Meet Rob Relief, xLab project coach

Rob Relief

Meet Weatherhead School of Management alumnus and xLab project coach, Rob Relief (MGT '19). He is currently the lead senior product manager of the customer loyalty space at Nordstrom, responsible for 28 million customers and around $10 billion in sales. While at Nordstrom, Relief has led the creation and design of a Digital Styling MVP, won the 2022 Nordstrom Hackathon, educated the company about blockchain technologies and pitched the utilization of new technologies as the lead product manager of Emerging Technologies.

Before working at Nordstrom, Relief was a product manager at Lowe’s Home Improvement where he applied design thinking and agile methodologies to successfully work with business stakeholders, developers and UX designers to create and release the Deck Designer Application which supports Lowe’s $800 million decking vertical, across 1,800 stores in the U.S. and Canada, for at-home and in-store users, to solve the primary use cases of allowing a user to design, visualize and obtain a bill of materials for a custom deck. 

Relief’s professional experience also includes restructuring mid-sized distressed businesses, managing multi-million dollar capital campaigns, and overseeing large global portfolios.    

Relief has been working as a project coach for xLab for three semesters, working with students on a project that involves data privacy and consent management. Read on for more about how Relief is involved with xLab and what he thinks are the most interesting trends in digital innovation. 

What have you been working on with xLab?

Over the last three semesters I’ve been working on a project for Progressive Insurance that is rooted in the technology themes of (1) Data Privacy and consent management and (2) decentralized credentialed data sharing. The goal of the project is to empower Progressive with data to indicate employee stress, and then facilitate and suggest tactics to reduce employee stress scores effectively and quickly. The challenge is that employees are very guarded with their health data—as they should be—and they would like the ability to be in complete ownership of their data, which means that we have to give the user the constant ability to determine what information is shared with Progressive. I’ve worked with the students to conduct primary user research to identify the problem, identify personalized stress reducing tactics, ideate on an end-to-end frontend experience and architectural solution, then rapidly prototype a scrappy functioning product. Now, during the fall semester of 2023, I’m working with the students to build a true MVP that collects real health data from employees wearing Fitbits, store that data in a user owned and managed decentralized data repository, allow the user to control the sharing of their health data, calculate stress score, and suggest stress reducing tactics with a frontend user interface for both employees and managers.

How did you first become involved with xLab?

I remember having lunch with Professor Youngjin Yoo on Case Western Reserve’s campus before I graduated with my MBA in the spring of 2019. Professor Yoo talked to me about his vision for xLab and what he was building the program to become. I thought the program sounded extremely cool and I told him then that I wanted to come back and help out with the program someday. Fast forward to the summer of 2022, Professor Yoo reached out and he asked me if I wanted to be an adjunct professor, or a project coach, for xLab and I jumped at the opportunity because I’ve always wanted to try my hand at teaching.

What do you do in your role as lead product manager with Nordstrom?

Currently, I’m transitioning from running the day to day loyalty operations to focusing more on designing the vision and the future of the customer Loyalty program at Nordstrom. This includes the way our product development squads are organized so that we can effectively maintain and improve day to day operations of our current loyalty program, continuously ship product enhancements to grow our loyalty platform, and always have our sights on the future to build that next thing that will bring new value to our customers. Right now, the lion's share of my time is spent designing an engaging customer loyalty experience with a sticky loop that increases acquisition and retention metrics, building key technology components that are enterprise extensible and act as capability unlocks so Nordstrom can provide new value propositions for the customer, and thinking through how to build a foundation that allow us to incorporate new technologies and strategies rapidly in the near future.

What are a few trending digital innovations that you are most excited about?

  • A.I. & Personalization – who isn’t paying close attention here?
  • Predictive Analytics – advanced analytics and predictive modeling to anticipate customer behavior.
  • Data Privacy and Consent Management – transparency around data collection, allowing customers to control that data and consent to its use.
  • Gamification.
  • NFTs and how they’re being used to rethink customer loyalty and how to engage with the customer, especially the more creative and earlier tech adopting customers. When NFTs were booming, the way that customers were engaging with NFT collections was fascinating. And for the brands that are still out there it’s very interesting to see how they’re spurring co-creation, collecting user generated content, engaging with customers in more authentic and intimate conversations, and exploring the extents of customer ownership.
  • Blockchain for Loyalty Programs - blockchain technology is being used to enhance the transparency and security of loyalty programs. It allows for the creation of tamper-proof loyalty points and enables customers to have more control over their rewards.

All of these technologies have been increasing in adoption and consumer exposure, and we’re starting to see the early rise of new customer trends, behaviors, and expectations which will provide opportunities to provide new value to the customer and grab market share from competitors.

What do you like most about working with xLab?

I really enjoy working with the students because they are highly intelligent with diverse backgrounds and all of whom are extremely capable. Also, they keep me on my toes and allow me to experiment with different management techniques because I treat them as equals and co-workers. I love letting the students own their project and providing guidance and support along the way, and then watching what they build. It’s cool to observe on my end. Lastly, I enjoy the ability to get firsthand experience with learning and implementing new technologies to solve real world problems. xLab helps me keep my product sense and product management skills extremely sharp, while keeping me current on practical implementations of new technology.

What’s the best part about being a CWRU alum?

As a proud CWRU alum, the most rewarding aspect of my journey lies in the invaluable knowledge gained. Graduating from Case Western Reserve University with an MBA in 2019, allowed me to emerge from the full-time MBA program equipped with a powerful skillset. The teachings from CWRU have become a piece of my foundation for solving diverse challenges.

I utilize the learnings from Professor Yoo's design courses frequently as a product manager. I also leverage the insights from courses like organizational behavior, business strategy, and corporate strategy, which continue to guide me daily. Scott Fine's finance course provided essential financial acumen which comes in handy quite often. Additionally, my grasp of marketing and statistics has proven instrumental as well.

Just last week, I received praise from a senior leader for expertly crafting an MVP Testing Plan Document, seamlessly merging elements of marketing, statistics, and design thinking—testimony to the comprehensive education I received through Weatherhead's MBA program.