Hi Mike, tell us about yourself and your background.
I am Mike Flache — an advisor and mentor, former entrepreneur, and angel investor. Together with talented teams, I build digital businesses worldwide. Onalytica’s analysts named me one of the top-10 global thought leaders in digital transformation.
I help high-tech innovators in Silicon Valley, Europe, and Asia grow and scale. Together with the Fundment team, we’re currently building one of the next billion-dollar companies in financial technology.
I am also a partner of Fortune 500 companies and technology vendors. Over the years, I’ve worked with executives from companies such as the Silicon Valley Innovation Center, Google, Huawei, Amazon, and Mercedes-Benz, to name a few.
How did you start working in the customer experience space?
Customer experience was important to me from the very first minute of business life. Regardless of whether it was about building my first business or my later activities as an advisor, mentor, and angel investor — achieving a lasting positive and above all high-quality customer experience has always been a key driver for growth.
A good 30 years ago, however, the term was not really established. Back then, people simply spoke of “putting customers first”. And this every time you come into contact with them. If I remember correctly, Pine/Gilmore mentioned customer experience from a conceptual point of view in an article for Harvard Business Review in 1998.
In the past, there weren’t that many different channels through which customers could get in touch with a company. The management of these contact/touchpoints has become significantly more complex to this day. Therefore, value-adding customer experience strategies were and will remain of essential importance in my various roles and for the companies in which I am involved.
Can you tell us a bit about your current role?
From advisory and supervisory board mandates to selective mentoring and speaking engagements per year to angel investments, I wear many different hats. I know these are not the typical role models associated with the term customer experience. Let me assure you, however, that in all of these areas a proper understanding of customer experience is essential — at least from my personal experience. Customers and all related topics are of central importance for the growth, value, and added value of a company.
Jeff Bezos has almost perfected it with his passion for customers, in short: customer obsession. And he has succeeded in anchoring this attitude throughout the organization.
What is your top tip for companies that want to improve their CX strategy?
We live in a world full of buzzwords. Therefore, the first thing to do is to get a better understanding of the customer experience. It is not uncommon for me to see a generic CX strategy in companies that is brought to life with generic measures. I am convinced that something like this will not work sustainably.
It is much more important to translate the terms “customer” and “experience” into the right strategies and measures. Let me make this clear with a brief train of thought: “Experience” is always about both sides of the coin because an experience can be both positive and negative. Ultimately, we determine which of these experiences our customers have with our company. And for this, we must do our homework first.
So, before we think about digital growth and innovative digital solutions, we first have to think “old-fashioned” and “analogous” about the demands of our customers on their journey with us. I know that sounds pretty logical. But believe me, some organizations like to skip this simple first step.
What is one common mistake that you see companies make when it comes to CX?
This is a good question. The mistakes that companies make can of course be very different. That depends on the company’s specific situation and its growth goals. Nevertheless, for me there is one essential aspect that I notice again and again:
To not establish CX as part of the corporate culture.
I mentioned Amazon as a positive example before. However, many other companies have succeeded in anchoring the principle of customer satisfaction in their corporate culture.
For example, Spotify in the digital world, or Singapore Airlines from the traditional industries. The latter are regularly rated as the best airline in the world. At the beginning, employees are trained for four months and encouraged to internalize customer needs.
What is the advantage of these companies?
To put it simply: they all serve their customers in a personal and individually tailored way — they even exceed their expectations by far. To make this possible, these companies have created a culture that encourages and develops this attitude. Their leaders give their teams the freedom they need to make decisions at high speed to quickly optimize the customer experience.
In this way, these companies not only remain competitive, relevant, and grow in size and value, but also set completely new standards with a view to the customer experience.
Can you tell us about a time that you had a really good experience with a company as a customer?
In the past few years, there have always been companies that have actually achieved this (laughs)… and I’m very happy about that.
Let me give you an example from an area that hasn’t necessarily topped the list lately when it comes to an above-average customer experience: banking.
One bank that sets a positive example here is the Singapore-based DBS Bank. It is regularly named a top bank for customer satisfaction. Above all, DBS Bank relies on convenient digital solutions including a robust banking app. A key driver for this success is the so-called Customer Experience Council under CEO leadership. The purpose of the council is to listen to customers and turn their suggestions into action promptly.
As a customer, you can experience the result of this approach in all its facets.
What are some CX solutions or tools that you’re keeping your eyes on right now?
For me, tools are basically a means to an end in order to achieve a set business goal and drive growth. Therefore, I focus less on the tool of a certain provider, but much more on the business value that can be generated with the help of this tool.
Basically, I currently find the development of tools in two areas exciting:
- Get the best out of data and its analysis with a comprehensive solution, e.g., from various social media platforms and their actual influence on a positive customer experience.
- Create a positive customer experience across the entire value chain, including omni-channel, personalization, and automation, as well as emerging technologies such as the Metaverse.
What are your thoughts on AI-powered chatbots to handle customer support?
I am enthusiastic when it comes to innovation and solutions that support the increase in value and growth of a company. And AI-powered chatbots can be a fantastic solution to achieve both. But why only ‘can’?
While chatbots are the fastest-growing segment of branded communications and more than 67% of consumers worldwide have used a chatbot for customer support in the past year, this solution must focus on the real customer and business value.
A few more numbers that underline this for me are as follows:
- From the customer’s point of view, chatbots can help speed up response times and answer up to 80% of their routine questions.
- From a company perspective, chatbots can help reduce customer service costs by up to 30%.
By the way, 40% of consumers don’t care if a chatbot or a real person helps them, as long as they get the help they need.
In the end, as always, it is crucial whether a company succeeds in creating a unique customer experience with AI-based chatbots.
What is your favorite CX metric?
My WHY statement is to enable digital growth in order to create sustainable added value for people, businesses, and the environment. Against this background, my focus is on relevant key performance indicators (KPIs). Achieving (business) goals efficiently and without detours has therefore always been a high priority.
The customer effort score (CES) is an essential component for me to establish a sustainably successful customer experience. We live in a time when everything has to be done quickly. This assumes that we make it easy for our (potential) customers to solve their problems or to meet their demands. And the CES helps CX managers and teams to put this claim into practice.
From finding a specific product to filling out a form to processing a support request, the CES measures the amount of effort required by a customer. A big advantage is that areas that are not performing well can be quickly identified and optimized. Our customers feel the improvement immediately, which increases their overall customer experience.
As a result, this key figure also has a direct influence on customer satisfaction (CSAT), which is another relevant metric.
Any predictions for 2022 in the CX space?
Customer experience and its management is a demanding task. The sub-areas are complex and the technology, as well as the demands on the customer side, are developing rapidly.
For 2022 I see three main aspects:
- Smarter products and services
The intelligent connection of products and services creates new touchpoints, growth potential, and business models. This development is being driven primarily by the Internet of Things and wearables technology. One metric: Gartner estimates that the value of the global wearables market will reach 81.5 billion US dollars by 2022. Companies that can actively shape this development will sustainably increase the positive experience of their customers. To achieve this goal, these companies will develop corresponding products that are data-related — on the one hand to obtain more valuable insights and on the other hand to deliver more intensive customer experiences.
- Increasing personalization
To further deepen customer relationships, customer-centric companies will further increase the intensity of personalization. An essential aspect of this personalization is to find the right time when a potential customer is interested in product information or in purchasing a product. Companies will therefore increasingly use technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), but above all align their customer experience strategies accordingly. In this specific case, everything is geared towards one goal: to reach the right customer at the right time.
- Hybrid experiences
As mentioned at the beginning of my answer, the number of touchpoints will continue to increase. Companies that see customer centricity as an essential cornerstone will take advantage of these opportunities. They will offer their customers a consistent and high-quality customer experience in the analog and digital world. Because these companies understand how important it is to avoid so-called media breaks. These companies also know how to integrate new platforms into their CX strategy in order to delight their customers. In the near future, this will primarily include virtual worlds that will add a whole new dimension to the customer experience. AR/VR technologies and especially the Metaverse will enable us to do this.
Completely independent of these trends, in the end the goal is always the same: to inspire and retain customers and thereby further drive the company’s value and (digital) growth.