Shut up and listen

“Shut up, look, and listen” – the need for patience in the transient world of CX


Dean Burdon spoke to MyCustomer about his new position as customer experience director at Zen Internet. Burdon discussed being “customer-obsessed”, some of the challenges he has faced at the start of his time with Zen, and why it's important to remain patient despite being in a role with one of the shortest tenures in the c-suite. 

20th Apr 2022

Be it the tortoise besting the hare, the time taken to build Rome, or little strokes felling great oaks – history is full of idioms and parables that highlight the importance of patience. Yet, when it comes to CX leadership roles – this is seldom the case. 

With Chief Customer Officers, on average, having the shortest tenure of any c-suite executive, CX leaders are often expected to produce immediate results.

We put this to Dean Burdon, the recently-appointed customer experience director for Zen Internet and asked whether he had any priorities or targets coming into the role. Burdon has two decades of experience in customer service, including six years spent at TalkTalk.

Dean Burdon: I always set myself the one priority that I live by, which is to shut up. I’m very straight with the members of the team that work with me, in that when I come into the business I just want to shut up, look, and listen. So I spent probably the first few months sitting with everyone that works with me, getting a good idea of how everything works before coming up with assumptions and conclusions. 

It’s an approach I’ve used at every company I’ve been through and it’s always worked, because firstly it gives you that sense of understanding. Secondly it gives you a lot of recognition from the team that you’re joining – making them aware that you’re not just going to come in and start changing things without taking the time to get to know them and understand how they work.

I always set myself the one priority that I live by, which is to shut up.

In the next couple of months, I spent a little more time starting to take some of the rough edges off of the customers: looking at customer feedback for opportunities to improve simple things, like making it quicker for customers to speak with us, making the IVR speak a little more English and a little less jargon. Dean Burdon

These aren’t game-changing ideas, but incremental improvements for the customer is what pays back in spades. 

MyCustomer: With your new role, why do you think Zen moved toward a CX position rather than just operational? 

DB: I think it’s a refinement of the previous role, and I think it aligns with the ambition that Paul (CEO) and Richard (Founder & Chairman) have of wanting to move Zen a little bit forward.

I think it is about thinking of what the ambition for the business is. With an operations role, we could have just kept maintaining our high standards and our BAU performance, whereas with a CX role – I think it sets the tone of the ambition. 

A CX role – I think it sets the tone of the ambition.

It’s easy to look within and say, ‘ok we’re doing things brilliantly today’, but we’ve got new products that we want to launch, we’ve got new processes that we want to build, and we want to think about how we do that. 

So now I have a CX team who work for me, and we are starting to drive that CX culture within the business.

MYC: So is the CX team something new that’s been brought in as part of your appointment?

DB: Again, I think it’s a bit of an evolution. We took strategy people and moved them more into a CX function. But a lot of what a good CX team will have, Zen already has, such as customer-focussed teams. So it is quite a rich talent pool to steal from.

MYC: From the outside looking in it seems like Zen is already a highly customer-centric organisation. Is that something that you’d agree with?

DB: Due to my experience in telecommunications, I knew what to expect from Zen. I've known about them since I was about 20 years old. When I was working at Free Surf, we used Zen's content to support our customers, because it was the best in the industry.

The customer is the start of every conversation at Zen.

Zen’s standard of customer service has always been well known in the industry, but almost a well kept secret. So the standard of service surpasses most in the industry for a very good reason.

They are by far the most customer-obsessed company I’ve ever seen, but to a very deep-rooted level. Richard takes everything very personally – the reputation of the business is very personally important to him. And with Paul, he replies to every single customer complaint himself. That’s the standard that you’re walking into. The customer is the start of every conversation at Zen.

MYC: Did you find coming into a company with such a good CX reputation daunting at all?

DB: I think it's a good question, because the first part is - don't break it. So if you go into a failing company, you've got a benchmark to drive up. When you come into the best, you take a risk. 

In saying that, I think there are opportunities to take Zen’s quality into other channels. So, we are exceptional when it comes to our tech support teams and our provisioning teams talking to customers and engaging daily. 

The first part is - don't break it.

I want to introduce things in the coming future that will take away some of that customer effort and become exceptional in the digital space, as well as the self supporting space. They are the areas that I’m really interested in.

MYC: Obviously, you’re a few months into the role now, but if you could have gone back in time to when you were starting, is there any knowledge or advice that you would have given yourself prior to starting this role?

DB: Genuinely, I would just say to enjoy it. Because it's such a unique place. I've worked for very successful companies before, but part of the appeal in coming to Zen was the anticipation that the culture would be different – and that's exactly what I’ve found. 

Outside of the huge potential of the business, the work-life balance and the inter team culture is very special. So yeah, I would probably just tell myself to enjoy it. And I have done since I've been here, and hopefully I will do so for a very long time to come.

MYC: It’s clear that you’ve settled in well at Zen and you’re enjoying your new position, but what do you think is the biggest challenge for someone starting a new CX leadership role?

DB: I wouldn't necessarily say it’s a challenge, but I would give the recommendation to take the time to listen. It's so easy to go into a company and think you have to land a killer change, or produce some huge piece of success where everyone's going to clap and applaud you. But by doing so, you could have also alienated half the team, half the business, and everyone in there, right?

It's so easy to go into a company and think you have to land a killer change, or produce some huge piece of success.

These people have been doing this job for decades, so take the time to go in and listen and look at what’s already there. Read the data and the comments, hold town hall sessions, because ultimately, all of that is going to fuel the decisions that you're going to make.


Replies (2)

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By Aman Gupta
20th Apr 2022 13:47

Great post! Thank you Rhys, interesting interview.

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Steven Walden
By Steven Walden
21st Apr 2022 07:23

Dean - I worked with Strativity and the Zen team on a starting piece of CX work. Good to see you are keeping to the great customer service theme and not being diverted to price competition.

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