Operational Excellence and Continuous Improvement with Sami Nuwar

Operational Excellence and Continuous Improvement with Sami Nuwar TW

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In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Gabe Larsen is joined by Sami Nuwar to discuss how to successfully attain operational excellence in the CX realm. Sami has a diverse background as a customer experience and operational excellence practitioner. Listen to the podcast below to discover how Sami has become an expert at helping CX leaders reach excellence.

Utilizing Data for Operational Excellence

Senior Principal Experience Consultant at Medallia, Sami Nuwar, helps his team understand and interpret customer data through new technology. In his experience, Sami defines operational excellence as, “The thing that primarily distinguishes customer experience management, the discipline of CX, from traditional market research.” In instances where CX teams lack in this excellence category, Sami suggests that this is due to a lack of data gathering, interpretation, and action. Oftentimes when data is collected at firms, it is ignored and those within the company forget to ask questions regarding that data. It is impossible for effective changes to take place when no questions are being asked about interpreting the data. “Every organization is all about execute, execute, execute, and what we also need to do is have the habit of taking a step back. Let’s pause, let’s breathe and let’s have a retrospective view on things.” Once that data is collected, it needs to be placed into the hands of those who can utilize that data beneficially. To do so, Sami suggests translating data in a way with monetary value, as dollar signs attract key eyes.

Becoming Operationally Sound

Sami understands that converting a CX team to becoming completely operationally sound can be difficult and overwhelming at first. To help clear any confusion, Sami suggests that the main goal is turning data into information that can be used to the benefit of the company. Becoming operationally sound is initially rooted in understanding the company’s vision and the steps necessary to see that vision to fruition. When a vision is set and understood by the team, it allows space for empathetic conversations to take place. Additionally, listening to and empathizing with those in the company can help employers to gain a better understanding of the daily operations. “Whether it’s for-profit, not-for-profit, whatever, talk to the people in that business or in that environment and understand what it’s like to be in their shoes and empathize with them,” Sami elaborates. The last part of becoming operationally sound is to find balance within the organization and to translate data in a way that is relevant.

Advertising Successful Changes

One of the most important elements to operational excellence is often overlooked in Sami’s eyes, which is advertising the successful changes implemented by a department. When successful changes are implemented within the organization, Sami says that it is of the utmost importance to “sell your changes” to others within the firm. He goes on to explain that at first a lot of people won’t be onboard with new changes however, when successes are advertised within the company, people tend to hop onboard and support such changes. “It’s also incumbent upon us to tell people about the change, because if you don’t, then no one’s going to know about it other than you and maybe that other person in that other department. So you’ve got to advertise, you’ve got to promote.”

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Full Episode Transcript:

Operational Excellence | Sami Nuwar

TRANSCRIPT
Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
All right. Welcome everybody. Today, we’re going to be talking about operational excellence. This is an important one. We’ve asked about this. You’ve asked about this. So we wanted to bring on an expert in this topic. It’s Sami Nuwar. He’s currently the Senior Principal Experience Consultant at Medallia. Sami, thanks for joining and how are you?

Sami Nuwar: (00:29)
Yeah, I’m fantastic. Thanks for having me.

Gabe Larsen: (00:31)
Yeah, I think this will be a fun one, man. Tell us, before we dive in just a little bit about yourself and your background.

Sami Nuwar: (00:37)
Yeah. I’ve spent 16 years at Verizon Business as a Practitioner of Customer Experience Management. I’m traditionally a researcher. That’s where I kind of got my start and then I evolved into an Operational Excellence Practitioner and then evolved again into a Customer Experience Practitioner. Spent 16 years at Verizon and then a few years at a small manufacturing company. After that, and then joined Medallia around this time last year actually.

Gabe Larsen: (01:07)
I love it. I love it. And for those of us who don’t know a lot about Medallia, give us kind of the 30 second on Medallia.

Sami Nuwar: (01:13)
Yeah. It’s a customer experience management platform. It’s primarily technology that helps you manage the experience, understand that experience, and enables you to do much bigger things. So it’s a technology and a platform, but we like to talk about CX beyond the platform. The technology just makes it easier to do it and democratizes it and now it makes our jobs as people, much easier to spread the love and let other people jump in and help out.

Gabe Larsen: (01:47)
I love it. I love it. I do think Medallia, I mean, you guys have certainly made a name for yourself, so kudos. A lot of people use that technology, I think to deliver some good customer, great customer experiences. Well, let’s dive into this idea of operational excellence and maybe you can just say a big picture. Why is operational excellence so important?

Sami Nuwar: (02:08)
Yeah, I believe that operational excellence and other variants of the term, continuous improvement, to me, it’s the rubber meets the road. It’s where the action should take place for the business or the environment to get better. And it’s the thing that primarily distinguishes customer experience management, the discipline of CX, from traditional market research.

Gabe Larsen: (02:41)
Yeah. Why do you feel like people get lackadaisical on operational excellence? And then I want to get into a little bit, kind of the how here in a second, but is it just because it’s difficult to do? Is it devil’s in the details? But why do you think people don’t get as operationally minded or sound as they should?

Sami Nuwar: (02:59)
Yeah, I think in some cases there’s an assumption that someone is acting on the data that has been collected. That was certainly the case of Verizon for a long time. There was an assumption that people are doing something with it and no one is asking the questions. So how do you know that the, like what improvements have been made and how do you know those improvements are working? So those questions don’t tend to be asked. Those are the details that people tend to overlook. We’re so execution focused, every company is, every organization is all about execute, execute, execute, and what we also need to do is have the habit of taking a step back. Let’s pause, let’s breathe and let’s have a retrospective view on things and ask those questions. Is it working? How do we know it’s working? What else do we need to do and who else do we need to get the help from?

Gabe Larsen: (03:58)
I love that. I love that. Well, let’s dive in a little bit. I mean, you’ve obviously had some experience trying to get operationally sound and tight, et cetera. How do you start to think about doing that? Where do you begin this journey to become more, just operationally tight?

Sami Nuwar: (04:12)
Yeah, I think to build that habit, you have to have a clear understanding of what your current state is and at least get an idea, have a vision of where you want to be. And if you don’t have that vision, then at least at a minimum, understand where your current state is and that’ll help you form your vision. So that’s step number one. You’ve got to knock that out. You’ve got to collect the data to gain that understanding and you have to have the conversations with the people inside your business. Whether it’s for-profit, not-for-profit, whatever, talk to the people in that business or in that environment and understand what it’s like to be in their shoes and empathize with them. So, and at the same time balance that understanding with talking with customers and partners and external parties to understand what it’s like to be them too. And so collect all that data so that it becomes relevant for you and then it turns data into information that can be used.

Gabe Larsen: (05:15)
Do you feel like on that kind of understanding your current state, is there different methodologies, tools, best practices you’ve found to actually capture that? Is it mostly interviews? I mean, you kind of mentioned that, is that the way to best do that? Or how do you go about getting that?

Sami Nuwar: (05:33)
Yeah. The mode of collecting, it really depends on what you’re trying to achieve and your timeframe. You know, there’s a need to balance. You have to balance the need for relevant information and the timeframe that you’re working within. And in a lot of cases, especially in a business environment, you don’t have all day, you definitely don’t have all year. And so you’ve got the budget, the data collection need and the need for significance and relevancy with the need for time, and time costs money. So, find that balance that works for you and then choose the mode that works for you as well. So for me, what’s worked is a combination of quantitative techniques and qualitative techniques. Surveys are a great way to manage that balance of data relevancy and time because you can get a massive amount of information quantitatively by doing simple surveys. But that typically isn’t enough because surveys just gives you an indication of what the problem is. And maybe some indication of how big the problem is, which you also need to get is the why. And that really comes from qualitative information. So interviews, video is the new up and coming technology that people tend to use a lot of these days. We have a technology called LivingLens, which is really cool. It lets people submit video feedback or audio feedback and then it gets analyzed behind the scenes by the system. So those are all qualitative techniques –

Gabe Larsen: (07:14)
All different ways you can kind of capture it. Got it. Interesting. Once you get this data, you and I chatted a little bit about this before, but I thought it was such a great point. It’s, not all data is good, not all data is the same value. Some data is, I mean, the world is now capturing so much data, we’re having a hard time making sense of the data, getting the validity. How do you kind of walk through or make sure that you’re not being misled when it comes to some of this data you’re capturing?

Sami Nuwar: (07:41)
Yeah, that’s a key point. I mean, one of the other signals that, I mean, I mentioned techniques to collect data from people quantitatively and qualitatively, but the other, and I think overlooked channel for data, is the internal knowledge base within the business, the operational data. We all have systems and machines that capture data from our interactions with customers and our daily business. And that is typically a treasure trove of information and what, it’s difficult to gather because it’s typically incomplete or hasn’t been cleansed enough to be relevant. And so it’s in a state that’s pretty rough. But if we can take that data and test it to make sure that it’s relevant and then marry it with the feedback that you could get from talking with customers and whatever message you choose, then it becomes, it turns that data into information because you’ve added context. The experience feedback that you’re getting on top of the operational data that you’re already collecting and probably under-utilizing, marry the two pieces together and they become relevant pieces of information. But at the end of the day, the first thing you got to do is, whether you’re collecting data from customers or collecting data from internal systems, you’ve got to test its validity. If you fail to test the validity of that data and you make decisions based on the data without verifying that it’s true, you’re risking making bad decisions in setting the wrong course for your business.

Gabe Larsen: (09:22)
I love that. What are some of the data points you’ve found to be most important operationally speaking that you know you’d say, look to the audience, “Guys, these are probably some data points that if you really want to get operationally sound, a couple pieces of feedback would maybe be this metric, that metric.” Anything come to mind on that?

Sami Nuwar: (09:39)
Yeah. I mean, just going back to my telecom roots and this is actually, the example I’ll give you is pretty agnostic. It’s a telecom, it’s a problem, it’s always going to be there, it’s always been there, but it’s pretty much a universal problem regardless of industry and it’s one of time, right? We can never be fast enough. And anybody who’s ever subscribed to a cable, TV, or internet service or a phone service, any kind of service that requires some provisioning or some monkeying, some wrench turning behind the scenes to be done, there’s always an expectation of time of when it’s going to be done, right? When can I expect the technician to arrive? When could I expect some work to be done by you that you’ve promised me?

Sami Nuwar: (10:32)
And a metric that is typical in the telecom space is customer desire due date. That’s an internal, very nuts and bolts metric that is based, it’s based on a time expectation, right? The clock starts ticking and then the clock stops ticking at a certain point and an image of the difference between that, and that’s a metric that’s kept internal, and that’s how they measure their performance among their teams. And the analogous time metric from a customer’s point of view and in a question that you would typically ask them in a survey, for example is, “Did this thing occur within your expected amount of time? Yes or no?” And if not then here’s the follow up question, right? And then they tell you what it is. And so when the customer responds to a survey, they’re giving you their perception of how long it took something to get done.

Sami Nuwar: (11:28)
And so what’s incumbent upon us is to take the two pieces of information, their perceived experience coupled with what the business believes happened, and now we look for matches or mismatches in the data. And what I found at Verizon were huge mismatches. And typically that’s because of the measurement time post, right? So the moment in which we would start the clock and then stop the clock and measure that time was not the same moment in the customer’s mind, right? So they’re a customer, the clock starts ticking at the moment of the handshake and then in the telecom company’s perspective, the clock doesn’t start ticking until you sign that contract and that could be a difference of a few days or a couple of weeks.

Gabe Larsen: (12:21)
That’s so powerful. I love that. I just think those are the types of insights I think leaders need to figure out. It’s the tactical advice that really kind of moves them from one place to the other. Last question then is, once you found this and you got the currency, you found the data, then you got to kind of move into the next phase, the change, right? Where do you go from here and kind of, how do you wrap up?

Sami Nuwar: (12:42)
Yeah, you have got to get that data or that information into the hands of the people that you know are going to drive that change and that’s really where the continuous improvement people, the people that are the lean practitioners, the six sigma practitioners, or the people that are purposed, are driving some sort of operational process improvement in the business. We’ve got to get that into the hands of those people and it’s got to be specific enough that tells them what the nature of the problem is, how big that problem is and who’s impacted by it. Ideally dollar signs, if you can attach some sort of financial component to the problem that really gets people’s attention and makes them act on it. And then hopefully they take some sort of action, but it’s incumbent upon us to make sure either to help them take that action or to ensure that they take that action and hold them accountable to it. And lastly, once the action has been taken, right, and you can see the notice in the change and you’re measuring that change, or you’re tracking it over time because that’s part of what we do, it’s also incumbent upon us to tell people about the change, because if you don’t, then no one’s going to know about it other than you and maybe that other person in that other department. So you’ve got to advertise, you’ve got to promote.

Gabe Larsen: (14:00)
I love that. I love that. Sami, that’s such great advice. And I love kind of the tactical-ness of it. As you, as we kind of wrap here, any quick advice that you’d leave behind for the audience as they try to get operationally excellent in their different support experience teams?

Sami Nuwar: (14:15)
Yeah. I would say that last part that I just mentioned is probably the most important part. We talked about collecting signals and collating it in a way that people can comprehend and then holding them accountable to some sort of action, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to tell people about the change. And I consider that the most important component that’s often overlooked. But if it’s done right, what will happen is it’ll create a reinforcing loop. But people that did not jump into your bandwagon initially, because there’s always somebody who’s not going to jump on board, they eventually do jump onboard later down the line because they see their peers performing because you’ve advertised. You’ve shown that this discipline works and here’s the changes that’s come from it. And those dissenters initially, they didn’t jump on board will eventually jump on board and everybody will sing to the same sheet of music.

Gabe Larsen: (15:07)
I love it. I love it. You got to find those insights. The insights and then the sale. You don’t get it out there, nobody knows about it, it obviously doesn’t, you can’t end up changing anything. Well Sami, we really appreciate you jumping on. It’s fun to have a little more of a true practitioner. Sami is an operational kind of ninja, so it’s fun to hear how you’ve experienced some of that both in your current life and then in your previous life. If someone wants to get ahold of you or learn a little bit more about Medallia, what’s the best way to do that, Sami?

Sami Nuwar: (15:33)
Oh, you can send me a LinkedIn request. I’m on LinkedIn, pretty active on there. So I’ll be happy to connect with you guys and help out wherever I can.

Gabe Larsen: (15:43)
Awesome. Awesome. Well again, hey, really appreciate your time and for the audience, have a fantastic day.

Sami Nuwar: (15:48)
Great. Thanks for having me.

Exit Voice: (15:54)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you’re subscribed to hear more Customer Service Secrets.