The top CX practitioners making the most impact on employee and customer experience
Customer service is more important today than ever before. The customer service teams that are driving revenue, wow-ing customers and building long-term relationships often have a strong leader at the helm. Sure, you can hire a customer service leader consultant, but if you are looking for the best in-house operators, you’ve come to the right place. We wanted to recognize our 25 favorite customer service practitioners doing incredible work in the CX space today.
Whether it’s customer-obsession, innovative uses of technology or an intimate focus on employee happiness and engagement, each of these leaders featured is pushing the boundaries in customer service. Read why each makes our list below (in alphabetical order!):
1. Alfredo Tan, Chief Digital and Innovation Officer, WestJet
WestJet is looking at digital as a means to transform and raise the bar for the guest experience, not simply augment it. With an ever-expanding customer base, WestJet’s Chief Digital and Innovation Officer Alfredo Tan realized that the airline needed to embrace innovation whole-heartedly in order to keep up with customer expectations for personal and convenient support.
Alfredo led the airline’s adoption of AI as a way to meet the rising guest expectations for immediacy, accuracy and effective resolution, while also easing the burden on its human support agents. Launched initially across Facebook Messenger, the airline’s virtual assistant Juliet is now on WhatsApp and Google Assistant, fully resolving 87% of support tickets instantly, without human intervention. As a result, CSAT has increased 24%.
Having automation in place really paid off during the early weeks of the Covid-19 outbreak in North America. Capable of answering hundreds of the most frequently asked questions, Juliet deflected tens of thousands of calls from its human agents, allowing them to focus on more complex interactions. Alfredo’s vision and leadership helped the airline scale consistent customer service in times of crisis and maintain high customer satisfaction.
Connect with Alfredo on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://ca.linkedin.com/in/alfredotan
Twitter – https://twitter.com/AlfredoTan
2. Ali Rayl, Slack, Vice President of Customer Experience
With a product like Slack, the range of queries varies greatly. Some come from brand new users who are just getting acquainted with the platform, while others have been using the product for five years and have very specific API questions. That’s why Ali created groups of specialists who become experts in certain areas of the product. Customers are not escalated through various tiers of knowledge and instead land with the right expert immediately. As a result, the company’s CSAT score hovers around 98%.
Ali admits she’s never satisfied and spends a lot of her time looking for the next opportunity to improve the customer experience. This is why they started implementing Customer Effort Surveys. She’s taking the learnings to find the next frontier for Slack CX.
Connect with Ali on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/alirayl
Twitter – https://twitter.com/alirayl
3. Andrew Stein, Chewy, Sr. Director of Customer Experience
Andrew’s LinkedIn profile says it all: I wake up every morning with one question: How do we make sure Chewy has the best customer service in the world?
With passionate people like Andrew leading the charge, Chewy is well on its way to being as customer-obsessed as Amazon. His daily mission manifests itself in many ways, like the 11 million handwritten cards sent annually to new customers, birthday cards to customers’ pets, and sympathy cards when pets pass away. This personal touch to customer service, though, doesn’t stop here.
Chewy associates are empowered to do whatever it takes to win customers over. The company issued a statement saying: “We empower our [customer service representatives] to go above and beyond for our customers, and they do so with the knowledge that our commitment to our customers is our number one priority. We engage with pet parents thousands of times per day, and we embrace the opportunity to “WOW” our customers each time, from surprising them with a hand-painted pet portrait to sending flowers to a family who has recently lost their pet.”
The company has taken the Amazon approach to customer obsession. This doesn’t even mention that their agents can be reached on many channels, 24/7, 365 days per year.
Andrew is charged with ensuring that Chewy continues to be an incredible place to work by bringing in top talent and collecting input from front-line team members to continuously push the envelope on the customer experience.
Connect with Andrew on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/andrew-stein-3556a119
4. Brett Frazer, Sun Basket, Vice President of Customer Service
On Brett’s LinkedIn page, he says: Your customers deserve the best.
And he has spent his career helping companies create experiences that keep customers coming back, and also leading them to recommend others to join them.
He’s currently the head of customer service for Sun Basket, a meal kit company, where he trains his agents to wow customers the first time they ever reach out with a question or issue. Brett believes that this moment – the first time an issue arises – is the deciding factor for whether or not a customer will do repeat business. When a customer reaches out, Brett’s ensures that they get “the best of the basics: Access, Understanding, Empathy, Commitment, Timeliness and Follow through.”
Connect with Brett on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/brettfrazer
5. Charlie Cole, TUMI, (former) Chief Digital Officer
TUMI is a company now known for being customer-centric. When Charlie took on the role of CDO, he recognized that the company was not executing well on customer-centricity. He stepped back to look carefully at the entire customer journey to identify ways to help the customer as much as possible.
According to Charlie, the company “keeps humans in the forefront of how we interact with customers, routing customers to the last agent they spoke with, and offering them the continuity, immediate historical knowledge, and empathetic insight of that agent.”
When he was the CDO for TUMI, he focused on the long-term, lifetime relationship with the customer, not an immediate sale. As a way to accomplish this, he oversaw the company’s adoption of Gladly to be able to arm agents with a customer’s lifetime history and historic data to nurture relationships at every opportunity.
Connect with Charlie on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/charliecole/?miniProfileUrn=urn%3Ali%3Afs_miniProfile%3AACoAAABlY5YBET6rzbZcnxZnhiE3tDyNIWP3R-Q
6. Chris Vetrano, Lyft, Head of Partner & Customer Engagement | Bikes, Scooters & Transit
With over 65 social channels and applications, figuring out which channels to leverage to offer support that will be the most impactful end-to-end customer experience is crucial. It’s up to Chris and his team to analyze channels, figuring out why the company should offer support, what issues they would try to resolve on social channels and how quickly they can offer resolutions.
Leading customer engagement for the bikes, scooters and transit group, Chris understands that when someone has an issue, they are often in the “last mile” and need an immediate solution as they are trying to get somewhere in the moment – work, an appointment, etc. Customers don’t have time to send an email or call a support team. Chris understands this need for immediacy and to respond in as close to real-time as possible. Currently, 90% of responses on social channels are under 30 minutes. As a result of his team’s efforts, LYFT’s NPS on social channels is almost double other channels, simply due to the time to resolve.
Connect with Chris on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/cmvetrano
Twitter – https://twitter.com/CMVetrano/
7. Drew Chamberlain, Joann, Director of Operations and Customer Experience
Drew leads daily operations of the chain’s 865 stores, focusing on increasing productivity and efficiency. He is also responsible for ensuring customer satisfaction and leads the customer service team, handling millions of loyal customers across phone, email and social.
Within the first month of adopting Gladly, JOANN reduced its email backlog by 93%, and decreased email response times by 70%. The company now responds to emails in hours, not days. Want to hear more of Drew’s story? Watch this webinar.
Connect with Drew on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/drew-chamberlain-2a2a6148
8. Erin Miller, Glossier, Head of Loyalty
Skincare and makeup company Glossier has a cult-like following. And it’s in large part thanks to Head of Loyalty Erin Miller.
She leads the company’s “gTeam,” which is a combined support and marketing team that is seen by leadership as a value-driver. The team helps to drive customer loyalty, retention and conversions. Every “editor” on the team (as they are called), is encouraged to maintain their own vibe, and provide an authentic, candid response to customers. Each editor has a dedicated channel: Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, email, FaceTime or phone.
Erin’s team is encouraged to go above and beyond. Digiday reported on one simply amazing customer service story: “A bride-to-be panicked about the fact that its website was out of its Haloscope highlighter, which she was hoping to use on her wedding day. One of the gTeam editors messaged everyone in the office to find out if they might have an unopened Haloscope sitting in their own makeup bags for the brand to send. They tracked one down and sent it her way.”
Connect with Erin on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/erin-miller-012571b
9. Fawad Ahmad, State Farm, Chief Digital Officer
A few years ago, the 100-year old company recognized that it needed to digitally transform to stay relevant. Fawad Ahmad led the transformation. According to Fawad, in order to remain a market leader, “we have to continuously and rapidly adapt to remain relevant to our customers.”
When adopting new technology, he applies it where it’s needed, he doesn’t build something for the sake of being able to say the insurance company uses it.
The company adopted Salesforce Financial Services Cloud to help the 19,000 contracted agents with before- and after-sales service. He sought to give agents a holistic view of customers regardless of the channel they reach out on. Agents get a clear history of the customer, including past interactions, regardless of the channel and can send updates to customers on their preferred channel.
Connect with Fawad on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/fawad-ahmad-3a48594
10. Hernan Giraldo, Bark, VP of Customer Experience Ops
For Bark, dogs are the customer. The human or the dog parent is there, simply, to facilitate that transaction.
To make an emotional connection with dog and human customers, VP of Customer Experience Ops Hernan Giraldo doesn’t compromise on hiring dog people. We’re a company of dog parents. He wants his team to relate at every level of emotion to what the dog parent experiences.
Hernan’s team maintains personal friendships with the customers they serve. Agents are encouraged to visit the office card station where they can send personal notes ranging from congratulations to condolences to customers. They have even been known to Facetime and video conference with customers to show off Bark’s super dong friendly office – with tons of four-legged friends walking around.
“We see ourselves much more than a customer support team because we’re hoping to deliver an experience through personal connections with customers. The way we accomplish that is obviously in different forms with a very unique, and kind of an informal tone, if you will. It’s pretty common that when you interact with us, we’ll use a dog pun or two, or use a funny dog GIF.”
This human-approach to customer support for dog lovers is something special.
Connect with Hernan on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/hernan-giraldo-2aa733b
11. Holly O’Neill, Bank of America, Head of Consumer Client Services for Consumer & Small Business
Holly’s twitter profile says it all: “All about getting it right for our clients.”
As Head of Consumer Client Services for Consumer & Small Business at Bank of America, Holly is dedicated to monitoring and improving customer experience across email, social media, the BAC mobile app, the phone, and, of course, in person. “We want to make sure we create that personal connection with clients no matter how they’re interacting with us,” she has said.
Under her leadership, Bank of America has created a culture obsessed with client care. According to Holly, “consumers are more empowered than ever to choose where they do business, so it is critical to deliver exceptional client care. If you don’t, the consumer will choose another relationship.”
One of the ways her team provides great service is by listening to (good and bad) customer feedback, and using it to constantly improve the business. To do this, the company sends 90 million email surveys a year to retail and small business customers following a customer interaction.
Holly also encourages her team to share great client wins. “Who doesn’t want to hear about a happy client you’ve helped, right? The more stories we share across our workforce, the more we continue to collect as our employees take great pride in helping clients,” Holly has said.
Connect with Holly on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/holly-o-neill-240328123
12. James Ashworth, Southwest, Vice President Customer Support and Services
Before mention of profit in Southwest’s vision statement, the company strives “To be the world’s most loved” airline in the world. A lot of this love grows from the airline’s top-notch customer service. And the man leading the customer support and services department is James. While amazing customer service stories from the airline are talked about frequently (and we love them), James makes the list for his effort to help visually impaired reps provide the Southwest standard of service.
James spearheaded the adoption of Salesforce Service Cloud’s accessibility tools to enable the airline to tap into a broader workforce. This initiative plugs customer data formerly housed in 15 different platforms into one place that’s accessible for reps who are visually impaired.
According to James, “It’s important for us to identify a way to bring data that existed across multiple systems to life in a contextual way for our frontline people to be able to serve customers and deliver the hospitality we want to deliver at Southwest.”
Connect with James on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/james-ashworth-04b11658
Twitter – https://twitter.com/jamesashworth_
13. Jeff Bezos, Amazon, Founder and CEO
Jeff created Amazon with one goal: “to be earth’s most customer-centric company.” Today, the company continues to push the limits of “customer obsession,” which is one of the company’s leadership principles. According to Jeff, “Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.”
There’s an infamous story that occured in 2018 during the busy holiday season. He asked the head of customer service at the time how long phone wait times were. In front of over 30 Amazon executives, Bezos reportedly grew furious when he waited 4.5 minutes. He, of course, felt this was unacceptable to his customers.
This idea of customer obsession is not just an aloof vision, but it’s something he lives every day and pushes his team to do the same. In fact, he has a customer-facing email address that customers can write to because “hearing from consumers helps him identify pain points.” One email even resulted in the happy reunion of a dog with its owner.
Because Jeff puts the customer at the center of every decision, and continuously improves the experience as expectations shift, he is easily one of the top customer service practitioners of all time.
Connect with Jeff on Social Media (Let us know if he follows you back on Twitter!) :
Twitter – https://twitter.com/jeffbezos
14. Jennifer Duguay, Sweetgreen, Director of Customer Service
As head of customer service, Jen Duguay knew that she needed to check in with her team regularly during Covid-19. She puts calendar holds for virtual, casual “office hours” where agents “check in on ongoing projects, talk through any new issues that have come up with customers, or to simply say hi and have a one-on-one conversation.”
She also asks her team to conduct “heart checks”, sharing on a scale of 1 to 5, how they’re feeling about work that day. Her focus on agent happiness puts a smile on our face!
Connect with Jennifer on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/jennifer-duguay-74066a23
Twitter – https://twitter.com/jen_duguay
15. Kelley Kurtzman, Verizon, Vice President – Global Consumer Sales & Service Centers
Kelley strongly believes that in order to compete and win in the marketplace, you have to win in the workplace. Afterall, happy employees equal happy customers.
Kelley focuses on the end-to-end customer experience, putting in place opportunities for customers to help themselves with simple issues and saving complex issues for human agents. As the company looked to automate tasks, she has ensured that it is “built for reps, by reps.” Kelley ensured that Verizon’s human agents are the building blocks in the company’s adoption of AI. Feedback is solicited to ensure agents feel part of the process and to get buy-in on new automation processes.
Kelley believes that company culture is the most important thing and strives to be an employer of choice. She understands that being a customer service rep is a stressful job, and she seeks ways through to make her team as successful as possible – whether it’s with new technology or daily stretches.
Connect with Kelley on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/kelleykurtzman/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/kelleykurtzman
16. Laurie A. Meacham, JetBlue, Leader of the Social Media and Customer Commitment Team
JetBlue founder and former CEO David Neeleman sought out to create an airline that revolved around customer service.
Today, Laurie leads the airline’s busy social media team. “We call ourselves a customer service company that happens to fly planes,” she says. “We want our employees to engage smartly, and for the conversations to be organic and natural. We look for opportunities to add value and connect with our customers, not just respond to every single mention that comes our way.”
The airline empowers agents to be responsive and creative when assisting customers. Especially on Twitter, where the airline is highly regarded for the customer service it provides. The company’s social media team responds not just to customers who @mention them, but to customers who talk about the brand in general but didn’t tag it in the post. That takes commitment!
Connect with Laurie on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/lmeacham
Twitter – https://twitter.com/laurieameacham
17. Lisa Oswald, Travelzoo, Senior Vice President of Global Customer Service
Travelzoo has a commitment to deliver ‘100% happiness, 100% of the time.’ The company provides 28 million members with insider deals and one-of-a-kind experiences. Under Lisa’s leadership, the company’s customer service has become a special part of the company’s brand promise and is a way it differentiates in the industry.
Her team’s philosophy is one of continuous improvement, “where the department strives to fine-tune every aspect of the customer experience. We don’t have an army of people, and we don’t have an unlimited budget. However, we do have a relentless focus on making incremental changes that matter.”
Lisa is constantly experimenting and testing different initiatives to get the right balance between efficiency and quality, including a Voice of the Customer initiative. Using a combination of technology and machine learning, a daily newsletter is curated for front-line team members reporting on what went well and areas for improvement. By putting power in the hands of the agents interacting with customers with personalized, actionable feedback, the company has seen a 68% increase in CSRs earning pay-for-performance at the end of the month.
Connect with Lisa on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/lisaposwald
Twitter – https://twitter.com/lisaposwald
18. Mara Castro, Warby Parker, Director of Customer Experience
The founders of Warby Parker, having set out to make shopping for glasses easier and more fun than it’s ever been before, ensured great CX was an integral part of their business
Mara Castro leads the lifestyle brand’s Customer Experience team. With a background in non-profit and leadership development, she began as Warby Parker’s first employee and now overseas customer experience strategy, and customer engagement through phones, emails, sms, live chat and social media, and customer experience, among other things.
According to Mara, “customer service is woven into Warby Parker’s DNA – it’s at the core of the brand, and has a huge influence on the hiring and training processes that have been implemented over the years.”
Every new employee participates in a program called “Customer Connection” in which they play the role of the customer for both home try-on and completing an online purchase. She strives to keep her team engaged throughout their entire tenure with the company and promotes from within as much as possible.
Mara also ensures that feedback is heard and actions are taken. She says, “We work with… everyone in the company to make sure that we’re always thinking about our customers, and gathering information… to make sure that we communicate that back to the rest of the team and that we’re making all of the improvements that we need to… to make sure we’re getting that feedback and using that in a good way.”
Connect with Mara on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/maraacastro
Twitter – https://twitter.com/mara_a_castro
19. Naveen Agarwal, Prudential, Chief Customer Officer
Naveen leads the customer experience for Prudential, a company founded in 1875 with the mission of helping Americans have financial security. With more than 300 websites and 40 call centers, Naveen sought to create simple solutions that help customers and connect the dots of every interaction.
One initiative is leveraging AI for a “massive personalization agent.” The company is using information they are gathering from millions of interactions to proactively understand what customers might need in specific situations based on where they are in the customer journey.
Connect with Naveen on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/agarwalnaveen
Twitter – https://twitter.com/naveenbasically
20. Nick Martin, Harry’s, Customer Experience Manager
Nick focuses heavily on employee happiness. After his team started working fully remote during Covid-19, the company started having mandatory mental health days, living its values and social mission. In fact, the entire customer service operation is shut off to really let their agents have a much needed break. During this remote work period, Nick has set up intentional moments for his team to connect.
One example of how Harry’s and Nick focus on the associate autonomy is called the WOW program. Each agent has a budget to utilize at any moment in time to wow a customer and have a human-to-human moment. For instance, if someone has lost their job, an agent could send a gift card or product to help them out, or send a joke book to a customer who is particularly funny. During the pandemic, the company doubled the “wow” budget to empower agents to go above and beyond to support customers who have found themselves in difficult situations. Nick hopes this program gives his team a way to connect and support a customer when a lot of our friends, family and customers are going through hard times.
Connect with Nick on Social Media:
21. Nick Mehta, Gainsight, CEO
Gainsight’s platform helps businesses build deep and lasting relationships with their customers. It does that by orchestrating all of companies’ customer-facing teams and data together into simple, actionable dashboards and playbooks. The powerful software platform gives companies the power to gain insight from customer data so they can take the right actions at the right time to maximize customer relationships. The company has clients including GE Digital, WeWork and Vonage.
Nick Mehta is Gainsight’s CEO. Named as one of the Top 50 SaaS CEOs of 2019, Nick has said “If CEOs operate with a customer-centric mindset, it benefits more than just the customers and the bottom line. When a business and its customers are succeeding, it’s validation and a celebration for employees.”
Connect with Nick on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/nickmehta
Twitter – https://twitter.com/nrmehta
22. Paul Brandt, Pizza Hut, VP Customer Experience
Paul is a self-described “CX Junkie.” As the head of Customer Experience for the national pizza chain, Paul is laser-focused on “delivering an experience for our customers where they feel happy, valued and cared for.”
And to do that, Paul believes it starts with employee happiness. “Ultimately our customers’ experience depends on our team members, so we do everything possible to deliver a great team member experience and that will translate into a great customer experience.”
Paul instills in his team accountability. “If a team member sees that a customer is not feeling happy, valued, and cared for, we trust them to do whatever they can do to turn the situation around,” he says.
Connect with Paul on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-brandt
23. Rob Siefker, Zappos, Senior Director of Customer Loyalty
Zappos sums up its customer service in four words: Obsessed. Maniacal. Radical. WOW.
While you might think Zappos sells shoes, clothes and other items, it’s actually a “service company.” The pioneer in providing customer service above anything else, Zappos truly raised the bar for customer experience and still today is “ maniacally obsessed with making sure customers are happy and proud to do business with [Zappos].” The company’s Customer Loyalty Team sets out to “WOW” every customer, and create deep and emotional connections with our customers.
As the director of customer loyalty, Tony ensures the team keeps the focus on the customer, always. Every customer needs to “experience a WOW service,” with agents surprising and delighting them and always looking for ways to build a connection. There are stories of agents sending baby blankets if they hear a crying baby in the background of a service call, requesting shoes marked for return be donated to charity instead or delivering flowers to customers going through a difficult time. Agents are not rushed to resolve tickets fastest, but to provide the best and most meaningful interaction. In fact, Zappos’ current record for the longest customer service call is 10 hours, 51 minutes! Read 10 other reasons Zappos’ customer loyalty team stands out here.
Connect with Rob on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/rob-siefker-77b33866
24. Shea Jensen, Nordstrom, Former SVP Customer Experience
Nordstrom prides itself on providing white-glove high-touch customer experiences.
According to Shea, “Nordstrom is a brand. Not a channel.” This is why she spent years creating seamless experiences between channels, meeting customers where they are. She wanted to give control to customers, giving them the accessibility and convenience to decide when, where and how they shop. Shea’s team strives to “give customers back the wonderful gift of time.”
Shea continuously looked for new ways for customers to connect with Nordstrom’s employees – whether it’s support agents or personal stylists. For instance, the company’s Style Board allows stylists to curate products for a customer, send it to their phone and then be available for a live chat. Seamless, omnichannel experiences are what customers expect today, and Shea delivers!
Connect with Shea on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/shea-jensen-a89910ab
Twitter – https://twitter.com/jensen_shea
25. Tim Heidemann, College Hunks Hauling Junk & Moving, Former Director, Customer Sales and Loyalty Center
College Hunks Hauling Junk & Moving won the award for best-in-class contact center at the 2019 CCW Excellence Awards. This follows Tim’s strive for a speed of 80/30, which means 80% of calls are answered within 30 seconds. His team also works to have fewer than 5% of calls hang up before they reach an agent.
Tim is not just focused on speed, though. When his agents get on the phone, every customer feels valued According to Tim, “It’s not about hauling junk but providing a solution to a problem that customers have.” Agents are trained to really understand what is happening with the customer.
Tim also heavily focuses on the culture of the workplace, which was critical as he grew the team size from 10 agents to over 100. One initiative he implemented was an anonymous box “Talk with Tim” where agents could submit questions as a way to foster open communication.
Connect with Tim on Social Media:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/tim-heidemann-28a2575
That wraps up our list of our top 25 favorite customer service practitioners and leaders.
Who are your favorite customer service leaders? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always looking to get inspired by great CX leaders and initiatives to feature.