Ex-Aviation Officer Jeff Sheehan’s CX Insights on Military Precision Strategy and AI

Despina Singh

March 19, 20247 min read

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If I were to ask you to draw as many customer experience analogies as possible, how many would you be able to come up with? 

Well, let's try. 

Think of customer experience as the vehicle you choose to do your road trip on. A good vehicle ensures your journey is smooth and any bumps are quickly smoothed out for a great trip. 

Here's another one: Great customer experience is like hosting a dinner party where you ensure everyone is happy, comfortable and having a good time. How, you ask? By catering to their preferences and engaging them in enjoyable conversations.  

One more, I promise — the last one. Just as a garden requires care and sunlight to flourish, customer relationships need constant attention and nurturing to blossom. Therefore, customer experience is to customer relationships what sunlight and water are to an orchard. 

I could go on and on, and I'm sure you could too. 

Believe it or not, we can learn about customer experience through the most unexpected anecdotes and analogies. 
Case in point: Our recent CX-Wise podcast episode features a discussion between our host, Nathan Bennett, and Jeff Sheehan, a renowned customer experience (CX) influencer and consultant with a diverse background spanning the US Army, Motorola and Apple. 

With over 25 years in the industry, Jeff leverages his unique blend of military discipline and corporate expertise to help companies enhance their CX strategies. 

According to him, 

You see so much more in common with military service and customer service than meets the eye.” 

In this episode, Nathan and Jeff explore customer experience (CX) and its management (CXM), emphasizing the customer journey's importance and differentiating between CX and CXM. 

They also discuss the application of customer feedback, the potential of AI in CX and regional differences in customer expectations. 

Toward the end, Jeff also introduces his transformative book, "Customer Experience Management Field Manual." In his words, it’s “a practical guide for CX professionals.” This reminds me... there's also a surprise for you at the end of the blog. 🎁 

So, ready to take your CX to new heights with battle-tested strategies? 

Table of Contents

CX vs. CXM or more like outside-in vs. inside-out

First, let’s tackle a topic that often stirs up confusion: the difference between customer experience (CX) and customer experience management (CXM).  
It's kind of like comparing two broader philosophies: inside-out vs. outside-in.  
Think of the inside-out approach like looking at the world through your own lens. It's about how a company believes it's delivering value to its customers — by focusing on internal processes, tools and products. 
Now, imagine flipping that perspective where the focus shifts to seeing the world through the customer's eyes, understanding their needs, emotions and feedback. That’s the outside-in approach.  

So, where does CX fit into this?  
Customer experience is all about the outside-in perspective. It's the sum of all interactions a customer has with your brand, from browsing your website to getting customer support. It's the journey from your customer's viewpoint. 
On the flip side, we have customer experience management where the inside-out approach comes into play. CXM has to do with the strategy your company employs to design, implement and manage the overall CX. It's essentially all the behind-the-scenes action that ensures your customer's journey is as smooth as silk. 

When the service mindset transcends fields and business verticals 

As a celebrated author and the Head of CX at JS Consulting, Jeff Sheehan is renowned for turning customer experience insights into actionable results for his clients.  

But what truly sets him apart?  
A military officer and helicopter pilot who took a U-turn in his career and yet emerged as a standout figure in the world of customer experience. Isn’t it like something straight out of a movie? But this is real life we’re talking about.

Jeff reflects on the late Steve Jobs's idea that life experiences, though seemingly disconnected in the moment, form a coherent path in retrospect, illustrating this through his transition from military service to a successful career in the corporate world, specifically at AT&T’s Global Information Solutions and later NCR.  
Jeff shares one of his favorite quotes: 

“You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”  

Steve Jobs 

Here’s how Jeff's military precision can be transformed into what I’d like to call a “playbook for delivering stellar customer experiences”: 

  • Unified service ethos: it's all about helping and being committed, be it the military or customer service 

  • Adaptability and flexibility: things change fast, and we need to keep up, whether in a military operation or while serving customers 

  • Strategic problem-solving: quick, smart decisions are essential when you're a helicopter pilot or when you’re resolving your customer’s issues 

  • Detail-oriented precision: sweating the small stuff matters, while flying and in the business of making your customers happy 

  • Leadership and teamwork: good leadership and working well together are key, both in the military and in customer service 

  • Mission alignment: staying focused on the main goal is important, be it the military or the corporate world 

Further, the analogy Jeff draws between flying a helicopter, with its dynamic environment and the need for responsive control, and managing customer experience, where actions in one area can impact others, is particularly striking. ✨

When customer satisfaction is more than just a checkbox to tick

You haven't even finished speaking to a customer service agent, and bam! — you’re already being asked to rate and recommend their service. Talk about jumping the gun!  

Jeff believes in waiting until customers have the full picture before asking for their two cents. 

And here's a nugget of wisdom from the man: it's not just about the questions; it's about simplifying things. Cut out the clutter and make life easier for your customers. They'll thank you for it. 

Jeff is calling out the big guys for putting all their eggs in one basket with Net Promoter Score, or NPS.  

He has got a point — why rely solely on NPS when there are more telling questions to ask, like if customers would come back for more? 🤔  

He's all for getting the real scoop on what customers think and feel. So, what are the takeaways for CX professionals? 

  • Understand customer values and irritants: focus on what customers truly value and identify what irritates them to enhance their experience effectively 

  • Recognize the limitations of NPS: own up to the limitations of NPS as a sole metric and understand that it may not always reflect the real-world customer experience or intentions 

  • Ask the right questions: develop more relevant and insightful questions that truly gauge customer intentions and satisfaction, like whether they would repurchase 

  • Establish timeliness and context in feedback: ensure feedback requests are appropriately timed and contextual, avoiding irrelevant or premature inquiries that don't align with the customer's experience 

  • Simplify customer interactions: streamline processes and remove unnecessary steps that contribute to customer frustration, aiming for a more straightforward and enjoyable experience 

  • Attend to internal challenges and solutions: address internal resistance and bureaucratic hurdles that prevent improvements in customer experience, advocating for changes that benefit both customers and the business 

  • Demonstrate business impact: provide clear evidence on how improving the customer experience can lead to tangible business benefits, such as increased conversions or customer loyalty, rather than just aiming for a higher NPS score  

As Jeff reiterates, and rightly so,  

“There's so many little things that you can do to remove irritants. And what gets in the way? What inhibits that? Well, usually it's an inside-out perspective. You're sitting at the table inside your company at a meeting and somebody's defending the irritation in your process, right?”

When AI knows you better 🫠

Mastering the art of AI-driven customer intimacy involves transitioning from creepy to clever tactics. 
Nathan Bennett and Jeff Sheehan get real about AI’s impact in customer experience — mixing personal tales with pro insights.  

Ever got baby formula in the mail when you don't have a baby? Yep, Jeff's been there, showing us that AI personalization can be hit or miss. 

They chat about the tightrope walk of making services slick yet not spooky, with a shout-out to the human touch that keeps things grounded.  
Whether it's stellar service from a trash company or a cold shoulder at a boutique, these stories remind us that in the world of AI-enhanced CX, it's all about balance. 
Here are the fundamental lessons for CX professionals who want to strike the right balance: 

  • AI is a double-edged sword: while AI can significantly enhance personalization in customer experiences, it can also raise privacy concerns and potentially alienate customers if not used judiciously 

  • Tailored experiences, not intrusive ones: learn to leverage customer data to create meaningful and contextually relevant experiences without overstepping personal boundaries, as exemplified by the misplaced baby formula incident 

  • Consent is key: recognize the importance of opt-in programs, where customers willingly share their data for personalized experiences, reducing the perception of invasiveness and building trust 

  • AI's predictive prowess and anticipating needs: leverage AI's capability to analyze customer behavior and predict future needs, as in the example of anticipating recurring orders, to proactively offer solutions or suggestions, thereby enhancing the customer journey 

  • The human-AI symbiosis: acknowledge that while AI can provide valuable insights and automation, the human element remains crucial in delivering empathetic and nuanced customer service 

  • Context matters in customer interactions: be mindful of the diverse expectations and reactions customers may have toward AI and personalization, influenced by their tech savviness, age or past experiences 

  • Expectations vs. reality in service quality: learn from the contrasting service quality examples (the trash company vs. the boutique) to understand that exceeding customer expectations can significantly impact satisfaction and loyalty, regardless of the industry 

  • The delicate balance of knowledge and privacy: strike a careful balance between using customer data to enhance experiences and respecting their privacy, avoiding actions that might be perceived as overly intrusive or inappropriate 

  • Continuous learning from customer feedback: use customer feedback and AI analytics to continuously refine and personalize the customer experience, ensuring that the technology evolves in tandem with customer preferences and expectations 

  • Cultivating loyalty through recognition: demonstrate appreciation for customer loyalty through personalized interactions and recognition, reinforcing your customer’s decision to choose your brand repeatedly 

When the geography of service shapes customer satisfaction

Jeff shares eye-opening insights: like how folks in Ireland might stick with a service longer than the choice-happy Americans.  
And did you know that a Starbucks in Manhattan offers a different vibe than one in D.C.? Hear it from the horse’s mouth: 

So, tune in to those local nuances and get ready to wow your customers, wherever they are, because:  

  • Cultural sensitivity in CX is real: Understanding the cultural context is crucial in customer experience management. For instance, Irish customers may exhibit higher tolerance for subpar services, contrasting sharply with American consumers' readiness to switch providers if expectations aren't met. 

  • Regional differences matter: Different regions within a single country can have varied customer expectations. You need to tailor your customer service approach to align with local preferences and behaviors. 

  • Adaptability is key: Customer service strategies should be flexible to cater to the distinct expectations of different customer groups, as illustrated by the stark differences in service expectations at the Starbucks outlets in Manhattan versus D.C. 

  • Deep customer understanding is the key: Deeply understanding your customers, their expectations, habits and preferences is vital. This knowledge should influence every aspect of the customer experience, from service design to interaction. 

  • Customer loyalty insights will empower you: The reasons behind customer loyalty can be deeply rooted in cultural contexts, as seen in the Irish banking example. Recognizing these factors can inform your customer retention strategies. 

  • Brand promise and regional nuances: Understanding and integrating regional nuances into brand promises can enhance relevance and customer connection, especially in businesses like regional banking. 

  • Sociological insights in CX: A comprehensive understanding of the sociological aspects of customer behavior can enhance customer experience management, enabling businesses to cater to diverse markets effectively. 

When you get all the field-tested strategies in a book 

Here comes the surprise!

Jeff's "Customer Experience Management Field Manual" is the ultimate, no-fluff guide to CX success.  

It's packed with practical frameworks and strategies, broken down into eight key components for anyone eager to master customer experience.  

Designed to be your desk-side buddy, this book is perfect for both CX newbies and pros.  
It's the kind of resource you'll mark up, tab and rely on time and again.  

The best part? Readers are loving it, proving it's not just another business book — it's a real game-changer in the CX world.  
Go, Jeff!  

lets go

Do share your takeaway from the podcast on LinkedIn and other social platforms. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #CXWISE and be sure to tag Sprinklr.  

You can even drop us a line at cxwise@sprinklr.com email, and we’ll send you Jeff’s book, filled to the brim with eye-opening anecdotes on making a real, practical difference in the CX world, ALL ON US. 
Tune in to the full podcast to listen to some of the most insightful anecdotes on customer experience and get CX-Wiser. 🤓 

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