Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthApril 20, 2018


While the high street reported the steepest year-on-year drop in footfall since 2010, UK online retail sales have experienced dramatic growth.

Online sales grew by a storming +18.9 percent year-on-year (YoY) in March, according to the latest figures from the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index. Marking the highest year-on-year growth since November 2016, March’s results round out a hugely successful first quarter, which saw average growth perform well above the 2018 forecast (+15.3 percent vs. +9 percent).

A number of key factors helped drive the month’s online sales – starting with the continued cold weather from the ‘beast from the east’, and ending with the early Easter bank holiday. Far more significant of the two, weekly analysis showed that growth doubled in the final week over Easter – surging from a steady +13 percent to +27 percent.

While all sectors showed year-on-year growth in March, there were a few standout performances. Likely linked to the bank holiday weekend, both Clothing and Beer, Wine and Spirits saw increases of +17.2 percent and +27.3 percent respectively. For Beer, Wine and Spirits this was the highest jump in the last five years. Perhaps less predictably, Electricals also had a very strong month, reversing a five-year trend of decline to record growth of +21.9 percent. In a month where Samsung launched its Galaxy S9, this could signify a concerted effort by smartphone manufacturers to increase their promotions.

Andy Mulcahy, Strategy and Insight Director at IMRG, said:

“It’s possible to read this month’s results as a simple story of online continuing to benefit from the decline of the high street – which is nothing new of course, but it may be that we are seeing an acceleration of this as we’ve moved into 2018. At the same time it could just be a blip – Easter falling in March will likely have pushed up online growth (and, by extension, it may come in far lower in April) plus the weather has at times brought heavy snowfall and prolonged rainfall.

If the strong growth is sustained into April, it would be tempting to conclude that we may have entered a new retail era – where store portfolios are going to be reduced faster under a far more radical programme of store consolidation than we have seen thus far, with digital transformation going high up board agendas and more ‘Digital Transformation Director’ job titles appearing.

But what does that mean for the high street? It’s important to remember that shopping centres have generally performed better than high streets recently, so it’s not that physical retail spaces can’t work. The question is – if retail were to start again entirely from scratch tomorrow, what would a retailer’s physical space look like? Would they be shops in the traditional sense, using all the space to market stock? Would we actually even create high streets again?”

Bhavesh Unadkat, Principal Consultant in Retail Customer Engagement with Capgemini added:

“While the comparatively stronger growth of multi-channel retailers this month further supports the weather’s role in driving footfall away from the high streets, it also highlights the potential value and relevance of maintaining some form of physical presence in addition to a digital one. The trick for retailers is to figure out how the two can successfully work in combination, and what role each must play. We’re already seeing the start of this interplay in the trend for showrooming, but that is just one possible innovation of many.”

Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthApril 16, 2018


Pub chain JD Wetherspoon will face “negative repercussions” for “ignoring” customers by shutting down their social media channels, it has been warned.

The company ran over 900 accounts on platforms including Twitter and Facebook, and has said the decision on Monday morning was taken over concerns the accounts were being used to troll MPs.

The staunchly pro-Brexit brand announced the move in a now-deleted tweet by Chairman Tim Martin, who wrote: “We are going against conventional wisdom that these platforms are a vital component of a successful business. I don’t believe that closing these accounts will affect our business whatsoever, and this is the overwhelming view of our pub managers.”

However, the move has been criticised by Customer Experience experts Medallia, whose VP EMEA Sean Farrington, said:

“Social media represents a way for people to share their views and opinions on anything and everything. In the world of commerce, to close the door on this vital channel and ignore the very powerful voice of the customer, is a highly risky strategy.

When used well social media acts as an additional earpiece for brands, enabling them to get insight into what their customers like and don’t like. It provides a platform to engage with customers in a positive way. It allows brands to hear the stories behind customers experiences and to proactively make changes to enhance them. Indeed, Medallia’s research* of the hospitality sector has found engaging with social media reviews boosts a company’s bottom line.

Love it or loathe it, social media is a part of our world now. We live in a 24/7 always on society that loves to share and loves to voice their opinions. Blocking access to a tool such as this could have negative repercussions for a brand, something Wetherspoons might find out quicker than they’d like.”

Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthApril 12, 2018


The robots are coming…but not as fast as some might think.

That is the prediction of Claire Sporton, the recently appointed Senior Vice President of CX Innovation at ‘Voice of the Customer’ experts Confirmit.

The London-based long-time CX professional has spent many years at the forefront of delivering great Customer Experience, but her new role allows her to lift her head, focus her gaze, and start observing what is “coming down the road” in the industry.

From this vantage point, Claire has observed Artificial Intelligence (AI) as it trundles ever closer to full and irreversible integration in our lives.

While many in business welcome this change, others remain understandably wary, especially in light of fears that AI will eventually replace people working in CX engine rooms, such as contact centres.

Fear not, Claire tells Customer Experience Magazine, as the human touch will always be required to come in and take over at points where AI just doesn’t quite cut the mustard.

“These last few years with Confirmit, I have been heading up a group working directly with clients, whereas this new role is expanding on what I have done before,” she said.

“I’m stepping back from some of the direct delivery work – I’m spreading my wings and looking to the future of CX. When you are at the coalface, you work mainly on the day-to-day immediate business issues. When you are focussing on where the value is, you don’t have time to look to the horizon, but that is where I am now – in a position to see what is coming down the road.”

On that road is an inevitability: AI. Yet just because there is no going back from this huge industry change, it doesn’t mean that we should want to.

“My inbox is packed with AI this and AI that…it’s everywhere,” Claire continued.

“What does it really mean for CX though? I would suggest…yes…the robots are indeed coming, but not quite as quickly as people think they are. They aren’t going to be taking over all of our CX jobs immediately…but they will get to a further stage of prominence.

However, from a CX point of view, we shouldn’t be looking at AI replacing humans. Rather, the technology should augment what a human can offer. We need to think about how we can use AI as human beings to help us make better decisions in terms of Customer Experience.

Look at team leaders in contact centres – how can we provide each of these individuals with the information and insight they need to make better decisions? This is where AI can help. AI can bring together the data sources – customer feedback, financial data etc – and provide guidance. We don’t want robots making the decisions, we want robots to be guiding the humans making the decisions. We still want our humans to be using those amazing brains, using their hearts and guts.

There will always be times when, as customers, we want to speak with a human being. If I want to check my bank account, that’s one thing I can rely on AI for. But if I’m planning my retirement, then I’m going to want to speak with a person.”

Claire added: “From collecting to analysing feedback – AI is undoubtedly a huge part of our CX futures, but the time to fear it is past. Embrace its potential to make us humans better at doing what we love to do – deliver a fantastic customer experience.”

Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthMarch 23, 2018


Manuela Pifani is proof, if proof were needed, that award winners go on to achieve amazing things – on top of the success that brought them to the awards podium in the first place.

Having been at the vanguard of helping a range of firms improve their Customer Experience offering over the years in fixed employment roles, 2015 CX Professional of the Year, Manuela Pifani, is now helming her own consultancy business, allowing her greater freedom in indulging her passion – helping customers.

The University of Bologna alumni, who has made London the centre of her business activity, is one of only eight people to have been named CX Professional of the Year since the UK Customer Experience Awards were founded almost a decade ago.

This honour was bestowed thanks to her pioneering work with Direct Line Group (no strangers to awards success in various categories themselves thanks to Manuela) where she spent just under four years as Head of Customer Strategy and Experience.

Now she is her own boss at CXellence, a consultancy firm helping companies fulfil their Customer Experience goals at a time when quality CX delivery is more essential to business success than ever before.

Speaking of her journey, she said:

“For the last 15 years I have been in customer-focused leadership roles and this cemented an understanding in me that it is crucial to put the customer at the heart of any business strategy. If a business isn’t doing this, then it will never be successful in a sustainable way – it’s as simple and as brutal as that.
Being a CX leader is both an art and a science that requires an understanding of, and a deep empathy with, customers, as well as a range of technical and strategic skills. Once you can grasp this, then you can hone your passion and go on to improve your customers’ journeys for the benefit of your own business.

When I worked for Barclays, over 15 years ago, the concept of Customer Experience had yet to be fully established, and my focus was on driving service excellence, by improving . I wanted to improve efficiency of process and service delivery.

However, as over the subsequent years attention progressively shifted towards CX, my focus moved also towards building an effective Voice of the Customer programme and defining a clear customer strategy to better meet the needs and expectations of customers. These became the foundation upon which we built our customer journey design and improvement programme, also feeding into the development of omnichannel journey capabilities.

But this is not enough; the most important part of a CX strategy is to drive organisational realignment and cultural change, to ensure it is fully embedded in the DNA of the company.”

As to where she goes now with her many years of experience, Manuela said:

“I’m at the stage in my working life where I realise that delivering CX is a passion as much as a profession for me, and I want to be able to do it with more organisations and more often, under my own brand. I have the right amount of experience to confidently achieve my goals. I’m still in the early days of this new venture, but I’m certain that we are going to do wonderful things with many fabulous people.

Winning awards, meanwhile, adds a level of credibility that simply cannot be bought – it must be earned. They are benchmarks that show you are doing the right thing and achieving the right results. The motivation from that feeling of reward is fantastic, not just for individuals, of course, but for your entire team and all the business stakeholders who supported you in your journey.”

Entries are now open for the 2018 UK Customer Experience Awards. For more information, click here.

Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthMarch 20, 2018


Skipton Building Society is the fourth largest building society in the UK, with 95 branches located across the country and a contact centre based in Bury, Lancashire. With entries now open for the 2018 UK Customer Experience Awards, we look back at Skipton’s success at last year’s awards finals when they won their category with an outstanding entry…

Skipton Building Society provides a broad range of financial service products that support customers on their journey for the ‘Life Ahead’, while taking pride in offering outstanding customer service alongside quality products that make a difference.

Last year was their ever first entry into the UK Customer Experience Awards and they secured the top spot in the Customer at the Heart of Everything (Financial Services) category. Here, we take a look at Skipton’s Bury branch and its award-winning initiative focusing on improving services for people with dementia.

Context behind the initiative

As one of the largest threats to an ageing population, dementia affects over 850,000 people in the UK. With symptoms such as memory loss, confusion, and problems with speech and understanding, the branch at Bury knew they could help customers facing this challenge and become role models throughout the company.

They wanted to help this core segment of customers and were passionate about acting as influencers and encouraging others within Skipton to do the same.

The initiative and great Customer Experience delivered

The Bury initiative focused heavily on tailoring an approach suited to vulnerable customers with dementia. This meant that colleagues had to be educated and confident in their role to provide service and be able to better deal with situations involving vulnerable customers.

For the Bury branch, it was also critical that they educate the wider community, support those with dementia, and create a physical environment which was supportive and empathetic to the customer needs of this segment.

In order to achieve this, the following solutions were identified:

  1. The branch was taken out into the community where volunteering played a key part. Doing this allowed the Bury branch to raise local awareness of how dementia affects lives while also building brand awareness and consideration.
  2. National focus days were identified that engaged branches regardless of geography or location.
  3. The Bury team built a strong influence outside of the branch and connected with the wider community, becoming a force for change.
  4. Digital technologies were implemented that amplified learning amongst colleagues as well as in the Head Office.
  5. Recommendations were made to enhance and improve the experience for customers when visiting a branch.
  6. External experts were consulted to help support the team’s understanding and capability to provide support.
  7. The Bury branch had to demonstrate leadership by acting as role models in building and driving dementia awareness.
  8. Customer feedback had to be actively collected, listened to, and acted upon, and in doing so demonstrate that every customer has a voice and that customer input is greatly valued.
  9. Colleague feedback also had to be collected in order to build training and guidance that would help others and get them engaged in supporting customers with dementia, while also encouraging ideas and solutions from other parts of the business to improve and drive dementia awareness.

The implementation of these solutions also included a layered approach. The Bury branch influenced people both internally and externally in their community.

Their cause was taken to the local Mayor’s Charity and was commended and recognised locally. The Bury branch also engaged with many other local organisations and institutions that supported their cause, even being invited to a national recognition event at the Tower of London.

Internally, workshops have been created to engage staff which included training videos that support over 500 colleagues and counting.

Business impact and results

Apart from being praised by the Skipton Building Society at large, the Bury branch, along with its branch manager Imran Najeeb, demonstrated strong leadership and commitment to delivering colleague support, community engagement, and exceptional customer service.

The Bury branch also created a wave of viral change across the Skipton Building Society, inspiring senior leaders across the organisation to become engaged in providing more support for people with dementia.

The entire organisation has become much more supportive of this vulnerable customer segment and it continues to inspire and deliver exceptional results in both Customer Experience and community support.

The UK Customer Experience Awards 2018

Is your organisation delivering great customer experience?

If your company has already put the customer at the heart of everything, then entering the UK Customer Experience Awards is a fantastic way to achieve recognition for your initiatives.

Entering the awards is a valuable opportunity to bring your team together and celebrate your success. Not only that, the finalists receive a benchmarked feedback form from an expert panel of independent and impartial judges, following a live presentation at the awards finals in London’s Wembley Stadium.

For more information on entering this year’s UK Customer Experience Awards, click here.



Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthMarch 9, 2018


One of Europe’s biggest train ticket retailers has launched a new voice app to help customers easily plan journeys.

Trainline has built their app for Google Assistant, and the firm has roped in the help of ‘rapper’ Big Shaq (AKA comedian Michael Dapaah) to help show off the skills of the automated service through a rap ‘battle’.

A two-minute film, available on YouTube and Trainline’s website demonstrates how Trainline’s voice app can help simplify rail journey planning. Fresh from a test session in a recording studio, Big Shaq plans his journey home by opening the Google Assistant and saying “OK Google, talk to Trainline” to activate the voice app.

He is greeted with a rapping voicebot who answers all his questions freestyle, resulting in a fun rap duet which leaves Big Shaq satisfied he has all the information he needs to have a successful journey.

Speaking about the new app functionality and the partnership, David Slocombe, Product Director at Trainline said:

“In the world’s first rap duet between a rapper and a Voicebot, Big Shaq put Trainline’s voice app through its paces but it was more than up to the challenge! Trainline’s voice app is a great example of our mission to use smarter technologies to make travel simpler and more hassle-free.”


Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthMarch 9, 2018


Worldwide professional services firm FDM Group has been announced as the latest official partner for the 2018 UK Employee Experience Awards, which will take place this spring.

Hosted by Awards International in London’s Park Plaza Hotel on May 17, the daytime gala event will celebrate and reward exceptional organisations and individuals at the forefront of promoting and inspiring Employee Experience (EX) across the UK.

FDM Group is the latest business to join the awards as official partners, alongside Benefex, Cranfield School of Management, Customer Experience Magazine, and event sponsors Barnardo’s.

The cutting-edge company enjoys hugely successful relationships with global clients, and has UK offices in London, Leeds, Brighton, and Glasgow while their international outposts include New York, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

Andy Brown is FDM Group’s Chief Commercial Officer, and he said the company is “delighted” to have joined the 2018 Employee Experience Awards at a time when the concept of EX is becoming ever-more crucial to the running a business.

“Understanding how we create strong, positive emotional connections with our employees so they are motivated and inspired is crucial for the benefit of their wellbeing and that of the overall organisation and this is where Employee Experience plays a part,” he said.

“These awards provide an opportunity for us all to share best practice in employee experience and encourage others to do the best they can for their people”

Neil Skehel, the CEO of Awards International, said:

“It is a pleasure to have a partnership with an internationally recognised firm like FDM Group. Their influence and involvement with the 2018 awards will help us reach our goal of making this year’s event the most successful to date.”

Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthMarch 9, 2018


The finalists for the 2018 UK Employee Experience Awards have been revealed, with a huge list of some of Britain’s best-known businesses competing across 20 categories.

The finals will be hosted by Awards International at London’s Park Plaza Riverbank hotel on May 17, with support from awards partners Benefex, FDM, Cranfield School of Management, Customer Experience Magazine, and event sponsors Barnardo’s.

Shortlisted among this year’s crop of finalists (listed below) are brands including Sky, Brewdog, Vodafone, and River Island, to name but a few, and all entrants will present to judges on the morning of the event, before scoring occurs and category winners announced during a gala lunch.

Along with the category winners, an Overall Best Employee Engagement title, and Overall Winner will be named.

Meanwhile, the judging line-up continues to grow ahead of the finals, and among the names scrutinising and scoring this year are the CEO of Intrapreneur International, Gareth Bullen; the Managing Director of Monkeypuzzle, Karen Meager; and Co-Founder and CEO of The Happiness Index, Tony Latter.

Speaking as this year’s finalists were revealed, Awards International CEO Neil Skehel said:

“The standard of entries this year have been nothting short of fantastic, so a huge congratulations to all of our shortlisted finalists. This is shaping up to be the most significant UK Employee Experience Awards to date, and we are thrilled to be hosting the gala event in our new venue in the beating heart of London.
Employee Experience is now at the forefront of business plans UK-wide, so these awards are more significant now than at any time previously. Good luck to all of those who have secured their place in the finals and bring on the summer for a day to remember.”



Category Finalist
Diversity & Inclusion
  • Sky
  • Let’s Get Healthy
  • Impact
Employee Engagement – Recognition & Wellbeing
  • University of Lincoln
  • Arrow XL
  • EDAM Group
  • Sky
  • Staysure
Employee Engagement – Growth by Design
  • drp
  • Spindogs
  • Startle
  • Brewdog
Employee Engagement – Values & Strategy
  • Bidfood
  • Bridge Training & Events
  • The Holly Private Hospital
  • Vodafone Group Services
Employee Engagement – Transforming through EX
  • We Are Habit & Jubilee Street Practice
  • Childbase Partnership
  • Homeserve
  • Sparks Grove & Three
Employee Engagement – EX Design
  • Hologic
  • Impact
  • Manpower Group
  • Pelican Business Services
  • Royal Bank of Scotland
Health & Wellbeing
  • Leon
  • Risual
  • The Specialist Works
  • DJS (UK) Limited
  • Let’s Get Healthy
  • Lifeworks
  • Pelican Business Services
Insight & Feedback
  • Sparks Grove & The FCA
  • Well Pharmacy & ORC
  • BT Business & Blue Sky
  • Childbase Partnership
  • Hologic
  • EDAM Group
Learning & Development
  • EDAM Group
  • DPD
  • drp
  • Marketing VF
  • River Island
  • Royal Bank of Scotland
  • BT Business & Blue Sky
Reward & Recognition
  • Belron UK Ltd
  • Stockport Homes Group
  • University of Lincoln
  • drp
  • The Holly Private Hospital
  • NIIT Technologies
Talent Management
  • Holly Private Hospital
  • Sparks Grove & McDonald’s
  • River Island
  • Belron UK Ltd
Business Transformation and Managing Change
  • Pelican Business Services
  • HomeServe
  • Vodafone Group Services
  • Bridge Training & Events
  • NIIT Technologies
  • Hologic
Innovation in Recruitment
  • Global M
  • Marketing VF
Organisational Development
  • DPD
  • Sky
  • BT Business & Blue Sky
  • Holly Private Hospital
  • drp
  • eValue
  • ArrowXL
  • DJS (UK) Limited
Technology for Productivity
  • Vodafone Group Services
  • drp
  • Lifeworks
  • University of Lincoln
Agency of the Year
  • ORC
  • Hologic
  • Spindog
  • Global M
  • Bridge Training & Events
  • Manpower Group
  • DRP Group
Leader in Employee Experience
  • EValue
  • HomeServe
  • Manpower Group
  • Marketing VF
Team of the Year
  • Marketing VF
  • Sky
  • Spark Energy & BIG Partnership
  • Water2Business
  • James and James Fulfilment
  • Bidfood
  • River Island
Thought Leader in Employee Experience
  • Rebecca Robinson, Sparks Grove
  • Hologic
  • Leon
  • Dale Smith, Bridge Training & Events

Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthMarch 9, 2018


User experience experts Usability247 have been named as partners for the 2018 UK Digital Experience Awards, which are returning to London this summer.

The firm helps businesses implement effective digital user experience initiatives for big name clients including Telefonica (O2) and Dixons Carphone Group, and will help hosts Awards International put on the biggest UK Digital Experience Awards to date.

The finals event is taking place on July 12 at the Wembley Hilton, and entries are now open for organisations from across the UK to enter. Shortlisted finalists will be invited to give a presentation before an expert panel of judges in the morning, before their entries are scored and the winners announced during a gala afternoon luncheon ceremony.

Finalists will compete in 23 categories, including Best Use of AR or VR, Utilities, and Not for Profit & Charity. New categories this year include Best Restaurant, Take Away & Delivery and Publishing.

Joining the ever-growing judges’ line-up for 2018 are Gordon Rimmer, Director of Marketing at Connect Managed Services; Kate Thompson, Founder and Managing Director of Business 3.0; and the Founder and CEO of Usability247 himself, Paul Blunden. Paul has also been appointed Chairman of this year’s UK Digital Experience Awards.

He said:

“Usability247 is delighted to be partnering with the DXA on the 2018 awards. Recognising best practice is important and encourages other organisations to improve the digital experience they deliver to their customers. Together with the opportunities the UK Digital Experience Awards creates to learn about emerging trends, they are a leader in driving improvements in digital experience everywhere.”

Welcoming the firm back for another successful year, Awards International CEO Neil Skehel said:

“It is fantastic that UX experts Usability247 will be partnering with the UK Digital Experience Awards in 2018. The awards celebrate and recognise the inspiring ways organisations use digital applications to drive their customer experience forward, and we are delighted that Usability247 is as passionate as we are about supporting best practice in this area. I look forward to working with them in rewarding digital excellence and innovation.”

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