Hi Nikhil, tell us about yourself and your background and how you got to the CX space?
With over 21 years of experience in management consulting, practice/ product leadership, and customer success management, I have had the fortune of working and living in various global locations as part of my career so far. My primary areas of work have been Customer Experience, BI & Analytics, and Business Transformation.
At the core, I have been a data/analytics person that is passionate about finding patterns and opportunities for performance improvement. Customer Experience is no different. I see it as a customer dimension of business performance. I started my career in business transformation, where I helped companies improve customer operations. I still remember way back in 2010 when I was in the UK and could not withdraw cash from my bank’s ATM. This got me thinking as to what the bank could have done better about customer experience with all the data they had ( location, customer transaction information, customer profile, etc.). Several things popped in my head, and that was my foray into looking at operations from a customer’s perspective. It was about the same time when CX started gaining traction as a formal branded discipline. For me, that was a logical extension of my experience in operations transformation and passion for improving experience/ outcomes.
Since then, I have had opportunities to tie these disciplines of analytics, performance, and CX to build practical advisory and implementation solutions in CX.
Online commerce was booming in 2020, and so did consumer reviews. – How can brands better utilize this data to improve their customers’ experience?
Consumer reviews are one of the most powerful assets for a business. In fact, some industries like travel and pure-play eCommerce have used them very effectively in shaping sales strategies for a long time. I still remember how travel sites like Expedia and others started with generic ratings-based reviews and then evolved into customizing them by customer segment (e.g., for families with young children, singles, etc.).
In 2020, online sales in the US increased by over 35% compared to 2019. With that increase in eCommerce activity, the number of reviews has also exponentially increased. In times of uncertainty in 2020, reviews have played a central role in influencing the purchase decision for the first time as well as infrequent online buyers. I believe that this trend is here to stay, and hence this is a huge untapped opportunity for a business to engage customers in very different ways and inform the marketing and sales strategies. A lot of “Buy Online and Pick Up in Store” activity also has created opportunities to gather feedback on the fulfillment process and gaps in the end-to-end experience. Above all, it has created an opportunity for a brand to demonstrate customer ethics and transparency by way of listening to customers and acting on feedback to improve the experience. Brands that don’t do this will be challenged in the future.
In your POV – What is the ultimate checklist for a good customer experience strategy?
Let me start by first defining customer experience in a very practical way. Customer Experience, in simple words, is the “Value proposition” and includes product attributes and all interactions customers have with a business. By that definition, customer experience is always a moving target driven by both competitive and innovative inertia. For me, here are some of the tenets of a good customer experience strategy :
- A clear and visual articulation of the customer value proposition and experience goals that all employees can easily understand. This needs to be broken down into what each team must do to deliver to that in a cohesive way. The experience metrics have to be defined at a unit level. This is the foundation of employee engagement.
- Organization structure and culture to be streamlined to achieve this. This is one of the toughest things to change, given that most organizational models are still based on the management principles of the Industrial era (cost and budget based by department). The performance Management model must be defined to reward customer success.
- Process & Information Ecosystem Re-Design – This involves re-purposing or streamlining the value chain processes to deliver to the value proposition and in line with the unit level experience metrics as well as the end-to-end customer journey/relationship lifecycle. The second important aspect is to re-engineer the information ecosystem or model to connect and improve the flow of information between data sources and where it needs to be applied. This directly talks to the obvious opportunities in automation and AI as well as a continuous cycle of collecting experience information and using that to shape strategies.
Out of these three important tenets, I would consider the first one as the most important. Most companies struggle to define this clearly.
How much has the role of customer experience changed in the social distancing era – what role digital transformation has in this crisis?
The social distancing era has created the need to have inherently different business models that balance customer experience with operational and employee safety. Newer ways of delivering service emerged in 2020. Digital transformation has been at the core of how customer experience has changed. As a customer, I have made payments in advance for most curbside pickups, used telemedicine platforms to consult my doctor, turn to online shopping for all categories, and have had to even avoid “returns”.
All these shifts in customer experience expectations have forced organizations to accelerate the digitization of fulfillment and customer service operations. This has been a defining moment for the “Omnichannel” buzzword. Innovators and early followers have seen significant improvements in experience and performance. In contrast, a lot of businesses that haven’t embraced the change continue to struggle with broken fulfillment processes and long waiting times in contact centers.
What was the biggest lesson you learned in 2020?
Professionally, my work for more than 20 years has involved “in-person” interactions, and that changed in 2020. To be honest, working virtually allowed us to do better homework for meetings and interactions. I was actually surprised at how well we managed to do consulting workshops like service blueprinting and several client presentations virtually. I did, however, experience fatigue after doing this for a year and look forward to returning to in-person mode soon. Personally, when I saw several frontline workers who did not have the luxury of working from home, it was a humbling experience. It reinforced how much we have to count on our blessings as people who could still make a living without the constant exposure to COVID risk.
2020 was the year of webinars and online events; what was your favorite one?
I think there were many interesting online events and webinars in 2020. I did sign up for a few. However, the shift in how we all worked virtually in 2020 honestly created online fatigue. I personally would be comfortable and excited about interactive webinars that are focused. Online vendor and Broad-based topic events have limited appeal.
It looks like working from home is going to stay with us for the foreseeable future. How should Executives gear up to the changing times?
Work from Home has been a mixed bag for Employees and Employers. Executives have had an opportunity to objectively look at the job mix – individual contributors versus team management and optimize the set of tools required to perform them. With COVID vaccines in play, some companies have already started announcing “Hybrid” workplace models that focus on managing safety and risk. From an executive perspective, I think the bigger challenge for the foreseeable future is to continue to motivate employees remotely or in a hybrid model. That would mean frequent communication about organizational priorities. Similarly, proactive communication with customers and partners to assure business continuity will be a key area of focus for the Executives.
Last but not least, what is your favorite CX metric?
There are a few metrics in the industry, such as NPS, CSAT, Customer Effort Score, etc., that capture “customer feedback” about different aspects of experience. While these are all valid for what they capture, they have a limitation of being a reflection of opinions rather than actual metrics of the experience. I think a business must be clear about its value proposition and have a meaningful way to measure customer goal-based outcomes at each stage of the customer’s journey.
I know this is a diversion from a survey-based model. Still, it allows for objective measurement and delivery against customer expectations at each stage as true lead indicators of customer relationship. For example, customers value automatic import of all financial transactions into Turbotax while doing taxes versus a proactive notification from Walgreens or CVS about the availability of slots for COVID Vaccines based on recurring prescriptions data. In both these examples, unless one measures against clear customer goals (Reduced Effort versus Personalization), it is difficult to act or design experience based on CSAT or NPS survey data.