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CXBuzz Interview with Ilaria Buonpane, Head of CX & Strategic Marketing at Chalhoub Group, Dubai

Hi Ilaria, tell us about yourself and your background.

I love exploring, traveling, discovering new places and cultures and most importantly I’m a food lover, obsessed with pizza and pasta. Can you tell I’m Italian? But I have another obsession: customers, making sure they get the best experiences across the journeys.

I’ve been working in the consumer management field for the past 12 years, currently heading group customer experience at Chalhoub Group in Dubai, where I lead the organization in its voice of the customer program as well as CX strategy and implementation.

How did you first start working in the CX space?

I started my CX career in Management Consulting (Accenture and Deloitte), working on journey design as well as omni-channel transformation projects for many big clients and companies across industries (retail, luxury, beauty, fashion, telco, tech, banking).

As a customer, I’ve always been passionate about trying to improve how things are done and this job gives me the chance to represent the customers’ point of view and needs in every business decision. What I like the most about this job is that is cross-functional: since CX is a company-wide effort, I am lucky enough to liaise with and learn from so many colleagues and leaders from different business units – from Sales to Marketing to HR, IT, Digital, and so on.

What are some of the common misunderstandings related to customer experience?

Customer experience is often mistaken with customer service, CRM, or UX. The truth is that CX encompasses them all, because it touches every single touchpoint — online and offline. To all CXers out there, it’s our responsibility to educate our colleagues and leaders about the true meaning of CX and to galvanize the entire organization about the importance of serving our customers to stay relevant and keep our businesses growing. I’ve also seen many senior leaders thinking CX is just about fixing problems, whereas I believe it’s also about accelerating growth through innovation and continuous transformation.

Have you seen any interesting new trends in eCommerce this year?

COVID has definitely helped accelerating the eCommerce transformation. I’ve seen many organizations working on improving their last mile experience, introducing hybrid experiences (buy online and pick up in store), as well as buy now pay later options and installment plans.

eCommerce boomed in 2020, and consumers started leaving more product reviews online. How can we make the most out of this momentum?

As customers are getting used to research online prior to buying anything, product reviews become a new norm for ecommerce players. By now it’s clear that customers rely a lot on them as they build trust, reduce the return rates. Some companies place a reminder in their package, others send an email or even incentivize feedback. We need our happy customers to become the advocates of our products and services.

What are some CX companies and solutions you’re keeping your eyes on right now?

There is still a lot of work to do when it comes to personalization – by leveraging and unlocking the power of data we can make sure every single experience of our customers is catered to their unique needs (without being creepy 😊). The biggest challenge to this is to reunite all data and information from different data sources, channels, touchpoints — online and offline.

Customers don’t care about “online” or “offline”. For them they experience a brand in a “mono-channel” way. Because of that, we need to learn and work hard on considering all our channels as a “mono-channel.” More than a technical challenge, sometimes there are organizational silos to overcome.

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?

I can say that customers got used to research and shop online more and more, and the 2-hour/same day delivery has become the new norm. At the same time, I believe that humans still need and prefer interacting with other humans and in many business fields (e.g., retail) the need of touching and trying products will stay forever.

Do you believe focus groups are still relevant in the era of eCommerce? Why?

Nowadays we have so many sources of feedback to understand our customers. We can read the past and predict the future just analyzing their behaviors. But I still believe focus groups and customers interviews are relevant, as we need to complement quantitative insights with qualitative too. Talking to humans give us unfiltered feedback and precious insights to improve, transform and grow.

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

If I have to choose one metric only, I’d say my favorite is Returning Customer %. If we do well, for sure our customers will come back and spend more and more. But to be honest I don’t like looking at one CX metric only. I tend to look at them all together (Nps, csat, ces) and their correlation to business kpis (sales, retention rate, conversion etc.).

For ages, CX has been considered more as design methodology or just a simple measure of customer satisfaction – nowadays is paramount to prove the return on investment of the CX programs and their contribution to the overall success of the business. This will help gaining the right support and sponsorship of your top management and consequently the right traction across the organization. This will ensure ongoing investment for your program and CX initiatives.

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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