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.”
With over 1,000,000 customers, Autoglass repair or replace any type of glass on any make, model, or age of vehicle. A part of the Belron Group serving nine million customers a year in 31 countries, they are committed to customer experience. We caught up with Head of Customer Experience at Autoglass, Sarah Ringrose, and discovered the inspirational role CX is playing in the organisation…
Where does your passion for Customer Experience start?
I started at Autoglass in accounts 14 years ago, having previously worked in sales at Interbrew. I worked with our corporate partners and customers to ensure our invoices were paid on time. I progressed to head the department and became responsible for the Customer Experience we provided at that stage.
I enjoyed the corporate/client interactions, so I moved to become a senior business manager. This gave me great insight into the corporate relationship. I then had my twins so needed to rethink being on the road so much.
So when I came back I became a Credit Manager, which I enjoyed. I could see where things went wrong for our customers and so started to push to improve our processes. At the same time, I noticed there was a Head of Customer Experience advertised internally. For me, that was a perfect opportunity because I wanted to improve the experience for our customers at all stages.
Do you feel having held a few roles in the company has helped you in your current role?
I think it has. I have the advantage of a rounded perspective when I look at Customer Experience – be that for consumers or client partner journeys. I know the whole journey so can draw upon those experiences. I love the fact that I know the journey from the beginning to the end including the client partner side of things as well.
How does your role impact your corporate partners’ Customer’s Experience, for say Direct Line?
I’m always aware of the challenges our partners face with their customers, so I keep close to our partners. But if we are getting it right for our customers, we are getting right for our corporate partners too.
Practitioners in CX usually have a service background, but you have a commercial view on things. Does that change the business perception of Customer Experience?
It helps, but we have such a passionate workforce here at Autoglass, with all of us focussing on doing the right thing for the customer. Putting customers first is what we do.
Of course I can put myself in others’ shoes internally, because I’ve been there, which helps them see what we are trying to achieve. But the passion across Autoglass is one of the things that has kept me here so long. Everyone puts our customers at the forefront of their thinking and tries to solve people’s problems with real care.
You’ve been in the role as Head of Customer Experience for two years. Would you say that Customer Experience has progressed much in that time?
We’ve learned a lot over that time. We’ve taken operational learning forward, so we can get it right for the customer first time, which is what our customers want. We’ve been able to make improvements based on that right first-time philosophy with changes to our working practices.
As a framework, we have a set of five customer personas we have developed, which we use as a focal point for training staff across the business in how to interact with customers in different ways to achieve complete satisfaction. For example, some customers are most interested in being able to easily book an appointment online without having to speak to anyone; others are interested in having their car off the road for as little time as possible; and others are happiest when we assist them with each step of the booking and service process.
The other thing we’ve undertaken is to create a more cross-functional team working dynamic. Within the last couple of years, we now join departments up to work together towards a common purpose for our customers. This gives people consistency, with the same voice of the customer understanding.
In meetings I can be the conscious voice of the customer. We are all customer focused, but playing this role allows us to talk through a problem statement from the customer’s perspective. It helps create that healthy challenge, “Is this the best for our customers, and is it right for our people?”
We work collaboratively and encourage feedback to be able to make those improvements.
In terms of taking CX improvements forward, how does it work at Autoglass?
Well I’m the business lead for taking improvements forward across all our journeys. I report to the Customer & Digital Director, but I also attend the supply chain and operational monthly meeting so have a dotted line to the Supply Chain & Operations Director. I participate in all team meetings, which is great.
Although I have my own team, I’m very much a part of others’ teams too. Within my own areas of responsibility are the Head of Service Recovery and the Billings Validations Manager. The reason for these areas is that both those departments highlight where things haven’t gone right for the customers. Service recovery is where the complaints come in, so it keeps me really close to those areas. I can then see the insights and can sit with the team to make improvements.
Just recently I’ve attended the sales and marketing meeting, so we keep it really close in terms of the way we work on customer improvements.
Now you’ve seen this approach work first hand, is it an organisational structure you’d apply again?
Yes, because you get to hear about things first hand. I get to hear what’s not working quite well enough. It also keeps you grounded, because whilst it’s important to look forward, you need to know what’s going on with your customers now as well.
What about the little things, do they get attention in this structure?
Sometimes we will make an improvement which is great for our customers but was difficult for our people to deliver. So, we have a ‘Speak to Sarah framework,which provides employees the opportunity to send any frustrations to a central point if something didn’t go quite right, and provide new recommendations for further improvement. The Service Recovery team manage this feedback.
It complements our more structured Voice of The Customer set up with Effort and NPS measurements tracked. It allows us to capture more. I feel it’s a key point of customer experience to listen to your employees, and this achieves it.
What about client partners, does the experience vary for them?
We listen to the motorists, which creates an extra layer of insight which we can then feedback to our client partners. I attend our client partners sessions. We work together to review the various data insights we all have, to arrive at mutual improvement plans which benefit Autoglass, the motorists,and our client partners.
That’s where we look at insights through the customer personas we’ve created, which makes the insight more accessible. We have a fleet persona too. Our corporate clients love the fact that we are showing an understanding of their customer segments through our personas.
How would you describe the strategic role of Customer Experience at Autoglass?
For me, it’s is our number one priority. I’m constantly pushing others in the business to have the same purpose; to focus on caring about customers. I’m always asking ‘how are we making a difference?’ It’s a core part of everything we do, and I represent that through our cross-functional groups and senior management teams. But it’s more about making sure the customers voice is heard at every stage and everyone considers the customer in their role.
Our Customer Experience strategy is focused on ‘always delivering the easiest and best Customer Experience’. For me it’s about everybody else having that constant focus. It’s most important that everyone else feels the same.
You mentioned customer effort. What KPI’s are on your CX dashboard and how will you measure the success of the journey you are on?
Our NPS is 74, which we are very happy with. Our effort score is 94 percent as well, which is ‘customers are satisfied we’ve resolved their issue for them’. The effort score is applied across all channels.
We are looking to capture specific touchpoint feedback rather than relying on the verbatim. Our technicians are brilliant, so if you remember something it’s likely to be them. We want to start capturing feedback related to other touchpoints as well, so we can get that feedback across the entire journey.
I want to understand in more detail at each stage of the journey what we need to tweak to meet our personas expectation. Needing your windscreen repaired or replaced is usually a stressful situation. So we want people to feel, when they call us or go online, that we are solving their problems with real care. I want to listen in and recognise the personalisation and usefulness of our interactions at these less pronounced touch points.
Keeping momentum on CX is often a challenge. Some are finding the ROI a challenge to prove. You are keeping it alive and thriving, what would your advice be to keep CX a priority focus?
Everyone has a part to play. Continually motivating our customer facing colleagues by recognising when they deliver consistent as well as exceptional service is key. It’s something Autoglass do well – recognising consistent service. We have an internal recognition scheme where individuals can nominate each other forgoing beyond or doing their job well.
That gets shared on our internal bulletin, but where appropriate it gets shared on social media too. This is about making our people feel valued for the contribution they’ve given serving our customers.
We also have the Belron (parent company) Exceptional Customer Service Award across all group companies across all the countries, so there is a bigger recognition to aim for.
Recognising and rewarding your people helps keep Customer Experience on the agenda.
How does technology contribute to your overall customer experience?
Technology is key. We have a comprehensive technology development roadmap in place. We have an R&D function in Belron looking at the tools our technicians use as well. We have just introduced an improvement related to the calibration of advanced driver assistance systems (cameras and sensors for example, emergency braking). So, any repair on a windscreen means those cameras need to be calibrated as well.
But to take your car to one site for the windscreen and another for the cameras is a pain. What we’ve done is to work with our partners, so we can calibrate at the same time we fix the windscreen. I didn’t know I had these cameras, and some of our customers don’t know until the windscreen is damaged either. We are in a great situation where we can identify it at the initial call and can help manage this better for our customers.
We’ve even been looking at how you can use Alexa to book our vehicle repair. Some personas are happy to talk to a chat bot if it gets the answers they need.
We are also beginning to do a 360 video pre-and post-inspection of any work we’ve completed to give customers confidence in the quality of the work we’ve undertaken. This is where technology can really improve the experience the customer is having.
Is there a specific Employee Experience focus at Autoglass or is it part of the culture?
It’s a bit of both to be honest. We want it to be part of our culture, but we do have a deliberate strategy to drive it forward as well. In the same way as I’m Head of Customer Experience, we have a Head of People Engagement too – Rachel Gedge. Her focus in that role is making Autoglass the best place our people have ever worked. She will challenge the leadership to ensure we are working towards that ambition and that our people are focussed on it.
As well as our customers, our people are very important to us. For instance, we are going through a transformation in our Customer Experience Centre and that’s about making it the best place our people have ever worked. At the forefront of our mind we are always asking ‘is it the best place our people have ever worked?’ and ‘will that deliver the easiest and best experiences for our customers?’ We love the culture here and our people and our customers are important to us.
From your own personal experience, which brands have inspired you?
I’m very hard to please as a Head of Customer Experience, But I do have a favourite – Fitbit. I spend all day talking to people so when I go home I want to deal with companies digitally and not have to talk to them. I had a problem with my Fitbit so contacted them on chat. It might even have been a chat bot but I didn’t mind because it felt personal. I had expected it to be a problem, especially because it was a gift and I had no receipt, but they were brilliant. It was so easy; they didn’t question what had gone wrong. They sent me a new one, and told me to dispose of the old one. I expected it to be a hassle because it was a present, but the service was brilliant.
If any readers are looking to embark on a Customer Experience strategy, what advice and wisdom would you impart to increase their chances of success?
Firstly, I would say listen. Listen to your customers and listen to your people. Our people have most of the answers in terms of knowing what needs to be resolved and our customers add the context. Also, make sure your vision is clear and keep it simple. That way you will ensure everyone is aligned.
With Customer Experience it’s a continuum. It’s neverending. So, its important to continue to keep on listening otherwise you will miss out on what now matters.