Hi Debbie, tell us about yourself and your background.
My name is deBBie akwara. I am an African and specifically, a Nigerian. My country, Nigeria is one of the top 10 richest African countries ranked by GDP and primary export.
With 20+ years of experience in CX, I am often described as Africa’s leading customer experience entrepreneur and educator because I founded a CX start-up which is a group of 3 CX businesses and led a team to design and launch Africa’s first globally recognized CX certification programs, i.e., the CCEM, CCEP and CCEPR.
Before founding the Niche Customer Experience, I worked in sales, customer service, total quality management, human resource management, human capital development and customer experience management roles across entry, middle management and executive management designations in banking, telecommunications, and education sectors in Nigeria (in one case covering CX operations for Africa).
I have been globally recognized for my work in CX as a thought leader, an influencer, and an inspiring woman in CX.
I am also an author, a mom, a humanitarian & am always looking for new opportunities to learn about CX, connect with professionals & impact the practice of CEM in Africa & globally.
I am on a mission to grow businesses one CX at a time across and build the CEM capabilities of professionals in Africa that will drive a realistic practice of CEM to increase profitability.
How did you start working in the customer experience space?
I started working in the CX space as a total quality management officer in the banking sector post working in sales and customer service.
At the time, I switched jobs and the focus for my new organization was making sure that the defined standards of service were adhered to by employees supported by systems and processes. As I executed this role, I became more aware of the concept of customer experience and transitioned into designing and managing experiences holistically.
Can you tell us a bit about your current role?
My current role is a quartet of responsibilities. While I am the founder and CEO of a group of companies (Niche Customer Experience Group), I am also the principal consultant in the CX consulting business, the chief academic officer in the CX education business and the chief customer officer in the CX digital business.
Across all 4 roles, I am responsible for the business strategy, business development, human resource management, CX project execution, client experience management, and executing customer experience research.
What is your top tip for companies that want to improve their CX strategy?
My top tip for companies that want to improve their CX strategy is to document it. It’s one thing to have a strategy but it’s another thing to document it.
Documenting it forces you to think through your CX strategy i.e. what your CX strategy is, how it connects to the overall business and stakeholder goals and strategies, data on the current state of CX your strategy is seeking to address, how your CX strategy will improve the current state, who will be responsible for what, what timelines you will be working with, how you measure and track success as well as what resources you need for the strategy to work.
What typically happens is that businesses and CX professionals play CX strategy by the ear and assume because it’s been talked about or mentioned, everyone should know it, understand it, and run with it. A bible verse sums up my response to this question excellently, i.e., Habakkuk 2:2 “… write the vision and engrave it plainly … so that one who reads it will run…”.
What is one common mistake that you see companies make when it comes to CX?
The common mistake that I see companies make when it comes to CX is jumping on the CX bandwagon without first understanding what CX means holistically and translating what it means to what it means for their sector, operating environment, or business model.
In my opinion, this is the reason why CX has not made as much impact as it should. While a focus on a customer’s overall experience is great, understanding what CX means for businesses requires understanding what customer management methodology they need to adopt, i.e., customer success management, user experience management, customer relationship management, customer value management, etc.
Can you tell us about a time that you had a really good experience with a company as a customer?
Oh sure! The one time I can recall I had a good experience that is also recent, is at a coffee shop I frequently patronize. For some reason on a particular day, I ordered a cup of coffee to go and when I got to my destination, I realized that I was given the wrong cup of coffee. I checked out their website for a number I could call, I called, complained and they not only offered to give me another cup of coffee, but they also had it delivered to my destination within 15 minutes at no additional cost and called to confirm I had received it.
What are your thoughts on AI-powered chatbots to handle customer support?
I think it’s great, but I am not sure businesses understand that chatbots are not an automatic fix. I think more businesses in my country and West Africa see this as a nice to have but don’t understand how it works, how to maximize the tool and how to innovate with the tool to improve the quality of, i.e., response time, personalization, and support employee utilization (occupancy rate).
I also think that AI-powered chatbot features and benefits are not framed right (from a marketing perspective) resulting in businesses buying these solutions with zero knowledge of pre-customer interaction management requirements, leading to chatbots not being optimally utilized.
What is your favorite CX metric?
My favorite CX metric is what I will call a repeat purchase score, otherwise referred to as customer loyalty. I believe that knowing how many customers buy again from you, why they buy or do not buy again, and the value of their repeat purchase over time and the insights gleaned from this, open up insights into more business performance areas and CX metrics. It gives business better insights into the state of CX as it impacts its profitability.
Any predictions for 2022 in the CX space?
My prediction is inspired by interactions I have had with business owners and business professionals in 2021 in technology, retail, financial services, and manufacturing, as well as CX research we have conducted at Niche Customer Experience Group.
If more businesses understand that they have a chance of survival and growth through CX, we will see more improvements in the quality of products and services in the market, the quality of people that manage CX, the quality of processes, and the quality of technology available to businesses to manage CX.
I predict that more efforts will be made towards practically improving customer experience with proof of value as per the bottom line.