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HomeInterviewsCXBuzz Interview with Brian Dennis, SVP of Customer Engagement at SMG

CXBuzz Interview with Brian Dennis, SVP of Customer Engagement at SMG

Hi Brian, tell us about yourself and your background and how you got to the CX space?

When I was just 6 years old and sold seed packets, I learned what great customer service looked like. When the seeds didn’t grow, my first customer wanted his money back. I refunded his 10 cents, and the following year he bought my entire catalog. I was hooked on delivering great service. This early experience kindled my passion to deliver a service experience that was better than most. It didn’t matter what the job was: selling hot dogs on the beach, going door-to-door selling knives, installing bulletproof glass in banks, or peddling carnivals in my backyard to raise money for charity. The feeling I experienced seeing happier customers always fulfilled me.

Since those early days, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to work in Fortune 200 companies in a growing CX capacity. Now as the SVP of Retail Customer Engagement at SMG, I get to work with brands and retailers looking to extract more actionable insights out of their data. With SMG’s software with a service (SwaS) model we uniquely combine technology and services to help brands improve customer engagement and loyalty.

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

2020 offered many challenges, but one benefit was the ability for brands to finally receive true customer feedback regarding their online customer experiences.  However, this influx of information comes with a price – now what do you do?  Customers have an expectation that when they take time to provide you with feedback that you are listening, and even more so acting, on what they have shared.  Brands that want to leave 2020 in a great position for 2021 should be working hard to analyze the customer data and quickly creating action plans to show customers they heard them.

One such way is to announce your understanding and plans for action now so customers can see their voice in action.  That doesn’t necessarily mean every piece of customer feedback should result in direct changes.  To identify the gems from the noise, the feedback should be aligned to observational data gathered from digital analytic systems, market data on brands and products, journey analysis and sentiment data.  How quickly you can utilize the data to identify the friction points, high spots, and improvement opportunities is key to a successful 2021.

In your POV – What is the ultimate checklist for a good customer experience strategy?

  • Diversity of feedback through all of your channels. Leverage passive/active, solicited/unsolicited, quantitative/qualitative data throughout your customer journey to proactively and passively gather feedback from all types of consumers. Also leverage types of feedback that help provide emotional context to the ‘whys’ behind what customers are saying (video, image, speech, etc.), as well as market, behavioral, and competitive data sets that are going to give perspective on variables that impact your business but exist outside of your physical (or digital) walls.
  • Integration of employee feedback in your CX program. Not only are employees going to help surface issues that are impacting CX but maybe not reflected in customer feedback, employees are also going to help drive operational efficiencies in customer service delivery and act as the first source of customer feedback (voice of customer through employee). Your ‘boots on the ground’ are going to be the first source of hearing issues as they arise, or gaining positive feedback on what’s working.
  • Enabling action at all levels of the organization. To really maximize the value and justify your CX investment, you’re going to need to establish a program that not only drives impact with immediate stakeholders and leadership but drives holistic impact across the business. This also includes keeping the program from being siloed – both in respect to technology, processes, and people.
  • Keep the customer front-and-center of your program design. This seems self-explanatory, but a lot of drivers and variables can sway a great program away from its alignment. A focus on customer centricity provides the much needed ‘guiding light’ of what the program is intended to do: deliver experiences that improve people’s lives
  • Leveraging technology + services support. Having a CX technology platform that surfaces insight + drives action throughout the organization is a great foundation. But technology alone won’t solve all your CX woes. Find the right partner who understands the distinct challenges of your brand + industry to maximize the value/outcomes from your program, and help you evolve/ your program for the future.
  • Leverage the customer datasets you already have in your program. Customers provide signals in many different ways across the customer journey that are reflective of their experience—active, passive, solicited, unsolicited, quantitative, and qualitative. Leverage all of these inputs in your CX program for one source of truth of customer feedback and insights, vs. siloed insights. This will give you the most holistic impact.

How much has the role of customer experience changed in the social distancing era – what role digital transformation has in this crisis?

Last year, we saw a 40% increase in mobile traffic and 146% increase in all online retail orders. This surge is attributed to increases in adoption and usage rates among consumers leaning on contactless experiences during the pandemic. Even though digital channels have been reshaping the “traditional” customer experience for a decade, most brands pre-COVID were still testing and implementing. At the start of last year, there were very few digitally transformed brands.

But the pandemic fast-tracked everything. In March 2020 digital channels quickly became the primary point of interaction with consumers and brands quickly pivoted to finetune their efforts. This unexpected acceleration and reliance on digital is now redefining the customer journey. And even though vaccinations are rolling out globally, we don’t expect this to change. SMG research shows that consumers have adapted to the “new normal” and will continue to seek the convenience and personalized experience of digital offerings.

The pressure to digitally transform quickly is forcing many retailers to rethink operations and continue to implement new technologies—like scan-and-go. To keep pace, brands must integrate feedback across channels to monitor shifts in the customer experience to enable them to act swiftly. Keeping a pulse across all digital channels and delivering a strong experience is more critical than ever.

Brian’s insights gained in 2020

What was the biggest lesson you learned in 2020?

I learned a lot of lessons in 2020, but probably the one that stands out is that there is always a silver lining. Although, during the peak of the pandemic, it may have been hard to spot. I saw so many of my retail clients quickly pivot and get better—especially with the digital experience—at a faster rate than they would have ever dreamed possible before.

2020 was the year of webinars and online events; what was your favorite one?

I don’t know if I have a favorite – really anything around CX with others who share a similar passion. There are some great minds out there that I really respect, and we don’t always agree on the best way to achieve the ultimate CX solution, but always agree that it starts with listening and measuring the customer experience.

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

Overall Satisfaction is my favorite metric because it is the easiest to operationally focus on improving.  Reporting on Top Box scores is easy for operators and leadership alike to understand and to influence change.  Overall Satisfaction also correlates to financial results both at the transaction level (those who are more satisfied spend more during their visit, tip higher, and are more loyal to your location) and at the organization level (stores that have higher Overall Satisfaction have better comp sales).

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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