#545: What it means to be customer-obsessed with Jill Pavlovich, Albertsons

We are here in Nashville at Forrester CX Summit North America, and we’ve been hearing a lot about what it takes to create and sustain a great customer experience.

And while there’s good customer experience, there are things that set aside the brands that say they prioritize their customers, and there are those that are customer-obsessed.

Today we’re going to talk about what it means to be customer-obsessed, and how to create great omnichannel customer experiences in retail.

To help me discuss this topic is someone who knows all about being customer-obsessed, I’d like to welcome Jill Pavlovich, Senior Vice-President of Digital Shopping Experiences at Albertsons Companies, and recipient of the Customer-Obsessed Leadership Award at this year’s Forrester CX Summit.


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Greg Kihlstrom:
We are here in Nashville at Forrester CX Summit North America and we’ve been hearing a lot about what it takes to create and sustain a great customer experience. While there’s good customer experience, there are things that set aside the brands that say they prioritize their customers and those that are customer obsessed. Today we’re going to talk about what it means to be customer obsessed and how to create great omni-channel customer experiences in retail. To help me discuss this topic is someone that knows all about being customer obsessed. I’d like to welcome Jill Pavlovich, Senior Vice President of Digital Shopping Experiences at Albertsons Companies and recipient of the 2024 Customer Obsessed Leadership Award at this year’s Forrester CX Summit. Jill, congrats on the award and welcome to the show.

Jill Pavlovich: Thank you. Thank you so much. And thank you for having me.

Greg Kihlstrom: Yeah, looking forward to talking about this with you. Before we dive in, why don’t we start with you giving a little background on yourself and your role at Albertsons?

Jill Pavlovich: Sure, well I grew up in fashion merchandising, like traditional fashion merchandising, and I credit that for where I truly became customer obsessed. There is nothing like the pressure of having to design physical garments. to meet a customer need and the current fashion trends that fit on a physical fixture in a defined square footage of space on a retail floor, right? That is a tremendous amount of pressure. And to get it right, you have to be fanatical about what the customer wants or needs, depending on what you’re designing. In 2014, 2015, I had what I call a minor identity crisis, and I felt the need to get into technology. Didn’t know what that meant. Ended up joining Wayfair, where I had a mind-boggling crash course in all things technology—how to build it, how to Think about it. I think I even wrote a line of code in those days. Just one. Ended up running a program there called Exclusive Brands that generated about 77% of Wayfair’s revenue at the time. And then ended up here at Albertsons, where I oversee all of our omni-channel shopping experiences. That’s everything from the apps. our websites, and our omni-channel experiences that bridge the gap between in-store shopping and online shopping.

Greg Kihlstrom: Great, great. Well, yeah, let’s dive in here. And so you were a winner of the Customer Obsessed Award. What do we mean when we say customer obsessed?

Jill Pavlovich: Yeah, well I think there’s a difference between being customer-obsessed and customer-focused. Customer-focused is something you can do and you can turn it on and off, right? But being customer-obsessed is a complete mind shift. It’s just an entirely different way of thinking. And once that mindset of being customer obsessed sets in, you think about problems differently and solving those problems differently. And you can’t just turn it off. You can’t pivot away from it. So I think that is truly what customer obsession is all about.

Greg Kihlstrom: So maybe as an example, a lot of this is about priorities, right? You know, there’s a million priorities, there’s competing priorities. And no money. And yeah, there’s always not enough, right, to work with no matter how big the org. So what gets prioritized or deprioritized as the case may be when the customer is the focus.

Jill Pavlovich: Yeah, when you’re working for a customer-obsessed company, your prioritization mechanisms just naturally become different. It’s not highest ROI. It’s not largest incremental revenue driver. The first thing that comes up and bubbles up to the top are the death by a thousand cuts, the little customer pain points that are eroding the experience, right? Because they’re the things that are happening really frequently. and ultimately end up having the biggest ROI in the long term when you fix them. But customer-obsessed organizations, their prioritization mechanisms allow those little things to bubble up because of the frequency in which they’re happening. And that’s what gets prioritized, where the customer’s having the most pain in the current experience.

Greg Kihlstrom: So then, you mentioned a couple measurements that may perhaps even be distractions from that customer obsession. What should you be measuring? How do you look at measuring customer experience?

Jill Pavlovich: Yeah, well, I think for every company, it’s probably a little bit different. At Albertson’s company, we measure in a very customer-backed way. Yes, we care about all the top-line business outcomes, of course, right? But the first thing we ask ourselves is, how many customers? How frequently are they using it? When they are using it, what is their behavior before, during, and after? And where are we potentially losing them? A very common kind of in the digital world framework that we brought to life at Albertsons is the heartbeat framework, which really puts customer happiness at the center. So those of you who aren’t familiar with the, you know, heartbeat framework, it stands for happiness, engagement, adoption, retention, and task success. Happiness is, you know, how happy are your customers? What are your NPS ratings? What are your app store ratings? What are the voice of the customer saying? Where do you have defects or where are you succeeding? Engagement. What are the customers doing with you? How long are they staying? What is their behavior before, during, and after engaging with you? Adoption. Are you getting new customers? How are you attracting them? And then, of course, retention. Do you attract them and do they stay? And how frequently are they coming back to engage in your experience? And then test success. When they come, were they able to do what they came to do? Whether that was clip a coupon, whether that was find a product in the aisle locations, whether that was place an e-commerce order, how seamless was it for them to execute that?

Jill Pavlovich: Well, as a leader and a leader who loves people, this is just an imperative truth for me that every role matters, right? Every individual on the team matters, and it’s my job to make them feel that way. And if I’m really exceeding at my job, each individual team member knows exactly how their work ladders up to our mission. And our mission is to remove that cognitive load that people experience around food and wellness management. And then as we execute on that mission and we celebrate in success, it’s then my job to make sure that their individual contributions are recognized and are tied to that success, right? And that is my job and how I frame it and how I talk about it and how I talk about the various role that each team, each individual plays.

Greg Kihlstrom: Yeah, I love that. And so with all of this, there needs to be continual growth, improvement, and things like that. One way to do that certainly is through experimentation. What role does experimentation play in building better customer experiences? And how do you balance stability and dependability so customers get what they expect with this idea of continuous improvement?

Jill Pavlovich: Yeah, well first, I actually think of experimentation as often the only way to know if we’re doing the right thing for the customer, right? If you think about A-B testing in a digital experience, on some medians that’s easier, right? But we can easily tell through their interaction with the experience, through what they tell us about it, through their purchase behavior, did they like it or not? Right? Where did we get it wrong? And so I look at experimentation as a means to do better for the customers. And I don’t think that stability and dependability are at odds or in conflict with continuous improvement. Because even the things that are the most stable, like I would say in my world, customer has to be able to search product. Right? That has to evolve. The customer needs are evolving. The customer expectations are evolving. So your dependability and stability is also reliant on you keeping up with your customer.

Greg Kihlstrom: Yeah, I love that way of framing it because I totally agree. Change is the constant, right? People say it a lot. It’s true. Just because it’s a cliché doesn’t mean it’s untrue.

Jill Pavlovich: It doesn’t mean it’s untrue. It’s a cliché for a reason, right? And customers are changing at a more rapid rate, you know, and especially with their adoption of technology, the way they use it, the way they shop, the way even they think about food now. It’s changing so quickly.

Greg Kihlstrom: Yeah, absolutely. So let’s spend a little time talking about where things are headed. Certainly, we’ve been hearing a lot the last couple of days from some of the Forrester leaders and others about this. I’d love to hear, as SVP of digital shopping and omni-channel shopping experiences, how do you work with partners within the company to deliver this omni-channel experience?

Jill Pavlovich: Yeah, well, we come together around a common purpose. And the common purpose, our company’s purpose, is to bring people together around the joys of food and inspire well-being. And that’s actually what kind of kicked off our customer obsession across the company and really where I was able to use it as a forcing mechanism for change. change the way that we work, the way that we thought about customer problems. And so I think it’s very harmonious, right? There’s nothing that can happen in a silo. I can’t do anything digitally that doesn’t impact the front line, right? And that I don’t need marketing to talk about. And so it’s become quite natural to pull those levers across the team as we are thinking about new experiences, as merchandising thinking about new product, right? 1-800-DIGITAL-TEAM, 1-2-3-MARKETING-TEAM, right? We’re all coming together all the time. Because if we don’t, it’s a fractured experience or a broken experience for our customers and our associates.

Greg Kihlstrom: So it’s 2024, so I think we’re required to talk about AI at least once. on every episode, so let’s talk about it. Where do you see things like generative or other types of AI playing a role in Albertson’s, not only tomorrow, but are you using some of that today?

Jill Pavlovich: Yeah, we are using it today, right? I think we have to. I don’t think anybody has a crystal ball, and I’m certainly no clairvoyant, but we know it’s going somewhere. And so we better be in it so that we can keep up with wherever the customer leads us. Today, we are, as a company, using AI, and specifically generative AI, across a few fronts. First, to improve associate happiness. I’ll keep the example tailored to my world, but there’s a lot of mundane things in running a digital business, right? Digital catalog is one of those things. Chasing down images, making sure you have the right tags and attribution, making sure you have copy on the product so that people can make a purchasing decision, right? This is basic stuff, but it’s laborious stuff. It was manual until now. Now we can use generative AI to unlock those associates and reprioritize their efforts towards catalog strategy, right? And that’s a singular example of what’s happening across the company. And on the customer facing side, we’re using it and thinking about it and imagining it as the ultimate unlock on the customer experience. If we think about how much people think about food 226 times a day, by the way, it’s crazy. How will that and how can that unlock The experience make it faster for them to build baskets, make it easier for them to shop that recipe. Experience we have currently live today is our shop any recipes. We have an extensive shoppable recipe and meal plan capability with over 9,000 recipes for our customers to use that are shoppable with a single click. What about those recipes that they have on an old card from their grandmother or the thing they have earmarked in their cookbook or the million tabs they have open on their computer? Can they ingest those, right? We imagine this and generative AI made it possible. We can ingest those. They can just snap a picture in the app. We can, using AI, translate the whole recipe page into a list of ingredients and map it back to our catalog. They’ve essentially created their own digital cookbook. So things like that, right? There will be chat bots and all of that kind of stuff, but what is that next level kind of unlock? And we think AI, and specifically generative AI, holds a lot of those keys.

Greg Kihlstrom: Nice, nice. That’s great. Well, Jill, thanks so much for joining today. One last question before we wrap up. I know we have a few more sessions to go here, but what’s been a highlight for us for CX Summit so far?

Jill Pavlovich: Oh my gosh, definitely meeting my co-winner of the Forrester’s CX Leadership Award, John Fryer. What an amazing gentleman. I am excited to know him, and I’m going to call him a friend now. And we had a great panel discussion earlier today. And then beyond that, this is my first time at the show, and I haven’t actually gotten to experience much of it. So after this, I’m really looking forward to heading to the marketplace and seeing what’s going on.