What it takes to excel at customer experience

Members of Marketing Week’s new CX50 list, compiled in partnership with Zone and Cognizant, explain how individuals can make a difference to the customer experience and drive change even in traditional businesses.

Customer experience CXWhether you’re an established brand or a startup and whether your brand operates in consumer goods, utilities or finance, today it is customer experience that sets a brand apart from its competitors.

It was with this in mind that Marketing Week set out in partnership with Zone and Cognizant to compile the CX50, a list of 50 individuals who excel at understanding customer needs, building company capabilities, and mobilising their budgets and colleagues to achieve best-in-class customer experiences.

READ MORE: The top 50 customer experience professionals revealed

At an event hosted by Zone and Cognizant last week (27 September), Marketing Week editor Russell Parson’s quizzed three of the CX50 inductees – Centrica group chief marketing officer Margaret Jobling, Iglu.com chief operating officer Ottokar Rosenberger and Aviva retail and brand marketing director Tom Daniell – on what it takes to stand out in the field of customer experience.

To excel at something you must first define it, and Rosenberger even has an equation that acknowledges  brands can’t get away with being merely functional but must do more than is expected.

“Customer experience is observed experience minus the expectation of the customer,” he said. “If you beat that then you have a really good customer experience.”

Legacy brand challenges

For brands with multiple touchpoints, the calculation becomes even more complex Daniell agreed with Jobling’s argument that customer experience must be seen as “the sum of all experiences”, where “every tangible interaction adds up to an overall sense of what customers feel like”.

Both Daniell and Jobling pointed out that being in large organisations within legacy industries – insurance and energy, respectively – there are limits to what they can achieve.

Centrica’s British Gas brand must work within the confines of existing billing systems, which means that for Jobling the “real differentiation has to be at the front end” where consumers interact with the brand. So while she can’t change the time window in which meter readings can be used to calculate an energy bill, she can ensure customer communications are clear about how British Gas uses them to make future bills more accurate.

Does marketing need to own the delivery of customer experience? It can’t. That person is called the CEO.

Tom Daniell, Aviva

Aviva’s Daniell admitted that in the insurance sector the focus on using risk to calculate premiums means “there’s no real centring on the customer at any stage”. The company also offers different insurance products across different divisions, which can lead to a fragmented customer journey.

Daniell’s ‘digital garage’ team has sought not just to create a single customer view for Aviva but a single view of Aviva for the customer, “to take away a whole host of the complexity”.

“If you’ve moved house you don’t have to make five phone calls to five different parts of the business to change address,” he explained.

Each improvement to the customer experience may be a small change, but over time these serve to gradually instill a culture in customer-facing teams. The challenge then, Daniell said, is: “How do we bring that culture back into the business? How do we let that mindset infect the rest of the company?”

Changing culture

Jobling stated she was a “massive believer in eating your own dog food”, recommending that customer experience professionals sign up to all their brand’s communications and use its services so they can see the company through the same eyes as customers. She said around 60% of demand going into British Gas’s customer departments is “negative demand” and that by having a business-wide focus on removing pain points it can both save costs and improve the experience, which should ultimately increase revenue.

READ MORE: Read the first 10 profiles of the CX50 members

Rosenberger also cited numbers that could be used to help drive change in an organisation by making commercially minded colleagues sit up and take notice. For example, S&P 500 companies where customer satisfaction is high outperform the share price growth of the average company in the index.

“That’s one stat I like to tell every CEO I meet,” he said. “The second stat is that the customer who scores 10 on a customer satisfaction range of zero to 10 gives you 2.4 times more revenue than a customer who scores zero to three and 1.5 times more than a customer who scores four to six. Having a great customer experience drives revenue.”

His other key advice is to make your agenda clear when going into a new job, so the company is aligned with the need to improve customer experience from the start. “Before I even joined [Iglu.com], I said ‘if you hire me this is what is going to happen’. Negotiate on your way in.”

Jobling said she has assembled a “coalition of the willing” at Centrica – allies who see the need to take the customers’ side and who are prepared to push the business to serve them better. But she also acknowledged that sometimes, “sheer bloody mindedness and attrition” is what is required to break down resistance to change.

For Daniell, “iconic moments” where the brand can celebrate achieving improvements for the customer are key to getting teams to rally behind further progress.

Taking ownership

There was less certainty among the three panellists on the subject of which departments should own the customer experience, and how it relates to the brand. “I’m not entirely sure where ownership would start and finish,” said Daniell. “Does marketing need to own the delivery of customer experience? It can’t. That person is called the CEO.”

He added that marketers will perhaps need to let go of any beliefs they have that brand should be prioritised over, or determine, the customer experience, noting “there historically hasn’t been a great relationship” between what brands say and do, and that therefore “we’ve got to earn the right to have a loftier conversation and have that broader purpose”.

Iglu’s Rosenberger similarly claimed “your product experience drives the brand experience quite a bit and in my mind I would always prioritise the product experience”.

Despite this, he was at pains to point out that the marketing department has to know inside-out what customers want and need, and that from this starting point there are opportunities for marketers to have a substantial impact.

“Business stakeholders and shareholders realise they need to have customer experience [professionals] in the boardoom and increasingly leading the company,” said Rosenberger.

So how do brands know if they really are excelling at customer experience? “Repeat customers and lifetime value are good indicators,” offered Rosenberger, adding: “Your repeat customer will ultimately drive your increased revenue.”

“Customers are voting with their feet now,” Jobling concluded, succinctly summarising in one word the commercial benefit of customer experience and what brands miss out on if they fail to get it right: “Growth”.