Over the last few years, brands have implemented any number of approaches in the name of customer experience (CX); agile techniques, insight-driven strategy and real-time optimisation, to name a few. But, catapulted into lockdown by Covid-19 in early spring, the following six months have been the ultimate litmus test for them.
So, are CX leaders walking the walk, as well as talking the talk? For the individuals named on this year’s CX50 list, compiled by Marketing Week in partnership with Zone and Cognizant, the answer is yes. As the UK’s top 50 CX professionals, they have demonstrated innovation, influence and impact in helping their brands and customers through the crisis.
In any other year, their successes would have been shown in customer loyalty scores, industry awards, and market-leading sales and profits. This year, however, the pandemic has laid bare the need for a focus on CX to ensure businesses are fit for purpose. The efforts led by the CX50 have been at the forefront of brand response and customer support.
To delve further into how these executives have responded to the pandemic, Marketing Week welcomed a selection of the CX50 to a virtual roundtable, sponsored by Zone and Cognizant. Just how well did these executives think they had performed during this exceptional time?
Collaboration is key
Anna Greene, vice-president of brand at Gousto, noted how much the meal plan business had to ramp up capacity to meet 20,000 extra orders in a matter of weeks: “There are always things you reflect you’d love to do differently. When you put the business in a pressure-cooker situation you really see the best, and the worst. Some of the best parts of our culture came out. The tenacity, drive and solutions focus of the team was amazing.”
The first concern is to secure your people and your service.
Tete Soto, O2
Russell Davies, VP of marketing at energy provider Bulb, noted that the pandemic was not a time for companies to hide their homework from competitors. “As an [energy] industry, it was one of the first times where it co-operated. There were a lot of cross-CEO meetings because everyone was focusing on how to keep people’s energy on.”
“It was nice to see those conversations ongoing as we all bedded down to help out,” added Rebecca Dibb-Simkin, marketing and product director at Octopus Energy. “A lot of people were potentially worried about paying bills or increasing usage.”
The company’s ability to respond while it was trying to get used to the new conditions itself was critical. “We went home with laptops; we have our own tech platform that works wherever you’re going to be. Some of our team are now back but it’s important to offer that flexibility. There’s still a long way to go,” she said
Put people at the heart of your efforts
At O2, transformation director Tete Soto set out her priorities: “The first concern is to secure your people and your service. You have to make sure you manage your workforce and do it in a short space of time. We didn’t furlough anyone. Second, patterns of consumption are changing and all of a sudden there were hotspots of activity. And thirdly, it was about how you respond to what customers need. We faced two immediate concerns – they couldn’t see loved ones so we provided extra allowances for free; and secondly easing financial concerns if there was a difficulty over bills. This was particularly important for SMB customers.”
Just Eat’s CMO Susan O’Brien agrees that taking care of employees takes care of customers. “We’ve always measured employee satisfaction but at the outset we did weekly check-ins. We did regular surveys. We’ve pulled it back to once a month now but we could respond to what employees were saying around the globe in real time.”
Both O’Brien and Deliveroo’s former CMO Inés Ures noted the importance of looking after partners, who are the lifeblood of these food delivery businesses, as much as customers and communication are at their heart.
“We worked with restaurant partners and people working on the front line,” Ures said. “We had consumers who were scared of contamination, restaurants with financial problems and 90,000 riders who depend on us. Everyone was very stretched but I’m proud of what our team did. Everyone was very stretched and our agencies pivoted with us to help deliver ideas really quickly.”
Take big decisions, fast
Rapid decision-making is usually confined to lower-impact, quick-win scenarios, but the pandemic saw companies making some major changes to their businesses in response to changing conditions. MoneySuperMarket rapidly became a haven for concerned consumers, particularly given the editorial authority its MoneySavingExpert brand holds on all things financial. But a massive swing in customer focus meant some big decisions internally.
MoneySuperMarket’s chief customer officer Andy Hancock said: “Our services were never more relevant to customers. But from a business perspective we are an intermediary and we have a dependency on the number of energy, insurance, banking and travel partners and so on. We went from a panel of 60 travel insurance products to six to none.
We had consumers who were scared of contamination, restaurants with financial problems and 90,000 riders who depend on us. Everyone was very stretched but I’m proud of what our team did.
Inés Ures, former Deliveroo CMO
“Very quickly a large amount of business was disappearing. We’re dealing with [challenges from] huge consumer demand to managing partner relationships, all the way down to moving squads from one part of the organisation to another where there is more demand.”
Gousto’s Greene also saw a rapid shift when the company – counter-intuitively, it may seem – shut down new sign-ups so it could service the demand it already had. “We had teams whose job was demand generation and all of a sudden they had nothing to do. We had to take all that brainpower and apply it to the customer.”
The result was the Food Finder app, a directory that helped customers navigate local suppliers with stock. Greene says the brand’s challenge is to this spirit of innovation alive post-Coivd. “When we come out of this, how do we retain that sense of creativity and not allow normal conditions to reset the way we work?”
Roy Capon, CEO of Zone, pointed out that startups’ agile mentality has always been envied by bigger companies but the reason why has never been clearer than it is now. “Smaller businesses, where there is less organisational structure to make decisions, have been faster to manoeuvre. Those investment decisions and choices companies have to make on the fly have influenced the way business operates.”
While Capon noted that legacy businesses find this tough, Soto is proud of how O2 has managed to respond. “It’s definitely made us faster – O2 is very good in a crisis.” But she admits that flexibility is only possible to a certain degree: “It’s when you need to make structural changes, that wouldn’t happen in three months.”
Check your tone
“The harder decisions were around what’s appropriate to communicate,” says Bulb’s Davies. With a surfeit of media inventory available at low prices it was tempting to pile into more TV ads, but with a nation in lockdown there was little room for error in communications.
“MoneySuperMarket has a certain tone,” Hancock admits, “and [in March, the situation] was all feeling quite morose. We had lots of conversations around how we could strike the right tone so our communications landed appropriately.”
As a result, the company adjusted its humorous ‘Get Money Calm’ campaign and repositioned it as ‘Small steps to Money Calm’. “Customer research said no-one is going to feel calm in this situation. One small step to taking control, to feeling calm, resonated but we wanted to maintain our personality,” said Hancock.
How companies have judged customers’ mood during the pandemic has been vital. Finances may have been squeezed but it’s experience, rather than purely battling on price, that has won out.
According to Adobe sales director Ronal Karia, present at the roundtable as a partner of Zone and Cognizant: “The needle has shifted from price to loyalty. We’ve seen that with the airlines and refunds. Now people are wanting to fly but who can get them back from their destination when lockdown happens again? People aren’t just thinking about the here and now and that’s a very different consumer approach to eight months ago.”
At the roundtable, the CX50 members agreed there seems to be some sense of markets returning to normality, but also a long way to go and an eventual end point that will look different from what existed before. With new ideas generated as a result of the pandemic and new opportunities to connect with customers, it has been a trying but in many ways fruitful time for CX leaders.