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CXBuzz Interview With Angela Crawford, Vice President, Digital, Graduate & Professional Programs at Thomas More University

Hi Angela, tell us about yourself, your background?

I am the Vice-President for Digital, Graduate and Professional Programs at Thomas More University, and previously served as Dean of the College of Business the past two years.  Prior to these recent roles, my time has been spent in financial services, marketing, operations, sales, strategy, and consulting with most all of my work focused on improving customer and employee experiences over the past 25 years.

In 2012, I became so interested in finding innovative ways to meet the needs of customers and employees that I went back to earn my PhD at Case Western Reserve, where I focused my research in services marketing.  Since then, I continue to study and research trends that can help both people and organizations grow.  I believe that when we build and adapt our strategies around meeting the changing needs of customers and employees, we have a much better chance of winning in the market.

Online commerce was booming in 2020, and so did consumer reviews. – How can brands better utilize this data to improve their customers’ experience?

We all know about the devastation that has occurred due to the pandemic, however, there are some bright spots when it comes to how organizations became more nimble and agile over the past year.  These learnings will serve them well as we continue to see advances, like AI, machine learning, virtual reality, and new technology, shift customer experiences and expectations.  Given the trends we are seeing, we have to build systems that can analyze data quickly and provide information almost real time.

Product and service review information needs to be constantly aggregated, monitored, responded to and leveraged by marketing and operations to determine if changes need to be made.  For example, I needed a new washer during the pandemic, and normally I would have gone to stores and looked around.

However, out of necessity I had to read online and make a decision based on reviews.  The washer is just fine and we are happy.  Ultimately, it saved me time and money using reviews in the buying process, so I will likely do it again.  As consumers, right or wrong, we tend to trust people who leave reviews on the products and services more than we trust the organizations marketing.  Using this data to consistently improve products and services, and respond to any issues quickly as they arise, is well worth the time and money.

Angela’s tips for personalization

What tips do you have for companies that want to improve their personalization strategies?

With some of the privacy changes happening, many marketers are becoming concerned about their digital personalization strategies.  However, instead of fearing not being able to track customers, we should be focused on how we can better understand our customers and engage them with our brands.

Sometimes this means we have to look outside of our own industries to see what is happening and to be more innovative.  Think about it.  There was a day when consumers were happy with two coffee options, decaf and regular.  Starbucks changed those expectations and taught us that we can get coffee just about any way we could imagine it.  There was also a time when people were fine with seven day delivery, Amazon changed those expectations, and now we can get our packages delivered to whatever place we want and in just one day most times.

Innovative organizations look for ways to do what may seem impossible to other people.  They work to deeply understand their customers and design customer experiences to meet their core desires, versus focusing on their stated needs, or broad-brushing market segments.  Building personas of our customers, doing in-depth research about their lives and what they need to accomplish should help us better understand their core desires and give us the information we need to know how we can personalize the experience for them in a way that will also engage them in our brand.

Do you think personalization and customer-centricity are going to become increasingly more relevant in the coming year? How so?

Yes, personalization and customer-centricity is only going to increase. The best way to describe customers these days is distracted.  We receive more information and ads through more modalities than ever.  Organizations are going to have to continue to work really hard to reach customers in ways they want to be reached and provide services in ways the desire.  Focusing on three things should help.

1. Mobile.  We continue to see growth in the use of mobile devices.  Organizations need to design products, services and websites with mobile first in mind.

2. Easy.  Everything about doing business with your organization must be easy.  That means from the time I visit your site to the time I make a request or purchase.  We have to be relentless in making the customer experience seamless and constantly work to innovate to clarify our messaging, reduce clicks and anything else that can distract or delay customers.  I have given up on purchases many times because of difficulty in making a purchase.  We have to make every step of the buying journey simple and easy

3. Relevant.  Customers know that you have information about them and they expect you to engage them in a relevant way that appeals to them and their specific needs.  Generic messaging and marketing approaches only annoy customers and make your brand look dated.  Use the research you have about your customers and their preferences to delight them in relevant ways that meet their needs and they will trust you, which is the basis of any relationship.

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?

Social media is about becoming part of a conversation, so the biggest mistake I see organizations make is not customizing their messaging and creative to fit into social.  This year has been particularly difficult for brands trying to respond appropriately to a lot of what is happening without taking sides that alienate customers, or appearing tone deaf to what is happening in the world.

Hiring good people, or engaging specialists who understand social media is critical.  Marketing has become a field where specialized skills must be used and cultivated.  Thinking that you can be an expert in across all of the marketing channels and keep up with the changing technology and needs of customers is a big mistake.  Engage people who know how to use social media effectively and let them guide you toward success.

What’s the most insightful book you read in 2020?

I continue to see organizations struggle strategically with telling their story, so I recently read Donald Miller and Dr. JJ Peterson’s book Marketing Made Simple. It is a quick read and nice guide for people who want to improve how they are telling their story and learn about the core tenants of marketing.

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?

As humans, I believe in Self-Determination Theory, developed by researchers Deci and Ryan.  This theory states that we all need three things to feel internally motivated (1) Competence (2) Autonomy (3) Relatedness.  As leaders, we need to recognize that each of our employees have these types of core needs as individuals, and there are many ways to support them.  Just like our customers want personalization, we also want that at work so we can integrate our work and lives.  This means that we have to step up our leadership and stop managing people.

We manage processes, we lead people.  That means that we need to work with our employees to help design the right work situation that benefits both them and the organization.  It requires flexibility and innovative thinking, because in some roles the employees will need to be together to be most effective and in others they can live and work wherever you want.

I suspect that most organizations will give employees more autonomy to flex in a hybrid model that will be the best of both worlds.  It would certainly be a lot easier just to mandate that everyone come back to the office.  However, as an executive, aren’t there certain roles where you could benefit from having the entire world as your recruiting pool?  Don’t you want to bring out the best in each employee?  Leadership is flexible, adaptive and transformational.  I challenge executives to rethink old paradigms and step into the new world of work.

Last but not least, what is your favorite CX metric?

There have been countless studies debating the best customer experience metric.  I don’t rely on just one.  The surveys I do always include an overall satisfaction metric “Overall, how satisfied were you with [insert]” and the Net Promoter Score (NPS) metric.  However, I will say that the qualitative feedback I gain when I ask customers what they enjoyed most and least about their experience is more actionable than any metric.

Overall satisfaction is highly predictive for employees as well, so if you are tracking satisfaction for customers and not employees, I would add employees to your survey strategy.  If we truly want to see organizations thrive and grow, it is through the people we serve that sustainable growth happens.  Those people are both customers and employees.  I encourage every leader to consider employee and customer experience together as they develop strategies that will meet the needs of an uncertain future.

About the author

Efrat Vulfsons
Efrat Vulfsons
Efrat Vulfsons is the CEO & Co-Founder of PR Soprano and the editor of CXBuzz parallel to her soprano opera singing career. Efrat holds a B.F.A from the Jerusalem Music Academy in Opera Performance.


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