“If I hear one more person talking about Uber and Airbnb, I’ll scream.”
That remark, overheard at a recent conference, sums up the position of a lot of marketers. They know that delivering great customer experiences is the way forward, but they also know that’s much easier to say than to do.
And the much-touted examples of Uber and Airbnb don’t help, because most marketers aren’t able to start from scratch, as those companies did. Instead, they have to cope with legacy systems, established practices, and siloed organisations. So what are the first steps they should take?
The most important thing is to recognise something needs to be done. Although the recent Econsultancy Digital Trends Briefing (produced together with Adobe) reported 22% of marketers saying their number one priority for this year was optimising the customer experience, there are still a lot of marketers who don’t see it. Or, as Jacob Benbunan, CEO of brand and innovation consultancy Saffron, puts it: “Clients constantly ignore the reality of their brand.”
“When clients come to us for help, I’m surprised if they’re not surprised by the feedback we give them.”
Walk In Your Customers’ Shoes
The good news, according to Benbunan’s colleague chief creative officer Gabor Schreier, is that once you recognise the importance of customer experience, there’s a lot you can do.
“Marketers should put themselves in the consumers’ shoes and go through the experience customers have with the brand,” he said. “Put together a rough analysis to help you understand how you’re doing things. If you can identify experiences that aren’t working well, you can fix them, and when you hit the limits of your know-how, you can bring in a specialist.”
This was the approach taken by hotel group Best Western Great Britain, where customer experience has been a strategic priority for five years. According to the director of marketing Sarah Fussey, the business recognised there were weaknesses in its customer experience, and that fixing them would help shift negative perceptions of the brand.
“We’re a data-rich business, so that’s where our approach started,” she explained. “We brought together data and customer feedback from our partner [customer experience management firm] Medallia, TripAdvisor, all social channels, KPIs such as Net Promoter and Detractor scores, staff feedback, and competitor analysis.
“This was used to map our customer journey through every touch point so that we could focus on changing the things that would make the biggest difference to our customers. This enabled us to properly quantify our challenge and engage the board who approved the investment required.”
Fussey then pulled together an internal project team and recruited specialist agency Smith & Co.
“The brief to them was to review our data, provide insights, and provide a framework that we could then work with to design our customer experience. Our role was to create the right climate, own it in-house, and maintain momentum.”
CX Isn’t Just About Marketing
For Coventry Building Society, its ownership structure as a mutual organisation meant customers had always been at the heart of the business, but, according to customer experience director Rachel Haworth, the society decided six years ago to look at customer experience. This resulted in Haworth moving across from marketing director to her current role two years later.
“Talking to our CEO, we decided to set up a customer experience department,” she explained. “We were keen to have it separate from marketing, because, while we were keen to influence marketing, it isn’t the only element of customer experience.”
Haworth’s view is that, for customer experience initiatives to succeed, they must align with the goals of the business.
“Lots of organisations have a separate customer experience goal; I purposefully didn’t,” she said. “Our mission as a mutual organisation is to put customers first; we have a set of values and I said they were what I wanted people to follow. Then we had our business goals, and I’ve kept them for our customer experience.
“If you can combine what you’re aiming for in customer experience with the business goals, you’ll get there. If the two are in conflict, you’ll never make it.”
For that reason, Haworth took a similar approach to Best Western’s Fussey in her first customer experience initiative.
Build The Business Case
“I took one key journey for the business and used it to show what the results of improving the experience would be,” she said. “You can build the customer experience case, but, if you can also build the business case, then you can gather backing.”
Haworth chose the opening of a savings account.
“I journey-mapped it and realised it needed significant improvement, but I also built a business case to take to the board. I got their approval, reworked the journey, we saw the benefits, and I proved the case.
“As a result, I got the board’s backing to take on other journeys where the business case was more difficult to prove.”
Collaboration Is Crucial
Fussey stresses that collaboration is crucial to developing a customer-centric approach.
“Whilst this was driven by marketing, the initiative was collaborative from the start,” Fussey said. “The strategy continues to include stakeholders from every part of the business, including managers from our hotels. Hospitality is all about putting guests first, so this is second nature for us, but we want to empower everyone in the business to do what they think is right for individual customer.
“In some ways, our approach has cut through the normal hierarchy as we implemented a cascade approach to training within the hotels and supported them with all the tools that they needed. This has helped with both engagement and sustainability because each property has used the structure to make it work for their team.”
Howarth also involved other departments from the start.
“Engaging with people is core to the customer experience role. You need to understand other departments’ objectives,” she said. “We always include the business areas that are going to be affected in the customer experience workshops, and we make the improvements together, but the alignment of customer experience and business goals is what drives everything.”
Seeing The Big Picture
Chris Daplyn, managing director of agency Wunderman U.K, agrees organisations need a proactive, holistic view to drive improvement in customer experience at each touch point. He says the agency’s customer experience team is gaining traction in its work helping clients understand the complete customer experience.
“A holistic view starts to bring the organisation together. It’s easy for startups, but more traditional businesses might have five or more departments, all doing a really good job, but siloed. A big thing for CMOs this year will be bridging the cracks between experiences; core to this process is aligning measurement.”
Daplyn also agrees with Haworth’s emphasis on the values and purpose of the brand.
“Brand purpose is becoming crucial to an agency brief for customer experience,” he said. “As experiences become fragmented, purpose is a crucial thing.”
He’s backed up on this point by Saffron’s Benbunan.
“If the brand is the soul of your business, your strategy is how you express that,” he said. “Especially in B2B, clients think the brand should follow the strategy. We think the strategy should follow the brand.”
For Haworth, a brand’s purpose and values set the culture, which is vital in the transformation to a customer-centric organisation.
“You don’t become customer-centric from the top,” she said. “It has to be at the heart. Anybody who makes a decision about a customer affects the experience, and you can’t control everyone’s decisions from the top. You have to create the right culture.”