The Customer Confidential Podcast

Give Customers a Voice in Powering Your Company’s Operations

Customers offer a wealth of information, says Lori Cobb, former Cummins executive, and they’re hungry for someone who will listen to them.


Give Customers a Voice in Powering Your Company’s Operations

Lori Cobb has seen the power of looking through the customer’s eyes.

Lori was a longtime leader at Cummins, the multinational engine and generator company. In our podcast discussion, she recalled the time that a customer walked her through Cummins’s recommended process for recalibrating, or reprogramming, an electronic engine.

“It was a 19-step process that required somebody to go in and cut and paste these different lines of code. And then they showed us the process from our competitor . . . that was four steps.” Lori arranged an opportunity for the customer to demonstrate the complexity of the process to senior-level executives at Cummins. “And I immediately got told, ‘I'll give you the funding to fix that.’ So, it's powerful to see it through the customer's eyes.”

Lori, who started her career as an accountant at Cummins, eventually took on leadership of distribution and global operations in North and Central America. In that role, she assumed responsibility for customer experience and customer insights. She soon found she had a passion for customer experience. “I love solving problems, and I particularly enjoy solving customer problems,” she says. “And customers were hungry to have somebody just listen to what their needs are.”

Lori has nearly 30 years of experience advocating for her company’s customers. Today, she’s the president and CEO of Mockingbird Ventures, an independent data exchange company, and a principal of AIM Advisory Services. In this episode, she shares some of the most valuable lessons she learned on her journey into customer centricity.

You can listen to my conversation with Lori on Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcher or your podcast provider of choice, or through the audio player below.

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In the following excerpt, Lori describes how she broke departments out of creating new systems and processes from their own perspective, effectively expanding what they could see.

Lori Cobb: [Working with the] folks that are operating large industrial equipment . . . it feels like they're often underrepresented in what the needs are—the customer needs—and how they experience it. Listening to them, and then being able to actually get changes done that benefited them, just really captured my interest. And I developed a passion for working on it from that standpoint.

Rob Markey: Give an example of how they may have experienced that, or where the gap might have been.

Lori Cobb: A lot of it goes directly to the service shops that we operated, where the technicians would often encounter things that made it difficult for them to create a good customer experience. 

I had a group of people that was designing a diagnostic tool. And they thought that diagnostic tool was really good and that we should make it mandatory for technicians to use. They came to see me and told me that, and then the same afternoon, I had a group of field service engineers that came to see me, and they said, "That diagnostic tool is a train wreck. You need to kill it and just go back to the old way." 

And I thought, “Well, how in the world do you sit in your office and figure that out?” 

So, I actually went out into the field. I asked some of our distributors and dealers just to put me in the bay, so I could watch a technician work on a truck. And I saw technicians have to jump through hoops. They connected to multiple systems that didn't talk to each other. They had to write down notes to then flip back and forth on screens and key the same information into multiple systems. And then they also wrote it all down into a paper job packet and handed it to a warranty administrator, who went into her office and rekeyed exactly the same information into another system. 

And I think the real defining moment for me was when I was standing with the technician at a truck dealership. And I watched him go through the diagnostics on the engine. And he turned around and looked at me and he said, "Now, young lady, I've just spent 30 minutes diagnosing this engine and I've been turning the wrench for darn near 30 years. I already knew what was wrong with this thing. But I had to follow your process. Not only have you paid us for warranty that you didn't need to pay us, but you kept that customer waiting for 30 minutes more than what they needed to." 

And I thought, "Oh my gosh, these guys are rich in information and knowing what needs to be done." 

And when I came back into the office, we were spending a lot of money developing new systems. But I described to my staff what I saw when I went out there in the field, and I said, “Are any of these systems fixing any of that?” And they said, “No, we're just trying to update systems into more modern technologies, but it's the same process.” And I said, “Stop, we're not spending another nickel.”

Rob Markey: So, I want to dig into this because this happens—it's tragic, but it happens. And it sounds like in this particular case, one of the reasons here could have been was that the folks designing the system were basically trying to automate exactly what was already happening?

Lori Cobb: I think it was that, but I think it was more than that. They were designing these new systems entirely from their own view. They had never gone out and stood in the workshop and watched how technicians had to work and how they interacted with the system. The people that were designing the system were designing it to be efficient for themselves—not necessarily for the technician.

Rob Markey: So, efficient for themselves in what role?

Lori Cobb: As the warranty administrators. So, being able to get all the information that they needed easily to process a warranty claim.

Rob Markey: So, they were viewing it as a data-collection experience rather than a service experience. Interesting. So it was a process view—an internal, company-centric view—as opposed to looking at it through the customer's eyes.

Lori Cobb: Right. It was an interesting learning that I had from this, too. Because, for this group to try to get more efficient in what they were doing—so, not only reduce warranty costs but also reduce the administration of warranty—they often were pushing work out to dealers who performed the work, and often out to customers. So, for example, instead of us maintaining certain records, we were asking customers to maintain certain records that they would then have to make available to us, at certain points, in order for us to make sure that maintenance had been properly done.

So, it's interesting when people get focused on their functional area. In making their area that they own as efficient as possible, they can be creating issues upstream or downstream for customers that they don't recognize.

Rob Markey: And it's important to emphasize that the people who are doing that are not stupid people. They're not bad people. They're not myopic people. They're just people who've been given an assignment and are doing it really well.

Lori Cobb: Exactly, exactly. They knew their area inside and out and did a fantastic job at it. They just had never been given the opportunity to have visibility, upstream or downstream. And once we provided that, it helped redefine how we did some of those processes.


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