Hi Christopher, tell us about yourself and your background.
Sure! As Senior CX Principal at Medallia, I work with multinational clients to implement strategies to repair, manage and grow profitable businesses. I frequently speak publicly on customer experience and have written about it for various well-known publications. Growing up, my father had an independent restaurant, so I witnessed first-hand how small businesses can deliver a personalized service to every customer. That’s a lot more difficult for big brands – they need technology, change management and so on. So it’s been my privilege to help some of the world’s leading brands optimize their customer experience investments, drive adoption and demonstrate financial impact.
How did you first start working in the CX space?
My immersion in customer experience started in 2012. I was working for a Big Four bank at the time, and I was invited to join the bank’s Customer Experience team, which was really just starting up. Prior to that, my background had been in brand and marketing, and so getting into CX on the ground floor, so to speak – as one of the team’s foundational members – was a revelation to me. I started to envisage a post-marketing world, where brands could differentiate by building value-added relationships with customers instead of just selling products. I haven’t looked back.
What are some of the common misunderstandings related to customer experience?
I’d say the biggest misconception is that delivering good customer experience is some cosmetic “add-on.” It’s not — it should be a business-wide priority. It’s one of the most important investments a company can make, as reflected by the fact that 90 percent of organizations now employ a Chief Experience Officer or equivalent. And yet, in practice, it’s often treated as a compliance function with a focus on scores, instead of being a means to continually improve experiences to impress purchasers, eliminate churn and promote brand loyalty.
Another big misconception is that CX is primarily a practice for analysts. It’s true that there’s a big technology element. Technology has finally enabled companies to understand customers at scale, by capturing every signal they emit across journeys – be that online or in-store. Beyond traditional survey methods, which only shed light on experiences retrospectively, companies can now understand the present and make predictions about the future by tapping into customers’ indirect feedback, operational data and observed behavior in real-time. But the key point is that analytical tools with a steep learning curve should be avoided.
Delivering an insights-driven customer experience is not some analytical discipline for practitioners only. The brands that do best in this space make analytics accessible to the whole business, democratizing insights and empowering workers throughout the company to collaborate and make customer-centric decisions.
Have you seen any interesting new trends in eCommerce this year?
The biggest macro trend has been the increase in digital investments over the past 18 months. Now, that’s no big surprise in light of Covid-19, but when you look at digital trends among consumers – like the fact that 88 percent of customers are less likely to visit a website again after a single bad experience – it’s safe to say that investing in digital is set to continue.
Consequently, we’re seeing a sharp uptick in adoption of digital experience analytics, coupled with digital feedback, to help organizations determine where to focus their energies in eCommerce. Brands are looking to optimize their customers’ digital interactions through session recording tools, heatmaps and web analytics dashboards – to name just a few emerging solutions. There’s a report from Decibel in conjunction with Econsultancy that highlights how penetration of these advanced techniques has increased in recent years: as many as 16 percent of businesses have moved towards fully automated optimization techniques powered by machine learning.
It’s a clear demonstration that more and more businesses now recognize the correlation between digital experience quality and business outcomes. In fact, according to the same Decibel report, almost half of executives now regard the online experience as absolutely mission-critical to the overall success of their organization.
eCommerce boomed in 2020, and consumers started leaving more product reviews online. How can we make the most out of this momentum?
Reviews are a form of customer feedback, be they about channel experience, product use, delivery partners, etc. As such, they are a treasure trove for insights – but, beyond that, they are also a great opportunity for brands to connect directly with customers in ways they are not able to elsewhere.
At Medallia, we conducted a study with Best Western, where we looked at the extent to which employees were responding to social reviews across approximately 2,400 locations. Properties that responded to more than 50 percent of their reviews grew their occupancy at double the rate of those that largely ignored them. The lesson here is that companies that empower employees to respond to customer feedback – and hold them accountable for doing so – improve both performance and customer satisfaction. The key is for organizations to manage product reviews the same way they manage survey feedback, by empowering employees to recover at-risk customers.
What are some CX companies or solutions you’re keeping your eyes on right now?
We’re seeing some really exciting developments in CX solutions, especially in retail. One thing that organizations should be taking advantage of right now is technology that allows them to unify fragmented aspects of a customer journey and achieve true omnichannel visibility.
A great example is Vodafone UK. They’re employing digital experience analytics to connect the dots across online experiences, to distill a 360-degree view of the customer journey. By contextualizing digital experiences in this way, Vodafone UK managed to increase online visits by 181 percent and sales opportunities by a stunning 331 percent.
Video and voice, too, are starting to play an outsize role in organizations’ customer experience programs, on account of the opportunities they offer for two-way communication. Customers frequently prefer to communicate by speaking rather than typing – look at the investments companies like Google and Amazon have made in voice assistants – and so speech solutions can open up a valuable seam of additional insights. We’re seeing organizations tap into rich, AI-powered speech and video insights at scale, and this can really help them to generate intelligent interventions to mitigate churn risk and guide actions to optimize customer experiences.
So many things changed in 2020. While some things are going to return to “normal,” what are new trends and habits you think will stay with us in the long term?
In big picture terms, the explosion in digital activity, as mentioned, and consequent investment in digital operations show no sign of slowing down. New research from Sense 360 by Medallia, across millions of U.S. consumers, finds that behaviors adopted during the pandemic (such as digital ordering) continue to increase, despite the easing of restrictions. The study shows that retail digital traffic grew 5.5 percent between April and May 2021. Related to this, consumer habits like curbside pickups, which were already becoming commonplace before the pandemic, are here to stay.
Shopping is an omnichannel experience now, and businesses need to find ways not just to embrace omnichannel journeys but also to manage them more effectively. Establishing a holistic picture for each journey will help to pinpoint what is working well and what needs improving.
A challenge many organizations are running into is that, despite appreciating the convenience of eCommerce, customers miss the personal touch of physical locations. So, companies are beginning to implement strategies for humanizing experiences – for example, by having chatbots act like virtual assistants for customers shopping online. AI-powered personalized experiences like this also provide companies with rich, text-based data in the form of chat logs, which they can use to refine their understanding of the modern customer.
Do you believe focus groups are still relevant in the era of eCommerce? Why?
For sure – focus groups are definitely still relevant. Ultimately, eCommerce is a channel for selling products. While digital interactions make it easy to capture customer signals to improve channel experience, companies still need to get the product right. That’s where research methods like focus groups come in.
Nowadays, modern technologies like video analytics are helping companies extract even richer insights from these research techniques. Not only can software build showreels and cut down on note taking, but product developers can use theme exploration to understand subjects’ sentiment and recurring themes. In one example, a major sportswear brand wanted to understand preferences from mainstream runners, especially those who had taken up running during the pandemic. The research included long-form qualitative video interviews with selected runners in the U.S. and U.K., which provided deeper understanding of brand loyalty, the emotions around running and current pain points in the respondent’s purchase journey.
Last but not least, what is your favorite CX metric?
Metrics like NPS are sufficient to get a reasonably good read on customer sentiment – but, in the digital age, I’m seeing huge value in the notion of a Digital Experience Score (DXS). Brands need an indexed score to objectively quantify customer experiences across digital channels, including web, mobile web, web applications and native applications. This should include metrics as granular as the number of pixels a mouse has to move and what that means for user frustration. DXS can help companies measure hundreds of experience metrics like the above and also, crucially, improve their performance. Travel company TUI found that by improving DXS just one point, they were able to increase their predicted yearly revenue by $30 million.
That’s not to say NPS is redundant – far from it. It’s easy to understand and connects directly with customer loyalty. It’s also widely used, which makes it valuable for benchmarking. But the explosion in digital has created endless opportunities to capture more customer signals and build a far more comprehensive view of sentiment and experiences. Companies that can mine these digital experiences to guide their strategies today will be the customer-favorite brands of tomorrow.