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The principles of outstanding customer experience

There is a wealth of evidence that great customer experience (CX) drives better business results across a diverse range of industries. Despite this evidence, outstanding CX is still rare. Andres Mendez examines what can be done to achieve excellence.

Whilst many organisations have taken steps to better understand their performance in CX, many have fallen victims to tracking a metric and score-carding instead of focusing on a holistic improvement. As a result, it is common to see front-line staff ‘gaming the system’.

There is no single question that you can ask customers that encapsulates the entire experience and it is important to have nuanced measures based on a holistic CX framework. Ideally, a CX framework defines the core drivers across brand, product, touchpoints (channels) and price as well as crucially understanding exactly what is behind the experience in these areas.

After engaging with millions of customers across a range of brands and interactions in Europe and Australia, we have developed five CX principles to help clients better design CX programmes, understand customer needs and harness this insight to evolve their service offer.

The evidence

Using over 500,000 interviews across 15 brands, we coded open-ended comments (i.e. verbatim) and modelled the factors that impact on CX. To validate the factors, we ran our own study. The survey design was built to understand performance in the following key areas of CX:

  • Advocacy – e.g. brand and transactional
  • Emotional impact – e.g. joy, trust, empathy, respect etc.
  • Expectations – e.g. met, exceeded and fell below
  • Ease – e.g. physical, emotional, time and cognitive
  • Brand perceptions – e.g. innovations, going from strength to strength etc.

Each area (i.e. metric) has unique differences and strengths, but the one thing they all have in common is that they cannot stand alone. We complement each metric with open-ended questions to understand the reasons behind the scores.

With the collected data, we ran extensive modelling to identify the key elements that make up an outstanding experience. These key elements resulted in five CX principles.

The five principles of outstanding CX

The CX principles tell us where to focus our efforts to achieve excellence. The emphasis on each principle and the questions to use in order to measure them varies by sector and type of interaction.

1. Personalisation
Brands need to tailor the experience to demonstrate an understanding of the customer needs. This can include knowledge of past behaviour and preferences. However, it is increasingly important to get the balance right between a service tailored to the individual and intrusion.

Examples of what we measure:
• Feeling as though you are not just another customer
• Tailored to customer circumstances (service and communications)
• Knowing customer preferences

Suggested actions
Brands can use their operational (i.e. internal) data to better understand customer preferences, such as suggesting related items (showing related and or matching items to the selected one).

2. Effort
For customers, the ease of ‘buying a product’ or ‘an interaction’ and the time it takes are crucial to experience.

Examples of what we measure
How easy or difficult an interaction is and why. Effort is made up of four dimensions (time, physical, cognitive, emotional) and their relative importance to customers varies by interaction.

Suggested actions
For example, one way to improve effort (cognitive and time) is to make information easily available, by improving the ease of finding items on a website using additional filters and refined page layout.

3. Integrity
Building trust is about being reliable and ensuring beneficial outcomes for both the customer and the brand. The key to this is delivering on promises, managing expectations and acting in the customer’s best interests. This is something that seems common sense but is not common in service.

Examples of what we measure:
• Delivers on promises
• Is it a brand I trust?
• Acts in the best interests of the customer
• Is honest and transparent

Suggested actions
A good example on how to improve integrity in your service offering is by managing expectations, such as providing clear timeframes by training call centre agents to always communicate what the next steps will be and when they will happen.

4. Empathy
Brands need to demonstrate an understanding of the customer needs and circumstances. This means putting yourself in the customer shoes and seeing the experience through their eyes – in terms of priorities, hopes and concerns.

Examples of what we measure
The elements of empathy:
• Emotion experienced as a result of the experience
• Taking a genuine interest

Suggested actions
Taking a genuine interest in customers by showing emotion across all channels will go a long way:
• Review language and usability of digital channels – updating key information and using ‘simple’ language
• Continuous staff training – incorporate emotional intelligence training for all staff.

5. Resolution
The way an issue is handled has the power to turn a poor experience into one that exceeds expectations. It is important to customers that a brand shows ownership, urgency and a clear solution in a reasonable timeframe. All companies will have things go wrong; the crucial thing is how the problems are dealt with.

Examples of what we measure:
• First contact resolution/ time to resolution
• Taking ownership of query
• Gets it right first time

Suggested actions
Improve first contact resolution by understanding the nature of queries e.g. train call centre agents and update FAQs on website.

How to use the CX principles and build a framework

The framework is a guide to design the right program and outline insights to build a cohesive analysis and story.

Understanding the customer journey
The starting point is mapping the customer experience – defining the journey stages (i.e. activities and transactions). This will provide an in-depth understanding of the customer pathway across all interactions and communications.

Measurement – asking the right questions
It is then about measuring the customer experience and quantifying it across all the journey stages. Underneath each of the five principles we have developed a series of relevant questions that determine performance in that area. The questions and emphasis on each principle will vary by and across the customer journey. For example, effort might be a focus at the point of purchase, whereas personalisation will be more important in the pre-purchase experience.

Prioritising service transformation
Once the customer experience is understood the next step is to prioritise areas for improvement. This involves modelling multi-variant statistics, to understand the relative importance of each principle in shaping customer experience on the specific journey. Having an evidence-based view of what is important to customers mapped to actual experience provides a clear picture of where and how to focus service transformation.

The focus for improvement
To identify priority improvement areas, we plot the relative importance of each experience area against the current performance in each area, using the quadrant below.

Transforming the service
The in-depth understanding of the customer can then be used to refine, design and innovate the customer service. The voice of the customer and the vision can be broadcast throughout the business as part of the implementation plan for evolving the service.

Case study: The CX principles in action

Our aim was to future-proof performance for a large specialised insurance provider in the United Kingdom across key customer experience metrics. For this, we created a blended CX Index (CXI) score that takes into account the relative importance of all the key elements of customer experience.

We applied the CX principles across their Voice of Customer (VoC) programme data and ran a benchmarking study to better understand their relative position among brands in and out of the insurance market.

We were then able to highlight areas on which to focus in order to drive improvement aligned with the client’s 2025 vision – worry-free, easy and honest.

Empathy, Integrity and Effort showed the highest level of importance with a low performance (i.e. rating). The CXI score was created by taking these key elements, with each having a series of questions underneath.

The CX principles helped our client evolve their current VoC programme by embedding new questions and developing a CXI. The insight highlighted the key factors that could transform their service in line with the company vision. The framework continuously supports their CX practice by identifying opportunities to improve on.

Key recommendations: Empathy

• Focus on delivering empathy through digital channels – undertake an online usability review. Review language and layout from both a new and existing customer perspective.
• Provide case studies with facts and figures that help customers and businesses assess and feel reassured they are correctly covered.

Key recommendations: Integrity

• Create and promote a customer commitment.
• Be famous for being first – aim to be early/ first to respond in certain situations/ disasters.

Key recommendations: Effort

  • Ensure it is as easy as possible for existing customers to get in touch with queries.
  • Undertake a strategic review of the content to ensure it is available and relevant across the customer journey.

As digital technology continues to transform the financial sector, challenger brands have effectively demonstrated empathy by creating different brand personalities, always putting the customer at the heart of what they do and making it easier to do business. They are setting a new standard with innovation in digital spaces. Established brands, like our client, need to adapt to the changing landscape, learn from these new entrants and provide an unrivalled CX.

Our client has led the way in cyber insurance, being the first in the market to draft a policy that was very simple. It introduced one insuring agreement,
which listed on the front page everything insured in the event of a data breach or security failure. Their service-led policies now often provide not only claims assistance but also educational services on how to prevent a cyber incident.

In an increasingly commoditised and crowded marketplace, ever advancing technology and readily available information will continue to shape and influence consumer behaviour. Therefore, delivering an outstanding experience is vital.

Clients want to understand what ‘best in class’ service looks like and identify opportunities to drive further growth. To do so, researchers and CX practitioners need to look beyond the single metric and incorporate all aspects that drive experiences into their studies and programmes. The five CX principles is a framework to support this by focusing on the factors that impact an experience.

Author: Andres Mendez, Lead Consultant, Watermelon Research

This article also appears in the February – April 2020 edition of AMSRS publication, Research News – CX, UX & Research Design. Check out the rest of the articles in this edition.


Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
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