Hi Alan, tell us about yourself, your background?
I’ve always had a great interest, and appreciation for art, product design, and technology, and I knew very early on back in my school days I wanted to pursue a career along these lines. This began with numerous design jobs where I was either producing printed collateral or POS and exhibition stands. I did this for a number of years and got great enjoyment and satisfaction out of it. Still, then it began migrating into social media and digital design for websites, which is when the obsession with customer experience really kicked in.
I joined TalkTalk as a designer, and it was my first, what I would call ‘real’ access to Voice of the Customer. Suddenly, I was exposed to a wealth of customer insight I hadn’t previously been exposed to – this was a real eye-opener for me. Having clear metrics provided me the most solid foundation from which I could measure success. I worked my way up to more senior positions. I spent a number of years as part of the Creative Leadership Team, working in both the B2B and B2C sides of the business to support business objectives and improve website conversions.
I joined Space Between in 2018 and became exposed to more data than I’d ever been exposed to before. I’m not just talking about the wealth of user data and analytics. Still, we run biometric user testing sessions where we’re recording facial recognition, eye movement, galvanic skin response a number of other metrics. We take this data and analyze it before we create an array of hypotheses from which we can run A/B and multivariate tests as part of a CRO (Conversion Rate Optimisation) program, providing detailed insight into how users with their site, benchmarked against their competitors. Getting into the analysis and looking at data in such detail took my understanding of how users actually behave and use a website to a whole new level. We later merged with our sister company Eclipse to become a full-service agency and our particular position was the Experience team.
As Head of Design for Eclipse, my goal is to drive data-driven (or data-informed) design to ensure anything we create is designed with a clear understanding of the metrics attached to it. The leadership across Eclipse understands the importance of customer experience and ensures everyone else does too. We drive collaborative thinking, learning, and ideation. This is at the heart of both our success and our client’s success, so we ensure everyone understands that and drives towards aligned goals.
Online commerce was booming in 2020, and so did consumer reviews. – How can brands better utilize this data to improve their customers’ experience?
There isn’t really a ‘one size fits all answer to this question. It will all depend on your industry, your product, your infrastructure, and your business maturity. As an example, if you’re an online-only business, there are numerous challenges from which you need to overcome. With the current climate, users have been ‘forced’ to shop online in 2020 – even those that may not have been drawn to do it before. As a result, you really need to consider:
- Competencies of your users
How much help or guidance do they need on your site? Are you doing enough to make their experience as simple as possible? Where in the sales funnel are they getting stuck or leaving the site without purchasing? These are all questions that brands should be asking themselves – where traffic may have boomed, so will the competition. If you’re not analyzing this data to improve your experience, I can assure you, your competition is. It only takes one bad experience to lose a potential customer forever.
- Provide reassurance wherever possible
The challenge online is (as per the question) around consumer reviews. People understand more now that you can’t always trust reviews, so how can you build trust in your brand? Analyze the data – what are people engaging with? What are your customers telling you? Don’t just look at individual data points either – understand their behavior in as much detail as you can and see where the patterns emerge. See how they navigate your site – there’s a strong likelihood you can uncover problems based on unexpected behaviors on your website.
- Connect your website and your bricks and mortar
All the talk online is great, amazing in fact, but let’s not forget about the high street experience. This will return at some point, so take the time to understand how you can optimize your in-store experience. There’s often a competition between the success of in-store and online experiences (and ultimately sales), but these should be analyzed as a single, brand experience. Allow these to work with each other, not competing against each other. The in-store footfall should be an experience in itself, but there’s a reason you find so many sales assistants out there hear ‘I’m just browsing.
When people are in-store, they aren’t necessarily ready to buy, so how can you ensure they come back either in person or online when they are? The same goes the other way – some users browsing online would much rather touch and feel the product (in the fashion industry especially, although not exclusively), so how could you provide your customers a great experience to do this? Trust me – there are simple ways you can do this.
Alan’s tips for personalization
What tips do you have for companies that want to improve their personalization strategies?
- Understand what the customer is looking for, and prioritize over what you want them to see
One of the key drivers for personalization is relevance, customer retention, and ultimately an increased AOV (Average Order Value). Take a look at what users are engaging with and how they’re engaging. More importantly, understand what they’re not engaging with at all.
- Remove the noise
Beyond providing related products or services and browsing history, remove the things that people really don’t care about. Sometimes this is hard to hear – you have great products, you have great services, so you want to tell the world about it, but is the customer at the right stage to make the decision? If not, you’re wasting your time and budget targeting users who will never ultimately buy it. Not only that, if you push it too much, they may never come back – even if they had intentions of remaining as a customer.
- Become your customers BFF
Understand what motivates them (what content or tools are they engaging with?)
Understand what turns them away or bores them (what are they skipping past and ignoring?)
Understand HOW LONG they’re spending engaging with your brand (are they popping in for a quick tea or coming round for dinner?)
Understand HOW they’re engaging with your brand and what tech are they using to do so (what level of technology can you utilize with your customers?)
Understand if this is important to your customers or is it important to your business initiatives? (Do people want what you’re offering?)
- That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have it, but you should consider the information hierarchy and ensure you’re providing an experience that reflects that. Analyzing these points and answering them will provide tangible results and improvements in the customer experience…
Do you think personalization and customer-centricity are going to become increasingly more relevant in the coming year? How so?
Absolutely, yes. Customer-focussed content will become imperative for any brand in the coming year. Similarly, to mentioned above, there’s a lot of noise from brands, so you need to make sure you can cut through that. The more time people spend online, the less patient they’ll become. Make sure you’re providing the right content at the right time. That may be at various points in the buying journey; it may be as part of product discovery. Don’t put users off by forcing content that isn’t important to the user. Users will either just end the experience there or brush past it and dismiss it, meaning a lot of wasted effort for very little or no return.
Social media pages have become crucial for companies in most industries, especially in eCommerce. What’s the most common mistake you see in a company’s social media strategy?
- A lack of engagement
It’s the conversation that can drive conversion, so simply posting content isn’t enough anymore. If you’re hoping your posts will drive users to your site, you can’t just post then forget about it. That’s like putting your website ‘live’ then ignoring the accumulated data that drives the optimization process. The level of engagement will vary based on your customers and your business size, plus you will always find the ‘trolls’ of the internet who comment and thrive on that. Still, high levels of engagement with the right audiences can increase brand trust and loyalty. Users like to be acknowledged and know you’ve listened to them.
- Poorly timed or unconsidered content
Timing is key in your social media strategy. Reacting to trends and hot topics can drive brand advocacy, engagement, and loyalty when done in the right way. If done poorly and in bad taste, it can have a hugely negative impact on your brand.
- Not expressing personality and brand individuality.
With all the competition out there, your brand needs to stand out and be noticed. Simply doing what someone else is doing because you think you should, strips that opportunity away. Know yourselves just like you want to know your customers and carry this throughout your social channels.
What’s the most insightful book you read in 2020?
I’m not a big book reader – I often don’t have the time. A bit like the users mentioned above, the time investment required will often stop me from dedicating significant time to reading. I actually spend much more time reading articles and insight studies where I can go down very niche avenues. Whether this is the ergonomic impacts of design or the change in behavior as a result of cultural change, I get more value and satisfaction from better understanding a very specific subject.
Every now and again, however, I get fully invested in a particular subject or person who I really want to know more about. The one that pops to mind is the Steve Jobs autobiography. It gave me so much more of an insight into his life – the man the public saw and the man behind the façade. It gave a real appreciation of how controlled his public persona was.
I think it’s currently more important (and relevant) than ever right now to appreciate an individual’s circumstances and truly understand if what you’re seeing is the real person. Identifying if someone is struggling or maybe reaching out for help without even knowing about it is the most valuable insight I can see today. This way of thinking will not only prove invaluable to your working relationships, either. Apply this same empathy to your customers, and you’ll find this pays dividends in the long term objectives of the business.
It looks like working from home is going to stay with us for the foreseeable future. How should Executives gear up to the changing times?
I went from traveling up and down the country every couple of weeks to working from home full time, so have gradually created a home setup tailored around focus and comfort. This has greatly benefited my productivity, so key things to consider:
Make sure you have a dedicated space for you to work
Separate your working and non-working hours wherever possible. My wife and I both have spare rooms from which we’ve set up our own office spaces. I appreciate this isn’t possible for everyone, but having a space from which you know you work will allow you to focus.
Even if we can’t have conversations face to face, make sure you turn your videos on during calls. Seeing each other can completely change the tone of a conversation, and it’s much easier to talk to someone you can see.
Don’t make it all about work
Even if your diary is back-to-back jammed full of meetings and agendas, be sure to take some time for general conversation – just as if you were in an office. Look to build relationships with your colleagues, and you’ll find the serious business conversations will be a lot easier to have.
Take time for yourself
Burn out is real thing and shouldn’t be ignored, so be sure to have time for you to relax and just forget about work altogether. We can’t all be switched on 24/7, so make sure you create some headspace for yourself to recharge.
Last but not least, what is your favorite CX metric?
That’s a difficult question to answer, but I would say my favorite CX metric I would say is CSAT (customer satisfaction). The main reason for this is that a satisfied customer is often a returning customer. A returning customer often leads to higher-order values and better conversations.
NPS (Net Promoter Score) is generally the most talked about and does allow you to predict behavioral patterns. Still, whether it’s NPS, CSAT, churn of CLV (Customer Lifetime Value), you shouldn’t really analyze these in isolation of each other. All metrics add value and deeper insight to your users and should be used to better inform and improve your brand’s customer experience.