"Customer service and listening to clients is in IBM’s DNA. This focus drives our culture, our practices, and our behaviors. We make client listening a priority every day—no matter how busy we are. As leaders, we continuously ask what clients are saying, and we begin meetings talking about client feedback."

At The Conference Board’s 2018 Change and Transformation Conference, Maril Gagen MacDonald interviewed Cristina Gonzalez, Director for Client Experience & Change at IBM and 2016 ‘Best of IBM’ Honoree. The following is a condensed transcript of their conversation.

Fast Facts

Location Miami, FL
Number of Employees 398,000
Time in Current Role 2 years, 7 months
Award 'Best of IBM' in 2016

Questions & Answers

What does it mean to be Director of Client Experience and Change for IBM, a company that manages so much change?

CG: It means including the voice of the customer in all the decisions we make. One of my responsibilities is organizational change and enablement to capture client feedback, and wire all IBMers into that feedback to continuously improve our products, the way we work, and, most importantly, the client experience.

How does IBM define the “voice of the customer” (VOC), and how do you capture it in real-time?

CG: We start with obtaining a customer’s Net Promoter Score, which asks a simple question: How likely are you to recommend IBM? Then we ask: Why? From this simple form of customer feedback, we learn what matters to our clients. We then make sure we receive feedback on a large scale to help us know we’re investing in actions that improve client experience.

To help us capture feedback on such a significant scale, we implemented a software platform called Medallia to survey clients. In fact, we just won an award for how our Medallia implementation captures large-scale VOC. What makes this tool such an accomplishment for IBM is that it provides a way to collect feedback at a very large scale—globally across all IBM products and offerings. We’ve also created apps so our IBMers can access that data throughout the day. For instance, while IBMers are having coffee, they can view client feedback to inform their decisions. Imagine the possibilities if the actions of every single IBMer were driven by client feedback.

How do you encourage IBMers to check out the app in this way—over morning coffee?

CG: Customer service and listening to clients is in IBM’s DNA. This focus drives our culture, our practices, and our behaviors. We make client listening a priority every day—no matter how busy we are. As leaders, we continuously ask what clients are saying, and we begin meetings talking about client feedback. When employees see senior leaders accessing the app and talking about the feedback, that makes a difference.

IBM is well-known for using dashboards. Is there a spirit of competition among your leaders in terms of how and when they’re accessing client feedback?

CG: Yes, and that brings up an interesting point. Our commitment to client feedback is not just about a score. It’s about continuous improvement. So the conversations we’re having are not so much focused on where we are today, but where we are compared to where we were, how we’ve improved, and where we’ll be in a week or a month. It’s about looking at trends and improvements. Internal competition isn’t about a one-day, a one-month, or a one-quarter score—it’s about who’s improving most.

Can you offer an example of something you've learned from your clients that surprised you?

CG: One of the areas we continuously focus on is how we bring innovation to our clients—one of our IBM values. We’re constantly reinventing ourselves and we are now a leader on cognitive solutions. Much of our client feedback tells us they want help innovating, transforming their business models, and leveraging cognitive. That feedback is not so much a surprise as it simply gives us energy to change. Change doesn’t come from only our internal strategy, but from what clients say they need from us.

Change fatigue is a much-discussed topic these days. Can you tell us how you bring energy to the projects you're leading?

CG: We know that engaged employees drive the best client experiences. Engagement means many things. Something that resonates for many of us is the conversation around energy. Energy comes from focusing your actions, working together as a team, innovating together as a team, and co-creating. And it can become magical—a kind of explosion of energy—when a leader challenges a team with an outcome, asks the right questions, and lets the team create and innovate. To me, that brings the element of energy to a change project.

That's a great example in line with what we're exploring at Let Go & Lead: how leaders must let go to allow teams to create that energy. What would you say leaders most need to let go of?

CG: Fear. Fear of not being perfect. Fear of people not getting it right. At least, that’s true for me, personally. As leaders, we want to get it right, and we often think we know how to get it right. But what’s more important is agility.

We practice agile and design thinking at IBM. It’s at the core of how we’re transforming. To be agile leaders, we must start with the outcome. We must provide our teams with clarity on where they’re going, and stay realistic about where we are, too. Once we’ve shared that vision, we can let go and listen. That’s when we make way for a team’s creative energy—for magic to happen. And the solutions they find can be more amazing than any leader could ever dream up.

Interviewed by .