For a discipline that has been around since marketing strategies were first conceived, customer experience still feels like it has a long way to go. Gas companies, banks, retailers – it doesn’t take long to think of a household brand across any industry that has had its fair share of customer experience disasters. How is it that services such as utilities and finance, or the exchange of goods – practices which have been around for anything between decades and centuries – still employ customer experience practices that are now rendered inadequate by today’s digital marketplace?
By now, haven’t we analyzed to the nth degree all the best practices, learnings and focus groups? Yet here we are in the twenty-first century and despite all our advances, many sectors and companies still struggle to maintain high customer satisfaction levels.1
Not just innovation
Two weeks ago, Datalex had the pleasure of attending IQPC’s Customer Experience Exchange Travel and Hospitality Conference in London. It was attended by senior executives from a range of travel providers, committed to delivering customer service excellence. A common element of many discussions was how the service provider can use data to refine its customer communications, and bring the customer experience to the next level. This select group of customer experience experts was 100% clear on what customer experience means to the end user and the importance of customer delight. They were in no doubt that the ecosystem within which commerce operates today has changed. And they were unanimous that technology, and particularly the digital landscape, is dictating how we do business today.
Yet travel, and particularly airlines, are still struggling to come to terms with customer experience, as a high-pace digital ecosystem converges with the increasing demands of the ‘entitled consumer’ which Selligent’s CMO Nick Worth particularly spoke to at last month’s conference; and how these factors tie in with existing infrastructures that have multiple and critical dependencies.
According to IATA’s Annual Review 2017, due to intensive competition, airlines are “…highly incentivized to offer good customer service…” in what is “…a customer-focused industry”. And the key to delivering on the passenger’s expectations, IATA says, is innovation.2
So the industry knows that innovation is key to success, airlines need no reminding that great customer experience drives loyalty and increased revenues, and we know that one feeds the other:
- Great innovation drives a better customer experience
- the demand for a better customer experience drives the supply of new innovations
Mind the gaps
Yet gaps still exist in the delivery and execution of great customer experience. One reason for this might be that as the airline enterprise grows, it is constantly responding to market forces in the form of aggressive competition and a rapidly evolving digital marketplace. This often demands a quick, tactical reaction to enable a more efficient service, a more flexible pricing structure, or a better choice of products. Siloed specialties become developed touchpoint by touchpoint. They are specific to a technology, innovation (technological or other), operation, internal business function or an experience at a moment in time. Before we know it, a complex dynamic has evolved across disparate activities and responsibilities.
Meanwhile, the customer experience gold standard requires a seamless transition from one touchpoint to the next, resulting in the perfect omni-channel experience. Abstractly, the concept of a ‘transition’, or for that matter a ‘touchpoint’, effectively disappears.
In the Harvard Business Review article ‘The Truth About Customer Experience’3, the authors not only champion a journey-focus, but also argue that as touchpoints are developed, they in fact make the customer journey more complex. This is certainly the potential hazard with a technology focus, which by its nature requires the application of scientific logic. A seamless customer experience that can depend also on factors that are emotional, subjective or even impulsive, will not always sit well with the rationality of technological innovation.
And so a disconnect arises – at best gaps, at worst friction – making it difficult to reconcile separate business functions and practices with one view of the end-to-end customer experience.
An omni-experience channel
The customer experience should be considered as just that – one experience; not a conjugation of multiple experiences that inevitably will result in highs, lows and incoherence. While the customer is looking for an omni-channel experience, the enterprise needs to embrace an omni-experience channel: internal stakeholders input into an internal workflow, or channel, that is focused on delivering the omni-experience.
So what does this mean in practice? An omni-experience requires the delivery of an end-to-end - and fundamentally digital - customer experience that considers factors that will result in the customer’s overall satisfaction with the service. A laser-focus on expertise or technologies that address specific touchpoints is all very well. We know that ‘one view’ of the customer journey is important, but the implementation of the omni-experience requires:
- the appointment of a customer experience ‘Responsible Manager’;
- internal transparency of the customer journey channel for all staff with customer responsibilities;
- follow-up and follow-through – from and to each point in the customer journey;
- one view of data that encompasses the experience online, offline and post-experience;
- one view of data that encompasses the technological engagements at all channels and all touchpoints; and
- senior-level engagement, with a customer experience objective at company level.
Again, at the Customer Experience conference, Virgin Holidays’ Operations Director Pauline Wilson spoke effectively about the lengths that Virgin Holidays went to, to understand their customers (to the point that they are conscious not to over-research). Through multiple channels and resources, they surveyed and gathered data on their customers. They researched the journey from the customer’s perspective. They introduced new communication processes to avoid overkill, where in the past the customer may have received multiple customer service contacts from various parts of the business.
However the key learnings and scope for improvement, came from examining the overall experience. They plotted an emotional timeline for the journey, identifying ‘lows’ as opportunities to address areas that would otherwise potentially take away from the customer’s satisfaction of the entire experience. They used the emotional graph to ensure that they had not missed a gap in the experience, or an opportunity to deliver excellence to the customer – a perspective that can only be achieved by getting a bird’s eye view of the customer journey. They recognized that although individual customer experiences generally rated well, as did the organization departmentally, this was not the full picture. And without the full picture, they didn’t see all the pain points and all the areas that were ripe for improvement.
More than customer centricity
Returning to the Harvard Business Review article, it showed that even where the individual touchpoint experience is maximized, this masks the true satisfaction levels experienced within the end-to-end journey. In the airline business, it is difficult not to compartmentalize the experience; it is after all, a business based on the literal journey with multiple touchpoints. From the customer’s home, to their device on the move, the journey to the airport, check-in, gate, in-flight, transfers, accommodation, activities, and the return; the challenge of delivering an expansive, multifaceted service and products does require organizational discipline and departmentalization.
But beware - while these separate stages may function well day-to-day, the airline must adopt omni-experience best practices to ensure that it always delivers, all the time. Token references to customer-centricity in the mission statement are not enough. Adopt a customer focus throughout the organization. Adopt technologies that will complement this approach – a platform that gives the airline one view of the customer journey, while still serving the technological needs at each touchpoint from the business perspective, and without complexity.
Only the customer understands what the customer is experiencing. The closer the airline can align itself with that experience in full, the better it will be in a position to maximize the value to be gained from those insights – both for the customer and the business.
Marketing Director, Datalex
- Fornell, A. (2017) ‘ACSI: American Car Buyers Less Satisfied’, American Customer Satisfaction Index, 29 August 2017. Available at: http://www.theacsi.org/news-and-resources/press-releases/press-2017/press-release-automobiles-2017 (Accessed 26 September 2017).
- ‘Satisfaction with big four banks up in December but high-value customers left well behind for satisfaction and advocacy’, Roy Morgan Research, 07 February 2017. Available at: http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/7134-banking-satisfaction-advocacy-dec-2016-201702071037 (Accessed 26 September 2017).
- Schwartz, Nelson D. (2017) ‘Route to Air Travel Discomfort Starts on Wall Street’, The New York Times, 28 May 2017. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/28/business/corporate-profit-margins-airlines.html (Accessed 26 September 2017)
- ‘IATA Annual Review 2017’, International Air Transport Association (IATA), June 2017. Available at: http://www.iata.org/publications/Documents/iata-annual-review-2017.pdf (Accessed 28 September 2017)
- Rawson, A., Duncan, E., Jones, C. (2013) ‘The Truth About Customer Experience’, Harvard Business Review, September 2013. Available at: https://hbr.org/2013/09/the-truth-about-customer-experience (Accessed 27 September 2017)