Jim Tincher is the founder & CEO of Heart of the Customer, the definitive guide to customer journey mapping that helps companies drive customer-centric action to boost loyalty, ROI, and sustainable growth. He is a also noted speaker, internationally recognized customer experience expert, and author of ‘How Hard Is It to Be Your Customer?’.

Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?

I grew up in rural Iowa. And it might sound crazy, but from my first job out of college, I just wanted to meet and understand customers. I don’t know where it came from, but I did it as often as possible. Even on personal trips to see family and friends, I’d check with my account manager to see what customers were in the area I was headed to so that I could work in a visit. It confused the heck out of him, but it’s always been my passion.

What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?

That’s an easy one: If you’re not a good match with the people in the room, find another room! I spent far too much time swimming against the current bad organizations that had zero interest in learning from customers. Though at the same time, I did learn a lot from those experiences and they shape my approach and attitude today.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

That surveys are the holy grail of customer experience. They’re not. Period.

Changing behavior matters far more than getting customers to move their mouse a little further to the right on a survey.

Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?

Early on, I led one of the world’s least effective customer experience programs. But it made me keenly aware of the importance of finding out what actually works in CX, rather than just going along with “the way things are done.”

That’s how I designed my proprietary customer journey mapping process when I founded Heart of the Customer. And that’s why last year, I interviewed more CX people than probably any of my peers in CX thought leadership, in an effort to learn everything I could about what is really working – and how, and why it’s working – in successful customer experience programs today. I’m still processing some of the data we gathered – we learned so much.

What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?

Basing our approach on change management principles. Telling people to change their focus or behavior just doesn’t work. You have to have a deliberate, goal-oriented strategy to get your teams to want to change and feel a need to in their gut. Ultimately this is what determines whether, for example, your journey map will make an impact or just gather dust, or whether your improvement initiatives will get off the ground or stall on the runway.

If they don’t get funded or promoted or executed, the best ideas in the world aren’t going to make any more impact than the worst ideas. You have to have a plan to drive change. It’s not going to happen on its own.

What is your morning routine?

My wife and I are early risers. We get up at 5 am and have an established routine, including having breakfast together and, several days a week, working out.

But the first thing we do every morning is dance for eight minutes! It’s so energizing and helps you start the day smiling, in addition to getting your heart pumping and warming up your muscles.

I also take some time to prepare mentally for the day ahead and read for about an hour before all the meetings and presentations and general craziness begins.

What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?

It gets back to combining firsthand conversations with people in the trenches with objective data, to learn what truly works in CX. We don’t need to guess or go along with a methodology that’s widely accepted but fails more often than it succeeds. By identifying, isolating, and studying excellence, we can build a comprehensive picture of what it takes to succeed.

What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?

Hire good people and get out of the way! There are only 24 hours in a day and you can’t be everywhere and do everything. Knowing our team members are experts in their fields and as determined as I am to find the best solutions for our clients, I’m able to focus more of my time on big-picture strategy and long-term vision.

What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?

Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point showed me how you can find the answers to big questions. Then Freakonomics (by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner) built on that. Fundamentally, both of those books showed me that looking at the data can be as important (or sometimes more important) than asking people when you are trying to get at the truth.

Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?

The one that’s served me the best as I’ve built our phenomenal Heart of the Customer team is, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you haven’t hired well.”