Reflecting on my first CXPA Insight Exchange

I’d never been to Phoenix, Arizona before. It’s one of those places that I’ve always associated with the little red dot on the temperature map. So I was a little apprehensive traveling to my first Customer Experience conference in May, given it was being hosted in Phoenix and T-Shirt and shorts were not an option!

As luck would have it, it was actually cooler in Phoenix than in Missouri, where I reside. Plus no tree pollen and no humidity! It was actually pretty lovely outside and reminded me a lot of Cannes. Plus most of the time we were inside a state-of-the-art convention center.

The 7th annual CXPA Insight Exchange was held at the Biltmore Hotel, with the two key days being May 16th and May 17th. With the exception of Drew Hall, who I had corresponded with a few times before the event, I didn’t know anyone and was both extremely excited but also very nervous.


I touched down in Phoenix around 7:30pm on Monday night and managed to make the first time mixer which began at 8pm. I talked to quite a few people there. One thing I really liked was that this was a group of truly like-minded individuals who seemed to have very strong empathy for others and a passion for problem solving. Empathy is one of my top five StrengthsFinder strengths and I did have to wonder if it would make the top five of every person there.

On the opening night I met Janis Avila, a CX professional who had previously worked with Jeanne Bliss, the god-mother (A term Jeanne loves, right? ;) ) of Customer Experience and author of Chief Customer Officer 2.0. Janis doesn’t just do CX for a living — she lives and breathes its values of empathy and walking in others’ shoes. She had, through a special program — Heart 4 Refugees -, financially adopted a Syrian refugee family.

Things had gotten to the point where the family in question could not walk the kids to school without gun-fire on the streets. They left a home and two businesses with their cash and went through checkpoints, finally making it to Jordan for 2 years. They spent their savings, found some work, but had a difficult time there. The UN told them there was a spot in the US as refugees and they agreed to accept it. The entire family then went through a year of interviews (vetting process with the US) until they finally were flown to San Diego a little over a year ago. The rest is history.

Rami, his wife Noura and their 3 young children left Syria shortly after the war broke out in 2011.

At the conference I also got to meet and be on a panel with Vicki N Amon-Higa, a winner of the Deming Award, and another individual doing good in the world. Vicki co-founded the charity, Animal Assisted Happiness, which brings children together with animals for therapy. I was really honored to be among this wonderful group of people. These are just two stories. Everyone I met was pretty cool and had a great story.


Rather than break down each day of the Insight Exchange in terms of its activities, I felt it would add much more value if I spoke directly about each of the different types of sessions and how I benefited from them. This may be helpful for new people thinking about attending next year.


I LOVED the Show and Tell sessions. The CXPA had 84 individuals with 105 total tables between three sessions, presenting their own ideas, approaches and perspectives. I presented an original model that I had created called The CX Hierarchy of Needs to help me prioritize issues when no quantitative data was available. In addition to original ideas, there were also unique takes on existing theories (Andrei Radulescu’s Jobs-To-Be-Done (JTBD) presentation — how solving JTBD can, in itself, create new JTBD) and then some individuals (Such as Eric Ullman from Adobe) showing how they had approached CX training in their organization.

Show and Tell Table ‘6’ at the CXPA Insight Exchange

My favorite session was by Linette Myland of Siemens. She explained a very simple strategy she was using to ensure workers and customers did not suffer survey fatigue, yet the business was able to receive continuous Voice of Customer and Voice of Employee data. Surveys were simply sent by month of contract or month of hire. Obviously one needs a large enough client and employee base to be able to administer this kind of strategy, but I thought it was brilliant and such a simple solution.


The Regional Connect session was fantastic. It’s a bit like (to use an analogy by Simon Sinek) when you’re in a foreign speaking country and you suddenly bump into someone from your home land. Suddenly you have an instant connection. It was so nice to meet the other CXPA members from Missouri and Kansas and I did, immediately, feel right at home.

I had sent Brian Andrews a note after hearing his interview on the Human Duct Tape Show. I found his interview very inspiring and thought if I was lucky I might just get to say hello. Little did I imagine when I set out to the Insight Exchange that I’d get a chance to sit down with him and have a proper conversation. It was also great to hear from others about the common challenges they faced and different strategies they were using to try and overcome them.


These sessions were oriented around a particular subject matter. I attended the Bringing Voice of the Customer to life to drive action session as I am preparing to build a Voice of District program right now and was looking for some guidance from those who been there and walked the path. A wonderful insight that came from our table was from Antje Helfrich, a manager with Lenati, a Seattle based consulting firm. She told me not to focus too much on the myriad of potential listening posts, but to first make sure we knew what to do with the data before we started worrying about how to collect it.

Unwound Sharing allowed CX professionals to discuss their approaches to a common topic

Another highlight was the innovation award winner, Michelle Brigman of Citibank, who shared some brilliant techniques to shake up VoC programs to stop them from going stale. Ideas included a board game where managers picked cards that contained either positive or negative feedback, and forcing executives to speak to clients on skype without knowing in advance. She brought a wonderful energy to the table and gave my Chief Agitator personality some validation, so folks in Missouri had better watch out now I am back.


The big highlight was the CustomerVille party, held at the Wrigley Mansion. Huge props to CustomerVille for throwing a party that will be talked about for years to come.

I met a ton of great people, and maybe a whole bunch more that I will never recall due to the vast amounts of alcohol consumed. At one point I was sitting at my table eating and was suddenly joined by Anthony Bey from an Artificial Intelligence vendor, Augment. My masters is in Artificial Intelligence so it was such a pleasure to meet someone else, completely at random, who has a similar background. Needless to say, we hit it off.

What a view from the CustomerVille party!

Jack Mackey, a member of the Kansas City chapter planned on having an early night until he happened to see Janis and I chatting away and joined us. Four hours later and a mob of us are making our way back to the hotel, ordering a pizza. Quite shocking when you consider CustomerVille put on a stellar food offering which we all partook in! Conversations went into the early hours with multiple different people about Customer Experience, just showing how passionate everyone there was about the subject.

Anyway, cheers CustomerVille!


The hotel was absolutely amazing and everyone even had a virtual assistant via text message that ultimately linked back to front line staff there. I couldn’t have been more impressed with the service. The breakfasts were stellar too.

Networking Breakfasts were a great chance to meet new people

The CXPA also had networking breakfasts every day. I popped along to one and joined a table at random only to find out one of the people sitting there- Sandra Fornasier — was on the same panel as I to talk about the CCXP exam.

Some of the Innovation Award Finalists also held 30 minute sessions to talk about their approaches to CX innovation. The keynote speakers were also fantastic. It should also be noted that there were a ton of Vendors placed just outside the main conference area so, between sessions, participants could check out some state-of-the-art CX software.

On Wednesday there was a CCXP celebration lunch and panel, hosted by Barbie Fink from Adobe. I was part of this and immensely enjoyed it. I believe it really helped a lot of people clarify for themselves if they wanted to take the exam and how they might go about studying for it. As soon as the lunch was over, I grabbed my luggage and was off to the airport.

Sandra Fornasier, Jeannie Walters and myself taking questions at the CCXP Celebration lunch


If you are a Customer Experience professional and have never been to the CXPA Insight Exchange, I wholeheartedly recommend it. For me, personally, I found the Unwound Sharing and Regional Connect sessions the most useful.

No matter what your experience level, you will find original thinkers and new ways of approaching this field. I am currently working with Vicki N Amon-Higa on a side project and was worried if I would be able to contribute anything of value given her immense experience. She replied: “I may have experience, Michael, but we all need a nudge and a fresh eye! Thank you for both.”

One thing I can promise you: if you attend the CXPA Insight Exchange you will definitely get both … and then some. I’m already looking forward to next year!