The times they are a changin’

Andrew S - 15 th December 2016

I keep hearing people use the phrase “back in the day” as they regale stories of their past in order to compare what has been to what is now, and evaluate how much things have changed. It’s a reflection that always inspires me to think of the words of the latest Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan - “there is nothing as stable as change.”

Change: every business has had to adapt to it, every generation has had to live with it and use it to establish their mark on history through style, design, politics - you name it.

And every generation considers itself to be in a period of change - the like of which has never been seen before. Of course, they are right. The only real truth is that change is the constant in everything.

That being said, we are experiencing such an incredible period of rapid change at the moment in terms of both scale and speed that I think we will look back in a few years, amazed at the leaps that are being made.

Economic changes, shifts in population, technological advancements and its effect on human behaviour are all relentless. No business can stand still. And one of the biggest impacts of all comes from new competitors breaking rules and disrupting long established ways of working.

Such upstarts will change the way whole industries function.

What an incredible time to be in business!

Enabled by technology, inspired by agility and disruption, globalised, and in control of their own multi-channel worlds, businesses are having to transform themselves in order to meet the needs of a customer who is very much in control.

We see new startups building new business models using digital technologies and algorithms right from the start. They are disrupting marketplaces across all kinds of industries, from financial services to leisure and tourism, to household management.

No sector is immune to these pressures for change.

These challenges are huge for those established, or what might be regarded as legacy businesses. Many have grown over the years through mergers and acquisitions and now suffer from legacy systems that work against this agile and rapid response environment. However, change they must.

Alfa of Forrester gave an amazing talk at a recent CX Exchange Conference that Gary and I chaired, from which a key insight has stuck with me... In the future, you will either be a predator or a prey; the choice is yours.

It reminded me of the African proverb…

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're the lion or gazelle; when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.”

We all know that we must change, evolve, adapt, respond... call it what you will, but the big question is to what and how.

The insides of the organisation will always leak out

Looking around at what is happening in businesses across the world, the answer is becoming very clear. Those organisations that are genuinely putting the customer at the centre of their business are out performing those that are paying lip service to it.

For those in the latter camp, it’s clear to their customers that they don’t really get it because everything is revealed in the customer experience.

As we always say, “the insides of the organisation always leak out.”

From research we have been conducting across the world - in China, Japan, Italy, USA, UK, India and Belgium - it appears that some of the customer experience issues have globalised pretty consistently.

For example,

  1. Customers know the difference between companies that push them to an online platform to reduce costs, and those that do it to make it easy for them.

  2. They recognise the difference between satisfaction surveys designed to manage staff KPIs, and those that seek to empathise and understand.

  3. The insides of organisations leak out when they are re-invented, and customers see this every time they touch a business and it doesn’t recognise them, even though they are a regular customer.

  4. Customers don’t “listen” to the advertising, they judge the experience. If their multi-channel experience doesn’t work, they just disappear.

  5. They know when the staff they are dealing with are totally engaged and inspired or just doing a job on minimum wage.

  6. They get excited by something that feels personal in the digital space, but angry when it becomes impersonal through other channels.

These insights highlight essential questions brands need to be asking…

Is your data and insight giving you an accurate understanding of how your customers and potential customers feel about your multi-channel experience?

Is this experience aligned to your brand and business ambition?

The nice thing is that your customers will tell you if you ask them nicely. But they will only engage with you if they see you do something with the information.

We all know that there is a significant decline in response rates to satisfaction surveying, and it would appear that this is due to the fact that they are not what they purport to be…

Most tend to be internally focused and more about managing people rather than truly looking at customer needs. If the responses do not lead to visible change for the better, customers will disengage from the process and conversations will stop. This means brands will lose a valuable source of insight and the business ends up relying on feedback that is, at best, flaky.

For each and every one of us engaged in the amazing adventure that is the customer experience movement, I would suggest that we look at this time of change as a period of opportunity to transform our brands. A transformation from the supply driven world to one that is fundamentally driven by demand – the demands of our customers.

We can no longer shout at them and give them what we want; we need to listen and give them what we do on their terms… even with all the risk and reward that this entails.

Change is for the whole of your business

All this change must balance two critical aspects of what we are doing - the customer benefit and the business outcome. One without the other will lead to disaster and leave us as prey. Whereas if both ambitions are aligned then all businesses can succeed and even reach predator status.

But to manage this change we need to think about the whole of our business and not just the brand or customer facing element.

I recently heard a very challenging analysis from the CXO of a multinational financial services organisation. He and his team had calculated that 80% of the customer friction was created by 20% of their organisation, and nobody in the 20% felt that they were customer facing!

For us, this doesn’t come as a surprise. But how many of us are really doing something about it? We should all think about the places where critical customer interactions are taking place in our businesses without any brand inspiration taking pace.

The CXO and his team identified and fixed the issue by engaging the teams within the 20%, and helping them walk in their customers’ shoes. This helped inspire the employees involved and align their efforts to the brand.

To inspire and engage your teams, consider the following:

  • Everyone on the journey - or as some put it, the adventure - need to create customer experiences as a fundamental part of being a successful business, not just another fad.

  • CX must be made real for the business and its people through business plans and actionable insights.

  • Customers have experience benchmarks from everywhere, and will apply them to the experience they get from your business. So make sure you consider best practices in other industries, countries and sectors.

  • It’s holistic and multi-channel (call it “Digical” if you like) and we have to perform consistently in each one and every time. After all, the customer is in control of their channel selection.

  • It’s personal in every channel, but ‘personal’ must be harnessed as more than just a marketing tool - it has to be useful too.

  • It’s transformational for the business and its people, BUT the customers must be at the centre.

  • It’s on the customer’s terms not the organisation’s.

  • Build measurement tools that matter to make a clear difference and create action.

  • It’s what you do, not what you say you are going to do, that leads to genuine customer satisfaction.

  • Customer experience is a key business driver only when done properly with rigour, evidence and measurement.

  • CX is the way brands are being built right now, whether we like it or not.

There are, of course, a number of ways to help your team align with your brand and deliver an irresistible customer experience. These are just a few gems I’ve collated from some of the leading CX practitioners I recently had the privilege of speaking to.

But ultimately, it all comes down to the choice we each have to make; predator or prey?

Now nobody wants to be the prey, right? Well the cold truth is, if you don’t move with the times, times that change at pace, a prey you will indeed become.


If you've enjoyed this, why not read our latest case study about how a realigned customer experience helped Ladies Day at Aintree boost overall profit on the day by 20%...

Download case study

Andrew is the CEO and the other founding partner of Brand Vista. With over 30 years of brand experience both on the client and agency side, what gets him up every morning is a passion for helping clients grow through building genuinely differentiated brands that deliver a customer experience that becomes irresistible.
Find out more about Andrew S