James Walker Group: Can CX work in manufacturing?

27th Jan 2016

Heather Grisedale, Service Excellence Manager for James Walker Group explains why the manufacturing sector requires a different approach to CX than others. 

Welcome Heather. Thanks for taking the time to share with us the way in which customer experience is making a difference at James Walker Group.  

CW: How long have you been in a customer experience role and what does your job entail?

HG: I've been with James Walker for ten years. My background was in tourism and coming into manufacturing, it's a completely different environment. In tourism, you have to have service, it's a no-brainer – if you don't deliver excellent service in tourism, you don't get repeat business. This is an approach I was always keen to bring into manufacturing as it's a completely different world. It still astounds me how far behind manufacturing is generally with service levels, compared with sectors like hospitality.

HGIt’s a fairly fluid role as a result of this, though: It’s about improving the experience the customers have by whatever means possible. Whether that's running training sessions, coaching people, bringing new ideas into the business, being part of bigger projects that other teams or departments are running and want a different perspective on. 

I don't have a team working for me and so the only way I can influence change is by getting people to see the value in doing the right thing for the customer.

CW: Why is customer experience a priority in a sector such as manufacturing?

HG: Our customers are predominately B2B – as we sell to companies prior to the end-user. Personally I absolutely loathe and detest the idea of B2B or B2C, because at the end of the day it’s people doing business with people and it should only be P2P. But as a result of our position, sometimes it’s difficult for staff to think about ‘the customer’. We have a huge proportion of staff working in manufacturing plants, for instance, never seeing a customer face to face.

Even in some of the sales centres, they can be so far away from the end customer that they don't believe they have an impact, so to them the customer isn’t part of the job. But part of my role is to get people thinking differently about the supply chain. If you're dealing with somebody then they may well be talking to a customer, so how you deal with them has an impact on how they can deal with the customer. To paraphrase Karl Albrecht, "if you're not serving a customer, you’d better make sure you're serving someone who is”. That’s something that we try and get across because we've got to open the eyes of the people in our businesses that actually, without customers, you haven't got a business.

CW: How do you go about changing such a fundamental approach to your employees’ mindset?

HG: It’s customer loyalty that leads to profitability and people are central to fostering that loyalty. When you look at the service profit chain, well, up until about four years ago, we were really only focusing on the customer satisfaction side of it. We weren't doing anything with our people. So that's when I really started getting involved in the customer experience side; much more so than just conducting a CSAT survey.

We had to go back to the very beginning, and begin with our company’s purpose and values. This has been a monumental task in itself - we're only just at the point now where we're rolling out that purpose and values across the company. But with the right kind of purpose that our people can easily relate to we can encourage all of our employees to think about their approach to work and who their customer is.    

The HR team are busy developing different ways of recruiting and managing people that aligns key people processes  to the values and behaviours. All this kind of stuff, we were doing in some areas but we weren't consistent across the whole group. Although there are lots of businesses that form our group across the world, we're still James Walker to the customer, and they should be able to get consistent service across the entire business.

CW: So is consistency the key element of customer experience?

HG: It’s about consistency but also ensuring it’s personalised at the same time. Not consistent in that everyone's following a script, yadda, yadda, yadda. Taking that approach means you get the same day in and day out. You actually want it to be personal. But this reverts back to our values: I'm in the process of getting our customer proposition approved. In that proposition, we're asking that employees, for customers, deliver personalised services with minimal effort that leaves them (the customer) feeling valued and happy.

To paraphrase Karl Albrecht, "if you're not serving a customer, you’d better make sure you're serving someone who is”. 

We're in the process of getting that through board approval at the moment. It gives people a very clear direction; if you're recruiting internal sales or external sales and you're not telling them “this is the level of service we expect” and “this the type of thing that customers should be expecting” - the personalised service, the minimal effort on their part, that leaves them feeling valued and happy – how  are they ever going to deliver if they don't know what the message is they're delivering?

CW: But how do you actually ensure employees deliver on that messaging?

HG: Well it reverts back to a point I made earlier about employee engagement. My opinion is that it's a big trick we are missing to really accelerate the process – engaging employees in ways they can improve their customer experience.

If you look at James Walker, we're still fragmented to some degree because each business operates as its own local business. My approach has been to work with the business units most keen to be involved with changing values. The path of least resistance. Training advocates on improving customer experience and aligning to our new values. We can’t do this in one big bang, so we have to be patient.

CW: What advice can you give for other professionals and businesses keen to follow a similar path?

HG: Well, firstly I would say start small. Don't take on too many CX projects because they are massive undertakings. Our values project alone was massive. Work with those that want to work with you and start small. As former Team GB cycling coach Dave Brailsford so famously said, it's all about “aggregation of marginal gains” and the idea of the 1% improvements. It's not about going the extra mile because going the mile is a massive, massive hurdle. It's constantly improving by an extra millimetre.

Secondly, get complaint handling right. At James Walker Group we've at times had 27 different complaint handling processes across our group of companies.  That is so far from consistent. We've previously had everything from very complicated systems and processes to literally customer emails where there's no traceability, no support for the customer, no feedback for the customer – it’s incredibly disjointed.

We’re in the process of rolling out one group-wide minimum standards for excellence for complaint handling and I’m confident that this will start to improve not only our relationships with  customers but also the knowledge we have about those less-than-vocal customers.

For every company, there is the minimum service level that customers expect so I’d say this is now a baseline for CX - getting complaint handling audited and measured and making sure our businesses are living up the minimum standards.

CW: In your opinion, which brands / executives set the standard for customer experience?

HG: I find Enterprise interesting. We hire cars with them and their complaint handling process is very good through Twitter, in particular. I want to take some of that and bring that into James Walker. At the moment we don’t monitor social media. We're not at that stage. It's a manufacturing company. I would guess that we're a little bit behind the times in terms of using social media.

For me though, if you’re going to decide to do social media service you have to do it well. Too many companies fall into the trap of saying they’re a social media leading business but then a customer will Tweet a complaint and no one gets back to them for four days. That’s not exactly an example of good CX.

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