The role and challenges of the Customer Experience Professional

The varied and vital role played by customer experience professionals was put under the spotlight last week at the CXPA’s European Insight Exchange in London.

Attended by CX practitioners from Spain, Finland, France, Ireland and Zimbabwe as well as the UK the event showed that wherever we are, the expectations of what customer experience people can do for a business are rising just as quickly as consumers’ own expectations about what the business can do for them.

Mark Horsley, CEO of Northern Gas Network spoke with an understated passion about creating the right environment for his people;  allowing them to be heard, to flourish and to contribute in a way that gives customers better experiences.  Mark is CEO of an organisation whose customers have little choice and so could be forgiven for being more transactional than relationship-focused. Nothing could be further from the truth and it was refreshing to hear customer experience’s positive double-whammy being reinforced;  it’s not just about doing the right thing but a stronger, more certain business future will follow too.

It’s always easier said than done and even the many awards Northern Gas Network has collected have not come about overnight.  In that context, the CXPA event helped share challenges, solutions and lessons learned, providing valuable insights and much food for thought.

I was privileged to lead one of the sessions on the role of the Customer Experience Professional.  It’s a subject hounded by many questions.  How, for example, does the role change depending on how senior the person is or how mature their company’s CX is?  Is it about helping everyone to “get it” or about galvanising sceptical stakeholders behind a common goal? Is it about stopping the business making mistakes by bringing to life the reality of what it’s like to be a customer?  Or all of the above and more?

 

In searching for answers there were common, related themes including: driving a customer agenda can be a lonely place, it’s difficult to spur people into action when there’s no burning platform and the size of the task can be overwhelming.   The Insight Exchange provided some clues as to how might we overcome these challenges.

A lonely voice

It’s often the case that organisations who need a CX focus the most are the least open to change. Where the hard focus is purely on costs, revenue and operational metrics it takes a brave person to bring up the subject of emotions and the laws of unintended consequences.  Yet where that happens, the biggest positive changes can occur too.

The advice is to find peers who are of the same mind, who understand that by stopping the things that customers don’t value or by fixing the causes of niggles and complaints there are quick wins to be had.  I’ve seen it work at some of the largest companies in their sectors globally;  it’s not a Hollywood script but one person starts with passion, belief and a real customer understanding and before long people right across the business are sitting up and taking notice.  In the the early days it may take the form of chats in the coffee queue or creating a “Customer Experience Steering Group” but by being the catalyst, creating a movement from within and armed with proof of concept, the conversations at more senior level becomes much easier.

No burning platform

The ‘do nothing different’ option is very tempting in an organisation that is – possibly unintentionally – myopic and complacent.  They say: “We’re making money, we have satisfied customers and our employees know how their performance is measured.  Why change?”.

As a customer experience professional we can help them see things differently.  We can show them how expectations are changing and rising exponentially, driven by companies they interact with and read about in other sectors.  We can show them the true sentiment in the customer satisfaction surveys and how they are not measuring the things that customers say are now most important.  We can get under the skin of the employee survey to find out from those who know the processes best about how work-arounds and hand-offs are broken and are running inefficiently.

There may not be an obvious platform burning brightly but what company with an ambition for long-term survival would not want to extinguish and smouldering embers underground before it’s too late.

It’s overwhelming

The nature of customer experience means that as a way of thinking it can help pretty much every part of the business. Whether informing strategic decisions, helping to mitigate risks or defining brand promises, CX has a role to play and with it, a raft of desirable actions.

In theory at least, we have the ability to understand whatever we need to about our customers.  We can have as much data as we can process.  Some actions will require a quick conversation to tweek a process and some, like changing the culture, will be longer-term.  All though are necessary and therefore it can be a daunting prospect.

There were two suggestions here. Firstly, don’t try to do everything.  As with the burning platform, keep one eye on the bigger picture but use short-term quick wins to gain momentum and start changing things, little by little.  Not everything needs weeks and months courting stakeholders to prepare a business case.  The more people can see the positive impact the more doors will be easier to open.  The breadth of advocates will grow, more resources will become available and the right changes will happen.  Eventually it’ll just become the way the organisation does business.

The second, linked, point is the prioritisation process.  By understanding what touchpoints in a customer’s journey are most important and how well they are delivered, the focus straightaway is ensuring the areas that matter most are done consistently well or on stopping wasted effort where things are not valued.

 

The Insight Exchange was just that; swapping thoughts, ideas, lessons learned the hard way.  Many left inspired, many were reassured that they are already on the right lines and many headed back to the office with new ideas about tackling their biggest challenges.

What is clear though is that the true role of a CX professional goes way beyond most job description templates.  In an ideal world, customer experience people would do themselves out of a job when the business becomes self-regulating.  The good news, or bad news depending on how you look at it, is that on the whole we’ve a long way to go.  As co-Chairman Ian Golding put it, the day had the look of a counselling session given how significant the challenges and opportunities, in equal measure, are.

It’s what makes it such a compelling and rewarding profession.

 


 

Thanks for reading the post, I’d be really interested to hear what you think.  I’m Jerry Angrave, specialising in customer experience consultancy and professional development.  I’m a Certified Customer Experience Professional and an authorised trainer for the CCXP exam.   Do get in touch if you’ve any questions – I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718072, on email at [email protected] or on Twitter @JerryAngrave.

 

 

Poor emails undo all the good brand work

We talk a lot about delivering the brand promise.  It’s one of the most critical balancing acts in the business strategy.  On the one hand, a very clear proposition so that everyone understands what they need to do and how.  On the other, what it feels like as a customer to be on the receiving end of what they do.

They should, of course, be one and the same.  The true test of whether a brand has been delivered and safely reached its destination is what customers say to each other, not what the strapline says it should be like.  Stress-testing customer experiences reveals flaws elsewhere

Yet I share with you here three very recent examples of where a business has set out with good intentions but the execution has been inconsistent to say the least.  The brands as such have all have been ‘delivered’ into my inbox.

A membership organisation with global reach wrote to me about renewing my subscription.  They are a very well-known body representing professionals in business and were extolling the virtues of how much more I would learn about customer experience if I renewed.  They say – that is, what they want us to believe the brand is all about – they are there to help companies grow.

The reality of the experience was somewhat different.  They had already reminded me to renew a few months back, then apologised that they had got the dates wrong.  And now, with an invitation to spend money on renewing my membership the email invitation was from someone called No Reply.  Not personal, not helpful and hardly inviting.  All the good effort that goes into creating the brand promise in the first place, undone in a simple email header.  That’s a careless brand, not a global professional one.

I’m sure you’ve had others too like it.

Our attention spans are short and there’s no shortage of advice in writing compelling emails.

I had one email this week with a subject heading “Private invitation”.  It looked intriguing but then the opening line was “ Hey guys…I’m a little surprised you haven’t taken me up on this yet “ – it was from a training company whose brand intention is all about engagement, learning and development.  I checked and it was the first email I’d had from them.  The brand reality as I experienced it is simply arrogant and contemptuous.  Why would I now bother wasting more time and reading any further let alone respond. Meanwhile the Marketing and Finance Directors are wondering why their ROI isn’t looking good.

In a similar vein, another email arrives with the heading “Re: Our call tomorrow” .  At a quick glance scanning through emails that is one I ought to take a look at.  But no, it’s a sales pitch for an event, nothing to do with a call that I’ve set up with someone.  Presumptuos and arrogant again.  It makes me feel like they are trying to con me – and they did. I opened the email and so their click through rates will look great. But now far from believing they are as they say, the provider of the world’s leading conferences, my emotive reaction to their tactics just shot them in their foot.

 

Having a crystal clear brand proposition is essential. Sharing it with everyone around the business critical.  Organisations have competitors;  customers have both a choice and a voice. Having the governance to ensure that customers’ experiences match the intended ones should be treated as a matter of survival.


Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it interesting and thought-provoking.  I’d love to hear what you think so please feel free to add your comments below.

I’m Jerry Angrave, founder of Empathyce and an ex-corporate customer experience practitioner.  Since 2012 I’ve been a CX consultant and am also an official trainer for the CXPA’s CCXP exam.  If you’ve any questions about improving customer experience or CX professional development do please get in touch.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or on email I’m [email protected]

ccxp and art

 

 

Customer experience reveals segmentation limits

By applying a little customer experience scrutiny to traditional segmentation models we see their limitations. Being more empathetic with real people rather than grouping customers with similar profiles helps turn successful short-term activity into a differentiated, more profitable and sustainable business.

 

When creating a segment there is by definition an assumption that we can find round pegs to put in the round holes we make.  We profile customers into a group that allow us to predict that they will respond in the same way to the same messages. They have similar behaviours, similar lifestyles, similar needs.  And, by and large, that approach works – but it could be so much better.Stress-testing customer experiences reveals flaws elsewhere

The principles of customer segmentation have been the bedrock of marketing activity for decades. They are used to design new customer experiences and spawned an industry where sales leads are now created scientifically by analysing vast amounts of data in the name of customer lifetime value.

The problem is therefore two-fold. On the one hand, traditional approaches to segmentation risk retaining an inward-looking business-centricity around one question: “How can we sell more?”.  Secondly, segmentation models are easy to replicate by competitors and are therefore not driving the differentiated and better experiences that are key to business survival.

That step, to move beyond the same segmentation principles as our competitors requires a different perspective;  that of the customer experience and therefore – not surprisingly – the customer.

Whichever segment a customer falls into, and let’s remember while reading this that we’re all people and we’re all customers, it is irrelevant when we’re dealing with a company.  What matters to me as a customer is that I get done what I need to quickly, easily and in a way that makes me feel I would do it all again if I had to.

Today, it’s much less about how many kids I have, which postcode I live in, whether I run my own business, what products I’ve bought previously or how I spend my spare time.

As people we all have life going on around us when we interact with a business.  It is the one small window a company has to make the right impression.  I’ve worked in and with large corporates where there is (sometimes unintentionally) a real belief that the customer’s life revolves around them.

There are over 525,000 minutes in a year. More than half a million of them.  And with many companies we do business with, they are only getting a handful of the most precious of commodities that we possess.  As customer we want to make the most of them, get things sorted when we need to and move on.  By their actions, the impression many businesses give is that customers are never far away, that customers will amble into their world, drift around their processes and then tell everyone how great it was.  That’s not the real intention but that’s often how it feels.

How do we move things on from a business driven by segmentation to one that thrives by giving the right experience?  One way to really understand what it’s like to be a customer is to (get the CEO to) become a customer and stress-test those experiences and show what it can really be like. For example:

 

  • Go without sleep for 24 hours then try and buy your product or ask a question. You’ll soon find out how easy things really are
  • Five minutes before an important meeting ask someone to look for the number and make a ‘quick’ call to your own business with what should be a straight-forward query
  • Ask someone, or put yourself in the mindset of someone, who has depression, recently had a close family bereavement or struggles to comprehend instructions and feel the impact of unempathetic employees, processes that treat people like widgets or a myopic quest to close the sale at all costs
  • Walk into one of your stores knowing that you’ve only got a couple of minutes left on your parking ticket, tell the employee and see what happens
  • Try to use your products and services while sat on your own in a wheelchair.  Then try it with a blindfold on or one arm tied behind your back.
  • Give each of the directors a task that a customer might do and make them do it irrespective of their schedule within the next 24 hours – it’s only what we as customers have to do.

 

I wrote recently about how companies can learn from those with physical or mental disabilities.  Organisations will see a benefit in all their customer experiences and therefore commercial results by stretching the thinking to understand better the world of customers who have, or care for those who have, disabilities.

It’s the same here.  Some scenarios may rarely happen but the point is that taking a genuine customer perspective and building experiences, processes and communications around that rather than limited segmentation models, experiences that work at the margins will be brilliant at the core.  It shows where the weaknesses are and where opportunities for making the right changes lie.

The insights that get flushed out help bring the reality of what customers experience to life for those who need to see and hear it. A great example I came across recently was a customer experience lead who wanted to drive the message home about the difference between what the brand promised and the appalling wait times in the contact centre.  Her Executive meeting started then immediately and to the surprise of all present was put ‘on hold’.  She played a recording of the music customers hear for the average time they hear it when they try to call to buy, or need help.  Uncomfortable? Yes.  Brave? Absolutely.  Impactful? Without question.  And in the kind of scenarios we’ve talked about here, even more effective at inspiring change.

It’s a bit like shooting for the stars if you want to get to the moon.  Segmentation will take a business so far.  But building experiences based on genuine empathy will ensure that when customers need you most, or simply they interact on a routine basis, there’s a much greater chance that the way it’s done will keep them coming back and telling others to do the same.  And that’s what it’s all about.

 


If you’d like to know more about this or any other strategic or tactical aspect of customer experience do please get in touch – I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or email [email protected].  My background is as a CX practitioner in the corporate world.  That’s the foundation for me being an empathetic customer experience consultant.  I also run workshops and speak about customer experience at events across Europe.  I’m a Certified Customer Experience Professional and a judge at the UK Customer Experience Awards.ja speaking

Thank you, I hope you found the post interesting and thought-provoking, and please feel free to get in touch or add your own views below.

Jerry Angrave, CCXP


 

 

Three effective open questions to ask customers

Organisations have an insatiable appetite for customer feedback and with good reason. Asking effective open questions, however, is easier said than done.  Customers are being asked several times a day what they think and with our customer hat on we all know what that feels like.  It’s therefore commercially vital that the questions we ask in those surveys make it easy for customers.  And yet one of the most popular questions used today is also one of the most difficult to answer.

There are variations in the wording, but to ask “What’s the one thing we could do differently?” would appear to be a good starting point.  It is certainly better than nothing or simply focusing on the scores.

Its flaw however, is that it’s a question that has been transposed from the performance management frameworks of corporate HR departments.  Back in the day, my boss and I would seek the views of my peers and stakeholders (my “internal customers”) on what I should do more of, do less of and do differently.  They all knew me well and they knew what I should be trying to achieve in the context of the culture and company.

Giving customers the same line of questioning assumes that they live and breathe the brand, its operational limitations and regulatory mandates day-in day-out.  It assumes that they know what the business and its purpose is all about and that they know what the limitations or ambitions of the company are.  They don’t, and in fairness I see many companies where the employees struggle to articulate the purpose and customer strategy, let alone their customers.

It’s a little ironic therefore that at the very time when we’re trying to find out about our customers, this question is all about us.  At best therefore, it seems an unfair question to ask customers to comment on things they are not familiar with.  At worst, customers will try and second guess or make assumptions of their own. Responses might give a sense of direction and indeed, some qualitative context is better than a void, but either way there are other questions that will produce better results.

Here are three effective open questions that might give your feedback programme better insights:

 

What would you say to a friend about what it’s like to do business with us?

The first one here is a question I always urge my clients to ask.  It gets straight to the root of what a customer feels.  It’s easy for them to relate to as the starting point for their observation is familiar ground.  It’s personal, empathetic and is asking for the whole truth, however uncomfortable that may be to hear.   Of course, the follow-up question “Why?” is on hand if extra colour is needed but often this simple question generates rich insights on its own.

 

What do you think our employees would say about you?

I’m indebted to Piers Alington of Feedback Ferret for sharing this one and is a brilliant litmus test of the real culture versus what the leadership team believe it to be. It also strikes at the heart of what it feels like to interact with a business.  Ordering the widget might have been easy, the product might work as it is supposed to but if there’s even a hint of contempt or lack of understanding – issues that silently send customers to competitors – this question will flush that out.

 

If you had 2 minutes with our CEO what would you say?

Jamie Ziegler of Convergys reminded me of this searching question in a CXPA forum recently.  It really focuses the customer’s mind on what’s important and reaches out to either end of the spectrum of what’s brilliant and what’s terrible.  As Jamie says, it also creates a human connection.  It increases the sense that the feedback is listened to and passed on, something that is a welcome change from the clinical nature of most surveys.

 

If we are going to the effort of creating a survey, getting buy-in for an internal governance framework to act on the insights and we are going to get the most from a customer’s limited attention span, the questions need to work really hard to be really easy.

There will be other great questions to ask – let me know your thoughts so we can share those too!

 


If you’d like to know more about getting the right type of feedback or how I might be able to help with any other strategic or tactical aspect of customer experience do please get in touch – I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or email [email protected].  I’m a CX consultant with a real-world background, I run workshops and speak about customer experience at events across Europe.ja speaking

Thank you, I hope you found the post interesting and thought-provoking, and please feel free to add your own views below.

Jerry Angrave, CCXP


 

There’s no need to measure customer effort

Do we need to measure customer effort? The presence of any effort should be enough to set alarm bells ringing.  Knowing a score out of 10 or tracking a percentage may give KPI-focused colleagues a degree of comfort but that can also be an excuse to defer remedial action on the basis that “It’s not as bad as it could be, yet“.
Customer effort

If it feels wrong it probably is

Measurement of the right customer experiences in a way that fuels a rolling programme of improvement is, of course, essential.  To measure customer effort is to monitor one of the symptoms of our customer experiences but it is nonetheless very challenging to get right.  Setting up reliable and timely surveys can be a complex task but by changing the mindset there is another option for organisations looking to head down the customer effort path: simply believe that any effort is too much effort.  And the biggest clues about whether there is too much effort are often much closer than we think.

When we’re ill we don’t need a thermometer reading to tell us we have a temperature.  When it rains we don’t need to know how many millimetres fell to tell us we got soaked.  And we don’t need a metric to tell us that a customer experience is more effort than it should be.  We know when things are wrong, we have the signs and we build the processes; we don’t need to measure it to know it’s there.

Customers will tell us about the causes of complaints, niggles and gripes.  The operations and IT teams will be asked to build manual work-arounds.  Processes to fix recurring issues are created.  I recently worked with a software manufacturer who took real pride in helping customers when things go wrong or happened more slowly than expected.  What they hadn’t grasped was that the reason they had to bend over backwards all the time was because their original proposition was flawed and made it a real chore for their customers to do business with them.

If there is an element of effort then there is already a problem. It doesn’t matter what the scale or metrics say. If things could be easier for customers then there are commercial decisions to be made. Why is not easier? Are we happy to put customers through that and keep our fingers crossed that it is not, or will not become, a competitive disadvantage? A company that doesn’t bother to put the effort in itself will simply transfer that effort to customers with inevitable consequences.

By way of example, I recently flew from London to Warsaw to speak at a customer experience conference. I was impressed with the airport, Heathrow’s relatively new T2. It was quick and easy, clean and friendly. It didn’t need to be any more than that.  I got lucky on the flight too, a new 787 Dreamliner which was half empty. So far so good. It reminded me of Amazon’s perspective that the best experience is no experience. Zero effort.

Measure customer effort

Good news – suitcase is found. Bad news – zips broken, padlock missing and a whole heap of effort awaits

But when I went to pick up my bag from the luggage carousel it wasn’t there. The world has greater problems on its mind but for me at that time, late at night and with no clothes for my presentation in the morning other than what I stood in, it wasn’t what I needed.

I accept (but I shouldn’t) that bags do go missing.  But lost bags are obviously a highly regular occurrence judging by the way the process and form-filling swung into action. The very presence of that process should be mirrored by an experience that is empathetic and minimises the impact on the passenger.

There were no instructions though about what happens next, no empathy to the position I’m in.  Next morning I present my keynote in the same clothes but at least have an opening story at my and the airline’s expense.

Maybe the problem is that there are too many stakeholders, or rather a lack of communication between them.  When I returned to Heathrow the next night it took an hour to drive just to the exit of the main terminal car park. The security guys explained that the cause was roadworks on the access roads, which happen every night at the moment and so too does the ensuing chaos.  If the people who have an impact on the customer experience talked to each other they wouldn’t need to ask me how my parking experience was and they could manage expectations at the very least.

Fast forward a few days and my bag is returned home. My relief was short lived as the lock had been prised apart.  The zips are damaged beyond repair, the padlock is missing and the bag has obviously been opened. I contact the airport but get no apology, just a reply blaming the airline and a link to the airline’s contact details. Except that it’s a list of all airlines who fly out of that airport and the contact details are simply their web addresses.

Thus starts a lengthy process to try and find out who I need to talk to, how I can contact them and what information they need from me. The airline I flew with has an invalid email contact address on its website that bounces back. Not helpful.  There are then so many processes and “ifs” and “buts” that I’m now feeling like it’s too much effort to make a claim.too much effort

They shouldn’t need to measure the customer effort.  There is enough evidence internally without having to ask their customers what they are like to do business with.  They shouldn’t need to because they have designed processes that – sometimes unintentionally – put more effort onto the customer. And that should be an alarm bell ringing loudly enough without the need to know how many decibels it is.

As far as my bag is concerned, I might decide to give in and put it down to a bad experience because it’s neither time nor effort well spent.  Cynics might say that’s what they want, to make the experience so difficult that people don’t bother.  It will keep their costs down after all and keep the wrong processes working perfectly.

However, what I can do with virtually no effort at all is to choose another airport / airline combination next time.  For them, that’s a lot more costly.

 


 

Take away ad


 

Customer Experience – what’s your problem?

What’s your problem with customer experience? Or, to put it another way, what is it that gets in the way of designing and implementing an effective customer experience strategy?

 

Such customer experience problems were the source of much debate recently when I had the pleasure of hosting the Empathyce TakeAway event in London. There were no presentations, those who attended set the agenda; we simply had rich and highly relevant conversations around the room where everyone could ja speakingoffer their insights on addressing others’ issues and get feedback on their own.

It was interesting to see further validation that whatever the sector there is a thread of common issues. My co-host for the day was good friend and customer experience specialist Ian Golding – we were joined by people who worked in B2B and B2C (or, more accurately, P2P: People to People) from markets that included aviation, travel, property development, communications, legal services and social media. And yet there was hardly a single issue that was the preserve of only one market.

Top of the list and driving everything else was culture. Especially, the gap between how customer-centric organisations tell their stakeholders and employees they are and what they are in reality. A big part of a customer experience professional’s role is to influence where there isn’t direct authority but in an ideal world that wouldn’t need to be an issue.  Having the right culture removes the need to influence others in the organisation who either can’t or don’t want to see beyond their process, metric or product focus. It’s easier said than done, it can be a lone voice to start with but is absolutely critical to any success.

Another hot topic is the conundrum created by the tension between personalisation and digitalisation. As a consumer, we want timely and relevant information but we also don’t want it cross a line into being intrusive, noisy and over-bearing. However, as a business we can be seduced by the promises of efficiency that digitalisation, self service and big data can bring. Technology allows us to make things incredibly personal, but it must be the customer’s definition of personal, not ours.

I also can’t remember a time when breaking through internal silos and aligning everything wasn’t a concern. And yet getting people in the same company to collaborate, to understand each other and to work to the same priorities remains a significant challenge. It’s another sub-set of the culture issues; there’s no point in having a customer experience team working their socks off to champion the cause if in another part of the business teams are motivated and rewarded by the ticking of non-customer boxes.take away and maxi 026

Talking of which, measurement is always a fascinating subject. Using the right type of measurement, tracking the right thing, understanding what the results are saying and sharing them in a way that brings about the right change are all customer experience fundamentals. Again, despite all the customer-rhetoric, especially in metric and process driven organisations, there always remains the risk, often a reality, of obsessing about the number at the cost of knowing what is making the numbers what they are.

Armed with endless mugs of coffee and delicious food at the fantastic (and thoroughly recommended) Wallacespace, we continued to share experiences and views on how companies address these issues and more; the psychology of queuing and its false economy of processing efficiencies, capturing and doing something about the niggles and gripes rather than just focusing on complaints and the use of social media and gamification to nurture customer engagement.

What is your problem? The issue I’ve touched on here only scratch the surface so I’d love to hear what your most pressing customer experience challenges are or how you’ve seen others overcome.

Wherever possible I’d urge you to talk to others outside your business, outside your market.  Chances are, whatever you are dealing with someone, somewhere will have some helpful thoughts.  Forgive the plug but we’ve had some great feedback about the Take Away event so if you’re interested in attending one of the next ones there are more details here.  Ian Golding is alway worth listening to about what makes good or bad experiences, what to do next and how to make the right changes so have a look at his blog over at ijgolding.com.

 

Of course talking about it is only the beginning. The real benefits start happening and problems start disappearing only when there is action; the right action.


 

The job of the customer experience manager

The need to improve customer experiences has been around since cavemen traded rocks for fish.  And as our understanding of complex customer experience issues has grown, so too have the opportunities for those moving into leadership and management roles.

Having credibility to influence change is at the heart of the job.  But in reality, it can sometimes feel like ours is a lonely customer voice at a crowded and loud business table.  Therefore to be a successful customer experience practitioner isn’t just about being good at what gets done;  it’s every bit about how it’s done too.

 

The good news is that business leaders are more empathetic.  They know the impact on customer experiences of how they think and act.  It’s important because it means they are making things better – and stopping things getting worse – for their customers and balance sheets.  Job done?  Not quite.

customer experience manager

The job of the customer experience manager

The bad news is that despite the evidence it works not everyone, sees it that way.  As a customer experience professional, we therefore need to be increasingly influential with those making the decisions.

Beneath the shiny veneer of perfect customer experience platitudes is a real world that’s arguing with itself;  relentless short-termism in one corner and profitable longevity in the other.  Sometimes, indeed often, the two protagonists are in neighbouring departments.

One CEO recently told me, in front of his team, that getting customer experience right “couldn’t be more important”.  And yet a few days later when it came to making strategic decisions, it was all about taking (not necessarily the right) costs out.  The customer’s voice was not being sought, let alone listened to.  And as a result they will continue to do the wrong things well and see managing exceptions as the norm.

It’s a stark reminder that despite the proof that improving customer experiences creates better commercial outcomes, many business people remain wedded to traditional scorecard metrics, processes and tasks.   They don’t get it, they may not want to get it or their boss won’t listen even if they do get it.

Maybe that’s our fault as customer experience professionals because our own approach has not been empathetic enough.  We believe in it passionately because it works, we just need to convince the sceptics.  It’s only part of the role, but a huge part nonetheless.  And so, from my time as both practitioner and consultant, here are ten themes that I know makes our role more effective.

  1. Hunt out your stakeholders – sounds obvious, but map the web of people (not departments) who intentionally or unintentionally make the customer experience what it is.  Whatever their level, whether they’re front-line / back-office / central support or external third parties, they should all be on your list of people you want onside.  Prioritise them, pick them off one-by-one, stay close to them and then get them collaborating with each other.
  2. Build your army – chances are you can’t bring about the right changes on your own.  You need pockets of supporters, advocates in all corners of the business who will help open doors to those stakeholders and tell you what the real challenges are.  They might spring up from the most unlikely of places but people who express an interest in what you do and why you do it are invaluable.  They’re our equivalent of finding a rare Gauguin painting at the back of the garage.  Take them under your wing and they will become the veins through which the oxygen of customer experience will flow into the business.
  3. Listen to understand – make time to understand what stakeholders see as their role in the organisation, what their objectives and challenges are and why they have the issues they do.  Observe carefully;  their most important and personal motivation is often revealed in an off-guard comment or in general conversation about the state of the nation.
  4. Make it matter to them – help them look good. Use what you hear to show specifically how better customer experiences can make their job more effective.  Show how having the right experiences can help them get a better result in their own personal and team objectives.  Give them early warning nudges over a coffee rather than surprise them in the Board Room.  Let them take the credit for being more customer-centric (your boss will know it’s you who made the difference).
  5. Map their journey – if we want to see how we fit into a customer’s world and create the right responses, we map their journeys.  Why not do the same with internal customers too?  It makes conversations much more empathetic and less adversarial.  And it’s not just about their role per se – if you are inviting them to a workshop, how can you position it and present it in a way that guarantees they turn up and contribute?
  6. Invite them in – take any opportunity to show or reinforce the customer strategy.  Have your compelling and targeted “How Customer Experience makes our business better” material handy at all times, especially in your head.  Show them customer journey mapping visuals, build a physical mock-up of a customer’s world.  Host a regular customer experience forum where you get senior people from all your stakeholder areas to share their perspectives.  Create “Customer experience for non-customer experience people sessions” to help spread the word.
  7. Make them empathetic – use real warts-and-all feedback to show them what it’s like to be on the receiving end of what they do.  Remind them that they are a consumer in their own lives.  Get them to think like a customer.  Ask them how the experiences they deliver compare with other organisations in other markets they deal with.  After all, those are the ones pushing the bar of our customers’ expectations ever higher.

    Find ways to help them help themselves

  8. Talk their language – keep it commercial.  Relate using the vocabulary of what matters to them.  Link customer experience to revenue, costs, efficiency, loyalty and margins.  And despite the fanfare around the subject, don’t start the engagement of a sceptical, process-focused but key stakeholder with “Can I talk to you about customer emotions?”.  Eyes will roll and you’ll lose them before you begin.  You know how emotions fit in the bigger picture so that can come later.  Much better to say something like “I’d appreciate your thoughts on how what we do now drives what our customers do next time”.
  9. Lead by example – be proactive and be responsive. Get a reputation for having the clearest, most unambiguous emails and reports. Little things go a long way – always turn up for meetings on time, keep promises, return calls and show an interest.  I’m indebted to David Hicks of Mulberry Consulting for a great example – my answerphone message promises to call back asap but “certainly within 3 hours”.
  10. Keep the momentum going – stay on the look-out for quick wins and use them as proof of concept.  Provide updates, share successes and relay stories of what others in other markets are doing.  Be the one to create an engaging company-wide forum focused purely on customers.  And invite yourself to talk with colleagues around the business at their team meetings.

 

There will be more ways so it will be great to hear what you think.  How do you influence and manage your customer experience stakeholders?

One last thought.  To see people, attitudes and companies change for the better as a result of what you have done can be the most rewarding job in the world.  In fact, it then no longer becomes a job.  So stay true to what you believe.  Expect progress to be slow but up the ante by planning to be quick.  Whatever happens though – and I thank Churchill for his words of wisdom – Never give up. Never give up. Never ever give up.

 

Jerry Angrave

Certified Customer Experience Professional – a practitioner and consultant on the strategic and tactical ways to help organisations improve their customer experiences

 

 

 

 

 

Customer experience without trust is costly

The new challengers in the energy market must be thanking the so-called “Big 6” for making their job easier.  A report just out by Which? shows the polar extremes of customer satisfaction, much of it driven by trust.

On the satisfaction scores, the smaller companies such as Ecotricity, Ovo and Good Energy are over 80%.  With nPower at 35% and Scottish Power at 41% none of the larger legacy retailers nudge above 50%.

Making matters worse for them, less than 20% of customers trust their suppliers.

Why can one group get it so wrong and others get it right?  Only the internal workings of change programmes with workstreams that don’t talk to each other, customer impacts seen at best as an afterthought and metric obsessed planning meetings can answer that.  But while companies like nPower are working hard to hang on to  what they’ve got, the challengers are welcoming new customers in with open arms.

It may be their way of thinking.  If those who run the Big 6 think and act like an energy company they may be missing the point.  Ovo Energy for example has a culture where they are a tech company, a retailer and then an energy supplier.  Subtle, but huge differences.

And what do we mean by trust?  As in any thriving relationship it’s emotive and essential.  Where one party shows contempt, whether perceived or real, the damage is often irreversible.

So little things add up. Making what should be simple enquiries or transactions difficult have consequences. Customers want their questions answered when they call in, not to find they’ve been routed through to the wrong department by an overly-eager IVR.  They want agents to call them back when they said they would and they want to be able to understand their tariffs and bills.  Business customers have different needs from residential yet a lack of empathy is all too often apparent.

Getting the employee experience is vital here too.  If they’re not proud to be delivering the customer experiences they are asked to, the lack of connection shows.  I’ve spent time with one of these companies where employees said they would rather make something up than tell people where they worked.

Reports like this latest update from Which? show the trend of shifting to new players continues. But it’s been doing that for some time and little seems to be changing.  Maybe we should change their label to the “Running out of energy 6”.


 

Did City Link’s customer reviews predict failure?

Customer experience reviews are a rich source of information for companies wanting to improve.  They also contain vital signals for companies needing to survive.

On Christmas Eve, the UK parcel courier City Link delivered itself into administration.  A few days later on New Year’s Eve, the absence of anyone wishing to pay the right price to pick up the pieces dealt the final blow.  The company collapsed and took with it the jobs of over 2,300 people.  Timing – whether delivering parcels or news – would sadly not appear to be one of their strong points.

Being aware of the changing environment is key to survival

Being aware of the changing environment is key to survival

Could they have seen it coming?  Maybe they did, but it sends a message to other companies that the early warning signs of trouble and what needs to change are not hidden away in an elusive, impenetrable vault.   Customers themselves are a reliable barometer of the pressure a business is under.  A quick look back at City Link’s customer reviews in the months and weeks leading up to the company’s failure should have set alarm bells ringing far beyond learning about niggles and gripes.

Take what was being said on Trustpilot for example.  There, just under 1,300 customers have taken the time and trouble to share their thoughts.  69% of them gave a 1-star rating;  22% gave 5 stars.  So while some things were being done right, there was clearly a dangerous groundswell of very unhappy customers.

Scores are one thing;  more telling is the level of negative emotion that customers talked about.  Over two-thirds of their customer reviews were not just people with a complaint;  the depth of emotion about their experience was raw and they made sure other customers knew about it.  Other review sites are available but if you want to read what customers said on Trustpilot about being on the receiving end of the wrong customer experiences, click here.

In short, the problem was not that customers felt underwhelmed by the lack of any “wow” experiences.  Of greater concern was the lack of basic expectations – unmet promises, conflicting information and being treated with contempt by rude staff.  Things that are arguably not hugely expensive to put right, but all of which created a lack of trust and customers warning other customers not to use them.

City Link was owned by a private equity firm who will have had a clear idea of what they wanted in return for their investment.  It’s not my money that’s at stake so I’m not in a position to pass comment on the business decisions and focus.  But, those reporting on the collapse cite operational efficiencies and intense competition as key reasons for the demise.  And while neither issue is insignificant it will be rare to find a business that doesn’t share the same challenges.  Worse still, customers have been shouting about the solutions from the pages of review sites.

I’m privileged to work with a variety of organisations across a variety of markets and countries.  It’s also my job to learn from others who are pushing the bar higher or dragging the bar up to where it needs to be to survive.  I see three factors that are common in many cases, and with City Link here too.  One: detail. People talk about surprise and delight, exceeding expectations.  Nice idea, but “WOW” stands for a complete Waste of Work and cost if the basics are not in place.  Two:  consistency.  Those basics need to work time after time, whoever, wherever and however the experience is being delivered.  Three: listen.  Customers are saying what can, and needs to, improve.

So as we finish our reflections on last year and head into the new full of ambition, maybe first up on our 2015 to-do list is to make sure we’re listening properly and acting on the right things that will ensure there is a business for customers and employees to come back to.