Jo Boswell is Founder and Director of Sentio-B and one of CXM Top 25 CX Influencers. Having previously judged three times at the Awards hosted by Awards International and shared her experience at two previous CX awards, Jo was a Chair of Judges at the first ever live online awards event where she assessed the best initiatives from the region…
We have all been spending a lot more time on video conferencing calls over the last couple of months; and like many others I have been using the technology extensively for both business and social purposes. At the end of May, however, I found myself using the technology in an entirely different and unexpected setting: judging the inaugural Customer Experience Awards for South East Europe, hosted by Awards International.
The event was originally due to take place in Belgrade; but in view of the widespread lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organisers had moved swiftly to adapt to the circumstances and reinvent it as a purely virtual one. As this was my 4th time judging, I was curious to see not only what the standard of entries would be like for the region, but also how the experience would translate from a physical one to online.
Given how little time the organisers had to rework the event, they did a fantastic job at staying one step ahead and ensuring that the judges had all the information and reassurance they needed to ensure the day would run smoothly. Following a final briefing for Chair judges the day before, I found myself sitting down at my desk early one Friday morning, with my husband firmly briefed to keep out of the study, meeting my fellow panel judges via video conference.
With 77 companies from 16 countries taking part, the day felt truly international. I was really impressed with the standard of the presentations, and particularly with how well the presenters established rapport with the judges, given how daunting it must be presenting in a foreign language over video conferencing technology.
The category I judged was ‘Employees at the Heart of Everything’. Much has been written about the link between employee experience and customer experience. In the current environment, when so many businesses are having to make dramatic shifts in the way they operate and serve their customers, it seems to me that engaged and empowered employees will be an even more vital ingredient for success in the coming weeks and months as organisations adapt their approach in the wake of the pandemic. More than ever brands need to demonstrate empathy and understanding to their customers; but that outcome will be hard to achieve unless employees feel valued, trusted, and respected by their employers, particularly in these uncertain and challenging times.
What stood out for me in the case studies presented was the efforts these companies were making to really tap into what is important for their employees, and find ways to improve the emotional connection with colleagues by deepening their understanding of all aspects of the employee experience.
The Gold Winner was E.ON Romania whose case study showcased the journey the company has been on to achieve greater employee engagement. Whilst the launch of an agile transformation programme two years ago has undoubtedly played a key role in engendering a sense of responsibility and accountability at all levels in the organisation, their approach included a number of other strands aimed at deepening understanding of what is important to employees, and putting action plans in place to improve the employee experience in the areas that mattered most. What particularly impressed me with their story was the ongoing stakeholder engagement that ensured full support from their senior management team, including a highly effective ‘reverse mentoring’ scheme that gave senior managers a much better understanding of the employee perspective. The benefits of their approach were clearly shown in some impressive employee engagement scores; but importantly they evidenced some tangible business benefits alongside this. It was a compelling story of simple concepts that had been intelligently applied, and consistently followed up.
For my part, the day did not run quite as smoothly as I would have liked – an uncooperative internet meant that I had a nail-biting 15 minutes trying to reconnect to the judging portal. Luckily, my fellow panel judges and the Awards International facilitator were able to cover for me, and we were soon back on track. Despite that slight glitch, I was nevertheless delighted to play my part in this double first event. Congratulations to the organisers and participants for embracing the changes necessitated by a global pandemic. I can now look forward to judging the UK Digital Experience Awards in a month’s time, confident that it will be similarly successful.
Jo Boswell is Founder & Director of Sentio-B, and one of the UK’s innovative CX consultants. This October she returned to Wembley Stadium to judge at the 2019 UK Customer Experience Awards, where she was impressed with the calibre of finalists…
This was my second time at the UKCXAs, and my third time as an awards judge, having chaired a panel at the UK Digital Experience Awards earlier this year.
As a consultant, I spend my time helping organisations work out how to improve their Customer Experience, and so being invited to judge these awards is a privilege as it gives me the opportunity to hear about what other businesses are doing to innovate and improve their CX.
The recent awards day was made even more enjoyable as I got to work alongside fellow judges including Helen Gillett, Kathryn King, Victoria Orr, and Niranjalee Rajaratne. Once the scoring was done (without discussion of course, as that is strictly verboten’) it was a joy to share perspectives on a range of topics with these inspiring CX professionals.
This year I was allocated to the Customers at the Heart of Everything – SME category.When I read the written submissions, I found the standard to be generally high and an improvement on the previous year. On the day, I was even more pleased with the quality of the presentations, and impressed by the effort these finalists had put into the process, particularly as this represents a significant commitment in time and resources for a small business.
We heard some great examples throughout the day, showing how these organisations were getting a customer mindset firmly embedded in their business processes. What was also noteworthy was that most of them were able to attribute tangible business benefits to the bottom line as a result of taking this approach.
The Gold winners in the category were Trusted Housesitters, whose approach to improving the experience included a relentless focus on removing pain points for their customers. This resulted in a significant reduction in inbound calls to their contact centre, even though their customer base had substantially increased at the same time.
The Silver runners-up, AllClear Insurance Services, described how they had seen notable improvements in their employee engagement and retention numbers as a result of addressing customer issues that their front-line colleagues were raising – a great illustration of the close link between Employee Experience and Customer Experience.
Both examples are a reminder that simple and relatively low-cost approaches can reap some great results.
Overall, what struck me with all the presentations was the energy and enthusiasm the teams showed around improving the experience for their customers, and their ability to drive the internal change with relative ease – this is often an area that larger businesses struggle with.
There were some impressive examples of cross-functional processes being established to tune into the customer voice and to monitor the top customer issues needing to be addressed, and a recurring theme throughout the day was one of actively seeking out customer complaints, so that feedback could be acted upon.
Whilst it was encouraging to see the businesses in this SME category managing to deliver some great customer outcomes relatively quickly with reasonably simple approaches, it was also clear that as their businesses expand, they will face new challenges in sustaining these efforts. If they put the same heart and soul into meeting that challenge as they did to their UK Customer Experience Awards entry and presentation, however, I’m sure they will succeed.
I recently spent a day at Wembley Stadium. I wasn’t there for a sporting event, but because I had been invited to judge at the 2018 UK Customer Experience Awards, and my office for the day was a corporate hospitality box with a spectacular view of the legendary pitch.
This was my first experience of judging at the awards. I had already been impressed by the standard presented in the written entries, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the atmosphere of excitement that pervaded the registration and networking areas as the teams of finalists arrived and made final tweaks to their presentations.
The category I was judging was Best Customer-Centric Culture – Customer First. The finalists ranged from very small businesses all the way through to large corporations, and it was clear from the written submissions that they had overcome some significant challenges on their journey to becoming more customer focused. Having devoted my career – both as an executive and consultant – to driving greater customer centricity, it was a delight to be able to delve into an array of different approaches from these businesses.
The judging criteria are extensive and extremely thorough, and it was clear from the outset that my fellow judges were as keen as I was to explore the tangible evidence backing up the claims being made by finalists.
One category that we were asked to evaluate was ‘innovation’. When I scored the written entries, I was initially looking for evidence of a customer-obsessed approach that was truly different to anything I had seen before. Having listened to all the finalists’ presentations, I was persuaded that true breakthrough in this category is when an organisation succeeds in getting a ‘customer first’ mentality embedded consistently at all levels.
Key to success is having senior leaders that role-model the approach and behaviours. It was great to see that demonstrated throughout the day with some excellent examples of leaders who are attuned to both customer and employee feedback, constantly identifying ways in which the Customer Experience can be improved.
For me, the real innovation was demonstrated when colleagues at all levels displayed how they were not only motivated to improve the Customer Experience, but also felt truly empowered by their organisations to make a difference for their customers.
To achieve that shift in mentality and behaviours across an entire organisation, of whatever size, in a way that delivers continuous CX improvement day after day – that is the breakthrough innovation that deserves to be celebrated and applauded.
It was a huge pleasure to be involved in a process that did just that, and it was great to see organisations of such different sizes showcase how they have delivered significant improvements in the experience for their customers, resulting in tangible business outcomes.
My conclusion? Developing a customer-centric culture does not necessarily come with a big price-tag. However, it does require tuning in as an organisation to what your customers and your employees are saying and showing a desire and ability to act on that feedback. When that is demonstrated consistently at all levels is when real customer centricity magic happens.