Community//

Jason Ten-Pow of OnR: “Customer knowledge”

First, building deep meaningful customer relationships is not a bottom up initiative, it is a top down initiative that has to be started and guided by leadership. There are so many companies that try to Customer Experience Transform — to differentiate their business based on their customer experience — that get stuck in the earliest stages of this effort, […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

First, building deep meaningful customer relationships is not a bottom up initiative, it is a top down initiative that has to be started and guided by leadership. There are so many companies that try to Customer Experience Transform — to differentiate their business based on their customer experience — that get stuck in the earliest stages of this effort, simply because leadership doesn’t understand CX or becomes too distracted by other matters and they lose focus.


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 Jason Ten-Pow.

Jason Ten-Pow’s passion for customer experience was sparked as a teenager working behind the meat counter of a carnival-themed grocery store in Toronto. In the years since donning that pinstripe clown suit, he’s worked jobs ranging from electrical salesman to research analyst, all of which have informed his perspective on how companies connect to their customers. Today, Jason is the CEO and President of ONR, the CX consulting firm he founded in 2009.

Under Jason’s leadership, ONR has helped blue chip companies such as Intel, Disney, and Deloitte transform their approach to customer experience to form a more impactful relationship with their customers. Jason’s years of expertise in research and customer experience have taught him that brands must truly know their customers on a deeper-than-data level to create and expand customer relationships — and that, for a company to continue to grow its maximum potential, this knowledge must be an integral part of its leaders’ decision-making process.

The son of Guyanese immigrants, Jason moved to Canada with his family at seven years old and was raised in Ontario. He earned his undergraduate degree in political science from the University of Toronto in 1996, studying voter behavior, and went on to earn his master’s degree in Quantitative Methods from York University. As a student, Jason co-ran a small company selling custom-made computers, a venture that taught him the basics of running a business and gave him the confidence to launch ONR years later.

Jason lives in Toronto with his son Ronin.


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 passion for customer experience began at a young age, working at various retail establishments. In my late teens, I really started to see how different customers would react based on how a brand treated them. I observed the unique perspectives and expectations of different groups of customers and what mattered to them. I often found there was a real disconnect between how brands and customers spoke to one another — in reality, they were often speaking past one another. I’ve seen this countless times in what should have been one-on-one communication. So, if customers and employees speak past each other, during face-to-face interactions, I started to wonder how this played out in a systematic way across all types of customer interactions. What I noticed is that as you went higher and higher up an organization chain of command the more removed the brand was from customers’ wants, needs and desires. This made it extremely difficult for organizations to truly know their customers.

I fed this curiosity in university and graduate school where I studied voter decision-making and opinion formation. One of the things I learned very early on is that people aren’t rational decision-makers, they’re always looking for cognitive shortcuts that aren’t usually grounded in their emotions. And there is a preponderance of people that tend to take the same shortcuts again and again, when making decisions. So, in order to influence them, you needed to trigger certain emotions in them, and they react as expected. Emotion, not rational evaluation, really is the grounding force of human decision-making.

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?

When I first started ONR, I was also deeply committed to playing hockey. I knew I wasn’t going to be a professional, but I was still very passionate about it. The league playoffs were approaching and my calendar was filling up with work. I knew I needed to block off significant time for both work and hockey. I took the bold but very uncomfortable step of telling a new client that I needed to revise our schedule of deliverables because of a “personal commitment”. She asked about the conflict and I told her about the commitment I made to my team. I expected her to push back, who wouldn’t, but instead she asked if she could bring her family to one of the games. And she did! I worked closely with her until her retirement a few years ago.

What I learned from this experience is that it is always best to be your authentic self, especially in business. People appreciate the candor and it leads to better, deeper relationships.

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?

Both of my parents were highly influential.

As a child and young adult, my mother would whisper into my ear, especially when she believed I wasn’t listening to her or others. She’d say, “value can be found in every conversation…are you listening?” As a young person, I felt reprimanded when she said this. As an adult, I recognize it as wonderful insight. Listening is a cornerstone to understanding and, hence, knowing.

My father had a saying, “have a plan, be persistent, and be patient.” Like my mother’s message, this one took a while to influence my thinking. It really resonated in the early years of having my own firm. That’s when these elements converged and became an organizing force in my life. However, it’s still difficult for me to be patient.

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?

Certainly. It’s actually a really simple formula: no customer = no revenue/profits = no brand.

So, the starting point is always the customer. What do they want, need, and desire? To answer this question a brand requires a deep knowledge and understanding of their customers. If you deliver on their wants, needs and desires continuously, then your organization will develop unbreakable bonds that generate greater revenue and profits, this is the foundation of every successful business.

What lies in the middle is the application of customer knowledge in order to deliver experiences that align and exceed customer expectations. Every customer interaction is an opportunity to increase trust and build deeper customer relationships. And if each interaction does not deliver these payoffs, you’re always fighting an uphill battle because you are one poor interaction away from losing that customer forever.

So, you have to be very attentive to every customer interaction to ensure that you’re fostering a positive customer experience. Do this and the customer will lean into the brand and trust will grow and an unbreakable customer relationship will develop.

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 there’s a little bit of a misnomer in terms of when you talk about prioritization. It’s not that organizations don’t make customer experience a priority, because I firmly believe that every successful brand prioritizes the customer at the very beginning. But what happens is as the brand evolves, as it grows and as it expands, many different pressures influence what an organization focuses on. And, instead of continuing to be laser focused on the customer, brands become distracted by these other seemingly more important demands. And, in a way, the brand has lost its way.

Today, one of the biggest ways brands undermine customer relationships is through the over-prioritization on efficiency. Yes, the customer wants an efficient — albeit a frictionless — experience with a brand. Where brands miss the mark is that they may conflate operating efficiency with improved customer experience. Those aren’t the same. And once a brand prioritizes efficiency over customer experience, the relationship is vulnerable and susceptible to disruption.

So, the prioritization issue is one of making sure that your brand remains laser-focused on the customer. If you have, great, you’re likely very successful. If you haven’t, it’s time to re-orient back to the customer as the center-piece of all decision-making.

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?

It can and it should. It’s increasingly rare to encounter a product or service that is so unique that customer experience is unimportant much less irrelevant. Consequently, brands must differentiate themselves through customer experience.

If you want to be distinct, if you want to be loved, if you want to be trusted, then you must continuously improve the customer experience you provide. And an organization does all of this because it’s motivated to improve and sustain revenue and profits. In that way, external pressures are really internal realties at the organization.

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

Absolutely, just off the top of my head, I can point to a number of clients, but one that’s particularly close to my heart is Puppet a global leader in the DevOps space. Prior to ONR’s engagement, Puppet sought to differentiate its brand through academic research. The only problem was that it didn’t garner the traction they expected. The content they were producing didn’t resonant with their customers. They wanted, even needed, to stand out more.

That’s when I got involved together with the team at ONR. Our challenge was to re-imagine the content as a means to establishing and growing deep relationships with customers. Our first meetings were dynamic and a little contentious. We demonstrated our knowledge with the industry and Puppet’s previous efforts to grow its brand and market share. We pushed the Puppet team to re-orient their mindset and to appreciate the organization from their customers’ perspective. What did customers see? Did they like it? Was it relatable? Informative? Did it feel authentic? Would working with them be of value?

On top of that understanding we pulled from our knowledge and understanding of how people behave, and why. This push-pull combination generated content that was unique, established to readers why Puppet was a leader in its field, and became the foundation for how Puppet relates to its customers.

The transformation has paid significant dividends for Puppet. Content readership and brand familiarity have surged as has the perception of Puppet as the DevOps firm. There is no questioning Puppet is a thought leader in its field.

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

Yes, it’s great for our business. When we practice what we preach — promoting deep relationships as the best way to meet organizational objectives — our clients reward us with follow-on business and referrals for new opportunities.

In the example I shared with Puppet, we helped them establish a new and better way to connect with customers through research-based content. In other engagements, we’ve helped organizations transform how they prioritized customers in what they think, say, and do.

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.

First, building deep meaningful customer relationships is not a bottom up initiative, it is a top down initiative that has to be started and guided by leadership. There are so many companies that try to Customer Experience Transform — to differentiate their business based on their customer experience — that get stuck in the earliest stages of this effort, simply because leadership doesn’t understand CX or becomes too distracted by other matters and they lose focus.

Second, you have to have a plan for placing the customer at the center of what you believe, think and do. One that recognizes your company’s mission and values as a guiding light. Most organizations out there want to do this, but they don’t know where to start. So, they take the easy road and think of customer relationships as a project to work on. Something with a beginning and an end. An effective customer experience plan is not transactional; it’s ongoing and may require regular assessment and adjustment.

Third, customer relationships are just like personal relationships, they exist on a continuum. At one end are ruptured relationships, those where the connection is broken where no trust exists. At the other extreme are unbreakable relationships. These are founded on knowledge, commitment and trust. And so your CX plan has to appreciate and work within this continuum.

Fourth, customer data must be converted to customer knowledge. Many companies we work with start with a false belief that they have an abundance of customer knowledge. But what they actually have is the abundance of customer data. And they don’t have a plan for converting that data to knowledge.

Fifth, collect, share and act should be your mantra. Assuming you’ve collected data to inform and preserve customer knowledge, that knowledge must be shared throughout the organization. Horizontally and vertically. Why? So that the organization can incorporate it into decision-making and acting. If you’re not acting on relevant, accurate, wide-ranging customer knowledge, then you’re really just guessing. And that’s not an effective strategy.

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?

It’s critical that customers be able to contact your brand easily and through a variety of channels whether they want to ask a question, report a problem, or offer a compliment. The simple rule is: make communication easy.

Remember, all interactions with your brand contribute to your customer’s experience. It’s not just a moment, it’s every moment that matters.

Additionally, make sure that you are listening to all possible communication channels. This may feel burdensome, but not hearing your customer is far worse in the long run.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that 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. 🙂

It’s that relationships matter, people matter. And if you are to build strong, deep, unbreakable relationships, it takes time, it takes commitment, and it takes effort. But most of all it takes trust.

Brands are always looking for a shortcut to differentiation. And today, they’re turning their attention to customer experience, as that point of differentiation. However, there’s really no shortcut when it comes to relationships.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m available on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/jtenpow and Twitter at @JasonTenPow. I’m always open to growing connections or a healthy debate.

And beginning on April 1st, you’ll be able to buy my book Unbreakable. It’s a “how to” book about improving customer experience.

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

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

Why Delegation is an Important Leadership Strategy

by Jason William Kumpf
Community//

Eric Schurke of VoiceNation: “Cancel culture won’t tolerate poor service”

by Tyler Gallagher
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.