Hi Ines, tell us about yourself and your background.
Hi, my name is Ines, I am a German citizen but have lived a good part of my life abroad in Brazil, Australia and Japan. Before entering the B2B marketing space, I worked in theatre and film production. For the last 20 years I have been engaged in varying roles in Marketing, PR, Communications, product management, solution selling and sales development in different sized companies in both national, pan European and global set ups.
How did you start working in the customer experience space?
I have always focused on customer experience even if it wasn’t necessarily labeled with that term yet. In my early career years, I worked in POS marketing – whether you managed to create a good experience and to excite the customer could be seen immediately in the daily sales figures. Later I learned about solution selling in the IT market and the importance of every touchpoint along the sales process being well thought out, happening at the right time to the right person. Then in larger companies, I was involved in building CRM ecosystems and aligning marketing and sales efforts and other operational touchpoints in integrated customer journeys.
In the past years I learned to value the strong relation between employee experience and customer experience, and the influence of consistent branding in both areas. Customers have a strong feeling for the credibility and trustworthiness of a vendor. What you sell needs to be what you deliver, what you state as your brand values needs to be lived by every employee a customer interacts with, and this authenticity can be tainted by just one unaligned touchpoint.
Can you tell us a little bit about your current role?
I am heading the Marketing, Communications, Sales Development functions and the topic of Customer Experience at Caverion. Caverion is a Finnish company, serving many thousands of customers, with over 15 000 employees in 11 countries across Europe. Our purpose is to enable performance and people’s well-being in smart and sustainable built environments. Our offering covers the entire life cycle of buildings, infrastructure, industrial sites & processes: from design & build to projects, technical and industrial maintenance, facility management and advisory services.
The combination of responsibilities in my role is deliberately set up this way as we feel that consistent communication and messaging towards internal and all external audiences is key for an ultimately excellent customer experience – which is at the core of our strategy.
Of course, CX is not a “department” – it needs to be embedded in the ways of working of a company, and as such, in the focus of every employee. However, a conceptual approach to customer experience becomes more and more important the bigger a company is – to ensure everyone stays close to the voice of the customer, even if they only indirectly influence the customer experience.
How can companies better listen and understand their customer base?
Taking in the voice of the customer needs to happen on many levels and the input needs to be utilized in many ways if a company wants to be truly customer centric.
You improve CX by listening to the individual customers, reacting fast to their feedback, ensuring pragmatic problem-solving with the attitude that your job is to help the customer reach their goals.
If customer centricity is at the core of a company’s purpose and strategy, it needs to also be reflected in the company culture and values and in every decision that is made. Customer feedback needs to lead to actions. Measuring satisfaction on relationship and touchpoint level can reveal individual issues in real-time but should also on a mid-term level influence and prioritize those strategic developments that help improve the customer experience overall. Identify the areas that are the biggest pain points for many customers; work on simplifying and making those journeys better. Customer insights need to go into every solution development, for instance, via a consistent service design approach.
Another important element is good data quality. Listen to the data speak by aggregating, combining, relating, and analyzing the data coming from different customer touchpoints. Taking the right conclusions is key: what preferences or directions can we see developing? How can we predict requirements of customers based on their peer decisions? In which areas, or geographies, or segments are we below benchmarks, what are our strongpoints that we need to further build on?
Lastly, the operating model has to allow employees to be close to their customers. The customer experience is influenced most strongly in personal human interactions. Therefore, each employee needs to radiate this customer-centric approach, which will only happen if they feel enabled to serve the customer in the best way. Improving customer experience is also about trusting and enabling the colleagues at the touchpoints to act professionally and to feel empowered. Create clear frameworks within which any person in the company is able to react flexibly and fast to customer feedback without fear of making an error. And give them the access to the tools and data they need to do that.
What are some companies that you think are doing an excellent job at customer experience, and why?
When I think of brands that I associate with a great customer experience, the following attributes come to mind: Humble, keeping promises, honesty, individual interactions, empathy, professionalism, expertise, the power of the individual to help me, the strong wish to solve my problem.
At the very base, CX is about credibility and promises kept, but to truly excel, companies need to exceed expectations. This can only happen when the customer experience at the touchpoint matches the brand promises. Then my impression is consistent in every detail.
Here is an example: I recently called the hotline of an event company which sells vouchers for fun, adventurous, cool, easy-going activities. I had made a mistake in my online order and noticed it right away. After just one ring the phone was picked up, I explained my predicament and the lady at the other end immediately reassured me that there was no problem at all, she would there and then modify the order since it was only 10 minutes since I made it. And so, she was able to help, without me having to go through a lengthy cancellation process first. She clearly had a framework within which she was able to react flexibly and access to the tools. As a customer, I felt like my human error was treated with empathy and a quick solution was offered. The easy-going, but safe and trust-worthy, brand they advertise for their adventure activities was matched by the way the service-hotline sorted out my issue.
The influence of a consistent customer experience on buying decisions matters just as much in B2B interactions as in B2C. After all, you are still a human, even if you are making a business decision. Going beyond expectations can also be about how well the company is inspiring confidence about their ability to meet future needs, or how fast they understand your requirements when you are looking for a solution. Will this company make your life easier? Will they help you reach your targets?
Many companies are currently undergoing digital transformation processes – what are your tips on a successful digital transformation?
Build the processes around the outcome for the customer. Be clear that transforming doesn’t mean copying an earlier analogue process one to one, but also a transformation of the way of working. Start always with the user story and let each story include the outcome for the customer. Then you know your IT processes and platforms follow the real need.
What are some CX solutions or tools that you’re keeping your eyes on right now?
Of course, I am always eager to check out the latest tools and innovative ideas – however, they need to fit into our overall solution architecture, because working in data silos leads to possible disconnects in the experience, and hence to unmet expectations. Therefore, the real improvements likely will not come from experimenting with the latest tools, but from focusing on data quality and clean processes, harmonized platforms, and a data warehouse to tap into; once this big endeavor is achieved, you can start to work on really anticipating customer needs and get control of every touchpoint, step by step improving every day.
Did you read any interesting books this past summer that you’d like to recommend?
A very interesting one is Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell. It describes how small things can make a huge difference in the way something is perceived or experienced. What makes some messages stick and others not; another interesting book I just read is Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez – data can be deceiving if gathered in a biased form. The takeaway in the CX context could be to always make sure your buying persona view is not tainted by bias or assumptions.
What is your favorite CX metric?
Like every important strategic topic, it easily becomes overlayered with a multitude of KPIs, so it is good to focus on a couple of key ones. One of my preferred ones is the Loyalty or retention rate because it is a sign of satisfaction and trust.
The Customer effort score is also an interesting one in the B2B space: how easy is it to work with us? This score shows how far you still have to go to become really customer centric.