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How To Be Customer-Centric


Chris Wallner

Chris Wallner is the Partner and Chief Marketing Officer of Chief Outsiders, the nation’s leading Executives-as-a-Service firm. Chief Outsiders helps organizations identify the fractional marketing and sales executives they need to accelerate growth.


Chris works with technology and financial service companies to drive revenue growth by converting insights into actionable, sustainable strategies and solutions. He is an accomplished marketing, product management, development, and e-commerce executive with an impressive track record in the technology and financial industry.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Chris Wallner talks about Chief Outsiders and how they help people

  • The top three challenges that Chief Outsiders solves

  • Why Chris joined Chief Outsiders and his experience with his first clients

  • The importance of listening to customers’ feedbacks as a business leader

  • Tips for becoming customer-centric as a business leader

  • How helping customers win has impacted Chris

  • The impacts of AI on customer experience

  • Leadership traits for winning more customers

In this episode…


Running all of the different departments in a company is challenging. A leader may be good at some but does not have the skills to lead them all. So where can they get the support they deserve to help them run efficiently?


Chris Wallner recommends hiring fractional executives to help them unlock and accelerate their growth. Many business leaders don't have the time or money to hire full-time CMOs or CSOs, but they need help growing their companies. This allows for leaders to grow without blowing the budget, and this is is how it works.


In this episode of The Customer Wins, Richard Walker sits down with Chris Wallner, Partner and Chief Marketing Officer of Chief Outsiders, to discuss the importance of being a customer-centric leader and hiring fractional executives. Chris talks about Chief Outsiders and how it helps people, the top three challenges that Chief Outsiders solves, and tips for becoming a customer-centric leader.

Resources mentioned in this episode:


Sponsor for this episode...


This is brought to you by Quik!


At Quik!, we provide forms automation and management solutions for companies seeking to maximize their potential productivity.


Our vision is to become the leading forms automation company by making paperwork the easiest part of every transaction.


Meanwhile, our mission is to help the top firms in the financial industry raise their bottom line by streamlining the customer experience with automated, convenient solutions.


Go to www.quickforms.com to learn more, or contact us with questions at support@quikforms.com.


Episode Transcript:


Intro 0:02

Welcome to The Customer Wins podcast where business leaders discuss their secrets and techniques for helping their customers succeed and in turn grow their business.


Richard Walker 0:16

All right, I'm Rich Walker, the host of The Customer Wins where I talk to business leaders about how they help their customers win and how their focus on customer experience leads to growth. Our past guests have included Randy Cass, CEO of NestWealth, and Alan G of Finlocity. Today I'm speaking with Chris Wallner partner and Chief Marketing Officer at Chief Outsiders and today's episode is brought to you by Quik! the leader in enterprise forms automation. When the last step to earning your clients business requires filling out paperwork. Don't ruin your relationship with a bad experience. Instead, get Quik! Forms make filling out forms a great experience and the easiest part of your transaction. Go visit quikforms.com to get started. Now I'm super excited to introduce Chris. Chris is a technology and financial service veteran with a track record of major wins at startups to multinational firms. His approach is to bring transparency to marketing performance, and skillfully build top-performing teams accountable for achieving superior consistent results. Chris' clients have included global and regional financial institutions investment and insurance services, staffing, construction, high-tech and startups. Hey, even my company. And I know from experience just how much Chris knows and cares about winning customers because he did help us out at Quik! over five years ago. Chris, welcome to The Customer Wins.


Chris Wallner 1:36

Great to be here. Rich, thanks.


Richard Walker 1:38

Okay, so if you haven't heard this podcast before I talk with business leaders about what they're doing to help their customers win, how they build and deliver a great customer experience and the challenges to growing their own company. Chris, I know, this is what you help companies do so well. And we want to talk about that. But let me first start by asking you, what does your company do to help people.


Chris Wallner 1:59

What we do is to really figure out what frustrates a leader or leadership team about marketing usually, and to then dive into and assess what the problems are. As an outsider, we can do that fairly easily. It always starts with understanding what the customer perspective is, what the team perspective is, where the competitors are, we then develop the strategy, then create the execution plan, and they're there to execute the plan and then step away, it's really put the company on track to a different trajectory for growth.


Richard Walker 2:32

Do you guys think of yourselves as fractional Chief Marketing Officers like the fractional CFO model?


Chris Wallner 2:38

Yeah, there's, there are a lot of similarities to the fractional CFO model. But at cheap outsiders, the fractional CMO that we really see ourselves as part of the leadership team, we collaborate a lot internally, we conduct what we call peer reviews, where we might create a strategy and then we'll go ahead and basically share that Strategy with a peer group of CMOs, and bring that feedback back to the company. So it's the collaboration, which is pretty unique to our company culture, that allows us to really kind of add a whole different level of value, rather than just once a single shingle as part of a kind of a broader company.


Richard Walker 3:18

Yeah, I know that you guys did that with us, too. You brought in experts in various areas to help us understand things. You also did the work. I'm not saying that you were just the captain of the ship, because you actually did a lot of the work, right?


Chris Wallner 3:30

Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, our job is to roll up our sleeves to figure out what needs to be done. And then to really set things on track on the right path, and then bring in resources so that we basically can step out, it's not that we want to step out, but our job is to step out to have, whether it's the right agency, or internal resources, whatever is needed to really keep the company on that successful track.


Richard Walker 3:55

Yeah. So I imagine if other companies are like me, or leaders or like me, I don't have all the skills in the world and there's some things I just am not good at, what do you think are some of the like top three challenges leaders bring to you that they're trying to solve?


Chris Wallner 4:09

Well, the first is to have really good information to make decisions. And that really goes to the core topic that we're gonna really get into is getting that perspective from your, your customers, their perception is your reality. So that's number one. Getting that information number two is understanding kind of how to interpret it. What's real important number three is being able to prioritize of all the things that you can possibly do what should be the first few things that you should do to really kind of get things that ensure that there's the greatest impact. So those are the three things


Richard Walker 4:45

I do want to get into more of that but also want to go back in time. What got you started on this path? Why did you want to join chief outsiders you had a successful career? Why not just retire?


Chris Wallner 4:53

Well, yeah, I may be old but I'm not that old. So thank you for that. You After having been in the corporate world for my really most of my entire career, I wanted to do something that was more focused on the stuff that I like to do, which is to build, I like to assess, I like puzzles, I like to understand what the challenge is to come and work with the company and understand that challenge, work with the leadership team to create the Strategy, and then to be there to execute it. I love that building part, the running the organization, or the admin part, not as much. So this, this job, so to speak, allows me to do what I really like, and it is the best job that I've ever had, it's being able to go again, understand the puzzle, and figure out how to solve for it and work with the leadership team to make that happen.


Richard Walker 5:47

I don't think there's anything better than doing your best work. In fact, that's one of the premises of my company is to empower people to do their best work, not paperwork, for example. And what I find is when people are doing their best work, you get the best from them. So your customers are getting the best from you. I'm curious, like, who is your first customer in this role? And why did they choose to work with you? And if that's me, don't say it, go to customer two?


Chris Wallner 6:11

Well, I would say that I had two customers that started out within a day or two, one another, and you were one of them. And so it was the experience that I had with quick working with you and your leadership team that really validated that I was doing the right thing. And there are a couple things that really stood out, I'll share one anecdote, which I think was really a lot of fun. And I haven't mentioned this to you for a while. But you're a technology leader. And we were looking at your current marketing technology. And I had an opportunity to share an alternative technology that was leapfrogs over what you had been using. And I shared your personal experience with Chief outsiders, I remember that the end of that conversation was I need that. It was leapfrogs over above, which had been using before. And for me, I mean, to be able to kind of help leaders kind of come to those sort of aha moments is so gratifying. So, that's an example of what really makes it fun and rewarding in terms of being able to affect significant change for our company.


Richard Walker 7:21

Yeah. But I'll tell you, one of the reasons we chose you is because you had a background in our industry, and finance and also in technology, and you're a product person like me. So you understood how do you bring products to market, but what we were struggling with was understanding how to communicate to the customer our value. And in our messaging, which you dove into headlong and you did some of the things we could never do. I mean, didn't you actually call upon actual customers and prospects and talk to them?


Chris Wallner 7:50

Yeah, that's actually in a sort of the foundation to the work that we do is to interview customers, and to find out from their perspective from in their voice, what's important to them. As I said earlier, their perception is your reality. So getting that perception really helps move a company away from theorizing of what you think the customers are thinking, to getting the facts on exactly what they're thinking what's important to them. It may be that what's important to them might be hard to do. But it actually might be easy for you to do, and you just don't have to be doing that. And that informs all the subsequent work. I mean, that informs what your strategy, what your go to market strategy might be that informs your execution plan, the order of what you would do things always comes back to getting that perspective from the customer. If you get that right, the likelihood of getting everything else right is so much higher. So that's the place that even before chief outsiders, I would always start there as a reformed product guy, you always go back to the customer, because the customer is always right, regardless of whether you think that they're right, the customer is always right. Or at least you have to deal with the customers perspective. So that's always the go to place. And again, it increases the likelihood of all this follow on work will be correct. And we had a great example with quick. We thought we were going after one particular customer segment, we talked to that segment realize that segment. While there was a lot of frustrations with forms, they really weren't the decision maker in the process. And so we actually had to re-shift. And I remember it was a tough conversation I spoke I was brand new to Chief outsiders and I had this conversation with who I am working for. And it was I have some bad news for leadership team what they thought was the ideal customer or the ideal opportunity was in fact really not the case. So we had some frank conversations and it shifted the marketing and it well your company is very successful. So I think some I have some part of helping you head down a path of Route really helping the customers that you'd have been focusing on to help really help get the positioning and messaging tightened up. So it really resonated with them. And that all came from those conversations as interviews with your customers.


Richard Walker 10:13

So that brings up an interesting challenge point, how do you get customers to talk to you so you can hear this feedback? And then how do you inspire leadership to actually hear that tough feedback, and ignore what their preconceived notions are, what their headlong strategy had been?


Chris Wallner 10:29

Well, yeah, so those sorts of conversations. It's amazing how many folks are sort of intimidated to have to having those conversations with customers. But when a customer understands that you're really listening to them, that you really want to understand their perspective. And they that you value, their perspective, it's amazing how they start to open up, particularly if you acknowledge what they're saying, you play that back to him, I heard this, let me make sure I understand that, to really get that genuine connection, that I really want to hear what you say, it may be good news, it may be bad news, but all information is helpful. And so with that, almost all customers open up, are very canned, because they feel that they've been hurt, because in fact, they have been hurt. So having that information with a leadership team, is highly effective, because this is the raw truth. And there's some good news, there's some bad news, obviously, when asked to frame it up. But using quotes from those conversations, being able to translate well, here is what we heard. And maybe here are some of the things that we can do with what we heard, and helping to sort of create the path for here's all this raw information. But here's how it might be translated into altering or changing some of the strategies and changing some of the plan. It's a lot easier to do that. I think a lot of people fear. I mean, it's simple as cases, pick up the phone and call some of your customers. Another alternative is hire an outsider like myself to go and do that for you where I can ask some questions that maybe a customer might be uncomfortable with, how they might want to share information that might not be real flattering to the company, or the leadership team. But it whichever way you choose opening that door, and it rather than theorizing that what might what might be on the other side of that door, opening that door to that information can't hurt a company. There's no downside to it. And it's amazing to me how few companies go through that door.


Richard Walker 10:30

So I love this theme about how people should be more customer-centric. And really what you're talking about is if you talk to your customers, you become more customer-centric. But I want to ask some really detailed brass tacks stuff here, because you said yeah, pick up the phone, that's an easy thing. We're gonna do a user group meeting at a conference coming up. And my product manager and I are just thinking, we'll just keep it simple and say we just want to hear from you. Our agenda is to learn from you. Is that simple enough? Do we need to bribe them with gift cards? What do we need to do to make them open up?


Chris Wallner 13:07

Well, most of the time, the customers really want to have that next level of service. So there's this I mean, there's selfishly customers want to encourage a company to perform better for them. Right? So it really comes down to being curious to be it to asking the right questions that really get a customer to open up about the things which they're passionate about, I usually start out with a very simple set of questions to be really tactical questions about what are your strengths? What are your weaknesses mean to the company? Why, what delights? What delights the customer, from the company? And those questions are only thought starters, they're only opening very open-ended questions. And then you're able to sort of take the conversation and go where they have a lot of passion. And that's really, really get the rich conversation. Well, you know, you didn't mention this, you know, let's talk. This is really important to me, Well, let's go and talk about that. It's having that kind of open dialogue, that really gets you some incredibly rich insight into what really is important to them. And that's the first step, what you do about it the second step, but getting that information is in doing it in a way that's not you know, let's check the box for a survey. That tends to be very, very kind of linear and narrow, but really having a dialogue very similar to kind of the dialogue we're having right here.


Richard Walker 14:39

So number one, then you're really suggesting, go into the conversation with a genuine curiosity. And curiosity is going to force you to want to ask questions about what's going on. So in other words, we should do more question-asking and more listening and less talking if we really want to hear our customers.


Chris Wallner 14:57

Absolutely. Yeah, the better of conversation is the less you talk, so I get permission form from customers that I speak with I record in Otter, for example, which is another kind of tactical thing. Otter tells you the percentage that you're talking, versus the percentage of whoever you're speaking with. And for me, the conversations were clearly I'm, I'm not talking very much at all, maybe 20 or 30% of the time, those are really, on average, the highest quality conversations.


Richard Walker 15:26

Yeah, for sure. So I asked you about first customer, what has been one of your favorite customer success stories? And really, what I want to understand is, how did you help them win? What was their outcome? How are they transformed by what you and maybe your team did for them?


Chris Wallner 15:42

Yeah, favorite customer success story is with a managed service provider in the IT space, and where the company had a was going through a transfer of leadership, the CEO, was passing leadership in the company to his son as president, and the company had sort of shifted their focus to from, we're there for you, the customer to these are all the things that we do. And isn't that great, this is all the technology, we're really good at it, and, you know, come to us. And so in my interviewing of customers, their perspective was that, yeah, those that's the technology capability, that's all table stakes. I mean, we would expect that from really anybody, any company in the space, maybe some are a little bit better, some are not as good. But the important thing that really differentiated this company, was the fact that when technology didn't work, that this company was always there. I mean, it always, this company, really in the end, would stand up and figure out work with a company when some system went down. And that was the value the overarching value for the company that really was how the company was started. And the with the marketing did based on those insights from customers, is we went from a description of features in our marketing to really going to the feelings of, hey, we stand behind you were there, if things should go sideways, we're there. And actually, the overall positioning is we have your back, when things go sideways, we have your back, that really connect with consumers that are the customers of the company. And that's really the thing that they value the most. And today they're using that as their, their, their kind of lead into all of their marketing. And it really, for the founder, who has had this company for 3040 years, he kind of brought things back to how it was originally established, which is we're there for our customers. And the aha was that the customers almost universally, agree that that was what was most important to them, the features and benefits of the technology. Yeah, sure that that was important. But that didn't differentiate the company was the fact that when things go sideways, this company was there to support them.


Richard Walker 18:17

And I love that you probably reinvigorated that leader too, because it got back to the roots of why they started their business.


Chris Wallner 18:23

Absolutely. I mean, that was hugely gratifying to actually to both leaders for the son to have kind of this level of, of confidence that that was what really mattered to customers that got the company in the door to have a conversation about the technology at a whole different level. And for the founder of the company. It was, yeah, that really is that was behind the original growth of the company. And now as the company moves to the sun, that'll continue to grow propel the company on the next sort of phase of their growth.


Richard Walker 18:58

So I want to ask a question that's kind of percolating in my head around this. And the question is, what does it take to be customer-centric, but I'm also hearing you talk about this, like listening to your customers one of the keys, but now you're telling a story about a company that was doing the work for the company, or their customers, but they weren't articulating it. So what does it mean and how does a leader become more customer-centric with their own company?


Chris Wallner 19:23

It's being able to be open to something that you may have been theorizing being the right thing for a long time being open to a different perspective, being open to what your customers are trying to tell you. And listening for. What in fact, is important to them? Is hard when you sort of and you see this happen a lot with companies where they are, they talk to their sales force, and they hear you know, they're telling their sales force what's important what's important this Salesforce is telling their customers what's important. And then you're asking your Salesforce to tell you what's important. And you're hearing the same thing. And it kind of is this closed loop, we need to open up the loop to include genuine, candid, frank feedback from the customer. And that actually helps, I mean, being able to be open to this feedback and actually have a conversation about it in a very kind of honest way. And, and sometimes it takes an outsider to kind of help kind of move that does to us, that's critical. When companies have this sort of closed feedback loop. They get into trouble because the customer sort of gets lost in the conversation. And it happens over and over again, big companies and small companies, when you close the loop in your sort of self, you're getting the feedback that you know, is right. And it's just, it's not, you're not keeping pace with where your customers are, if the technology is changing fast, or there's some things like a pandemic that are happening, that's happening, things change, and you've got to stay connected to that, you've got to figure out, what are they trying to tell you, you've got to listen for these are opportunities for us to do something differently, and then you got to act on it. I mean, that's the other thing is that you can you've got to do more than just oh, yeah, I've heard that. I know that. It's like, well, what are you going to do about it, it may be as simple as changing your positioning and messaging in your marketing. But it also might be that it requires some changes to your product, like product setup, my bundle products in a different way, because they're used in a different way where you might break them apart. Because ala carte in a particular circumstance may make a lot of sense. It's not the end should be chasing all the edge cases. But if the if the customers segments that you're trying to pursue, if they're shifting and moving in a different direction, you want to be there before they move away from you and to a competitor who's figured it out better than you that you have.


Richard Walker 22:09

Yeah, yeah. And I want to validate something you said, because over the 21 years, we've been in business, we've had three separate outsiders, you being one of them, go talk to our customers, and help us understand what they perceive about us what they think about us. And one of the great things that came out of all three was that our customers were actually reflecting our core values, our company culture. So it was really nice to see that were consistent inside and outside with that culture. But something else came to mind what you were talking about. I think a lot of people think about the Steve Jobs kind of out of context, quote of the customer doesn't know what they want. I'm smarter than them. I'll show them what they want. They haven't embedded it in their own mind yet. Right. So my question to you is, you've worked with a lot of companies over the years, what percentage or is it most leaders are customer-centric? Or is it a minority that are customer-centric?


Chris Wallner 23:00

I think a lot of leaders came into the position of being a leader because they had that customer perspective, I think what happens is they get a bit lazy, bit complacent, quite frankly. And you know, they have this original hypothesis, and they were right. And because they heard this from customers, they were close to the customer. And they actually, you know, the credit, the strategies executed the plan against that. But customer sentiment change, it's working, why change it? Well, the reality is, markets are dynamic customers are combat dynamic. And so you've got to stay with what's important, because what's important to them is it changes. So I see that, I would say that there's the majority of leaders really had it right when they don't when they stepped in that next level leadership position. But in time, it starts to slip, because they get complacent. And you have to go back and recalibrate what's important. What has changed? Is your marketing. Is your product Strategy aligned with where your target customer segments are right now? And where are they going into the Steve Jobs example? Where are they going? What's happening in the technology? And how can you be there in a way that that really captures them differently than what your competitors are doing? I mean, a lot of what Steve Jobs did was too lot of the technology that Apple brought to kind of brought to bear was in existence, he just figured out a way to simply deliver it and make it easy for the customers to see how that technology could benefit them. I mean, that was kind of be in my view through the magic of what he did me like mp3 players that existed forever, but are not forever, but for a long time. It has figured out a way to deliver it to make customers realize that wow, I have to have that man I know it exists else. But it's simple and easy to use. The key is, we sometimes forget that it has to be delivered in a way that's really easy for customers to use. That's a whole separate conversation.


Richard Walker 25:10

No, it is. And interestingly enough, when I started this company, my mentor was from IBM. And when I showed him my software, he was like, this is the simplest software I've ever used. You just made this so straightforward. I'm like, well, it's just forms, right? Pick a client, pick a form, fill it out, right? It should be simple. But my competitor at that time made it really complex. When I looked at their product, it felt like I was looking at an Excel spreadsheet that was empty, like, what do you do with an Excel spreadsheet when it's empty? Yeah, so I think you're right. And something else that you said, that really resonates with me, because I wrote a book on beliefs is the beliefs you bring into your leadership also form your attitudes, and your behaviors towards whether you're customer-centric or not. When I was 18, I read a story about a bank, and the leader. That being said, if I'm not talking to my customers, my competition is. And so I've thought a lot about that. And that's kind of manifested into another philosophy I have, which is if I'm not trying to put myself out of business, somebody will do it for me. So how do I keep innovating? And that goes back to the things you're saying, I innovate through what my customers actually want, and trying to listen to them. I'm not saying I have it, right. But it's important to do that. Chris, let me ask you a different question. You've been doing this for a while now, you've been with Chief outsiders, what, five, six years, five and a half years, which is kind of amazing. That's awesome. And is your best job? That's awesome. Absolutely. So doing that, I want to know how you've been helping customers when has changed you or even the product or service that you provide? How is this journey through this changed you?


Chris Wallner 26:43

I think if you're doing what you really kind of do naturally, which is having customer conversations with customers and working with leadership change teams to affect change, it just allows you to have a greater impact. So for me have a greater impact through for multiple leadership teams, at multiple different companies. It's this sort of self-fulfilling loop. I mean, that's a good loop, where success breeds success. And you sort of figure out, I mean, just there's this whole, I mean, I consider myself a lifelong learner, there's this opportunity to that works really well. We like the example of taking rich high-tech executives, through his own customer experience with some high technology that he didn't have. I mean, that actually, I used a number of times, that was the first time that I use it with you. And it was so powerful, I used it, I've used it a number of times, where the CEO said, oh, my gosh, I'm at a huge competitive disadvantage. My marketing tech stack is like leapfrogs, behind, I have an opportunity to leapfrog forward. So being able to do that, and incorporate that into kind of your current approach to helping companies is hugely rewarding. And for me, the personal impact is that I have a much greater impact in the folks and the companies that I work with. That, to me is hugely rewarding when you mentioned earlier, hey, why am I not retired? Why? I mean, being able to do this, what you love to do, bringing kind of the tools that you developed over the course of your career, and applying them in a way that really has a huge impact, as hugely gratifying. And so yeah, that's how it's changed me. It's like, I'm not, I mean, I love what I do.


Richard Walker 28:31

Yeah. And actually, retirement should be defined as the ability to do what you want, when you want how you want, hopefully, with whom you want. And that doesn't mean playing golf, that can mean doing exactly what you're doing, Chris? I want to say that you guys have had a very profound impact on us. Because not only did you listen to our customers, you defined four distinct personas to that we're kind of contrary to buying our product and to that we're making decisions to buy our product that has informed us so well. Another transformation we did is we got into HubSpot CRM. And man, is that powerful for us. And it's so awesome. And you helped us do that. So I wanted to give clarity to the people listening. I mean, this has been transformative for our business, and long-lasting too. So thank you.


Chris Wallner 29:14

Yeah, I was just gonna say the personas that seemed to I remember that with the rich, you and Don, where it all of a sudden took this sort of academic description of who your customers are. And it made it real personal. And it made it like you are not targeting this technology segment that has these characteristics. You're targeting. Joe Smith, Joe Smith looks like this. I think I use an actual customer of yours that you knew you.


Richard Walker 29:41

If it isn't a great thing. You told us what car they drove you told us how they dressed you told what their aspirations were. It was mind-boggling how much you figured out about these people and it's not wrong. It's not perfect, but it's not wrong.


Chris Wallner 29:53

I mean, it's one thing it's like, it's like presenting to an audience where if you're trying to genericized your message, you're going to reach fewer folks, if you can zero in on who you really want to talk to, that makes your messaging so much more powerful, because it's really closely targeted. I mean, it's really it really resonates with those folks that you really want to have conversation with whether that conversations about your products and services there needs, hopefully, in the reverse order, but that just elevates the marketing that elevates the conversation. And that just that I know resonated with you and Don, strongly and it really, yeah, it continues to bear the benefit of we're not just talking to this massive kind of nameless faces. These folks, this is what's important to them. Right to that audience, not to this generic audience.


Richard Walker 30:47

Yeah. Now, this is awesome. I want to change the topic, a little bit nastier question that's been near and dear to me for a while, and it's becoming bigger and bigger in the marketplace, and that is artificial intelligence. Now, we go down a rabbit hole with this. So let's not go too far. But I'm curious, from your perspective, how is it impacting or changing customer experience, or maybe even how you guys do your own work to figure out customer experience?


Chris Wallner 31:11

I think the biggest area for a chief marketing officer is the generation of thought leading content. I mean, this is sort of tactical, but the benefit that we're seeing right now is that in a conversation, like what we're having right now, you can run it through some, some tools that are powered by artificial intelligence to help take that content, and create a basically a blog post. There, there are some really some neat techniques, it doesn't take, I mean, it can do a good job of authoring the content, and put you in a position of being an editor. And so in a very tactical way, that's what I see is really helpful today is creating thought-leading content, it doesn't remove, again, doesn't remove the subject matter expert from ensuring that you're really delivering, you're certainly delivering something that's truly thought-leading. I mean, as part of the challenge of immune, it's only a tool in the future. You know, there are so many I mean, I that that is a rabbit hole, I think just being able to sort of take kind of raw information and be able to distill it down with some of the call artificial intelligence capability. And where that can go is. I mean, it's just mind-boggling. And I'm excited to be there on the leading edge, figuring it out, as we all are, and I'm happy to I look forward to bringing some of the coolness of what it can potentially do to customers. I think, again, the first thing is, I think, in the content generation is hugely powerful. Beyond that, wow. I don't know.


Richard Walker 32:59

I met somebody recently, who's part of a mastermind group I'm in who is building an AI is going to launch it soon, that learns your voice, it learns how to speak and write the way your voice works. So when you talk about writing those articles, you say, here are the four points I want to make. Here's the conclusion I want to make, and it will learn your voice and write it that way. He's building it for speakers and authors and thought leaders, so maybe I'll need to introduce you to him when he's ready.


Chris Wallner 33:23

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. It's, there's no question. I think we all are excited about what could be. But you know, it, the theories are at one level, making it practical is something else. But yeah, it's excited about?


Richard Walker 33:41

Yeah, that's awesome. Chris, I will shouldn't even ask you this next question. But because you shared so many really great insights already. But I'm wondering if there's one secret or a key lesson that you've learned that could help other business leaders win more customers? Or maybe even summarize what you've said already? What would it be?


Chris Wallner 33:56

I think that I mean, just kind of going back to the theme of this whole conversation is the importance of getting the customer insights. And I think for leaders, what I see as a trait of a great leader is where they actually take the initiative to have to sort of check in with the real customer, to be able to sort of step down from the boardroom, from the C suite, and actually have a conversation with a real customer to find out kind of really where their head is, I've seen that throughout my entire career, any you know, whether you are an executive running a bank with hundreds of 1000s of employees, that executive that actually takes the time to connect with real customers. And there's some great stories of some of the folks that I've had the privilege of working for, who've done that to really sort of scale during this I heard this, and you know, whether it was in marketing or heading product, mountain, product development, getting that feedback, right, get a call from you know, whoever and it's like, hey, Chris, I heard this I spoke with this customer. It's like, what do you think? And it's like, wow. It's like, well, here's what I think. And, and here's, here's, you know, here's the plan that's connected to that, or we don't have a plan for that. It's something that we have on the back burner. But let's go and talk about where this might be able to go. I think that it's so easy to do yet so few executives that I found, take the time to really, really pursue that to really help validate what their customers are thinking. And sure, you can hire me absolutely. But it's being open to that and actually taking that personal initiative to having that that conversation, to help ensure that your company is really, really in sync with what customers what's important to them. And I think that that's kind of one of the big takeaways, it's not hard to do. Just picking up the phone, even almost at random. And you're stopping by a call center or however your whatever your business is, making sure that that's part of which you do on a regular basis, not kind of reactively, but every couple of weeks, it's you're going to be listening on a call or taking a call, or reaching out to a customer having a conversation yourself. That's so important. It's so easy to do. It is shocking to me how many executives don't would make that a priority?


Richard Walker 35:02

And I think that is partly because and I can say this from my own experience, there's perhaps a nagging fear, or just a trepidation in the back of your mind of like, what if I hear something I don't like? What if they tell me I'm doing it wrong? I mean, there's all those kind of like, what if it's the wrong insight, the wrong info?


Chris Wallner 36:41

Yeah, it can be kind of annoying, where I didn't think of that. i Right. That's it. All right. But to your point that you mentioned earlier, which is that, you know, if you're not doing it, who's doing it, your competitors. And so it's not the carrot, it's the stick, but you know, one way or the other, you know, the customer is going to get what they want, whether it's from your company or another company, is it incumbent upon any leader to make sure that you're confident that you're in front of that, that change, you understand where customers are going? That's so critical? And again, there's so many companies you can see in our games that have forgotten the customer that you know, they've been focused on quarterly returns, and Well, where's the customer at all that? I get your priorities straight, because in the end, the customer will vote with their feet.


Richard Walker 37:33

Yeah. Well, asking you that question. I'm really glad I did. Because you inspire something. I'm going to ask my product managers to man our chat line once or twice a quarter so that they can hear directly from the customer. They need that.


Chris Wallner 37:45

Yeah, it's an important reconnection with the customer. Yeah.


Richard Walker 37:49

So Chris, as we wrap this up, and thank you so much for all this. I do have another question. But before I ask, I want to help people connect with you. What is the best way for people to find you?


Chris Wallner 37:58

Yeah, so I'm part of an organization called Chief Outsiders. So you can find me at cheifoutsiders.com on Chris Wallner. And it's as simple as that.


Richard Walker 38:08

Awesome. Are you on LinkedIn by the way? Is that a good place for people to find you too?


Chris Wallner 38:13

Yeah, you can find me on LinkedIn. Chris Wallner on LinkedIn. Yeah, absolutely.


Richard Walker 38:19

Okay, here's my last question. I just realized I didn't even tell you what this last question is, before we started. So surprise, who has had the biggest impact on your leadership? Or how you approach your role?


Chris Wallner 38:32

I can think of a number of leaders that have had a huge impact. Boy, I think maybe the way to answer that question is just to comment on one leader that I've worked with recently, and where the leader had the courage to allow me to, and this was more strategic planning than marketing, but it still exists as I think a great example, the leader was very supportive of me talking to every one of the every one of the leaders on his leadership team, and everyone on the board. And this is the largest credit union in the state, I'll leave the specific name out of it, but and we got a lot of feedback and he encouraged it. It's like they're going to I know, I'm going to hear some things which are good. I know, I'm gonna hear still some things which are not real good. But I want to hear everything I need to. We've asked Chief Outsiders to create a strategic plan for the company for the next five years. I need to be open to hearing candid commentary. I need to understand that and he had the courage to allow me or give me the privilege of having these conversations with all of these folks. And I was able to bring that back in a form that Watch, here's, you know, here are clear opportunities here changes to what the company is doing here are things which are, you know, it reinforces that they've got this right, the leader being open to that voice of the customer, in this case, the customer was the leadership team in the board. But being able to get that collected input, and it was my job to be able to lay it out in a way that it was very, was actionable, it would result in positive change and a positive set of conversations. And we created, I think a wonderful plan that really, this company was number one in the state. And it would with a lot of threats from other from high tech startups to, you know, in market competitors, traditional competitors. And the plan that resulted from it was simple, intuitive, and powerful in terms of making some changes that really change the course, or has the potential I should say, to change the course of the company, and keep it number one in this in the state and in the industry. So that to me, yeah, just the humbleness and the openness of the CEO and president to have that information exposed to, to the entire leadership team and the board to drive change. And the end result was really incredible.


Richard Walker 41:30

Well, and you just said something else I want to make a fine point on which is it's not just that you listen, it's you turn it into actionable information, and action steps that you can actually create the change with, it's not just oh, I heard this, what are you going to do about it? It's I heard this, and here are the ways we could solve it.


Chris Wallner 41:46

Yeah, that's the other hard part. I mean, it's always hard to get all this intelligence, and then what do you do about it? And I think the way that I like to, I mean, just to kind of cut back to the nuts and nuts and bolts here, is there's what you need to do about it, it may be clear, and it may be a long list, but it's the sequence and how you do that. And it's not saying necessarily no to everything, but saying we're going to do that later. Here are the things which matter now, here's the right orchestration of this plan that you're executing, that'll get you the highest return, it'll get you to what your mission is for your company, would it get it will get you to your goals, that there's a lot of I won't say magic in that, but there is a challenge in having those tough conversations about, okay, what are the five things that you're going to do really well, we've got a list, it's maybe 100 or 50 long, what are the five things that you're going to knock out of the park? Let's do those first, and then we'll pause and then go after the next set.


Richard Walker 42:47

Yeah. Oh, man, this is great. Hey, I want to thank Chris Wallner Partner at Chief Outsiders for being on this episode of the customer wins. Please go check out Chris's website at chiefoutsiders.com. And don't forget to check out quack quikforms.com where we take the work out of paperwork. I hope you've enjoyed this discussion. And we'll click the like button, share this with someone and even subscribe to our channels for future episodes of the customer was. Chris, thank you so much for joining me today. It's been such a pleasure.


Chris Wallner 43:16

It's great to be here. Great conversation. Thanks, Rich.


Outro 43:20

Thanks for listening to The Customer Wins podcast. We'll see you again next time and be sure to click Subscribe to get future episodes.

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