It’s amazing to me how many times the telecommunications industry came up as we did the research for our new book, Outside In. From wireless service providers to cable companies, whether in the US, Germany, or Australia, it became clear that customer experience is the battleground of the immediate future for the companies that bring us our voice, data, and entertainment content.

That’s why I’m so excited to bring Phil Bienert to the stage of our Customer Experience Forum 2012 East next week. Phil is a longtime customer experience advocate and expert, whom we first met when he worked at Volvo. He’s always been a clear thinker and visionary when it comes to digital experiences, and he’s now bringing that thinking and vision to AT&T.

In advance of his speech, we put some questions to Phil about what AT&T is trying to do and how it’s planning to do it. Some of his answers will surprise you. Enjoy! Phil Bienert

How would you describe the experience that you want AT&T customers to have?

Effortless. Customers interact with AT&T across many touchpoints — online, mobile apps, our call centers, and more than 2,300 retail stores — and it’s essential that we make all of these interactions seamless, within touchpoints and across touchpoints, each and every time. We want to make it easy for customers to do business with us, however they prefer to contact us, and to get their question taken care of the first time.

What are one or two of the most critical activities your organization performs that enable delivery of a great customer experience?

We listen. From formal surveys to digital analytics to social media to crowd sourcing, we’re constantly gathering feedback from our customers in a number of different areas to ensure we’re continuing to improve. The most important measure for us is the customer’s willingness to recommend AT&T to others. This is the real moment of truth that tells us if we’ve done a good job.

My team, specifically, is responsible for our digital customer experience. That includes our shopping, tech support and account management at, our smartphone apps, and more. Digital is, and will continue to be, the way most customers prefer to interact with us. Digital is quick, convenient, on the device right at your fingertips, on your schedule. It’s a digital-first world. We have a lot of focus to expand and enhance the myAT&T digital experience.

We’re not just looking at how we optimize digital or how we replicate functions from our other touchpoints in digital. We are using the power of digital and the cloud to connect the customer experience across channels. Digital is the enabler of an omnichannel experience. It’s an exciting time.

What gets in the way of delivering the right experience to your customers?

One of the biggest challenges, which I think we all face, is staying ahead of customers’ expectations. We’re in the early stages of one of the biggest changes in consumer behavior in history, and that’s being powered by the mobile technologies that AT&T brings to consumers. Customer needs, devices, apps, and preferences are changing faster than ever before. At AT&T, we understand that, perhaps more than anyone, because our services, devices, and network are the drivers and enablers. Our goal is to evolve ahead of our customers so we can build and create an experience that best serves their evolving needs.