Ask brands across any industry or discipline and you are likely to find that their main goal for 2017 is delivering a seamless, personalised customer experience.
Achieving this level of experience comes from putting the customer at the heart of the business, using data and rich insight to gain a single customer view and, importantly, having an agile team structure in place to deliver.
Removing silos is an essential part of the process at a time when brands continue to make structural changes to create a greater sense of ownership of the customer experience across their business.
One example is easyJet, which in January announced it was promoting head of marketing communications and brand, Ian Cairns, to the newly-created role of director of customer. Alongside driving the brand’s business strategy, Cairns is responsible for all customer interaction at the airline, including its contact centres.
Restructuring to create customer-obsessed teams is making the difference at Marks & Spencer (M&S), which at the end of last year changed its organisational structure and revised its operating model in a bid to put customers at the heart of its operations.
Led by global director of loyalty, customer insight and analytics Nathan Ansell, the customer team acts as a partner to each of the different business units within M&S to ensure customer insight is not only available, but utilised by all teams.
“We have also strengthened our data and analytics capabilities so that we have a single integrated view of the customer, meaning we can understand each customer’s relationship with M&S in its totality – whatever, wherever and however they are shopping. And have the skills to interpret and act on this data,” explains Ansell.
We don’t just need ‘big data’, we need ‘big insight’ that we can turn into ‘big actions’.
Nathan Ansell, M&S
“We have made changes to our structure that help provide a more seamless customer journey. For example, we have integrated each channel’s merchandising operations so there is greater ‘symmetry’ across the experience for customers.”
Within the marketing team, M&S focused on hiring a mixture of skills needed to help push its customer experience agenda. Now marketers from traditional business studies backgrounds work alongside an increasing pool of data scientists, mathematicians and computer scientists.
“What they all have in common is a creative, problem-solving attitude and an ability to explain and communicate the data to the rest of the business,” says Ansell. “We don’t just need ‘big data’, we need ‘big insight’ that we can turn into ‘big actions’.”
Removing internal silos has also been an area of focus for Maryam Banikarim since joining hotel chain Hyatt as global CMO two years ago, as she felt they were holding back customer experience efforts.
“We work in a much more integrated fashion than we used to before. Once you focus on the customer versus yourself there is no other way to operate. When you’re purely focused on who you’re serving, it forces all the other pieces to come together,” she explains.
The hotel chain launched its new loyalty programme at the beginning of March and unveiled its first TV ad since 1985 at this year’s Oscars, featuring the strapline ‘For a World of Understanding’, as it looks to “connect on a deeper level” with customers and “inspire irrational loyalty”.
“Quite honestly, for us to be able to reimagine the loyalty programme, come up with this new platform [World of Hyatt] and pull all this off in the amount of time that was required forced everyone to collaborate more.”
Although this was initially a very different way of working, Banikarim expected her teams to banish any doubt and focus on embracing transformation. “You have to be willing to put that fear aside. It was a lot for a group of people that haven’t done something like this before. But I knew they were capable of it,” she adds.
Creating a culture that cares
Founded 18 months ago, online credit score and report checker ClearScore immediately ditched the idea of creating traditional departments in favour of “factions”, smaller self-run cross-functional teams responsible for the end-to-end management of a feature or aspect of the service.
The advantage of this system, explains CMO Anna Kilmurray, is that teams are deeply embedded in development, meaning responsibility for a product or feature does not bounce around from one department to another.
Every week, an employee presents what they have done to improve the customer experience to the rest of the business, which could be anything from changing the layout of a page to rewriting the user experience copy. Kilmurray encourages her team to use data to explain the decisive impact the change has had on the consumer.
As a company that actively rewards employees for creating customer value, ClearScore is very clear about the type of people it wants to bring into the business.
“We’re hiring two or three new people at least every week, so creating cohesion in how those people work together and think is central to what we do,” says Kilmurray.
“We are really focused on finding the best talent and as a company we’re about customer experience right from the top down. Customer experience needs to be embedded at every level of the organisation, particularly in a startup where you have such a proliferation of things to care about. If customer value is not right up there, then it’s likely it will become side-lined.”
Fellow startup The Collective structures its dairy business to be nimble, agile and retain its customer values, even as the team continues to grow five years in.
Speaking at Marketing Week Live in March, co-founder Amelia Harvey explained how working together is crucial. “When you’re getting bigger and building those teams, you can very easily become siloed and then sales just talks to sales. So it’s a question of how do you work across and become stronger together?
“In our case, all the teams work very closely to keep those values alive. We have a weekly team meeting that everyone in the business takes turns to run, where they talk eloquently about anything from financial results to customer care. Then at the end they do something different, which could be anything from drawing each other to racing scooters.”
Data makes the difference
M&S’s recent restructure has helped the business make customer data and insight accessible across the entire company. This was crucial to ensure everyone understands the role each channel plays in customer engagement and can offer a consistently relevant and tailored experience as a result, Ansell explains.
“We are moving to a ‘self-serve’ model for data, so that the business can use the valuable insight from the customer team more easily and make more informed decisions leading to an even better customer experience,” he adds.
Since its inception in 2015, M&S’s Sparks loyalty and rewards programme has contributed significant amounts of rich customer data to the business. Positioned as a membership club, Sparks goes beyond purely transactional information, inviting customers to share their passions and preferences in order to receive a more tailored experience.
Understanding more about customer behaviour not only helps M&S improve the relevance of its offer, but also build trust, says Ansell.
“[Customers] think ‘M&S gets me’ and this allows us to introduce new categories, services and channels, so they experience the breadth of what M&S has to offer.
“Customers are increasingly looking for retailers and brands to stage richer, more meaningful experiences, creating moments that matter. To do this properly we have to work seamlessly across departments and channels. So we’re evolving our online shopping experience from a purely transactional experience to a place of personalisation and greater engagement,” he says.
Customer experience needs to be embedded at every level of the organisation, particularly in a startup
Anna Kilmurray, ClearScore
M&S adds to its data insight with consumer research, speaking to over 250,000 customers in 2016 alone. A key learning to emerge from the survey was the importance of seamless and speedy transaction, both on- and offline. Based on this feedback the retailer streamlined the purchase process by introducing a shoppable Instagram platform and improving the self-checkout technology.
At ClearScore, the mission to deliver a seamless, personalised experience that helps users find the right financial products means it is essential the team harness rich sources of data. One of the most important metrics the company tracks is the net promoter score (NPS). Rather than sitting purely with marketing, the NPS data sits at a corporate level, meaning its influence trickles down to each faction.
Along with the NPS data, every month representatives across the business analyse customer reviews on the Apple App Store, Trustpilot and feedback from the customer operations team, combined with monitoring tools that show where consumers are looking on the site.
In total, the team pulls together 10 to 15 different data sources and analyses the results to work towards a better NPS score, as well as generating ideas to overcome friction in the customer journey.
Keep it clear
One such difficulty identified by the ClearScore team when the service launched was the sheer number of customer queries being submitted regarding how to use the service effectively. “We underestimated how much confusion there would be and how many questions would be sent in,” Kilmurray recalls.
“But it enabled us to think about different ways to respond. We created chatbots or coaching bots, which are like a fitness programme for your finances. They represent a shortcut for users, talking them through the key points they need to know.”
Kilmurray believes the simplicity of ClearScore’s mission to make finance clearer is a shared focus the entire team can get behind and measure all their activity against. Achieving this mission is helped by a high level of transparency within the business. The team regularly share details of board and investor meetings, as well as future strategy.
This transparency translates into the way ClearScore communicates with its customers. “We’re really straightforward and direct with customers, and we explain in the very simplest way how their finances work and how a product may help them,” she adds.
“So at every touchpoint there are really clear values – transparency and simplicity. In other organisations where there are so many different values, you are less likely to get cohesion behind them.”
Embedding an obsession with the customer, passion for data and commitment to transparency at the heart of company culture is helping global retailers and startups alike craft a personalised experience that resonates with consumers – and keeps them coming back.
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Matthew Simons, vice president UK, Epsilon
Many innovations in the way brands think about customer experience are driven by consumer expectations. This is increasingly true for small organisations, which have nowhere near the resources of companies like Amazon – a brand at the forefront of data-driven experience.
Consumer expectation is driving a shift from personalisation to individualisation, whereby individually targeted content is delivered across multiple channels based on data insights. To achieve this, you need to create a single customer view as a foundation before then moving forward with more sophisticated tech. Data fuels intelligence and helps you understand your customer. Channels may change, but it will always be important to know about your customers.
In addition to aligning the data, it is imperative to get the structure of your business right. It’s about being customer-centric, which is a top down change everyone needs to believe in. You need to think about who owns customers throughout their lifecycle in order to put them first.
While there is no one customer journey, even the smallest changes to reduce friction points can have big impact. It’s a matter of prioritisation. While it’s great to have the luxury of being able to completely redo a lifecycle that is a very complex thing, so you want to drive incremental improvements.
There’s also the international element to consider, especially when you look at the nuances of what works in one market and what is a perceived friction point in another. This is influenced by consumer maturity and cultural norms in each market.
Ultimately, embedding customer centricity is essential. If you think of your company culture as the personality of the business, which defines how people approach work, then embedding customer centricity from the top down is crucial. You have to drive change within the entire culture, which can be even harder than changing structure. It may be a longer-term goal, but it’s vital.
You can have all these pieces in place and still might not improve customer experience. If the consumer doesn’t have a great experience or feel like they are not being treated as an individual across every interaction, your effort is in vain. The ultimate goal is for the customer to feel like the experience is as human as possible.