From Award Winning Chef to Award Winning Customer Experience

Hello, this is a story from our founder, James Scutt, why hes always "commited" to Customer Experience his whole career and the core of ChefCX...

What do you want to do as a career? “I have no idea”

My school was near Falmouth in Cornwall, a large Port town on the south coast. For anyone not from the UK, Cornwall has a reputation for being something special. Spectacular beaches, traditional Cornish fare such as pasties and cream teas, roaring surf, and picturesque fishing villages, it is one of the go-to holiday destinations for summer and a glorious place to grow up.

When work experience time arrived, faced with the question “What do you want to do?” like lots of others I had no idea, so it fell to our careers advisor to find us a suitable week of work experience. Falmouth has a very high density of hotels and restaurants, so it was an easy option to give some of us placements in that industry, and this is where I first got involved with the hospitality trade. A year later I was approached by the hotel where I did my work experience, offering me a position as a trainee Chef. Still, with the lack of career path, I accepted and unbeknown to me, in 1990 my journey with Customer Experience began.

The hotel was one of the best in Cornwall, the Green Lawns Hotel had a great reputation for quality and I soon realised that I had been given a lucky break in getting a place there.

I would work full time with one day a week at Cornwall College to study towards my professional Chef qualifications. As a trainee I got all the jobs you wouldn’t want, peeling potatoes, carrots and any other type of basic food preparation you could think of. Equally as glamourous, tasks such as cleaning floors and dishwashing if needed. Over my 2-year training I gradually got to do the work that everyone thinks they are going to be doing from the outset, i.e. some cooking!

Although this was initially frustrating, it was clear I needed to build enough trust with the Head Chef before I would be let loose on something a customer would eat. The key ethos drummed into me was…

“It's not all about food, everything you do contributes to your guests experience”

My training included many additional courses and the first one was Customer Care, an interesting introduction into why we all do what we do and why we must do it really well. This was seen as absolutely vital and it was well understood that you wouldn’t get far as a Chef without a deep understanding of your customers and their expectations, wants and needs.

Customer Care was soon followed by another, nationally recognised qualification, “Welcome Host”. This was certified by the English Tourist Board and took customer care out of the restaurant environment and into the wider considerations of industry and geographical impact.

This was a very customer-focused training programme, aimed at installing the understanding that your actions would have a direct impact on not only the business you worked in but the wider hospitality industry and the local economy.

My training culminated by winning the award for outstanding exam results, setting my professional Chef’s career off in the right direction. I was taken on as a permanent member of the Chef brigade and the real training began.

Professional kitchens are hard work, the hours are long and it’s a very high-pressure environment. Alongside the day to day work is the competitive side of professional catering. We’re now all used to this thanks to MasterChef.

This is a very different type of cooking, way beyond what a guest would scrutinise, and the judges very demanding. It was not unusual, as I did, to work all through the night before the day of the competition. Salon Culinaire is a world-class chef's competition with an unrivalled reputation. The highlight of my Chef’s career was winning a Gold medal when pitched against hundreds of other Chefs.

What did I learn as a Chef?

Apart from how to cook really well, the key lesson was one of teamwork and customer focus. The whole business ran on a “critical chain”, with no single person, job or team being more or less important than another. It was understood that the weakest link in the chain is the one that the guest will see, and it will reduce their enjoyment of their meal. Every task, no matter how small, no matter how far it seems to be removed from the guest, was a vital part of the chain.

“Chefs don’t only “focus on”, but commit to every element of a dish, like it’s the only one you will ever make. “

As a team, the mantra was simple...

  1. Engage with your guest

  2. Listen and act to delight

  3. Build the relationship so they wanted to return

You put in the groundwork, prepare well in advance, and it pays off. Every guest is your boss, with the power to make your restaurant a success or failure. Which of those the guest picks is in your hands.

I needed to be closer to customers

While I really enjoyed Cheffing and had made a success of it, as a Chef you usually don’t get to meet customers and I had realised I wanted to work on the front line and be closer to my customers. Food Retail looked to be a buoyant proposition and a great environment to work in, so I joined Sainsbury’s, a large grocery retail chain. The focus on Customer Experience was starting to come into prominence. Mystery shopping was introduced, and this gave valuable first insights that I could use to improve things for customers. I managed multiple departments including Stock Control and spent a couple of years in Restaurant Area Management. While managing a store, I could now see a difference from how a professional kitchen team worked, against how a Supermarket team worked, and while they are very different business models, they have the same customers, with the exact same needs.

“Some departments were very disconnected from their customers; they had an absolute focus on internal process.”

Next, I joined Woolworths, a large general merchandise retailer. Woolworths was, at the time, actually a very impressive business, but lacked understanding of customers’ expectations when it came to some essential areas like product ranging. I could see the same patterns in Woolworths that I had seen at Sainsbury’s and my first position was as a Supply Chain & Duty Manager in the Big W chain. Big W will be a bit of an unknown to most people, imagine a large Tesco Extra or Walmart sized Woolworths and you have a Big W .

My move out of store was to an Area IT Implementation Manager position, to manage the rollout of a new epos system, coincidentally the same system used in Sainsbury’s restaurant chain, so I knew it well. I saw this as a great extension of the experience I gained at Sainsbury’s but of course, IT-focused. I could still see the same disconnect from customers that I had seen at Sainsbury’s. The understanding was just not there, and it was impacting outcomes. Nevertheless, the rollout was a real success and when complete, I become store manager of a large store back in my school town of Falmouth. By this time, I had an idea in my head that if I could put the customer focus seen in professional kitchens, into a retail environment it could have a big impact.

Falmouth had been a failing store; standards were drifting, sales were down. I introduced an absolute focus on how every role led back to customers and on to sales. Customer-focused activities illustrated how every task, including those that were non-customer facing, were aligned to the satisfaction of our customers and that this would lead to higher sales.

This resonated with the team and they got behind my focus and the results were great. Sales began to trend up and upon introducing our own customer suggestion box, I could see that the customers were gaining confidence in the store and seeing its standards improve. One particular customer comment has always stayed with me…

“The team seem to really care about me now, it’s nice”

I now had my “career plan”

By this time, I had decided to make “Customer” my career focus, regardless of the type of role I had, and could see that to win in CX I would need to have credibility across multiple business disciplines. If I could gain a good cross-business experience, then move into customer experience management, I would be well placed to have a high value add.

When I looked back at my career so far, I could see some good solid experience in Sales, Retail Operations, IT, and of course Customer at grassroots level, but my time in an Area role with Woolworths had shown me a side of business that I enjoyed and a timely approach by the Post Office saw me join as a Sales Account Manager. Post Office quickly established itself in my mind as a company where I could make a difference and gain experience of the major business areas, intending to then move into customer experience at the right time.

My approach was always, and still is, that if you want to work in customer experience management you need 3 things behind you…

  • Experience in the areas you are supporting and asking to improve

  • Strong focus on human behaviours

  • Substance, credibility and high value add

Starting with sales and business development, I intentionally devolved my experience through many positions with Post Office, covering operations, process, innovation, IT and digital adoption, project management and many more. Post Office is a great business to learn in and the support to develop is fantastic. Always working towards my goal of moving into a Customer Experience position, where I could use my solid knowledge and experience, I had gained from previous roles.

I decided that the time was right to propose the customer experience role I had been working towards. CX had also now evolved out of mystery shopping and with voice of customer systems, the insight was there to be able to make a difference. I wrote a proposal, and job description and made my case to our CEO. After some discussion, the proposal was accepted, and I started as the first Head of Customer Experience Strategy and Deployment.

I brought human behaviours into focus

I put in place some early quick wins that relaunched voice of customer with our branch network and added some basic tools to help fuel the conversations our field teams could have. The uptake was great, and the focus saw our customer metrics improve. This was enough for the position to have proved its value add and to become a permanent role.

I aimed to find a set of Drivers; things humans cared about that could be the basis of my programme. These behaviours became our “Customer Drivers” and the core of my XM programme. I integrated them into everything, they are easy to talk about easy to explain and can help form tangible action plans…

“Be Friendly, Professional & Knowledgeable, have Understanding, be Efficient and meet Expectations”

These Drivers also form the basis of my “Customer Experience University”, I’m proud of this one. A training programme that puts colleagues in the shoes of our customers and helps them understand their own behaviours.

Programme success saw me invited to Salt Lake City to present at X4, Qualtrics’ global CX and very proudly, I won CX Leader of the Year 2020, recognition of our branch teams and the team that supports them, the customer focused population I am proud to support and guide in CX strategy. Post Office has risen from third place in the ICS UKCSI, to First in our industry sector and we are very proud of our impact.

My focus now is on deploying my five-year Experience Management strategy and broadening my skills and knowledge to be able to increase my value add to my stakeholders alongside developing my Non-Executive Director position with Citizens Advice.

What I love about the CX industry is the way everyone openly shares their best practice. I wanted to help others onto this journey so founded, a free membership organisation to help individuals certify their foundation CX knowledge, skills and credibility to potential employers. Also starting my industry blog to publish articles and CX resources.

For me, I constantly double back on what I was first taught as a Chef…

“Everything you do contributes to your guests experience, don’t focus, commit to every element of the dish, you are only as good as your last meal”