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Sandra de Zoysa and James Scutt, former winners of the CX Leader of the Year award

What does it take to be CX Leader of the Year?

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As the final submission date for MyCustomer’s 2021 CX Leader of the Year looms large, we shine a spotlight on the award’s former winners to establish what it takes to claim the prestigious annual prize.

18th Aug 2021
Editor MyCustomer
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Customer experience professionals have until 17th September to get their entries in for MyCustomer’s CX Leader of the Year award.

Now in its third year, the award – free to enter and independent – has previously attracted hundreds of entrants around the world, from Lebanon to Hungary, and in the case of its two winners so far – the UK and Sri Lanka.

With this in mind, we have decided to analyse the skillset and achievements of the two previous winners – Sandra de Zoysa, chief customer officer of Dialog Axiata and James Scutt, head of customer experience of the Post Office – to find out what it was that convinced our team of expert judges that James and Sandra’s entries stood out most among the other 150+ excellent entries to the award, in 2019 and 2020.   

Commitment to the cause

Whilst by no means a prerequisite for success, both James and Sandra have spent many years working in customer service and experience in their respective organisations, learning their organisations and their customers and helping to apply strategic, incremental CX improvements along the way. As James explained on MyCustomer’s Connecting the Dots podcast in November 2020, his 15 years at the Post Office have been about taking a long-term view:  

“The Post Office is a vast organisation. It’s got 11 and a half thousands branches across the UK serving 10 and a half million customers a week. You have to be resilient when you’re talking about that kind of scale and you have to be in it for the long-term.

“It’s a long game to improve things, but then if you are able to improve things over the long-term then you end up delivering a more robust improvement of customer experience as a result, rather than only delivering short-term tactical things.

“There’s always a space for short-term tactical things but overall the aim is to improve robustly over a long period of time.”

Sandra has herself worked her way through the ranks of customer service at Sri Lanka’s leading telecom, Dialog Axiata, during a 25 year tenure, having previously worked in telecom customer service elsewhere prior to Dialog.

Sandra speaks of the importance of embodying a service approach to life, and being committed to living it both inside and outside the organisation.  

“I’m a Dialog employee and I live in a certain way, which means if you see someone in trouble, or something has fallen or it’s a senior citizen, you pick them up or you help that person. Why? Because your service culture is what you live. This is not something that you do inside your office and forget about when you are outside.  

“For over three decades I have dedicated my life’s work towards building service delivery and CEM capabilities in Sri Lanka on par with global standards. I feel I have been instrumental in facilitating the training and development of over 13,000 young Sri Lankan trainees, hopefully resulting in the enrichment of their lives and enabling rapid growth of the service industry."

Organisation-wide CX initiatives 

As Sandra explains, a core part of her role as chief customer officer has been to implement customer service training and development for Dialog’s myriad employees. Alongside employee development, she has also been responsible for conceptualising and launching a company-wide culture transformation programme in 2012 –‘Service from my heart’ which has been led by the company’s group CEO and remains in place to this day.

Other initiatives Sandra can lay claim to include the establishment of a customer experience group leadership committee with c-level representation and the creation of a Customer Service Training Academy. It was the sheer volume of organisation-wide activity that highlighted Sandra’s passion for CX to the CX Leader of the Year judges.

James has been equally prolific at the Post Office, helping to roll out – among others – a targeted CX training programme called Customer Experience University, CX dashboards, a closed-loop ticketing system that sends notifications to area managers if feedback has shown that something needs closer attention, and an annual ‘Love Your Customers Week’ designed to highlight important aspects of CX to employees across the Post Office.

As 2020 CX Leader of the Year judge, Michael Hinshaw perhaps best summarises: “I was struck by the ways James has driven key aspects of experience excellence into the Post Office - clearly defined strategies, customer listening, a cultural shift towards individual and group empowerment and a shift away from top-down, centralised control via training and education, process improvements and customer understanding, to name a few!

“It is highly impressive the number of initiatives that he put in place at the Post Office, and to do this in a public sector organisation is even more commendable.”

Indeed, it’s the relentless approach to organisation-wide improvement through ongoing initiatives that separated both James and Sandra from their peers in 2019 and 2020.

Your service culture is what you live. This is not something that you do inside your office and forget about when you are outside.  

Understanding the link between employee and customer experience

Speaking to customer experience author and advisor, Adrian Swinscoe for his Punk CX podcast in 2019, Sandra perhaps best explains why her focus as a CCO has always been as much about employee experience as it has customer experience:

“We had five competitors, we were doing well and we were market leaders but we always felt like competitors were able to mimic what we offered and were gaining market share. Coverage, price, product etc – these are things that can be cloned. But there’s one thing that’s inimitable – service and service culture.

“We knew we needed to anchor our culture around one thing that all our employees felt was important and one thing that provided a target and something to focus on, that employees can believe in. It may seem fundamental, but when you run a business that operates for profit and customers those customers have to be that one ‘thing’ employees focus on. So to put customers at the centre of your business is vital but to do that you have to provide targets, focus and goals that employees can understand.

“We want to create pride in employees, as that translates to the way they serve customers. Whether it be the way we gamify customer service work or our employee awards scheme or the Service from the Heart initiative – it’s about recognising all our employees have a role to play in delivering excellent customer service.”

This determination to deliver is perhaps as best summarised by CX Leader of the Year judge, Ian Golding: “Sandra’s ability to connect the customer journey with operational process is the key, in my opinion, to driving continuous improvement to the customer experience – something many others are failing to do."

Listen and take action

Finally, a key requirement for any CX professional is to have the tools in place to effectively collect and listen to customer feedback on an ongoing basis.

But what truly separates the leaders from their peers is their ability to not only identify customer challenges but to take action. This can be easier said than done when delivering CX within a vast organisation, as explained by James on MyCustomer’s Connecting the Dots podcast:

“One thing we’ve recognised is that customers respond more positively to their local branches rather than a standardised, corporate approach to service and experience. We’ve taken that on board and have made steps to essentially decentralise the customer experience. So not have a corporate brand experience you want to deliver across the board and to instead give ownership at branch level, but with the right support, tools and training on offer to assist branches in their delivery.

“For me this was about bringing things down to certain drivers that everyone already intrinsically understands, so we have a set of 6 key drivers that we were able to identify via 5 years of customer feedback – be friendly, be professional, knowledgeable, easy, understand efficiency and understand expectations.

“We’ve got customer scores and of course we have metrics to measure the success of CX. We measure ease as our main metric but then we have these 6 drivers that feed into exactly what our customers have been telling us are important to determining a good experience with us.”

Entries for MyCustomer’s CX Leader of the Year award close 17th September. More information and details on how to enter can be found here: https://www.cxleaderoftheyear.com/  

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