7 lessons to improve your customer experience credentials

We reveal 7 key ways your organisation can improve customer engagement as a practice and cultural principle

This year’s Customer 360 Symposium was awash with insights into how brands can become more customer-led organisations and better engage not just digitally, but across any channel, device and touchpoint.

Here, we present our top seven takeaways from the raft of Australian and international brands, research groups, consultants and vendors, on how you can improve your organisation’s customer experience credentials.

1. Make customer experience a core competency, not a metric

Bain and Company’s customer strategy practice leader, Stan Swinton, advised attendees to think about customer experience in terms of longer-term advocacy. In order to make this happen, the whole organisation needs to embrace ‘customer’ as a management system, not just a metric.

Swinton pointed out the shift towards customer advocacy often starts with metrics and a specialised business unit within organisations. The problem is, insights and practices aren’t usually disseminated to the wider business.

Customer advocacy as a management system is defined as being business as usual, continuous, and is about people and process and what an organisation does everyday, he said. “Customer advocacy needs to be a system that touches every part of the business. Most of us are at a program level, but it needs to go through to a competency,” Swinton said.

The customer experience leader for a global airline brand also speaking at Customer 360 agreed customer engagement strategy can’t reside in a standalone function – at least not in the long term.

“You may need an incubation period, but as soon as one invents in a large standalone structure, you start to lose the plot,” the CX leader claimed.

“Customer experience should be a competence across the organisation – think customer, talk customer in the board room and in product design. If everyone is focused on creating the best consumer experiences we can, and in the easiest way possible for staff to deliver and for consumers to consume that experience, then we’re creating a real competence that holds well and feeds the DNA of the organisation.”

2. Give staff line of sight on the customer

This need for cross-company competence can’t be done without employees being able to see the impact their contribution has had on the end customer, the global airline’s customer experience chief said. His advice? Bring the external focus in.

“We can often be overcomplicated and inwardly focused when we don’t have direct line of sight to enable people to deliver better service to customer,” he commented. “The key tenet of customer activity is to constantly bring the outside in – don’t design from the inside out.”

It’s also important to ensure external brand perception of action and experience connect with the inside world of brand culture and employee behaviour, the customer experience leader said.

“If customers don’t feel that in their brand experience, we haven’t met their expectations,” he said.

3. Get a grip on the customer lifecycle

According to recent research undertaken by Salmat, 62 per cent of Australian organisations surveyed don’t yet address the customer lifecycle. Of those that do have a customer experience lifecycle focus, 50 per cent don’t have any idea of how to manage finding the new customer using that lifecycle, said Salmat general manager of business consulting, Scott McMillan.

He blamed the lack of focus both on the fact that lifecycle management “isn’t sexy” compared to the host of digital tools available to brands today, as well as the gap in knowledge around building a customer lifecycle roadmap.

As an example of the distinct changes customers go through in a buyer lifecycle, McMillan pointed to the process of finding a house mortgage, followed by the different mindsets a consumer experiences as their income changes, children come onto the scene, or they retire.

“The idea of customer lifecycle is to understand where your customer is on that journey and what they actually want at each stage of that journey and point in time,” McMillan said. “It’s powerful stuff.”

4. Use customer data to fuel engagement

Over at luxury fashion online retailer, Net-A-Porter, rich data derived from its 6 million unique shoppers each month is not only informing customer segments, engagement and the product merchandising strategy, it’s also being surfaced on the website as content.

In particular, data from the retailer’s top spenders and frequent shoppers is displayed as a live feed and showcases what customers are buying in real-time, as well as what’s of interest.

“This is a conveyer belt and a rotation of products being added to wishlists globally,” head of marketing for Asia-Pacific, Kei Chan, told Customer 360 attendees.

“We’re also able to collate customer performance worldwide and historic sell through on any brand, product and style. This allows us to be agile in adjusting our merchandising based on preferences, and styles as well as seasonality.”

In addition, customer insight is powering Net-A-Porter’s global bimonthly print and digital magazine, Porter, which is produced in four languages , and its compact weekly digital edition, Edit, both of which allow customers to purchase directly off its online store, as well as partner sites. Weekly data from Edit, for example, is collected on which articles are most relevant to readers, which converted to sales, and where readers came from by language and channel, Chan said.

“The same principles apply to email, social media and brand communications and analytics to identify issues or to surface content or messaging that resonates with our audience,” she said.

More widely, Net-A-Porter constantly surveys existing and prospective customers on product, site experience, service, content and delivery. This quick survey is surfaced if a user matches a pre-set formula of specific behaviours, Chan explained.

“We have weekly sample size of hundreds, and feedback on site performance, navigation, look and feel, plus post-purchase surveys on delivery, packing, satisfaction. We also have a weekly scorecard indicating overall satisfaction of our customer.”

Up next: 3 more tips on improving your customer experience approach

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5. Get the bosses on-board

Taking a customer-first approach to business isn’t something that can be enacted and led by the CMO or customer support team alone, it has to be completely embraced by the senior leadership team.

At NIB, Net Promoter Score (NPS) is not just as a measurement, but a call to action and company resource. Head of customer experience, Adam Novak, said NPS is now embedded into all plans and bonuses from the CEO to frontline staff.

The health insurer has also introduced a new consultant score based on a combination of NPS and call handling times to improve the approach taken to customer engagement in its contact centres, he said.

One way of getting senior executives on-board is by having the economic cases on-hand and being able to talk the language of the business, Bain and Company’s Swinton said.

“But also have the emotional case for change – sometimes we don’t give CEOs credit we should on the emotional side of things,” he said.

6. Sort out your UGRs

One of the more left-field but nevertheless insightful pieces of advice during Customer 360 was on the impact an organisation’s ‘unwritten ground rules’ (UGRs) have on customer experience. According to Keystone Management Services founder, Steve Simpson, it’s these strong but unarticulated perceptions employees have within their company that determine culture and in turn, the approach to customer engagement.

By tackling these UGRs, organisations can not only improve productivity and sentiment across teams, they can also change the mindset around customer experience.

“There is nothing more important than UGRs in your organisation but these are seldom talked about. And if you try and challenge these individually, you’re more than often pulled down,” Simpson claimed.

To overcome these potentially negative cultural traits, Simpson outlined several steps organisations can take to understand their culture and enable new customer experience initiatives to flourish.

As a starting point, he recommended companies look at envisioning the cultural attributes needed in order for their customer experience aspirations to succeed. These could include openness, collaboration, and a willingness to embrace “the grey area”, he said.

From there, organisations need to then assess current culture to identify UGRs, familiarise the rest of the business with these underlying beliefs, get people involved in creating and prioritising positive UGRs linked to value statements, and embed these in the organisation, Simpson said.

7. Think globally, not locally

Customer expectations of service are not just being set by your traditional competitors or by your specific industry segment – they’re being set through the interactions customers have with digital disruptors, in other sectors and via global players.

As Salmat’s McMillan pointed out, we are very much in a global economy where global players will set the standards for how customers expect service to be.

“No longer can you put yourself in your own bucket - customers are having these global experiences and they are setting the scene for expectations,” he said.

Read more: How CBA, Australia Post and Optus are wowing their customers

As a result, every organisation needs to keep to be constantly working to improve the way they engage with customers, speakers at Customer 360 agreed. To do this, the focus needs to be on building emotional connections, delivering value, providing and acting on real-time personalised engagement while keeping an eye on the brilliant basics.

“Customer is the most valuable asset not on your balance sheet – their advocacy and loyalty is what determines your future revenues,” Swinton added. “Your position should be maximising customer value.”

Nadia Cameron travelled to Customer 360 Symposium as a guest of Ashton Media.

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