Hi Mario, tell us about yourself and your current role.
I was born and raised in Innsbruck and I still have the privilege to live and work in an area where others come to enjoy their holidays. Tyrol has always been strongly influenced by tourism and the interaction with guests from all over the world has also shaped my private and professional life. I am the founder of Gastspiel, a cross-sector consulting business delivering Service & Experience Design as well as Business Innovation for national and international corporations from a various sectors in the fields of production and service delivery. We are located in Seefeld, Austria.
How did you start working in the customer experience space?
I spent 20 years in the aviation industry. During this time, my first efforts in the field of Service Design were internationally recognized with the Budgie Award in London, in the category of “Best Service Provider”, for an exceptional easyJet maintenance concept. This award ceremony marked a crucial turning point in my career, as I became increasingly aware of the possible applications of Service Design. After that, I had the opportunity to deepen my knowledge of customer orientation at Harvard Business School with Prof. Ranjay Gulati. And from then on, things really took off.
Tell us about your role as an ambassador for the European Customer Experience Organization (ECXO). What does it include?
Personally, spreading the word and walking the talk! And of course, to unite people who are committed to a better customer experience in their professional or personal context, because the big challenges of our society cannot be solved in individual silos.
What do you think is different in the European approach to Customer Experience vs. the American way?
This is a very difficult question, since it is not easy to define whether there is a pan-European or a pan-American way at all. I’ll try from my personal point of view, as an Austrian who comes from the heart of Europe but has been around many places on this planet privately and professionally.
For me, the biggest difference with the United States is the cultural approach to service and customer orientation. When I first came to America for a longer stay at the age of 18, I noticed this very proactive and extroverted way of communicating with customers. During my first visit to a restaurant, I was constantly confronted with — in my view too many — inquiries about the progress of my consumption. “How you are doing with your salad…”, “how you are doing with your steak…” and so on. We’re talking about a diner in Cedar Rapids here, not an upscale restaurant. Of course, these actions are related to tipping, which in the U.S. is the largest salary component for service workers. Generally speaking, however, it also shows a general approach to the subject of service. It’s more often about a more superficial approach to service and customer experience, whereas here we act in a clearer and more personal way — so either a very empathetic, helpful and competent employee or the stark opposite — but at least always authentic. The service and experience industry in the U.S. is also a master of staging experiences. In this regard, I remember my first visit to a Rainforest Cafe in the mid-90s. What an experience, what a wow moment at the first artificial thunderstorm – but how can you keep something like that interesting for customers in the long run? On the other hand, I also see the push to have to translate every customer experience into numbers – whether it’s a conversion rate, an NPS, a customer churn rate, or all of these metrics. Of course, this is also due to the fact that many companies in the contact center industry are addressing the issue of customer experience in their own way. In summary, I would say that one factor applies to all countries in the world, customers love companies that deliver what they promise. Excitement factors are only in second place.
What do you think the top priority should be for a company that wants to improve its customer experience?
You should really mean it, because no matter how much lipstick you put on a pig — it remains a pig. Sorry for my sarcasm, but this is the reality. Step number one is to understand what are my employees doing, what are my customers experiencing and do we as a company deliver what we promise.
How can companies better listen and understand their customer base?
Start with a reality check — an analysis of the actual service reality at all touchpoints in your company. This way you will experience the customer journey from the point of view of your customers, employees and business partners. Comprehensive, illustrative, authentic and very conclusive. That way you gain a realistic picture of all direct and indirect customer interactions with regards to your service provision, products and services in general.
Many companies are currently undergoing digital transformation processes. What are your tips on a successful digital transformation?
High-tech and high touch! Despite all the benefits of digitalization, customers do not want to miss out on personal contact in their daily interaction with businesses at all the important touchpoints. Quite the contrary! And precisely for this reason it is important that these interactions between employees and customers must be properly planned and well thought-out, clearly defined, customer-oriented designed and practically implemented so that, together and in synergy with all digital trends, a business can consistently guarantee a professional customer experience. Digitalization does not solve the problem of insufficient professional or personal competence of a company’s employees or partners. A fool with a tool is still a fool.
What are some CX companies/solutions you’re keeping your eyes on right now?
The scalable simplification of customer journey management for all sizes of organizations. Smaply from More than Metrics would be a simple to use tool for that.
eCommerce boomed in 2020, and consumers started leaving more product reviews online. How can we make the most out of this momentum?
To live up to the customer expectations created by positive reviews. And this must be done by all employees, at every contact and at all times. Hard enough, but the only way to sustainable success.
What is your favorite CX metric? Why?
Word of mouth referrals.
Customers who have been motivated to visit a particular company by the experiences of their family members or friends. Because it’s simply the best.
Corresponding to the quote from Walt Disney: “Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.” Nothing to add to this!