CX Q&A with Blaine E. Hurst, Chief Transformation Officer, Panera

Panera, the fast-casual restaurant chain, is completely transforming itself — from its back-office systems right down to the menu items. There are new services — including catering and table service — and there’s even a new kind of staff member, known as an “expo,” to double-check the accuracy of the firm’s new customizable orders and establish a little more rapport with visitors. At Forrester’s Forum for Customer Experience Professionals, June 16th and 17th in NYC, Blaine Hurst, chief transformation officer at Panera, will be sharing lessons learned from this massive innovation initiative. Here are some comments Blaine made during a recent conversation I had with him. I hope you enjoy them, and I look forward to seeing you in NYC!

Q: I don’t meet chief transformation officers too often. How would you describe your role?

A: When I came onboard with Panera, it was to envision and launch what we’ve come to call Panera 2.0 — a truly enhanced guest experience, powered by technology and enabled by ops excellence. If you look at the way we approached 2.0, you start to understand the role of a chief transformation officer. We looked for the ways that technology could transform the guest experience versus focusing on the latest gadgets for the sake of being “first” or “cutting edge.” I use the same lens in my role as chief transformation and growth officer. How can Panera win by applying technology or innovative thinking to truly transform and grow? In my role, I oversee business processes ranging from digital strategy to catering and delivery.

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CX Q&A With Raul Leal, CEO, Virgin Hotel Group

On just about anyone’s shortlist of companies that deliver unique, high-quality experiences, you’ll be sure to find Virgin. And this year, the iconic brand opened its first hotel in the US — a 250-room property located in the Chicago Loop. How does Virgin Hotel live up to the high standards set by other Virgin businesses? At Forrester’s Forum for Customer Experience Professionals in New York, June 16th and 17th, Raul Leal, CEO, Virgin Hotel Group, will explain. In the meantime, he shared with us a few thoughts about CX, the hospitality industry, and what it’s like to work for a knight. Enjoy! And I look forward to seeing you in NYC . . .

Q: In your industry, switching costs are pretty low. Indeed, one of the things that impresses me about the first Virgin Hotel in Chicago is how reasonably priced the rooms are! Is that why CX is so important to Virgin?

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Announcing The Speakers For Forrester's CX Forum In New York, June 16th And 17th

At last, it’s spring. Even here in Boston, the bloom is on the forsythia — finally. And that means it’s time to announce the confirmed list of speakers for our biggest event of the year: Forrester's Forum For Customer Experience Professionals in New York (CXNYC), June 16th and 17th. We’ve got a doozy of a show on tap this time around.

This year’s event features more guest speakers, from a wider range of industries, than ever before. As your host for this forum, I’m thrilled to share such a strong lineup:

  • Raul Leal, CEO, Virgin Hotel Group.
  • Charlie Hill, distinguished engineer and CTO for design, IBM.
  • Beth Ann Kaminkow, CMO, Westfield Group.
  • Rasesh Patel, SVP, customer experience, DirectTV.
  • Rachel Shechtman, founder and CEO, Story.
  • Adam Weber, SVP of marketing, Dollar Shave Club.
  • Mark McCormick, SVP of customer experience, Wells Fargo.
  • Melody Lee, director, brand and reputation strategy, Cadillac.
  • Blaine E. Hurst, EVP, chief transformation and growth officer, Panera Bread.
  • Chris Brown, executive director, guest experience, New York Mets.
  • Kit Hickey, cofounder, head of experience, Ministry of Supply.
  • Parrish Hannah, global director, human machine interface, Ford Motor.
  • Scott Zimmer, head of design and innovation, Capital One.
  • Liz Crawford, CTO, Birchbox.
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Q&A with Rodney Prezeau, SVP, Affluent Client Experience, Charles Schwab

The quality of a customer experience is determined by its ability to serve customers across three fundamental dimensions – what Forrester calls ‘The Three E’s of Customer Experience:’

  • Effectiveness – customers get value from the experience.
  • Ease – customers get value without difficulty.
  • Emotion – customers feel good about the experience.
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Q&A With Ryan C. Green, Managing Director Customer Strategy And Development, Southwest Airlines

In the airline industry, Southwest is no stranger to customer experience accolades. In fact, it consistently earns top marks on Forrester’s Customer Experience Index compared to other carriers – offering enjoyable and easy experiences that meet customers' needs.

It will be a pleasure to hear directly from Southwest’s Managing Director of Customer Strategy and Development, Ryan Green, next month at Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum West in Anaheim, CA. To get an early taste for why Southwest is known for its experience, and the strategy behind it, read on.

Q&A with Ryan Green, Managing Director Customer Strategy & Development, Southwest Airlines

Q: When did your company first begin focusing on customer experience? Why?

A: Southwest Airlines has always been focused on the Customer. Our company started with the vision to give people the freedom to fly and our differentiator has always been policies and services that lean towards the Customer. As a result, we now fly more passengers domestically, increased our airports served dramatically and Southwest Airlines’ Customer complaints are the lowest in the industry. As we’ve grown and the industry has become more competitive we’ve definitely continued uncovering what our Customers need and want from Southwest Airlines and we are focused on giving them that experience to keep them coming back time and again.

Q: What aspects of the experience that your company delivers matter most to your customers? 

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Q&A With Siqi Chen, Cofounder And CEO, Heyday

Thinking you know your customers will no longer cut it when it comes to delivering a top-notch customer experience. To create the most compelling differentiated experiences, firms not only need to know their customers but also understand what their customers care about most. 

Siqi Chen, Heyday cofounder and CEO, gets this. The "effortless journaling" app goes the extra mile to deliver a seamless delightful experience — particularly for first-time users "where there aren’t obvious motivations to invest," in Siqi’s words.

I had a chance to sit down with Siqi in advance of his keynote session at Forrester’s Forum For Customer Experience Professionals West to talk about how Heyday competes on experience in the competitive mobile playing field. Hear more of Heyday’s story next month in Anaheim, California, November 6th to 7th.

Q: When did your company first begin focusing on customer experience? Why?

A: We focused on the customer experience from the inception of the company. As a mobile company, the way our customers interact with their devices is intensely personal. We run on a device that is the primary computing device for most people, a device that is with our customers physically for most of their waking life and a device that our customers interact with in the most intimate way: through touch. Because of this, great products on mobile devices require a very high bar for attention to detail and emotional value, in addition to the foundations of speed and value delivered that every great product requires.

Q: What aspects of the experience that your company delivers matter most to your customers?

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Announcing The Speakers At Forrester's Forum For Customer Experience Professionals West, 2014 — November 6-7 in Anaheim, CA

It’s with great pleasure that I announce the agenda for Forrester's Forum For Customer Experience Professionals in Anaheim, CA, on November 6 & 7. We’re mixing things up this year — new formats for speakers, new hands-on, activity-based workshops in addition to track sessions, and a stellar gallery of guest speakers. And we’ve wrapped all of this up with an overarching theme: “Why Good Is Not Good Enough.”

We picked this theme because our Customer Experience Index (CXi) told us to. Seriously. Check this out: According to the latest CXi, the number of brands scoring in the “very poor” category is down to one out of 175. What’s more, only a handful of brands — 10% — are in the “poor” category. Together, these findings show that as customer experience improvement efforts gained momentum over the past year or so, the number of truly awful experiences declined, dramatically. That’s reassuring. Kudos to all the businesses out there that screw up less!

Now for the sobering news: Only 11% of brands in the CXi made it into the “excellent” category.

What that means of course is that most brands are clustering in the middle of the curve — they’re not awful in the eyes of their customers, but they’re not remarkable either. Translation: A merely good customer experience is no longer good enough if you want to deliver a differentiated experience and reap incremental sales, positive word of mouth, and better customer retention. You’re gonna have to raise your game.

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Designing Experiences That Surprise And Delight

My wife and I have finally reached the last phase of a lengthy and complex home renovation project. To make sure that the new stairwell gets installed with the least risk of personal injury (descending the stairs first thing in the morning, in the dark, before coffee, and before the banister has been completed — not a good idea), we decided to spend a couple of nights in a hotel while our contractor finishes the job.

That hotel happens to be a Courtyard by Marriott property, one of a handful of businesses to achieve a rating of excellent in Forrester’s Customer Experience Index (Cxi). In the CXi, we ask consumers to measure how well each brand they’ve done business with measures up against three criteria: value, ease of use, and enjoyability. Most brands score OK to very poor. So how does Courtyard do it? 

It's skirted the requirements trap. All hotels have rooms, showers, and parking. Wi-Fi, a business center, a dining area, and fitness facilities are pretty generic too. These things are required to compete in this market. But merely having these things is not enough.

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The Magic Behind A Well Designed Mobile Experience

Recently I witnessed a bit of design magic.

I was reviewing some research with a customer experience colleague who suddenly realized that he’d left some notes on his laptop, which was tethered to his desk. Knowing that he just started using Evernote, I suggested he sign into his account on his iPhone (which never leaves his side) and get his notes there.


For seasoned Evernote users there’s nothing magical about this. But for my coworker, something significant happened. Though young enough to be considered a digital native, he’s also worked long enough to associate productivity tools with desktops and laptops, client-side apps like Lotus Notes and Microsoft Office. His work life has been so deeply informed by PC-based tools that even though he knew, rationally, that he didn’t have to run back to his laptop to consult his notes, his habits told him otherwise. Only when he logged in via his iPhone and experienced what a cloud based note-taking app could do for him did his ideas about work begin to swerve a little. You could see it in his smile. That’s good design – it makes life a little better, opens up possibilities, adds a little gusto.

My colleague Tony Costa has been writing about these “post PC” experiences, and he’ll be speaking about this topic at both our Los Angeles and London CX Forums. He describes these emerging interactions as:

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