the now what to me is, we need to revisit our focus and messaging to make sure we highlight that ROI. So that, that is something that we get well ahead of before that concerns had been raised. So to me, it's the now what versus kind of the what or the so what.

Ryan Stuart:

That's super interesting. So your role now, VP of Research and Insights, I want to ask you a question regarding organizational structure and I imagine this question, doesn't have one true answer. I imagine this is the answer to the question is subjective. So I'm keen to hear what your thoughts are.

Ryan Stuart:

I've seen two models of insights teams and organizations. One is a centralized insights function where the team sits together. It's almost treated as a individual business unit. That question is coming through the front door and answers come out the other side. And there's some ongoing reporting that the insights function does to the leadership of the business in order to help them make better decisions.

Ryan Stuart:

I've also seen the second model where there is an insights function, but these people sit in individual business units that might sit in product, marketing, sales, whatever it is, they will do their analysis individually within that business unit and provide insights to the business unit, the management of that business unit. But they get together as a function and insights function almost like a guild, if you would like every now and again, to make sure that they're adhering to certain practices and sharing wins and best approaches. Do you have an opinion on which of those two is a better model or is there a third model that you've come across that you think works even better?

David Gardner:

I do have an opinion. I think the latter is a... Well, perhaps it's somewhere in between the two, but let me tell you a little bit about the structure of how we have it at Talkdesk and why I think it works well, which is we are a centralized research and insights function, but we have dedicated insights managers to different parts of the business. So for example, we have a dedicated industry insights manager on the team, and we have a dedicated product insights manager on the team.

David Gardner:

And the reason that we have these sort of dedicated focus areas. So that, Antonio, for example, who leads our industry insights, he can become a subject matter expert in speaking the language of our customers in financial services and understanding the nuances that exist in the industry versus our healthcare practice versus our retail practice. And then we have Margie who leads product, for example, and she's becoming a subject matter expert in the different types of product areas that we specialize in at Talkdesk in our contact center solutions software areas, so that she can really truly have the conversations with the executives, be able to be an expert when she's speaking on these topics. Because a lot of times we do external thought leadership work, and we want to make sure we've got individuals who are SMEs, but at the same time sitting together in one function, we are able to benefit from streamline operational efficiency and cross collaboration. So that we're learning from one another, so that we are a stronger team united, but that we have that sector specialty across the different business units.

Ryan Stuart:

Interesting. So kind of a middle ground there, which makes sense because there's pros and cons to both models. So trying to grab as many pros from each of the models as you can and work with the hybrid models definitely sounds like a good idea. It sounds like you're doing some really great stuff at Talkdesk. Can you give our audience some insight into how you are innovating and translating your voice to the customer and to actionable insights for your business?

David Gardner:

Well, absolutely. So, I mean, there's a number of different things that Talkdesk is now before. I mean, we are native context in our solution provider and we are really focused on everything from innovation to customer obsession, but I would say a couple of highlights of things we've done to really innovate in the market and where the voice of the customer has played a significant role is a couple of weeks back, we actually relaunched our brand and market to really, truly embrace the entity of Talkdesk, which is one focused on delivering customer experience in a better way. Everything from being international to speaking the language of our customers in key industries, we really are delivering a new brand to the market. And all of this was done in collaboration with voice of market and voice of customer feedback all throughout that.

David Gardner:

So we were certainly able to understand how we were perceived in the market, what kind of messaging people were looking to hear that resonates with different businesses. We were able to gather a lot of that research and really parlayed that into the development of this new brand that we launched, which was really, really fantastic. And similarly, we recently launched our workspace and our builder products are the customizable user interface and our tools to help build out for our builder audience. And all of this was done, all this product research was done with the voice of the customer and the voice of market.

David Gardner:

So everything we sort of bring to the market has been touched by research in some capacity or the voice of the customer in some capacity, even everything from Talkdesk research itself. So I joined Talkdesk back in August and I came here with a vision, how can we really make sure that we are making smarter decisions across the organization? And how can we also parlay that out to the market? And in having conversations with our Chief Marketing Officer, Kathie Johnson, we started doing some research and started really bringing some insightful things to the organization. And she had a great idea is, I want to make sure that our customers and our prospective customers are able to take advantage of the insights that we are also gleaning from.

David Gardner:

And that was the genesis of Talkdesk Research, which is a subset, a sub brand that we've created. And we are now developing external thought leadership reports that go out. We release them every other month, everything from the CX revolution in financial services to the future of AI in context center, these are thought-provoking, proprietary research-backed thought leadership reports that we are putting out there under the Talkdesk Research umbrella. And that really gives the market an opportunity to understand what we're seeing in the market, and what we're hearing from executives and CX and really kind of sets us apart. I think, in many ways, as a thought leader in the contact center space.

Ryan Stuart:

I had a quick look before we jumped on to this episode at Talkdesk, and it looks like they're just over 10 years old now. I want to ask you two questions in one. I realize you've only been at Talkdesk relatively recently, but is there any key learnings that you've acquired along the way, either that Talkdesk has acquired or you've acquired at Talkdesk? Or, that you've just acquired in your own professional career? So they're worth sharing in particular, anything that you think you would have done differently?

David Gardner:

That's a good question. I think one of the key learnings that I've learned along the way, and it's more a shout out to our, our CEO Tiago Paiva, but he's also the founder of Talkdesk. And when I joined, it was the idea of being able to build a research and insights function. And that really gave me a lot of excitement because I know how powerful it can be to the success of a business. But Tiago himself, he has always been a huge proponent of listening to the customers and it was so gratifying to join and understand someone who was already out there in the market as a CEO, talking to customers, learning from them and really blazing the trail of being able to take that in and really help make decisions based on that customer feedback. So for me, the key learning is I might've come in to really help build this function and really bring Talkdesk to the next level that we're we're marching forward with, but it really started at our CEO level.

David Gardner:

So having that ability to have someone believe in the idea of the voice of the customer, the voice of marketing at the very, very top is something that I think is a differentiator. And I'm just grateful that we have that. And again, Kathie Johnson, our CMO is a perfect example of that, because she was one who believed in this function as well to make it happen.

David Gardner:

And your second question of anything that I would have done differently, I think the answer is I probably would have liked to spend a little bit more time thinking through how we go to market with that Talkdesk Research brand. I think we have done a really great job, but I wish I could have done a bigger splash to make it much more of a differentiator upfront. We are out there and we're producing those reports and we are delivering it, but I wish I had that opportunity to make a bigger splash. But, I think, you know what? We're doing really, really well in that space. And I'm excited to see the continued evolution of those reports. So, that's what I think.

Ryan Stuart:

Amazing. David, thank you. That's been super insightful. It's been great to hear from someone that in the industry has been for a while on how to structure teams and some of the key challenges that they're going to come across and even get down to the operational level of what data we should be using and how we should be using it. I'm going to move on to our rapid fire question round, if that's all right with you, I've got five rapid fire questions to ask you about customer experience and insights and about yourself. You ready to get going?

David Gardner:

Yeah. Let's do it.

Ryan Stuart:

Okay. First question, what's the best piece of customer experience or insights advice you've ever received?

David Gardner:

Focus on one to two key things that you can tell your audience, hitting them over the head with too many, do this, do that, do this, do that. It gets overwhelming. So focus on one or two things to tell them, and they'll be able to be successful in doing that.

Ryan Stuart:

What are you most excited about in the world of customer experience or insights right now?

David Gardner:

In customer experience AI, AI, AI. I love the idea of pushing forward and focusing on automating 80% of interactions and enabling AI to be a true partner to all CX professionals.

Ryan Stuart:

What book would you recommend to our audience and why?

David Gardner:

My favorite business book I've ever read, and it's partly because the way it's designed is the Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. It's fantastic. If you haven't read it, you should check it out. Everyone should read it.

Ryan Stuart:

I haven't read it, actually. I'm going to add it to my list and we'll link in the show notes. So people can find it easily. Follow is to ask you, which person or company is really nailing it when it comes to customer experience or insights, who comes to mind?

David Gardner:

Well, I'm not going to say Amazon because we know that they are an expert. They have a lot of data, but I would actually say Instacart. I think Instacart is a great example of a company that's been pushed into the spotlight, given everything that's happened over the last year and a half. And they are doing a great job of trying to truly understand their customer, to create better experiences for them.

Ryan Stuart:

What's an interesting little fun fact about you that most people wouldn't know?

David Gardner:

If I wasn't in insights, I'd be a wine maker. It's a passion of mine. I love wine. My other half and I spend lots of time in non-pandemic times visiting great wine regions all around the world. So I shout out to Australia, the Yarra Valley, the Barossa Valley, beautiful wine.

Ryan Stuart:

Well, I have to say you thoroughly met the criteria of that question. That is very much a left of field fact. If folks want to get in contact with you, what's the best way for them to do that?

David Gardner:

I am a big fan of LinkedIn, so please feel free to connect with me. I'd be happy to have a conversation. Stay in touch.

Ryan Stuart:

Amazing. David, thank you so so much for joining us today. It's been really insightful for me. It has been a pleasure to have you on the show.

David Gardner:

Thank you for your time. I really appreciate it, Ryan.

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