Harnessing Agility for CX Success with Naeem Arif – E116

Episode released on: 06. March 2023

Harnessing Agility for Customer Experience Success with Lee Houghton Customer Experience Goals with the CX Goalkeeper

The CX Goalkeeper had the great opportunity to interview Naeem Arif

LinkedIn Headline: “Customer Experience” 🏆 Business strategies that deliver an amazing #CX #Retail #Hospitality #BusinessCoach #Mastermind #MWIT22 @UnitedCarpets


  • 00:00 Game Start
  • 00:38 Naeem’s introduction
  • 04:03 Naeem’s values
  • 04:44 Agility in projects
  • 06:52 Best practices
  • 10:01 Leveraging agility
  • 12:35 Downsides of agility
  • 15:19 Where to start with agility
  • 16:54 How to leverage agility
  • 21:30 Different perspectives on the same topic
  • 22:40 Working for a purpose
  • 23:12 The future question
  • 24:08 Book suggestion
  • 25:11 Naeem’s Golden Nugget

and much more

Naeem’s Contact Details:

His book suggestion:

  • Customer What? by Ian Golding
  • The Customer Experience Series by Writing Matters

Naeem’s Golden Nuggets:

Something we’re doing a lot at the moment is understanding that there are way more stakeholders than people are traditionally used to in these particular projects I’m working on. So understand all of your stakeholders and their importance, the stakeholder power, in the final customer experience.

There are way more stakeholders than people are traditionally used to in these particular projects I’m working on. So understand all of your stakeholders and their importance, the stakeholder power, in the final customer experience. @naeemarif_ on the CX Goalkeeper Podcast

#customerexperience #leadership #cxgoalkeeper #cxtransformation #podcast

What did we discuss?

Gregorio Uglioni
Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the CX goalkeeper podcast your host, Greg will have smart discussions with friends, experts and thought leaders on customer experience transformation and leadership. Please follow this podcast on your preferred platform. I am sure you will enjoy the next episode with the guest I selected for you.

Ladies and gentlemen today it’s really a big, big pleasure because I have Naeem Arif together with me on the CX goalkeeper podcast. Hi Naeem, how are you?

Naeem Arif
Hi, Greg, good to meet you. Good to see you again.

Gregorio Uglioni
Thank you very much. I’m super thrilled because every year we meet again and again. And this is already the second time that you are on my podcast. Thank you very much. I’m really looking forward to discuss with you about agility and customer experience, how to blend them. And before we start, perhaps could you please short shortly introduce yourself?

Naeem Arif
Yeah, definitely. So my name is IMRF. I’m gonna be 50 next year, so a half a century old. I spent a lot of my life working in business transformation for some really big clients in the public sector manufacturing, retail, mostly around SAP transformations. And I also have a, I’ve also been a director of a retail business called United carpets who are a national flooring retailer, and also author of a number of books, something which Greg has also contributed to,

Gregorio Uglioni
yes, I think you are a great project manager and therefore, everybody wants to contribute to the customer experience series. I think now it’s coming the number of the fifth book, is it correct?

Naeem Arif
Yeah, we just doing the planning for CX 5. And that’s gonna be launched very soon. I think probably about the same time as this, this podcast goes out, we’ll be requesting interesting people who want to contribute to customer experience five,

Gregorio Uglioni
that’s great. And I can recommend to everybody to buy the old books, because they’re all great. I was part of some of them. But every every book has a lot of great insight. And I think what I really like is the diversity of mindset of the thinking of the different people, everything in one book. But now we’re not speaking about the CX series, but we are speaking about you. And you are also transitioning from a consultant role into a end user role. Could you please elaborate a bit on that?

Naeem Arif
Yeah, so a lot of the projects I’ve done have been with, with clients. But since lockdown one, when we had a huge shears change of circumstances in the UK, I decided to focus more on the retail side. So the business I was involved in United carpets. So now over the last three years, I only do a very small amount of consultancy work. I do mostly advisory roles, which means I’m only working three, four or five days a month. And the rest of my time I’m investing in customer facing retail business. So that’s where I’m spending most of my time now. It’s it’s very interesting, because it’s enabled me to have a change of lifestyle. It means I get a lot more time at home. But is it more exciting? Maybe not? Maybe not maybe the same level as excitement before? So that’s what I’m doing a lot more of now

Gregorio Uglioni
The big question is your wife happy, that you are often at home?

Naeem Arif
I don’t think so much my wife, it’s more my kids, my kids enjoy seeing me a lot more so and to be honest, for me personally, in lockdown one. In the UK, a lot of people started doing things like walking and other family things. And that really brought it home to me having a lot more time at home. And, you know, perhaps I work I make, I’d make less money now than I did before. But certainly from a lifestyle point of view. I think I definitely enjoy my lifestyle a lot more. So yeah, I think it’s the right thing for me, someone of my age anyway.

Gregorio Uglioni
And I think you are already introducing perfectly and the next question that I always ask, and I’m quite sure one of this topic will be family, but which values just drive your life.

Naeem Arif
So one of the advantages of working for yourself when you’ve got your own consultancy, like, you know, like you have that advantage is you can pick and choose your own clients. And I think I like working with people because I believe honesty, integrity, and I like working with people who want to do good, you know? So, for me, the values I think are important. You know, we are all one big global village. And I think you know, integrity and honesty are also very important for me.

Gregorio Uglioni
Thank you and I’m sorry, I allow myself to quickly correct you also for the audience. I am not a consultant I have a corporate job 100% I am not giving consulting only that that everybody is aware of because I get a lot of requests. Happy to help you find the best as possible consultant, but I’m not, I’m not a consultant myself anymore. Thank you for for this introduction and for this question. And now let’s jump really in agility and customer experience. Everybody’s speaking about agility. Not everybody’s really doing that. And I think agility is the mentality. And you have quite a lot of example, from your current projects in social housing sector, for example, that perhaps you can share, and let’s kick off this discussion.

Naeem Arif
Yes, agility, for me is very much common sense. I mean, if we can, if we can go back 1015 years, because it’s not a CX thing. It’s just a common sense thing. From my point of view, you know, there was a lot of bad press a lot of bad stories about, you know, big projects, which took three, four years to deliver. And then by the end, it didn’t deliver what was needed. And for that reason, you know, people started talking about agile project delivery. And for me, you know, being agile is just delivering things in smaller pieces, number one, but also checking along the way, that we’re still on the best way or the best route. So if I was driving from Birmingham to London, England, it’s about 100 miles, it’s about two hours, no problem, we’ll drive straight. But if I was driving from Birmingham, say to Geneva, there was multiple routes. By the time I’ve left England, you know, the something might have changed. So it’s a good idea to check where we’re going. And that, for me is what agility is about agility is about saying, you know, we’re very clear on our objectives. But we accept that by the time we are in delivery, something might have changed. And we want to make sure that we’re still on the right route to do deliver the best outcome for our project objectives. So that’s why I think of agility.

Gregorio Uglioni
Thank you name. And do you have perhaps also personal experience with agility in the projects that you are delivering? In your old career or in your new career?

Naeem Arif
Yeah, I mean, for us, it happens, it happens every day. And, you know, if I, if we look at one of the key things we talk about, in customer experience, we talk about voice of customer, you know, the voice of the customer can change on a daily basis, the objectives of a customer can change on a daily basis, partly because we have changes in technology changes in what I call the state of art, for instance, you know, what is acceptable, what is not acceptable, what is on trend, what is on brand. And with that in mind, you know, for instance, one of the examples I always talk to people about, it’s an old example. But it’s an example where, you know, when Apple first started developing software and code, you know, they weren’t going as an open source platform, they quickly changed that when they realize that by restricting themselves, they were, they were restricting the usability and the objective of Apple, you know, Apple products are great, because they just work. And with that in mind, even though it probably wasn’t an agile project, he was agile thinking. And if we bring that forward to today, you know, in the modern age, right now, if we’re delivering a project, and projects can mean different things, they don’t have to just be big buildings or big technical deployments. You know, if we’re delivering a project, which is around sort of increasing customer acceptance, if we’re looking at our project to say, increasing customer inquiries or something like this, then it’s a good idea to set up a plan to say, we’re going to do this over the next three, four months, 12 months, but have weekly regular check ins just to see Has anything changed. And I’ll say one more thing there. When you’re setting up your when you’re setting up your project, or your your initiative that you’re looking at, when you set those original parameters, you know, when you consider maybe the stakeholders, the the social economical factors, if you have those as relevance or impacting your outcomes, those are the things you’re looking at, on a regular basis. So last year, the last couple of years, we’ve had a lot of political unrest in the UK, by the passing away of Her Majesty the Queen, if we’d set up a project for the whole of last year, and we just kept on on track with that project all last year, without taking into consideration the change of Prime Minister not once, not twice, the, you know, the the death of Her Majesty, the coronation of King Charles, we would be continuing along the path, which was probably not optimal. And this is where agile comes in, or agile thinking comes in. It’s about regularly checking what you’re doing and seeing, is this still the right thing? And are we still in the same parameters when we define the project? Strategy at the start? Hopefully that gives you an idea of what I’m what I what I understand of an AI Agile approaches,

Gregorio Uglioni
I think what what you’re sharing is extremely important. Taking care of the objectives, always checking the progress and trying to cut everything out, or you’re doing the small pieces. And I think this is the consultant and I’m giving the answer and the explanation, the perfect explanation of agility, perhaps, would you leverage also how you are personally leveraging agility in the projects that you are doing?

Naeem Arif
Yeah, definitely. And I have three clients at the moment I’m working on outside of the retail space. So I’ll probably dip into a little bit there as well, if that’s okay. So what I would say the the tools that you need, or the approach or the mindset is, you know, agile agility, or an agile approach is about open for your communications. And, you know, being collaborative to people. Too often, you know, the design team, and the Build Team and the test team are working in separate silos. It’s about opening up the communications within your team, within your company within your organization, and getting information, you know, feedback backwards and forwards. It’s about having regular checkups and checkpoints. We’ve spoken about that already. But it’s also about understanding the wider stakeholders. So for instance, a project that you’re delivering the stakeholders aren’t just customers, it’s also the people within your business who are going to use or deploy that project solution when it’s when it’s delivered. So it’s about getting those guys involved with it as well. You know, we see, you see, so many things change, there’s so many different platforms taking off, or little pieces of technology or, or piece of news, which happen all the time. But if we’re not taking those things into mind, what’s happening is we’re delivering things which which don’t meet our objectives, you know, and sometimes, you know, the term state of the art, I always understand it, as you know, what is all the technology or the mindset, or the approaches out there, sometimes those things change very quickly. You know, they don’t they change a lot faster now than they did maybe 20 years ago, the emergence of maybe a new influence, or the emergence of a new app, or the emergence of a new delivery approach, those things can rapidly change, or impact what your customers perceptions are, what your workforce is, perceptions are. And if we’re not looking at those things regularly, then the project we’re delivering might become out of date, by the time we deliver it.

Gregorio Uglioni
Thank you very much. I think what you’re saying you’re sharing a lot of advantages of working in an agile way, and why CX professionals should apply it. However, looking also on the downside of agility. And I start making some example that I get from friends colleagues or other companies that are working are working on that is, for example, you cannot not really plan when you go live. And for example, if you are if you have shareholders that are willing to know by when you’re delivering something in an agile way, you can always postpone and find way to postpone and therefore make it difficult. Or the other example is people that are extremely focused on the Agile process, it means we need to meet everyday we need to do the ceremonies, we need to do this and that. And they really focus more on the process that on being agile, perhaps do you know or what what what are the disadvantages that you are seeing in this agile way of working?

Naeem Arif
I mean, I think there are definitely some disadvantages to it is not all positive. And one of the disadvantages is that sometimes. So let’s say you have what would have been a traditionally 12 month project and you chop it down into say, five deliverable work packages, which are going to deliver separately. You know, one of the problems is that sometimes you delivered the first piece of work, and now you’re coming to the last piece of work and there is a you know, a mishmash need to go back. Another issue is that with staff, you know, sometimes people will leave companies or leave project teams, and therefore, you know, now that they’ve delivered something, their objectives have been met, they may move on. And also from a budgeting point of view, you have to regularly from a project delivery point of view, you’ve got to regularly go through the same loops, again, appraisals review, to release a budget. So there are there are overheads to delivering in an agile way, which we shouldn’t disregard at all, we should consider those as well. But, you know, from my point of view, I think the pros outweigh the, the the negatives only because having worked in this environment many times, I think you can deliver multiple things. But if you are not used to this or you don’t have people with experience of this in your own organization, I strongly recommend you read Read up, or you look up some skills to get them into your team. Because the danger is you might not be used to this. And suddenly you have a big learning curve to get yourself used to how to deliver. And that suddenly adds overhead and complexity to your problem or to your company. And then you end up not having the best outcome for yourself.

Gregorio Uglioni
I think what you’re saying is extremely important. And there are also coaches helping and supporting with the Agile principles. But why should people companies start when they are start working with agility?

Naeem Arif
I think the most important thing is I think the most important thing is to think about what is the the term we use, I call it fit for purpose, but agile, I call it minimum viable product. Okay? I think you look at your big project. And you look at what you really, really, really need, what you can’t do without and what is the minimum you have to go to get it live. So let’s say for instance, we are talking about a CRM system, okay, very common thing. So, with a CRM system, you might want to put in the core CRM system, which keeps a record of your databases and then you might want to put in an email system and a social media management and survey tool, you might have to put all these different tools in, suddenly trying to deliver the whole thing in one go, is quite a lot of work. But I would say chop that down into three or four different deliverables, put the core in, see how you’re getting on, and then do the rest of it. So for me, if you want to deliver your first agile project is look at how can we make this bigger project into smaller projects. Of course, it goes without saying to do some research and some understanding of what agile means and how it should be delivered to get some best practice. But that is where I’d always start an agile project with how can we break this bigger project into smaller and smaller deliverables?

Gregorio Uglioni
Thank you very much. And now you share some advices for for companies who are willing to start, but could you please share? Where are you applying, applying Agile principles in your daily job?

Naeem Arif
Well, from from a retail point of view, you know, we have multiple projects going on every time every day, every week, we’re looking at different marketing approaches, different product launches, we’re looking at different marketing initiatives and things like this. But I’m gonna go a little bit different with you. I mean, I’m working with a couple of companies at the moment, who are getting a lot of inquiries from the public sector around health care, and social housing and things like this. And there is a huge change in the UK coming up with the social, where the government is requesting, that we take more interest in how patients are looked after, you know, and tenants are looked after. And this is something where, you know, very simply, the, the customers, you know, be their patients or residents, they’re basically demanding a better customer experience, we’ve all heard this, it’s a very common thing. And for this, if we’re looking at a a company who have got an organization who’s got maybe 100 patients, or 100 residents in their care homes, it’s a lot to take on board to try and transform their customer experience, you know, you listen to the voice of customer and the voice of customer says many different things. Some people are very reluctant to say anything, because maybe they can’t afford change. Some people are very rude. Some people are very vocal, because they expect a better level of service. And behind all of this, we are looking at people who have to this sort of legal requirements are giving, you know, the basic level of service in terms of health care. So it’s very easy to suddenly get lost and have a big team of 100 people trying to deliver what could be chopped into small things. And what we’re looking at, from a residential and from a social housing sort of is how we can chop that up into small deliverables. So again, use an example I gave before, you know, how do we keep better patient records, you know, that’s one delivery that we’re working on. And then we’re looking at how to get better feedback in terms of patients who have certain types of treatment that require and and then getting feedback from families who come to visit those. Those residents and the and the patients and the tenants, you know, suddenly this has become multiple different projects. And we’re creating a portfolio of projects, all on a big, nice big Gantt chart, which basically says we’re going to deliver this first, then this and this and we put it into an order. That means that the first delivery can support the the follow up deliveries, because we looked at dependent dependencies between between the different areas, and trying to build on where you started from in terms of, you know, if we suddenly tried to do the smallest delivery, which could be easily this one of the surveys, then where would we store the survey, we’d need to have the CRM system so we have to have this RFC system first, you know, trying to put them in an order. And you know, with that example, you know, there’s so many different things, obviously, you’ve got the patients, the customers, the tenants, you’ve got the government legislation. And you’ve got your, the company, company ethics, ethos, where they want to be as well, it’s trying to bring them all together. And I think in this situation, you know, agile works really well, because it’s a constantly changing landscape. So many factors. I think Agile is working really well, in this situation. A lot of information there.

Gregorio Uglioni
I think it’s great. And I think what you’re sharing, it’s a great example I am working in, in in hospital, and there are a lot of discussion. Does this customer experience principles apply into hospitals? And does this agile principle apply in in, in hospitals? And the answer is yes, but we need to make that understandable to this company to these people that we can work and we can leverage them without being religious about how to apply them. But it will have creating always a small piece of additional value, and then delivering the big value that we wanted to therefore, it was extremely interesting. And as we are working in a similar field, it’s easy. For me, it’s clear, but now I think also the audience can understand that, that it’s independently from the industry, you can apply agility and customer experience. Now,

Naeem Arif
let me ask one more question very quickly there, and you probably haven’t the same issue, you know, we’re getting a very young age group of people who are not the patients, but the patient’s family, who have a different perspective on how to give feedback, you know, they’re happy giving digital feedback, then we’ve got patients and tenants who are maybe aren’t so good with digital, or maybe, you know, aren’t so digitally mature. And that’s one of the challenges, you know, you can’t roll out one solution for everybody. So I’m sure you must be having a similar discussion in yours as well.

Gregorio Uglioni
Yes, that’s correct. It’s exactly the same, the same discussion that we are having what we can do for patients themselves, but also for family members, because some at some point in time, they need to take decision, therefore, they need to have all the information. And and it’s extremely interesting to align all these different, let’s say, let’s use the word stakeholders, family members, patients, nurses, physicians that have, at the end, always the same target. But the process to get to this target is different, or the journey to get to this target. It’s different, it’s extremely interesting.

Naeem Arif
And then we have one more very quickly. So the other thing we’re coming across is we’ve got some patients who don’t have family, but they have a trust behind them, effectively a solicitor, and they have a completely different perspective, you know, they really want to do the minimum that they’re required to do. Whereas you get a family member who is very emotional, who’s very invested. And you know, it is a complex area. It’s very interesting. You know, I’ve not worked much in this sector before working on in public sector, but this particularly has been very interesting. It’s all learning man.

Gregorio Uglioni
And I think the best thing is the different purpose, what’s the what’s the real purpose behind what what you are doing what what I am doing, but this is something for next episode of The CX goalkeeper plus podcast. Super happy to have you back. Before we conclude one, one question. And we are back on the CX goalkeeper podcast in 10 years time from now. And what we are discussing about

Naeem Arif
what are we discussing about we couldn’t be talking about that Aston Villa and I were champions of Europe. But maybe that’s not what you’re asking me. I can see the landscape changing so fast in the next 10 years, you know, the whole, we’ve seen digital, we’ve seen technology. I think really, we’ll be having a very technical discussion about how technology is making things easier. AI is very well advanced. But the one thing we will be common, will still be that customers want a better experience than they had before.

Gregorio Uglioni
Thank you and I am and now we are coming to the end of the game perhaps is a friendly game, Aston Villa and Greg and I have in the last x in the last three minutes of the extra time. Three question for you. The first one is there a book that you would like to suggest to the audience that LP during your career or during your life?

Naeem Arif
Okay, so, apart from the CX book series, I’d always recommend Ian Golding’s customer what I think is a very intelligent person but his book he gives so many practical aids and worksheets and things like this. I think it’s a fantastic resource to somebody who wants to really get into customer service customer experience this area.

Gregorio Uglioni
Thank you and there are some rumors that he’s writing a new book. The second last question is, if somebody would like to contact you what The best way.

Naeem Arif
So I’m on LinkedIn, and Twitter. Those are the easy the best way to contact me and all my contact details are open, people are able to contact me.

Gregorio Uglioni
And you will find all the contact details of name in the show notes as usual. And the last question is names golden nugget, it’s something that we discussed or something new that you would like to leave to the audience.

Naeem Arif
I’m going to say something different to what we said last time. And that’s basically around the fact that understand the different needs of all your stakeholders based on what we’ve been talking about. Something we’re doing a lot at the moment is understanding that there are way more stakeholders than people are traditionally used to in this these particular projects I’m working on. So understand all of your stakeholders and the their importance their stakeholder power in the in the final customer experience.

Gregorio Uglioni
The only thing that I can say is thank you very much for your time. Please stay with me and to the audience. It’s everything also for today. You know, feedback is a gift. We would love to get feedback, feel free to contact name to contact, contact me, or write a short review on Apple podcast. Thank you very much and have a nice day. If you enjoyed this episode, please share the word of mouth, subscribe it, share it until the next episode. Please don’t forget, we are not in a b2b or b2c business. You’re in a human to human environment. Thank you

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