Merje ShawMerje ShawMarch 13, 2019
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11min1158

Over the last few years, we have seen a shift to more conscious consumerism that values experiences over things.

This can be attributed back to several trends, such as the rise of mindfulness, the minimalist trend in homeware, as well as the tidying trends like KonMari and Swedish Death cleaning. These, combined with the very real effects of climate change, are changing the way consumers think about their purchases. This was spotted as a trend back in 2017 by Euromonitor and does not seem to be reversing any time soon.

What this change means for businesses

Remarkably, few large companies are truly adapting to this change in mindset. Even then, a lot of it is paying lip service to the consumer experience rather than embedding Customer Experience at the core of the organisation.

Persil’s “Dirt is good” campaign is a great example of how messaging has moved away from the product to focus on the experience the product enables. In fact, Unilever seems to be one of the few large organisations truly keeping in touch with the zeitgeist as their recent Sustainable Living Plan has shown. And it’s working – their sustainable living brands grew 46 percent faster than the rest of the business and delivered 70 percent of its turnover growth.

Even with these great examples, and the rise of the B Corporations with ethics at the core, traditional industries are constantly being disrupted by more nimble startups that put Customer Experience at their core. This is a bit of a no-brainer, really. Traditional companies can float happily on repeat customers whilst startups literally live or die on the experiences they provide. I recently wrote about this at length, but I very much doubt that this illusion some companies have that technology will save them is anything more than that.

How AI can increase productivity

First, it’s important to realise that what we term ‘AI’ is a bit of a red herring. True AI, in the science fiction, self-aware state, is yet to emerge. What we are using quite effectively in business settings are things like machine learning, natural language processing, and speech recognition systems. I talk about this at length here.

The best thing organisations can do to improve productivity is to take a long hard look at internal systems that enable staff to work more efficiently. What is the use of enabling chat function on your website if your customer support person still needs to log into three different systems to get a simple answer?

With machine learning, we have the option to automate a lot of the menial tasks that create busy work and detract attention from what should really matter to a company – providing the best customer service you can, ideally a human one.

The importance of visibility for improving the customer journey

We recently worked with a FTSE100 company to try and marry up quantitative data from their online real estate with qualitative data from the hundreds of research sessions that have been carried out over the years. Sadly this iteration didn’t work, but it is important to keep striving to solve this, as only by combining the information on “what is happening” from quantitative data with the “why is it happening” from qualitative data do we get a true picture that enables informed decision-making.

With this in mind, I would caution against solely relying on analytics as quantitative data tends to say a lot more about the biases and existing knowledge of those who form the questions and therefore only works when you already know the parameters that you are looking to confirm or validate.

We find that the best tools for truly forming a picture of the end-to-end Customer Experience is by mapping it with contextual research. Further value can then be added by overlaying this with the Employee Experience as well as mapping the third parties involved. This is known as service blueprinting. These maps can be used very effectively to set up analytics journeys and provide further validation for the issues arising in the customer journey.

Why businesses should strive for the perfect mix of automation and human contact

Over the last 10 plus years, we have been dedicated to letting customers self-serve. In fact, I have helped create a multitude of self-service help sites. They can be very useful. What has now started emerging in research sessions is that people really hate them…and chat bots (more on this in a minute).

One of the interesting things we found back in 2012 when running usability tests on the newest iteration of BT Business Self Service (which has since been updated several times) was that participants were far more likely to try using the self-service flows when they could clearly see the contact number.

This has stood the test of time. When you allow people to try but also provide an intervention point that enables them to talk to a real person, they are more likely to have a go first. eBay, with their impenetrable help flows, could do with taking this lesson on board, but they are by far not the only offenders in this category.  Royal Mail’s business help doesn’t look too great either for allowing human contact.

People have also started bring up chat bots as these often mis-interpret the text and provide rubbish answers whilst masquerading as real people. There was a fascinating article on this fairly recently, but in essence, what we keep seeing is that when people know they are chatting to a bot, they tend to be far more forgiving than when they feel another human is treating them like a fool.

I firmly believe we have reached peak Customer Experience automation and to further automate customers out of direct contact with the company is foolish. I recently wrote about this in a housing association context but it is very applicable to all other industries – have you ever been to a Tesco Express to be faced with a row of self-checkouts and no till staff? This happens to me all the time and I believe it’s not a great experience. There is merit in mixing the automation whilst still always providing human contact.


Merje ShawMerje ShawSeptember 13, 2018
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5min1654

Over the years we have seen that the fastest, most efficient way of diagnosing Customer Experience issues is talking to your customer-facing teams. Here is a quick primer on what to ask them.

Having started my career in customer support myself, I know how many real customer issues frontline staff come across daily. Quite often, these insights stay in the frontline staff’s heads or get buried in paperwork during “business as usual” which seems like a big waste. If your organisation is starting to look more closely at their Customer Experience, tapping into this resource will be a quick and (hopefully) easy way of gaining insight into your customer base and their needs.

Here are five questions to ask:

1. What is the number one thing customers complain about?

Understanding what the biggest issue your customers feel strongly enough to complain about is will tell you how to remove the largest obstacle from customer satisfaction, and provides a good starting point for researching pain points within your customer journey.

2. Which channels do most queries come though?

This will be limited by the number of channels on which you allow them to contact you but will give you a good place to start looking at trends. After all, your customers are likely to try and contact you by the channel that is most convenient from them. If these don’t include social media, it would be wise to also review how your company is being discussed in these channels as that can be very enlightening.

3. If you could improve one thing about the service/product what would it be?

Your customer service staff talk to the customers every day and solve a myriad of issues for them. Because of this, they will develop a pretty good gut feeling on the issues causing the biggest trouble for your customer base and will be able to pinpoint the most urgent ones.

4. Which internal document is helping you most in answering customer questions?

Knowing which documentation they find the most helpful when dealing with customer queries will help you gain an understanding of the kind of content you should be putting in front of your customers during their usual journey.

5. What tool or process would help you to do your job better?

Internal tools and processes used by frontline staff can often make or break the customer’s experience of the company, so ensuring they have the things they need to be as efficient as possible is key to improving experience.

These are just a starting point to improving your Customer Experience; ideally you would follow this insight up by conducting first-hand research directly with your customers.

Not only will this way of engaging with your staff enable you to gain a deeper understanding of your customers but it will also go a long way towards making your frontline staff finally feel heard, and we all want happy people to help our customers, right?


Merje ShawMerje ShawOctober 23, 2017
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5min1525

It is high time B2B companies finally embraced what B2C companies have known for years.

In 2009, when I was running usability research for  Skype’s business proposition, I noticed that business customers were starting to ask questions like: “If the websites and platforms I use in my personal life are slick and easy to use, why do I have to struggle so much in my work life?”

That was eight years ago. Unfortunately the question has still not gone away as most B2B organisations still assume that their customers will put up with whatever solution is provided for them.

With the ever-present and easily accessible SaaS platforms now disrupting a number of industries, ignoring business tools provided by your company is no longer an option. Neither is ignoring the fact that even though you are selling to other businesses, you are still selling to people.

During a recent workshop I gave to a group of Finnish marketing specialists, I found it interesting how many of the B2B marketers struggled to identify their customer or even think of the other company as a customer.

I’ll admit that a whole company can be tricky to view as a customer but there will be a key decision-maker in any client organisation. Understanding why this customer buys from your company will be crucial to ensuring your organisation’s success.

The UK is leading the way when it comes to customer focus so the Finnish example may be extreme, but that does not mean that we have it all sorted when it comes to B2B experiences.

Here’s a few of key points about customer expectations in the B2C sector:

  • There is a proliferation of products and services out there so loyalty to one is no longer guaranteed
  • Customers are moving away from valuing things and focusing more on experiences
  • Ethics and company values (and therefore brands) play a huge role in purchasing decisions

These attitudes will not stay within the B2C space so let’s examine what that means in a business context:

  • With the rise of SaaS platforms, it is easier than ever to build a sophisticated business with very little technical knowledge and a relatively small financial outlay. This means that almost every traditional industry is under threat from disruption
  • The key way for established businesses to “win” in this marketplace is to leverage the quality of their offering and their experience
  • Through years of corporate responsibility efforts, most larger companies will already hold ethical values and carry out positive impact projects but very few use this to their advantage. There are also only a handful of B2B organisations that have become household names, partly because of the limitations of the brand positioning and amplification efforts

Unless B2B organisations are willing to accept lower margins and compete on cost, the only option here is to innovate through service provision, taking a leaf from the books of AirBnB and Uber but not aiming to do the same.

And there is plenty of fertile ground to cover when it comes to service provision. Recent McKinsey research shows that most B2B customers need very little support for repeat purchases and struggle with slow response times across tasks, leading them to look for alternative suppliers.

These kinds of issues have been ironed out within the B2C sector, so even achieving parity with the consumer-facing organisations would be a huge step forward, allowing the B2B industry to focus on what they are really good at, instead of spending time troubleshooting client issues.




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