We talk to Neil Sharp, head group customer experience for global banking giant, Old Mutual Group about the challenges of creating a consistent customer experience across multiple, multinational brands.
Welcome Neil. Thanks for taking the time to reveal how customer experience is influencing the future of Old Mutual Group.
CW: As the lead for customer experience across a global group, what does your role entail?
NS: My role is about working in partnership with different business units to develop a more customer-centric whole to the organisation. It's everything from considering how we deliver the brand promise of Old Mutual, which is very prominently promoted within the business, to how we ensure consistency at each customer touchpoint, how we measure CX and getting stuck into cultural drivers.
It’s also about rewarding the right behaviours through a whole series of different interventions that we do. It's a classic internal consulting role to me, that's how I describe it.
CW: Why is a role focused solely on experience so vital to your organisation?
NS: Well it’s complex – our group has so many different business units within it. Nedbank in Africa, for example, is 51% owned by the group, compared to the wealth management business in the UK, which is 100% owned and developing rapidly. Obviously you've got physical proximity with some of the units so it's easier to build relationships and meet face to face regularly, but at the same time we're trying to share best practice to create a consistent approach to experience across all of them whilst recognising that they may be in different parts of the world with different business and cultural requirements.
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We have to be agile and flexible, and prepared to try lots of different things and share, and it's all about building great relationships. In some respects it is like being a global hub. We get to see what is happening across the Group and in doing so are able to offer ideas and suggestions as to things that might help the business units to drive great customer experience and then, work with them to make it happen. We add most value when we truly partner with colleagues and get people excited, by helping to bring in a new idea from another part of the Group, or from outside, that really moves things forward. We then promote it across the group so we can share ideas backwards and forwards and then if appropriate, communicate that externally. That's how we're approaching it. Some things are not right for every business - the culture at Old Mutual is a very social type of business, as far as the people are very interested in what one another are doing and people genuinely want to work together to do the right thing.
CW: Who does customer experience sit with in your organisation, and why?
NS: It’s driven by leadership, first and foremost. If you don't have the right leadership commitment and people in senior positions who can deliver the right message, then it’s very difficult to drive CX as a key component, especially across a group as diverse as Old Mutual.
When you're trying to affect cultural change, especially across many different countries and different business units, you know each is going to require a subtly different approach. Therefore you have to be prepared to strongly back the ideas and initiatives that you feel are going make a real difference. We talk about raising the floor and raising the ceiling. Raising the floor being about getting the basics right, focusing on what's really important for a customer through the course of their journey with you, and raising the ceiling to draw inspiration from the very best internal initiatives and through learning from the best in the world outside – working with the people on the front line to make things happen and making sure we promote successes.
CW: How is it possible to maintain this balance between understanding the different requirements of different business units and maintaining a consistent experience?
NS: You have to understand the contrasts you’re dealing with. Our customers range from somebody who is living and working in a township wanting a more positive future for themselves and saving perhaps two or three dollars a week, to somebody who is preparing for retirement and trying to work out how to manage three million pounds that they've accumulated throughout their life. The bottom line is, the purpose is the same. We're trying to enable that individual to have the best possible future they can based on the assets and knowledge they have, and in the process giving them the best possible experience with us in the art of doing so.
It's about creating a consistent approach to experience for every customer whilst recognising that they may be in different parts of the world with different business and cultural requirements
The interpretation of those contrasts will be different in different business units. The tactics by which you go about actually deploying strategy may be different but the outcomes we are looking for should remain the same - making transactions with our business easy, making customers feel valued, giving them peace of mind. Those three things, transcend everything. So, I think, really clear, simple purpose, easily understood by everybody and consistently used as an overarching guiding principle is what makes this possible.
CW: In what department does customer experience sit in your organisation, and why?
NS: We used to call this stuff marketing. Then it became proposition development and everyone started using the word proposition. I suppose, some of the core principles that you adopt have come from that and certainty a lot of the work I do at Old Mutual is born out of marketing principles. Customer experience has become a job function in its own right but my view is it’s rooted in solid marketing processes.
CW: What advice can you give for other professionals and businesses to become customer experience-orientated?
NS: Keep it simple. I don't mean that in a trite way. I really, really mean that. There is a tendency to over complicate the delivery and it isn't complicated. It's about simplicity and communicating to people what you're trying to achieve. Don't assume that people understand even the most basic concepts. You've got to keep talking about it but in a really simple way.
The other thing I’d say is, yes it’s important that you have leaders who believe in customer experience, but you’ve still got to do things bottom-up.
You've got to get people at every level of the organisation not just buying into what you’re doing but to really want to do things. That is about communication, motivation, and just trying to get people galvanised around the simple set of things that everyone feels they want to contribute to, so it's not just some set of words that people look at and think, "That sounds really good but I had no idea what my contribution to that is.". Just making sure that whether you're sitting in a call centre in Kenya or advising in wealth management in London, you understand your contribution to a wider purpose
There's a big assumption that people naturally understand these things and therefore go and do them. Whilst it isn't complicated, it is a profession and there are tools and things that you should use to do things successfully. Ensure that people are well equipped. One of the things we're doing at Old Mutual is we're running our Green academy. We're running a number of learning and development programmes including a two day master class for customer experience professionals around the world, based on the CXPA curriculum. It’s important that we find ways to highlight the importance of CX to everyone in our business and give them the tools to make it happen.
About Chris Ward
Chris is Editor of MyCustomer. He is a practiced editor, having worked as a copywriter for creative agency, Stranger Collective from 2009 to 2011 and subsequently as a journalist covering technology, marketing and customer service from 2011-2014 as editor of Business Cloud News. He joined MyCustomer in 2014.