Analysis “The customer is king” is up there with some of the most overused corporate mantras. But it has now been translated into a new buzzword – Customer Experience, or CX – and a whole industry is evolving on the back of it.
The purveyors of enterprise software, cloud services and digital devices would have you believe you can attain CX if only you bought more of what they sell with services.
In a world void of brand loyalty where companies are fighting for the attention of customers, and where customers’ perceptions of businesses are only as good as their last interaction, quality of service is fast becoming the differentiator.
According to Gartner, nine out of ten organisations believe that by this year, the experience brands give to consumers will be the main thing that sets them apart from competitors.
In an attempt to be heard, companies are pulling out the stops to build software "experiences" that work the same way for the customer and for staff, regardless of where or how they are shopping. If the hype is anything to go by, CX is the next stage in a revolution in customer experience driven by technologies including cloud, mobile and social, all of which have led today’s customers to expect easy, seamless interactions on multiple channels when and where they choose.
The theory is that by improving customer experiences and building loyalty with customers, companies will also see significant economic benefits, ranging from a greater return on investment, reduced cost of customer acquisition and increased revenue from repeat customers.
But the new customer channels are a double edged sword – also making it easier for customers to switch from one to another. The fear is that if businesses don’t deliver, customers will take their custom elsewhere.
Before you get “experience” you need customers. Keep them satisfied and ensure they return, and you'll build loyalty.
Bookmaker William Hill has tried to tackle this using technology to create a sense of the excitement customers feel when they go to physical betting shops.
Jamie Hart, William Hill’s director of innovation and customer experience, told The Register: “In the shops, it’s much more about relationships – it’s a bit like running a pub. But with online gambling, it’s all about bonus rounds and excitement. All we’re doing is taking money in and paying out. So everything we do is about the experience.”
Hart’s biggest goal is to cut out as much friction as possible from the way customers interact with William Hill online: “Anything where you need to think twice or go from one place on the website to another. You have to be able to do everything in two minutes with one finger and one thumb,” he says.
William Hill has been piloting a bespoke data analytics system that crunches data in real time to provide personalised recommendations to punters.
“It’s all about the relevance and accuracy of the prompt. But the biggest issue is the data. At 3pm on a Saturday, 150 simultaneous football matches with 180 markets and it’s got to be accurate.”
The signs have been good, with individual gamblers' bets up around 26 per cent as a result of the system, “but we’re only scratching the surface,” Hart says.
Keep it simple, stupid
Forrester analyst Mark Grannan says consumers respond to digital experiences that are effective, easy to use, and make the customer feel good. He cites the example of Tesco, which as part of its strategy to break into the South Korean market, successfully used digital signage to bring the supermarket to underground stations and bus stops, allowing customers to shop by pointing their mobile devices at the QR codes.
Great customer experiences don’t always require such drastic changes. Swiss Airlines simply changed its website to bring together all its web touchpoints. Hotel chain Marriott updated the template it uses for hotel websites to improve product comparison tools and its photo gallery.
Chris Averill, director of consulting at consultancy We Are Experience, says CX isn’t about being customer led, but instead using a customer voice to drive business decisions. Contrary to what you might believe, it’s nothing technical, Averill says.
“Essentially it’s about making decisions based on the needs of your customers. We help them make a desirable experience from a customer perspective and look at what the business needs to change to deliver that experience. A lot of it is about training and a mind set. Technology is about features, but features don’t necessarily respond to a good customer experience,” Averill told us.
It may be nothing technical, but that hasn’t stopped the software community jumping on the bandwagon. Companies like Salesforce and Oracle have long seen themselves as part of the customer. But in 2015 that sentiment moved up a notch with corporate literature peppered with the phrase. SAP, for example, promised real-time “insight” into customers, via the cloud, using the Hybris e-commerce platform it bought in 2013.
However, the ever-expanding ecosystem of legacy websites and mobile applications combined with the introduction of new software and systems means there’s a danger of getting bogged down in the technical detail of creating silos and, ultimately, of losing sight of their primary target – to service customers.
In fact, a report by KPMG Nunwood finds that progress on improving customer experiences is actually stalling with no overall improvement across the UK companies analysed since 2014.
“The majority of organisations are struggling to shine, despite increasing levels of investment and focus. In certain sectors – such as telecoms, logistics and grocery retail – performance has declined, rather than improved,” the report warns. Compared to international counterparts, UK brands are being outperformed on the global stage with average scores five per cent lower than the USA.
Part of the problem may be that the persistence of those silos, both physical and mental. While, for example, sales people focus on closing new sales, they may have very little visibility of what happens after they put down the phone. Dissatisfaction further down the customer experience journey may drive queries and even complaints to call centres, but unless sales people get feedback to adapt their behaviour in the first place, nothing will change.
Analysts say the combination of customer and employee surveys and operational data across functions at each customer “touchpoint” will give companies a feeling for how well they are performing.
But the fact that customer journeys often don’t start and end at one touchpoint is a challenge. And as customer increasingly tire of the barrage of customer surveys they receive, how can you gauge how well you’re doing from the perspective of your customers?
Dennis Fois, is chief executive of consultancy Rant & Rave that has worked with companies including Scottish Water and with the objective of turning customer “ranters” into advocates. “The way we do it is, we ask consumers very simple questions about how they would rate the experience they have had and why, in their own words. Our technology interprets that verbatim and then categorises it.”
In the case of call centre interaction, front line staff get immediate feedback. It allows agents to self-coach,” according to Fois. “People take it on board. It drives empowerment and accountability. And it gives you an opportunity to recover interactions that have gone wrong.”
Scottish Water used Rant & Race’s Sentiment Engine to analyse customer feedback in real-time, producing what the firm reckoned was a 29 per cent decrease in customer complaints.
But Fois admits it’s still difficult to get customer experience right and that improved call resolution isn’t an answer in and of itself. Organisations must tackle business and process factors, too. “Measuring things like how long a call took or whether we resolved a problem at the first call are very poor proxies for the customer experience. Instead, we should be asking: ‘Have you achieved your goals, was it easy and how did it make your feel?’.”
After eight years of research, Fois maintains that what customers say and what they do are very different therefore you must be able to read between the lines of what customers say to establish a genuine connection.
The challenges that most organisations face, however, are the sheer cost and effort of engaging with clients – to connect with customers without adding too much in the way of resources or processes. “There’s loads of technology you can buy, but software is not the answer,” Fois says. “A lot of technology ‘solutions’ are all about collecting data when it should be about helping frontline staff to interact with consumers in an intelligent ways.”
Training and process are key with feedback from customers used to tweak performance. Identifying the cause of dissatisfaction, whether it’s a specific call centre agent or person in a branch, is the answer to resolving issues.
Mats Rennstam, managing director of CX consultancy Bright, reckoned seventy per cent of gripes have nothing to do with the service delivery and need a holistic view of the customer experience. Bright’s software spans call centres, surveys on the web, web chat, social media to analyse where things are going wrong.
“Don’t believe the myths about what drives customer satisfaction,” Rennstam said. “You have to find what drives your own customer dissatisfaction.”
Finally, he warned against benchmarking yourself against other companies or organisations in your sector industry. “You’ve got to look at the companies providing the best customer experience. Not just the best in the sector.” ®