Delivering a great, or even a good, customer experience (CX) sounds simple, however it is anything but. It’s well recognised that technology and data play an important part in enabling it – perhaps so well that the complexity of getting the technological aspect of CX right is underestimated.
Understanding the consumer-facing functionality a brand needs to offer is just the start. Brands also need to get the back-end implementation right, which means having alignment within the business on CX objectives and linking up all channels effectively.
To understand how the leading brands confront these challenges, we sought views from members of the CX50 list of top CX professionals, which was compiled by Marketing Week in partnership with Zone and Cognizant and revealed in June.
One of the more unusual approaches to integrating technology into wider business strategy can be seen in action at InterContinental Hotels Group, where George Turner is one of surely very few executives who possess the title of chief commercial and technology officer.
“Personalisation is key to the success of the hotel industry and leveraging technology, digital innovation and information will play an essential role in our future,” Turner states, summarising the key reasons for combining the commercial and technology functions into one.
We have millions of customer interactions each day, every one of which will have a different need or goal.
Chris Rhodes, Nationwide
He describes it as “integrated and interdependent” with the wider business, but its existence and his leadership are all the more remarkable since Turner is a solicitor by background, with a string of previous general counsel and company secretary roles.
With ample experience in the areas of risk and compliance, he is obviously well placed to manage the data protection implications of his current role, but in addition he is responsible for revenue management, distribution, property systems, digital and voice, technology, and information security.
The list he gives of IHG’s consumer-facing technology applications is mind-boggling. It includes “circadian lighting”, designed to aid sleep and productivity; “AI Smart Rooms”, which offer voice control of anything from curtains to rooms service; mobile checkout at over 4,000 hotels; and, perhaps most importantly, a reservation system that allows staff to manage personalised interactions and guests to book rooms based on the bed type, view, flooring or other attributes.
Behind this, inevitably, is a wealth of data. As always, delivering good CX requires sound business decisions on what data is most important.
Turner says: “We track many data points to assess how we are performing. For us, our guest satisfaction score, or ‘guest love’, provides an immediate feedback mechanism that tells us how well we’ve delivered on a guest’s expectations. We focus very squarely on what will drive increased guest satisfaction and stronger returns for our [property] owners.”
Indeed, the question of technology’s role in CX often comes down to data. There are a variety of ways to achieve a smooth experience on the consumer-facing front end of a service, product or brand, but making sure this happens every time, across all touchpoints, means having technology that connects the right data and the metrics to understand what these connections mean.
As Nationwide’s chief products and propositions officer Chris Rhodes says: “We have millions of customer interactions each day through a variety of different channels, every one of which will have a different need or goal.
“To really excel at customer experience, you must be fully aware of this and design your products, services and approach accordingly, and be able to measure the success or failure. We have a vast range of quantitative and qualitative data to understand the effectiveness of Nationwide’s customer experiences.”
Customer benefits of data
Some companies even go one step further and turn back-end data into front-end services. This is the case at Starling Bank, the mobile-only bank that received its UK banking licence in 2016.
Head of retail banking Helen Bierton says: “We believe that our customers should be the main beneficiaries of their own data. So we use it for services that they can individually benefit from. Our Spending Insights feature, for example, allows them to see at a glance and in real time how much they are spending at particular merchants and in particular categories. It’s a valuable tracking and budgeting tool.”
Because we build most of our technology in-house, everything we create can meet both our users’ needs and our own.
Helen Bierton, Starling Bank
Similarly, the company is using open banking to partner with others in the consumer finance sector. This technology means customers of Starling can use the bank’s platform to buy other brands’ services.
“Starling has pioneered the use of open APIs to deliver a marketplace offering customers access to a full suite of third-party financial services providers, such as insurers, mortgage providers and investment companies. The Starling Marketplace is a true differentiator,” says Bierton.
The approach it is taking is made possible in part by its lack of legacy systems to hold it back. In fact, according to Bierton the brand thinks of itself as a technology company as much as a bank. In this sense, where technology is concerned youth is to a company’s CX advantage.
“Because we build most of our technology in-house we are able to ensure that everything we create is custom-built to meet both our users’ needs and our own needs.”
Being mobile-only also offers CX advantages to Starling, but most businesses need to offer customers more touchpoints, which automatically adds to the complexity of the technology and data challenges. Excelling at CX means being consistent and connected across all a brand’s channels.
At Ovo Energy, customer services director Justin Haines says “customers are tech-savvy, with the majority using our digital tools […] to access and manage their Ovo account”, while an increasing number want to contact the brand through social media. “Allowing customers to get in touch through their channel of choice gives them reassurance and the same quality of service, as they know we will be able to resolve any queries,” he adds.
Indeed, the customer service aspect of CX is just as important as the journey to purchasing something and the experience of using it – if not more so. Many brands focus on ensuring it’s as easy as possible to buy from them, but then neglect the fact that customer retention and repeat purchases rely on people being happy with the overall experience, including when something goes wrong.
While many brands treat post-purchase customer service as a cost, there are obvious opportunities for those that do it well. Technology and data increasingly sit at the heart of getting that right.
Haines says: “Not all technology applications are noticeable to customers. For example, we have recently introduced speech and data analytics, which is a tool used to analyse every customer interaction we have.
“We can now analyse hundreds of thousands of exchanges immediately and look for patterns, themes and, importantly, opportunities to further enhance the customer experience. Previously we would have had to listen to calls manually and now technology gives us the ability to use every contact as an improvement opportunity.”
That final sentiment – that a customer’s experience should get a little bit better each time they interact with a brand – perhaps ought to be the universal definition of a CX leader. It is undoubtedly what sets those in the CX50 apart from their peers.