Tell us the story of how you got involved in customer experience. How did your career lead you here?
Take a seat with a lovely cup of tea as this one takes a short while to explain. My career started in marketing. I loved the insight we gathered about customers and the way we would try and influence their behaviour through our communications, but it wasn’t enough.
In 2008 I attended a week-long CX course in New York led by an author of two incredible CX books. I’d gained my certificate and along with that, I also started seeing the world of ‘customer’ very differently. When I got back to the UK, my desk and the “CRM program” I was co-sponsoring, I invited the senior leadership to consider a ‘Patient Experience program’ rather than ‘just another IT transformation. They agreed. A year later I left that organization and set up my own Customer Experience consultancy. I was fortunate to start with some fantastic projects across education, retail, telecommunications, data science, to name a few. That was 14 years ago and it’s been terrific.
In which industries, verticals or sectors have you focused your CX career?
Great question! I have been invited to work with some very interesting people across a wide spectrum of industries, verticals and sectors. It’s best to name some brands here and you’ll get the picture: Arsenal Football Club, Vodafone, Saga Accounting, Battersea Dog and Cats home, Waitrose, Pitney Bowes, Survey Monkey & Amazon.
Why do so many companies struggle with making CX a priority? What are some common mistakes companies make?
There’s an irony here. So many companies talk about making ‘customer-centricity’ a number one priority for their business, but so few understand what this commitment means: Too many are after immediate return and not the long-term results. I believe that the more customer experience roles can communicate using the financial language of the business, the easier it will be for the Board to support the importance of CX.
You’ve been selected to give a keynote address at a major CX conference. What topic will you discuss and what major points will you touch on?
Awww, lovely, I enjoy a good conference. My preference is to present something provocative to get people thinking for themselves, rather than just unwittingly following an idea that they have seen in a few places. I’d probably be questioning empathy to start with. The general (incorrect) definition of it and how the audience thinks it works to build rapport with customers. I would talk about neuroscience and how it’s impossible to walk in anyone’s shoes, let alone for a mile! I’d invite the audience to reflect on their own experience of empathy and how it felt to be ‘empathized with’ and then I would describe how emotional intelligence would show up. And how much better it was.
What skills have served you best in your CX career?
I’m not 100% sure if this is a skill, but I think… healthy curiosity. Wondering why something is done the way it has been done for years, connecting the dots is also up there as critical as very few roles see the organization as a totality. Clear skills would be the ability to ask excellent questions, razor-sharp listening, resilience, emotional intelligence (obviously - I am an EI coach), organizational awareness, influence and negotiation. The trump card is always relationship building and nurturing (what’s in it for them and to be smart about using this information to influence)
What’s the best advice you’d give someone just starting out in their CX career, or just starting to transition from a related discipline like call-center or customer service management?
On a very practical (and slightly geeky) level I would recommend stakeholder mapping. Depending on your level in the organization, speak to a lot of people to understand what is going on, how work gets done. Also find out how decisions are made, what the main challenges are for each role you speak to (and figure out how CX can solve those problems). Basically, get ready to understand who does what, what influence they have, what power they have and how they can help you (and you can help them). Make very good friends with the finance team and understand how money works in your business (this will help prevent you making suggestions that would bankrupt your business overnight and make you look like an amateur). Finally, get familiar with the strategy for the business and start a few low cost projects to make a contribution to those strategic initiatives.
What trend do you think will be most impactful in (your niche of) the CX space over the next three years?
I’m a bit worried about this one to be honest. My answer is how companies think AI will influence the ability of agents to understand the individual customer’s emotions at any moment. It will be impactful because I perceive that agents might feel reassured by the AI guidance, the customer might just sniff out the intervention of a machine and reject the brand as they are not 100% comfortable that they are really being heard. There’s the bias thing, the over-reliance on machine learning and loads of other things to consider.
If there’s anything else that you’d like to share with our readers, please let us know! You’re welcome to share any “hot takes” you might have on the practice of CX, or anything you feel sets you apart in the CX space.
I firmly believe that the human experience is the most important experience of all. I try to describe the ideas in psychology, neuroscience and behavioral science that I have learned with the ambition to help people in CX roles design experiences that factor in the annoying truth that customers don’t do what they are ‘meant to’ and they certainly don’t do what they say they would (in research). It’s all exciting stuff.