The Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) defines an outstanding CX practitioner as someone who “inspires excellence in all aspects of the CX discipline and elevates everyone involved to a new level.” Speaking with Ian Stokol, CCXP, Senior CX Manager in the Strategic Marketing and Communications Team at Monash University, gave me a very clear picture of the type of professional who embodies those qualities.
A lifelong student of human-centered design with an extensive background in project management, Stokol became immersed in the CX world in 2015 when he took on the role of a CX Delivery Manager at Officeworks, Australia’s largest supplier of office and stationery products. “Because of my ferocious appetite for learning, I started to investigate better ways of doing things and reaching out to what education was available for CX people,” he recalls. “There wasn’t much.”
When Stokol came across the CXPA, he was initially drawn to the association’s CX Core Competencies framework, which, he says, mirrored the structured system that the Project Management Institute (PMI) took toward project management. “It was a similar method, very rigorous and disciplined,” he notes. “So I approached studying for the CXPA certification in the same way I had approached project management, although it was a lot more challenging.”
Stokol’s perpetual pursuit of knowledge and his passion for the CX discipline did not go unnoticed by CXPA leaders. In 2019, they recognized his commitment and contributions with a CX Impact Award in the Outstanding Practitioner category. During my conversation with Stokol, he shared his views about the value of CX, as well as the challenges and rewards of the practitioner’s role.
The CX Role: Bringing Discipline to Chaos
During his years in the retail industry, Stokol has witnessed firsthand the impact of the digital age on consumer behavior, and retail’s evolving transformation from a traditional product-focused strategy into a customer-centric approach.
“There are three things that customers have today that they’ve never had before,” Stokol explains. “First, they have more information about your product at their fingertips than you think they do. Second, they have more information about their options—in other words, your competitors—than you think they do. And they’ve got more access to research tools than ever before. Third, they have an unlimited advertising budget to tell people how they feel about the way you treated them, or whether they think your product is worth what they’ve paid for it.”
Within large, complex organizations, he points out, functional silos often hamper the customer journey, making it difficult to coordinate or maintain the design of the customer’s experience. “One of the concepts in Les McKeown’s amazing book, ‘Predictable Success,’ tells us that one of the side-effects of an organization’s growth is complexity—and one of the side-effects of complexity is chaos, which results in a rigidity that slows down the decision-making engine and makes it very difficult to manage anything or to adapt to change,” Stokol says. “The only solutions to chaos are systems and processes. The way we share knowledge on the various levels needs to be very well-orchestrated. Using our journey maps, our brand tools and analytics, we need to break down the silos and walls between different teams to share information so we can elicit this experience consistently and predictably. Finding that sweet spot takes a lot of discipline and that is where CX plays a vital role.”
Challenges and Rewards of the CX Profession
There are several misconceptions about CX in the business world, the most common of which are that it is the same as UX or customer service.
“What I’ve discovered over time is that CX is understood by the people who practice it. Very few people outside of the CX community understand how deep and complex the discipline is,” Stokol says. “The full gamut of what a CX professional needs to know is more like a modern MBA for a customer-centric world.”
That said, with a well-defined framework, and access to myriad tools available for collecting, analyzing and sharing customer-centric information, perhaps the most challenging part of a CX practitioner’s role comes down to soft skills—trying to persuade an organization’s various functions to change the way they view the customer experience.
“It’s often a bit like being Copernicus—dissuading other people that we’re not the center of the universe,” Stokol says. “It takes a certain type of character. We get to inspire. We get to seduce people into a new way of thinking, and that takes time and diplomacy. No one teaches this stuff. The soft skills that are required to be charismatic, persuasive and influence people are more important than anything else you could learn and it’s not on a curriculum.”
With his long history in design thinking and unquenchable curiosity, Stokol finds that the CX role delivers meaningful rewards. When I asked Stokol what he enjoys most about his work, he quickly responded, “The a-ha moments. The discovery and understanding of human nature and the way we create the world in which we live. Humans are the most incredible creatures. What excites me the most is discovering new ways of doing things, interacting with other people, and creating beautiful moments—moments that we remember; moments that matter. I work in an environment where I can help make other people’s lives better. I think any designer is driven by the desire to improve the lives of others in some way, and that’s my motivation.”
Never Stop Learning
While Stokol feels humbled by the CX Impact nomination and award, he points out that it is a wonderful recognition of the skills, dedication and commitment of the team he worked with over the four-year period.
As for himself, Stokol is grateful for the opportunity to continue learning from his peers in the CX world. “I feel like a perpetual student of human nature by being a CX practitioner,” he says. “You can never stop learning. You’ll never know it all. There are always fresh ways of looking at things and new ways of approaching things.” He points to a quote from Albert Einstein who said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”
Stokol’s advice to others entering the CX profession? “Surround yourself with like-minded people and learn from their experiences and their ideas,” he says. “Don’t think that you know it all because the world is changing too fast. Don’t silo your CX practice. The worst thing that can happen to a CX team is to become just another silo in an organization. We’re supposed to be the silo breakers, but you can’t do that if you’re creating a silo in your behaviors and interactions with other teams.”