Howard Tiersky, CEO and Founder of FROM, The Digital Transformation Agency has been working on big brands’ digital strategies before they were even on the internet. Over the past 30 years, Howard has become an expert in digital transformation and launched his own business 15 years ago, which now employs about 100 people. Howard shares his story about the company culture and the critical role the leadership team plays in setting the tone for the organization.
FROM is solely focused on (humbly) helping their clients drive customer behavior. If you can get your customers to do what you want them to do (customer experience), you’re going to have a great business. Howard talks through the concept of how experience is what drives thoughts and feelings, and thoughts and feelings are what drive customer behavior (i.e., purchasing your product).
Grab your notebook and pen before you listen into this episode that Betsy and Tony are raving about.
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About Howard Tiersky
Howard Tiersky is a successful entrepreneur who has been named by IDG as one of the 10 Digital Transformation Influencers to Follow Today and by Enterprise Management 360°as “One of the Top 10 Digital Transformation Influencers That Will Change Your World.”
He is the author of the WSJ bestselling book Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance and is the founder of two companies that enable large brands to win in the digital world, FROM: The Digital Transformation Agency, and Innovation Loft.
The Business Value Of Driving Customer Behavior With Howard Tiersky
Humility Should Play A (Big) Part In The Customer Journey
Welcome to the show. We’re so glad that you’re here to tune in to our great episode. Tony and I are so excited about this episode with Howard Tierksy. He is the CEO of FROM, The Digital Transformation Agency. Tony, I know that you and I were hanging on his every word. There was so much gold in this interview and I know our audience will gain so much both personal and professional value from this episode.
This, to me, was like a Master’s in Marketing and I don’t say that lightly. This was tremendously condensed value that any C-level executive needs to know, especially in this world. The biggest piece of that I want to encourage people to take away is this idea of recognizing that your customers are already on a journey. When we talk about really knowing your customer, it’s about knowing the journey that they’re on, what their pain is, where your company and what you offer is relevant to that journey and to that customer on that journey and then finding a way to help them.
Humility plays such a big part in this in so many ways that I’m going to let Howard get into that aspect of it but I want the audience here to be taking notes. I don’t think I’ve ever said that before but I have got pages of notes from listening to Howard as we interviewed him.
As we were talking, we both plan to go back and read this one again. It was that good. I would add that I think it’s a masterclass in humility. It’s not just a word that you toss around, but what does humility really look like when it comes to knowing your customers. Without further ado, let’s welcome Howard Tiersky, the CEO of FROM, to the show.
Welcome, Howard. We’re so happy to have you on the show.
Thanks. I’m so happy to be here.
We have been looking forward to this. We have had a couple of times where we had to reschedule because of busy schedules so this has been a little bit of a wait but certainly worth it. We’re excited to dive right in. Can you kick us off by telling us your background, how you got to where you are and your journey to having the digital transformation company? Give us as much detail as you want on your background and how you got to where you are.
I’ll give you the quick version and if you want to know more, you can certainly let me know. My career has been in two chunks. The first fifteen years of my career, I did digital transformation work for clients of a consulting firm, originally Ernst & Young Consulting, and then that got bought by Capgemini. During that period, digital was being born as a commercial force moving from the world of client-server, green screens and such into the modern internet world that we know now. It has been an evolution all that time.
I started that in the mid-‘90s and had the great opportunity to work with some of the world’s largest brands at a time when they were still not on the internet and figured out what this meant for their business. Back then, it wasn’t that much. It wasn’t a transformational force in 1999 to put a company on the internet but it was something that was an important step, gesture and indicator of being oriented towards the future. There was a lot of awareness that this was going to potentially become something big.
I did that for many years and had the tremendous opportunity to work with a tremendously wide range from General Electric to General Motors to Office Depot to Wells Fargo and on and on, major brands on these digital issues. About mid-point in my career, I left there and started my own company doing very much the same type of work but with a smaller team. There at Capgemini, we were tens of thousands of people. I don’t even know how big they are now. There might be hundreds of thousands of people but I’m not 100% sure. We now are, you could call, more of a consulting boutique. We’re on 100 people but we do the same thing. We work with large brands. We work with AAA, Avis Budget Group, AirBoss and some other companies that don’t start with A like Transamerica, NBC and so on.
Our role is to work with those brands to look at what are the opportunities around digital and what do they need to be doing to take advantage of those opportunities. I’ve written this book called Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance. Most large brands realize that the world is changing so fast that they need to change to meet the changing needs of their customers or they risk the fate of so many great brands that we’ve seen over the last decade that are no longer with us whether that’s Circuit City, Toys “R” Us or brands that we may still have but are shadows of their former selves because they didn’t see the change or they didn’t respond quickly enough to the change in the world.
I’m intrigued by your company name. I’ve been on your website so I understand it but I’d love to know your thought process on how you came up with the name and then the second point of that is to level set everybody because we’ve all heard different meanings of what digital transformation means so I’d love to know how you define it in your world. Kick us off with how you named your company.
My company started initially with a different name, which was Moving Interactive. That was the name for the first 5 or 6 years of the company and then we acquired another digital agency, which had a very funky name. The name of that company was Funny Garbage and that was a company that did a lot of work in the kids’ space where we have and continue to do a lot of work.
They had worked with Lego, Crayola, Mattel, Sesame Workshop. We had worked with some of those clients as well so it was a good match but because we also were working with many other types of brands, we certainly weren’t going to name the company Funny Garbage so the question was what to do going forward for branding. We could have kept the same name and incorporated this company but we also thought that that term Interactive was getting a little bit dated. It was a hot term back when we started the company but people weren’t using it so much anymore so we went through a naming process.
As part of that, we did a lot of customer research because to us, it wasn’t just about what we should name the company but how we should position the company. What are the key differentiators of the company? We did customer research with a number of our current and previous customers as well as with some companies that we had proposed projects to, talked to and had not chosen to hire us. To understand why people were hiring us, why they weren’t hiring us and, especially interesting to me, were those companies that had worked with us project after project, of which we had many. The question we asked them is, “There are so many companies out there that purport to do consulting, digital agency, digital design or technology. Why do you keep coming back to us again and again?” It was very enlightening.
The things that we heard were, first of all, that we helped transform them. They said, “A lot of companies come in and do a project for us but they don’t necessarily help us grow and change. They just build something for us and they don’t necessarily work closely with us.” They want to find out what their assignment is, go off back to their cave, do their work and come back in and say, “It’s done. Here’s why you should love it.” We were working with them much more collaboratively and we were focused on being part of their team rather than being a separate team that they hired.
We heard those types of things so that led us to say that we want to have a brand that amplifies those things that we were hearing from our customers. By the way, it was quite educational for me when we went through that process because that wasn’t what I thought differentiated us in the marketplace. I wasn’t surprised the companies said those things about us but what I thought differentiated us was our focus on the customer and our focus on customer research as the foundation of driving business transformation and understanding the customer first. What we heard at the time, and this was a number of years ago, was, “Everybody says that.”
I don’t know whether it’s true that everybody was doing that but it goes to show you that sometimes we get focused on, in my world anyway, on my clients and the work that we’re doing. I’m not paying that much attention on a daily basis to what my competitors are saying and doing all the time. I was surprised that the thing that I still believe is the most important aspect of what we do as a business is not our main differentiator. That to me was an epiphany because I realized that just because it’s important doesn’t mean it’s a differentiator.
One of the most important things an airline can do is get you safely from one place to another. That’s probably the number one most important thing but everybody does that pretty well so it’s not really a differentiator. The differentiator sometimes winds up being things that are secondary. The part that everyone said was different about us, and we heard this over and over, was, “You’re collaborative. You work with us. You help us grow. You’re not arrogant and obnoxious like so many other agencies.” I heard all that and I thought, “That’s a differentiator that we work with you? Doesn’t everybody do that?” I heard all that and thought that’s a differentiator? That we work with you? Doesn’t everybody do that? That was a part that I assumed was still important but not a differentiator because I thought, “Who could be successful or be in this business and not be doing that?”
Apparently, it turns out there are a lot of companies that are successful who don’t necessarily work in a collaborative way with their clients. That was really educational for me to realize that the things that I thought were differentiators weren’t and the things that were our key differentiators, I hadn’t thought made us different from other companies. With the naming process, you come up with lots of different names but we wanted something that would stand out. Our name is FROM, The Digital Transformation Agency.
Few companies are named after a preposition and part of what we looked at, at the time was there were a lot of agencies with wacky names like Blue Oxen Digital Agency or Red Tarantula. Those companies are trying to sound different but it’s almost like they are naming a rock band. I get it. They are trying to stand out but what we realized was when you come up with some wacky, crazy name for your agency, you don’t stand out because there are so many agencies with wacky, crazy names so we were like, “How can we be different but in a different way?” This idea of transformation going from one thing to another thing was the core of what we were doing. At one point, we had a different name and we had a tagline that we liked, which was From Vision to Victory.
We wound up not using that tagline at the time but we’re starting to use it now years later. Sometimes, it’s a process of reduction. You look at what you’ve got and say, “What can I take away? What’s the core of this? Is it vision? Is it victory? Is it two?” Anyway, we decided to go with FROM as being a reduction of this idea that what we’re really about is helping you go from where you are to where you need to be, from eCommerce to an omnichannel digitally-centric company, from providing an acceptable experience to something that’s outstanding, from being tolerated by your digital customers to being loved by them. That journey from one place to another is the essence of what we’re about and that’s what led us to what is an unusual name.
One of the things that I love about that is the things that you take for granted. You were like, “Doesn’t everybody do that?” The fact that you asked your customers, “What do you think? What makes us good?” You had these epiphanies and it didn’t go the direction you thought, which is frankly, the basis of the work we do. We’re engaging with executives to find out these things about the business so I love that but what I’d love to know is how did you do that. Did you do face-to-face? Did you do surveys? Did you call? How did you get that feedback?
We did face-to-face meetings. To be perfectly honest, it’s always good to have a reason to go talk to your customers anyway. We’ve got at least one project on the basis of, “While you guys are here, I have something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.” It’s always good to have a reason to call your customers. In our business, we’re a company of 100 people, in a given year we probably work with fifteen clients often on large projects so for us to go talk to a lot of our clients isn’t a numerically problematic thing to try to do.
They know that that was what we did in this particular case but when we do work with clients, let’s say in a business-to-consumer space where they may have thousands or even millions of customers, we like to combine together that qualitative research but then going out with kind of some survey to be more quantitative. Going to customers and the fact that you might be surprised by what you hear, this is one of the key thematic cultural issues that make the difference between companies that are successful in this space and not and that’s humility.
To be successful in business requires a lot of confidence. Oftentimes, you have to take risks. You have to have an idea. You have to believe in it. You have to go for it and say, “I’m going to be confident,” and leaders need confidence. It’s critical. People won’t follow people who aren’t confident. The flip side of confidence though is humility and sometimes, leaders forget that if you’re confident all the time because I hear this all the time, they’re like, “We know what our customers want. Are you kidding? We deal with our customers every day. We know what we want. We understand that.”
It’s true. We, the company, deal with the customers every day but you, the head of marketing, do you deal with your customers every day? Do the people in conference rooms making decisions about your products and marketing campaigns do they spend all day with customers? Probably not. Do they spend time with the people who do spend time with customers like your call center representatives and store associates? Probably not or at least, not in many companies.
Have you ever had this experience where you go out and buy something expensive that you think you’re going to use? You then bring it home, you play with it once or twice, it winds up in a drawer somewhere and you never use it. That has happened to me many times. I point it out to say that we don’t even know ourselves all that well. To believe that we really understand our customers is an arrogant point of view, in my opinion.
People come to it for understandable reasons. That’s the starting point of our customer research. It’s to have the humility to say, “I don’t know what the customer is thinking and feeling.” COVID has acted as a huge transformation function on all of us. It has changed our behaviors, our fears and our priorities in many cases. It has caused many people to have a midlife crisis or whatever time of their life they were in so even if you did understand your customers before COVID, which probably you didn’t, they’re different now so you have to go back and check again. They are constantly changing but they have changed more than usual as a result of this crisis that we’ve all been through.
I want to dive into something that you said earlier. You were talking about how you went and did the customer research and what you thought was going to be the differentiator was not the differentiator. If I heard it correctly, it was how you did things or what you did as a company. What the differentiator was sounded to me more like why they were choosing you and it’s not for how you do things necessarily from a framework and methodology perspective but as the culture that you have.
It’s how your employees show up, do that work and collaborate. One of the things that I know Betsy and I would say we’ve learned while doing this show, we’ve talked to almost 40 CEOs and every single one of them comes back and tell us it’s their culture that is the differentiator in this world. Could you take us a little bit deeper into your culture from how you foster it and now that you’ve heard from the customers, what makes a difference there?
I have to confess that when we started the company, it was just a few people and we didn’t think a lot about culture. We were not one of these companies that you hear about, which sounds great by the way, where people sit down and say, “At the very beginning, we’re going to architect our culture.” It sounds like a great idea but it’s not something that we did. We started the company with a client and not enough people to deliver the project the client had hired us to do so our focus was entirely hiring people, standing the thing up and getting going. We honestly didn’t have time or the wisdom either to say, “We should think about this.”
Over the years, I have to further confess that it’s not something that we have separately thought about, like, “We need a plan for the culture. We need a document about the culture.” I don’t say that’s a good thing. I say that that has been our situation and a lot of smaller businesses are in that situation where you don’t have a chief culture officer. What happens in some companies is that the culture comes from the leadership and that people see the types of people who are running the company. The leaders are the ones who pick the people who will be in the company so there’s a certain filtering process there. They set the tone for the company and over time, if something’s not working out, they decide if someone’s going to leave. That combination is the poor man’s version of culture.
In our case, our culture is based on three key principles and it’s nothing lofty. The first is we’re really just here to help our clients be successful. That’s one of those things where you might think isn’t a differentiator or isn’t unique. It’s not unique. There are a lot of companies that feel that way but there are a lot of companies that don’t. Having been a part of the big consulting industry for a while, are those companies purely focused on the good of their clients? It’s a mixture. I don’t mean to say anything negative about anybody but our focus is on figuring out what’s going to help our clients be successful.
I recognized this before I started my company. I always have two clients. I have many clients but within a given account. One is the company. We want to make sure if we’re redoing the app for Avis Budget Group we’re helping them generate more revenue and rent more cars, which we do and have. The other is whoever signed our contract or whoever was the person that said, “I’m bringing this company in. I’m putting my reputation on the line. I’m giving them my confidence.” We need to make sure that we’re doing what we can to make that person successful. That dual mindset about clients has been something we’ve thought about since we’ve been doing this work.
We have many companies that have been with us for a long time. Our longest accounts have been with us for more than ten years. I believe we have 3 or 4 different people, each of whom has hired us at three or more companies. They are people that are getting around well. They would be someplace for three years, they leave and they go someplace else. They pick up the phone and say, “I’m at company XYZ now. I need you here. Can you be on the next plane to Baltimore?” Part of that has led to our collaborative approach because I think that many other companies when they’re not as collaborative, this is a little bit of speculation on my part, is because they’re looking for the upsell. They’re looking for how can they grow and how can they land and expand.
In fifteen years, I’ve built a company of over 100 people. There are other people who started companies at the same time I did and they have companies with 10,000 people so I’m not going to suggest that my approach is the one that leads you to the most growth and the most hardcore business success. It is what it is, but that has been our culture. The other aspect of the culture is being nice. I hear this and it’s not something we sat down and said, “Let’s do this,” but we want to work with people we like. We respect each other.
In the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, we don’t give that book out to people when they start but it’s the same principle in a way. The people who work here, how can we make them successful and make them successful on their own terms? What do they want? What’s this idea of vision to victory for them? I’m always interested in knowing that. Why would someone want to come to our company? What are they looking to get out of it? Sometimes, that means they don’t want to be here forever. We have a lot of people that have been here for a long time but to me, it’s not about retention above all else. It’s about helping people to grow and to fulfill what it is that they want to do in their careers. That’s probably the underlying thinking behind our culture.
Let’s get down to the business value of this whole idea with digital transformation. As you alluded to, COVID has rocked everybody’s world. Can you talk us through the work you do, what that means for your customers in terms of business value and maybe a little bit of compare and contrast from pre-COVID to now? What has changed in that regard?
I’ll start by saying a tremendous amount has changed but on one level, nothing has changed. When I say nothing has changed, what I mean is that customers are in a continuing state of change. COVID has accelerated that but the basic approach that we take and the business value that comes from the work that we do is unchanged. Essentially, it goes like this. When we talk about business value, there’s this chain reaction, from my experience, that happens to get to business value. What are the ultimate measures of business value in a company? They are pretty similar across most companies. They want more revenue, growth and profitability. They want to increase the value of their company, which in many ways is a reflection of those other variables. That’s what almost every business in the world would say: “These are our basic ultimate goals. This is the nature of business. This is how you keep score in business.”
If I was to say, “What would be the one thing that I would want to be evangelizing in the world?” It’s this one fundamental idea, which is what is it that drives all of those business levers? There are many things but there is one that’s bigger than all the others and that is customer behavior. If you can get your customers to do what you want them to do, you’re going to have a great business even if your supply chain isn’t optimized, your finance department is a mess and your HR policies aren’t perfect. Don’t get me wrong. Those things are all good to do but if your customers love what you do as a business, it will make up for a multitude of sins. If your customer is not interested or if you don’t have a compelling value proposition to your customer, you can have the world’s best ERP system, you can have perfect legal compliance but you’re probably going to going out of business.
This is the one giant factor in the success of any business. We have to be focused first and foremost on this. How do we drive customer behavior? That leads to a reasonable second question, which is, “How do we do that?” My wife’s a psychologist. I have spent a lot of time studying psychology. Psychologists will tell you that customer behavior is driven by two things, thoughts and feelings. That’s what drives people’s behavior. If you bought a new car, it was because either you wanted it or because you had a notion that it was a better deal or your old one was getting risky that you could break down. You had some combination of thoughts, feelings, opinions and beliefs, all of which are forms of thoughts and feelings about what brands would be better, what types of cars, how people would react and how much you could afford.
These are all thoughts and feelings. If we can figure out what thoughts and feelings drive the behaviors that we want in our customers, we can get the business results we want. This is where research starts to come in. How do we know? We probably know what behaviors lead to revenue and profit. They are things like, “Buy more expensive stuff. Don’t call our call center and spend twenty minutes on the phone with them for some stupid problem you could solve on your own.” It’s not too hard to figure out what behaviors we want, how to get those behaviors and what thoughts and feelings trigger those behaviors. This is where we need to do more research to understand those correlations and then there’s one more jump, which is, “What is it that creates thoughts and feelings?”
In a perfect world, we would magically inject those thoughts and feelings into the brains of our customers once we knew what they were but that technology doesn’t exist now. How do people get thoughts and feelings? It’s from experiences. We’re not born with most of our thoughts and feelings. We do have a few feelings like the fear of falling, but other than that, it all comes from our experiences so our opportunity as a business is to create experiences whether that’s sales experiences, service experiences or the experience of using a product or service. These are the main experiences that customers have as well as the experiences that are a little more outside of our control.
When they go read reviews online or talk to their friends, all of these experiences are what create the thoughts and feelings, which leads to the behavior that leads to the money. If you think about it that way, all of a sudden, focusing on customer experience doesn’t feel like a nice thing to do, like, “We should try to make life better for our customers because it’s a moral obligation.” It’s not a moral obligation. It’s the smartest way to improve your business. We can see plenty of examples of companies whether that’s Disney, Amazon or Apple who have focused heavily on customer experience and who have been heavily rewarded for it.
There are many examples of this in action as well as examples of companies that have failed to focus on customer experience and have not done well. By the way, there are outliers. There are some businesses that have horrible customer experiences and for one reason or another, have done well anyway. One can get into the details of why but nevertheless, this is a big opportunity. This is the value. The big value that we focus on unlocking is how do we do two things. First of all, how do we figure out the puzzle? What are the thoughts and feelings that lead to the behaviors? What are the behaviors? That’s the easy part. What are the experiences that would lead to those thoughts and feelings?
A lot of that is often a creative process because we do research and then we say maybe this or maybe that. We do a prototype and then we test. We’re looking to find that ideal experience or set of different experiences that will drive the customer behaviors that we want. We figure that formula out and then we execute on it. The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is apparently fantastic. Everybody loved it and bought it until the battery started exploding and then all of a sudden, not so much. Having the right vision and understanding of the experience is only part of it. The other part is execution.
You get those two right and that’s how you become Apple or Amazon. It’s that simple. It’s not simple to do daily but the execution of it is conceptually not that complicated. That’s a lot of what my book is about. I talk about a five-step process to digital transformation that goes through understanding the customer and the journey, building that. While you’re doing it, you’re looking for short-term ways to optimize and find the right way to lead, inspire and motivate your organization to move in that direction.
To me, it all seems obvious. It sounds like, “Once you understand it, why wouldn’t you do it?” As I’m sure you and many of your audience know, one encounter massive resistance in many companies when trying to implement these customer-led approaches so it requires tremendous leadership skills. I talk about that a lot in my book as well as how to go about leading companies through transformation.
It’s interesting. We talk about digital transformation and where you’ve gone in your book with this. I want to ask you a question that wasn’t in our prep here but the way you’ve described your approach, to me it seems like we can talk about digital transformation as almost everyone does out there where it’s the transformation of the digital environment. It’s the transformation of the company but in a sense, what I’m hearing from you is you’ve got to create experiences through a digital medium that transform your customer so they think, feel and behave differently. Digital transformation is not just about what’s going on in the company. It’s about how do you digitally transform your customers. Would that be accurate?
Your customers are digitally transforming on their own whether you do anything about it or not. Perhaps the most important point is to recognize that success in business means being relevant to your customer and your customer is changing. If you don’t change, you’re doomed. It depends on what your business is in terms of how your customer is changing but if you look at the digital transformation of the world and the digital transformation of the customer, the way in which we do almost everything we do in our lives from shopping, to finance, to learning, to dating and on and on has been changed. There are always holdouts but it has radically transformed.
Few brands are going to develop an experience that is so profound that it truly transforms the customer. I’ve had the privilege to work with Tony Robbins and his company for over ten years. That’s a brand that truly transforms people but can Coca-Cola transform a person? Can a BMW transform a person? I don’t know. Our personal individual transformations are an aggregate of so many experiences that we have. No matter how big the brand is, we only play a small part in anyone’s life.
I have a GE oven and microwave in my kitchen. GE is still one of the largest companies in the world if I’m not mistaken. How big of a role does GE play in my life? Small but when I want to make my Thanksgiving turkey and I need to use my digital oven, all of a sudden they become important. The opportunity as brands is less to transform the customer and more to remain relevant to the customer who’s transforming on their own because of that complete aggregate of experiences most of which we have nothing to do with.
It’s one thing to talk about humility but then to what you said, that’s true humility. You’re there to assist somebody doing their own thing. It’s not like, “We’re coming in and we’re going to change up your world.” I love that. Talk to us about what’s on the radar for FROM and for you personally and some of the things that are dominating your thoughts.
I want to build on your point about humility there with one more point about journey mapping because it’s another point that we’re always thinking about. We do a lot of journey mapping and I’m sure you guys probably do as well. One of the points that I’m always making and thinking about is how do we create a journey for our customers?
Let’s say, how do we create a car buying journey for our customers? I always want to pause and say, “Our customers are already on a journey.” We’re not creating a journey. It may seem like that. We may be creating a journey map and what not but let’s not start with the mindset that we’re creating a journey. They’re on a journey. We just want to deserve to be part of their journey whether it’s a birthday party planning journey, a personal finance journey, an estate planning journey, preparing my Thanksgiving dinner journey or whatever it is. We want to map out what is their experience with our brand and we call these journey maps. We do them all the time and I’m a big fan. I talk about them a lot in books.
I think that’s another point of humility to recognize. Not only are we a small part of people’s lives but within the task that our brand is focused on. If you’re Carvel and you make birthday cakes, the cake is only a part of the birthday and you may only be one of the places they’re shopping for cakes. The customer comes with a certain idea about how they want to plan a birthday party. That’s customer research. This is why it’s so important to recognize what is the shape of the customer’s existing journey because there we have the opportunity to shape it, change it, adjust it and offer them a better way but they come in with momentum of their own in terms of how they think they want to accomplish whatever it is.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been in this experience. I have this experience all the time where I go into a store and I’ve got a salesperson hovering. They’ve been trained like, “This is how you sell to somebody.” I’ve walked out of stores because I couldn’t handle the pressure of the salesperson who seemed needy. Even if I know what I want, I still say, “I’m just looking around,” because I’m afraid if I tell them what I’m looking for, they’re going to put their claws into me. Maybe I’m a little neurotic in that regard but the point is to recognize that the customers are different. Some customers may want that personal attention. For me, I don’t want it until I have a question.
You asked about the future. Our PR guy always tells me that sometimes he gets calls from different places that are looking for quotes about stuff. He says, “This magazine is doing an article. Do you want to do a quote?” Sometimes they say, “Sure.” Sometimes they’re like, “I don’t have anything to say about that so I’ll pass.” As we’re hitting the end of 2021, one of the things that I’m always getting asked is, “They’re doing an article. What are the hot, new digital trends for 2022? They want a quote.” I’m always like, “Give me a break. I hate that.” The reason is that honestly, I feel like this digital transformation of the world is a marathon, not a sprint.
The principles behind the work that we did in 2021 were not different from the work that we did in 2020 and 2019. It’s understanding the customer, identifying what their points of pain are, and coming up with creative ways to potentially solve them and prototyping, testing and deploying them. What’s awesome is that as technology continues to evolve, our arsenal of tools continues to expand like 3D printing, drones, augmented reality, better artificial intelligence and voice. All of these are important but at the same time, we can get sidetracked by a focus on whatever people call shiny new objects, when in fact, this is just more paint.
We don’t want to say, “I got a new color blue. I’m going to start using that in my next painting.” That’s not the way to create great art. I’m not sure if that’s exactly what you asked me but to me, the future is not that different from the past at the basic level. It’s just that our toolbox keeps growing. We’re doing more stuff with voice and biometrics but I don’t think the new stuff is the most important part. The important part is the basics of understanding people’s needs and figuring out how to meet them.
That’s such a profound insight because when we’re looking at this question which we’ve asked a lot of different CEOs, one of the things that we’re hearing more is, “We can’t plan out for 3 to 5 years like we used to. We don’t have the big strategic plan anymore because we don’t know what’s going to change.” What they’re referring to are not the principles. You’re right. The principles are the same but they don’t know what technology is going to show up or what tools are going to be in their toolbox 2 or 3 years from now. How can you predict exactly what that’s going to look like from a strategic perspective? I appreciate that perspective. Thank you.
I love everything that we’ve been talking about. I feel like we could talk for hours but we want to be respectful of your time. We’ll potentially have you back on the show if you’d like to come back because I feel like there’s so much more, especially as far as really understanding how you help your customers. This is exactly why we do the show. It is truly understanding your customers so thank you for all the insights you’ve brought to us on this episode. One of the things we love to do on this show is to give our guests an opportunity to give a shout-out to a nonprofit or some charitable organization. Is there a particular organization that has your attention that you’d like other people to know about?
My sister, Marcia, heads the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation in the Washington DC area. I certainly would love for people to support that organization. Their URL is LostDogRescue.org. I know they’ve saved the lives of thousands of dogs and cats every year by giving them a safe place to be while they’re finding new owners. If you go to a Petco or one of those places and you see in front of the parking lot one of these setups where people allow you to meet lost dogs that you can foster. They don’t charge to get a dog or cat. They just want to find them good homes and make sure that they’ve got their shots. It’s a great organization. They save a lot of animals. My sister is one of the key people who run it so I would give them a shout-out.
Thanks for sharing. Tony, do you have any last comments?
I loved this. I’m going to go back and read this episode again because the humility aspect that you hit on is so key and it’s not just humility at the leadership level which you talked about but it’s throughout the entire organization. This is something Betsy and I have talked about a lot. It’s about the humility of understanding that the customer is on their own journey and how can you be relevant to that journey and how can you have the honor of being a part of that journey? I’m glad you brought that out in the show. Are there any last thoughts that you have around that that you want to leave with our audience?
Some people might be worried that when you admit that you don’t know things, it makes you weaker or seem uncertain. The truth is that’s where the real power comes from. Humility and curiosity go hand in hand. After all, if you have no humility or if you’re so confident about things, why bother being curious? If you know everything, curiosity is pointless. If you look at the people who’ve accomplished the greatest things in the world whether that’s Albert Einstein, Picasso, Darwin, Steve Jobs or whoever your hero is, you’ll find that one of their key traits is curiosity and observing of things that many people may have seen but not thought about or overlooked.
I would say to anyone who hears humility and thinks, “Oh geez that sounds risky, exposed, or makes me vulnerable.” Just realize that it is a path to insight. We talked about Tony Robbins and one of the things that Tony Robbins says is, “Success leaves clues. If you want to be successful, look at what others have done to be successful.” It’s not about not having confidence. It’s important to have confidence. One of the reasons to have confidence is because of your humility and curiosity. A lot of companies feel that they can’t plan long-term because the world is changing so fast. On one hand, I think that’s a valid point. If you try to sit here and say, “This is our app roadmap going out ten years. These are the features we’re going to be launching in 2029.” That is pretty crazy.
That’s not possible to plan that far in advance but on the other hand, the Chinese famously make 100-year business plans. They’re still doing that and they seem to be doing pretty well. How do they do that? I don’t know. I’m not an expert on the Chinese but I’ll tell you this. If you can create a plan where part of the plan is ongoing research, humility and curiosity that you say, “I don’t know what app features we’re going to launch next year but I know what our process and our growth goals are going to be. I’m even more confident that we’re going to get there because we have humility, curiosity and we’re listening to the customer and the market.” Whatever it is that we do then, it’s going to be based on where the customer is then and what it is that they want and need and that’s why we’re confident in the aspects of our plan that we are forecasting, which may be our growth goals or other things.
Those are good stuff. We appreciate your time. Thank you so much. We will be following your success.
Thank you for having me. It has been a delight talking to you. I look forward to it in the future.
We’ll talk to you soon. Thank you.
Bye. Happy Holidays.
I’m going to suggest you go back and read this again because there are so many takeaways in this particular episode. Howard is a master. Digital transformation is his area of expertise but if you go deeper than that, it’s really understanding how to know your customer. That’s the essence of what he and his team do at FROM. I’m going to plug his book again. I cannot wait to dive deeper into his book than I have already because his book is amazing. It’s not just about the digital transformation but understanding how to get to know your customers.
I don’t know that we could have asked for anything more that’s so directly related to our original vision with naming this show. He nails it. We’ve had the very good fortune of having a lot of CEOs join us on this show. Their time is incredibly limited. We’ve come through Thanksgiving. In this mindset of gratitude, I’m grateful for the leaders who take time out to share their knowledge and their insights on things that are important to business leaders.
After that interview, I am filled with gratitude that people in his position are willing to take the time to share. With that, we want to thank you for being a part of our community and our audience. If you have not yet subscribed or clicked on the notification bell, please do. It will let you know whenever we come out with another great episode. In the meantime, we will catch up with you on the next episode of the show.