Wednesday, December 8, 2021
Home Interviews CXBuzz Interview with Yvette Mihelic, Director of Customer Experience at John Holland,...

CXBuzz Interview with Yvette Mihelic, Director of Customer Experience at John Holland, Australia

Hi Yvette, tell us about yourself and your background.

I joined John Holland in 2019 as their inaugural Director of Customer Experience for Transport.  In this role I have been able to pave the way for improving customer experience across multiple modes of transport positively affecting millions of customer journeys every year. Prior to John Holland, I led differing public transport businesses for both public and private sector organisations and was involved in significant customer strategy delivery programs including the implementation of the Opal Card and Customer Channel Transformation program as well as operational leadership including the revenue protection team for all modes of public transport in NSW and leading the On Demand Transport business for a private operator.

Previously, I was in Financial Services with a focus on sales, then customer service which led me to discover the importance of Customer Experience on overall business performance.

How did you start working in the customer experience space?

During my time in Financial Services, I was amazed at the difference in performance teams had between those providing excellent customer experience and those who were focusing only on the service aspect.  I was fortunate to lead a senior complaints team where listening to feedback and analysing root causes, coupled with research into resolution and propensity to purchase found me realising that value and customer experience, not price are key drivers for purchasing decisions for the majority of customers.  I was then asked to lead the customer stream for a retail transformation program for the retail financial services business within the organisation that led to uncovering, designing, and implementing key changes to customer experience across the organisation that were (at the time) innovative and unique.  Watching the difference in performance with all key metrics month on month validated our decisions and I fell in love with watching the ROI of customer experience come to life. That was it. I was hooked.

Can you tell us a little bit about your current role?

As the first person in this role, I am fortunate that I was able to forge my own path.  Creating a strategy for customer experience has been challenging and fun.  People think of public transport as this boring industry as they have to ride a train, bus, ferry or tram.  I see the opposite.  Similar to Telco’s, our industry has the opportunity to impact so many peoples lives on a daily basis.  Equally, it is considered that public transport is a grudge purchase and that there is no competition.  That isn’t true.  Public transport operators aim to create a modal shift by getting people out of cars and onto public transport.

We have additional complexity in that we have both customers and clients.  We provide a service to our clients (usually government entities) to operate and maintain public transport networks (usually part of a consortium or JV) and typically our contract means that we do not own many aspects of the customers overall end to end customer journey.  We have to work collaboratively constantly with our JV partners, our clients and the communities in which we operate.

John Holland is differentiated through our end-to-end ability to deliver services to our clients, customers and communities through design, building and construction of roads, railways and other infrastructure, through to the operations and maintenance of public transport networks. John Holland is a multi-modal operator and currently as part of our partnerships we operate and maintain Metro Trains Melbourne, Metro Trains Sydney, Canberra Metro and Torrens Connect in Adelaide.

How can companies better listen and understand their customer base?

I think having a robust voice of customer program that is across multiple points in the customer journey, coupled with key indicators that are both leading and lag and analysing the data to refine, flex and dynamically shift focus and prioritisation of investment and effort for improvement is the way.

Over the years (prior to my current role), I have been involved with initiatives where everyone in the organisation ‘listens’ to the customer voice through phone calls or interactions.  While these short, sharp immersions are designed to create empathy and a sense of ownership of the customer throughout the organisation, they don’t really create sustainable change.  Yes, they provide a wider audience a feel for what customers are experiencing or feeling, but the longer-term benefits are not really validated.

Ultimately, every organisation is at a different distance down their customer experience path and budget does play into the level of research, insights, analytics and resulting action plans that are developed and implemented.

I feel for improvement in this space where budget is a key consideration that organisations need to identify their target future market.  This will enable them to have laser-like focus on designing a future state for customer types and segments that will deliver a better outcome for overall performance.

What are some companies that you think are doing an excellent job at customer experience, and why?

If you had asked me prior to COVID, I believe my response would be exceptionally different.  COVID has seen some organisations float to the top of the pile and others wither with the key differential being an organisation’s ability to flex with changing needs of customers.  This includes accelerating online, digital and contactless sales and service.

As a customer, my views, preferences, and expectations have changed (and I would imagine I am not the only one).  My previously physical retail store experience has been fundamentally changed and the importance of alignment with brand values has grown.  Seamless and effortless drivers of satisfaction have been elevated as well as speed of fulfilment, as has trust and perception of safety.

I have found that I have started to purchase from smaller (or even local) retailers, rather than large brands due to my evolving expectations.

Many companies are currently undergoing digital transformation processes – what are your tips on a successful digital transformation?

I think we have all been there when digital transformation has either been ‘rolled back’ or ended up delivering a poorer customer (and employee) experience.   On top of this I feel some digital transformations are born from us making assumptions from incomplete data sets, rather than starting with the root cause problem to solve.

My tips for successful digital transformation are based on ensuring that you are firstly armed with the right information and direction (key problem to solve), then by using co-creation and human centred design principles, the end user is always considered and a sustainable solution developed. The other tip is to never under-invest in change management and employee engagement.  Your people define your success.

What are some CX solutions or tools that you’re keeping your eyes on right now?

Personally, I am interested in the AI space and how we can leverage that more in public transport.  Everything from VR/AR use in training through to LIDAR for safety and security, beacons for crowd management to ensure social distancing on customers journeys and real time predictive alternative journey planning when there is a problem on the network.  There is a lot of things going on in this space and I always find myself scanning for developments across industries that can be leveraged into public transport.

Did you read any interesting books this past summer that you’d like to recommend?

I recently finished Lean CX by Robert Dew, Bill Russell, Cyrus Allen, and George Bej. I found the book brings together a lot of practical and useful thinking including agile management techniques for improving customer experience and gaining real cut-through. It’s like a useful handbook for CX professionals.

What is your favourite CX metric?

I am of the strong belief that there is no one metric that provides you with all you need to know.  All indicators have pros and cons, and none provide you with a full picture of your customers experience.  CX metrics can also be industry specific.  For example, in transactional industries (such as public transport) metrics such as customer lifetime value or retention rate is not as valuable as customer satisfaction, or customer complaints per 10,000 customer journeys.  Equally the difference in measurements across industries and organisations can result in different pictures being painted for customer experience performance.  I have seen customer satisfaction and NPS methodology varying between business units of the same organisation, with league ladders used pitching these same business units against each other in terms of performance.  This results in diluted accuracy and validation of performance.

If I had to pick one, my favourite metric isn’t a typical one (and it is public transport specific) – its patronage growth above system.  This means that more people are using public transport than other transport modes (such as driving) and is an indicator that public transport is the preferred method of people connecting with people and places important to them.  For this growth to occur, customer experience must continually meet and exceed expectations.  Yes, it is a lag indicator, but one that demonstrates the real value to the organization.

About the author

Efrat Vulfsonshttps://www.prsoprano.com/
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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