Hi James, tell us about yourself, your background?
My professional background is varied, with two constants; client services and writing. I’ve held roles as a reporter and editor for newspapers and magazines, worked as a financial advisor, event planner and web designer for a university, a Media Planner for an advertising agency, and now as the VP of Account Planning for a tech company. I’ve also held roles on CX advisory boards for Rutgers University and the University of California, Irvine.
Each role I’ve held has allowed me to directly interface with customers and clients, and its through them that I learn what works and what doesn’t from their perspective. They may seem unrelated, but my jobs in journalism have helped me ask the right questions and gather the right research to support the CX efforts of the companies I’ve worked for, and my time in technology has helped me understand how digital tools can assist in better understanding the different touchpoints that matter along the customer journey.
Online commerce was booming in 2020, and so did consumer reviews. – How can brands better utilize this data to improve their customers’ experience?
Generally speaking, people try to mitigate risk when purchasing goods and services, so consumer reviews offer a sort of instant social validation for online purchases. The simple fact that an anonymous buyer had a good experience and was willing to comment about it sets shoppers at ease and instills confidence. These reviews should be featured prominently in marketing materials, as studies show that consumers are more likely to trust other consumers vs. brands. The data gleaned from the reviews should break out certain keywords and talking points so that product development and CX teams can highlight strengths and weaknesses and adjust accordingly based on real time feedback from customers.
What is one element that must always be considered when working on a CXM (customer experience management) strategy?
The core element is qualitative data, which captures tone and emotion better than quantitative, and allows CX professionals to gauge consumer sentiment on a real-time basis, as mentioned in my example on consumer reviews. I think the top consideration should be that it’s a two-way communication tool, which is a more dynamic tool than previous customer databases, such as CRM. The ability to test and learn in real time is a game changer for CX, and the outcomes are the ability to personalize experience to customer preferences, to segment your high value customers vs. lapsed or new, and most importantly, to reduce churn and increase customer satisfaction.
Do you think personalization and customer-centricity are going to become increasingly more relevant in the coming year? How so?
In an age of product parity and consumer empowerment, customer-centricity is a key differentiator. There are so many product aggregators available to consumers that price is no longer a key differentiator, especially as it relates to customer loyalty. Vendors may gain a sale through undercutting on price, but retention is where companies gain longevity and brand recognition. Customer-centricity and personalization are two core pieces of a loyalty and retention strategy, and serve both the business and the customer, resulting in steady growth and the ability to weather economic downturns such as the one we encountered during the early days of the pandemic.
What are some of the ways companies can strive to eliminate the CX Gap?
The first, and arguably most important step, is to gather customer feedback. I’ve seen first-hand how companies make assumptions based on certain indicators, such as customer retention, and believe they are providing the best experiences for their customers. The reality is those cases was often that there wasn’t a viable competitor in market (yet), or many customers had a subscription plan that was on autopilot with very little engagement from their side or the business. These blind spots almost invariably leads to churn when a competitor beats them on price or service. One easy way to implement this is through a customer survey, with the caveat that you should not only survey your current customers, but lapsed or new customers as well to ensure your sample size is representative of all potential customers, not just the ones that love you.
The second way is to ensure every employee at your company feels like they are a part of a collective CX program. Its not enough to build a CX team comprised of a few people sending out quarterly reports, it has to be an institutional program that everyone feels they can contribute to, because the reality is that CX is a cumulative approach for your customers, and your internal strategy should mirror that same ethos.
What’s the most insightful book you read in 2020?“Paid Attention” by Faris Yakob. Its essentially about how to add value to marketing and advertising, to give something back to consumers in exchange for their time. I think one of my key takeaways was that brand preference and how consumers make choices about which brands to buy is the result of many interactions over time, much like CX is the sum of all interactions (including marketing) a customer has with a brand over time. One quote in particular stuck with me; “The only route to long-term profit is making customers happy.” I actually printed that and affixed it to my wall to serve as a reminder to think about the long-term with every interaction.
What are your predictions for trends in customer experience in the coming year?
I suspect many organizations will continue to merge CX and marketing efforts to ensure they are in sync from both a data/feedback loop, and to move CX efforts upstream into customer acquisition efforts in addition to retention strategies. Today’s reality is that marketing and CX still operate in siloes in many cases, where the marketing/advertising experience feels very different than the customer experience. For example, advertising might feature interruptive or intrusive creative formats, where CX seeks to drive opt-in approval from customers whenever possible. In short, I think marketers will look to treat potential customers more like their current customers to create a more seamless transition from prospect to loyalist.
Last but not least, what is your favorite CX metric?
Beyond NPS, it has to be Customer Lifetime Value. I feel as if this is the one metric that we should always seek to understand more about, such as the demographics/psychographics of our top customers, how they feel our products and services, and most importantly, why they’ve continued to do business with us in the face of so much external change over the past year. Their insight should inform all of our downstream approaches to customer acquisition, retention, and marketing strategy.