Juan J. Turruellas of Avenga: “Who their customers are”

When mistakes happen — as they are bound to from time to time — you mustn’t try to hide them. Instead, you should address what happened as transparently as possible, apologize for it, and correct whatever went wrong. I’m very fond of saying: “Don’t judge me by my mistakes, but how I correct them”. As part of my series about […]

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When mistakes happen — as they are bound to from time to time — you mustn’t try to hide them. Instead, you should address what happened as transparently as possible, apologize for it, and correct whatever went wrong. I’m very fond of saying: “Don’t judge me by my mistakes, but how I correct them”.

As part of my series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Juan J. Turruellas of Avenga.

Juan J. Turruellas joined Avenga in 2019 as CEO of North America and CRO driving the global corporation to new horizons. He is a renowned strategist, a keynote and a transformation leader in Sales Management, Business Development, International Sales, Professional Services, Product Development and Enterprise-level Software Solution. His 25 years of dedication to business development, strategy and digital transformation initiatives have resulted in driving substantial growth of several global brands throughout IT, banking and digital domains.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My background is in technology. I have degrees in computer science and mathematics from New York University (NYU). From the very beginning, I have been working with companies, facing opportunities or addressing challenges when developing new products or services by providing technological solutions.

I love being part of the technological evolution. During my career, I have seen many wonderful changes leveraged by technology, from the internet to digital transformation to the internet of things, so to say. All these developments have been driving forces behind the evolution of our society and culture. They have changed the way we interact with each other fundamentally, and relieved us from repetitive daily chores so that we can focus on creating meaningful things. I really enjoy being in the midst of all this. This applies even more so to the coming years because technologies like 5G, AI, 3D printing, biotechnology, blockchain, and the like will be a complete game-changer once again. Each of them is disruptive in itself and from today’s viewpoint, nobody can predict with certainty what’s going to happen when they start to converge. This is going to be exciting, and that’s the only thing we know for sure!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

The funniest mistake would have to be when I first went to NYU. There was a huge rally taking place. I didn’t know what it was all about, so I got curious and joined. Turns out it was the annual kick-off of what one would probably best describe as the alternative lifestyle community.

Maybe I should give you a bit more background information about myself so you can understand what this meant to me: I was raised in an all-boys Catholic high school. Times back then were very different from today and walking into something like this was quite a surprise. I got completely embarrassed, to be honest, and backtracked my steps with my ears burning.

A lot has changed since then. I am a social guy, get invited to quite a lot of parties and I enjoy going to them. But what I have learned from this experience is: Before joining a party — or any other event for that matter — first make sure you know who is responsible and organizing it. Also, if it’s not your cup of tea, it’s okay to leave — sometimes you just have to go.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I had some great professors at university and later on some wonderful colleagues. However, all said and done, I would consider myself a self-taught person. As an immigrant to the United States, you have to fend for yourself to get ahead and accomplish things. Most of my success can be attributed to very traditional virtues: Hard work and a head-down attitude.

Nevertheless, obviously, no man is an island, and I would even describe myself as quite the contrary. I’m a real collaborator, so I have worked with lots of people during my life and learned something valuable from every single one of them. It is my sincere hope that they would say the same about me.

Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?

In our day and age, every business has to provide great customer service and outstanding customer experience. There are many options for products and services. And in all fairness, they are often not that different from each other, and exchangeable. So, if you don’t put your customers first, you are bound to fail. If the interaction with a company is not enjoyable and delightful, customers will find an alternative offering a better service and — in all likelihood — not come back.

The experience you are having when interacting with a company is a very integral part of its brand. I would even go so far as to say that it’s just as important as the offered product or service. Therefore, businesses should make it a number one priority to ensure that their customer service and experience are top-notch.

We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?

I think that most companies put a lot of effort into their customer experience — as they should. It’s just that the outcome isn’t always what they hope for. The problem most companies have that aren’t successful in this regard is usually their size and their legacy.

If you take a look at the history of what we call customer experience today, especially in the online world, it is divided into two parts. Before smartphones, large organizations rather dictated what the customer experience would be like based on their legacy applications. They could afford a “take it or leave it” approach because customers simply didn’t have that many choices. Nowadays, since everything is online and can be compared regardless of time and place with just a few clicks, this has all changed fundamentally. That’s why in 2011 Forrester, among others, proclaimed that we were entering a new age: The age of the consumer, where power from institutions and businesses is transitioning towards customers. Empowered by technology, they have more leverage and higher expectations than ever before.

So, let’s take a step back and ask ourselves: What makes a good customer experience when it comes to applications? I would say it’s a self-explanatory interface, the support of processes in the best possible way, and that they empower you to reach your desired goal efficiently and without delay. It’s exactly this point where the trouble for companies with an IT infrastructure, which has grown over the decades, begins. The reason: Usually these legacy systems are primarily designed for stability and security to guarantee the smooth running of day-to-day business and compliance with legal requirements. To fulfill these tasks, they often reflect complex internal processes and organizational dependencies. Adapting them flexibly and continuously to new technologies and customer expectations demands massive amounts of time, effort, and money.

Let me give you a real-world example: In the financial market, one of the first companies to start focusing on customer experience was Citigroup’s Citibank. In the 1980s, they basically created the online banking experience, which was subsequently copied by most of the larger firms and institutions in the US. Today, it’s exactly the IT infrastructures Citibank created back then, which make it extremely hard for them to adapt to today’s needs, where we see banking transformed again by companies like Chase Bank or Capital One.

Since it is neither possible nor reasonable to redevelop every piece of a legacy technology in an enterprise, we have created couper.io, a solution that allows us to decouple frontends from backends. The technology serves as a separate communication layer that extracts all the necessary information and functions from the backend via precisely fitting APIs and normalizes them in a way that newer technologies can utilize and present them in a more meaningful way.

Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?

Absolutely. In today’s world, if you are not driving the development of your services, you can rest assured somebody else will come to disrupt your business. By the time you wake up, your customers will probably be gone.

Even though I think every healthy company should have an inner drive to constantly improve its offerings, we have to be realistic: It’s change and competition which is the driving force behind most progress. As long as everything stays the same and is running well, most businesses don’t feel the need — at least not very urgently — to enhance whatever they are selling.

However, what companies have to realize is that competition has changed. More and more often, the fiercest competition isn’t the one you‘ve known for decades, but young start-ups that have identified a weakness in your business model and come up with innovative solutions for it to woo away your customers.

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?

One of the innovative projects I was allowed to participate in was the development of the OnStar system, created by General Motors (GM) in the 1990s. The Driver Aid, Information and Routing system, better known as D.A.I.R. in those days, could help you navigate, featured an automatic message to notify drivers about certain road conditions and could send an emergency message from the car to a service center in case of an accident

When it first came to the market, the system was so exclusive, it had to be installed manually by car dealers and was solely provided to GM’s top-of-the-line Cadillac automobiles.

Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

GPS-assisted vehicle security and wireless communication was a wild factor when it was introduced — just like every advanced technology breaking new ground. But usually, it doesn’t take long for competitors to catch up and any bonus feature — no matter how amazing it is in the beginning — becomes a basic requirement pretty quickly. How many cars produced today don’t have built-in turn-by-turn navigation?

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.

According to my experience the five things every CEO and every other executive must know are:

  1. Who their customers are.
  2. What their customers are looking for and what they value in products and services.
  3. How best to communicate with them to ensure an open dialog that allows their respective company to create value.
  4. How to openly address mistakes as well as how to correct and learn from them,
  5. How to stay innovative.

Let me elaborate: Most companies more or less know who they want to address with their offerings. But to tailor their products and services to them perfectly and create a positive customer experience, there is no way around establishing personas. Only if you know exactly who you want to address, can you start thinking about what they need in which situation.

To get to know your customers as best you can, you have to become customer obsessed. As Forrester declared in their report “Competitive Strategy In The Age Of The Customer”: “… in a world where empowered customers are disrupting every industry . . . the only sustainable competitive advantage is knowledge and engagement with customers”. To secure this competitive advantage, there is no way around a well-balanced mixture of personal conversations in real life and the use of modern technologies such as Big Data and Analytics in the digital world.

When mistakes happen — as they are bound to from time to time — you mustn’t try to hide them. Instead, you should address what happened as transparently as possible, apologize for it, and correct whatever went wrong. I’m very fond of saying: “Don’t judge me by my mistakes, but how I correct them”.

Last but not least, it’s vital to continue innovating and ensure your customers know what you are doing to constantly develop and improve your offerings. Today, this is more important than ever, because yesterday’s perfect solution to anything is almost certainly not the perfect solution tomorrow. Driven by fast-paced technological advancements, consumer needs and demands are changing quicker than ever before. That’s also why no product today is ever really finished, quite the contrary: As soon as a company stops adjusting it, you are looking at a dinosaur.

Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?

Turning customers into fans or evangelists who expose your company to new clients is the best advertisement you can get. To motivate them to do so, it’s never wrong to reward them, with some kind of bonus. There are plenty of loyalty programs that can be leveraged.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement which would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My answer to this has changed a lot under the effects of Covid-19. The pandemic has made me much more cautious about health — my own, my beloved ones’ and even the whole world’s. If you look around without preconceptions it seems pretty obvious to me that countries in which citizens are wearing masks have done a lot better. Therefore, I would like to start a “mask-movement” which convinces skeptics that wearing a mask is a health issue, not a political one. Only by taking every precaution possible, can we safely restart our economy.

Another important factor to be able to finish lockdowns without the dangerous setbacks we have seen over and over again, is regular testing and quick delivery of secured test results to whoever is concerned. To make this possible, we came together with our partners Accu Reference Medical Lab and Ubirch, and developed the Secured Covid-19 Test Result System, which we presented to the public at ATA 2020, the world’s largest telehealth event not too long ago. If enough medical labs and companies start using it, this could be a huge step towards normality. I just wish we would have started even earlier with this project!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I am active on LinkedIn and looking forward to hearing from you!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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