Virgin Media recently won Gold at the Design Business Association Effectiveness Awards for a programme designed to improve their customer experience. So, what can we learn from it about gaining a competitive advantage and retaining customers?
Clear understanding of objectives and obstacles
The delivery of a great customer experience relies largely on people. Good customer service and helpful staff elicit the highest levels of praise, particularly in retail: 63% of all positive feedback relates to staff versus just 8.4% to products.
However, the people factor is often the hardest to get right. Virgin’s route to getting there started with a clear understanding of what they wanted to achieve. This went beyond simply improving customer satisfaction, Net Promoter Scores and the experience and consistency across channels.
Virgin Media dug deeper. They wanted to reduce inbound customer contact by getting it right first time. They wanted to understand what drove noticeable positive behaviour, as well as defining what customer's value and the business benefit of delivering against it. This was all wrapped up in something tangible - developing their key offer and competitive edge, which is being human, fun and personal.
Crucially, this was set against a realistic backdrop of the challenges to be overcome. Consistency across channels was particularly tricky, for example, each customer channel was run by its own organisation, whilst only a small Customer Experience Team worked across the whole organisation.
Furthermore, each channel performs a different role in the customer experience so there’s no shared understanding of the impact of what they do on the end-to-end customer experience. Each one also exhibits very different operating conditions for front-line staff so different approaches to deployment are needed to communicate, coach and evaluate staff working in each channel.
Living at the coal-face
It’s not just enough to understand what you want to achieve and what might prevent you getting there. You need to identify what the problems are. It may sound obvious to say but, incredibly, this often isn’t investigated enough.
Initially, Virgin analysed over three million customer feedback records and discovered that solving customer’s problems only went so far towards creating positive engagements with them. In fact, the data suggested that whether issues were fixed or not, delivering a consistently positive emotional experience resonated more with customers than just the rational and functional aspect of being able to connect to their service again.
This research was then supplemented with a fact-finding phase involving both customers and frontline staff. It included interviews, home visits, technician shadowing, call listening and a competitor audit. You don’t know the realities of the coal-face unless you go there.
Getting with the programme
Once the lay of the land – internally and externally – had been fully established, they were then in a position to design the appropriate solution. In Virgin’s case, the overarching remit was to deliver a programme that supported people in delivering an excellent, and distinctly Virgin, customer experience every time.
Entitled “Voice of our Brand”, the programme acknowledged that there’s no script for a perfect call, store visit or home installation, but it is possible to create a guideline framework of behaviours, organised under a high-level structure, to guide actions and tone. It guided staff towards the delivery of excellent customer service, regardless of touchpoint.
A Service Design approach was used to create these behavioural frameworks and coaching materials for each Virgin Media channel. The focus was moved from simply gaining customers to beginning a relationship and increasing satisfaction, retention and NPS, with value to both Virgin Media and their customers.
Whilst initially focused on Virgin Media contact centres for customer support (Care), the programme’s success soon saw it being rolled out across acquisition and sales (Growth), installation and technician visits (Access), and Virgin Media stores (Retail).
The ‘perfect experience’ for customers in each channel was explored including the desired outcomes and how they could be measured. The frameworks set down values and guidelines for delivering ‘perfect’ customer interactions through call centres, retail stores and technicians. They included activities and language, which staff could adapt to any situation to increase the likelihood of delivering the ideal customer experience – particularly to improve the early stages of the relationship, or ‘join journey’, which would set the basis for long-term customer relationships.
For example, if parents are visiting the store with their children, staff should change one of the TIVO channels to cartoons. When contact centre staff are bringing on board a new customer, they should comment on a feature of the new service that they think the customer will love. During installation of a service, a Virgin Media technician should check all other Virgin services whilst on site.
Crucially, the programme was designed to support new ways of thinking and working, and to engage people across the company in becoming truly customer-centric – as the examples above illustrate. Co-creation workshops with staff and customers were vital in this process.
Staff behaviour resulted in a 30% improvement in operational Net Promoter Score. Comments related to negative behaviour hit an all-time low of 3.4%. In addition, a year-on-year improvement in customer's positive responses to the statement “Virgin Media provides good customer service” was triple that of any other brand metric.
In terms of ‘hard’ results, an annual financial benefit from reduction in churn equal to £1.25m was attributable to changes in frontline staff behaviour. These improvements in behaviour provided a programme ROI of 400%.
Going forward, Virgin Media uncovered a correlation between a 1% improvement in its NPS and an improvement in revenue across a variety of measures depending on the tenure of the customer, ranging from £750,000 to £1.5m a year.
So, why was it so successful?
The success of the programme can be boiled down to five main reasons:
- It engaged stakeholders, frontline staff and customers
- It understood and incorporated frontline actions and behaviours critical to both quality and revenue, plus identified particularly Virgin elements
- It focused on increasing efficiency, effectiveness, loyalty and advocacy, together
- Design and deployment was channel-specific, understanding the different customer, staff and business needs by involving each group
- It brought consistency across the channels through cross-department involvement and taking inspiration and using similar language across frameworks.
If you’re looking to instigate a programme to improve the customer experience you offer it’s well worth keeping these factors in mind.
About Joe Heapy
Joe Heapy is co-founder and Director of Engine Service Design. With roots in industrial product design, Joe is an advocate of the social value of design in improving people’s lives. Joe has worked with clients across sectors to improve business performance and the experiences of service users. He helps organisations to formulate strategy and deliver service innovation: improving and interconnecting customer experiences.