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Customer Centricity and Sharpening the Customer Experience, by Heriot-Watt’s Paul Hopkinson

Professor Paul Hopkinson, Associate Head of Edinburgh Business School for Heriot-Watt University Dubai and Academic Lead for Heriot-Watt Online, shares practical CX advice.

Customer experience (CX) and customer experience design have emerged as important tools in the marketer’s armoury in the quest for customer-centricity.  CX design is a valuable tool to help marketers promote loyalty and engagement by systematically managing customers along the path to purchase and repurchase. However, while most organisations believe they have sharpened their CX tools, some customers may disagree. Gartner has found that, despite a mandate to create a differentiated and innovative CX strategy that will drive business growth, more than 70 per cent of CX leaders struggle to design projects that increase customer loyalty and achieve results. Marketers must recognise their customers’ idiosyncratic and unique needs and design experiences with these in mind rather than opting for standardised solutions.

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Investing in improving customer experiences can be tricky, as the payoff may not be immediately apparent or readily measurable. So companies can be reticent when investing in CX programmes This can be a short-sighted strategy. Research by Deloitte and Touche, for example, indicates that customer-centric companies are 60 per cent more profitable compared with companies that are not focused on the customer.

Placing the customer experience at the centre of your business speaks to the very core of what marketing is all about, and few would disagree that this should be central to any self-respecting marketer’s manifesto. Yet we so often let operational constraints and internal turf wars dictate our approach.

Strategies to Support Customer Experience

Start with the internal stakeholders. An organisation cannot progress towards the next steps of CX if the internal stakeholders are not aligned with the vision of creating positive customer experiences and understanding their importance. A clear understanding of the need for upgrading CX with an appetite to improve at every given chance is at the core of building a positive and satisfying customer journey. A company’s values and mission need to envision a customer base that is satisfied with a single purchase or service and will come back to repurchase and advocate for the company. While strategies are a part of every company’s growth plans, a marketing strategy incorporating human-centric tools and experiences will achieve faster and better results. For example, despite a large number of employees, Google maintains transparency and encourages employee feedback on policies and strategies, gaining the trust of its internal stakeholders. A company always needs the buy-in of its employees to implement radical ideas and strategies.

CX needs to be driven by customer insight. Sounds obvious, but all too often we let our preconceptions about what constitutes a good experience rule the day or rely on limited, narrowly focused customer satisfaction surveys. Many companies focus on after-sales customer feedback. A study by Microsoft found brands are viewed more favourably by 77 per cent of consumers if they proactively invite and accept customer feedback. However, there are times when feedback is imperative in the early stages. Opening the door to feedback in the beginning of a customer relationship is equally important. For example, specifically with online purchases, many customers reach the end of the purchase cycle by dropping the item in the checkout bag; however, they may not go ahead at the last minute. As a result, there is no conversion and neither is a reason provided by the customer. It is easy for organisations to track the drop or bounce rate through tools embedded in the website, but few spend on such tools. Asking feedback from non-converted potential customers can provide key insights and help the company improve CX and products. A global example of failing to listen to customer feedback is Nokia. The one-time telecom giant ignored calls to change their operating system to a more user-friendly one. This resulted in losing customer base and market share.

The right employees with the rights skills and mindset go a long way. No technology or AI tool can compensate for the lack of a skilled workforce. Hiring people with the right skills for a customer service team, online or offline, is crucial in building a satisfactory customer experience. Hiring the right customer-facing team can be a challenging task; however, they are the ones that are the face or voice of the organisation. Communication skills are key, but all too often neglected in the quest to contain cost. Staff should be able to convey the brand message, have adequate product knowledge and provide answers to customers in a way that makes them feel valued. With the changing face of customer service, it is also important for the staff to keep improving their skills and knowledge. Another way to successfully build a positive employee base is by rewarding positive outcomes and the right attitudes. There is also a lot to learn from Amazon as an organisation. The company keeps enhancing it CX through improved services, be they faster-tracked delivery, seamless return options or monitoring social media for customer feedback. Microsoft’s State of Global Customer Service Report states that 56 per cent of people cease doing business with a company because of poor customer service experience.

Measuring the success rate and choosing the right measures. There are many known ways to measure if the CX strategy is proving successful or not for an organisation. One of the most common ways is using Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), a metric used to understand how customers feel about a specific interaction or experience. CSAT tracks customer satisfaction on scale of 1 – 5 similar to a Google rating or feedback reviews. Another useful tool is the Net Promoter Score (NPS), which measures and tracks how likely a customer is to recommend your business. If a company scores low, it suggests that the CX strategy is not working and needs to be refined to cater to customer needs and demands. Another way for organisations to understand the success of their strategy is by understanding the churn rate. This is by measuring the number of returning customers that are lost during a fiscal year or quarter. This will also help pinpoint when a customer stopped purchasing the brand product or service by understanding their previous buying patterns and comparing them to the drop. Repeat customers are significant to the growth of an organisation and churn rate is an important tool to understand what works and does not work.

It is an uphill task for most companies to correct and perfect their CX. It is not something that can be done in a short period of time but requires trial and error to create a winning strategy. CX is one of the most important factors while looking to improve and enhance the customer base.