Five Questions with Brian Raboin of HOSTING

Brian Raboin
Brian Raboin

We’ve had the privilege of collaborating with Brian Raboin, the Chief Strategy Officer of managed cloud services provider HOSTING, over the last year. His enthusiasm for discussing the importance of customer experience is contagious. In the best possible way. Here, Brian shares some of his insight into why a customer-centered strategy has been a winning formula for HOSTING.

Brian, we know you’re kind of a big deal in customer experience strategy circles these days. Tell us a little bit about yourself. When you’re not setting CX strategy, where might we find you? Favorite superhero?

I’ll try and make this short. It was a Tuesday in 1971. It was raining. I was born in Delaware because I wanted to be close to my mother. "I was born at a very young age." - Groucho Marx.

I live in Denver, Colorado with my wife and two children. I left the uncertainty of a corporate job with McDonald’s to join the stability of a start-up in 2001 when I joined HostMySite as the fifth employee. Fast-forward to today and HOSTING is the integrated combination of three companies – HostMySite, NeoSpire, and HOSTING. When I am not focusing on CX Strategy or talking about building a Service Culture, I enjoy doing things to make my colleagues, family and friends laugh. Currently my office window is a real life replica of level 1-1 from Mario Brothers. I also make balloon animals for people’s anniversaries and birthdays.

As for my favorite superhero, I would have to say Iron Man. I saw a graphic once where Clark Kent says, “No one must ever know who I really am.” Bruce Wayne says, “To protect my city, I must wear a mask.” Peter Parker says, “No one can ever know my secret.” And Tony Stark says, “Screw it, I’m Iron Man.” I like that Tony innovates and is iterative in the process. He always has different versions of the Iron Man suit that he is working on and takes successful ideas and applies them in different ways. He learns from the failures, and the failures just make him want to do even better. He is also uber-rich and drives some pretty awesome cars.

You've recently taken up the position of Chief Strategy Officer at HOSTING. Could you tell us a bit about your position and the role CX plays when setting your corporate strategy?

My new role as Chief Strategy Officer is to take a lot of what we have done internally with regards to building a service culture and to turn that outside-in through thought leadership and activation leadership. For example, using CX Journey Mapping (CXJM) and measuring the true impact on an organization from a revenue standpoint is critical in determining the overall success of the process. But for a process like CXJM to be successful, an organization needs to know its vision, values, culture, brand, customers, market, and competition. Getting those pieces in place is critical for companies today to build a good customer experience.

My role is to get those pieces in place for HOSTING and then effectively innovate around the customer experience not just at the product level, but also from initial engagement through the entire customer life cycle. The questions I try to answer are how can we innovate for the customer at all levels to show our vision, values, culture and brand? How do we know that our vision, values, culture and brand are valued by our target customer and market segment? What new markets will find our offerings distinctly valuable compared to the competition? What are the customer's problems, needs, desires, passions and goals that we can satisfy? And how do we do it in a distinctive way that our target market and customers will find valuable?

To that end, I am writing, talking, workshopping (I just made up that word) and activating not only HOSTING, but other companies, so that they can build their own service culture and customer experience.

You’ve been a great partner of ours over the last year, sharing your experiences using CX Journey Mapping (CXJM). What was it about CXJM that really resonated with you and your teams?

Why thank you! You have been a great partner as well.

What really clicked for us with CXJM was the idea of telling a customer story and the uniqueness of the innovations that fell out of those stories. CXJM re-focused us not only on value, but on the problem and on the customer need. It made the customer come to life for us and allowed us to experience things from a first person perspective.

We used to write Agile user stories like,

“As the customer, I want to see a backup log, so I know my backups have run and when.”

After CXJM, we started writing,

“As Bobby, the System Admin who works 60 hours a week and is on-call 24x7, I want to know if, when and why a backup failed and have a say as to when it will run again. Because if it runs at the wrong time during the day and causes the application to slow down, my phone is going to ring off the hook and my email is going to blow up, and I’ll spend hours trying to figure out what the hell is going on, pulling my hair out, while people are yelling at me thinking I am incompetent. Only then to learn HOSTING automatically re-ran the backup without me knowing.  And when that happens, I will hate HOSTING with the heat of a thousand suns.”

The old user story delivered functionality that gave visibility into the backup process. The new user story using CXJM solved for the problem of an overworked, on-call System Admin who doesn’t want to get yelled at more than he already does. Solving for the latter brings so much more value than just building the former. CXJM allowed us to really get outside of the box when it came to solving problems where both the customer and the company benefited. We are now writing stories that will create an experience that will move customers to be advocates. Not everything you do will make a customer an advocate, but CXJM helps identify the points of frustration as well as opportunities to build advocacy.

One overlooked aspect I think a lot of people miss when doing CXJM for the first time is that while the ideas are out of the box, the best and most effective ideas and innovations are ones that not only support, but propel and push forward, a company’s vision, value, culture and brand. At HOSTING, we want our brand to be about “Serve” and “Guide”, which are the two things we always want to be doing for our customers. The innovations that come from our teams while using CXJM always push us towards more unique ways to serve and guide our customers.

Tell us a bit more about how you’re using CX design principles to create engaged employees within HOSTING.

For HOSTING, CXJM brought all parts of the company together to get a wide, horizontal view of the entire customer experience. CXJM works best for us when we can bring together a microcosm of our entire organization to build and experience the customer journey together. The innovations then come from any part of the organization and it brings a much deeper understanding as to what the customer really experiences. It also gets people involved in the success of the innovations who otherwise wouldn’t be involved or interested.  Now, we have Billing and Accounting people really interested in what Engineering and Operations are doing because they were a part of the creation of an innovation. It has blasted cannon balls into the silos of our organization, and that is a good thing.

Like Tony Stark who tries successful ideas in new ways, I wanted to see how CXJM could be applied elsewhere. So we are going to be Journey Mapping the employee experience at HOSTING to see where we can make that experience even better. This is important to me as part of our vision is having the “industry’s best team.” To attract the best team, we have to have an experience that will get people lined up at the door to come work at HOSTING.  We have done a lot this year to make that happen. We built a bar at the office in Denver that is always stocked with beer, wine and other adult beverages. This is important to me personally as I am taking over HR and Training with the goal of creating an awesome employee experience. Frankly, I only have a couple of tricks in my bag (CXJM being one of them) so I really hope it helps me in HR and Training. Incidentally, we also hired a full time lawyer. Despite the outward appearance, the bar and the lawyer are not correlated. However me taking over HR and the lawyer are.

Many companies understand that CX is the new business imperative, but struggle to find a place to start. Could you share any guidance or tips to help businesses build alignment and confidence to start a CX transformation?

The secret to our success in CX transformation was to just start. There is a book by Ari Weinzweig, the co-founder of a company called Zingerman’s, called “Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service”. He lists five steps to building a service culture. Step one is Teach It, and step two is Define It. When I first saw that I thought it was odd that they were in that order, and not the other way around. But the genius of teaching before defining hit me quickly. Transformation requires movement, energy, collaboration and action. The physical act of teaching involves movement, energy, collaboration and action. Also, teaching first makes you commit. Last year, we put December 10-11, 2012, on the calendar on for me to teach a class on customer service. We called it WOW training. When that invite went out to 10 people at HOSTING, including our CEO, COO, CTO and seven other people, I had no idea what I was going to talk about or do for two days. But I knew I had to do something. Six months later, the entire company had been through WOW training. We are now doing WOW 2.0 and Manager WOW, as well as CXJM Workshops, How to Hire a Rock Star Workshops, and Giving Reviews that Matter Workshops.

The other part of teaching first and defining second is that it allows the culture of the company to help define it. Find people that are passionate about CX and Service.  Passionate people like to talk about their passion. Oracle and the folks that work on Oracle CX offered me the opportunity to attend free CXJM workshops and support. I took unashamed advantage of every opportunity that was presented in front of me to learn from the CX folks at Oracle. I did buy them beer on occasion, which seemed to keep me top of mind when opportunities arose. With a little homework and an attitude of not taking no for an answer, you can find people who have done it before. And they will talk to you for free and teach you a ton - just because it is their passion. Just like every journey, CX transformation all starts with taking a first step. Just take it and keep going.