Panel: The quick wins of customer experience improvement are over

Panellists from Xero, IAG, Vicinity Centres and NAB debate the customer, data and employee strategies helping them foster cultural change

From left: CMO's Nadia Cameron; IAG's Jill Baptist; Vicinity Centres'  David Henderson; NAB's Sarah Graham; Xero's Rachael Powell
From left: CMO's Nadia Cameron; IAG's Jill Baptist; Vicinity Centres' David Henderson; NAB's Sarah Graham; Xero's Rachael Powell

The days of quick customer experience wins through digital and mobile innovation are gone and organisations must tackle the more complex task of overhauling their culture in order to find sustainable improvement.

That was the consensus across panellists at CMO’s breakfast event, entitled ‘Creating more Intelligent Customer Customers’, held in Melbourne on 22 May. IAG executive GM of customer futures, Customer Labs division, Jill Baptist, said the emphasis of her team is on understanding how to cut through the noise and achieve that next level in customer engagement.

“As pointed out by Forrester and alluded to by speakers today, CX has stalled. Everyone has addressed the low-hanging fruit – for example, launching mobile experiences and digital capability - and fixed the low-level irritants. Now it’s about how you move the whole organisation to understand what the real priorities are,” she told attendees.

That’s quite a challenge when you have 7000 people, a collection of brands largely brought together through acquisition, and ongoing technology change projects, Baptist admitted.

Reporting to IAG’s chief customer officer, Baptist works alongside the chief marketing, digital and data and analytics officers and oversees a team providing quantitative and qualitative research to understand how customers behave, as well as attitudes. Elements helping steer the ship include a big shift from demographics to behavioural attitudinal research, and voice-of-customer platform insights.

“It’s important to understand what they are but then also to make strategic bets based on those behavioural insights,” Baptist explained. “It’s about how we lift that up to get crisp on the things we need to do, then communicate that to the organisation and stakeholders so everyone understands it and moves forward in one direction.”  

The employee factor

National Australia Bank (NAB) head of customer experience initiatives and service recovery, Sarah Graham, reports to the group’s EGM for CX. Her team looks after customer experience measurement and systems, actionable insights, communities management and customer feedback.

Over the last 3-4 years, NAB has grown a program focused on customers and like Baptist, Graham said the quick wins are now gone. These were both digital as well as the big things annoying customers and fixing them.

“As we move forward, it’s around delivering on promises and continuing to make sure we getting the basics right. We still have more work to do there, but there’s a need for us to also step back and think about where we’re heading,” she said.  

“For us, it’s an evolution of customer, want they really want from us and what that looks like, and how we work with the people team to enable staff to deliver on that.”

That’s difficult in a highly regulated industry like banking. “You read a lot about CX and what’s enabling front-line staff to break the rules. We don’t have that luxury in banking and have to be specific on what they can and can’t do,” Graham continued. “We’re working on a 3-5 year plan on customer and employees and how we bring them together to get the best outcomes for both.”

Read more: How NAB uses data insights to personalise real-time customer moments

How the insights team within NAB is working to unlock customer data

Xero chief customer and people officer, Rachael Powell, directly reports to the accounting software company’s CEO and has joint employee and customer experience remit. She said Xero is taking an inside-out approach when it comes to culture and its CX approach.

“It really is about starting with our own people first who are the biggest ambassadors for our brand, winning their hearts and minds, then resonating that out to our channel, which is bookkeepers and accountants, and ultimately the end customer sitting at the end of the spectrum,” she said. “If we achieve this, we go from having 2000 ambassadors, our people, to having hundreds of thousands of ambassadors globally.”

“It’s only when these three elements are in sync that you get the best opportunity and performance for the business.”   

Xero has six clear strategic pillars it sees as vital to the next phase of growth. These include ‘believe’, about having a clear purpose and knowing how to achieve it; a sense of belonging; a sense of community; being your authentic self and leverage your strengths; and flourish, or creating an environment where individuals and teams can thrive.

“Two of these pillars – great people and teams, and love and protect our customers – sit under me. And we have clear programs and measures underneath them to measure success against what our aspirations are,” Powell explained. “I’m a big believer in ambidextrous skills and not putting people into boxes, for example. Then it’s ensuring you know what energises individuals and crafting roles to ensure they’re using the best of their skills and experience, in order to add that value to the company.

“It’s also about how to resonate that passion, strong brand and culture out through the ecosystem. We’re connecting millions of small businesses to each other and their banks and financial institutions to make their lives easier to conduct business so we can have a positive impact by helping the small business economy to grow.”  

Identifying your customer set

Vicinity Centres marketing director, David Henderson, heads up marketing and reports into the EGM of people, culture, digital, data and marketing. He cited three customers: Trade and retail partners, end consumers, and the business itself.

“Data science is one of our best friends, but we’ve not been good at that in the past and neglected it in many cases,” he said. “There has also been an emphasis on consumer and getting consumers into the shopping centre. The problem is the experience is a dual one – you can come to our site and park, start walking around, but the minute you enter a retailer’s store, we can’t control that experience. Working with retailers so experience goes right through both is an ongoing challenge.”

It’s was only last year Vicinity Centres articulated its three-pillar approach under the ‘reimagine’ strategy and realised all are aligned to realising its brand promise of making it better and easier for consumers and retailers, Henderson said. That’s now the strategy informing how the group transforms business and continuously improves.

What’s also important is giving staff permission to think and act differently.

“The organisation was so entrenched culturally to the landlord model, we decided we just needed to give the business permission to think differently and empower them to look at things differently,” Henderson said. “We also recast our competitor set. We’re not just competing against Westfield or another shopping centre, but against where people choose to spend their time. On a hot day, that could be the beach, or on a cold day, you could be at a play centre or come to Chadstone.

“When you tee up these kaleidoscope moments, and start shifting bit by bit that perception, you start getting different results. From there, you can go into mapping that consumer or retail experience… Then you start making those mental improvements with the low-hanging fruit, but also the big bang stuff that takes more time.” 

To help, Vicinity Centres conducted a significant consumer research project looking at not just socioeconomics but emotional triggers.

“We went into their homes, got execs to follow them around and came up with seven consumer segments, which helped us understand triggers before they needed to shop, plus why they needed to or want shop,” he said.

The historical landlord model, meanwhile, had left Vicinity in a highly transactional relationship with store operators. Poor tenant satisfaction results provided a burning platform for change.

“So we had a carrot on the consumer side and a burning platform on the retailer side. Again, once we started digging into details of why, how, met with retailers, worked out what was important to then, how they were transforming and got into their shoes, it became a very different conversation and relationship,” Henderson added.

Seeing customers as people

It also comes down to the CX your organisation wants to deliver, Baptist said.

“For example, with our main brand NRMA, it’s all around help, that’s what we stand for. So what does that mean for how we designs our employee experiences so that aligns? We want to make it easy, connected, personalised and all these things our customers expect from the brand,” she said.

The problem is insurance companies tend to think of customers in terms of risk, depersonalising the relationship, Baptist said. The claims team, on the other hand, can quite often be engaged in sensitive conversations with customers and need to be caring and attentive people.

But with disruption coming in at all angles, companies like IAG are getting the need to be more customer focused holistically. And it’s data that unlocks the opportunity.  

So IAG rethought its segmentation of customers. “We wanted to get away from thinking about customers as risks or premiums so we asked in terms of what they think about insurance, how much they’re willing to pay for it,” Baptist said.

“We drove answers like I hate it, I don’t want to pay for it, but I have to buy it so don’t want to spend too much. That drives a price-based marketing approach and we saw that playing out in the data.”

IAG conducted a needs-based analysis using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, to ask how individuals are feeling about relationships, financial circumstances, jobs, market conditions and current versus future self. It then overlaid data on top.

“It meant we didn’t have traditional socio-demographic information on who buys what product, which our marketers found very difficult to grapple with,” Baptist said.

“So we went through a learning process around that, our brand values and brand architecture. We have a portfolio of brands, and different brands playing with the same customers in the same geographies.

“It’s about how you use this information to rationalise how to move customers from understanding the best of you aligned against our brand strategies.”  

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