Customer experience: CEOs need to take charge
By A. Asohan June 3, 2014
- Customer experience tied to brand identity, too important to be delegated
- Allocate 6-7% of revenue to customer interaction, key to business growth
MANY businesses already see the need to boost customer satisfaction with customer experience programmes, and some are even creating specialised roles like the chief customer experience officer.
But for such programmes to work effectively, the chief executive officer (CEO) himself has to take charge, according to Brandt International founder, president and chief executive officer, Munirah Looi (pic above).
“My personal experience is that the customer experience role can never be delegated. Everyone within the whole organisation is a brand manager, and those who have successfully implemented customer experience programmes are those who are in a very senior leadership position.
“Otherwise, such programmes tend to die a natural death. The line of reporting and getting the right person to drive this has to be very clean,” she told a media briefing in Kuala Lumpur recently.
The customer experience transformation cannot come from just training contact centre staff or redesigning processes to enable better customer service, or even putting the right technology in place, she said when asked why some customer experience programmes fail.
“It is a total mindset shift and cultural change in terms of how companies conduct their business as far as customer interaction is concerned.
“Moving towards what we call a ‘customer-centricity’ culture is key,” she said, adding that ‘customer-centricity’ needs to be embedded into the company culture.
Brandt International, which specialises in business and knowledge processing (BPO/ KPO) services and consulting, last year announced a partnership with Chennai-headquartered Servion Global Solutions Contact, which specialises in contact centre management and customer interaction management consulting and solutions, to tackle the domestic and regional customer experience market.
Both are MSC Malaysia (Multimedia Super Corridor) status companies.
Another reason why the CEO should take charge of customer experience is because it is integral to a company’s brand identity or brand promise, noted Abhijit Banerjee, vice president and Asia Pacific region head at Servion.
“Every enterprise commits a certain promise to its consumers. We call it the brand promise. That brand promise has to be translated into an interaction strategy.
“If your brand promise is ‘A’, and your interaction strategy is ‘B,’ obviously there’s going to be a gap. So we try and bridge the gap through our consulting services – we try to understand what the organisation’s brand promise is, and what its interaction strategy should be.
“Based on that, we try to give them a blueprint – and then based on that blueprint, we also advise them on what technologies they should use for their customer interaction management platform,” he said when asked what value proposition the Brandt International and Servion partnership brings to customers.
Customer experience involves three axes: People (skills and training), processes (how customer services calls are to be routed, for example) and technology. But even these are just the tools.
“When companies implement technology [for customer interaction], they also need to understand why they’re implementing that technology,” said Abhijit.
“Should there be more self-service options, or more personal touch points? How do you create that balance?
“That balance can only be achieved if you understand your company’s vision, and its brand promise,” he added.
Brandt International’s Munirah said that there is a very “glaring gap” in many organisations.
“They spend a lot to come up with beautiful mission statements, very high-level strategies and plans, but they fail in execution. Execution is how you translate these mission statements and strategies into an action plan, and implement it with the proper focus.
“Again, this translates back to the commitment from the senior leadership team. You spend all that money to get the best technology, but if it’s not part of management practice, if it’s not part of the company culture, if it’s ‘not the way we do things,’ then it will fail,” she added.
Another reason why companies may fail with their customer experience programmes is the many conflicting goals within the organisation itself.
“On the one hand, you want to improve customer experience; on the other, you’re struggling to gain market share or trying to increase revenue and hit sales targets,” said Munirah.
“So you have to juggle all these efforts, and very often, revenue surpasses customer experience in terms of focus. It’s so much easier to quantify and measure revenue,” she said, adding that success is very much tied to ownership of the customer experience programme.
“Too many companies think that by just training the frontliners and having a good contact centre solution, they solve all their customer experience problems,” she argued.
So how does one make an argument to a CEO for why his company needs to look into customer experience, and why it shouldn’t just be seen as a cost centre?
“First, I would ask the CEO if he believes that customer retention and new customer acquisition are important to his business,” said Abhijit (pic above).
“If the answer to that is ‘yes,’ and I presume it would be yes, then my next question to the CEO would be, ‘Then, would you like to invest in keeping your customers happy?’
“Especially your existing customers – if your existing customers are happy, if their expectations are met, then they would usually remain with you and also help bring in new customers via references and so on.
“To do all that, the CEO has to understand what the customer wants. The most important element of customer experience management is anticipating what your customer wants.
“The days when customer service was a reactive process is gone. Today, customers expect their service providers to know what they want – that is, to anticipate their preferences and their choices.
“Based on that, you need to invest in the right technology. And I’m using the term ‘right technology,’ because that’s where our consulting services come in. We will help to find out what the right technology is for you,” he said.
The scope of that technology today has expanded. Two decades ago, it was just the telephone, which was later further enabled by interactive voice response (IVR) systems. These days, you also have to take into account web, voice, email, chat, video and social media.
And it all has to be integrated – a customer interaction may start in one channel (a tweet, for example), followed up on another (email) and finally closed off on yet a third (a phone call), or any combination thereof.
This is the ‘omnichannel’ reality of today’s customer experience, and companies have a lot to juggle with, especially when you take customer segmentation into account.
“If your company is a low-cost budget airline, for example, you may want to invest more in automation and self-service because you’re looking at volume, masses and low cost. So your service delivery model must be tuned to this,” said Abhijit.
“But if you’re a high-class airline that is charging more for premium service, your consumers expect a personalised touch point with more human interaction – an agent picking up the phone and recognising you as a customer is what you would expect from that brand.
“There’s no cookie cutter solution where customer experience is concerned, no ‘one size fits all.’ It has to be tailored according to the brand, and the brand promise.
“And your service delivery model has to match that brand promise – that’s where your interaction strategy comes in,” he added.
Unfortunately, there is that ‘glaring gap’ that Brandt International’s Munirah referred to. According to Abhijit, a study by Adobe Inc found that globally, companies spend US$500 billion annually on public relations, advertising and marketing for branding campaigns. Only 2% of that budget is spent on relationship management.
“So organisations splurge money on brand creation and brand management, but having done that, they have to carry that brand message and do so consistently,” he said, adding that “inconsistent customer service is no customer service.”
“I would think they should be looking at spending at least about 6-7% of their revenue on their customer service or customer interaction strategy, because that is key to their future business growth.
“All enterprises spend a lot on one side [of the brand equation], but they don’t spend enough on optimising their customer service delivery channels.
“And this gap is what causes consumer frustration. There are enterprises which have become world-class because they have minimised this gap, and keep reinventing their customer experience,” he argued.
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