Episode #29: A Look Back and A Look Ahead With Betsy Westhafer And Tony Bodoh

Listen into this episode with two brand new guests – Betsy and Tony! As two CEOs, they dive into what has driven their careers and businesses forward. Tony’s business focuses on a bottom-up approach and Betsy’s business focuses on a top-down approach. They meet somewhere in the middle to discuss how to better engage with customers. They also explore predictions for the next 3-5 years as it relates to CEO behaviors and strategies. Don’t miss this episode of the REALLY Know Your Customer Podcast!

Watch the episode here:

Listen to the Podcast here:


About Betsy Westhafer

Betsy Westhafer is the Founder and CEO of The Congruity Group, a consultancy focused on helping organizations achieve 100% retention of key accounts and double-digit account revenue growth through building and leveraging deep customer relationships.

Congruity works with companies to build and execute customer-focused strategies, with a particular focus on deploying both digital and in-person Customer Advisory Boards.

Betsy is a speaker, a frequent podcast guest, and the co-author of the #1 Best Seller, ProphetAbility – The Revealing Story of Why Companies Succeed, Fail or Bounce Back.” She lives in Dayton, Ohio with her husband Paul, and when not working spends her time with her kids and grandkids, preferably on the water at Lake Cumberland.

About Tony Bodoh

Tony Bodoh is the CEO of Tony Bodoh International, a customer experience consultancy. TBI’s focus is on applying the science of human experience to deepen the customer relationships that build brands and grow businesses. In 2018, Tony was named one of the “Top Customer Service Movers and Shakers You Should Follow.”

Tony is also a co-founder of 3 other businesses, including Pinstripe Entertainment which runs Pinstripe.TV and BZNS. Tony describes Pinstripe.TV as “Netflix meets Amazon Prime Video for business people.” The platform provides live-streaming and curated on-demand shows, documentaries, and courses for business leaders. BZNS is an all-business broadcast channel launching in 2020.

Tony is a speaker, podcaster, and co-author of three #1 Best Selling books including ProphetAbility – The Revealing Story of Why Companies Succeed, Fail or Bounce Back; Leverage – How to Achieve a Lot with the Little You’ve Got; and, The Complete Experience – Unlocking the Secrets of Online Reviews that Drive Customer Loyalty.

Tony lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife and two daughters, and spends his free time volunteering in the community with his family and binge-watching historical documentaries.

A Look Back And A Look Ahead With Betsy Westhafer And Tony Bodoh

How Customer Engagement Continues To Evolve In 2021

Betsy, I am so excited. We have two special guests on this show that have not been on our show before at least in this way. I think we should just jump right in. I am excited to have this opportunity for the two of us to engage in a deep conversation. Yes we don’t have a guest on this episode but it’s going to be really important for the CEOs and the business owners who are reading to know what we want to share with them. It’s something different from what we’ve shared in the past. I’d like to start with you because we haven’t taken a whole lot of time to introduce you or myself. I’d love you to introduce yourselfyour background, and the company that you work for. 

I’m looking forward to our readers getting to know who we are, how we came together, and what we do. My name is Betsy Westhafer. I am the CEO of The Congruity Group. ACongruity, we focus strictly on executive-level customer advisory boards. We help our clients engage with their key customers at the executive level. We’ll go into that a little bit more on what that means and the impact that has on the companies. The way I got into this work was years agoI worked for another company that did the exact same thing. It was great and I loved it. It was such an education because I got to sit in boardrooms with these executives and hear them engaging about business models, product roadmaps, strategies around marketing, and all of these high-level conversations. 

I was traveling and meeting all kinds of great people and got to go to lots of different countries to do this. While it was wonderful at the time in my life, I was traveling a little too much. I had to dial that back a little bit. I still had kids at home. I went on to do some other things in the nonprofit world. I worked for an economic development organization. I worked for an entrepreneurial education center. I went on to cofound a company in the legal tech industry. One thing led to another. I sold out my interest in that to my partners and was trying to figure out what to do next. 

What you thought to be true about your customers in February 2020 no longer holds true now.CLICK TO TWEET

One of my friends from the economic development organization and I were talking through, “What’s next for Betsy?” She asked me such a good question. I want to remember to ask this question to other people that would be in the same boat. She said, Betsy, out of everything you have done, where do you feel like you made the greatest impact? I was looking at what’s next? What’s something I haven’t done? I never even thought to look backward and see what have I done? What was fulfilling? Where did I have a lot of impact? I said, I didn’t even think about it. It’s customer advisory boards.” She said, “Why aren’t you doing that? The thought hanever occurred to me. It took me very little time to figure out that that’s what I want to do. I shifted my consulting focus to customer advisory boards a few years ago and have been doing that work ever since. 

Your background is so cool because you’ve worked in not just different companies but also different sectors. All of those touch on understanding the customer at the executive level, especially in the B2B environment. I’ve always found it fascinating. As we’ve often done this comparison, you start at the top and work your way downYou work with the CEO and the C-Suite and their clients. It’s such a fascinating place because understanding business from that level, you’re working at the strategy level. Where’s the company going to go for the next 3 to 5 years? Where’s the industry going? What are the challenges we see? I’ve learned so much by being able to partner with you on different projects. Writing the book ProphetAbility togetherputting on the ProphetAbility Bounced Back Summit when COVID was maybe a month or two inthe podcast, and many other things that we’ve done. You have such a different perspective that I’m always learning and gaining new knowledge when I sit down and talk with you. 

I would love to say that I carved out this very strategic career path for myself that, I want to focus on B2B executive engagement. It just has turned out that way. I would love to think that I did that on purpose, but it’s just what I was drawn to. I learned so much from talking to you and working with you. The book experience was amazing. Nobody believes me when I tell them what a phenomenal experience that was. We wrote that book in 100 days. We bounced off each other on a Google Doc. Now we have this number one bestseller. What I learned through that experience was amazing. Let me turn the tables on you a little bit and ask you to do the same thing. Introduce yourself to our readers. 

Writing that book in 100 days was a significant feat. A couple of years before COVIDwe were working completely remotely. We didn’t even see each other during that time except over Zoom calls. This is not where I imagined I would be in many ways, way back when I was in college. I earned this history degree and I earned a degree in economics. It’s more like the philosophy of economics rather than statistical economics. There’s the distinction there. I bounced around between some jobs but landed in Nashville in 2000. At that point, I was starting to work as a marketing analyst and getting into the data side of the business. 

This is direct marketing way back in the day when it was actual letters, not emails. It was how do we make it more efficient, more effective? How do we segment the populations better? It was all of that type of thing. I ended up falling into a position right after a massive merger between two companies. Of 300 people on the West Coast, only seven came to Nashville in the merger. We had to build the data systems, the analytical systems from the ground up because what came to us did not work. I was not formally trained in that area but I had the mind for it. They threw me at these things. I’d work with the IT team and sit down with them day after day. 

I learned the ins and outs of how data works. How these analytical systems work. That was in the direct marketing and financial services industry. I went from there into the hospitality industry which I always had a passion for work as I worked in hotels when I was growing up in high school. I created an analytics team, analytics practice at Gaylord which is more than just a hotel brand owned by Marriott nowIt was 50 or 60 different businesses under the Gaylord Entertainment umbrella from museums to a radio program to a golf course. You name it, we had all kinds of businesses. I started there building out the analytics side of things. I was always looking at profitability, revenue, and sales numbers. Halfway through my tenure, they asked me to take over customer experience. 

I had never taken a psychology course in college. I avoided them in grad school even. I just took organizational psychology that was required for my MBAI tried to push all that aside because that was all the soft stuff. I was a hard numbers guy, I like process and lean and Theory of Constraints. Those were the things that I focused on. When they gave me this, they put me in charge of all the market research. They put me in charge of customer satisfaction, guest satisfaction and I had to do it. I dived in and we put in things like text-based analytics which is a very common thing but back in 2007, only the intelligence services were using it. We were one of the first companies to build text mining platforms. 

I worked with Gaylord for five years. In 2009, due to some personal things, personal health issues, I decided to leave. I started my own company doing customer experience analytics. Tony Bodoh International is the name of the company. I have been doing all kinds of different customer experience analytics. I have grown with the industry. I have worked for some amazing companies, some top brands out there, and also worked with a lot of startups which is always a fun place to work with. The whole idea has always been around bringing together three sciences. The science of emotions, behavioral economics which is a science of behavior, and then positive psychology. How do we merge those and think about the human experience as a customer from that perspective? 

ProphetAbility: The Revealing Story of Why Companies Succeed, Fail and Bounce Back

What I love about what you do and what I do and why it makes us such great partners on these projects that we work on is that you have this bottom-up user-level, experience-level, which is so critical for the C-Suite to understand at a high level and then vice versa. It’s important for the strategies that are being developed at the high level to filter down to the user levelThat’s why it’s so much fun that we’ve come together. Both of us are focused on customers 100% but in different ways. 

Betsy, tell me a little bit more about the type of clients that you work with and the types of problems that your company solves. 

We focus on working with the C-Suites of high-growth-funded companies. We’re looking for those companies that have a mandate to grow pretty quickly. We work with private equity firms to help their portfolio companies grow. The way we do that is with customer advisory boards. We bring the C-Suites of our clients together with the C-Suites of their key customers. In those conversations we talk about things that are on the minds of the CEO, the CMO, Chief Commercial Officer. Sometimes the CTO will be in the room. Sometimes the CFO will be in the room. It depends on the agenda for each particular meeting. Having those conversations that help their customers figure out, “How is this key partner going to help us grow our business? 

little peek behind the curtain of BetsyI’m super anti-conflictThis isn’t a meeting where we’re trying to come up with a solution or we’re trying to come to an agreement of some sort. It’s about brainstorming ways and validating things so that the tide rises all the ships that are in the room. We have a methodical process to get out those insights that our clients are looking for, and make sure that it’s time well spent, that there’s value, not just for our client because there’s obvious value for our clients but also creating a lot of value for the customers who take 1.5 or 2 days out of their calendars. These are high-level folks that are taking that time out to help a key supplier. How do we create that value for them to make it a good use of time? Those are the types of clients we’re working with. 

In terms of how we like to work with our customers, there are a couple of things. One, we want them to know that we understand that this is a high-risk endeavor for them. You can’t just put your team in front of all your key clients, say 10 to 12 key clients, and not have risk. You have to understand how to do that. We’re very respectful of the fact that this is a highrisk, but highreward engagement for them and their customers. We also respect their time. This is a side thing. This is not their day job. We work hard to make sure that we’re doing as much of the heavy lifting as we possibly can. That we create this amazing experience that yields these great strategic insights for our customers. We’re trying to build relationships with our customers just like we encourage them to build relationships with theirs. That’s how we go about it. We’ve got a great team that works with our clients. We touch base with each client once a week while we’re doing these initiatives and an extension of their team concerning customer engagement. 

What industries do you typically focus on? 

We’re working a lot in logistics, which is an amazing time of life for logistics and supply chain. Everything’s changing in COVID. We’re working with some logistics company. We’re also working with a company that does K to 12 online curriculum. It’s also an amazing time to be doing that. The whole world has shifted so much. That’s why I’m so excited to be talking about this because what I tell people is what you thought to be true about your customers in February of 2020 no longer holds true. The only way to know where your customers are going is to ask them. You have to talk to them. You have to ask them what’s going on and be engaged because your business depends on knowing what’s going on with your customer’s business. Tony, let’s talk about you and your customers and how you work. What are some of the things that you do as far as your company, Tony Bodoh International, to make sure that you’re getting for your clients what they hire you to do? 

We started like a lot of other consulting agencies in the customer experience space. We focused on going in and looking at CSAT, NPS, and any of those typical metrics you’d look at and help companies improve. The distinguishing factor we’ve had for our entire history is that we don’t go in and just try to improve a CSAT score. My typical contact is not like the head of the customer service or the customer experience leader in the company. I work with them. They’re a point of contact but they’re not the person who brings me in. I’m brought in by a much higher level. The CEO or the business owner often brings us in. 

The only way to know where your customers are going is to ask them.CLICK TO TWEET

The reason for that is because what we recognized very early on in this process is that the customer experience leader is talking a different language than the CEO. The CEO cares about the portfolio of the business, profitability and growth. That’s not necessarily aligned with typical customer satisfaction scores. They could be opposed to one another at times. With my unique background for someone in this space having built these systems, understanding how all of these systems work, the data structures and how to build teams around analyticsI’m able to go in there and say, “Let’s not just look at CSAT or NPS but let’s mix that with profitability, sales, and these other metrics like growth metrics and identify at a different level who is happy about the company and why? Who is happy about the products or the brand and who’s not? Does it matter that those people who are not happy, aren’t happy?”  

That sounds like a heresy to say in the customer experience base but not everyone’s your customer. You should let go of some peopleWe take a very targeted approach trying to understand what are the goals of the CEO and then how do we help craft a CX program, the whole experience that supports that? We may not optimize in every scenario the actual satisfaction scores, but we do optimize the growth of the company and those scores at the same time.  

What’s interesting for us, for the first 5 or 6 years of doing this, I was very focused on keeping the company around primarily the B2C space. We were working in financial services, hospitality, very service-oriented experience, oriented businesses. In the 2016, 2017 timeframe, several things happened for us as a business. In the marketplace, things began to shift where we started moving toward a transformation economy. We spend most of our time in the B2B2C space. We work with businesses to businesses who are supporting a B2C environment. 

As an example, one of my clients provides a call center support team for IoT products from the home. It could be your smart refrigerator, your smart thermostat, wearable, etcAnother client is a marketing agency that works specifically with B2C fast-growth companies. The other elements of that our B2B2C relationships are often in spaces that are like you. They are right at that edge of growth. They’re probably funded or just about ready to get funded. They need to create both profitability and an amazing experience so that they have that viral impact. That’s an area that we’re specializing in over the years and building that out. 

When we wrote ProphetAbilityI was at the beginning stages of that. We were about six months into this work at that level. To see it blossomed, especially during COVID, a lot of the traditional customer satisfaction fell to the wayside for us. They said we need to focus more on the training, on train the trainer programs. How do you help us understand the human experience? No one’s ever experienced this before. Emotions are at an all-time new level. How do we handle this with our employees, with our customers, etc.? It’s been a fascinating shift. We’ve branched off and partnered to create a brand new company that sits between the virtual reality space, social media, and customer experience. 

If you were sitting in a coffee shop and there were some people within earshot and you had a customer there. What would you most want to hear your customers say about you and the work you do? 

I love when I hear my customers say, “You have simplified some very complex things for us.” I love hearing that. That’s one of the things we specialize in and partnered with. It’s not just about the simplification of complexity, but it’s also about how much their company was able to grow because of small changes. We had one client with who I happened to have a conversation with the COO. I was at one of their events. They do training programs for business owners. I went to one of their events and I was chatting with the COO in the back of the room. He said, “Based on the changes you recommended for our marketing campaign, based on the feedback we had gotten from the prior events, we’ve doubled our sales. To hear that for these fast-growing companies, a lot are family-owned or the founder is still there, you can see them beaming with pride because they see this dream of theirs became a reality and I got to participate in that. I love that part of it. 

That’s another reason why you and I work so well together is because at Congruity, our mission is simple. It’s to help our clients grow. Plain and simple, that’s our mission. I would say the same thing like, “Wow we’ve experienced exponential growth since we brought on Congruity and they’ve been part of our team. That’s what’s cool about the work we do and why talking to CEOs through our show, through our book, through some of the other projects that we have teed up. At the end of the day, that’s what we do. If you look at it at a super high level, we help CEOs grow their companies. 

On that note, Betsy, why is this conversation so important for the CEO? 

It’s always been an important conversation but never more so than now with everything that’s just been turned upside down with COVID. I’ve had so many conversations about how things have changed and it’s changed in different ways. Some of it has changed for the best and they’re trying to keep up and they’re like, How do we do this? How do we handle this growth? Others are, “How do we hang onto our team when we don’t have this income coming in? When are we going to get back? How are we going to get back? 

I was in a subcommittee meeting for the Downtown Dayton PartnershipThe room has or 10 people. Huge companies with 5,600 employees and big hospital networks, and people like me with a small company. The conversation was, “Do you mandate your people coming back? Do you do a hybrid? Is there an expectation that they will be there? If they love working from home, what would motivate them to go back? They had that employee side which you and I have talked about how employees can be seen as customers as well. It’s the same thing with the customers. How are the customers going to do business with us? It’s different for them. What are their challenges? What if they like the way things evolved into in COVID and that’s not where we’re going? All of the stuff is so different because of COVID and it’s like a whiteboard. You’re starting from scratch with your company. It’s critical for the CEO to keep open-minded about that because the status quo will be the death knell for any company in 2021. 

Customer Engagement: It’s not just about simplifying complexity, but it’s also about how much their company was able to grow because of small changes.

It’s such an important conversation to be having. CEOs are more open to having the conversation than ever before too. 

There’s been a dose of humility to some CEOs that they don’t have all the answers. Their teams may not have all the answers but if they want to get to some good answers, they need to engage with their customers. Do you see CEOs thinking of their employees as customers as well? 

That is something that has been a growing trend for a while. I would say with COVID, it’s accelerated and there are a couple of hypotheses I have. I haven’t seen any clear research yet around this topic. What I have seen and heard even on the podcast if we look back to several episodes, we’ve got CEOs and business owners who are saying, I look to my employees first. John Boggs brought that point up in one of our episodes. I remember at this time when we were doing our first interviews, COVID was just breaking. We were just getting the lockdowns. The CEOs and business owners are trying to figure out what to do. 

What I found truly amazing is that they were listening to their employees first even before they listened to their customers. I have never in my twenty-some years in this space seen so many leaders asking their employees the types of questions that were being asked, Do you feel safe working here? How do we do this? If we go home this weekend and don’t come back, how do we keep working? We had interviews from New Zealand and we saw it there too. It was not just in the US. It was around the world and people were asking the same question, How do we support you as our employees? The focus went right to the employees because they recognize something that’s been in the literature for a while. If we don’t treat the employees right, they can’t take care of our customers. 

You’ve got employees who are working from home and homeschooling at the same time, and maybe dealing with an elderly person who’s sick, a parent or a loved one. All of these are going on. The CEOs have had to pay attention to what was going on for their employees. Those conversations are not over. I was talking with a CEO and he was relaying to me how he was at a networking group with a bunch of other CEOs. It was a virtual one. Almost all of them were saying that for their teamsone of the highest values is, “Can I work remotely? Do I have to come into the office? If I do, you’ve got to have a substantial reason for me to come in. 

It’s not that they don’t want to be around other people. They’re recognizing that we’ve been able to run our businesses, run our lives, help our kids go through school, although not perfectly from anywhere in the world. People have this new perspective of things. They’re saying, “There’s something more valuable here than spending an hour driving to and from work and spending 1 to 1.5 hours for lunch and all of these other things. I still want to be around people, but I want to do it on my terms. That’s one of the biggest things that we have to be aware of as CEOs. 

The CEO must stay open-minded because the status quo will be the death knell for any company in the future.CLICK TO TWEET

Tony, just a little bit of a different perspective. When I was in this subcommittee meeting, it was about bringing the workers back downtown to Dayton. There was a young lady in this committee meeting who was a Millennial. She said that they are going to expect that their workers will come back and a lot of them were saying, I can get my job done just fine at home. What she was talking about is Millennials are thinking“What’s the bigger purpose here in my job?” She was talking about educating their workers. It’s not just about the transaction of what you do in your job. When you come back downtown, you’re going out to lunch and you’re helping that first-floor restaurant get their business back up. You’re having coffee and you’re helping that coffee shop. You’re noticing one of your coworkers might be having a bad day and you’re right there to try to lift them back up. 

All of the other value of being together versus a remote force. There’s that balance because a lot of people do like the flexibility and the ability to get their kids where they need to go and all of those things. The greater meaning of coming to work with your coworkers and the ripple effects of that in downtown. There’s a lot to think about and there’s a lot of emotion that goes into that. Tony, I know you’re an expert in the emotions of all of this stuff. Talk to us a little bit about that. 

The biggest challenge that we’ve seen during COVID is that people have been on an emotional edge which is not surprising. Getting away from the political side of the conversation let’s just talk about the reality of not knowing and uncertaintyIs my job going to be here? Are my kids going to be safe? Are my parents going to be safe? It’s not fear, it’s uncertainty. That uncertainty can lead to a lot of different things. That’s the first part that we experienced those emotions but as people are starting to come back, there’s going to be a whole new set of emotions that we were not aware of yet what they’re going to be. 

Every single one of us has gone through trauma. There’s going to be societal PTSD. That is not something that we should take lightly. That’s going to be one of the most significant impacts that we see as the world. It’s not just any local area. The entire world experienced this. It shook up some areas and some businesses more than others, some individuals more than others but in reality, we all faced it one way or the other. No matter what our opinions were on vaccines or masks or whatever else, we all face the uncertainty of “What if?” It’s a different question but we all face that. That element right there is number one. 

Two, we have to be very cognizant. We know that the numbers for depression, we know the numbers for anxiety, all of those numbers have gone up. We don’t know exactly because we’re still early. We’re a year out from the beginning of this but early indicators are that all those numbers have gone up. If people come back to an office environment, there’s going to have to be some emotional resilience work being done there. There’s going to have to be some training, some extra support that maybe your company has never provided before. That doesn’t make you a bad company. We were all operating out of normal but that’s gone. We’re never going back to the way it was before. 

I don’t make this comparison lightly. I’ve worked with a lot of veterans. Going back to pre-COVID would be analogous with a soldier thinking they can go back to pre-war. It’s not going to happen. We’ve experienced far too much. One of the things we have to do, whether we like it or not, and there’s a lot of emotion around these. As human beings, we love to go back. We romanticize the past. What we have to do is recognize that there was a lot of good in the past but our memory of it is tainted. It’s altered because of what we’ve just been through. I would encourage CEOs from the top level and all of your teams below you to focus on reimagining what could be. 

We’ve done these exercises for years with companies. If you were sitting in a coffee shop and you’re listening to your customers or to your clients, eavesdropping on a conversation they’re having, what would they be saying? That’s the starting point question that I use when I’m working with my clients. When they’re trying to imagine a brand new experience, what could we create rather than what can we fix? If you look at the customer experience world, most of it having come out of the quality movement of the 1980s and 1990s was all about fixing problems. The greatest opportunity is when a company sits down and says, “What can we create that’s never been done before, at least never done in our space?” It is the time for us to lean into that creativity, to be vulnerable, to recognize that we are not going back but let’s create a better future. 

What I would add to that is where the real magic happens. It’s when you’re doing exactly what you just described and you’re including your customers in that conversation. “What can we create together that’s going to be very different than what we’ve had?” That is an outcome of a lot of the customer advisory board meetings we’ve done where our clients are co-innovating with their clients and nothing’s off the table. It’s just this big brainstorming thing. The companies are willing to open up their minds. It has to come from the top down. It’s just not going to fly if the CEO is not bought in the support that’s needed. It’s important to have that support from the CEO and that engagement and true commitment to that cultural mindset of being open-minded to that. 

How would the CEO know that they’re on the right path as we move into this new economy? 

I don’t know if they could know that they’re on the right path, but a strategy to help do everything they can to make sure they’re on the right path is by engaging with the customers. I see companies that have their R&D labs and they have people coming up with creative things in this room and then handing it off to the product launch team and the marketing team. They throw it out there and they hold their breath and cross their fingers and hope that what they built and how they priced it is going to work for their customers. Versus bringing the customers in, make them part of the process and ask them, “What’s the price point you’d pay on this?” Ask them what is this going to do to help your business. What’s the ROI for you if you do this? All of those things can help ensure that they’re on the right track versus doing the old throwing spaghetti up against a wall methodology. 

You talked about co-innovation and it ties into what you’re talking about. Let’s dive a little deeper into how CEOs can look at the strategy that they have in place, maybe their future strategies, and think about co-innovation. How can they do that? I know you specialize in this area and The Congruity Group does thisBased on all the things that have morphed and changed, what would you be telling the CEOs? 

I have a story and this is from way back earlier in my career. We had a client that at that time were a print publisher of sciencemedical and technology journals. When digital started happening, they had to completely transform their business. They came up with a strategy, spent tons of time and money, and human resources building out this strategy and we’re ready to go to market. They decided, “We need to vet this with our customer advisory boards.” This is a global company. It wasn’t one small group of ten people. They vetted it with their US advisory boards and three different markets that they served, their Middle East, Latin America, and European advisory boards.  

They got this global perspective of their strategies and how they intended to shift from print to digital, and universally, their advisory boards put the kibosh on all of it. They’re like, “This is not what we’re looking for. This is not going to fly with us. We’re not going to pay for that or that way or that amount or whatever. They got all this information from all these different advisory boards. They had to go back to the drawing board. If they had spent millions of dollars to launch this transformational thing that they were doing from print to digital and if it hadn’t flown, they would either completely have lost the company because their competitors would have crushed them like a bug or they would have had much slower growth. It could have been devastating for the company. You mentioned a venture that you’re involved in which is part social media, part community, part virtual. Tell us a little bit about that because I happen to know about it. I want our readers to get a chance to know more. 

Customer Engagement: We have to recognize that there was a lot of good in the past, but our memory of it is tainted. It’s altered because of what we’ve just been through.

The platform is called The Spark Virtual Campus. You can go to TheSparkVC.com, that’s our website. I call it a social media platform and a virtual conference center or a virtual campus. Think of it as a virtual city center. With it, you have an avatar. You design this little 3D character and this character walks through the campus and can talk with other people. You talk through the avatar, see through the eyes of the avatar, and engage with other people like you would if you were standing in the city center, at your local coffee shop, or a conference like we used to do in the good old days in the real world. 

We created this platform for several reasons. One, we saw that social media as it’s been developed over time, there are a lot of challenges with social media, and social media for businesses can be challenging. A couple of key things, if you look at most of the platforms out there, they’re asynchronous which means a customer may send a message on Twitter, Facebook, whatever platform their company’s on. Sometime latersomeone responds to them. Sometime later that customer messages back. It’s this back and forth which is asynchronous and very slow. 

The other piece to it is, there’s this whole idea of the addictive side of it. The side that is pulling us away from being present with the people in our lives. We were looking at what can we do. What can we create to help businesses, help people? This is a result of COVID, to be honest with you. We weren’t thinking of doing this before but we looked at the number of the platforms that were out there that you could hold conferences on. Not just like a two-dimensional thing like Zoom. We’re talking about other three-dimensional platforms. We arrived at one that we white-labeled and brought in. It’s a very common platform called VirbelaWe use it in such a way where we have businesses come in. They set up at a storefront and they can run their business from there. We can access their websites. We can do all kinds of amazing things and they get to engage real-time with the customers. Customers come into the platform and they join The Spark. 

We’re creating the campus. There’s going to be more than one campus. They’re hyper-specific to geographic locations. We’re giving people an experience of what it’s like in a virtual way to be in those destinations. We’re going to partner with the businesses and those destinations, with the nonprofits, with the attractions, the museums, all of these things. They’re all going to be on the platform. You can have this experience as a consumer. We have coworking spaces too. You can do a virtual coworking, walk from my office to Betsy’s office, to someone else’s office, ask questions, just like you would do if you were in a shared office space or if you had your team in a real office space. 

That’s a vague way of approaching it but I encourage you if you want to take a tour, reach out to me. My contact information is always available on the website. We’d love to give you a tour and take you through The Spark. The whole essence of it is to help bring humanity back to the virtual world. It changes how we see social media, human engagement and fundamentally, how companies can reimagine the experience with their customers. 

What you’ve done with The Spark is exactly what we’ve been talking about. Open up your brain on what can be possible, and having had the benefit of being on the campus I’ve met people on the campus. I’ve had my little storefront with my logo, my website, clickable to get directly to the website. There are so many cool features in this. You owe it to yourself to reach out to Tony and take a tour and see what this is all about. I predict it’s going to be massive because it is such an engaging way for business people to connect far beyond anything that the current platforms offer. What are some of the changes that you see happening in the next few years from your vantage point? 

It’s dangerous to predict the future but there are some trends that are very clear for us and there are some other things that are happening that most business people may not be looking at. I’m focused on those. The simple things to predict would be, we’re going to see a much faster rise of artificial intelligence being used in the customer experience arena in serving customers. Machine language, virtual reality, augmented reality, all of that stuff is going to grow. That’s the simple stuff to predict. The harder stuff to predict is what’s going to happen for people. What type of industries and companies within industries are going to succeed? 

I’ve talked about this a lot in the past and if you are on podcasts or other platforms if you look back from 2000 through 2018, 2019 even 2020. We’ve been in what’s called the experience economy where people are asking, I want to buy something that helps me to make a memory. I want to buy something that helps me feel good.” We’re all about these positive experiences and feel good. It started in maybe 2013, 2014, where it started to pick up steam. Over the years it has become a significant force of growth. That is what’s called the Transformation Economy. This is not my term. This comes from Pine and Gilmore from The Experience Economy book they wrote way back in 1999. 

Employees have to be viewed as the first customer of the organization.CLICK TO TWEET

They predicted this Transformation Economy. What happens in the Transformation Economy is that people are looking to be transformed. They’re looking for a new identity, a new world view, a new way of perceiving things and engaging in the world. I’ve been predicting that this is accelerating or proving and showing over and over. It’s accelerating and helping companies understand how to move to that space. We talked about it in our book ProphetAbility that we published in 2018. It’s not a new idea. What is revolutionary is that because of COVID, it is now the fastest-growing segment of the economy. The podcast production company that we work with, the CEO said that they’ve been watching the trends with COVID. Education is one of the fastest-growing segments of podcasts. People are seeking out ways to transform themselves. 

If you look at the coaching industry, if you look at the wearables industry, IoT, Internet of Things, we’re looking at devices that help us feel better and be better. All of that’s tied into transformation. How do I transform my body? My mind? Mattresses tell you how well you sleep at night and how you can improve your sleep. All of these things exist out there and you can look at them and say, “They’re technologies that make our lives better. It’s more than that. At a deeper level the companies that recognize it’s not just about a better experience but it’s about transforming the individual, those are the companies that are going to succeed. 

In every industry, you could find a company that is headed in that direction, but the companies that get there first are going to be leaps and bounds ahead of their competitors. They’re going to grow rapidly because they’ve got that edge. Gen Z is coming into the workforce. They will be the largest segment of the workforce by 2030. They’re going to be growing over the years, which means we’ve got to look at what Gen Z cares about. Gen Z cares about transformation. Millennials cared about experiences. Gen Z wants to reshape how they view the world, how they view themselves. Those are a couple of the biggest changes we’re going to see in the next few years 

From my side and my vantage point, some of the things that are going to change in the conversations in the boardrooms with the C-Suites are about customer engagement. In the past, customer engagement has been something seen at the user level or the account level. One of the biggest shifts I predict will happen is that CEOs are going to understand that they have to engage with the customers. When you were talking about what you’ve innovated with The Spark, at Congruity, we have innovated something called the CCI, which stands for Congruity Customer Index. Iis an algorithm that we’ve built to help executives measure the level of engagement at their level. That includes things like culture, creating advocates, adding value to your customers that you’re engaging with. 

We have eight different areas that we have the people who take the CCI look at, and they’re all strategic areas. What I see happening is executives looking at customer engagement as additional strategies that they have to figure out to help them grow the companies. I haven’t seen a whole lot around that as far as it being an actual executive-level strategy versus more of a customer success strategy or a user-level strategy. We’ve built the CCI to help get a baseline score like a comprehensive score for customer engagement as well as scores in each one of those eight buckets as a baseline so that they can see how they’re improving, and creating deep customer engagement in those strategic areas. 

We are in the process of building a masterclass to teach on each of those eight areas. We’ve brought in eight experts, yourself included, to pull together this masterclass in these eight buckets that are in alignment with the CCI. It’s one thing to take the assessment but where do you go to learn more about how to increase those scores? How to do these things better? It’s not just about the score. How do you do these eight areas better as an executive? When those things are all working well, the opportunity for growth is off the charts. 

I am impressed with what you’ve created and how you’re rolling this out to companies, and how the executives are responding to it. It’s moving customer engagement to the strategic level of the organization which has not been done. Years ago, the customer experience was not something the CEO typically talked about. Engagement is just a new level of real awareness that the CEOs and the C-Suite has to have. It was a marketing campaign before. It was how are we going to engage on a user level? Now it’s how do we restructure our entire company? 

Some of the feedback that we’ve gotten when we were doing our beta testing on the CCI, we had one CEO say, “This has opened my eyes. Reading the questions on the assessment has made me realize what I don’t know. The whole, “You don’t know what you don’t know. He‘s like, “Now I know what I don’t know. He also commented that“After reading this, I can’t afford the risk of not engaging with my customers because now I see the impact that it can have. We’re excited about the launch of the CCI. That’s what gets us excited because we just see this up-leveling and the timing with COVID. Let’s look at the bright side of COVID for just a second. Having a tool for CEOs to be able to structure a strategy around their customer engagement, we’re very excited and very proud of it. 

We have talked about some pretty amazing thingsBetsy, not because it was you and I talking but we’ve talked about things that have come up on the show in the past and other episodes that have come up in conversations with our clients and with CEOs that we’ve talked to from around the world. A couple of things that stand out to me in this is customer engagement is something that we have to look at the strategy level. Another key piece of this is beginning to understand how employees have to be viewed as the first customer of the organization. They are going to be out shopping for new jobs. You‘re going to be competing with other companies to win them over. Especially if you make them come back and they don’t want to come back or maybe they want to come back but in certain ways and you’re not providing for that. They are your first customers. They have to buy in before they ever come back. That’s important. 

We talked about The Spark and how that’s the next evolution of engaging with peers and with your customers and with your employees. I’m sure you can have an employee lounge at The Spark campus and all kinds of great things. This has been so much fun. We’ve talked about doing this conversation for a long time and it’s been so much fun. Let’s treat it like some of the other shows that we do. We always like to share a nonprofit, a charity that our guests are involved with. What’s a charity or organization that you would want people to know about and give a shout-out for? 

I’m going to give a shout-out to two different organizations. One is where I put my money and that is the Unstoppable Foundation. I know John Boggs brought this up when he was on our show. Cynthia Kersey does some great work over in Africa helping build sustainable villages there. I want to do another shout-out for them because I love supporting that organization, I have for many years. The other organization is where I put my time. That is Hands On Nashville. I was involved in the flood in 2010 and Hands On Nashville helped us recover. The volunteers have come into our community. We’ve been able to give back. Both of my daughters just love being in service. They find activities for us to go out there and do and help the community. I want to do a shout-out because Hands ONashville has done so much to unite Nashville. 

Before COVID we had the tornado come through and take out North Nashville which is a very economically depressed area. It comes through some of the wealthiest areas of town. Hands On Nashville was organizing a lot of the recovery efforts there, the fundraising, a lot of different things. I want to give them a shout-out because they’ve done an amazing job here to help the community, not just recover but also help Tennesseeans that live in the Nashville area live up to our state motto of being volunteers. 

There’s something so wrong with children being seriously ill and what that does to their parents is gut-wrenchingWe support the Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati. It’s a phenomenal organization and what they do there. From a hybrid of personal and professional volunteer time, I am a mentor in the entrepreneurship class at the University of Dayton. I truly believe being able to help these students understand what it means to be an entrepreneur and to teach them some of these things that you and I both learned through the school of hard knocks. To try to guide them and mold them. That thing is very meaningful to me. I believe that small business is the heart of our economy. If we can teach these kids how to fast-track growing a business and start pumping up our economy through small businesses, that is very meaningful. I hired one right upon graduation day. These kids are so bright and bring a lot to the table. That’s something that I truly enjoy spending my time on as well. 

I have to say that that program has produced some pretty amazing people. I’ve met some of them through you. The gentlemen you hired helped us with the book and helped us through so many different things in the past years. It was always a pleasure working with him. He was brilliant and sharp. I loved it. 

Customer Engagement: Small business is the heart of our economy.

We have just moved our office at Congruity into an innovation hub that is a collaboration between The Entrepreneurs’ Center in Dayton and the University of Dayton. We have this beautiful three-story building with students taking classes there and real-life businesses and growing their businesses there. It’s not like there’s one side and another side. They’re all intermingled. The idea is to give those students that experiential learning environment with the businesses but also give the businesses help with graphic design, social media, engineering, design, photography, all of these services. These students are going to be there in this one building. 

Betsy, we’ve covered all the ground we’ve set up to cover here. We’ve asked some hard questions and gotten some good answers. 

This has been great. Tony, thank you so much. It’s a pleasure doing this show with you and the number of projects that we’ve worked on together. I just feel so blessed that we have found our niche together and our various ways of approaching it. 

The next couple of episodes are going to be a blast with our guests that we’ve got coming on. We’ve got some things up our sleeves folks so pay attentionIf you haven’t subscribed to the show, go ahead and do so. That helps our rankings which helps other CEOs like you understand and reach the show and get to hear more about what can help their business. We’re all in this together at the end of the day. 

We appreciate the engagement we’ve gotten from our audience and I’m looking forward to continuing to bring more great guests to the show. 

Important Links: 

Related Podcast