The Happy Engineer Podcast

124: The Secret to Customer Experience that Engineers Need to Know with Annette Franz

In this episode, meet the woman who (literally) wrote the book on Customer Experience, Annette Franz.

We talk about the importance of understanding your customer as an engineer, not only to design great products, but to build a great career.

She started her career at J.D. Power and Associates in 1992, and has spent the last 30 years as a customer experience leader for dozens of brand names you would recognize, and in her own consulting firm. Annette was named one of “The 100 Most Influential Tech Women on Twitter” by Business Insider.

Annette says people come before products. You are going to want to know why, and what to do about it.

She is author of two powerful books, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business), and Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value for Your Business.

So press play and let’s chat… it’s time to bridge the gap between product and VOC for YOU.

Join us in a live workshop for deeper training, career coaching 1:1, and FREE stuff!  HAPPY HOUR! Live with Zach


The Happy Engineer Podcast

WATCH EPISODE 124: The Power of Prioritizing Employees for a Better Customer Experience


[00:03:01] Unforgettable farm moments: baby lambs and school.

[00:04:41] Job ad sparked interest in market research.

[00:07:34] Importance of incorporating customer experience in education.

[00:13:02] Business purpose: customer-centric approach, understand customer needs.

[00:17:20] Culture and leadership are foundational. Engineers can drive change by talking to customers and sharing feedback. It is crucial to understand customer pain points and improve product experience. Companies have successfully reduced clicks and improved customer experience by involving customers in the process.

[00:21:39] To get the right answers, ask better questions. Understand the persona and their needs.

[00:24:09] Prototype, test, iterate with customers before launching.

[00:25:55] Happy employees are crucial for business success.

[00:29:20] Employee engagement surveys done quarterly were found to be ineffective as the data was not utilized and employees began to copy and paste responses. This led to the emergence of roles such as VP or head of talent and culture that focus on employee experience, which encompasses all interactions and emotions during employment. Culture is essential for a positive employee experience, as it enables all initiatives. Designing a people-centric culture is crucial, with employees prioritized over customers.

[00:34:28] Book on customer centric principles with inspiring stories.

[00:35:52] Engineers seek differentiation; focus on customer-centricity.




LISTEN TO EPISODE 124: The Secret to Customer Experience that Engineers Need to Know with Annette Franz

Previous Episode 123: Are You on the Road to Burnout? | The Unspoken Pandemic


The Experience from Engineer to CEO: Lessons Learned from 30 Years of Customer Experience

In this episode of The Happy Engineer Podcast, we dive deep into the crucial connection between employee happiness and engagement, customer experience, and the ultimate success of a business.

Here are the top three insights to help you build your career:

1. Employees are the backbone of any organization: Without their dedication and commitment, a business simply cannot function. Ensuring their well-being and satisfaction should be a top priority.

2. The employee experience directly impacts the customer experience: Research from 80 years ago highlighted the importance of prioritizing employee well-being for a better customer experience. Sadly, many companies are still missing this crucial link.

3. Culture is the foundation of a customer-centric organization: A people-centric culture creates a positive employee experience, which in turn leads to improved customer experiences. Leaders need to champion this approach to create lasting change.

To go deeper and build an action plan around these points, listen to the entire conversation and connect with us to build your roadmap.



Annette Franz, CCXP, founder and CEO of CX Journey Inc., has 30 years of experience in customer experience. She’s a renowned thought leader, speaker, and author of “Customer Understanding” and “Built to Win.” Annette’s expertise lies in helping organizations develop customer-centric strategies through feedback, personas, journey maps, and foundational principles.



Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: Welcome back. Happy Engineer, and Annette, so excited to have this conversation with you. Thanks for making time to be on the Happy Engineer podcast. Welcome. 

[00:00:08] Annette Franz: Thanks so much for having me. I’m looking forward to those conversations, the great audience that you’ve got, and I think we’re gonna have a great conversation.

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:15] Zach White: I’m looking forward. Well, I’m pretty biased, but I would say you’re absolutely right that we have the best audience there is. So shout out to the happy engineer out there listening. Annette, your area of incredible genius, like 30 years of expertise and global thought leadership around customer experience is gonna be incredibly hard to distill in just one episode, and I’m pumped to go there.

[00:00:39] Mm-hmm. But I actually need to back up to even before that really quick for our starting point today, because when I was getting to know you and your work, All this incredible body of knowledge around customer experience, and I’m scrolling and scrolling and then something stood out to me that I was like, one of these is not like the other.

[00:00:57] And I, I couldn’t help but notice that you went to Ohio State and studied animal science. I did and I thought to myself, well wait a minute. Maybe that’s what makes her so good at understanding customers is ’cause she started with animals. And at the end of the day, we’re all just animals. But I just wanted to get curious, were you hoping to go into like being a vet or doing something else or where does animal science fit into your store?

[00:01:21] Annette Franz: I know people always ask me like, how did you get into this customer experience world? And they’re, they’re always waiting for some sexy answer and it’s not. Um, I actually grew up on a farm in Ohio. I love animals. we had sheep, we had beef cattle.

[00:01:35] I used to show horses, all of it. Right. Oh, cool. And I wanted to be a veterinarian. I, I really did. And it was three years into my stint at Ohio State when I was like, okay, couple things. First of all, Six quarters of chemistry. I mean, it’s like getting into med school and chemistry is my kryptonite.

[00:01:53] Ooh, that’s tough. And it was still a boys club to get into. So if I wasn’t gonna master, like if I wasn’t gonna come out of my undergrad with a 4.0 or better, I would, the, the chance for a woman to get into that school at that time was, was gonna be really rough. And so I was like, okay, well I just need to, Pivot a little bit and, that’s how I ended up, out here in Southern California and finished up my degree at Cal State and, management.

[00:02:20] So here I am. So that, that’s kind of led me down. 

[00:02:23] Zach White: Yeah. So, so you grew up around animals on the farm. what’s your favorite animal now? 

[00:02:28] Annette Franz: I love all animals, right? I mean, we had horses, cows, sheep, chickens, ducks, geese, cats, dogs, you name it. Had it. Okay. And we had a lot of ’em in the house too when they were, you know.

[00:02:39] Yep, yep. chicks and ducklings and goslings and we had lambs in the house. we could have a whole podcast about life on the 

[00:02:46] Zach White: farm. Okay. Wait, well, well, let’s, let’s do one story that, let’s do one, I know the engineers wanna hear about customer experience. Okay. But I, I, I wanna hear about the farm.

[00:02:55] So one, one great farm story that just to you is like, this was a moment I’ll never forget. 

[00:03:01] Annette Franz: It is a moment I’ll never forget. And it’s a moment, it’s an opportunity that very few people will ever have, very few kids will ever have in their lifetime. So, um, we had sheep, it was lambing season, and there I am sitting in school and doing my classwork and I get a call from the principal to come to the office, right?

[00:03:19] And, um, it was my mom on the phone saying, Hey, you know what? I’ve gotta come pick you up. You’re coming home because, a couple of the, uh, es had lamb and one of the mamas had died and we needed help, and, and oftentimes they had twins and ours often had twin lambs.

[00:03:36] so she’s like, you need to come home and we need somebody to take care of the new lambs and bottle feed them throughout the day and everything. And so it’s like, How many kids get called outta school to go home and take care of the babies? Right. Oh, you know, so it was just such a cool experience.

[00:03:50] And that happened, you know, it happened multiple times. But again, I, I always say, you know, it’s one of those things growing up on a farm, you have so many experiences that most people will never have in their lifetime. Wow. So, but that was a fun one. That’s a great 

[00:04:01] Zach White: memory. Yeah, that’s like got me emotional on both sides.

[00:04:04] It’s like the Bambi, I’m sad about the mom dying, but also like what a neat experience to just hold those little, little lambs and feed ’em and Yeah. Oh yeah. They’re so be a part of that. Wow. So sweet. All right, well as much as I wanna tell more farm stories today, I know, right? I do wanna get into then this transition.

[00:04:21] So you go out to Southern California, you, you finish your management degree and. You stumble into the world of the consumer customer experience, and so just tell us the ignition point, where did that first become a passion or something that you really focused your expertise and career around? I. Yeah.

[00:04:41] You know, it’s 

[00:04:41] Annette Franz: interesting because it actually wasn’t driven by anything, customer or, or consumer or anything like that. I saw an ad in the paper. Here we are dating ourselves. It was 1992, ad in the newspaper for a job at JD Power and Associates. And I was like, you know what? I love math and I love writing and.

[00:04:58] What better way to put those two skills to use than market research and that really, that was really the catalyst. You know JD Power and Associates at the time was really known for their syndicated research and I happened to, be hired at an office that was. working or starting a lot of the custom research.

[00:05:14] And so I was working with clients directly, really doing voice of the customer work. You know, it wasn’t just market research per se, it was, voice of the customer and understanding why customers stay, why they leave, why they purchase, why they don’t, that kind of thing. And.

[00:05:28] back then we didn’t even talk about customer experience. We talked about customer satisfaction, customer loyalty. those were the big risks. Mm-hmm. And I loved what I was doing. I love going into businesses, I love working with my clients to help them solve those problems.

[00:05:41] And people would ask me, well, what do you do? And I’d say, I’m working with companies to help them, improve at times. Didn’t use exactly those words, improve the customer experience, but really understand the customer and, and what they do and why they do it. And what the issues are and help them improve.

[00:05:56] So they could improve the business, you know, kind like that. Yeah. So, yeah, so that was that Super interesting. Was fun for me. And 

[00:06:00] Zach White: I was, I was hooked. I was hooked. So it started in, in truly the market research side with JD Power, which you’ll still crushing it in that domain. Absolutely. But, um, well, let me actually back up really quick ’cause what, what interests me about that journey and I, there’s some nuance to the words that we’re using.

[00:06:17] We need to probably define and get clear. But if I think about engineering, And my degree at Purdue in undergrad, there were maybe. One or two classes, which were more of the, you know, real world simulation senior project type classes where you go through, um, a single lecture about V O C, you know, the voice of the customer, and we build it into the house of quality or, you know, use one of these Q F D Yeah.

[00:06:43] Type tools and, and okay. You get a little teaser about market research and asking your customer for what they want to use it to prioritize metrics of performance and, okay, we get. A taste. Right? Right. But then in, in reality, you get your first job and you really don’t talk about it at all as part of your job.

[00:07:02] It’s something that’s handed to you by some other function or department. And most of my clients, like we don’t get that chance to be. Right in the field doing market research, having any of this, and so it seems like this whole domain is such an opportunity for an engineering leader to stand out in your career and like an X factor to be seen by senior leadership as someone who really gets it and is promotable.

[00:07:27] That’s why I’m like, why I think this is so important, but would you agree with that, just general assessment or maybe add some of your own perspective to that. 

[00:07:34] Annette Franz: I totally agree and I’ll, I’ll just step back for a minute and say, there is the CX p a, the Customer Experience Professionals Association.

[00:07:40] I was on the board for six or seven years. I was the chair for a year. just left about two years ago. And what we were doing around the time, and this was really important to me, this was when I, submitted my platform for nomination for the board. my platform was around academia and how do we get exactly what you’re saying there?

[00:08:01] How do we get more of this into, colleges and universities and get people talking about the customer and how understanding the customer and, and hearing that voice of the customer impacts. All parts of the business, right? It’s not just about having this CX group or having, market research group or marketing’s handling it or customer services handling it.

[00:08:24] It’s like, how do we bring this and weave it into just general business programs so that everybody gets a taste of it throughout. And so as I was leaving, it’s funny that it took us. Six or seven years to get this done. But as I was leaving, one of the projects that we were working on is let’s put together a list of schools who are offering, customer experience certification or some type of customer voice of the customer, something, service design, whatever it was, in their.

[00:08:51] In their business programs. Right. And I think it’s sadly missing, and I think it’s a huge piece of the puzzle that, you know, back in the day we were always taught, the purpose of a business is to create shareholder value. And there was so much focus on that. When we think about shareholder value, that’s an outcome and how do we get that outcome?

[00:09:09] We focus on the customer and their needs and bringing their voice into everything that we do. And so it’s. Seriously time to, shift that thinking and shift how things are done in, in colleges and universities. And that has to, that voice that the customer has to be built into all of that. And I’m, I’m surprised that we’re still not seeing that, globally, nationwide, globally.

[00:09:30] Mm-hmm. Whatever. Mm-hmm. So, so I absolutely agree with what you’re saying. Yeah. 

[00:09:33] Zach White: Yeah. I mean, I think engineering programs have come a long way in that regard in terms of like, Hey, at least it’s on the syllabus in some of our coursework, but it’s certainly not. A core priority of the degree program. And then, it’s very company dependent, I guess, in terms of how much that culture has been brought in, which is of course what you’re doing now.

[00:09:52] So, okay. Well that said really quick. Help us understand the difference. And you made a distinction a moment ago that in the old days, so to speak, we talked about satisfaction and loyalty. Yeah. And now you’re using the term customer experience as the kind of driving brand of the work that you do. So would you help us understand the difference or maybe the model and how to think about this?

[00:10:15] Like, is customer experience the umbrella that captures it all, and satisfaction, loyalty are part of that? Or maybe just give us the landscape. What are we really talking about 

[00:10:23] Annette Franz: here? Yeah, it’s exactly that. So customer experience, the way that I define it is it’s really the sum of all the interactions that a customer has with a brand over the life of that relationship with the brand, but also the feelings, the emotions, and the perceptions that are elicited by those interactions.

[00:10:38] Right. That’s probably the biggest part of that. 

[00:10:41] Zach White: Customer satisfaction. Well, that’s an awesome definition. Say that again a little bit slower. ’cause I think that really, that was super powerful to encompass. I mean, in one. Sense the, the true breadth of what we’re talking about here. So yeah, say that again.

[00:10:54] Annette Franz: The sum of all the interactions that a customer has with a brand over the life of the relationship with the brand, I’ll just throw in here, that includes product and price. A lot of people go, oh, well product is not part of the customer. Heck yeah, it is. It’s 

[00:11:07] Zach White: exactly. Love that. Inclusion. 

[00:11:09] Annette Franz: Yeah. And price.

[00:11:10] People are like, oh, prices. That’s a marketing thing that’s not Oh, yeah. Price is part of the experience too. I don’t know how people can exclude either one of those. But then when you think about that part, the interactions, and then combine that with the feelings, the emotions, and perceptions of the brand of, or of, of those interactions or how, the brand is performing in each of those interactions.

[00:11:32] that’s the big piece. It’s the umbrella, as you say. Right? And customer satisfaction is really a, is a feeling, right? And it’s an outcome. If we perform well against our customer’s expectations we’re they’re either gonna be satisfied or they’re gonna be dissatisfied and, customer experiences.

[00:11:48] Largely driven by expectations and those, oh gosh, we could go in a whole nother direction. Expectations are set in a variety of different ways, right? for the customer. So, and then loyalty too is an outcome. You know what? We get all those things right? And we consistently get them right. Yeah.

[00:12:04] Customers will trust the brand and they’ll be loyal and they’ll recommend, they’ll buy again, they’ll buy more, you know, all of those 

[00:12:11] Zach White: things. So really important. Okay, so that helps. I, we got the umbrella, we’ve got all these things. Paying attention to output measures of are we winning in customer experience versus.

[00:12:22] Inputs and expectations. I’m sure to your point, we could put a, a 10 hour podcast together just in what you’ve already said just on that. So now here you are 30 years later of experience and multiple amazing books on the topic. A true thought leader, maybe to bring it into a, a specific domain that I as an engineer would find most important is like, Well, why do I care?

[00:12:46] What does this have to do with me? And I know you, you mentioned product, so that’s certainly like, okay, I can get that, I can get behind that. As a developer, as a product designer, I play a role. But if I’m an engineering leader doing engineering work, what does this have to do with my job? Well, 

[00:13:02] Annette Franz: let’s go back to what I said about the purpose of a business is right, used to be a lot of people still live.

[00:13:08] This adage, the purpose of a business is to maximize shareholder value. That’s not the purpose of a business. Purpose of a business is to create and nurture customers, right? It’s all about the customers. We don’t have customers. Who are we doing this for? Right? in my Built to Win book, one of the 10 principles of building a customer centric organization is around, people before product.

[00:13:29] People before product. Right? So what that means is we understand, we take the time to do the work, to understand who our customers are, the problems they’re trying to solve, the jobs they’re trying to do, and then build and design products and services to solve those problems, solve for those problems, right?

[00:13:45] I, I love the Seth goin quote. We need to find products for our customers, not customers for our products. I think that’s a really important distinction. And the only way that we can do that is if. Everybody in the organization understands, has a clear line of sight to the customer, understands who the customer is, understands who you know, what jobs they’re trying to do, or what problems they’re trying to solve so that we can design an experience.

[00:14:09] Again, including product design and experience that that helps them meets their needs and helps them solve whatever problem they’re trying to solve. So, so I think that’s a, a big thing for us to look at every single time. Yeah. The purpose of a business is to create and to nurture a customer.

[00:14:23] And if we don’t have customers, then, we, we ain’t got nothing. 

[00:14:27] Zach White: That’s a really powerful shift, and I’m, I’m thinking back to my own career experience. And some of the things that were emphasized as priorities in engineering work, and I’ll just name a couple, I’m sure you can relate to this with your clients, Annette, but one would be product cost, better hit that target or over deliver On that target.

[00:14:47] We would launch a whole series of cost reduction projects on existing products. You know, really driving cost and of course linking that back to. The p and l? Yeah. Shareholder value, the financial metrics. Right? Or another one would be, thinking about the, the schedule, you know, driving project timelines, and it’s all internal focused.

[00:15:07] It’s all about getting to market as planned to maximize shareholder value. Again, like we don’t wanna burn time or be late on things. or maybe there’s, you know, vendor relationships or things we would care about there. but when you shift the lens to, well, the purpose of the business is, To create and nurture customers.

[00:15:24] Suddenly the things that matter most in my product development cycles start to look a little, a little different, which is fascinating. I I can just, that one shift, if you buy into that belief and say, well, hold on, is the product cost the most important thing here? Or is something for our customer the most important thing?

[00:15:43] Yeah, that’s 

[00:15:44] Annette Franz: interesting. it’s so true. I, I attended a night and I shared the story. I’ve shared the story many times and I, I included in, in my book, built to Win as well, I was on a webinar and at the end of the webinar there was a q and a and somebody asked, well, if I focus on my customer doesn’t that take away from my focus on the product?

[00:16:01] And I thought, Hey, I need pencils in my eyes or something because who’s the product for, you know, A lot of times I know startups and folks reaching out to me and say, Hey, will you take a look at my product? Hey, will you take a look at this? You know? And I’m like, yeah, sure. And I stopped doing it because I the first question that I ask them every time is, what problem do you solve?

[00:16:21] Because this looks very much like another product out there, or you know, it doesn’t do anything special. What problem are you solving for your customer? And if you can’t answer that question, then you’re just wasting your time. Right. And that’s what ended up happening. There were so many of them who said, oh, that’s a good question.

[00:16:37] I don’t know. So if you don’t know what problem you’re solving, then who’s, gonna buy it? Right. If it doesn’t solve a problem. Yeah. Or if it doesn’t solve a problem differently and in a more efficient way, or different way, or, or something that, you know, customers are looking for, then, forget about it.

[00:16:52] It’s, it’s, it’s not gonna be successful. 

[00:16:55] Zach White: So where would I begin as an engineer doing my job? Maybe I. I can buy into this idea, but I’m still operating within this culture and company that’s already doing what it’s doing. Like where would I start and things that I have influence over, or just ways to start moving towards a customer centric culture.

[00:17:17] How does that, I. How does that work? Where do you encourage people to begin? 

[00:17:20] Annette Franz: Well, interestingly enough, you just said culture, and that really has to be the foundation and leadership. But let’s just talk about the purview here that you as an engineer have, right? You have the ability in your. in your department, in the work that you do to get everybody to, start thinking about this differently and saying, Hey, you know what, 

[00:17:38] Let’s look at our budget. What do we have here? have we talked to customers? Let’s, okay, well maybe marketing has talked to customers or somebody else, like the data either needs to. To be shared with you or you need to go out and talk to customers. And I would say first and foremost, you need to go out and talk to customers.

[00:17:53] Right. If you don’t hear it straight from them, you will never understand the pains and the frustration and everything. I will tell you that I’ve worked for several voice of the customer vendors, so I’ve worked on the tech side of, mm-hmm. I worked on this tech side for many years. And one of the companies I work for, the platform, I swear to you, it was 17 clicks to just, and, and that happened because the c e o had this great idea, Hey, let’s do this and let’s add that.

[00:18:19] And customers were miserable. They’re like, that is why, why would you even change that? There’s, and why is it so painful? Why does it take 17, literally 17 clicks to get done what you needed to get done? and so, I would say go out and talk to customers before, during, after, share with them. Get, you know, if you have a CX team, if you have V O C platform, get that feedback and bring that feedback into the work that you’re doing.

[00:18:43] But so important to make that connection with the customer so that you can understand who they are, what they’re trying to do, and how painful your product is to use today and needs to be changed, right? Mm-hmm. I mean, it’ll change the trajectory and you’ll. You know, take it from 17 clicks down to four if you need to.

[00:19:01] I, got a bunch of great examples where there are companies who have done just that, where they brought that feedback in, where they brought the customers in, where they’re co-creating with customers and have changed a painful, just something as simple. as signing up for an account that took nine clicks, nine steps to sign up for an account.

[00:19:19] Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. After bringing in, the customer and working with, talking to customers and all that, they changed it. So it’s like three clicks now to three steps to sign up for an account. Yeah. Way different. Yeah, way different experience. Right? It doesn’t, so people don’t abandon, people don’t go, okay, well there’s gotta be a better solution out there.

[00:19:37] Or I, I don’t wanna use this, or I can’t use this. You know, those kinds of 

[00:19:40] Zach White: things. So, So, two things I’m curious about. One is I’ve found that the skillset of actually getting meaningful data from customers is not as straightforward as you think, right? It’s like,yes, you can just go talk and watch and you know, there’s certain things you can gain through osmosis, but how you engage in those things can make a big difference in terms of actionable insights and data versus just a plethora of data that nobody really knows what it means.

[00:20:07] Yeah. So I’m curious if you have any. Like quick, simple tips that an engineer, if I am gonna. Go grab my neighbor and ask them to play with the product and do something to become more aware. What should I do? What’s the best practice around that? Within, yeah. not being a customer experience guru and genius, what’s something I might wanna keep in mind?

[00:20:26] Best practice wise? Yeah. But then also engineers live in this world of constant trade-offs. And I’m curious if you could maybe recount a story or, or something around like how do you then take what you learned from that and. Make the trade off when it does come to shareholder value or budgets or decisions or product costs, like any suggestions on how to bring that back and influence or think about those priorities.

[00:20:52] Yeah. 

[00:20:53] Annette Franz: Yeah, definitely Two big, two big questions. Yeah. Yeah. Well, let’s, let’s start with the first one. So there, if you have a customer experience team, if you have a V O C team, if you have that team, lean on them to, to teach you, to bring you in, to share data with you. there is often a gap between product and cx, right?

[00:21:15] We’ve gotta bridge that gap. We’ve gotta get them working together, sharing. Here’s what we’re doing, here’s what we’re hearing, bringing those together. So I think that’s a really important point, is whoever’s doing your voice of the customer. Buddy up with them and make sure that they, and they should be doing this anyways.

[00:21:31] They should be figuring out when they’re getting that feedback, how to share it, how to socialize it with the people who need that to act on. Right? So number one. Number two, if you’re gonna do it yourself, if you don’t have that customer experience team, you want, wanna hire a consultant, number one just to guide you on that.

[00:21:48] You may have somebody on your team who has some skill sets. you mentioned this earlier, to get better answers, you need to ask better questions. You need to ask the right questions, and you need to do it properly. And so I think that’s a really important factor is to, to ask the right questions.

[00:22:03] Observe. But I think you’re gonna, the things that you need to talk about are, first of all, we need to understand the persona. Who are you? What do you do day to day? How would you use this product? What problems are you trying to solve? You need to understand the persona first and foremost, and then second, then ask those questions that you need to understand.

[00:22:21] How would they use the product to solve their problems? Right? Or what would be the best way to do that. I think it’s the whole, you know, I’ve gotta. drill a quarter inch hole kind of, dilemma there. Right? So, or the fast food horses story. Right. You know, it’s like you have to ask the right questions.

[00:22:37] We don’t ask customers what they want. What do you want? If we built this product, what do you want? We’re not gonna ask ’em that we, right. We’re gonna talk about their story. Their story, 

[00:22:47] Zach White: and how, just in case somebody doesn’t know what you’re talking about with a quarter inch hole, can you explain that? I.

[00:22:52] Annette Franz: I’m gonna screw it up because I always do. It’s like people think that you, you know, go to a hardware store and you’re like, Hey, I need to, uh, buy a screwdriver or whatever, or I need to buy a drill or whatever. Instead. Instead, you should be saying, Hey, I need to drill a quarter inch hole because, There are many ways that you can do that, right?

[00:23:10] There are a bunch of different ways that you can skin that cat for sure. So, and the same thing with, the Ford story about, if I ask customers what they want, they say they want faster horses, well that’s not what they want. Yeah. They wanna get from point A to PA point B in an hour, not seven days.

[00:23:26] Yeah. so faster horses isn’t the, and, and by the way, we’re not gonna talk about skinning the cats, so that’s, That’s not a problem we’re trying to solve here, 

[00:23:36] Zach White: so, okay. No, I get, and honestly, this is a humbling just awareness that just like any engineering skill, there’s a difference between doing the thing and doing it in an exceptional way that’s gonna get immediate, fruitful, actionable results.

[00:23:49] And I think just. Maybe for us as individuals to recognize where is our competency gap and go get the support you need, and take responsibility for that. And I, I really appreciate the reminder if you have that team inside your own company, just go, ask, go be proactive. Don’t wait for them to communicate it to you.

[00:24:07] Go be intentional. Get, get what’s there. I 

[00:24:09] Annette Franz: think the, and I’ll make one other point too. One other thing is once you are designing your product and you’ve, you’ve brought that voice in and brought the customer into it, I think one of the important things is, is that you’ve got to prototype, test it with the customer.

[00:24:23] You’ve already roll it out. Don’t even think, you can go and roll it out, prototype it, and then test it with your customers. Get their feedback at that point, and then iterate, right? Mm-hmm. Because it may not be there yet. So I know that. You’ve gotta, you’ve got a calendar. It’s like you’ve got, we need to launch by August 1st.

[00:24:41] Okay, well, you know what? It’s still not working the way that it should. And what it’s gonna do is it’s gonna annoy your customers. It’s gonna frustrate customers if it’s not there yet. So make sure that you build in enough time to have that prototyping and testing and iterate, with your customers before you actually launch.

[00:24:56] Otherwise, it’ll just, it’ll create frustration that’ll drive them elsewhere. 

[00:25:00] Zach White: So, in the spirit of culture, Yeah. One of the things that you talk about a lot that I want to kind of take an engineering lens on this I think is super important, is this idea of employee experience and customer experience, and lots of spotlighting is beginning to happen on customer experience, thanks to work like yours, but employee experience being linked to that is something that’s.

[00:25:24] At least from my experience and not commonly discussed. so many engineers come to, our company for coaching and support because they are frustrated and burned out or just disenchanted with the company that they work for, and they’re looking for new opportunities where their employee experience will be better.

[00:25:42] And so I’m really curious if you could explain the link between these two ideas and why employee experience is such an important part. Of the picture. Yeah. 

[00:25:53] Annette Franz: I think we saw it really well over the last three years. Right? if employees are happy if they, or, or I’m sorry, if their employees are not happy, employees are not engaged, employees are burned out, employees are not taken care of.

[00:26:04] Customers feel it, right? Employees are like, forget this, I’m outta here. And then, We have no staff to serve our customers. So I always say, here’s, here’s the connection. And I always say, if you’re doing this right, and people always say, put your customers first, it’s actually put your employees more first.

[00:26:19] They’re both important. put the people first, right? That’s why I say people before product, people before metric, people before profits. if we put the people first, then the outcomes, they will come, but. If we don’t have employees to design, sell, service, implement, install, train, support, all of that.

[00:26:36] who’s gonna do that. And so we need to make sure that employees are well taken care of so that the customers won’t be well taken care of. It’s, there’s a lot of, cliches and quotes and all that out there, but we’ve seen it, we, the last three years have been proof that there is a connection.

[00:26:51] And the crazy thing is, is this employee experience thing has been around for a long time. I read a book, probably about two years ago that showed that. 80 years ago. 80 years ago. There’s research from back then that says that the employee experience was such an important part of the business and how it connected to the customer experience.

[00:27:12] So it’s funny to me that, and your point is spot on, that companies still don’t make that connection. I, I worked with a client a couple years ago and I was sitting in on one of their leadership team meetings and we had this exact conversation. Employee experience drives customer experience.

[00:27:27] What? And the guy sitting next to me go, leans over and he goes, you know what? I never even thought about that. Thanks for bringing that up. it’s like, wow, wow. That’s really who serves your customer, right? Who builds the products? Who sells the products? You know, it’s your employees and if you don’t have employees, you’re done.

[00:27:42] Right? You’re done. Yeah. 

[00:27:43] Zach White: So, Annette, here’s, I don’t know if this is like a devil’s, advocate kind of thing or what. That’s okay. This is the engineer in me coming out, just to be totally honest with you. Like, I bet if an HR person was listening to us talk right now, they would say, of course. And this is why we work so hard on employee experience.

[00:27:59] We have all these initiatives and we have all these employee resource groups and we, talk about all this and we’re, of course this is true and everybody knows it’s true and like this is old news. But I know from having talked to thousands of engineers directly over the last years as a coach, that they would say, really?

[00:28:17] You knew that? Because my experience sucks. Right now I’m being overworked. I feel underpaid. Like you’re letting attrition go crazy. And I have the job of three people from two years ago. Yeah. And we haven’t done anything to fix that. And I’m burning out You must not care about your customer at all because I feel like you don’t care about me.

[00:28:36] Yeah. So here’s the question. Where’s that disconnect? Why do people who live in the world of HR and whatever maybe have positive things to say that we know this, but the experience on the ground is not happening? What do you think? 

[00:28:50] Annette Franz: Yeah, so there’s a couple things. First of all, HR versus talent and culture, two very different.

[00:28:59] Types of leaders in that organization. Right? So HR very focused on benefits and hiring people and recruiting and all of that, right? That’s hr. also HR does. Surveys and they think, Hey, we checked that box. We did employee 

[00:29:16] Zach White: engagement survey. Employee engagement survey. Oh man. Don’t get me started on that.

[00:29:20] Annette Franz: I have, oh yeah, I have a great story on that one. I had a client a few years back where they did this employee engagement survey quarterly, and I will tell you never do your employee engagement surveys quarterly because. What I ended up finding out was, well, first of all, they did nothing with the data, which happens most of the time.

[00:29:37] But second of all, the employees themselves, they pick up on this pretty quickly. Obviously, you’re not doing anything with the data. So they would actually take their surveys and they would save them, and then when the next quarter came around, they would just copy and paste. Just put the same stuff into the survey, so it was pointless, right?

[00:29:53] so that’s why we started to see the emergence of, like VP of Talent and Culture or Culture and Talent, right? Because, or director of customer, I’m sorry, director of employee experience or VP of employee experience. Those are the folks who are going to specifically focus on employee experience. If we define that as the sum of all the interactions that.

[00:30:15] Has over the duration of their employment with their employer. Right. And the feelings, emotions and perceptions that employee experience person is going to focus on that umbrella. They’re gonna focus on everything. Yeah. Yeah. And everything is gonna go in there, including recruiting and, the candidate experience and all of that.

[00:30:32] Right? So, so that’s the difference and the. Number one thing that has to be in place, and that’s why this type of a person is really important. the VP or head of talent and culture, culture and talent culture comes first. Culture is the foundation, right? If we get the culture right, the experience for the employees is gonna be so much better than if we don’t have the culture right?

[00:30:56] And it’s really the, this, there was a great quote that I saw this morning, and I’m gonna grab it because I, I think it, I printed it out ’cause I thought this is, this is it right here. Culture’s not an initiative. Culture is the enabler of all initiatives. And I was like, yes. Amen. Right? Culture is the enabler of all initiatives.

[00:31:14] Culture is the enabler of all good things or all bad things. So we have to deliberately design the culture that we want and that culture should be one that’s people-centric. I, you know, in my book I talk about customer-centric, but. To be customer centric, you have to put employees more first. And so it really is about putting people first.

[00:31:32] Yeah. So that’s what, that’s what I’m seeing. That’s what I’m seeing is there’s this start of some role title role around employee experience, but that talent culture, if you see that in an organization, Hopefully that means that person gets it and their focus isn’t just on benefits and comp and performance reviews and 

[00:31:50] Zach White: interesting.

[00:31:51] Yeah, that’s a good distinction. And I guess, yeah, just to bring it then all the way back to the individual engineer, you know, if I was having that conversation said, you can’t rely on someone else to take care of all this every time. At some point we gotta start right where we are in our department with our team and take responsibility for the culture we are creating.

[00:32:10] Yes. if you follow the whole thread of this conversation, it’s like, look, if. If you individually, let’s just take a selfish lens for a second. Like you wanna get promoted, you wanna be a VP of engineering one day, you wanna be c t o or you wanna start your own business and be in a startup and be a unicorn, whatever.

[00:32:25] It’s then customer experience is something you need to take seriously. Absolutely. Okay. Well if that’s, if you believe that, then take, and that’s second point here, that employee experience drives the customer experience. So we need to take that seriously and that can start with you. Right here, right now.

[00:32:42] You don’t have to wait for the VP of whatever their title’s gonna be to fix it 

[00:32:46] Annette Franz: for us. Absolutely. and it’s a great point too because culture can ha happen a couple of different ways, right? It’s the one you design or the one you allow. And I always say that, right? And I always say that the um, culture is driven from the top.

[00:33:00] It really is 99.9% of the time. But when there’s a situation where sometimes there has to be this grassroots groundswell. And as engineers, we can start that in our department and then we can start to talk to other departments and our friends and other departments and say, here, look, here’s, this is what we’re doing.

[00:33:16] So getting that grassroots groundswell to start up from the bottom up. A good culture, right? A lot of times we’ve got different cultures, different teams, but ultimately if it’s driven and it’s created from the top down, those cultures will all roll up into the bigger corporate, overall corporate culture too.

[00:33:35] it’s if you have that corporate culture that’s set. You, your subcultures, on your teams are, should be right in line with what the corporate culture is. Mm-hmm. 

[00:33:47] Zach White: I know some people will hear that, you know, culture is 99% driven from the top and be discouraged like, well, I’m only a manager.

[00:33:53] I’m, eight levels from the top. You know, how will I ever make a difference? But at the same time, let that be a part of your vision, right? It’s like you may not have the big influence today, but that’s part of why you must succeed at getting to the top so that you can be a change agent for that culture.

[00:34:07] yeah. You know, if this kind of lights your fire so well. And that really quick, I know you have, you know, multiple amazing books, but tell us about Built To Win Sure. Your newest book and, and kind of like what is in there that might be the kind of things we need to buy into and get familiar with as engineers to help advance.

[00:34:26] Really quick, I’d love to hear about what’s in the book. 

[00:34:28] Annette Franz: the book is really, all about the 10 foundational principles of a customer-centric or organization. And to your point here about cul. So culture is the first principle, culture is the foundation, right? That’s a great chapter for you guys to read.

[00:34:40] I think that’s, I think that’ll give you some inspiration in terms of what you need to do to, for that groundswell, right? For to start it in your department and move, move it through the rest of the organization. Find a leader, find somebody, there’s going to be somebody who gets it right and work with that person to champion the rest of it.

[00:35:01] So that’s really important. The other, there’s 10 principles, they’re all good, Yeah. Customer understanding is, Customer understanding is a cornerstone or customer centricity. Very important. The people before product metrics and profits. Great chapters to create. Great. There’s each chapter, each, each foundational principle has examples of companies that, I.

[00:35:21] have taken this to heart and have done each one of those things, right? So I think it’s really awesome. One of my favorite stories in there is about the employees and putting employees more. First is about Guinness. Guinness, a brand that you would, I mean, they’ve been around for forever, right? And some of the stories, some of the things that I write about in their, about their employee experience and what they did for their customers back in the day.

[00:35:41] Pretty amazing at this. I’m surprised when I researched them. So, so there’s great stories about different brands in every chapter that I think would inspire you to, start moving 

[00:35:51] Zach White: the needle. Brilliant. Well, I, I just go back to this fundamental idea that every engineer I’ve ever coached is looking for that X factor to stand out in their company.

[00:36:00] Yeah. And everybody wants to find it in their technical domain expertise as an engineer. And the fact is, yes, you do need to stand out in your ability to do engineering, but it’s very difficult for that to be your only area of differentiation within the company because there’s so many other skilled leaders, especially then.

[00:36:19] Competitively around the world. This is a place where, especially if you think C-Suite level leaders putting you in the talent pool as a person that they want to promote. This customer experience, customer centricity, ability and mindset is a great place to focus. So, for any happy engineer listening, a quick offer for you.

[00:36:40] Uh, if you’re interested in Annette’s work and you wanna get a copy of Built To Win, the first three people who email me, [email protected], send me. The title of the book Built to Win in the subject. Put your mailing address in the email. And the first three people who do that, who listen to this episode, we’re gonna send you a free copy of Annette’s book.

[00:37:00] That’s awesome. Built to win. So, make that happen. If this interests you, and I 

[00:37:04] Annette Franz: agree with what you said here, like this book will differentiate you, right? if you’re wanting to move up the corporate ladder, like you said, c t o, start your own business, you know, whatever it is.

[00:37:13] This book will differentiate you, the things that you learn and how you think about things differently. I think it’s powerful. Yeah. Thank you for that. 

[00:37:22] Zach White: Totally. No, it’s my pleasure. And love the work you’re doing and thanks for sharing your wisdom today. So, I hate to end it, but we gotta land the plane and, uh, tell us where, where, other than, you know, emailing me for a copy of the book, where can people find you and get connected to all of your incredible, you know, decades of experience around customer journey and experience.

[00:37:40] Thank you. Where can people go? 

[00:37:41] Annette Franz: go to my website, cx All my, links to socials and everything. The book both books, these two books on the walls here, they’re, it’s all in there. So that would be the best way to reach out to me. You can contact me through the site as well. So, yeah, thank you for having me.

[00:37:54] It’s been awesome. Great 

[00:37:55] Zach White: conversation. So We’ll put that in the show notes as well as all the other resources to find Annette’s work. just to end things, we always talk about this, and you actually mentioned it already in our conversation, Annette, that questions lead, answers, follow and engineering that’s true.

[00:38:13] And coaching that’s true and all of life. That’s true. If you want better answers, let’s ask better questions. So what would be the question you would lead the Happy Engineer with coming outta this conversation? Annette. I think the big question 

[00:38:24] Annette Franz: is, what problem are you trying to solve? That is when I go and, you know, talk to prospects, talk to whoever, that’s the first question that I always ask is, what problem are you trying to solve?

[00:38:35] what’s the catalyst for this? What’s the catalyst for this conversation? What’s the catalyst for, building this product or adding this feature or doing whatever. So what problem are you trying to solve or what’s the catalyst for this? 

[00:38:45] Zach White: Hmm. I love that. What problem are you trying to solve?

[00:38:50] Annette, thank you again for making time for this super fun and we’ll have to do it again sometime.