University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Ep. 3 | Customer Experience Driving Growth with Jeff Swearingen

Jeff Swearingen
January 18, 2021

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What new skills and mindsets should companies adopt to ensure excellent customer service experiences? How can the creation of new experiences delight dissatisfiers? How can the importance of the customer experience be communicated without a clear ROI? 

Jeff Swearingen, senior vice president of PepsiCo's North America Demand Accelerator, sits down with Andy to discuss his answers and insights to these questions and more in Episode 3. 

Jeff and his team are responsible for horizontal demand acceleration across all of PepsiCo’s North American businesses. He is accountable for long-term impact regarding media, advanced analytics, and shopper and retail insights, as well as short-term profit and loss impacts dealing with shopper marketing, category leadership, and retail space transformation.

The conversation begins with Jeff detailing his excitement about the customer experience’s potential to drive growth. Through brand marketing, Jeff found that one way to strengthen a brand’s influence was to curate customer interactions. He and Andy discuss the skills and mindsets that companies should be adopting to deliver incredible customer experiences, and Jeff stresses the importance of marrying the art and science of understanding consumers. They also dissect the relationship between the customer experience and the employee experience. The conversation concludes as Jeff fields questions from Molly Rapert’s Walton College students and shares closing thoughts.


Episode Transcript:

Andy Murray: (00:05)

Hi, I'm Andy Murray. Welcome to It's a Customer's World podcast. Now more than ever, retailers and brands are accelerating their quest to be more customer-centric. But to be truly customer-centric, it requires both a shift in mindset and ways of working, not just in marketing but in all parts of the organization. In this podcast series, I'll be talking with practitioners, thought leaders, and scholars, to hear their thoughts of what it takes to be a leader in today's customer-centric world.

Andy Murray: (00:39)

In this episode, I have with me Jeff Swearingen. Jeff is currently the Senior Vice President of PepsiCo North America's Demand Accelerator. His team is responsible for horizontal demand acceleration across all of PepsiCo's North American businesses. He is accountable for creating long-term transformational impact in media, advanced analytics, shopper and retail insights, and short-term P&L impact through shopper marketing category leadership and retail space transformation. He's a 25-year veteran at PepsiCo having joined the company in 1994.

Andy Murray: (01:16)

During my talk with Jeff, we discussed the vast skills required in customer experience space, such as flexibility, patience, and passion for delighting customers. We also discuss how employee experience translates into customer experience and the importance of understanding the deep-rooted humanity of consumers, rather than focusing too much on the transactional aspect of customer business relationship.

Andy Murray: (01:44)

Hi, Jeff. Welcome to It's a Customer's World podcast. It's great to have you here.

Jeff Swearingen: (01:57)

My pleasure, Andy. I'm glad to join you and looking forward to it.

Andy Murray: (02:00)

You're one of the few road warriors journeymen that's been in this space for quite a while like me. So it's nice to see you’re as thriving and continuing at it. You've been really working in the coalface of what we call shopper marketing or customer experience for years. Take me to that moment when you first got excited about this space and its potential to drive growth.

Jeff Swearingen: (02:24)

Yeah, I think one of the things that's been an advantage for me is I grew up at PepsiCo, and in North America so much of our businesses direct-store delivery. Which gives us the opportunity to really curate the experience at retail for our customers. So as a marketer early in my career, that was very exciting. It's like another tool in the toolkit where you can come up with great advertising, great packaging, great product, but also the ability to pull that all the way through to retail and to try to at least hold on to the beauty of that idea or even enhance that idea in a retail environment was always interesting to me. I think it started as a brand marketer seeing that as an opportunity and then grew from there.

Andy Murray: (03:09)

Wow. Well, I think you've picked a good field, especially today, because it seems like this space of customer experience is continuing to emerge and probably even more so now than ever before in terms of just the importance to the company. One of the things that you mentioned was the brand marketer background, which is great, and it's a great grounding, but this area does bring new skills. And so I'm curious from your perspective, what new skills or mindsets will companies need to adapt in order to be successful at building a more customer-centric organization?

Jeff Swearingen: (03:45)

Yeah, that's a great question. Let me start with mindset. One of the things that I think is important is, I think you have to be intrinsically motivated by delighting customers. And I choose that word specifically, delighting customers, not satisfying customers, not doing a pretty good job with customers, but delighting them. And I think the companies that are great in this space, you see it. You see it in their employees, you see it in the way they come to market every day because they genuinely take pride in it.

Jeff Swearingen: (04:17)

At PepsiCo, we call it creating smiles. And one of the things that we're very driven by is creating more and more smiles or making customers happy every day. So mindset, I think, is important. In terms of broader skillsets, I think you have to have empathy, I think you have to have an infectious enthusiasm for this space. Probably some patience and perseverance as well. And flexibility, because you're connecting a lot of things and creating customer experience. And it's not going to be perfect every time, but you can improve over time.

Jeff Swearingen: (04:51)

And then I think I would say in terms of specific skill sets. More and more being able to connect the art to science is important. There's a couple of statistics that we throw around a lot. One of them is 90% of the world's data has been created in the last two years. And another is 1.7 megabytes of data are created every second for every person on earth. So that amount of data and the analytical ability to harness that data is fairly new, particularly in our space.

Jeff Swearingen: (05:27)

And so if you take the power of that to understand the behavior of customers and to marry that with a deep understanding of what uniquely motivates them, I think it's a great marriage. I think we've always been pretty good at the art of it, and there's always been good examples of the art of it, but I think the big change now is adding science. I just think having a service culture that underlies it. Companies like Chick-fil-A are just amazing at just this service culture. So that those are things that come to mind in terms of skills.

Andy Murray: (06:05)

Yeah. Your background is interesting because you've come from a traditionally trained brand marketer. And there are some that get into this space from a sales background or promotion background. How has that background served you well in being successful in this space?

Jeff Swearingen: (06:21)

Yeah, it's a good question. I think it starts with just the empathy for consumers and trying to make the consumer the center of all your planning and all your decisions. And at the end of the day, we're working to create what we call three audience winners in our programming that starts with the consumer, next is the retailer in our case, and then the third in that order is our company, but it starts with consumer.

Jeff Swearingen: (06:47)

I also just think that there's a desire to dig pretty deep to understand the whys behind the whats. Often we'll take what we see or experience the behavior that we see and we'll build the plans on that. Just the consumer training is really digging into what's the unique motivation behind that, what's the root cause of that. And I like the idea just as a throwaway, I just think you build this muscle around observation that just never goes away. And you just find yourself, regardless of the role that you're in, just being keenly observant and trying to stitch together things that are going to deliver against that three audience winner objective.

Andy Murray: (07:31)

Yeah. Well, that's a great point. So many times I hear people talk about the power of customer data. Which is totally, totally true, and it can provide a lot of insight, but sometimes there's no substitute for in-store observational talk and get it in home. If you're talking about consumer, just the insights you get on that. What'd you get trained as a brand marketer to do just never leaves you as a real powerful.

Jeff Swearingen: (07:57)

Yeah, it's funny. We spend a lot of time now talking about the science behind digital advertising. And there's great, great science behind it. But we really try to balance that with the empathy and depth of understanding of the consumer. And so that's the journey. But I think if you can get both of those right, if you can get the science and the art right, and you can approach it with that service mindset of delighting the consumer, you have a pretty good chance of being successful.

Andy Murray: (08:25)

Yeah. Great point. One of the things I see also a lot is companies using the customer experience space to solve dissatisfiers in order for priority as working through the household factors. Which makes a lot of sense. It's the low-hanging fruit, you can tell customers irritated, and it's something to work on eliminating. But far fewer are totally engaged in trying to create new customer experiences, for several reasons, the dynamic nature of the customer, their expectations are always changing, it takes some risks, you're jumping into some uncertainty. How do you approach trying to find or unlocking new experiences that may not be an issue-related to dissatisfiers, but trying to take the company forward into the new spaces?

Jeff Swearingen: (09:08)

Yeah, it's a good question. I think dissatisfiers are alluring because they promise a quick wind. In that sense, I think eliminating dissatisfiers is very important work. And it can be what I would call order-winning work. It can actually drive loyalty and it can drive conversion. But you have to ask yourself if eliminating dissatisfiers alone is going to, I'll go back to this word, is it going to create delight? Or is it going to create crazy irrational loyalty? And if it's not, then you have to go beyond that.

Jeff Swearingen: (09:44)

And if you think... It's difficult to understand the future, particularly these days, it's crazy hard to predict the future, but I'll give you a few thoughts in terms of trying to understand satisfiers or delighters as we move forward. There's nothing magical about them, but they're pretty important. I think the first is it goes back to the consumer marketing question. Just be crazy curious. Crazy curious, be observant, listen, be willing to experiment, which is harder than you might think, be willing to experiment.

Jeff Swearingen: (10:18)

The second I would say is be non-linear. I think eliminating dissatisfiers is a fairly linear journey. By non-linear, what I mean by that is look in unusual places. Look in different industries, look globally, look at startups, look at what venture capital companies are doing. Looking in unusual places, non-linear places, for seeds of ideas that could help drive great satisfaction and delight with your customer.

Jeff Swearingen: (10:45)

One of the things I like to do is lean on what I call a personal board of directors. It's just, surround yourself with a group of people that will challenge your thinking, and they'll do it from a variety of different perspectives. They'll advise you and they'll do it from a variety of different backgrounds, skillsets experiences. And they will speak truth to you. And I think that can be helpfully.

Jeff Swearingen: (11:08)

I would say the other thing that comes to mind is, I think in the context of all that you have to pace change according to your industry. Some industries can move very quickly to address satisfiers, some it's more challenging. If you're an industry that has a big asset base that you're working against, it's harder to be as nimble. So you'd have to look at ways to pace change. But those are the things that come to mind.

Andy Murray: (11:33)

I love this idea of personal board of directors. Is that a concept that anybody could adapt in their career or is that something for more senior leaders? How would you go about that personal board of directors? It's a great idea.

Jeff Swearingen: (11:44)

Yeah. I think anyone can do it. It's a very close cousin to just having mentors.

Andy Murray: (11:50)

Yeah, yeah. Exactly.

Jeff Swearingen: (11:52)

But I think it's a little bit more intentional than just having mentors. It's choosing a group of people that have different backgrounds, different experiences work in different industries, and be intentional about how you reach out to them to get their feedback. I will tell you, one of the things that I have found to be a very effective hack in my life and in my career is when you have this group of people and you can craft a very clear question, and you can just send that very clear question out to them. It's amazing how close you can get to a well-honed point of view on a topic, literally in a matter of a few hours. Because you're standing on the shoulders of giants with great diversity in their experience. So yeah, I find it to be super, super helpful,

Andy Murray: (12:42)

Great piece of advice. I love that idea, the singleness of it. Sometimes I suggest when I'm in a mentoring relationship with someone is asking them, what's the single biggest outcome you're after in this particular situation? Have you written that down? And a lot of times they haven't really thought about the outcome they're actually trying to get. And they can describe the problem, but not necessarily the outcome. And your point about getting that down to a simple question that's clear and compelling, it unlocks a lot of things.

Jeff Swearingen: (13:10)

Yeah. Take a very deductive approach sometimes or reverse engineer.

Andy Murray: (13:16)

When you find these new experiences it's something you're going to go after, one of the challenges I see in industry in business today is those who are probably not going to have precedent in terms of ROI. And getting that business case put together to sell through the CFO and the finance, unless you've got a culture that accepts that in that trial and error stage, is sometimes can be difficult to put a business case together on something that's not been proven yet.

Andy Murray: (13:42)

I can certainly, if I'm asking for tech resources and I'm competing against the e-commerce guys that can absolutely tell you the value of moving that shopping button here or there versus me saying, but this could improve queue times, and, well, what does that mean for the business and what's the ROI? That ends up being a bit of a barrier. Have you had any luck in trying to advance the puck in that particular direction?

Jeff Swearingen: (14:06)

There's a few things that come to mind. Let me start by saying there are definitely things that we're going to do where the ROI is unclear. That said, my challenge to our team, at all times, is you have to think like a general manager. So I want you to go into every idea and I'm going to press you to show me where this is going to land on the PNL. And please know that we can debate these things and we may not sort it out right here, but I'm going to push you for that.

Jeff Swearingen: (14:38)

And I think really just pressing for that sometimes will allow you to narrow the goalposts enough that you will get a business proposition that has clarity first and foremost around what problem you're solving, what business problem you're solving. Clarity around the barriers that exist today that are creating that. Then clarity around the work that needs to be done to uncover the insights or the analytics that can address those barriers. And then an idea of the economic value if we're successful in achieving that.

Jeff Swearingen: (15:13)

Again, I think it's about, you use the metaphor about narrowing the goalposts, you may not be able to perfectly identify exactly what it's going to be worth, but if you can provide a range, then you can usually... I think of our team, we're constantly going to internal venture capital firms, internal venture capital. So I'm constantly going and pitching for funding. And I have to think of that like I'm a startup, and I'm going to VC, and I'm pitching for funding.

Jeff Swearingen: (15:43)

They need to have enough faith that you've thought through the business plan, there's a line of sight to growth and profitability, that they'll fund you. And I think if you take that approach, versus what often happens in big companies is, we just have this assumption there's an entitlement that we're going to get funding for things. There's no entitlement. Earn your money.

Andy Murray: (16:03)

Well, what you've done a really nice job of articulating is a systematic approach to thinking about, this is a problem you're always going to get, you're not going to walk away from it, so face into it, build yourself and approach the VC model, and realize you're always going to be pitching. That's just part of it. Now, one thing that I think the pure plays have is an advantage sometimes is they have the digital touch points all the way there. So they might be able to make a case around lifetime value. And using that metric to evaluate versus return on investment. And most of us traditional brands and brick and mortar still use ROI as a litmus test. And haven't yet really evolved to quantify business cases based on lifetime value. And so maybe that's a place we'll get to somewhere in the future

Jeff Swearingen: (16:48)

A middle ground that we will use sometimes. And sometimes we'll do this with really good math and sometimes we'll do this a little more conceptually, but we'll use the concept of net present value. They may not be a lifetime value, but it's also not immediate. So give me a three-year net present value on this initiative and show me a path to growth and profitability over a reasonable horizon. So there's different ways that you can frame it. I have found that if you can find some financial language in a bigger company like ours that is common currency internally, it just helps because it's the way people are accustomed to approving things. So being able to bridge from that startup mentality to some financial language that's common in your organization is helpful.

Andy Murray: (17:42)

I couldn't agree more. And when I went to Astro to one of the first things I did was contacted the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute and at the Byron Sharp work, because it provided a financial conversation framework that I could sit down with finance and then look at our media spends in our in-store and all that, and start to be able to put it into a financial language that allowed me to get more progress and create more confidence. And that was really, really helpful. Unfortunately, the customer experience in the totality doesn't yet have that research underneath it, and the modeling to say, this tends to do this. And we've got 10,000 case studies that prove it. I think that's something that will come over time, but it does help.

Andy Murray: (18:25)

And you can't really walk away from a responsibility to talk in business language. Because you're fighting against all kinds of opportunities rightly so. So I love the fact that you've taken on so thoughtfully. It helps everybody become a smarter business person and not just a pure marketer.

Jeff Swearingen: (18:41)

It may be top of mind for me, Andy, because I sat through a meeting just like this yesterday.

Andy Murray: (18:48)

Yes, I can relate. Trust me, I've I've been there many times. I can totally relate. One of the questions I had for you too, is that I think when people start saying, well, when I become a customer-centric organization and where do we start, or how do we get on that journey even faster, there is a school of thought that says you should start with the employee experience. And the employee experiences tightly married to that customer experience. And is your experience, you kind alluded to, it probably is very, very close, very, very important, but how does your work get connected back to employee experience?

Jeff Swearingen: (19:25)

Yeah, that's a great question. I think the employee experience can be an accelerator or a decelerator. And I think you can be very purposeful in breaking it down and understanding how you can engage your employees in a way so that they're an accelerator to the journey for your customer. And it's funny, because you can spot organizations that do this well. There are a few telltale signs. One is, you see the enthusiasm of their employees, you see the authenticity of their employees. And you see consistency from their employees at different touch points as well. And consistency over time.

Jeff Swearingen: (20:09)

Here's a few examples. Ritz-Carlton is a great example. I mentioned earlier, Chick-fil-A in a completely different industry is a good example, ZaVo is a good example, Zappos is a good example. There are many different industries, but they have these telltale signs that are common. And when you think about that experience... This is a little bit off the question. But when you think about just like Ritz-Carlton and when you think about that experience, it literally starts from the moment that you pull up to the hotel. And the first person that greets you, and then how do they pass you to the next person, and how do they pass you to the next person. And just the consistency and engagement makes all the difference in the world. There's all these downstream benefits too, around retention. And just there's a lot of internal benefits to that as well.

Andy Murray: (20:56)

I'm wondering in that example in hospitality, they tend to talk a language that's different than what we do in CPG and retail sometimes. Because guest, guest puts you into a human place where perhaps when we say customer by definition is a transactional description of what's going on. I've more recently been thinking about this word customer-centric. It's a bit of an oxymoron. It's a bit more about human-centric. And if you start from a humanity, these are people, then your associates or colleagues or people and the customer is people. But I think your mind opens up when you don't call it customer and define that relationship as a transaction.

Jeff Swearingen: (21:42)

Love that. And I love the humanity of it. In fact, we have a few folks internally that will constantly correct us when we're in meetings. Even when we use the term consumer, they will remind us that these are people. This is your uncle. This is your aunt. This is your cousin. These are people. And it is so funny, Andy, but it's so true that changing one word shifts the paradigm. It now opens up an entirely new range of thoughts around how I would treat them.

Jeff Swearingen: (22:13)

Again, if I go back to a Ritz-Carlton and you think about their credo, which is around trust, and honesty, and integrity, and respect. It's a very human qualities. These are the qualities that you would treat your family, your neighbors, your friends. I think it's important. I do think it's important.

Andy Murray: (22:31)

I do you think your mind shifts a bit when you start thinking about people versus customers. And it's bizarre that we've gotten to this far with all the marketing abilities and science and art to still think in customer. But I just think other things people just don't think about it enough that it is a human thing. I have the privilege of working with the Walton College of Business. And the always proactive professor, Molly Rapert. And she is in the marketing department. And heard that I was going to speak with you. And so she very diligently pulled together some questions from students that I've had a chance to listen to. I thought they're very thoughtful questions, relevant. And I'd like for them to play those if you're up for taking some student questions.

Jeff Swearingen: (23:15)

Yeah. It'd be happy to.

Andy Murray: (23:16)

Excellent. Well, the first one is from Megan, Megan Lafferty. Her major is in international marketing. So let's first hear Megan.

Megan Lafferty: (23:27)

I'm sure you've seen many changes over the last few months in operations and marketing due to COVID, so how do you think COVID will permanently affect operations and marketing efforts in the future? And then given these changes, how should students be adapting now to prepare for this new future?

Jeff Swearingen: (23:43)

Well, let's just start off with easy ones uh?

Andy Murray: (23:45)

Yeah. Sorry about that.

Jeff Swearingen: (23:48)

No, it's great. It's a great question. We're all adapting to this environment and that adaptation in our organization moves all the way from insights, through marketing, manufacturing, sales, go-to market, and service. It's every part of our business. Here are the wonderful things, the silver lining, I think, that's coming out of this. It's forcing us to find new ways of working. It's forcing us to be agile. It's forcing us to try things we wouldn't have otherwise tried. And as a result of that, we're building new skills.

Jeff Swearingen: (24:24)

And those skills, without getting into a great deal of detail, they range from better understanding consumers and the unique motivation, what's the empathy of what's really going on in their life. Whether it's a struggle that they're going through or or something that the more we understand them, the better that we can serve them, again, as humans. Our customers, having empathy for our customers and how we can be a better supplier partner to our customers.

Jeff Swearingen: (24:54)

Our frontline organization, in the case of PepsiCo, we have a huge frontline organization that's working in retail every day. How do we better understand their challenges and better enable them to do their job and a range of circumstances?And then I would say just technology. Even the way that we're doing this podcast today. In a matter of six months, we've become an organization that's much more adept at leveraging technology in every part of our business. And that should carry forward.

Jeff Swearingen: (25:25)

One of the things that I think is always a nice benefit of going through a difficult a time, is difficult times are often the genesis of innovation. And when we go through these, we have to adapt to survive. And we have to innovate to survive. And we do things we wouldn't have otherwise done. And I think that's the case here. And I think we'll carry those things forward. And in literally the span of a year, we will be much better as an organization and much better as leaders than we would have been had we not gone through this together,

Andy Murray: (26:02)

Yes. A hundred percent. And Jeff, I don't know if it's true where you work, but one of the things I've seen happen is, before COVID the corporate senior teams might have eight to 10 objectives that all felt essential, there was essential to everybody at the time, but the coaling of that down because of what we've gone through in this crisis has seemingly unleashed a lot more energy in the organization by having fewer objectives.

Andy Murray: (26:28)

I did a LinkedIn poll on how many people would love to see us go back to the multi-objectives versus staying singularly focused post-COVID. It was a a hundred percent let's just keep it to a fewer because it unleashes so much more focus and capacity. I think there's something about that idea of focus that helps people.

Jeff Swearingen: (26:47)

I agree. I think there's focus. I think the frequency of communication as well. Because of what we've gone through we've had to communicate weekly because just the make move sell nature of the business requires that we be more nimble than we've probably ever been. And so our ability as a leadership team, globally, in fact, to connect very frequently, to focus on those few things that are the most important, and to ensure that we're removing barriers and enabling the people that make move and sell our product, I just don't know that we would have approached it in the same way. And so it's actually... That part of it, obviously as many bad parts of it, that part of it is beneficial.

Andy Murray: (27:36)

Yeah. And let's hope it sticks. This next one is from Emily Podroznik. She is a major in marketing. And from her question, it sounds like she might actually have been your neighbor at one time. So let's take a listen.

Emily Podroznik: (27:49)

Hi, Jeff. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about your favorite role that you have done at PepsiCo, and what your favorite part of working for them is. I am also from McKinney and I've heard great things about the company. So I would just love to hear even more from someone that has experience like you do. Thank you.

Andy Murray: (28:07)

Your chance for plug.

Jeff Swearingen: (28:09)

Yeah. Well go McKinney. Right? Also, I would say, I'm glad you've heard many great things about PepsiCo. That's exciting to hear. Listen, I've been at PepsiCo 26 years. I've been here awhile. And I've had the opportunity to have some terrific roles. The one I'm in right now... I'll come back to it in 10 seconds and tell you a little bit about this. But the one I'm in right now is probably my favorite role. I have a couple that I've really enjoyed. But what I will tell you the characteristics of the role and maybe more important than the role.

Jeff Swearingen: (28:40)

I love roles that, within a big company and the resourcing of a big company, have a very entrepreneurial component to them. I love roles that have an element of transformation. I love roles that require agility and that require bringing teams together to drive against common goals and overcome difficult challenges. And so throughout my career, I've often held up my hand and volunteered for what some would say were the unattractive jobs. Because it wasn't always working on the biggest brand with the biggest budget. Sometimes it was working on the business with the most interesting challenge. And I've just always found those to be more rewarding.

Jeff Swearingen: (29:24)

This current role, I love because I sit in the middle of sales and marketing and insights at a global level. So what that means is I get to invite myself into marketing, sales, and insights meetings and agendas. And I get to find ways that uniquely bring those teams together so that we're working in concert against common opportunities and we're leveraging the best thinking and capability that we have on a global basis to solve big problems or to chase big opportunities.

Jeff Swearingen: (29:59)

And so to me, that's incredibly exciting. I always joke with people that four days out of five are amazing. When you're in a role like this, one day out of five is a real trainwreck. And so you just plan for that when you're in a role like this. But I love this role for that reason.

Andy Murray: (30:13)

Yeah. I've watched your career for a long time. I think we've known each other over 20 years. And you do seem to take those places. I would call them roles that were out away from the center. And it's probably because the innovation you can do when not everybody's watching you in the center. It's just a marvelous way to think about your career planning and trajectory is sometimes those non-traditional roles outside from the center gives you enormous freedom to be inventive.

Jeff Swearingen: (30:39)

Yeah. I think, Andy, the last three or four roles that I've had didn't exist before I had them. So to be able to create roles within a company like this and to have the amazing resources that we have but to be able to work in a very entrepreneurial way to hopefully drive transformation that enables us to be successful for many years in the future is fun.

Andy Murray: (31:03)

Outstanding. Here's another question from Gabby Burn. She's a marketing major. This is a question that your boss might also like to hear the answer to. So let's listen to Gabby.

Gabby Burn: (31:14)

How have you and your team maintained stable demand across PepsiCo's portfolio through the pandemic?

Jeff Swearingen: (31:22)

Again, a good question. Look, in some ways we're very fortunate. Because our industry is... It's not as much of a stable as milk and bread, but it's a stable industry. We're in convenient food and beverage. And so even through the pandemic, there's been pretty consistent demand for our products. Now we've seen shifts to maybe more in grocery stores or mass stores or clubs stores in less during periods of times and other parts of the business, but pretty consistent demand.

Jeff Swearingen: (31:53)

What I will tell you that's really interesting, again, it goes back to agility, having the agility to understand that week to week shifts in demand and to be able to make changes in the organization to meet that demand and to try to do it in a way where you, again, are delighting consumers, humans, when they buy your product. That's been the part that I think has been challenging. And it has also been fun. Again, that's been a fun journey as well. But I have to be honest that part of the benefit for us is that we've just been fortunate to be in a really great industry that is fairly resilient.

Andy Murray: (32:35)

What's going to be interesting, Jeff, and you and I have talked about this before, is that the focusing of skews in order to meet that demand. Because the situation was a bit of a tailwind for you in demand, fortunately, but that calling out, I think there'll be a question what happens for many companies. And some are predicting this golden age of creativity that's going to be in front of us at some point when this is behind us, where we're going to have to rethink what is new and how to regain that shelf space and think about things that really offer value.

Andy Murray: (33:09)

This must allow us to reassess all of that in a fresh way that probably wouldn't have done before. You do wonder, are we going to have that discretionary bandwidth? Because we've been really good at optimizing and scaling efficiency, but what about scaling creativity? That's a harder one to scale, and you got to have a little bit more mental bandwidth to have that thinking time to do that. But do you think that we're going to see a demand for creativity, post-COVID, that's going to be a bit higher than we've ever seen before?

Jeff Swearingen: (33:40)

It's interesting. This is pre-COVID, but I think it's relevant. I have a senior in high school, so we're in that planning-for-college phase. And Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, a year or so ago, someone asked him, "What advice would you give to students?" His emphasis was all on creativity. And I think that creativity is going to be incredibly important. And creativity, often when we use the word creativity, again, it's a bit of an empty vessel where they have to fill with meaning. Because it may take people to art or creative art or things like that. And it certainly is those things, but it's just agile problem-solving.

Jeff Swearingen: (34:20)

And that ability, that agile problem-solving, is at a huge premium. And I think that will continue. And I think some of the functional capabilities and technical capabilities, because of machine learning and because of AI, a lot of those things will become a little more commoditized over time. And you'll have access to tools and capabilities that are at your fingertips, that are going to be very powerful and very value-added, but the real premium on you as a leader is your creativity and how you leverage those resources to solve big problems or to gain advantage in the market. So yeah, I completely agree.

Andy Murray: (35:03)

Yeah. That's great. Well, you spoke about the word leadership. The next two really get at the heart of leadership. And so I'd like to have you listen to Claire Carnes. She's a marketing major and has a great question about leadership.

Claire Carnes: (35:18)

H, Jeff. I was wondering how you personally measure and define success. And if that has changed at all, from growing up to OU Business School to the current role you're in at Pepsi.

Jeff Swearingen: (35:29)

It's a great question. There's again... Success is one of those words that you can take in a lot of directions. I will tell you that for me, to be completely transparent, I've probably defined success in different ways throughout my life. I think as you go through your career, you go through seasons. And I think as you go through those seasons, what success means to you probably changes a little bit through those seasons. And it intertwines with your life and the things that are going on with your life, life at the time.

Jeff Swearingen: (36:01)

But I would tell you that doesn't change our core values. To me, core values don't change. The two or three things that are the most important to you at the beginning of your career journey hopefully will be near the top at the end of your career journey. So for me, yes, I've had seasons of what success meant for my career. And that has changed over time. What's never changed for me is the idea of what success means for me personally. And that's honestly never been about career. Success for me, personally, have been about learning, and contributing, and growing, and enabling others.

Jeff Swearingen: (36:38)

And honestly, when I feel the most successful, when I feel the most successful is when I've done some small thing that has helped somebody else have a breakthrough. And when you see their eyes become bright, and you see the look on their face, and a door has just been opened, and they are forever changed. That to the is... I get chills in that. You're probably your audience will probably laugh, but when I even say that now, it gives me goosebumps, because there's nothing to me that's more aligned with what success means to me than that. And whether it's somebody I work with, whether it's my kids, whether it's my spouse, that's it

Andy Murray: (37:25)

You know Jeff, no matter how much you appreciate relationships as one of those core values when you enter into the workforce in your career, it just gets exponentially more important. You realize how more important that is the later you go and the more senior you get and you start looking back in that. And so I'm like you. I don't think I ever undervalued it, but I don't think I've ever appreciated it more on the importance of relationships and networks and taking care of those networks and relationships. Because I think even when you retire and I retire, eventually we'll still have a relationship. We'll still have... And I think that's the one thing that will outlive your legacies of what you actually do, will be the relationships you've been able to build over these long periods of time.

Jeff Swearingen: (38:11)

I completely agree. The last couple of roles that I've had, to be completely honest, I don't think I could have been successful if not for the 20-something years before that, of having built relationships around our company. And hopefully, over that period of time, built trust and those relationships. Because there's no doubt, in the last couple of roles, Andy, I've asked people to do things. I've asked people to come out on limbs with me. And when you ask people to come out on limbs with you, one, you need to have something in the bank that gives them confidence that you have the capability and the commitment to what you're asking for. They need to believe that you're going to do everything you can to be successful. So it's incredibly important.

Andy Murray: (39:00)

You remember that. And I think it's so important. I go back to when people don't know this, but I'll just share it anyway. I mean, you were one of my first clients. And Charlie Anderson and I called on you when you were free to lay. And it was just a style, a graciousness of tough but respectful. There was an approach you took to dealing with people that left an impact on me ever since. I was talking to Charlie they said I'm getting ready to talk to Jeff. Do you want me to say hi? And he saw I just talked to him. And it's like, how's that possible? You've been managing these relationships for so long. You really do stand up to that personal promise. You do that really, really well. And I just want to thank you for that.

Jeff Swearingen: (39:39)

No, it's my pleasure. It's funny. I don't know that I could do it any other way. I don't do it for any reason, it's just... I think it's enjoyable, actually. It's actually fun. Yeah, it's actually fun to get to know people and... We share a lot of our lives together, so...

Andy Murray: (39:57)

Yeah. Well this here the last question is from Addison Cathy. And she's got another brilliant question, I think, about leadership.

Addison Cathy: (40:06)

In your TED Talk, Father of Fishermen, you talk about your true north and how it helps you towards achieving happiness. In your job, how do you balance working and achieving while still following your true north? Do you feel as if this gives you a competitive edge in business?

Jeff Swearingen: (40:21)

I'll start at the back. I absolutely think it gives you a competitive edge. Because if you're following your true north you, four days out of five, love what you're doing. And you love the people that you get to do it with. There's no doubt that that creates an advantage. And when you can create that environment for a broader team, that advantage multiplies. So, absolutely.

Jeff Swearingen: (40:44)

I think it's super important to spend the time and to understand what your true north is. Because you will go through many seasons of life and business, and it is very easy to lose your way, very easy to lose your way. But if you take the time to really understand, at the end of the day, if everything goes south, here's what's most important to me. And you commit to that, then it doesn't matter what you're going through. The day-to-day tactical decisions that you make are going to be made within the context of what you know is important to you in your broader life. So I think that's important.

Jeff Swearingen: (41:24)

The other thing that I will tell you that's really important, I think, if you can think about this early on is.... Sir Ken Robinson, I believe as the... Think it's the most watched TED talk of all time. And he also has a few books. And one of the books I'm listening to right now, it's a few years old, it's called The Element. And in The Element, one of the things he talks about is this intersection of what you're great at, what gifts you have, your competencies, what you're passionate about, what you love, what you would do for free. The things that make your eyes bright, the things that make your heart race, the things that make you sit up straight in your chair and become animated and start using your hands. And then what tribe you're part of. And what people you associate with. The environment that you're in.

Jeff Swearingen: (42:18)

If you can get a good sense of, these are the things I'm good at, these are the things that light me up, and this is an environment that brings out the best in me, then you have a really good chance to do great things, stay true to yourself, and have a lot of fun at the same time. So those things aren't always easy to line up, but they're simple concepts. I stray from them all the time, but I think sometimes just having them, just putting them on a sticky, and putting them on your computer, and reminding yourself of things builds muscle memory where over time you just become better at understanding how to create an environment where all three of those things can work together.

Andy Murray: (43:05)

Well said. That's brilliant advice. And I also think what you do well, and it's the call to leadership as we get more senior, is to make that true for others. I always love to be doing meaningful work, but if I can create meaningful work for someone else, then all of a sudden I'm in a new space of leadership. And so it's a never-ending journey. And it's a great start there, build that into yourself. But then how can you make that true for other people? That's that moment of joy when someone lights up and see something interesting. The great quote the Wright Brothers said, "We couldn't wait to get up in the morning." And boy, isn't work fun when at least four out of five of those days you can't wait to get up in the morning?

Jeff Swearingen: (43:45)

One of my favorite quotes when I think about engaging teams, so much of what we do can be tactical, day-to-day blocking and tackling. I never want to lose sight of the fact that, and this is the paraphrase of the quote, "If you want people to build ships, you don't send them out to gather wood. If you want them to build ships, you teach them to long for the immensity of the sea." And if people have this longing for the immensity of the sea, they'll figure out how to conquer the sea. They'll bring creativity to that agenda that you would have never been able to bring on your own.

Jeff Swearingen: (44:25)

Look, we do a fair amount of wood gathering for sure, but we try in the midst of that to bring out this longing for the immensity of the task, your idea of big quest, the immensity of the quest, right? That's the thing that is the difference to me between really good and great.

Andy Murray: (44:45)

Yeah. That's amazing. You almost made me forget my last question. I got so excited. So here's my last question. A lot of the audience you're going to be speaking with through this podcast will be students in there, maybe senior year, they're going to be thinking about the future in May, in graduating. What would you say to them that gives you hope about... As you look out of what's in front of them, what would give you hope?

Jeff Swearingen: (45:10)

Well, I have a lot of hope. And you know it's funny because there are a lot of things that could undermine hope these days. You don't have to look far. But hope isn't from... Hope doesn't come from the world. Hope has to come from within you and this optimism and belief in yourself, belief in humanity and the ability to move forward and make great differences in the world. And I'm incredibly excited. I have an almost a 18 and 16-year-olds. And so this is very relevant for me because I spend a lot of time now thinking about what is their life going to be like.

Jeff Swearingen: (45:48)

And I think that, for that generation, there's this amazing, amazing opportunities. I think we're at the precipice of change in so many areas that you have the ability to fundamentally change and in a positive way, not only the way we do business, but the way that we live, the way that we govern, the way that we engage with one another. So whenever I talk to people about this, I feel very hopeful. I think it's important just to have that optimism. Try very much to live that Wright Brothers idea.

Jeff Swearingen: (46:19)

And you're going to face challenges every day and you're going to face setbacks. Those are all moments of decision. And every time you face something like that, it's just a choice point. It's a choice point. And you, the choice of what you do in that moment is a hundred percent yours. Am I going to look at this in a negative light or am I going to look at this through the lens of, it's a happy accident? And we're going to learn from this, we'll be better because of this. And so I feel great about it. I look forward to watching it.

Andy Murray: (46:58)

Oh, wow. So many thoughts about how life is a mosaic. And you take those tiles as they come be in the moment. Take these moments of uncertainty as a gift almost. Because the rules can all change and you could be out in front of that if you stay in the moment and have those core values. Well, Jeff, this has been really, really insightful on a lot of fronts, from personal, professional, the business, the organizational things. And so I've found it very refreshing and gotten a lot out of it. So thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Jeff Swearingen: (47:26)

Absolutely my pleasure. It is always, Andy, a pleasure just to have a conversation with you. So I enjoyed it very much. And hopefully there are a few things in here that people find helpful.

Andy Murray: (47:40)

That was an inspiring conversation with Jeff Swearingen. Jeff's 25 years of experience at PepsiCo have given him wisdom that serves him well in this complex space of customer experience. In this episode, Jeff shared with us his insights around the customer experience space and the necessity for having the right mindset and being driven by pure customer delight. He also spoke about operating like a startup, the role of employee experience, customer humanity, and importantly, following your true north. Thank you, Jeff.

Andy Murray: (48:16)

That's it for this episode of It's a Customer's World. If you found this helpful and entertaining, I would be so grateful if you could share our show with your friends. And I'd be super happy if you subscribe so you can be updated as we publish new episodes. And if you really want to help, leave us a five-star rating, and a positive review on Apple Podcast or wherever you listen. It's a Customer's World podcast is a product of the University of Arkansas Customer Centric Leadership Initiative and a Walton College original production.

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