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5 Questions with Adrian Swinscoe, Customer Engagement, Experience and Service Expert

Customer experience is ever-evolving, and with the ongoing changes, companies are raising more and more questions about how initiatives are adding business value and why a customer centric mindset matters. The hurdles for implementing such customer experience programs can seem insurmountable; however, their development is essential to success.

I sat down with Adrian Swinscoe Customer Engagement, Experience and Service consultant to break down ideas surrounding the “age of the customer” and how organizations can change their behavior from the inside out to dramatically impact customer experience and make fixes that matter.  

SG: For the last 2-3 years, people have been talking about the “age of the customer.” What do you think this means and what does it mean for brands? What do they need to do to prove this perspective to customers?

AS: I’m going to start with something a little controversial here because if you think about the phrase, ‘the age of the customer,’ the root of it comes from history where we look at ages and eras. As a result, one of the things it implies is that it will come to an end, but I’m not sure this is true. I think we have emerged into a period that involves a new way of doing business.

With the rise of technologies including smart phones and the internet, the locus of power has shifted away from businesses being the ones who can define and drive choice and instead, puts control in the hands of the consumers and buyers. This has, in many ways, democratized the choice process for consumers. Companies need to realize this is a new way of doing business and it’s not going away. For brands, this means it’s time to pay attention and acknowledge the fact that consumers have more control than you think.

I’m not saying we should disregard the idea, as stated by Steve Jobs, that customers don’t know what they want, and you have to show them. This is true too and requires companies to strike a balance between understanding the nature of the market and how relationships have changed, while also thinking about “how can we build relationships and trust so that we can then lead customers by showing them the possible options?”

SG: Have you noticed a reluctance in investing patterns around customer experience? Is it reluctancy or is there some other phenomena happening in the business?

AS: I don’t think there is necessarily a reluctance around being more customer focused or trying to prove a customer centric mindset. However, one of the challenges and functions I see emerging around customer experience is businesses trying to address the idea of “how does this help the overall organization achieve its stated objectives of growth, retention, loyalty and more?”

Customer experience is a new venture and we can look to similar movements, such as the implementations of CRM systems and the emergence of social media, as new ideas that people rushed in to. However, even today, we see companies wrestling with questions around “what is the business case around this?” While I think people understand this, companies are becoming more disciplined and are scrutinizing support tools even more intensely to understand what are we doing, why are we doing it and what is the benefit when we look back to the basic business metrics?

If you look at CRM, even 20 years since development, I’m not sure if it has cracked the case yet. However, it is seen as a ‘must have’ at this point. Companies must make themselves relevant to the core businesses and not just the new ideas as they emerge.

SG: What’s the trick for impacting the drivers connected to business success around the customer experience?

AS: This question brings to mind a story around billing, which concerns a telecommunications company in the US. They faced a problem at the beginning of the billing cycle for new or renewing customers. The company noticed that when all the new bills went out, they had a huge spike in volumes of calls coming in to the contact center. This was primarily driven by the fact that no one understood what their bills were saying. The call center managers took the problem to billing, who said “do you know how expensive it is to change these bills and it’s not actually our fault, it’s the sales team’s fault for not properly explaining.” However, no one was right or wrong here and there was not enough flexibility to overhaul the system.

To solve the problem, they figured out a way to give customers more information and started sharing a personalized video along with customer bills that explained details to customers. This had a dramatic impact on the number of calls coming in to the company as well as improving overall customer satisfaction—a creative solution to an ongoing business problem.

I think the most successful customer service programs not only focus on doing new and cool things, but also address perennial problems for the core business. Organizations must work to establish what I like to call, ‘organizational social capital.’ You do this by solving somebody else’s problem.

SG: How have you seen organizations, while establishing that social capital, connect this to a revenue metric?’

AS: You can apply this idea of social capital for new ideas and say, “if I do this, it will help me improve on my base here, and it will result in uplift here.”

In the case of a life insurance company, the organization had a UX team, a digital team and a CX team all operating in their own spheres and taking independent actions. We dug in to this to identify some of the other challenges the company faced on an ongoing basis. One of the biggest things we found is that when someone passes away, many people don’t have a power of attorney in place. As a result, when the holder of the life insurance policy does pass away, multiple rules and regulations kick into place, which make it very difficult to manage, particularly given the emotionally heightened circumstances. Agents just want to help, but must follow the rules, while customers are reeling from an emotional loss. In this situation, you are able to estimate the specific costs associated with the time per interaction and how the process can be streamlined to improve the experience for everyone.

SG: Let’s talk about breaking down barriers across organizations. Companies tend to become very siloed. What are your suggestions for helping organizations break down these barriers?

AS: Companies need access to the right information. This could be insight from customers, or employees or the industry in general. This is where technologies such as Clarabridge come into play because they allow you to gather a complete picture of what the playing field looks like. I think the best way to break down silos is by focusing on the entire problem. What is the question customers are trying to answer or the problem they need to solve? From there, you can draw on the resources relevant to the issue at hand. By pulling in the resources needed to solve the issue, the project can be facilitated by function, but it does require innovation. Aligning everyone behind the problem and the idea helps drive innovation.

I definitely don’t possess all the answers here. However, one challenge I’ve noticed is that people tend to ignore these big programs just because they are big. This leaves you looking at the problem and thinking, “I don’t know where to launch this.” Without levels that build momentum upon themselves, it’s hard to sustain success. I always encourage people to think about and focus on articulating what the problem is—not necessarily a huge one but a small, recurring problem. From there, you can bring together the resources and generate momentum. If you start with a small problem and align people who want to solve the problem, this effort generates innovation and momentum and breaks the bonds of inertia.

For more information on how to measure the ROI of improved customer experience, find Adrian’s complete whitepaper here.

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