On this Episode # 53, Steve is joined by Greg Kihlstrom, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of www.careergig.com, a Freelance Platform that brings people together. Their reputation and matching platform helps both companies and freelancers find each other, saving time to focus on creating great work together. CareerGig is the platform both freelancers and companies rely on for the assurance, reliability and sense of community needed in the growing gig economy. Greg is also the author of the book The Agile Workforce.
To get in touch with Greg:
(Company: The Agile World)
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Welcome to the Science of C. X podcast, my name is Steve papa's a former serial entrepreneur turned C. X obsessed expert and each week we bring you an inspiring message and insight into how customer experience can catapult your business to soar grow and accelerate beyond what you thought was possible. We seek out experts to interview and help you on your journey to see X in the Science of C. X. Well welcome everybody to another episode of the Science of C. X. I'm steve PAPP is your host and today we have another great show for you. We have Greg. Kill strum. Greg is going to talk about a lot of things around customer experience and employee experience and brand experience and I know we've touched upon these areas in other episodes but trust me you're in for a real treat. Greg is really expert, just finished reading his book and I have to say it was very thought provoking even for me and I've been dealing with this stuff for 38 years and you know how many episodes we've done together, we talk about all aspects of C. X. I was learning a lot every step of the way and it's a real page turner if you're involved in customer experience. So Greg, thanks for coming on the show today. Thanks so much. Looking forward to talking with you. Well I think we're going to have a lot to talk about and I don't think we'll ever have enough time but let me at least give folks a little bit about your bio, just so they understand who Gregg Carlstrom is. So Greg is a best selling author first and foremost, he's produced some of the most interesting books and we're going to talk about it in a second, but he's a speaker, he's an entrepreneur, he's currently co founder at career gig and we're going to get into that a little later in the show after selling His digital experience agency, Carousel 30 in 2017, he has worked with some of the world's top brands, including A. O. L. Choice hotels, coca, cola del Fedex, Geico, Marriott International, MTV Starbucks and the list goes on and on and on. Greg knows his stuff. He's got the background and the expertise that we should really listen to today. He currently serves on the University of Richmond's customer experience advisory board, as the founding chair of the American Advertising Federations, National Innovation Committee and served on the Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Marketing mentorship advisory board. So we'll talk about Greg's newest book, it's called The Center of Experience, where he talks about how customer and employee experience can really be operationalized into a cohesive brand experience. And I've got to tell you, I read it and there's so much material in there that not only is great for consulting companies, but it's great for the actual business itself if they want to approach customer experience the right way and they need help and guidance. So, Greg, let's just jump into things a little bit. Maybe you could give folks a little more about you that I didn't give them in your bio and what your background really is. And I think it starts in the design phase and comes all the way to where we are today. Yeah, sure. So I'll keep it brief, but I think my story is really me understanding and appreciating Customer experience, an employee experience more and more throughout my career. So to what you said, I started out in product design at a start up back in the early 2000s, I learned a lot about how creative marketing and technology worked well together. When I was done with that startup, I started my own digital experience agency called Carousel 30, which you mentioned. So I ran that company for about 14 years, sold it in late 2017 and over that time, think about all the things that changed between 2003 and 2017, so the rise of social media, personalization, automation, big data, all of those types of things. So I'm really proud of some of the things that we did and we weren't always the very first to do some of those things, but we got to work with some very large companies and really interesting companies doing, if not the first, some very close to first things in the digital experience and marketing world and the more that I was involved in marketing and branding, let's just say towards the end I started becoming a little bit disenchanted with just how little control that I had over delivery of the experience. So for instance, I was tasked with branding a product or marketing a service or something like that, but I can make it sound as good as I wanted to. I could have the most amazing product design, logo, website, whatever it was that we were doing, but if the experience that was delivered was inadequate, then really all we could do is sell the first time buyers and our job as marketers was hindered. And so that really led me into wanting to understand more about customer experience. When I started dealing more and more with customer experience, I started realizing that yes, to go a level deeper if the individuals that were designing products or delivering those products directly to the customers were unhappy, disengaged, disconnected from the values and the mission of the organization. Then again, you're going to have a bad customer experience and ultimately all those things and marketing, we're going to become more difficult as well. So that really led me to want to understand more about employee experience, Work more with organizations, such as some of the ones that you mentioned, and also work more with leadership in those organizations to really understand because it really, it's a top down approach. And so I spent a few years in that realm and then we'll talk about career game in a minute. But, you know, some of the findings that I had in that experience also led me to some other conclusions about the freelance economy and things like that. That led me to start career gig. Yeah, it's really interesting because we have a lot of digital agencies that listen and we have a lot of folks that handle the digital marketing side of things for their companies. But you hit upon an interesting point because the products can be good or bad but from the digital marketing or the digital agency operating on behalf, because you're disconnected from the actual delivery of the product or the service or even the customer care after the sale. There's a disconnect in how do you approach customer experience almost like you're outside the circle, so to speak. So how did you see customer experience from that vantage point being important to marketing these products? Some of it just comes from being responsible for delivering whether it's sales targets or you know, acquisition targets and all that for many, many years over a decade with the agency. And really in some cases it was easy because to your earlier point the customer experience was great and the brand it was very easy, everything was very much aligned. But when I struggled and when my agency struggled it was really because there was this disconnect and honestly I didn't have a name for it, let's say five years into running the agency. I just knew that there was some kind of disconnect and that we had a hard time we could convert once but we couldn't convert existing customers. And so that churn rate was increased. So again over time it just kind of led me further and further like I want to get to the source of this. Like I felt like I did some good stuff in the marketing realm and solve some good challenges but I felt like there was a problem that needed to get solved and surely there were lots of people on the customer experience side dealing with that. But I think the disconnect between marketing and C. X. And E. X continues to exist to this day. And I've tried to outline some proposals for changing that as well in my book as well. Yeah. So I guess when I'm sitting here thinking about it I almost think of meet the Fockers, you know inside the circle, you know of trust outside the circle of trust. But it's not really that it's just the fact that there are just layers and the actual marketing or the digital marketing of products and services are layers that are just insulated from the product team or the delivery team or the care and support teams that are going to happen there. So I guess in an ideal world you just hope that the product is phenomenal and it holds up it doesn't require a lot of care, it doesn't require a lot of things and the employees deliver on what you're saying they're going to deliver. So the fact is that you're still dependent upon employees doing the right things, whether it's pre sale, during the sale or post sale. So how important did you find that the employee was not just the experience and then the employees experience led to how well they did to really deliver on your brand? Promise. The interesting thing is when you ask a question whose job is customer experience within an organization, it's really hard to find someone that isn't responsible for customer experience. I mean, you know, whether it's the person sending the bills to a customer to the person, literally on the front lines in a retail store or the person designing the product that has to empathize and understand the customer from the beginning, It's really hard to find someone that has absolutely no relationship whatsoever. And so then you think about, okay, well what is the motivation of those individuals as they're delivering? Whatever component they have of customer experience? If they're demotivated, if they're unhappy with work, if they don't care about the end customer at the end of the day and don't see their connection to the end customer, then even if they are conscientious and they do a good job there, still disconnected from the end customer and they're not going to do a great job. If they're on the worst side of that spectrum, if they're unmotivated and not really connected with the mission of the organization, then they could get many times worse from there, even if they're not directly talking with someone there just simply pushing things. You know, if you're not moving towards the goal that you're moving against it in a sense. And so that's where I introduced the concept of brand experience in my book. The center of experience to just say there is a direct relationship between customer and employee experience and we can call this brand experience, which is literally any touch point that anyone, whether it's an employee, customer partner, any human that has a touch point with a brand, let's start finding a way to measure and make that better. Yeah, that makes perfect sense. So, I think the brand experience that you're referring to remember in the book, it really does tie together both the customer's experience as well as the employees delivering a great experience and having a great experience themselves. Which translates to, I think the other point you made in the book was culture is very, very important. That one of the things we've got to look to within an organization, whether you're just starting out or you're an ongoing business. Let me read for our listeners the portion in your book about why culture is so important. Culture accomplishes the following. It determines how leaders lead and how decisions are made, determines the way that employees interact with each other Promotes cooperation with one another, towards a shared goal over detrimental competition. It guides employees with a sense of direction. It helps employees understand the brand of the company they work for far better than any branding campaign. It unites diverse people under a shared purpose. It promotes healthy relationships and dynamics in the workplace and it allows employees psychological safety to put their best work first. Those bullets that were in your book in the culture section really resonated to me as an area that we've got to concentrate on a little bit too, because if you don't have the culture in your organization that can promote these things, how are we going to turn around and give the customer the experience they need? Absolutely. And I think one of the things that I did, I based a lot of the guidance on measuring culture and understanding culture on something called the competing values Framework, so that's something it's been used for decades, was originally created by a couple phds at University of michigan. Um, I added a little bit to it in the course of just trying to help organizations better understand it. But I think that there's several really interesting things there and some may disagree with some of the finer points of the methodology, but I think there's some really interesting things. One is you can't have a monolithic culture, there is not one way that a company is, but as the name would suggest there's a lot of competing priorities. And really what happens is over time an organization will need to shift its priorities among some of these competing values. Everything from how collaborative the environment is to how innovative it is, to how sales and marketing driven, as well as how organizational or hierarchical how process oriented it is and none of those are bad. All of them are good, all of them are needed in different quantities at different stages. So you know, you think about like a startup, very collaborative, very creative, not so much on the sales and marketing and process driven, but over time it's almost like gravity kind of sets in and you see these organizations that over time almost like a startup will lose its edge, so to speak because they become so sales and marketing driven and process driven. Not a bad thing, but it's good to keep these things in balance. And then the other thing on top of that is just to figure out the people on your team, what kind of culture do they want in an organization? What are they experiencing in an organization? And what does leadership need that organization to be? And so when you line those three things up on top of each other, you see some really, really interesting things and ideally speaking, your people are aligned with where the leadership needs the organization to go. That makes perfect sense. Everything is a balance and all of those things that you're talking about require balance, but they need to be fluid because they're moving, there's nothing that's standing still in what you were talking about. But also because they've got both internal and external influences or competing areas. There are pressures, there is inertia on an organization and I think you have to look at both the internal pressures of an organization as well as the external pressure. So to your point, if it's a startup, maybe it's VC backed well, let's run a little differently than if it's a labor of love type of company. So you end up with much different ways of looking at things, getting documents signed while we're all working from home now. That's been tough. We all know that pain because we've all felt it and been through it. We built a better solution. Seeing the problem that everyone has gone through now that we're working from home to get documents and contracts signed just requires so much effort and it's been difficult for everyone. We've solved that problem with sign pdf doc dot com. Sign pdf doc dot com is your one stop simple solution to get all of your documents commented shared and signed easily. You can even import from google docs and dropbox into a single manageable dashboard Sign up today for your free account at www dot sign pdf doc dot com. Let's switch gears. If you don't mind to your current company called career gig, could give folks just a little background around it. And how did it come to be having worked for a few years in the employee experience space and working with some fairly large organizations that had some pretty significant challenges to overcome and things like that. I started seeing just the growth of the freelance economy in 1099 contracting and all of that stuff as not only a growing challenge, but also a growing opportunity. And in my career I've been a freelancer a few times, I've been pretty much I've been an employee of freelancer, an intern, a entrepreneur or whatever, but I think 20 years ago, that was an oddity. I don't think 20 years from now, it's going to be at all unique for someone to go in and out of being independent, having a full time job, maybe starting their own company. Like all of those things, I think employment in general is becoming a lot more fluid. I mean, we see that from everything from average tenure of employees has decreased fairly dramatically over the last decade or so, and the way that we've all been taught to read resumes has been, well, if they work in a bunch of places for two years or less, they hop around too much there undependable. Now, it's almost the way that you get ahead in your career is to hop from place to place. So all that said, we started career gig because there's a lot of opportunity for people to have more freedom and flexibility and what they do. We've seen that with the increase in remote work, just because of Covid is a lot of people really like more flexibility, even if they still have that full time job, but there's a lot of stability and infrastructure that freelancers often give up when they become independent. And so we wanted to solve for those challenges as much as possible through a combination of things. So one we offer things like benefits that's guaranteed issue, health life disability to freelancers that work a certain amount of hours through the platform. We offer other types of insurance, retirement, other types of options as well. We have partnerships with up skilling, re skilling whether that's online courses or other things like that. We're building a community and, you know, we call it a freelancer first community because there's several platforms that will connect freelancers with job opportunities, but they're really based on a, let's say, an older school staffing model where it's really company first, and it's based around a company having a need versus an individual wanting to build a career around being independent. And I think there's lots of little pieces around there that do a little part of what we do, but an organization and a platform pulling it all together. I really haven't seen that, and I think there's a ton of opportunity for us to really build something that hasn't existed before. I think you're right on the money. First of all, I I can see clearly how the growth of the gig economy is, but also, if I put my other hat on in running businesses, I could see where the needs to fill white space or the needs to fill gaps that are very fluid and don't have necessarily a defined time frame on them, but they are project based or they are skills need based for some period of time. And I think companies are getting more adept to filling the gaps that they need when they need them. Rather than saying, well, wait a minute, we've got to build a requisition around this, we've got to fund a position and we have the need for three months or six months. So what do we do after that? We've got to think about, what are we going to have that person do, then? It's making it easier for companies to be able to be more agile also. But I don't think a lot of companies know exactly where to go for the right tools, if you will, or the right techniques or the right particular background. So I think you're offering a great service out there and I think this is the right place, right time, kind of a situation. So, let's talk about these independent freelancers a little bit, because one of the things that strikes me is that some people have expertise that companies need, but they don't always think of themselves as a company, and they don't always think of themselves as competing with others like them. So I'm wondering how do they differentiate themselves? How do they promote themselves? Because it's basically instead of turning to an agency now, you're turning to the individuals and it's almost bypassing that entire distribution channel to some degree, if you're going directly to the end person. But there's gotta be a way that they start to differentiate themselves, and I want to bring it back to experiences, because how they market themselves, how they sell themselves, how they perform, when they're doing the job, how they finish the job. Those are all experiences that the hiring manager or the company is going to feel and they got to feel good about it too. So I'm just wondering from a differentiation perspective, how do they differentiate and then how do they use customer experience and employee experience to succeed? Great questions. So a couple of things and some of this also highlights some of the gaps in the existing market, let's just say. So the real way to differentiate yourself is to show, I believe real quantifiable things. So you have a skill and you are expert at that skill, You have performed a task and there's something quantifiable. The project was completed, the customer was satisfied all of those types of things. What we're building is a record of work history that is built around this new model of work. And so there's a few things there. I mean when I mentioned resumes are I believe an outdated way of measuring work experience when you take the gig economy or freelance economy into account. The other thing is just current rating systems. I always use the example of linkedin. Like I've been endorsed for skills that I don't have by people I don't know. So in a world like that is like my ego is flattered that someone thinks I can do something that I can't. But what's the value of that or you know, other platforms that have five star rating systems, It's kind of a popularity contest. In some ways it's kind of easy to game. What we want to do is actually say, okay, let's start quantifying real things about Yes, you finished a project and we verified that with the third party objective source. Yes, you passed a skills assessment and you're an expert at python programming or whatever you're getting hired for. So that's the other piece of what we're building. Is this just verifiable record of work history that it doesn't make you look bad if you only work for six months on a project, maybe the project only lasted six months and you worked to its completion. But more importantly, did you do a good job? Were you expert and what you did was the clients satisfied all of those types of details? I think that's how you set yourself apart in a crowded marketplace. I joined some of those platforms that have the five star rating systems on them. I got buried in a bunch of people that I'm sure they were great, but they charged $10 an hour doing what I was going to do and I need to charge more per hour than that amount. And so I think using real qualifications objectively verified things actually levels the playing field for everybody. And if prices, your primary consideration, that's great, hire the right person that fits the best criteria, but take a look at these other people, that might be great, they might even charge a little more per hour or whatever. But as we all know, like sometimes someone who's quick and charges more per hour does a better job than the other, so even based on price alone, that's not always a good way of judging. Yeah, I mean it's kind of funny because you've got me thinking that I've probably hired many hundreds, if not into the thousands of freelancers in the last 15 years, let's say, and every time I need a function or I need something that I may not have hired for before, which is seems to be all the time. Yeah, I have to plan that. I'm not going to get the job done quickly, because I've got a massive vetting process on my hands and it got to the point where I realized that I had to find my top five and I had to pay everyone to do part of a job for me to determine who I wanted to work with, who was going to do a great job and who was going to understand my needs and translate my requirements of my specifications properly. So it even caused me more time, because now I have a hiring process that really was five proof of concepts at once. Yeah, and that means, you know, 20% confidence in higher, you know, I'll leave that to the statisticians, but you know what I'm saying, it's like, you pretty sure 80% of your hires are going to be terrible, we're working on making that 90% confidence and 99% confidence. And you know, and think about that even from the freelancers experience, right? I mean, how terrible is it to get hired for part of a task and then, you know, that's not nobody wins versus if you could just trust that who you're hiring is good from the start, then everybody wins. And I think that's the same thing goes with the recruiting and staffing models. Like, I've hired so many people through staffing companies. Sometimes I've had crossed my fingers, like, I had a good like point of contact at the staffing company that kind of like, understood me and my company, but so many other times I get resumes from people that clearly don't have nothing to do with what I'm hiring for. And so, you know, even introducing a human into that Equation doesn't solve the problem either. Yeah. And I'm just glad that you're in the direction you go again. I wish you had done it 15 years ago, but I just had to wait until you came around to start at this. So that's good because I'm sure myself, as well as entrepreneurs and business leaders out there listening have gone through the same pain. They have said, you know, I can't hire a full time employee for this, I can't budget this, but I do have a project that I'm gonna need for one month or one week or whatever it is and I need to know that I could find somebody that can hit the ground running. And that has become so hard. It's the elusive point of hiring now. So let's talk about some of these areas because I guess maybe our folks would like to know where are the gaps in the job sectors that are not being filled today? You know, maybe there's experts that don't know how to find the job or their jobs, not knowing whether or not. There are experts there. But what are the gaps that you're seeing out there? What are the hot areas to the two biggest areas are in technology and health care? And I think there's unique things going on in each, and I think technology is one of those where there is a huge skills gap and it might even be perceived to be bigger than it is because there might be talent out there that just aren't finding the right opportunities. But in technology we have thousands and I would even say tens of thousands of positions going unfilled because companies simply can't find people that fit those criteria. This is a case where up skilling and some education, whether it's university education or professional education, continuing stuff like that can play a huge role if only individuals have the opportunity to do that. I mean, the way we look at career gig is we would love to help optimize people's career over time. And so, you know, if you're in a junior position working on Wordpress websites, but you want to be a cybersecurity expert in five years, how in the world do you get there as a freelancer? If you're within a small company, sometimes there's mentorship opportunities and people can kind of guide you or help you if you're solo and independent, it becomes really difficult to find someone or someone's to kind of guide you along the way. That's something that we're building as part of our community is to find ways to okay, if you let us know where you want to get to, we can help provide mentors or courses or other things like that, that might get you where you want to go. That's part of the community that we're building. So technology is that mostly on the programming side, Web apps, et cetera. I mean it would be software, engineering, data science, and cybersecurity or where we're seeing it most. There are many needs in many other sectors, but those three are kind of where we're seeing the needs okay. And in health care, nursing and home health care are the big ones that we're seeing right now. Covid obviously has played a pretty big role in that and we're seeing remote nurses. The whole idea of contract nurses been around for quite a while, but it's especially great need these days. I deal with hospitals all the time and lots of health care and I know that the attracting good quality nursing has been very difficult even for magnet hospitals that are just top notch and it's really tough in all parts of the country right now, there's just a serious gap. Well, let me ask you this are their generational issues too that are affecting these things are certain generations going into the gig economy more or are turning to it, is it across the board or is it more being geared towards certain generations or parts of the country? Even generationally younger generations and I would say each new generation that enters the workforce seems more open to freelancing in general. So gen z is more open to it than millennials were, which were more open to it than gen X so on and so forth. That being said with what's happened over the last year and you know, all the furloughs and layoffs and everything like that, there are a lot of highly skilled individuals that have been, let's say, mid career or more, that kind of thrust into the workforce. And I mean, again, the remote work, you've got a bunch of people that started working remotely started realizing that, you know what, I kind of like not commuting every day and I like a little bit more freedom and even if they weren't furloughed or laid off, which many were, they've been coming to the realization like, I don't want to go back to the office, you know, my company wants me to go back in and whatever timeline I don't want to do that, I want to find a more flexible way of working. And so there's plenty of companies that are very relaxed with their remote work policies moving forward. We've heard many of those in the news or whatever, but there are a lot of people that are a decade or a couple of decades even into their careers that are saying, you know what, I'm not going back and there must be a better way. And so to answer your questions, it's pretty spread out across the board. Although as we see newer generations entering the workforce, some of the older generations are now warming up to it because of recent events younger generations are automatically open to. It makes perfect sense. So why don't we, in the time that we've got, especially for this season, we try to give all of our listeners some concrete exercise, some homework something to do that maybe when they're on their zoom call or their team's call or whatever it is that they're on with their team, that they can do as a group exercise and better understand the importance of C. X. Or E. X. And understand how this plays into the bigger picture of their organization. So maybe you could describe an exercise that we could give our audience that they can walk away and do without buying consulting without having the need technology or anything that they can do themselves. Yeah. Absolutely. So one that comes to mind. So in my book the Center of experience, there's an exercise actually at the end It's called the experience maturity assessment. And so what I do there is it's really about 20 questions not too laborious or time intensive but go through a series of questions in several different categories and ask you to grade your organization according to these on both customer experience and employee experience. And if you're only involved in customer experience, you may not know some of the answers to the X questions. No worries. You can just take the C. X. Version if you wanted to. But adding both of those up gives you a maturity score as an organization and can help highlight some of the areas where either you're doing a good job or areas of weakness and you're really understanding if you have a handle on both C. X and E X within your organization, really can help highlight wow, you know, we're doing a great job on employee experience, but we can treat our customers better or vice versa. So it gives some insight there and while you're at it, you can read some of the rest of the book and learn how to mitigate some of those challenges. Perfect. Well Greg, this has been great. I think if folks need to get in touch with you, they can get in touch with you at Greg at career gig dot com. And I've learned a lot, not only from your book, the center of experience, I really learned a lot now I have to tell everybody it's not going to be something that you're going to read quickly, it's something that you're going to digest, You're going to go through a chapter by chapter because Greg puts in there not only the knowledge but the exercises, the things to do. The idea starters are in every single chapter and I think you're going to want to take it as almost a course. Am I right in saying that way? Definitely? I mean the way that I describe it as I've read a lot of books on the importance of customer experience and employee experience and how it's helped organizations improve and everything. What I wanted to do is not recreate the research and those great case studies but instead say okay yes I would like great employee and customer experience from my own organization. How would I operationalize that or if you're a consultant, how might I operationalize that with my and customers? And so yeah it's your point. That would be a great uses almost as a textbook to go through and really try to understand the different facets of what makes experience great. Well I highly recommend it and I don't recommend a lot of things but I think the book was really well written. I think it hits the mark on so many different areas. I think it would apply for consultants that are looking for the content to deliver better consulting in the areas of C, X and Ajax. I think it would appeal to the business leaders that are looking to helped drive their organizations forward for growth and scalability and even honestly the Solo preneurs can get a lot out of it too. So I hope folks will head over to amazon for that Greg. I want to thank you very much for your time today. This has been a wonderful discussion and I hope we see you again in the future. Yeah, thanks so much for having me. We really enjoyed it. This has been great. Once again, this is the science of C X and I'm steve PAPP is your host until next time. Stay safe, stay healthy and please take care Finding one place to see all customer experience related tools to technology has been difficult until now. We just built it. Get ready for a science of C. X. Original customer experience technology has been helping to drive businesses by giving them insights into better methods to engage and delight their customers for some time now. But if you're looking for C X tech, you have to search far and wide to understand the whole landscape. C x stash is your simple one stop directory of all the great sex related technology you need. It breaks down all C x by collections like analytics, Crm, journey mapping, voice of the customer, you X customer support and more. It's free to create an account and use no advertising. Cluttering up your experience. Just one place to find all the Great Sea X Tech. Sign up today at www dot c x stash dot com.