In this episode, Leon Papkoff gives us insight into how he became a strategist and thought leader for Executive Briefing programs and discusses his outlook on customer experience, how to incorporate “CX” into briefing programs and why it matters.
Guest Thought Leader:
Chief Strategist, The CXApp
As Founder and Chief Strategist for the CXApp, I bring over 20 years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies to build programs that deliver personalized, interactive experiences to improve business operations. I believe in developing strategic initiatives for a future rooted in mobile-first experiences that connect people with each other as well as physical spaces and things (IoT) within their day to day environments.
Hello and welcome to the CXApp Live, an interview style podcast addressing topics, trends and tips for creating real time digital experiences in a customer first customer last world. This show for briefing and meeting professionals brings you authentic and unfiltered conversations with industry experts who know how to elevate customer experience across people, teams and programs. Let's listen in...
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 0:38
Welcome everyone to our CXApp Live podcast series dedicated to today's briefing. Professional. Hi, I'm Darby Mason Warner, and I'm thrilled to be interviewing thought leaders across the industry who can share their experience and their ideas and help us all improve our program. So for today, our discussion focus will be on customer experience. So, as you know, we all strive to provide the best possible experience for a customer. We take extra care to ensure every last detail is in place and that we're exceeding their expectations. We build relationships and trust, which adds to the bottom line for all of our companies. So let's see what new ideas we can uncover and enhance those experiences. I'm happy to be joined by Leon Papkoff, Chief Strategist with The CXApp. Leon brings over 20 years of experience to finding and executing programs focused on customer engagement for many of the top Fortune 500 companies that we all work with.
Leon Papkoff: 1:40
Hey, Darby. Thanks for having me.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 1:43
Wonderful. I'm really excited for a conversation today. And I thought maybe we could start off with you sharing your history and how your journey led you to the briefing industry.
Leon Papkoff: 1:57
Sure. Wow, it's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it for everyone listening here today. I started off working right out of college, working in an advertising company in Los Gatos, California. And it was right at the beginning of the Internet boom. I was actually a web master and funny title back then, but a web master was the title, and I got to work on some really exciting websites. Uh, some of the first ones that were developed for Silicon Valley Bank. Um, I did the first website for match.com, which is kind of exciting and a few other dot com companies that aren't around today, that didn't make it through the dot com storm. But some really exciting times. And from there I decided to start my own business and jumped into doing a lot of websites for a number of Fortune 500 companies. And this is again when the boom was happening, and in the very beginning, we had the opportunity to work with the entertainment space, and we actually did a lot of work for Disney. And we ended up doing things for Toon Disney and essentially a number of kids websites, and then that opened up the door to do a lot of work with other studios down in Hollywood. Um, and at that time, Hollywood was trying to do a lot more things that were more technically savvy, that a lot of Silicon Valley engineers knew how to do. And since we were located in Silicon Valley, it gave us the opportunity to hire really, really good talent at that time. But I would say about 90% of our work was down in Burbank and working with a number of the studios. And then that opened up the door to getting into a number of movie websites. So we did movie websites like Pearl Harbor Spy Game with Brad Pitt. We did, um, some kids websites as well for movies like Max Keebles, Big Revenge and a whole handful of different studio and movie projects. Um, then that transpired into opening up the doors for us with some of the larger Fortune 500 companies in Silicon Valley. I got us into the door with Apple Computer, um, where we did a lot of the multimedia demos in the retail space. So when users would walk into a Fry's electronics or a Best Buy globally, we did all the multi-media animations that were on Apple computers in all the retail stores. And we did that in over 17 languages. So each country had different languages and they would run that multimedia there. And that opened up the door to companies like Cisco Systems, um, and a number of other tech companies, as everyone really enjoyed the work we were doing around user interface user experience. That then started to open up the doors to executive briefing centers. And our first big executive briefing center that we worked with was Cisco Systems. Um, we helped and worked with other vendors like Downstream was involved with that, um, where Downstream did all of the A/V design layout of the center itself. What we did is we worked on all the content that was on the screens, um, and and the videos that were on the screens a swell. And, um, we provided input on the overall user flow and experience that customers would go through. This was the very beginnings of what we call a customer journey map. So we would look at how customers would start off from going through the center, um, conducting their meetings that they had the center itself, and then how the overall meeting would conclude. And so this start to create an actual customer journey map that happened. And from that point on, then it really turned into, um, a handful of other centers that we worked with and partnered with multiple different supplier members and vendors that were always involved in a lot of these large executive briefing centers. And today, for the last four or five years, we've been working on, um, a member of customer experience, mobile app, components that really helped enhance that experience that happens within the EBC space corporate event space, communities. And now we have a new campus offering us well, so that's that's kind of really quick my career and how we got started and how we really ended up a lot helping to kind of lead customer experience in different physical spaces.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 8:00
Wow, I didn't realize about all of your background. That's amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that. That's a great Segway into really starting our conversation around customer experience. One of my first questions for you was about your overall philosophy around customer experience, and you just mentioned about the customer journey map. So that just tied together really well. So what? What would you say? Your overall philosophy is around customer experience.
Leon Papkoff: 8:28
Yeah, So there's definitely a process that we go through with each customer when it really comes to laying out what really makes the most sense. One of the things that I always think about is how the hospitality space or even in the retail space have figured out the customer experience model. And I always feel like corporations or executive briefing centers are always trying to catch up to, um, you know, the hospitality space, um, or the retail space when it comes to customer experience. And so some of the types of companies that I look at our like the Four Seasons Hotel, I do look at some airline experiences as well. I look at Nordstroms, for example, on how Nordstroms treats their customers when it comes to customer experience. Um, I do strongly believe that creating a customer experience is about a true White Glove experience. No matter what the volume that you are dealing with, it is definitely possible to create that feeling of the true White Glove experience. Part of our process does start with understanding the core objectives of what the customer is trying to achieve, what what what measures as a very successful appoint what what did the outcomes They're trying to get out of that, um, specific journey that they're trying to create. How do different touchpoints either being digital or physical? Um, really guide that journey or enhance that experience that's going on? So we do look at the number of those points, and then what we end up building is what we call a customer journey map, and this will highlight all the touch points in more of a physical map. They will. They will think about and understand the feelings and the sentiment that different personas will go through as they experience that customer experience or experience that journey that they're going through. And so those are a lot of the key ways that we put more of an approach together and creating what we would call the ultimate customer experience or even internal employees would go through when they're involved in that overall experience with the customer.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 11:21
That's great. I'm with you. I think that seeing what we've been able to do in the industry and really elevate the experience for customers, bringing in that white glove experience and those kind of touch points, I think we're seeing across many, many centers and programs now, so that's great. And within that, what do you think the most important touch points are along that customer journey?
Leon Papkoff: 11:48
Yeah, you know, it's it's hard to pinpoint the most important thing. I think it's a feeling that people get, um, that happens throughout the entire journey. If that journey is for a couple hours or that journey is the entire day, or if it's over a two day experience, Um, it's it's hard to pinpoint what are the most important. It has to be almost at every single step. Um, you know, again when I use the analogy of the Four Seasons Hotel experience, you know, when you first arrive at a Four Seasons hotel, you get greeted by someone usually holding a nice drink and and greeting you by your first and last name. And, um, and they make you feel special. And it's that kind of approach where it starts off, making you feel like a very special person, and it never ends throughout that entire experience that you have. And so I think that's really what we strive to do in creating the ultimate customer experiences, we try to start off at the very beginning, but we try to have every single touch point and interaction through that entire journey still keep it that level.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 13:11
Yeah, I agree. Um, I know that we always wanted to make sure that we're kind of orchestrating every single touch point from the time they walk in the door to the time they leave. Everything should be that personalized and special. Yeah. And and even, you know, even prior to their arrival, you know, there's we'll talk about that probably later on in our conversation, but having all of that carry through before they get there, certainly when they're on site. And even after. But you mentioned about personas. So what do you think the value is of kind of being aware of the different personas of folks that are coming in? And how does that lead to unique experiences?
Leon Papkoff: 13:56
Yeah, Yeah, absolutely. Personas are definitely key building blocks and understanding how the different touchpoints effect each persona. So in the in the EBC space, for example, we look at a sales account team persona. We look at the customer as a persona. We look at the program manager, uh who's doing a lot of the hard work putting things together as a persona. And then we look at the discussion leader or the subject matter expert. And, um, when we look at each persona we think about, we break up each persona into three major stages. What's going on pre briefing stage, how many days it leads up to pre briefing. We look at the day of the briefing and what what each persona is going through. And then we look at the post briefing period and what each person is going through. And when we when we build out each persona, we're looking at what are they thinking or anticipating at each one of those stages that goes into the journey? What are they most likely gonna want to see, hear or be a part of when it comes to that experience and then we try to plan those touchpoints accordingly with the customer. So by going through this process in the very beginning, it allows us to map and build a journey that hopefully meets and exceeds each one of those points. Now the other thing I'll tell you about this exercise is this exercise should never end with any customer. This exercise should be reflected upon at least once a business quarter to make sure that it still falls in line with what with what each persona needs toe have during this overall journey. So that truly is enhancing it, and the reason we really feel that it should constantly be reflected on is things change. Environments change, the economy changes, the world is constantly changing. And if you don't pivot and reflect on this at least once a business quarter and enhance it, then you're gonna find yourself behind everyone else eventually. And so I do really believe that reflecting on it, using it as an exercise and then constantly enhancing it is a really important factor that I think a lot of people miss out on. We see some companies do a whole amazing job with, um, an executive briefing center in a program, and then they run that program for a good year or two, and then they realize that they didn't pivot, they didn't adjust and then they look a little bit further behind. And so that's one of the challenges that we've seen in the space. You constantly have to be looking at reinventing yourself, pivoting, adjusting to what is happening in the environment around you.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 17:12
I think that's fantastic. I think being able to go back and have those internal conversations like you say with the teams and make sure that you're staying up to date, that you're refreshing and especially if you've got customers that are coming in, repeat during the year they might go from here three times a year. You want to make sure that you've kind of address their persona and give them something new, something fresh, so they're not right in the expectation that is gonna be the same way every time. So that's a key point I think our audience is gonna love. And that kind of leads into my next question was actually around those personas you were talking about what they're thinking, you know, as they're approaching the event and what is it about customers feeling? And what are your ideas about the take away and what we want them to remember about the briefing experience. What are things that we should be aware of on that kind of as they're walking out the door, right?
Leon Papkoff: 18:11
Yeah, I think if the agenda of the briefing is strategically aligned, to why they're coming into the centre, that's probably the strongest objective. The ultimate goal is you're trying to convert customers to a purchase. You're trying to speed up the sale cycle. Um, and so that's probably the number one objective is making sure that your agenda is appropriately and strategically designed for why they're coming in. That's the core objective, secondarily, but I would hold almost at exactly the same level is they just had an amazing experience while they were there and this goes back to that that Four Seasons analogy that I keep using is when when you go to a Four Seasons experience, you remember every single little touch point to the way you were greeted to the way that coffee was presented to the way that people introduce themselves in the room to the way that you transition from one agenda item to the next agenda item to the way that you know lunch is being served to the way that the executive comes down to shake your hand to the way that the meeting or the briefing ends, to how you walk out the door and how a car is able to pick you up. All those tiny little touch points that that are encountered is part of that overall experience . It means so much when the meeting ends, you want them to walk away from experience going. Gosh, I've learned a lot. I think that this really matches what my needs are today in the business. And you know what? I just had an amazing experience. This company is an amazing company to be with, and I want to work with them. I want to continue to work with this company. If you're able to achieve those two things, you've just knocked the ball out of the park.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 20:19
Absolutely. Yeah, I totally agree. It's always been that feeling that you know that they they were so impressed. They felt special. Like you said.
Leon Papkoff: 20:33
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 20:34
Every piece of that, it's even even simply knowing their name when they walk out the door. Just those things, just as a human person, you know, it makes them feel so important. And what you would have to remember that in companies were people doing business with people, right? I think that goes a long way. And I think that that's really what you're getting to there. You know, and and with that in mind, you know, in today's world, we have, you know, people doing business with people. But we also have these technologies that are being utilized within briefing programs to even enhance that ability even further for briefing program Andrews to bring all those extra touch points and make folks feel even more special, but somehow doing it in a way where it could be that way for every single guest that coming, you know? No, nobody's gonna miss out on that. So from your experience, what do you think some of the new technologies and systems and processes and things that can help our briefing programs to bring all of those touchpoints and bring that special feeling to our guests?
Leon Papkoff: 21:43
Yeah. Great. Great, great question. I love it. The thing I would say about technology is the most important thing is it's got to be balanced. It's got to be balanced with the experience itself. Um, and what I mean by a balanced experience is you have to make sure that the technology is enhancing the experience and not distracting from why the customer is there. Um, it's gotta be an enhancement. And what I mean by that is I've been in some centers where there's so many digital screens that it's a bit overwhelming to me. I don't know where to look. I don't know how long to look in that spot. If I look at that spot for too long, I get dizzy. You have to be very careful with how much technology used today. Now we we provide a mobile APP experience that enhances the journey and the experience within this center. But we very much try to focus our features with a balanced approach to the program, and one of the things we do is we go back to this four personas that I mentioned earlier, and we make sure that each feature enhances that experience for each persona. That's happening there. And the other thing that we do with the mobile app platform, if it's in the pre, during, day of and post experience is we look at it as an enhancement, but not something you have to use now. I'm going to go back to the hospitality space for a second when you go to Universal Pictures or you go to Disneyland. Um, both of those parks have a mobile app now as a user going to that park, and I have two little kids. So I've been to the parks, but as a user going to the park, I don't have to download the mobile app to enjoy the park and be a part of the experience. But if I do download the mobile op, you know what? It enhances My experience. It makes it an easier more of a white glove service because I know I have maps in there, so I know how to get to certain rides. I could look up, wait times on the rides. I can find the restaurants, um, food menu items. I can find out where I can get a coffee in the middle of the day. I can find out I can build my own agenda and what my family wants to do from this area to that area. I could see what's coming up next. So a lot of what the mobile app does in those parks is it enhances the experience, makes the experience a better experience. But the entire visit is not dependent on the app. And that's a very similar approach to the way that we look at our mobile app platform. Um, with executive briefing centers, we look at a way of enhancing the experience. We look at a way of adding more value prior to the briefing day of during the briefing and post briefing experience so it makes it much easier to follow up on things. But ultimately it's about enhancing that experience and ultimately it's about balancing it and not having too much technology in there, and that's a challenge. I think some centers have swayed too far to the right and some centers have swayed too far to the left, and I think the important thing is to find the right balance
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 25:33
Well, I love what you said about having so much technology. It makes you dizzy. And I could get that. You know, I mean, some centers are, you know, they're really tech heavy. And you're right. You just you don't really know where to focus. Um, so I like what you're saying about balance, you know, and making sure that pieces are enhanced by using technology here, whereas maybe, you know, your technology free and other areas. So with that idea, what do you think? Um, you know, the latest trends might be that we want to embrace in some of the tech trends that maybe we kind of want to avoid in the briefing world.
Leon Papkoff: 26:15
Yeah, I think the number one thing is to look at any tech trend and make sure that it's serving a purpose. You know, I've seen some centers and programs that will put some big touch screen in place. Um, but but they don't really understand what the purpose is. Um, and and they just do it because it's kind of a cool idea, and it looks good, but they don't really understand the purpose of what it would have brings to the center itself. Um, I think that, you know, again making sure that each item is is enhanced as a part of the experience is the foremost, you know, important aspect of it. And it's not a distraction from what's going on in the program and how it meets the overall objectives of what's happening in the space.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 27:10
Absolutely. Yeah, I think it it comes down to how can you really keep the engagement, you know, have those areas that make sense and are engaging And, you know, those that are designed to, you know, just be cool and flashy, you know? Yeah. Having a great balance between those.
Leon Papkoff: 27:26
Yeah, and I think it comes down to it has to have a purpose, and it can't be a distraction. Um, and if you're able to make sure that it does have a purpose and it's not a distraction, and it doesn't seem like it's an extra thing that you just need to deal with or worry about, and it just makes the overall a flow a lot better.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 27:50
Yeah, exactly. And something that I know. I've heard many times at conferences from folks is that we also need to bring in pieces that are natural, whether it's natural lighting or its plants or it's down spaces. It's some areas where folks can get a break. You know where they don't have marketing messages thrown at them or you don't have to, you know, be on and be reading and listening to all of it. They could just take a moment, and that really refreshes them for the day so they can, you know, continue to be present in the briefings. And so we're doing that balance again on a humanistic level again, I think it is super important. Great, thank you,
Leon Papkoff: 28:36
Yeah, Even on that note I've seen recently with a couple of new remodeled and renovated centers lately is instead of having a standard, you know, conference room with a table and chairs and screens, they're they're adding in more of a comfortable lounge type room with comfortable chairs, couches, coffee table environment. So it's not all the rooms that are that way, but, you know, might be one out of four rooms. They place that way, and and it does create more of that calming area where people could just go in, sit down, have a coffee and just talk talk with each other, like human beings rather than someone standing at a podium with a screen. And I think that that element of, uh um, having that space like that it helps create that balance. And it helps, um, really provide a more comfortable environment that I think people are seeking. And then, you know, that's one of the small trends that I've seen lately. Um, has nothing to do with technology, but it's just more about the balance of the environment you're creating within your center.Yeah, I've seen a lot of those too, and I think it's a really, um, nice touch for folks to know that this is how it would be to do business with this company. They thought about it enough to create these spaces for me, too. Be myself, be in a calm state. Hey, you know, it would be like this to be, you know, working with them on my project in the coming months, you know? So I think that's a really great example of how our briefing programs and our centers and the way that we make them feel is a representation of the company.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 30:31
Yeah, that's that's really great. So I love all of these ideas and touch points and in ways that you're bringing in that balance and that calm and making people feel special and all of the pieces. So with all of that I want to wrap with maybe our last question around where do you see briefing programs maybe having the most impactful experiences say, in the next 3 to 5 years. What do you see other new trends or things that we maybe want to be striving towards? You know, they think will be world class, you know, in the next 3 to 5 years.
Leon Papkoff: 31:08
Absolutely. Okay, so great question. Glad you have that one. So my my belief, um and I've certainly chatted with a number of customers around this and, you know, part of part of my experience as well as I have obviously helped a number of centers with programs. I've also sat in a few briefing programs where I'm actually helping to sell, um their product or service to the end customers. Well, and, um, here's what I would say that I think is currently happening in the space where I think that a lot of programs and center should be thinking about, and it directly hits why the customer experience is so important is. I believe that, um, the customer experience and why people go into an executive briefing center program is to really sell the value of the company and the team that the customer would work with. And what I mean by that is, I think in today's world, if you're buying servers or you're buying network gear or you're buying wireless or whatever, it may be that you're purchasing at the end of the day, Ah, lot of these products are very similar to each other. A lot of the pricing is very similar to each other. People are making the decision of who to go with based on the team, that they're gonna work right. Most companies today have problems as they go through the digital transformation. They're struggling with how to put the technology in place. How to deal with the current infrastructure I already have in place. Um, how do I culturally adapt to this new technology? There's so many challenges that the end customer is dealing with today as they go through this digital transformation that they wanna work with, someone that's gonna help them solve these tough problems Is gonna partner with, um is gonna be on the team with them, is gonna help them with best practices, not only on purchasing it, but implementing it and building a road map for success with them. So I really believe that one of the biggest things gonna that's gonna differentiate, um, executive briefing centers in the next couple of years is how well that customer experience is and how well they sell their company and the team member that is gonna work directly with them, it's really about that experience and the partner they're gonna work with rather than ultimately with the product or the software solution. Is that you're selling yourself. It's selling your team members, and it's selling your account team. That's gonna be, I believe, one of the most important elements
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 34:12
Well, and that ties really well into what we were saying about this kind of humanistic experience. But I like how you're saying that you know it were there to support you. So maybe for briefing programs, that means even ah, closer relationship and bond, if you will, with the sales team, and and to bring them kind of into the fold on the same page with that approach to the clients when they come in, you know you don't want to have 12 topics on the agenda that you're trying to push these solutions down their throat. You you want to really prioritize where the most important thing to keep the customers needs in mind. And then how can you demonstrate to them and what their issues are that you understand they are challenged. That digital transformation is you know, something that could be a little overwhelming and that you're there to support them. And here's how and talk about those kind of things instead of just the bits and bytes of whatever the product or solution is that you're selling him that day. I love that idea. Um, I like to see that as we're seeing new programs come online, that that could be part of the strategic plan for the briefing programs. That that's what they're putting together, both in the content they have in the sessions and and how their discussion leaders are engaging with their clients and with our sales teams ahead of time and in the room and also in the center, it's out also in the places that we already kind of talked about. So I'm really thrilled about all of the areas, and the idea is that you gave us today this is gonna be wonderful for audience. Did you have any kind of last thought that you wanted to wrap up with today?
Leon Papkoff: 35:56
Uh, no. I think overall, it's was very exciting. Definitely wanna thank you for your time and the opportunity to do this podcast. But overall, I think I was able to kind of explain my thoughts on things, and I really enjoyed the experience. I certainly would welcome any additional questions that you might have or anyone in the audience that they may have. Um, so I definitely will make sure we passed my information over to the group, and make that information available. But thank you very much for your time.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 36:30
Absolutely. Thank you very much as well, Leon. And we will look forward to our next podcast with additional thought leaders and topics that we feel are relevant for our briefing industry professionals. So thanks again for your time. Thank you. Take care.
This has been a production of The CXApp Live your partner in digital customer experience programs. For more insights, tips and trends, visit us at thexcapp.com where the experience is everything.