Customer experience professionals are in the business of finding and fixing the pain points of customers, but what about theirs? We take a look at the challenges keeping our CX pros awake at night.
Unpicking legacy processes
Long-established organisations often have the hardest time putting customers at the centre of the business. Customer experience (CX) teams can find themselves coming up against what Adam Novak, Head of Customer Experience at nib Health Funds calls, “legacy antique business rules”. This can be the biggest barrier to empowering people to deliver better CX.
Tackling the attitude of “that’s the way we’ve always done things” is an ongoing battle. And even when that is absent, there can still be years of systems and procedures put in place by well-intentioned predecessors that no longer serve the business.
Karen Platt, Director, Customer Experience & Innovation at Optus Business, is in the unique position of not only overseeing her company’s CX initiatives but also helping enterprises to do the same. Her role requires knowledge of business-to-business and business-to-consumer interactions with a client list including banks, insurance companies and government departments.
Platt says: “You either have an amazing opportunity to create something new and start from scratch, or you’re going back and re-architecting the way people work, the processes and the technologies in a business. That rearchitecting is challenging.”
With Optus’ roots stretching back to 1998 when it first began offering Australian customers an alternative to Telstra for long distance calls, Platt sees first hand the challenges of legacy business procedures. She says: “I don’t have the luxury of creating a new business around a customer. I’m trying to go backwards and unpick years of complexity that was added because we thought it was the right thing to do at the time.”
For Harriet Wakelam, General Manager Experience Design at health insurer Medibank, unpicking these processes is the core of what she does. She says: “Behind the problems we look at, there are processes, root causes, an event or something that needs to be invented. We ask what it would look like in an ideal situation and the CX work is a pathway to how that feels. That might be inventing something new. It might be taking some steps out of something. It might be bringing a product to market. It might be redesigning a process.”
As if unpicking years of process wasn’t complicated enough, there are additional levels of complexity the CX professional has to deal with. For starters, it takes a small army to deliver on the promise of making customer’s lives easier.
Medibank’s Wakelam says: “In my team, I have data analytics people, NPS people, pure designers, CX designers, user experience (UX) designers, graphic artists – a range of different skills.”
The vast disciplines, and the different kind of people who work within them make for a complex beast to wrangle. Wakelam says this comes with the territory given the nature of the work. She says: “It makes sense that it would be complex because you’re dealing with product experience, communications experience, service, interface, multi-channel. When you look at the complexity of humans, the complexity of the market, the complexity of the environment and the complexity of corporations, it’s no wonder you need this army of skills.”
On a business level, simplification goes hand in hand with unpicking processes and day-to-day complexity but David Pisker, National Customer Experience and eCommerce Manager at Officeworks, says the most important job for CX teams is making someone else’s life easier: the customer.
He says: “If you think of where retail brands were 20, 30 years ago sourcing products, displaying them on shelves for customers to visit and purchase. Easy. The power of supply was with the retailer. Today, however, that dynamic has changed. Consumers have greater direct access to more products, more information, better fulfilment options. In turn, for retailers, this has increased price competition, forced margins down and supply chain costs up. To compete in this retail paradigm we need to better understand how our consumers behave – what they want, when they want it and how they want it delivered – to be able to retain and increase their spend within our brand. We need to create more value in our relationships – moving from providing products/services to solutions. The glue holding all this together is making things easier for customers.”
nib’s Novak agrees. He’s keen to see businesses reach a level of simplification where doing something such as checking into a hotel is seamless. He says: “If I can book on my phone and walk into the hotel where I already know what my room number is because it was sent through in the booking; I can use my phone to scan into the door, I don’t have to talk to anyone to check in or out – that’s making it easy for customers. Organisations who can get that will win a lot of hearts.”
Connecting the channels
“Customer experience is the accumulation of experiences the customer has with your brand or service so it incorporates a multitude of touchpoints,” says Medibank’s Wakelam. And much like the processes and systems put in place over a number of years, these touchpoints have been added to the mix at various stages of the business’s evolution. As such, they aren’t always connected.
This is a familiar issue for many organisations. nib’s Novak says: “It’s a challenge, linking all that data, especially identifying those key customer journeys, and the gaps. Many companies aren’t very good at providing omni-channel experiences and we could improve in this area, including nib. For example, I would expect that I can start a transaction in one channel and then seamlessly complete in another. And as a customer, if I have trouble completing across a touchpoint and pick up the phone to the contact centre, the consultant should have access to data so they can understand where I have fallen over in the customer journey. This is currently an area of focus for nib.”
Then there’s the decision of how to best communicate with customers along that journey, a vastly different question for a health insurance provider than, say, a stationery company like Officeworks.
Finding the right mix is an art form, especially as more processes become automated, a point raised by CX expert Kerry Bodine who draws on the example of Apple, a tech-based company with a very human element: its stores.
Optus’ Platt says: “The blend of channels is always a challenge. We want to migrate more and more people to digital platforms, but they still want to be able to pick up the phone or go and see someone personally. It’s striking a balance. What tasks do we need people to deliver, and what can we deliver digitally?”
CX expert Bodine told Ashton Media recently, “Changing a corporate culture at a 100,000-person organisation – or even a 5,000-person organisation – is a long change management effort.” The same could be said for a 600 person organisation.
As Karen Platt says, “You need really good sponsorship.”
Buy in from across the business is key to enacting change within an organisation that’s attempting to do the same for its customers. As Bodine says, it’s a decades-long initiative that requires ongoing effort, so we can expect organisational transformation to be on the to-do lists of CX professionals for some years to come.
CX is not immune to questions around measurement that plague marketers. Medibank’s Wakelam expresses the thoughts of many when she asks: “Are we measuring against the right metrics and if we’re not, what should we be measuring against?”
It’s hard to say definitively if return on investment or a net promoter score is the last word in CX measurement. Optus’ Platt points to another metric: Return on experience. John Cain, Todd Cherkasky and Rick Robinson from SapientNitro describe return on experience, or RoX, as “a measurement approach that blends art and science, story and technology”. It’s the concept that once someone has an excellent interaction with your brand, there will be a measurable return. As such, it’s not likely to be a simple metric to implement.
Platt says: “For people to understand return on experience, you have to have the business acumen, but you also have to have the emotional intelligence to understand we’re dealing with humans.”
Whether RoX becomes an industry standard for measurement is yet to be seen but there is likely to be a shift in how the benefits of CX are assessed some time in the future.
According to the industry insiders we spoke to for this piece, to work in CX you need business acumen, emotional intelligence, curiosity, empathy and an applicable skill set such as design, analytics or communications. And a background in psychology doesn’t hurt.
It sounds like something of a tall order to find all that in one package so it comes as little surprise those in the field are having trouble sourcing new recruits.
“My personal biggest challenge right now is not one customers are generating, it’s the fact there’s just so few people experienced with improving customer experience. My biggest issue is finding talent, particularly around design. I know I’m not the only one. A lot of the agencies that provide those services are also quite challenged. In our market, that’s quite a big issue,” says Platt.
Wakelam concurs that the biggest talent shortage is in design. She says: “There’s a skill shortage in design globally.” This gap is forcing many organisations to start exploring alternative ways fill the roles.
“Do you hand grow designers?” asks Wakelam. “There’s certainly no way we can catch up with design education. And design education isn’t necessarily meeting business needs.”
The only option looks to be hiring for one skill set then upskilling from there. Platt says: “The skill set I employ for is change; it’s change management. It’s people understanding how to influence people and that’s very much around how you get a legacy business to try and understand what they need to change.”
Rapid change and growth
The CX movement is not dissimilar to the startup movement as business after business catches on to the importance of being customer-centric. There is ample opportunity for CX professionals and no shortage of organisations that need help in this area. With this growth comes many challenges including the aforementioned talent shortage, the questions of measurement and sustainability concerns for the future of CX.
“As business cycles transition, change and become more rapid, how do you work effectively with all of those moving parts? CX is one of those enabling capabilities that works across organisations so all of our parts are moving. The experience and skill to work in that space effectively are our challenges,” says Medibank’s Wakelam bringing us right back to the issue of sourcing and training talent.
The power shift
Perhaps there is some comfort in knowing the rapid change within organisations mirrors that in the lives of the consumer. In today’s marketplace, the power has clearly shifted. More than ever, it’s in the customer’s hands.
This presents both challenges and opportunities with businesses like Uber and Airbnb building their models on the foundation that a bad customer review will put you out of business. With consumers coming to expect this sort of power, other companies have to follow suit. But as we have discussed, for legacy organisations, it’s a much more difficult proposition.
Rapidly changing customer expectations are a pain point for many. Pisker gives the example of one of Officeworks’ offerings: Click and Collect, which allows people to shop online then collect their purchase in store.
“A couple of years ago it was like, ‘Hey if I can get it within a day or two that’s fine’,” says Pisker. “The research we have undertaken recently shows about 64% of customers expect they should be able to order something online and pick it up from the store within three hours. That’s the Australian paradigm. In America, the expectation is, ‘Deliver to me wherever I have to be in the city within an hour’.”
While six-year-old Uber might be able to meet changing demands such as that, older organisations could be forgiven for struggling given what we know about their internal processes.
“Customer’s expectations of brands will continue to grow,” says Pisker which means there will be no respite on this front for CX teams anytime soon.
Organisations already on the CX journey have the best intentions to deliver exceptional customer experiences but when times are tough, like everywhere else, CX budgets feel the pinch. The focus shifts to selling at all costs instead of being customer centric.
Platt says: “All organisations are faced with that in a different way.”
Knowing expectations from consumers are only going to increase suggests CX needs to have more money thrown at it, not less. For this to happen the entire organisation needs to see the value in CX. Whether this could be achieved with a metric such as RoX in place is anyone’s guess but a solution is needed to ensure the sustainability of the CX movement and the future of many organisations in an increasingly consumer driven world.
Mark Abay - Content Director, Ashton Media
Mark is Content Director at Ashton Media. It's his job to create interesting and engaging conference programs that stretch the thinking of our attendees. Mark works closely with our industry advisors to ensure the conference content is aligned with the needs and interests of our audiences.