Sarah E. Toms is an Executive Director and co-founder of Wharton Interactive where she has built award-winning EdTech teams that develop highly engaging games and simulations, which are played by tens of thousands of students globally. Her drive to modernize, transform, and democratize education led her to co-invent simpl.world, an open-source simulation framework. As an entrepreneur for more than a decade and a demonstrated thought leader in the technology field, Toms has founded companies that build global CRM, product development, productivity management, and financial systems. She is dedicated to supporting women and girls in technology through her work with the Women in Tech Summit and techgirlz.org. Follow her on Twitter at @SarahEToms.
Peter S. Fader is the Frances and Pei-Yuan Chia Professor of Marketing at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. In 2015, Fader co-founded Zodiac, a predictive analytics firm that was acquired by Nike in 2018. More recently, he co-founded Theta Equity Partners, which focuses on customer-based corporate valuation. His expertise centers on topics such as customer relationship management, lifetime value of the customer, and strategies that arise from these data-driven tactics. Fader is also the author of Customer Centricity: Focus on the Right Customers for Strategic Advantage and he has been interviewed in The Wall Street Journal, APM’s “Marketplace,” NPR’s “Planet Money,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Forbes, and more. Follow him on Twitter at @FaderP.
- Could you tell us some of the things that really propelled you to take it a step further especially focusing on the difference between customer centricity and customer lifetime value and how an organization can really identify what that is for them.
- In the book you also focused on the difference between customer centricity versus product centricity. Could you share with us a little bit about that?And do you find that organizations are shifting more towards customer centricity and less in the product realm?
- Could you share with our listeners what are some necessary elements that help to support customer centricity in an organization?
- How is it that you integrate the CLV (Customer Lifetime Value) and align the customer service strategy with a proper CRM solution?
- Could you share with us a little bit about the loyalty programs in terms of does every organization need a loyalty program in order to have an effective or have a true reflection of what their customer lifetime value is to understand the whole metric process?
- Based on your experience, your research, your exposure, different interactions that you've had with different people. How do you view customer experience today and what do you think it will look like 5 to 10 years from now?
- Could you share with us maybe one online resource, tool, website or app that you absolutely cannot live without in your day to day operations?
- Are there any books that have had really great impacts on you that you'd like to share with our listeners that you think will help them in their own journey?
- Could you share with us, maybe one thing that's going on in your life right now that you're really excited about - either something that you're working on to develop yourself or your people?
- Where can our listeners find you online?
- What’s one quote or saying that during times of adversity or challenge you revert to that quote to help you to become refocus and to get back on track?
- Peter shared that they build a bridge from the first book to the new one and to the simulation that was mentioned that Sarah has developed. So, the first book was about this radical idea that a company can potentially make more money and have more sustainable, defendable success by focusing more on the differences among its customers by celebrating heterogeneity, that if we can figure out who the right customers are and kind of double down on them, enhance their value, find more like them, that that could do better than just obsessing over version 2.0 of the product. But the thing about the first book, it was good, and he hopes that if people haven't read it, they will but it was more definitional, motivational, aspirational, here's this concept, here's what it can do for you, here's the problems with a lot of companies out there that are failing to go in this direction. So, it was trying to get people to kind of wake up, but it didn’t really give them specific guidance how to put one foot in front of another and that's one of the things that he and Sarah have tried to do with their simulations and this new book basically takes a lot of those ideas and kind of crystallizes them, goes beyond just the simulation, makes them very real, talk about real companies, real actions.
Sarah shared that what was interesting to them was when they started writing the book they actually started to create sort of this Frankenstein, it was a combination of a simulation manual and some interesting stories and interesting content about customer centricity and how to actually put customer centric thinking into action and they brought it to their publisher and they said, “Get rid of the simulation stuff, flush out more about the book, make it a standalone piece if people want to run the simulation and read the book. That's fantastic.” But they really need something that engages folks who are working in the trenches day in day out and give them a clear guideline for how to become customer centric.
- Peter stated that it goes back to some of the concepts in the first book was taking conventional business practices that they just accept as this is just how you run a business, you put the product first, that's all about what product should we develop, how do we fine tune it to meet the needs of the customer, distribution, promotion all about the old four P’s that we talk about in marketing. And we're saying, “Well no, actually let's build a business around the customers, the more valuable customers and have that.”And sort of say what product features will be most appealing, they say, “Here are the most valuable customers, what is it that they want?” And so, they start looking at product development and product management quite differently. Again, when he wrote the first book it was more about just this provocative kind of let’s do a 180 on the way we think about business. But they still stopped short of actually saying, here's an overall playbook which of course is the name of the new one to begin to not only embrace the metrics and all the “mathy” stuff that he likes to do but the thing more about how to build the right kind of organization, how to send the right kind of message, how to establish the right kinds of principles. Again, tremendous credit to Sarah for taking some of the best practices from the software world and bringing them over.
Sarah stated that at the end of the book they have a manifesto which really comes from her experience in technology and software development, where she experienced something very similar to what she’s learned now with partnering with Pete over the last four years…..five years that's happening in the marketing science world as well. And that is it, they're being inundated with all this data, there's data insights and data collection and it's becoming cheaper and easier and faster to just collect swathes and swathes of information about their customers and how they behave and what makes them buy etc. And the problem is that a lot of it is garbage and so we had something similar happen in the software development realm in the dot.com heydays where they had this tremendous capability with technology and the problem was they were really weighed down by old bureaucratic bloated software processes, she’s talking about waterfall where they had to write reams and reams of documentation and they weren't able to work leanly and be able to keep up with the technological advances in a way that was in line their our customers and their business users and what they actually wanted from the software that was being developed. And so, this sparked an idea as she was having these conversations with Pete and she said, I think what we really need for customer centricity is we need a manifesto as well. We need something that will really focus business people, it will give them just simple clarity around what is important and what they need to double down on with regards to customer centricity.
Yanique mentioned that the book is a playbook, anybody in an organization in a leadership role or non-leadership role can pick up the book and they will be able to have a guideline like step by step as to how they can really master customer centricity in their business, whether they're an organization that has customers that come in or they're an online business.
Sarah stated that the way that they've laid out the book from the playbook perspective is to really think about those different functional areas. Our goal with this to most definitely make sure that this was a cross-functional conversation. This playbook is not just for the sales person or the marketing person, this is for the data person, it's for the finance people, it's for the folks in H.R., the folks who are developing the products are indeed, this is for everybody. And it's really again pivoting and pivoting so that your customers are at the center but understanding that this heterogeneity at play within that customer base and how are you really going to focus in on what you need to do. So, when you're thinking about acquiring those customers, when you're thinking about retaining them and developing them, when you're thinking about having conversations with those in your technology team on how to tag them and track them and understand what information is actually important when it comes to figuring out who's valuable today, who will be valuable tomorrow and when I'm acquiring new customers who's more than likely going to be valuable to the organization and then taking all of those conversations and making sure that folks in your finance team understand what that means from the customer lifetime value standpoint.
- Peter stated just to add one other example to that, he thinks Sarah mentioned that one of those elements being retention and development, they look at the array of new tactics that are available to either make your customers more valuable and have them stay around longer. So, things like a loyalty programme or a premium offering or customer experience or strategic account management and the problem is a lot of these tactics are so new, they just weren't done. They didn't exist a generation ago and so, companies don't really know which one to use when. When should be lean towards the loyalty program versus the premium offering? You really need a playbook to kind of lay out all these tactics and come up with a solid framework to give companies guidance about, don't invest in all of them but think strategically and have a good idea of would it makes sense to start one or pivot to another. So, that's just one example where they're starting to get much more tactical and starting to deal with issues that just aren't in what say your traditional marketing one or one type course.
- Peter shared that for him, a big part of it is all about Customer Lifetime Value. And again, he acknowledged it's a bias because that's the kind of research that he has done, those are the kinds of models and activities that he has commercialized in a couple of different ways but to do customer centricity right, you have to be able to have that CLV (Customer Lifetime Value) magic wand, you have to be able to look at a customer's past interactions with you and say here's my best guess about what they're going to be worth in the future and to line up customers in that future looking way and to use those numbers and those differences across customers to really drive all these tactics. So, a lot of companies are eager to get into the tactics, they want to do that customer experience campaign but they're saying it won't be nearly as effective if you don't have a good quantitative assessment of the value of customers before and after you do that kind of campaign.
Sarah shared that one of the shining examples that they use a couple of times in the book is Electronic Arts. So, Electronic Arts is really one of the most mature organizations that they've seen with regards to customer centricity. Every day as players are playing their games they are collecting data about behaviours about what they know about who's more than likely going to be a high, medium and low value customer and they're feeding that information back to the game studios, they're letting them know, “For our high value customers, did this part of the game work the way we thought it was going to, did we see this as high engagement as we were hoping and if not why not and what do we need to do to pivot in the actual game development.” They're using information about these customers with how they advertise to them. So, not just saying, “All right well, here's our advertising campaign for this game, we'll put it out there, it'll be out there for a month, three months, five months.”They're using that information about their customers to actually fine tune how they target and attract the customers that they're looking to seek.
Yanique mentioned that it is definitely a combination of many different things all in one in terms of an organization looking at how the customer is interfacing with their product or their service, the frequency of them utilizing that product or service and of course to spend.
Sarah agreed and stated that RFM (Recency, Frequency, Monetary) is still key. RFM is a marketing technique used to determine quantitatively which customers are the best ones by examining how recently a customer has purchased (recency), how often they purchase (frequency), and how much the customer spends (monetary). To build on what Peter was saying about customer lifetime value in chapter 1, they spend some time delving into problems with CLV that they see that are common out there and mistakes that are being made with the calculation itself. So, CLV itself can be quite complex and there's lots of open source ways to leverage and create CLV calculations within your organizations. But they do spend some time going through the mistakes which should hopefully shine some light on how to be tracking and calculating CLV correctly in your organization.
- Peter stated that on the CLV side, he learned so much not only from the research that he does and interacting with students and executives but through his first startup company called Zodiac where they were working with a wide variety of companies calculating the CLVs for them. And it was surprising because he really thought he is just bringing you the CLVs, “I am the expert here, take the CLVs and make money rain down from the skies.” But it was a great learning exercise for him to see the kinds of use cases that companies would come up with and actually, Sarah basically gave the list of them a few moments ago and she was talking about all of the different tactics that you need to understand and align and do in an accountable way - customer acquisition, retention development, with that customer experience campaign, it's not enough just to give people glasses of champagne when they walk into your store, you have to do the CLV calculation, you have to say how valuable were they before this campaign started, how much more valuable are they afterwards or better yet, more realistically, how many customers meaningfully increased in value and how many of them are the same as ever before. So, CLV gives us a really good lens not only to make decisions but to evaluate decisions after the fact and so again, just seeing the way that companies have been using it very creatively as far as he’s concerned across a wide variety of functions and by the way that includes getting outside of marketing and maybe in a bit we could talk about the idea of customer based corporate valuation. Let's get the CFO into this party as well so we could talk more about that but to the other part of the question, it also goes to having really good CRM systems which is a big part of Sarah's expertise.
When asked how do you know which one is the right CRM to go with, Sarah mentioned that unfortunately there aren't any great additions to CRM yet that they've seen. In her conversations with a number of the companies that appear in the book, L.A. Dodgers is a great example, they have had to build their insights outside, so they use salesforce and they're then doing the analytics sort of outside, their tracking all of their customers in their CRM but then they're running a different algorithms etc. in other systems which is unfortunate. So, she thinks Peter would agree that a lot of the companies that he has been working with they're having to kind of roll their own if you will because there isn't a good solution out there yet.
Peter agreed and stated that that is unfortunate. They were in the process, they were creating that solution through his company Zodiac, but Nike bought that firm which was of course a wonderful outcome but now it's all under the swoosh. So, he really hopes that companies can learn from those experiences. And again, a lot of that through that they're trying to convey in the book both laying out these frameworks as well as these specific company profiles that Sarah has been referring to.
Sarah stated that just to go back to the original question there was the whole point everybody thinks, “Okay well, customer service, it's to turn ugly ducklings into beautiful swans.”This is another point in the book is really think and this was to Peter's earlier point, we've got all of these sort of ways that we engage with our customers, ways to increase CX quality, ways to increase hopefully customer loyalty but it's very rare that you take somebody from your bottom tier from a customer lifetime value standpoint and boost them all the way up to the very top. And so, rather than think that you can do that and expend a tremendous amount of energy trying to achieve that impossible dream, just look at what you're doing and understand who you're serving from a CLV standpoint. So, customer service is really for your lower value customers and the same with loyalty programs like understand that that's who you're really targeting those types of programs to.
- When asked if all organization needs a loyalty program - Peter stated no and a lot of companies are finding that the hard way because there's this lemming like behavior out there that, “Oh, we've got to have one too. It's a box that we need to check, some of our competitors have one.”So that's why they really try to come up with a framework that says, “Under what circumstances do you really need a loyalty program?” Sarah just said, if you think about it logically, a buy nine get one free just kind of a basic loyalty program, that's not appealing to your top platinum customers, they're going to buy from you all the time anyway.They're looking to deepen the engagement not necessarily just to buy more stuff.Whereas for those middle to lower customers if we could get them just to buy a little bit more often that that's how we can create more value out of them. So, a big part of it is that loyalty programmes are aimed more at the middle to lower tier of your customer value pyramid. And if that's where your main strategic focus is at a given time then great, that's the way to go but too often companies are thinking about the loyalty programme as something that would be appealing to or aimed at the tippy top customers. And again, they're with you not because of points, not because of bonuses, put it this way if that's why they appear to be really valuable customers, if it's all because of the goodies that comes from the loyalty programme, then they're not really loyal, then you're kind of bribing them to be with you. So, you want to find ways to appeal to the high value customers that's just a very different kind of thing, something like a premium offering where it's not a matter of giving them stuff, it's actually a matter of getting them to actually potentially pay a little bit more to kind of show their loyalty, to show that they want to have a different kind of relationship with you, that they want to have that kind of badge of honor to show that they're different than most customers. So, they're trying to bring some logic and discipline to things like loyalty programs and customer experience and customer service that they feel just doesn't exist anywhere out there to date.
- Sarah shared that they actually have a new blog post or article coming out very soon that talks about customer experience and the fact that it is not customer centric.And they outlined this in their upcoming article. There are just a few small steps that organizations could be taking to become more customer centric when it comes to see CX. She alluded to this earlier in the conversation when they're talking about CX, they're looking at different ways to really reduce the friction that their customers feel when they're interacting with them, with their brand etc. And there are many different ways to measure CX and how they're doing with respect to CX, whether it be CX quality which is measured by effectiveness, ease and emotion or customer loyalty which is measured by advocacy otherwise known as a Net Promoter Score, enrichment and retention. And one of the problems that Sarah and Peter have is that these CX measurements, these metrics are one dimensional, they don't really tell them anything else that's happening with respect to their customer and that interplay with the brand. And so, what they've done with this article is they've created another framework where they're looking at the CX metrics, again switching costs and switching costs as they know are a way to measure another form of friction that their customers are experiencing. And so, what they've done in this new framework is they've said okay if they're looking at high switching costs against their CX metric and they're doing really well with customers, they've got caged customers but they're very loyal and they're happy to be with them. What they should be doing with them versus customers who have got a low CX metric and low switching can cost. So, those are their revolving doors if and that's where something like a loyalty program might come in. They don't have a lot of friction from the standpoint of staying with them, they want to try to raise that a little bit so they do stay with them more and they can extract a bit more value from them so a loyalty program would be perfect for them and then for anybody who is kind of stuck with them because of high switching costs but they've got high value, let's look at making them happier while they're kind of stuck with them. They want to keep them engaged and then hopefully once competition comes in or those switching costs may be lower, they still are able to retain them as high value customers.
- When asked about tools and apps, Sarah shared that for her and her team, she’s still a technologist, she has had the absolute pleasure and honor of being able to write this book and really double down on the way she thinks about her customers that she’s designing technology for. Agile is what she lives and breathe by. So, she works with teams that are international, she brings the best of the best to the table and she doesn’t really care where their brain is as long as she gets to leverage their brain and being able to run lean teams is very important to her. And so, Slackis her go to and this is a way that she’s able to communicate very quickly and rapidly with her teams. And then also where she’s actually tracking software changes and her sprints and that kind of things, so they use GET Laband Jirato do a lot of that management. And that kind of approach, that lean approach is something that again they talk about in the playbook and the importance.
Peter shared that he’s addicted to Twitter, but whether it's for news, sports, entertainment but also just a whole bunch of people that he follows who are always looking for the best practices of how companies are using their customer level data. So, just the million anecdotes a day some good, some appalling but it's just a great way to learn a lot of different stuff and then make up your own mind about which is good, and which is not so good but good to have that kind of broad exposure. Peter shared that he doesn’t read books anymore, Twitter is the firehose that really keeps him attached to the world.
- When asked about books that have had great impacts, Peter stated that he has a couple, but he’s actually very interested to see what Sarah has to say because as she was starting to develop this simulation and then write the book, she took a whole bunch of books off his shelf and kept some of them a little too long actually. So, it would be interesting to hear which one she said were the ones that really shaped her thinking the most, but he'll share which one is at the top of his list. It’s an oldie but a goodie and it’s really one that got a lot of these ideas started, it's a book called The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits, and Lasting Value by Frederick Reichheld. Kind of interesting, he's a Bain Consultant, not an academic and this was a book he wrote back in 1996 which is ‘500 years ago’ for all intents and purposes and basically laid out this idea that not all customers are created equal and if we could figure out who the just right ones are then all of these great things are going to happen, there will be this virtuous cycle once we find those customers because they'll will stay with us longer, they'll buy more often, they'll be cheaper to serve, they'll be strong advocates for us, they'll make a lot of referrals. And so, it was laying out this idea that loyalty manifests in lots of different ways and provides this kind of multiplier source of value, it's just a matter of figuring out who those just right customers are and they kind of stopped short of that, they didn't talk about lifetime value and so on. But he thinks it really was something that started this conversation and a lot of us today especially the younger generation thinks that we've been talking about these ideas forever but really until the mid 90s they were just not part of the conversation.
Sarah agreed with Peter and stated that she did so much wonderful reading and thanked Peter for your amazing library and contribution to that. She mentioned at the beginning of the interview that their guiding goal with this book was to land in that cross functional space and to really try to ignite a conversation about really the organizational and cultural changes that must happen cross functionally in organizations in order for customer centricity to really take root and she stumbled on this book called The Silo effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers by Gillian Tettand it is a fantastic book, it's one case study after another of where breaking down the siloing effect that happens in organizations where that has been good for some organizations and where it's existed, where it's been really perilous and difficult. So that's one book she most certainly recommends. The other book that she recommends is The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty by Matthew Dixon, but this gentleman has it right, you shouldn’t be trying to overdo it with every single customer, and he has written some incredible books in the CX space as well.
Yanique shared, I am familiar with Frederick Reichheld, I read a couple of years ago when I just started this business, The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth, I haven’t read The Loyalty Effect but he definitely opened my mind up when I read the Ultimate Question.
Peter stated that he’s glad that Yanique made the connection. He (Fredrick Reichheld) laid out these ideas but in 1996 but it wasn’t until 5, almost 10 years later that he kind of translated them into the Net Promoter Score, this is the metric that’s going to help us identify companies that have been doing a good job at finding those customers and deepen those relationships. So, a lot of people think that Net Promoter Score just sort of appeared in the early 2000s, but it was really decades of work and thinking and just careful consideration by Fredrick and his colleagues at Bain that made that possible. And again, that revolution he thinks sparked a lot of the work that we’re doing and great admiration for the folks over there and enjoy his own collaboration with them.
- Peter shared that he’s super happy to talk about his new startup.He mentioned the idea of customer based corporate valuation, let's get the CFO involved in this customer centricity thing. So, he has a new company called Theta Equity Partners, thetaequity.comand that's exactly what they're doing. It's a finance play, they're actually working with a bunch of private equity firms, Late-Stage Venture Capitalist, talking to some Hedge Funds to basically say, “Let's value your company from the bottom up, let's look at how many customers you are acquiring, how long are they staying, how many purchases are they making, how valuable those purchases, add all that stuff up and say that will give us more visibility and more understanding of the value of a company than the traditional Wall Street approach.”So, they're doing this for real and it's really working and it's actually creating a meaningful dialogue between CFOs and CMOs that has just never existed before, so it's been just a thrill to expand the conversation in a direction that he never thought he’d even be capable of doing but to see how receptive the finance and investment audiences for the stuff.
When asked if there was anything is there anything, she’s working on to develop herself or her people - Sarah shared that she is. About a year ago she launched a new team at the Wharton School called Wharton Interactiveand they are building platforms to transform education. So, when you're looking at creating experiential learning in classrooms, it's expensive, it takes a long time, it's hard to change and fine-tune once you've launched experiences and really what she has discovered over the last six years being in this niche in EdTech is that platforms provide a way that forward where we can start to build truly transformational experiences for less cost and ones that we can then fine tune and learn from and so they're leveraging ultimate reality gaming,they're leveraging even smaller things like text messaging and social media patterns to really create social learning and don't democratizing that educational experience for the learners. So, a lot of the work that she has been doing with Peter in understanding and fine-tuning folks’ eyes to heterogeneity with customers, she has been starting to think about how they bring that into learning space and creating more fine-tuned and tailored experiences for the learners knowing that not everybody learns the same way. So, that she’s very excited about, very proud of you can find out more about what they're doing at www.interactive.wharton.upenn.edu.
I'm especially intrigued by Sarah's approach to education, I do think it's something that will definitely impact customer experience in the long term. When I think about my daughter who is 13 years old and some of the challenges that they have in schools, trying to get through to these children with the information that they're trying to simulate. I find that we're teaching children in 2019, but we're using methods that were applicable in 1975 and it's clearly not reaching the audience that we're trying to reach now, they just need to be stimulated in a higher way. And so, I hope some of the work that you are doing, it materializes that it can stretch to different parts of the world like Jamaica. Because I don't know what it's like in the USA, I'm sure you probably have you greater exposure to better opportunities, but here, I can see that the methodology that they are using is definitely not as impactful and I think based on what you are saying if hopefully that can become more widespread in the long term these children who will become business owners or employees in organizations that we’re all going to have to be customers of it would be great for them to have that experience from early, Yanique mentioned.
Sarah shared that she has a 10-year-old son, she also has 3 teenage daughters and we're not just teaching the same way we did in the 1970s, we're teaching the same way we did in the 1900s, so there is a lot of work to be done in moving the needle and with a lot of pride.They're doing some amazing work at the Wharton School and it's with great partners like Peter Fader who are willing to take the leap and who are also pushing and challenging teams like hers to think outside the box and bring something new to the table for the learners.
- Peter shared listeners can find him at –
Sarah shared listeners can find her at –
Linkedin – Sarah Toms
Twitter – @SarahEToms
When asked if there is a possibility for the playbook to be developed into an online course, Peter shared that he has some older online courses that are more about the kind of original aspirational, definitional, motivational stuff. The best thing that they have is the new customer centricity simulation, that really brought them together.
Sarah shared that they've got the existing simulation, it's usually played in teams and usually played with faculty or teachers who are facilitating the experience and so they've got that experience. Her team is also starting to work on a steam-based game, so folks who are interested in learning can just go to steam and they'll be able to download a single player game from that marketplace. And then she also has designs to work with Peter on creating something in the alternate reality gaming space on their arc platform and that will be a massive online offering, hopefully not too far down the road from now.
- Sarah shared that she has a quote, and this is from the founder of the University of Pennsylvania, Benjamin Franklin. This is a quote she loves, and it is her world, it's “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.”