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CX: The Ace Up Your Sleeve

It’s time to Be REAL about CX leadership

The customer experience landscape is always changing, but one constant remains: the need for an energized and engaged workforce. Amazing brand experiences are powered by people, and great employee experiences lead to seamless customer experiences.

For Shelly Swanback, who joined TTEC Engage as CEO in May, creating a culture of empowerment isn’t just part of her job – it’s a passion. She brings to her role more than 30 years of experience establishing and scaling innovative businesses. Most notably, she launched and built Accenture Digital into a global digital transformation powerhouse with more than $20 billion in annual revenue in just seven years.

Her personal motto, and the philosophy she leads TTEC with, is “Be REAL.” It stands for  Relevant, Empowered, Accountable and Learning. Here she describes how being REAL can help brands both internally as they build a strong corporate culture and externally as they strive to improve customer experience (CX).

Customer Strategist Journal: What excites you most about your role at TTEC?

Shelly Swanback: I'm really excited about the whole CX marketplace. I feel like customer experience is such an exciting area. It's relevant for every company in every industry.

One of the things I like most about it is when you’re creating amazing customer experiences, you're just never done. What’s amazing today is not good enough tomorrow. There's a lot of really exciting work to be done, lots of innovation that can be done with data, personalization, and technology.

I love the combination of capabilities that we have to work with here at TTEC, whether it's CX strategy, CX design, the technology capabilities that we have, and of course the great talent that we have helping our clients serve their customers every day.

I think the combination of these things is very powerful – the ability for us to help companies across all industries really design, build, and operate their customer experiences in this ever-changing world is a super-exciting space.
CSJ: Your leadership style is based on your personal motto, “Be REAL.” Where did that philosophy come from and how can it positively impact company culture?

SS: The essence, for me, of Be REAL is about being yourself and bringing your authentic self to life, and certainly to work. Be REAL is a lot about being yourself, not trying to lead in a way that works for someone else. Lead in a way that works for you so you can bring your authentic self and best strengths to work every day.

My experience is you're a lot more successful if you can lean into your strengths, so that's the first piece. The second piece is about being relevant and just understanding that being relevant is contextual – sometimes it's being on the field with your players, sometimes it’s more about relevance to customers, relevance to the external world, and sometimes that's different than being relevant to your front-line employees.

I believe strongly in creating an environment where people feel empowered to tackle opportunities, to solve problems, to step beyond what they're asked to do, to not wait for all of the direction to come from the top of the organization.

I'm a big believer in creating empowered teams and part of what goes with that is creating some accountability and making sure that people also feel like they can experiment a bit. They feel empowered to go after new opportunities, but they also feel accountable for results or accountable for bringing forward situations that need to be resolved and accountable for the actions they take with their team.

The last piece, around learning, is this idea of having a continual learning mindset. Staying relevant takes an awful lot of learning. Sometimes I like to encourage people to pick something to learn about that might not be what they're doing day-to-day in their job; maybe it will bring some new ideas.
Be yourself. Play to your strengths. Be authentic. Figure out how to be relevant, empower your teams, feel empowered yourself, take accountability – and always, always, always be learning.
CSJ: With more customers turning to brands that are authentic and accountable, how can the Be REAL philosophy be applied in the CX industry?

SS: It starts with having a lot of clarity about what you want your brand to stand for. What's the authenticity of your brand and what's the essence of how you want customers to see you?

Authenticity about your brand is important in terms of relevance, and that's very contextual when you think about customer experiences. How do you be relevant to customers of different generations, customers in different parts of the world? And how do you be relevant in the moment to your customer based on what they're trying to accomplish?

If I'm calling to ask a simple question, can you give me some options where I don't have to wait on the phone to talk to somebody? Can you provide a digital messaging option, as an example? And so being relevant in the customer experience world takes a lot of work.

Regarding being empowered, for me that would be about empowering your customers through things like self-service, empowering them to be a brand ambassador for your organization where that makes sense.

In terms of being accountable, customers expect companies and brands to take accountability – when you know they screw up their order, as an example – or take accountability for solving their problem or for a faulty product. That's obviously important to customers.

From a learning perspective, this is where new technologies and data that are available to all organizations is just so powerful. There’s so much that companies can learn about their customers, and through that learning, to evolve that idea of relevance.
CSJ: Looking ahead, what are you most excited to see as TTEC and the CX landscape in general evolves?

SS: I think this whole world of digitally enabled customer experiences – not just through technology but this combination of technology and talent and data-rich experiences – is super-exciting.

There’s a lot of opportunity ahead for us. We have a lot of great capabilities here at TTEC to make that happen. I can see some areas where we can expand our services. So, more to come on that, but I'm excited there.

And from an employee experience perspective, that’s more critical than ever, with all of the things that have happened in the last couple of years of people working at home and the war for talent at the same time.

The employee experience and customer experience are so connected. You can provide your employees with a great experience, make their job easier, and that has a positive influence on customer experience.

There's a lot of fun work ahead for us and a lot of enthusiasm here at our organization. I’m really excited to see what we do.